I would like to gratefully thank the staff at The Academy of Bards for this wonderful place on the net. They’ve made a lovely home for Bards everywhere.





One month. Four weeks of silence. Twenty-eight days of no contact. And now, for the first time since she walked out of Jessica’s house, she was parking her car near the temporary offices for The Cary Center. Kelly stared at the double glass doors. Randa was useless, or circumspect depending on your point of view. Every one of Kelly’s carefully indifferent questions was answered with equal indifference. Michala was fine. The Center was fine. Kelly stopped asking. It might have been worth seeing Randa’s knowing grin if she actually learned something.

She knew a little more than that. The work was progressing on The Cary Center. Michala wasn’t just repairing the damage, she was remodeling. Kelly got that from the onsite foreman. For some reason he believed her when she said she was a staff member. She knew Michala was haunting the bar several nights a week. She knew she hadn’t left with anyone. Kelly wasn’t sure what she would have done if Shannon told Dani Michala was leaving with women. Reasonable didn’t seem within the realm of possibilities.

With a deep breath, she left the sanctuary of her car. She wasn’t here to see Michala. There wasn’t any reason for butterflies to be dive bombing in her stomach. She was here for a DVIT meeting with Randa and Sam. All things considered, she was a little skeptical they hadn’t had to meet here before now. She paused a few steps from the entrance and adjusted her blazer. She belonged. She had a legitimate reason to be here.

The temp offices reflected their status. Unlike the Center, there was little care given to the ambience. The furniture was the functional generic kind typical of overworked and under funded government offices. She knew Michala hadn’t chosen the pea green paint or brown carpeting. The only added touch was the magazines scattered over the spindly tables. Apparently any space was a doctor’s office as long as it had magazines.

"Hey Lieutenant. We haven’t seen you in a while."

Kelly smiled at the cheerful greeting. She went to the makeshift reception area. "Yes, it’s my first time here."

Jayne, receptionist and Georgia State student, grimaced at her heavy wooden desk and file cabinet. She was seated next to the hallway that led to the smaller rooms serving as offices. "I’ll be glad when we move back. Randa’s last appointment is still in. If you want some coffee, go to the end of the hall. Michala setup a break area in the last room. It’s on the right."

Kelly walked slowly down the hallway. Her gaze slid over the first two closed doors. No names adorned the plain paneled doors. She paused to listen to the voices. Which office was hers? Kelly blinked as she realized what she was doing and disgusted with herself, she marched down to the last room on the right. She was pathetic. And after four weeks, she was angry Michala had made no effort to talk to her.

The break room was generously stocked with brewed coffee, gallon jugs of tea and a variety of snacks. Kelly made herself a cup of coffee and was pondering over a selection of pastries. The cheese Danish was calling to her. She heard a door open and turned to face the doorway.

Randa strolled into the room and paused when she saw her. Her smile was hurried. "Oh good, you’re here. Sam called. She’s running a little late."

"Is this going to take long? I skipped breakfast." Kelly was planning on an early lunch until Sam called. Randa couldn’t get away and they needed to bring the Monday meeting to her. Now Kelly was hoping for a snack before supper.

Randa waved her hand over the room. "Get something. We’ve got a ton of food here."

While that was true and Michala probably didn’t buy all of it, Kelly was uncomfortable with the thought. She didn’t even believe Michala would begrudge her if she did partake. "No thanks. I don’t want empty calories."

Randa leaned over the box of pastries and turned to glance at her once before reaching into the box. She withdrew the cheese Danish Kelly was contemplating. She put it on a small plate and handed it over. "Take it. I don’t want to pig out alone."

Kelly could only smile as Randa selected a chocolate croissant and cheerfully bit off an end. "Come on. The sooner we start, the sooner we finish."

They finished two hours later. The first hour was spent going through hers and Randa’s files. The first half of the second hour was spent getting more coffee, another Danish and seeing Michala walking away from her down the hall. Kelly left Randa’s office hoping Michala had left for the day. She could barely keep her mind on their conversation as it was. She wanted to leave the building and go for an early supper without having to face that particular demon today. She didn’t think she had it in her to be indifferent face to face.

The three of them were walking down the hall. Sam and Randa were behind her discussing a case. Kelly saw daylight in the form of bright sunlight coming through the double doors. All she had to do was walk through them. She was looking ahead thinking only of escaping when one side of the doors opened. Randa called out to the smartly dressed strawberry blonde before she could take two steps into the office.

"Hey Bre. I don’t think Cayla’s ready yet. You can wait in my office if you want. I’m finished for the day."

The woman brushed past her leaving a trail of Chanel. Kelly turned to watch her move down the hall. She paused at one of the doors and knocked twice before moving onto Randa’s office. Kelly looked over at Randa when the woman vanished into her office. The dark eyes refused to meet hers. So that’s how it was. Kelly turned and headed for the door.

"I’m going to find a burger somewhere. You both have a good day." She called as she lengthened the distance between her and them. They were standing in front of the offices when she drove by and lifted a hand to wave at her. Kelly forced herself to return the gesture. She wasn’t giving Randa any reason to think she was bothered by Bre. After all, she was the one who left Michala.

The line between reason and irrationality was painfully thin and way too easy to cross. There she was driving down the road, her thoughts forcibly locked on the search for food and in the next second she was making an illegal U-turn into oncoming traffic, her thoughts on that strawberry blonde. How dare Michala. How dare she have another lover without at least talking to her? As a Psychiatrist she should know Kelly wasn’t serious about not wanting to see her. Right? Right!

This time she barely had her car parked before she was leaping out and covering the distance to the front doors in ground eating strides. She flung the door open and paused at the desk.

"Which office is hers?" It irked her to have to ask. She should know which office was Michala’s. She had earned the right to know which office was hers.

"Um, well, Michala’s is third on the left," Jayne said uncertainly. "Her last patient just left."

"Thanks," she muttered as she was moving down the hallway. She opened the door to the third office on the left and stepped into the room without warning. One part of her was afraid of what she would walk in on and the other was seething and ready to accuse if she did.

Michala was sitting at her desk making notes in a file. Her head snapped up when her door opened and the surprise on her face quickly turned to anger. She tossed her gold Cross pen to the desk. "I could be in here with a patient."

"No you couldn’t. Jayne said your last patient just left."

Kelly shut the door a little harder than she should have and approached the desk. After two steps her path was blocked by Bre. Kelly pulled up short and stared at the woman in open hostility. She hadn’t realized she was in the office. "Get out of my way."

The woman crossed her arms over her chest and met her furious stare calmly. "You have two choices lady. You either leave on your own or I’ll toss your ass out. I don’t have a preference."

She was taller than Kelly by several significant inches and out weighted her just as impressively. Her shoulders were broad and well-defined under her black silk shirt. The expression in her narrowed black eyes was hard and challenging. Kelly was reasonably certain she would lose in a fight. "Then I guess you toss me out."

"It’s all right Bre. Why don’t you go get yourself a drink."

Bre didn’t budge a muscle. "I’m not thirsty, if it’s all the same to you."

"She’s not going to hurt me."

Very grudgingly Bre relaxed and tossed Michala a quick look over her shoulder. "Whatever you say." She stepped even with Kelly. "I hear any yelling I’ll be on you like a two ton truck."

The door shut behind the woman with a sharp click. A bemused smile graced Michala’s face. Kelly crossed the remaining space. "Well that didn’t take long."

Michala shrugged and reached for her pen. "It never does. Why are you here?"

Kelly sat down without invitation. "Monday meeting. Sam and I came to Randa."

"No, not here in general, here in my office. I know you have no business with me."

The next few seconds were hard for Kelly. It wasn’t so much the words that cut. It was the cold distance in Michala’s eyes that met hers in a steady gaze. She realized in that instant just how much she really didn’t know the blonde woman. Apparently learning what made her moan was more important than learning how she reacted to ultimatums. It was a tactical error she wasn’t sure how to correct.

"How are you?" Of all the questions she could ask, that seemed the safest. The others bordered dangerously on the jealousy line. Michala wasn’t going to let her get away with that.

The answering smile was sly and amused. "Great. And you?"

Why did she come in here? Michala didn’t come after her when she walked off the patio that night. Michala had neither called nor tried to see her in the time since. She had no reason to think Michala wanted to see her so she really had no reason to be surprised that Michala wasn’t happy she was in her office wasting her expensive time. "I’m sorry. You’re right. I shouldn’t be here. I won’t make this mistake again."

Kelly left as quickly as her shredded dignity allowed. The walk from Michala’s office to her car was made without conscious thought. She was driving away before she truly realized where she was. She took a deep breath when she saw that her hands were shaking. That had to be the most unpleasant conversation she’d ever had in her life. Here was the most important person in her life acting as if they were mere acquaintances. The kind where you promised to get together for lunch sure in the acknowledge you never would. She pulled her car off into a shopping center parking lot and rested her forehead against the steering wheel.

How was she going to stay in Atlanta after this?


Michala didn’t look up as her office door opened less than a minute after Kelly left. She knew it wasn’t Kelly. Not after she saw the hope in Kelly’s eyes curl up and die. Michala squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn’t think about that. She couldn’t not hurt Kelly if it meant giving her any reason to come near Michala again. She was angry Kelly had gotten as close as she had. After the sacrifices she made, she didn’t want it to be for nothing.

"Everything all right?"

"I only have a few more files. I won’t need you tonight Bre. I think I’ll stay home." And it wasn’t like the last few times she had gone out had made an impression on him. She was still getting letters, though she had not actually seen them. Someone was calling for her during office hours and always hung up when asked for a name. Kendall told her the calls were being made from phone booths. Michala wondered to herself if they were being wise in keeping her so out of reach. Because unless something happened to push him over the edge, he could keep the status quo forever.

"She’s pretty. I think she would have taken me on."

Michala cast a glance up as she signed her name. Bre was leaning near the door. Her grin was cocky. Michala chuckled and closed the file. "I think you’re right. You might have been surprised. Kelly’s a Lieutenant."

"Really?" Bre drawled, intrigued. "Maybe next time-"

Michala’s head shot up at the challenging tone. "There won’t be a next time. She’s my girlfriend. I don’t want her hurt."

Except the wounds I inflict myself, Michala added silently. Wounds she hoped she would be given the chance to kiss and make better. This had to end soon. They had to catch him or he had to slip up because Michala knew time was running short. She couldn’t put Kelly off forever, if only because she didn’t want to. She wanted Kelly back in her life.

Bre stood up at her tone and nodded before sitting in the chair in front of her desk. "I’m sorry. I thought she was out of the picture."

"No, I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting to see her. I don’t like playing this charade. And she’s very much in the picture."

Her friends weren’t making it any easier. They thought Kelly deserved a vote and failing that, that she at least deserved to know the truth. Michala didn’t much care what they thought. She knew Jess and Susan would take her same stand if this was Shannon or Miranda. It was easy for them to criticize. They weren’t standing in her place, their girlfriends weren’t targeted by a maniac.

"Are you sure about tonight? I was looking forward to playing pool with your friends."

Michala sat back in her chair and regarded the executive bodyguard. An interesting thing was happening to Bre on her latest assignment. She had gone from being obviously uncomfortable with Michala’s orientation and the places it was taking her to making little statements like that one. "I don’t have to be there for you to go. It’s not like you have to be a card carrying member to get in the door."

Now let’s see what she does with that. Bre flushed, predictably, before smiling. "You’re right, I don’t. Do you think Valerie will be there?"

"You never know who’ll be there." Although Michala was certain if Valerie hadn’t planned on being there before, she would after Michala called her. Valerie was single and didn’t pass up on interested, available women.

"Is she, um, seeing anyone? I wouldn’t want anyone to get upset if I played with her."

By sheer will, not to mention hundreds of hours of listening to people make the most outrageous confessions, Michala managed not to laugh. Play with her? Did Bre even realize how that sounded? She bent her head over her files to hide the gleam she knew she was in her eyes. "You know I don’t think she is."

She spent the next fifteen minutes finishing up her files and answering other questions about Valerie. Michala tried not to be too amused by Bre’s enthusiasm. She could barely recall her own awakening, but conceded she probably had not been too different. Of course she was fourteen at the time and Bre was a twenty year vet of the Secret Service.

They were the last to leave. Bre waited patiently by the doors while Michala locked up. In addition to the alarm system, they had twenty four hour video. Kendall was checking out people who stood out. So far only a few men had caught her eye. Michala had to assume he wasn’t one of them. When everything was set, she followed Bre to her car. When she first contracted with Bre’s company she found their operating procedures to be somewhat draconian. The list of rules was as long as her arm. The penalty for flagrant violation was abandonment. She was told pointedly they only bothered with people who wanted protection. If she was going to make independent decisions, she could make those without paying them. Rule one was no driving herself anywhere.

"Bre if I wanted to go away for a weekend, how would that be handled?" It was a risk. He could follow her out of town just as easily as he did in Atlanta. She might even be a better target in some small cabin in the woods. She closed her eyes and laid her head against the car seat. Maybe if she registered under someone else’s name and left in some car he couldn’t connect with her in any way.

"Are you serious?" She couldn’t see Bre’s expression behind her sunglasses.

Michala nodded decisively. "Yeah, I am."


The last person Kelly wanted to see sitting on her doorstep was Randa. Well that wasn’t exactly true. The last person she wanted to see was Michala and as they were twins it was pretty much the same thing. She thought about going to the bar. She thought about finding someone to spend the night with, but gave that thought up the second it crossed her mind. Unlike some people she didn’t make a habit of bed hopping. Her mood was already surly and seeing Randa waiting for her didn’t improve it.

"Bre’s her bodyguard."

Kelly’s plan was to step over Randa and shut the door in her face. She had her supper, barbecue chicken with the works, and she was looking forward to washing it down with a six pack of Coronas. She stared down at Randa, her mind suddenly empty of every thought save the echo of her words. She sat down next to her. "What?"

"Bre’s her bodyguard. She takes her to work. She picks her up. The only time Bre’s not with her is at work or home."

Bodyguard. That did explain the attitude quite satisfactorily. Now that she could think of Bre in a better light, she was relieved when she recalled how willingly she stepped in front of her. How certain she was that Bre could take her. "Why are you telling me this?"

Randa peered into her bag and took one of her beers. She twisted off the cap. "I didn’t want you to do something stupid. She wants you away from her Kelly. Her plan is to make this up to you after it’s over. Right now she doesn’t want you anywhere near her."

Kelly opened her own bottle. "I’ve already done something stupid. She made it very clear she didn’t want me around."

"What?" Randa asked in confusion.

Kelly was glad her mad dash to and from their offices had at least one less spectator. Not that it mattered since she was about to tell Randa all. "I went back to her office. Stormed in. Faced off with Bre. Got asked by Michala why I was in her office as she knew she didn’t have any business with me. Left badly."

She drained half her bottle. She didn’t come off any better in the highlights than she did during the whole scene. However, then at least, she didn’t realize she was making a fool of herself. God, how she must have looked to Michala. She wondered how much less Michala thought of her now. Sighing, she finished off her beer. "Do you want to come in? I bought a lot."

Randa nodded and followed her inside. "Sure, thanks. Is it any consolation that she misses you?"

Kelly found that hard to believe. The woman she saw in that office wasn’t missing her. She was furious with Kelly for being there. Everything she said was calculated to force Kelly to do exactly what she did. She did take comfort in the fact that Michala didn’t let Bre throw her into the street. That had to mean something.

"Very little. I can take care of myself. I don’t need her standing in front of me." She was a trained and experienced police officer. The last thing she needed was someone protecting her.

Randa was silent while she gathered eating utensils. She handed her a plate and fork. They served themselves and took their supper to the patio. She spoke softly when they were settled. "You said you know her. You said you love her. Tell me, how much of her do you think will be left if something happened to you?"

"Nothing is going to happen to me." The words were harsher than she intended. She hated that Randa had a point.

"Are you really willing to risk her sanity on something you can’t promise? I’m not. I don’t care how much this chafes you. I don’t give a damn about your ego. Let her do this however is best for her. You aren’t the one who has to live with the consequences."

Aren’t I? Kelly barely stopped herself from asking the question. Randa was right, she couldn’t make that promise and that made anything else she could say moot. Michala needed that reassurance and keeping Kelly out of her circle was the only way she could have it. As hard as it was on her, Kelly had to give her that. Michala was living with enough guilt.

"I’ll make you a deal. I’ll stay away if you tell me what’s going on. I don’t want to be blindsided again."

Without thinking it over, Randa tapped her bottle against Kelly’s. "Deal."


Michala was enjoying her own drink on the patio. Hers was white wine, a crisp Chardonnay. It would go well with the chicken she had roasting in the oven. She closed her eyes as a fragrant breeze drifted over her. She sighed as the image behind her eyes wasn’t a relaxing vision to go along with her pleasant surroundings. Kelly’s face and those wounded blue eyes. How was it that her life kept taking wrong turns? Even a simple day at work couldn’t go as planned. She could still feel the vibration of shock as Kelly stormed into her office. Her only hope, and she had precious little of that commodity left, was that somehow some way nothing would come of it.

The idea of getting away was appealing. They could go to a cabin or to the shore. Two nights with no distractions, with nothing to do but indulge in each other. She closed her eyes again and sipped from her glass. Could she arrange it? Through phone tag and friends, with whatever subterfuge her cop friends could pull, could they risk it? She sighed and realized it wasn’t a question of could, it was should. Should they risk it? No plan would be perfect. There was no way she could guarantee he wouldn’t catch on. And if she couldn’t have a guarantee she wasn’t going to put Kelly at that kind of risk.

"That was sad. What are you thinking about?"

The warm voice brought to her feet. Shannon was smiling at her. Michala wasn’t getting used to this new Shannon easily. After years of polite smiles and stilted conversation from Shannon, she was caught off guard by her warmth and compassion. Shannon raised an eyebrow in silent question. She sat down in the chair next to Michala’s and gestured for her to sit.

Michala met the patient hazel eyes and smiled. "I’m glad I got this chance to get to know you, Shannon. Jess is a very lucky woman."

Shannon blinked as if surprised by the sincerity. "Thank you."

"You’re welcome."

The sat in silent for several long minutes. Michala finished her glass of wine. Shannon held a glass over for her when she picked up the bottle. Michala filled both glasses. This was nice way to end a bad day at work. She could do this more often.

"So what were you thinking that was so sad when I came out?"

Or maybe not. As much as she liked Shannon, and she was beginning to like her a lot, she wasn’t at the point where she felt comfortable sharing. Sadly, she didn’t feel that she had much of a choice at the moment. Shannon had welcomed her into her home and helped her to feel safe and secure. She wasn’t going to throw that in her face because they weren’t bosom buddies.

"I hurt Kelly today. Maybe if I had known she was in the office or if I thought she would come into mine, I might have handled it better. I was just so furious that she took such a risk. On the way home I asked Bre what would happen if I wanted to get away for a weekend. She said it could be done. When you walked out I had just given up on the idea. I can’t take that risk with her."

"How did you hurt her?"

Michala laid her head back and stared up at the darkening sky. "She thought Bre was my lover. I let her."

Her life really didn’t need this added complication. Why couldn’t Kelly just stay away until this was over? It was easier not to think about her if she didn’t have reminders. She could pretend the attraction wasn’t as strong and that her desire wasn’t as deep. Now all she was remembering was how Kelly felt in her arms. How soft her lips were when they kissed. The sounds she made when they touched. How after today memories could be all that she had left to remember Kelly.

"That had to hurt."

Michala tipped her glass and finished off her drink. "Very much by the look in her eyes."

They needed another bottle of wine. She was reasonably sure she saw another Chardonnay hidden on a bottom shelf in the fridge. If not, she would see what they had in the wet bar. There was always that bottle of red.

Shannon caught her arm when she sat forward to stand. "I meant for you. I know you don’t want to cause Kelly pain. I happen to agree with what you’re doing. Doing what you did to today must’ve been hard for you."

Michala wasn’t sure which statement surprised her more. She didn’t think anyone agreed with her plan. Jess and Susan had been vocal enough in their disapproval. They thought Kelly was a big girl who could take care of herself. Her family thought she owed Kelly the courtesy of telling her the truth. She was astonished Shannon of all people saw her point of view on this. She grinned at the other woman. "How would you like to replace Jess as my best friend? I think I like you better."

"I wouldn’t take her up on that offer, Shan. She’s a pain in the ass at best."

Shannon’s delighted smile erupted into laughter at Jess’ droll reply. They both turned to look at Jess standing behind them. She held a glass in her left hand and the other bottle of white in her right. As if they had rehearsed it, they both held out their empty glasses.

"Call her," Shannon said and stood up. She leaned into Jess to kiss her. "I understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. If I were Kelly, I would forgive you when this is over. I don’t know that I could forgive you for today. You don’t have to tell her anything other than the truth about Bre."

Jess watched her girlfriend walk inside the house before she sat in Shannon’s chair. "Something happened today with Kelly?"

Michala didn’t bother trying to sort out her feelings or wonder if what she was about to do was right or wrong. She wanted to talk to Kelly. Their confrontation gave her a reason to call. She needed to call her. For her own sanity, she needed to know she had a chance with Kelly when this was over. Shannon’s words hit a nerve. She didn’t need doubts over Kelly plaguing her thoughts.

"Ask Shannon. I have a call to make."

Michala took her wine to Jess’ office. She knew Shannon would keep her lover occupied until she was finished. Sitting down at the desk and picking up the receiver was the easy part. Even dialing the number came without hesitation. It was only when the phone began to ring that she panicked. Suddenly she wasn’t so sure this was the right thing to do. What if Kelly misunderstood the purpose of the call? What if she didn’t care who Bre was anymore? What if she preferred to never hear Michala’s voice again in this lifetime?


Michala closed her eyes as her phenomenal string of incredibly bad luck remained unbroken. Of course Danielle couldn’t answer her own phone. Of course Kelly wasn’t out drowning her memory in some dark bar. No, she was sitting in Danielle’s townhouse with nothing better to do than answer a phone that wasn’t even hers. "Do you know someone who can remove the curse on me?"

"What?" Kelly asked in her official I-carry-a-badge-and-gun voice. "Who is this?"

"Bre is my bodyguard. I don’t go anywhere without her."

"So you’re not a complete idiot. I had my doubts."

The words held just enough smugness for Michala to get over feeling bad about letting Kelly believe she was with Bre. Michala stood up in anticipation of ending the call. She’d done what Shannon said she should do. "You’re not the first. You won’t be the last. Goodnight Kelly."

This time she did hang up the receiver. She felt oddly better for having made the call.



It was finally Friday. Finally Friday on a week that began badly and was seemingly endless. Michala wondered how she ever got through the past month of no contact with Kelly. By Wednesday she was trying to come up with a plan. By Thursday afternoon she had one that satisfied Bre and her company. Michala wasn’t sure who was happier, her or her friends. Jess threatened to hire a hit man if she didn’t get laid soon. She claimed to know several.

"Hey you."

Shannon’s head shot up and she stared at Michala in question. Michala leaned in the doorway of their bedroom and let her gaze roam freely over the woman’s scantily clad body. It was seven o’clock on Friday night and while she and Jess were dressing up for a night on the town, Shannon was dressed in a rather sexy maroon night gown. The book in her hands was at least two inches thick.

Michala grinned as a blush covered Shannon’s face. "I can’t promise Jess and I can protect you against the ravishing horde in that. As much as it pains me to say it, you got anything less sexier?"

Shannon squirmed on the king sized bed, but didn’t reach for the covers. Michala gave her points for that. "I’m not going. I want to finish this book."

Michala crossed to the bed and sat down. She didn’t usually enter other women’s bedrooms without permission much less sit on their bed. Shannon was staring at her as if she truly thought Michala was about to make a pass at her. Michala steeled herself against the unexpected hurt. It was her own fault that Shannon was uncomfortable with her. Granted, they’d made great strides during her stay here, but Shannon was still unsure of how to take her. Michala was sorry she hadn’t tried to rectify the situation before they were forced into close quarters.

She reached over and took her hand. She brushed her thumb across Shannon’s palm. She kept her voice low. "Please come with us Shannon. I know Jess would be happier if we were all friends."

Michala knew Jess was behind her because she saw Shannon’s eyes dart from her face to something over her shoulder and back again. She leaned forward and cupped Shannon’s face. "I promise you’ll have fun."

Hands that were none too gentle came down on her shoulder’s. Jess spoke next to her ear. "There’d better be a good reason you’re in my bed with my lover promising her she’ll have fun."

Shannon was staring at them in wide-eyed fascination. Michala turned her head to look into Jess’ eyes. She purred, "Oh there is."

The hands on her shoulders became a hug. "Uh-huh. If I thought that, I’d take you back to the Center and leave you there."

Michala laughed. "Make her come with us. The three of us have always done things together and left our girlfriends out. It should be different now that we’re all settled."

It was a simple truth. The three of them always kept everyone out of their inner circle, even after it was obvious Shannon and Miranda were different than the others for her friends. Kelly was the one who was different from the others for her. She didn’t want her life to be compartmentalized anymore. She wanted Kelly allowed into all areas of it. She wanted to allow her best friends lovers into hers.

"We are huh?"

Michala slipped from the bed and headed for the doorway. She wasn’t getting into that now. "I’ll be waiting downstairs. Bre should be here soon."

She didn’t go downstairs immediately. She went to her room to make some last minute touches to her own outfit. Michala had grand plans for tonight. Plans that she wanted more than anything to come off perfectly so she was dressed to kill. She stood in front of the full length mirror on the back of her closet door eyeing herself critically. Her white slacks were tailored to hug her hips and flared out on the legs. The matching vest was form fitting. She was wearing white leather boots for height. She checked herself out from all angles until she was sure she was undeniable. The finishing touches were light make-up, a quick spray of Obsession and gold jewelry.

She smiled at her reflection. She knew she would have whatever, and whomever, she wanted that night.


It was Sam’s week on call. Kelly knew it was the only reason she agreed to go out with Dani. Otherwise she would have had a perfectly legitimate reason to stay home. Dani pressed her case also by saying she couldn’t take another week of Kelly just moping around the house. Michala had cut back on her bar visits during the week, but she was out every Friday and Saturday night. Randa explained she was trying to draw out her stalker. Kelly clamped down on her own violent reaction to Michala being used as bait because she had to believe Kendall knew what she was doing. She also had to believe Bre would be there if Kendall was wrong. Kelly went because she hoped she could at least dance with Michala.

The bar was half full by the time they arrived. Dani usually liked to be late, but Kelly was in a hurry to get there. She wanted as much time with Michala was she could get. Especially as she expected to have to fight Michala into giving in. They were sitting in the back near the dance floor with a clear view of the entrance when she saw them come in. She might have been amused at Dani’s reaction to seeing Shannon with them if she hadn’t been struck mute by Michala. It was almost like a scene from a beer commercial. The stunning blonde enters the smoky dim lit bar in slow motion, her hair swinging around her head and her smile bright as she laughed at whatever Susan was saying to her. Kelly couldn’t have torn her gaze away if her life depended on it.

Susan laughed and nodded at the group before she left them to make her way to the bar. Kelly gulped her own beer as she drank in the vision that was Michala. God she was gorgeous. Kelly watched them scan the bar for an empty table. Michala’s gaze came to her almost as if Michala knew she was there. Their eyes met in a long stare broken by Bre, who took Michala’s elbow to lead her to the table. Kelly’s eyes followed them to the table and frowned as Bre set up camp almost in Michala’s lap. Her eyes narrowed as the bodyguard laid her arm on the back of Michala’s chair. She was still just a bodyguard, right? Surely Randa hadn’t broken their agreement and not mentioned that Bre had become more.

"Let her come to you," Dani suggested in her ear.

Oh how Kelly wanted to be that strong and so seemingly uninvolved. She wanted Michala to be the one to cross the crowded bar and approach her. She knew she didn’t have it in her. It had been too long since she’d seen Michala. It felt like years since their last kiss on that fateful Saturday. She wanted Michala in her arms more than she wanted to seem strong or save face. She needed Michala against her. More than anything else in the world, she wanted Michala.

Kelly stood up and drained her beer. She said without looking at Dani, "I can’t."

Kelly would wonder later how long that walk might have been, if it would have felt like every eye in the room was on her, if Michala hadn’t seen her coming and met her half way. She was surprised to feel her heart start beating again. Soon the air she breathed smelled of her. They didn’t touch at first. They stood mere inches apart, eyes locked on each other. Kelly was gratified when Michala took the last step, bringing their bodies in contact. Kelly was afraid she had come as far as she was able.

"I love you," Michala whispered and just like that everything was right in her world again. Now it was easy for her to put her arms around Michala and meet her lips. Kelly bit back a groan because her memories paled against the reality of how good Michala felt against her. Michala slid her hands around her as she opened her mouth. Kelly let herself fall into the feelings. She didn’t care who was watching or how they looked to their friends.

The need for air forced Kelly to pull away first. Michala leaned on her and rested her forehead against Kelly’s shoulder. Kelly stood there holding her close and knew they could stay like this all night for all she cared. This was all she wanted. This was all she needed. She could survive however long it was before they could do this again if they stayed just like this. "I love you."

Michala snuggled in her arms, squeezing her tighter. "I’ve rented a suite at the Peachtree Hyatt. Can I interest you in spending the weekend with me there?"

Kelly’s world tipped on its axis. She stared down at Michala’s head until Michala looked up with her uncertainty painfully clear on her face. Kelly searched her eyes and was stunned Michala thought she would turn her down. "Is it safe?"

She didn’t really care if it was safe or not. She asked because a good caring girlfriend would. She was going regardless. Because she had been as good as she could be for the time.

Michala’s smile was amused, almost as if she could read Kelly’s mind. "Well, I did have to agree to be escorted there by Bre and she is in the suite next to ours and there is a connecting door. I can’t leave for any reason, not that I want to anyway. Can you live with that?"

Kelly returned her smile. "I’d pay a great sum of money for that."

She was rewarded with a delighted grin. "I put a key card in your jacket pocket. I’ll meet you there."

"We could stay for a while," Kelly offered. She knew Michala was here for a reason and it wasn’t just to slip her a hotel key.

Michala’s eyes flashed with desire and she pulled Kelly’s head down for a thorough, rough kiss. "No we couldn’t."

Kelly was rooted to the floor as Michala walked back to her table. She reached for her purse on the table and spoke briefly to her friends. Whatever she said had eyebrows raised and gazes turning to stare at her. Bre was frozen to her chair long enough for Michala to be almost to the door before she jumped up to follow her.

Dani appeared at her shoulder. "What was that all about?"

"Will you take me home? I need to pack a few things. I’m spending the weekend with Michala."

She needed to pack very few things. She didn’t plan on taking more clothes than she needed to wear home Sunday. She hoped Michala felt the same.


Why was she so nervous? Michala tied the sash on her robe in the bathroom. Even that first night with Kelly didn’t feel like this. She felt jumpy and unsure, like a virgin who knew tonight was the night. She ran shaky fingers through her hair. Maybe she should have a glass of champagne. The last thing she wanted was for any part of this night to be wasted to foolish emotions. If all they had was this weekend to last them for a while, she wanted every moment to count. She left the bathroom when she felt steadier.


Michala flicked a quick glance to where Bre was sprawled in a chair. The door connecting their suite to hers was open. Bre had insisted that she be the one who answered the door. The first knock was room service with the bottle of Dom. The next one should be Kelly.

"Do we need to have our food delivered to your room or can Kelly take care of it?" She heard the annoyance in her voice and frowned. She stopped and faced the slouching woman. "I’m sorry. I don’t mean to take this out on you."

Bre’s smile was faint. "I’m not taking this personally. I won’t say I know how you feel. I will say I wouldn’t want to be in your position. As for your food, as long as you’re willing to put the woman you love in the line of fire, let her answer the door."

Michala continued on to the champagne. "How would you have put that if you were taking my attitude personally?"

"Can I ask you something?"

Michala turned with her glass and nodded her head once. Anything to make the time between now and Kelly’s arrival pass quicker. She thought if the room was dead silent she could hear her nerves stretching tautly to the breaking point.

"You don’t want me here. You resent the precautions. You’re always looking for ways to get around the rules. Why are you wasting money on a service you clearly don’t want?" Bre’s tone was conversational. She wasn’t judging or criticizing, merely asking about something that puzzled her.

Michala didn’t have to think about the answer. "Because left to my own judgment I’d be dead now. I wouldn’t have cared three months ago. I might even have welcomed it. And while I do care now, it’s not easy to give up control of my life. That’s why I’m wasting money on a service I resent."

Bre hadn’t expected such brutal honesty. She sat up and her usually guarded face was open, making her look years younger. Michala would never know who was more relieved by the knock at the door. Bre knew the facts of her case, but as of yet, they had not discussed it between themselves. Michala had talked about the last year of her life more times than she ever wanted to. She did not want to do it again.

"Come in Kelly," Bre said graciously and opened the door to allow Kelly into the room. By the time Kelly’s gaze found her, Michala had another glass poured. "These are the rules. No leaving the room. No one comes into the room. The connecting door stays unlocked. Food is delivered to my room. Any questions?"

"No. I only have one rule. You don’t come in here without knocking. Any questions?"

Kelly took both glasses from Michala and reached behind her to put them on the bar. She untied Michala’s robe and brought their bodies together. Michala didn’t hear Bre’s reply. She vaguely heard the connecting door shut.

"You’re wearing too much," she whispered to Kelly. Kelly caught her hands when she reached for her belt. She looked up into blue eyes almost black.

Kelly pressed a light, gentle kiss to her lips. "I’m sorry for everything I said that day. The thought of losing you makes me crazy."

This wasn’t how Michala wanted to spend the night. She didn’t want apologies or explanations; she didn’t want to apologize or explain herself. This time was limited and she didn’t know when they would be able to carve out another weekend. She didn’t want to waste a single second on something they could do after this was all over.

She reached up to cup Kelly’s face and stared deep into her eyes. "If you need to talk about that day or anything else that’s happened, we can do it on the phone. We can talk every night if that’s what you need. But not this weekend, Kelly, please. I need for nothing else to matter this weekend but us. For the next two days, please just let the world stop and forget anything is happening. I’ve missed you so much."

For what seemed like forever, Kelly simply stared at her. Michala waited, fear warring with desire. She wanted nothing more than to strip Kelly’s clothes off and push her back on the bed. She feared that Kelly had issues that needed to be settled before she could allow that to happen. Michala was a master at putting her feelings on hold so she could live guilt-free in the present. She had made it an art form over the last year.

Finally, just when Michala was teetering on the edge of the inevitable, Kelly pulled Michala’s hands from her face. She never broke their locked gaze as she kissed each palm before guiding her hands to her belt. That was all the encouragement Michala needed. Her fingers were shaking as she hastily released the clasp.

"Is it just me or does this feel like the first time?" She asked when her fingers fumbled with the zipper on Kelly’s slacks. Not even on the first time was she this klutzy.

Kelly laughed and embraced her. Michala relaxed against her. She closed her eyes and allowed herself the simple luxury of being held. Every time she thought of Kelly, this was how she pictured them. She liked being in Kelly’s arms, breathing Kelly’s scent with every breath she took. Warm hands stroked her back in a lazy caress. She had more than missed this. She craved it.

"Do we really have all weekend?"

"Until Monday morning at eleven if we want."

Kelly’s hands moved slowly down her back to rest on her bare hips. Michala shivered from the soft kisses Kelly trailed over her shoulder. She tipped her head back to allow Kelly to kiss her neck. Soon Michala forgot that she was nervous. She shut her mind against all memories except those of Kelly and the nights they spent together. Her body responded to the hands and lips she knew so intimately.

"I want," Kelly said as she laid Michala back on the bed. "I want this every Monday until eleven."

The fervent words erased every last reservation Michala had about what she was doing. She didn’t care how dangerous this may prove to be or how it looked that she took the first step. Since that night when Kelly walked away from her, Michala had assumed the next step was hers. She never thought she would take it before he was caught. She wouldn’t have believed her need for Kelly would override her common sense. But it was and they were here and Michala knew regardless of what happened, she was right to do this. She didn’t know which of them needed this weekend more.

She hooked her ankles around Kelly’s legs. "You can have whatever you want, baby."


Kelly was content to remain where she was for the rest of eternity. Michala was snuggled against her left side sleeping. She felt lighter than she had in weeks. Even after her talk with Randa, Kelly felt uncertain over her future with Michala. She kissed the blonde head on her shoulder. She appreciated the risk Michala had taken to arrange this and she didn’t just mean her stalker. She walked out on a limb and had faith Kelly would walk out on it with her. Kelly didn’t think in the same situation she could have done it.

"I can hear the wheels turning. What are you thinking?" Michala nuzzled closer and slowly ran a hand down her side. "I could be insulted that you’re not sleeping."

Kelly closed her eyes. This was for real. She was holding Michala in her arms. "I don’t want to miss a second."

Michala pushed herself up on her elbow. "I’ve missed you, too."

Missed? Missed didn’t begin to describe how she felt without Michala. Lost. Adrift. Alone. Added to that was the fear she felt that she couldn’t fix what she’d done when she walked off that patio. She didn’t know how Michala became so important to her life and as long as she knew Michala would be a part of it, she wasn’t going to analyze it.

"I’ll miss you less if we can do this every weekend," she replied. Some limbs she just wasn’t ready to walk out on. Telling Michala that she needed her like she needed air was one of them.

Michala moved on top of her and settled herself between her legs. Kelly’s breath caught at the sensation of Michala’s bare skin sliding over sensitive places on her body. Michala snagged her earlobe in her mouth. Kelly’s eyes closed at the heat flowing over her.

"Even the weekend you’re on call?"

That question hit Kelly like cold water. Her eyes snapped open and she turned her head to see what expression Michala had on her face. They had carefully danced around where Kelly worked. Kelly wasn’t bringing it up if Michala wasn’t. She knew how Michala felt about DVIT and nothing that happened made her think anything had changed. Dark brown eyes met hers in a warm gaze. "Can you do that? I will get paged."

Michala nodded and leaned over to press a gentle kiss to her lips. "I know. The hard part will be letting you go knowing that I can’t and don’t want to go with you. I’m not sure if Bre will let you come back."

The past month crossed Kelly’s mind in a kaleidoscope of feelings. All of them forms of fear. Kelly knew in the core of her heart she doubted she would be given another chance with Michala. How many times would Michala let her walk away from her and come back? She’d done it twice now. Both times she left knowing it could be her last time with Michala. It wasn’t a risk she was willing to take again.

Kelly sat up and gently reversed their positions. Slowly, Michala’s hands slid down her back as brown eyes watched her with patient intensity. Kelly slid her hands under Michala and laid her face in her neck. She breathed deeply the intoxicating smells that were unique to this beautiful woman. She turned her face to Michala’s neck.

"Are you all right?" Michala whispered in her ear. One warm hand came to rest on the nape of Kelly’s neck.

Kelly nodded without saying word. She didn’t trust her voice not to break. Didn’t trust herself to voice her fears without being overwhelmed by the emotions. Michala’s earlier plea for this weekend to about them being together had been desperate. Kelly understood that feeling all to well. She too wanted nothing more than to bury herself in Michala. To hear and feel and think nothing but this woman. But now that initial need was sated and Kelly knew, without a single doubt she knew, she couldn’t go back to her life if Michala wasn’t in it.

Michala brought her other hand to the back of her head. She laid her cheek against Kelly and her hands moved softly in a soothing caress. "I’m starving. I was so nervous I couldn’t eat earlier. I mean, I was hoping you would want this, too. But I didn’t know and there’s that little voice reminding me that I’m a lousy catch and you could do a whole lot better than me. Jess says I’m a pain in the ass at best."

Kelly had to laugh at that. She lifted her face to look at Michala. She could see in her eyes that Michala shared her fears, and yet had somehow overcome them to bring them where they were now. She kept their gazes locked as she dropped her lips to Michala’s. The kiss was sweetly reassuring.

"Are you hungry Kelly?" Michala asked against her lips.

"For you? Always." The words come from her heart. "I’m not letting you go this time."

Michala reached to brush the hair away from her face. She grinned. "That’s good because holding someone against their will is illegal in this state. I’d really hate to use my friends to keep me out of jail just because I had to handcuff you to my bed."

"Would you use my own handcuffs to do it?" Kelly asked, laughing, as she moved off Michala. She was amazed at how quickly Michala allayed her fears. She knew intellectually that it wasn’t a great feat for Dr Michala Cary. It’s what she did day in and day out in professionally. But emotionally, she felt that her words came from Michala’s heart not from her training.

Michala sat up and raked her hands through her tousled hair. The sheet was bunched around her waist. "Of course not! I have more class than that. I’d use my own."

Kelly reached for the menu next to the phone on the night stand. "Are they gold plated and monogrammed?"

Michala scooted to her side and leaned against her shoulder as she perused the limited, expensive choices. "Gold plated? You think that’s class? They’re gold platinum."

Kelly pointed to a sampler platter. "Solid gold or plated?"

Michala nudged her finger to the other side of the menu to a broiled seafood combo. "Geez, Kelly, I didn’t realize I was such a step up for you."

Kelly leaned over for the phone. She grinned at Michala’s amused expression. "Yeah, you’ve been wasting five star treatment on a woman you coulda had with two."

Michala got off the bed and tugged on her robe as she headed for the connecting door. "Two? Please. I coulda had you with a half a star."

Kelly watched Michala open their door and knock once on Bre’s before she entered the connecting suite. She said softly, with feeling, "You got that right."

"Excuse me?"

Kelly blinked at the puzzled voice in her ear. "Sorry, I was talking to someone else. Is it too late to place an order? Great. This is what we’d like…."


This wasn’t how Michala thought she would be spending any part of the weekend. Michala glared over the group of women draped on the king-sized bed. They burst into the room at the obscene hour of eight that morning and had the nerve to ask about breakfast. Before she could say any of the vile obscenities circulating in her head, she was reminded it was Saturday. That was four hours ago.

Michala was stunned that her friends would show up as if this was just another Saturday. As if she hadn’t seen Kelly for what felt liked forever. As if they had every right to be here.

"…don’t want a burger. We don’t have to order from just the menu do we?"

Michala frowned as she realized she had missed part of the conversation. An important part if she thought they were actually talking about lunch. She pressed back against her human pillow. "You’re a cop. Don’t you have a gun?"

Kelly laughed and kissed her ear. "Where’s yours? They are your friends."

Her friends. Her gaze took in the four women taking up most of the space. Susan and Miranda were stretched out across the foot of the bed. Jess and Shannon had taken the left side. Kelly was sitting with her back against the headboard. Michala reclined between her legs and was held in a loose embrace. They looked relaxed, as if they didn’t plan to move for hours yet. She could already hear the discussion over what to have for dinner.

"Hey Bre!" Susan called lazily.

Some bodyguard, Michala thought grouchily. After all the planning she put into the weekend, and Bre had been there for every step, how she could let them barge in was beyond her. What good was a bodyguard who let her fall prey to this?

"Yes?" Bre asked from the doorway. Her gaze skipped over the bed before locking on Michala’s face. "Do you need something?"

"Do you have a gun?"

Bre blinked slowly before nodding. "You know I do."

"Is it in your room?"

"Of course."

Michala smiled. "Good. Shoot them for me. You’ll at least dispose of the bodies, right Kelly?"

Susan kicked Michala gently on the foot and stuck her tongue out. "Can we order food from a delivery service, or is the menu here it? We’re thinking about lunch."

Bre leaned against the door with a shrug. "Delivery’s fine, but I want to make the call. I want it delivered to my room."

"Cool," Jess said and jumped from the bed to fetch the phone book. She threw herself down on the bed. She began to thumb through the pages, asking, and "Any requests?"

Michala gave up. Short of actually shooting them and dumping their bodies, they weren’t leaving. She could sulk. She could make snide comments. While Shannon and Miranda might be uncomfortable enough to leave, her attitude would roll off their lovers back. Jess and Susan would simply not care that she wanted them to be any place else on the planet. And while she might have done it to Jess and Susan anyway, she was trying to make Shannon more comfortable around her. And it was time Miranda became a part of their little circle. She might as well grin and bear it. Besides, if they tried to spend the night, she’d shoot them herself.

"Hey, Chinese?"

She nodded at Jess’ questioning gaze. "Sure. I want something with shrimp in it."

Once she decided to give in, she would later remember the day as one of her favorites. It was more like the Saturday’s they shared in the beginning. The tradition of Saturday’s began after they graduated college and entered the real world. Suddenly they didn’t see each other much. Soon they didn’t know the every day happenings in the other’s lives. Michala couldn’t remember who suggested it, but one of them did and the tradition was born. Those early days were pointlessly silly. Saturdays became more focused as they became busier in their chosen professions and their love lives got more complicated. She realized now that Saturday’s changed again when Tyler entered her life. She sent up a prayer that afternoon that she would know many more Saturday’s like the one she spent that day.


Monday came much, much too soon. Kelly sat on the bed and watched Michala move around the room as she gathered her belongings. Kelly didn’t want to let her go. She didn’t want her contact with Michala to be limited to phone calls. This arrangement didn’t seem so bad when she had the next two days to spend with her. Now that it was Monday and she had to get through the next four days on her own, it sounded like a good definition of hell.

"You can’t be ready," Michala said testily.

Kelly bit back a grin. She was touched by Michala’s fractious attitude because it meant the good doctor was as unhappy with the situation as she. She also knew that Michala did not appreciate how touched she was that they shared this common ground. To Kelly it seemed that the fears she had about them being together were not shared by Michala. And that more than anything eased Kelly’s fears. Michala simply assumed they were together and would be again. Kelly latched onto that confidence with both hands. So while she was irritated they had to be a part all week, she was giddy with relief that she wouldn’t spend the week wondering what Friday held. She knew. Their reservations for the next weekend were already made.

She lounged back on the bed with her hands behind her head. "Unlike someone I won’t mention, I didn’t pack as if I would be changing clothes all weekend."

"Aren’t those the same clothes you were wearing Friday at the bar?"

"Yep." Kelly felt no shame. She didn’t wear them long Friday and it wouldn’t be the first time she didn’t go home to change before she went to work. "I’ve learned to travel light when I’m with you."

In the blink of an eye, Michala was laying on top of her. Kelly’s arms closed around her without thought. Warm brown eyes looked down on her mischievously. She was trying not to grin. "So next Friday you won’t be bringing a suitcase?"

"A small one. I don’t think Bre will want to come in here with our food if we’re only covered in sheets."

When Kelly remarked on Bre’s obvious discomfort around them, Michala had laughed saying she was doing much better now. They giggled as Michala recounted Bre’s first foray into the Otherside. She refused to act as Michala’s "date" which left the attractive bodyguard open to the advances of other women. By the end of the evening, Bre was hanging onto Michala’s hand like a lifeline. She was able to actually speak to the women when they asked her to dance now. She wasn’t saying no every time either.

"I’m going to miss you this week," Michala said and laid her head on Kelly’s shoulder.

The words were Michala’s new litany. She began saying them Sunday afternoon. While Kelly loved the sentiment, she didn’t want Michala missing her before she was gone. Kelly slipped her hand under Michala’s face and turned her so that she could press their lips together. She could give Michala something better to miss than just her. The kiss went from chaste to pornographic in less than a second. This is how it should have been Friday night when instead they were hesitant and unsure.

Michala straddled her and yanked her shirt from her slacks without their lips losing contact. She groaned in protest when Michala sat up and could only stare as her buttons went flying in all directions. Any protest she might have made was forgotten as Michala slid her bra over her breasts and latched herself to her left nipple. Her right nipple was pinched between two fingers. Kelly slid both hands into Michala’s hair and held on. She groaned deep in her throat.

A noise somewhere close reminded her they weren’t alone. Dimly she remembered they were packing. She fisted her right hand in Michala’s hair and tugged until Michala’s gaze flicked up at her. She could barely believe she was about to say what she was about to say. "We can’t do this now."

Michala’s eyes were half closed in desire. She put a hand on either side of Kelly’s face and braced herself as she rocked herself against Kelly. "Why not?"

The question was confusing. Why not what? Kelly released Michala’s head and let her hands drop to her waist. The silk shirt Michala wore slipped easily from the waist of her slacks. They both watched her quickly release the buttons. Michala didn’t wait for her to remove the dark red silk as she shrugged the shirt off her shoulders. When she was bare from the waist up, she leaned over to brush her nipples across Kelly’s.

Their eyes met and they each saw into the wide open depths of the other’s soul. Love mixed with lust, fears unspoken and trust unbroken, gratitude for the present and trepidation for the future. Kelly would never know if she pulled Michala down or if Michala lowered herself so that their bodies touched along every inch. It didn’t matter. All that mattered right then was satisfying the hunger burning inside.

"Pants off," she ordered and rolled them to their sides. Kelly watched as Michala unzipped and slipped out of her slacks. When she was nude, Kelly was on her, pushing her back against the bed and moving down between her legs.

"Ah, oh," Michala said, first in surprise at the unexpected attack and then desire as Kelly spread her open. "Oh yes, baby, oh."

Kelly was riveted to how easily her fingers slid inside. They’d made love several times over the weekend. And at one point on Saturday when Michala’s friends were lounging around, Michala had covered them with a blanket and tortured Kelly with stealthy touches. Seeing Michala so ready for her threw gasoline on Kelly’s own desire. She lowered her face to the blonde curls and was rewarded with a long groan from Michala when her tongue touched her.

Too soon, Michala’s hands were clenched in her hair as she came. Kelly slid out of her and used both hands to hold herself to Michala, sucking on her as Michala arched from the bed. Kelly released her when Michala fell back against the bed unmoving. She kissed first one thigh and then the other. Michala jerked and moaned weakly when she kissed her.

"You’re going to kill me," she said once Kelly was leaning over her.

Kelly shook her head. "Uh-uh. I have too many plans for you."

Warm fingers closed over Kelly’s right nipple. A warm thigh nudged her legs open. "Do you? I have plans for you. Want me to tell you one of them?

Kelly shut her eyes and focused on Michala’s throaty purr. "Yes."

Warm fingers closed over her left nipple. The thigh between her legs slid higher. Kelly fought to keep herself braced on her side. She was in Michala’s capable hands and if Michala wanted her on her back, she’d be there. She felt Michala lean into her. "How…experimental are you?"

Kelly swallowed as a single image filled her mind. She saw herself pressed against the wall in Michala’s apartment. That was the single most erotic thing she had ever done in her life. With her past lovers, she ventured from the bedrooms a few times and then it was only in the shower or on the floor. "For you, very."

Michala released her nipples. She reached down to pull Kelly tight on her leg. Her mouth was next to Kelly’s ear. She spoke softly. "I want to fuck you Kelly. Will you let me do that?"

Kelly had to open her eyes. Was Michala asking what she thought she was asking? Michala’s eyes were dark and heavy lidded as they met hers. "Tell me what you want to do to me."

Michala reversed their positions. She reached down and stroked Kelly with a single fingertip. "I want to watch you watch me put on a harness. I want to watch you watch me come to you and I want you to be so, so ready for me. Like you’re ready for me now."

Kelly’s hips moved of their own accord as Michala teased her. She could see the picture Michala was painting for her all to clearly. She was astonished to find herself turned on by the thought of Michala coming to her like that. She could feel Michala’s weight on her body. Michala opened her with two fingers, but didn’t go inside.

"Oh baby you’re so wet," Michala whispered in her ear. "You want me, don’t you? Right now, you want me inside."

Kelly nodded. She knew she was so close to coming. "Please."

Michala slid into her in one deep thrust. "I want to fuck you Kelly. I want to feel you holding onto me."

Blindly, Kelly reached for her and pulled Michala down to her. She held Michala against her, felt her moving in and out, and exploded with Michala whispering in her ear.

"I can’t wait for next weekend," Michala said and kissed her cheek.

Kelly forced her eyes open. Michala was smiling tenderly down her. "I have to go shopping this week."

She was serious, Kelly realized with fear. "Um, I don’t know honey."

Michala’s grin was cocky. "I do. Trust me. You’ll be begging me."

"And will you be begging me?" Maybe if she could do Michala first, she could allow Michala to do that to her. It was one thing to have it whispered like a fantasy in your ear. It was something else altogether different for it to happen in reality.

Michala leaned over and met her gaze. The look in her eyes had Kelly looking forward to Michala’s plans next weekend. "Do you want me to beg? Or would you rather know now how much I want you to fuck me?"

Both options had appeal. Kelly licked her lips. "Let me think about it."

"You have all week," Michala said and moved off the bed.

Kelly sat up on her elbows and watched her lover shift through the clothing scattered over the bed. Michala held up her shirt with a sly grin. She fingered one of the dangling strings. "Do you have another shirt to wear?"

"No, I don’t. Did you do that on purpose?"

Michala tossed her the shirt and laughed. "Will you believe me if I say no?"

Kelly grinned and held her ripped trophy up for inspection. She’d never had clothing torn off her body before Michala. She’d done several things with Michala she’d never done with anyone else. A few of her past lovers would be astonished to know she wasn’t as rigid as they thought. Her gaze traveled to Michala. She was tucking her shirt into her slacks. She was astonished to realize she would let Michala do whatever she wanted to her. Should she be concerned over the power Michala had over her? No, she thought, watching Michala stand at the dresser and put on her jewelry, her trust wasn’t misplaced.

"I’ll see if Bre has anything you can borrow. I think anything I have will be too small."

Kelly watched her leave the room. She reached for her slacks and began to dress. Funny how leaving the room wasn’t as hard as it was earlier. She had a lot to think about over the next four days. She grinned as Michala’s amused voice drifted into the room. She had a lot to look forward to also.


Memories from the weekend popped into Michala’s mind throughout the day. She realized she was grinning like the town idiot whenever she wandered the halls. She didn’t care. For the first time in too long the life she was living was one she truly liked. No, it wasn’t perfect. She would agree that it was far from anyone’s idea of perfection. But it was a lot closer than it was at any other time in the last year.

Michala glanced at her watch and saw that it was close to four. She’d asked Bre to pick her up early today. The interior decorator wanted to meet her at the Center and finalize Michala’s choices for the new designs. Michala was more than ready for this meeting. No one liked the temp offices and they were all eager for the move back. This meeting with Tara Carlisle was several steps closer to that happening.

When the last file of the day was complete, she gathered the stack from her desk and took them out to Jayne for filing. The young woman had a psych book open on the desk. "Finals?"

Jayne’s head snapped up with a guilty expression on her face. "Um, yeah. There’s no one waiting."

Michala sat the folders on a clean corner of the desk. "It’s all right Jayne. I don’t mind if you study."

Relief flooded the young woman’s face. "Thanks. This is a hard class."

Michala leaned over to read the title of the textbook. "Abnormal Psych. If you need help, ask Miranda. As I recall she did very well in that subject."

"Really? Gosh, that’d be great."

The sound of the door opening drew their attention. Michala grinned at the man came into the office. "Hi Will. How are you today?"

The shy mailman smiled at her. He’d grown a goatee in the months since she last him. She thought it suited him, made him look older. "I’m fine Cayla. How are you?"

Michala crossed her arms over her chest and sat on the edge of the desk. "Great. I’m going over to the Center this afternoon to make a few decisions on colors and stuff. We’re hoping to be back in the Center in a few weeks."

Will handed her the mail. "That is good news. Do you have a minute? I have a package for you to sign for, but I didn’t bring it in. Your car isn’t here."

Michala laughed and stood up to follow him from the office. "I’m not driving myself to work right now."

The white mail truck was parked several spaces down from the doors to the Center. Will walked to the back of the truck. "Why?"

Michala hesitated. She didn’t want to tell him the truth. She didn’t like people outside of those who had to know what was happening in her life knowing the truth. As far as she was concerned too many people already knew. She didn’t like feeling anymore exposed than she already did. Not to mention the truth never painted her in the best light.

"My car was damaged during the break-in," she said simply and hoped Will would leave it at that.

They were standing at the back of the mail truck. Will was piling packages to the side and he stopped to stare at her over his shoulder. His hazel eyes were narrowed at her. "That’s not true. Why are you lying?"

"What?" His attitude startled her. "Why do you think I’m lying?"

He spun to face her and held up a little gray box with a large red button. "Get in the truck. Don’t do anything else or I’ll blow us both up."

Michala could only stare as reality hit her hard. Will gripped her by the arm and dragged her with him into the cramped little truck. He pushed her down on the boxes and slammed the door in one motion. Will was her stalker? Shy, unassuming Will the mailman?!? Michala fought down the hysterical laughter she felt at the absurd situation. She wanted to say this wasn’t really happening, but it was and all her safeguards had failed.

"Why are you doing this?" She asked calmly. She had to stay calm to get herself out of this. She could not depend on the cavalry coming to her rescue.

Will ignored her as he concentrated on getting out of the parking lot as quickly as possible. The packages she was sitting on tumbled as he turned the corner too fast, slamming her into the opposite panel. Pain exploded across her left temple. She reached weakly to brace herself as she felt the truck turn again.

"It didn’t have to happen this way, you know. You made me do it like this."

Michala relaxed when she thought they weren’t going to be turning again anytime soon. She reached up to her head and knew before she felt the wet trail that she was bleeding. "This didn’t have to happen at all."

The sound Will made was between a laugh and a sob. "You wouldn’t listen. All you had to do was listen. I didn’t want to do this."

"I’m listening now." As unlikely as she thought it, she might actually learn his motivations. Maybe he could make some sense of the chaos he brought to her life. He had to have a reason somewhere in his confused brain. Michala didn’t hope to understand it. She just wanted to know the reason why he chose her of all people. Even if it was a reason that had her throwing her hands up and saying ‘Are you kidding me?’.

"Who cares? It doesn’t matter now."

Chills snaked down her spine at the cool finality in his voice. She stared at his profile. She had to reach him. "If it doesn’t matter, why not tell me? I didn’t understand what you wanted before."

"You wouldn’t understand now either," he sneered and shot her a glare of pure disgust. "You people never understand until it’s too late."

Michala closed her eyes. Her head was pounding. Talking to him in his riddles wasn’t helping. She wasn’t sure which people he meant by his comment. Women, doctors, activists, lesbians. She fell into several categories that were characterized by the ‘you people’ label. "What don’t we understand?"

"Just shut up. I’ll tell you what you need to know when I want you to know it."

Michala laid her arm on a stack of boxes and rested her head on her forearm. The time on her watch was a few minutes after four. Bre would be at the office by now. She was usually early. When would they realize they couldn’t find her? How far away would she be before they knew something was wrong? Would anyone even pick up on the fact that she never came back inside after leaving with Will? The mailman. Her stalker was the damned mailman. Who would have thought that?

They knew he was on the edges of her life. They just never checked out the men who were on the edges of it. Men who were supposed to be on the edges of it. Every life had people who fit in the background. She was that person for patients who came to the Center, for the people she came into contact with for DVIT, as a customer for places that she shopped. They were the people whose presence you never questioned because you expected them.

Belatedly she thought she should have mentally followed their path. She had to believe she’d have a chance to save herself. She’d have a better chance at that if she knew how to get away from him. She lifted her head and stared over his head. She prayed a street sign or familiar billboard would flash by so that she could get a fix on their location.


Kelly was sitting with Randa and Sam in her office near the Underground. It wasn’t easy to keep her wandering thoughts on their cases. Several times she had to be prompted by Randa or Sam. Sam at least didn’t have a little knowing grin when she did it. Randa was enjoying her distraction far too much. Kelly was waiting for Randa to ask her what she was thinking about. She was certain she could make Randa blush with her answer.

They were nearing the end of the folders when two beepers went off. All three reacted to summons by reaching for theirs. Kelly smiled as she recognized the number as the one for the new offices. She wondered why Michala was beeping her rather than calling her. She shrugged it off, thinking Michala wasn’t sure where she was and knew she’d reach her by beeper.

"Your sister," she said to Randa as she dialed the number. Randa nodded and held up her own beeper.

Kelly’s first clue that all was not right was the cacophony of noises she heard in the background when the phone was answered. Her second was the terse voice who answered the phone. "Detective Susan Reid."

Kelly stood up as her mind computed how wrong it was for Susan to be answering the phone in the Cary Center. She stopped breathing and her heart slammed into her chest. "Is she there Susan?"


Her world shattered with that one tiny word. There was a million innocent reasons why Michala would be gone from the Center. She was free to come and go as she pleased. None of those reasons would have led to Susan being at the Center answering the phone. There was only one reason for Susan to be there. Only one reason for she and Randa to be paged at the same time with the same number. The phone was taken from her without a struggle.

"All right. We will."

Kelly blinked at Randa in silence and waited for her to say the words. Michala’s twin looked as shell shocked as she felt. She reached out to lay a hand on Randa’s arm. "What?"

"There’s uh, a car coming for us. Cayla, um, her day was over. She was waiting for Bre. Will had a package for her. She had to sign for it. She went outside." Her disbelieving gaze met Kelly’s. "She never came back in."

The next few minutes happened in a blur. Her door was opened without warning. Two uniformed officers and Lieutenant Bates came into her office with grim faces. Bates told them what they already knew in a dispassionate voice. They were hustled from the building and into a squad car. Kelly doesn’t remember if she reached for Randa’s hand or Randa reached for hers. She only knew the warm hand in hers on that seeming interminable drive to the temp offices was the only thing that kept her grounded.

The scene in the parking lot was eerily reminiscent of that morning of the break-in. Official cars were parked everywhere. They were dropped off at the front doors. Kelly didn’t want to go inside. She didn’t want to know what she only suspected which was that they didn’t know where Michala was or who had her. She went because Randa’s hand was on hers like a vise and she had no choice but to follow her.

"How?" Randa demanded as they stood on the threshold. Her harsh voice coldly silenced every other voice in the room. Radios crackled in the background. Everyone stopped to stare at them "She was supposed to be safe here."

Susan came to stand in front of them. "It’s Will. He lured her outside. We have him on tape pulling her into the mail truck and leaving."

"Where the hell was Bre?"

Susan shot a quick glance to her left. Kelly looked over to see Bre sitting with her head in her hands. "She wasn’t here yet. Michala’s day ended early."

"Okay, where is the investigation?" Kelly asked. The shock was wearing off and she felt herself fall into police mode.

"We’ve got units out looking for the truck. We’re tearing his life apart. We’ve got teams at his house and where he works."

It wasn’t enough Kelly knew, just as she knew there was little else they could do. They had to get inside his mind to know him. If they were very lucky, they would find him before he could harm Michala. She didn’t want to think about what would happen if they weren’t lucky. She had to believe the system she had devoted her life to wouldn’t let her down. The system owed Michala one.


It was dark. She was on her stomach on the floor. Michala couldn’t tell much more than that. Her hands and feet were bound, tightly she realized, and grimaced from the pain. She turned her head and had to close her eyes when pain lanced across her temple. She relaxed completely on the floor and while she waited for the pain to subside, tried to piece together the last few hours.

The last thing she remembered clearly was being in the mail truck with Will. She must have passed out somewhere along the way. How she got from the truck to what was obviously a house, she didn’t remember. Which meant she most likely had a concussion and had lost consciousness. She was awake now and felt somewhat clear headed. But she’d lost valuable time while being out. She didn’t know the time, her location, how long they’d been here, how long it took to get where they were. The only thing she knew was that she was trapped and mostly likely those who loved her knew it by now.

Cautiously, she opened her eyes. She was in a small unfurnished room. Moonlight came through an uncovered window. The floor under her was rough hardwood. Like you’d find in a cabin in the woods. Which would explain the complete lack of sound. They were not somewhere heavily populated. She just hoped they weren’t completely isolated. She didn’t want to have to take refuge in a forest when she got away from him. She was positive she wouldn’t last long if she had to rely on her own skills in the woods.

The door opened and she cried out from the pain as bright light hit in the eyes.

"You’re a sound sleeper, Cayla. You didn’t move a muscle when I was carrying you around." He sounded extremely pleased.

"I was unconscious," you idiot. Was he really so out of touch with reality he thought the woman he kidnapped just fell a sleep? She drastically lowered her expectations of his sanity. She wasn’t going to be reasoning with him anytime soon.

He came to stand over her. He had changed from his post office uniform into blue jeans and a red plaid shirt. He knelt down next to her. Gentle fingers touched her head. "You had blood in your hair. I tried to get it out. How did you get hurt?"

He leaned close to her face and she saw it, the sheen of insanity in his eyes. She didn’t even need to hear the lilt of childish bewilderment to know. Sweetly shy, unassuming Will was cracked. What she wanted to know now is, was just how cracked was he. And how she fit in it.

"I hit my head." She didn’t see the point in telling him it was his driving. He would either get angry that she was accusing him of her hurting her or angry with himself for hurting her. Neither scenario had an upside for her.

He patted her on the back. "Dinner is ready. Are you hungry?"

No and she knew she wouldn’t keep anything down long if she tried. But she needed to get unbound and she needed to see more of her prison. She smiled. "Yes. I had a light lunch."

While he slipped the ropes from her ankles and wrists, he boasted about the meal he had made for them. The stew was home made, but she was sadly informed the bread was bought. He didn’t know how to make bread. Michala sat up slowly and leaned against the wall as she waited for the room to stop spinning. "I know how to make it. I can show you."

He grinned brightly. "I knew you were the right choice."

She asked because she knew she had to. "Choice for what?"

He stood up and held his hand out to her. "My wife."

Oh. My. God. Cracked didn’t quite cover it. And she had a starring role in his delusions. How did her normal little life come to this? She didn’t remember anymore.


They gathered at Jessica’s house. Kelly didn’t know where she would have gone left on her own. She wasn’t given the choice. Randa was holding tight to her. She wanted Kelly close, preferably next to her with their hands linked. Kelly wasn’t sure if it was for herself or her sister. She didn’t care. She wanted Randa where she could see her, too. For herself and for Michala.

Too many hours had passed with too little information. Will’s mail truck was found abandoned. His furnished apartment yielded few clues. The biggest being his pictorial of Michala. His obsession with her began long before Tyler Bradshaw. Kendall thought it began when he took over the route for that area two years earlier. Kelly had to smile when Kendall said they might never know why he fixated on her. She thought she understood that all too well.

William Grier was twenty-nine and the youngest of three children. He was born and bred in Atlanta and had left only for his four stint in the Marines. His parents were speechless when police converged on their home. If he had friends, they weren’t stepping up to be counted.


A Corona entered her line of vision. She took the bottle from Randa. "Thanks."

She wasn’t sure but she thought she felt Randa lay a hand on her head. "Dani called. She wants to know if you need anything from home. My sister and clothes aren’t a good combination for you, are they?"

Kelly had to laugh as an image of Michala ripping her shirt off came to mind. She wasn’t complaining. If being out of her clothes was her biggest problem with Michala, she’d take it and be quite happy with it. "I’ll call Dani later. I want to hear the latest before I go home."

"Go home?" Randa asked and sat up. "Why do you want to go home?"

The question wasn’t as odd as it sounded. And Kelly didn’t want to go home. She wanted to know what was happening while it happened, not be given the details later. However, this wasn’t her home. She couldn’t stay here indefinitely. She wasn’t Michala; she wasn’t Jess’ friend. "I can’t move in here until this over, Randa. Jess and Shannon have enough people here without adding one more."

"You aren’t leaving," Jess said as she sat down with them at the patio table. Her face was set in stubborn lines. "You want to be here and we want you here. Just give in now and save time."

Because it was true, Kelly gave in. If she left, she would want to call every hour. There was no way she could just live her life as if everything was all right. She was going to be sitting somewhere, waiting somewhere, and this where was the first one she would chose. "Thanks. I’d just be tying up your phone lines if I went home."

"Well tie it up now and call Dani. The sooner she knows what you want, the sooner she’s here waiting with the rest of us. You can use my office if you want some privacy."

The house was packed, Kelly realized with a start as she stepped off the patio into the kitchen. It was wall to wall women. She edged her way through the groups. Michala was unsurprisingly the center of all conversations. More friends, she guessed. Perhaps had she met Michala in a normal way, she would have met more of her friends by now. She hurried through the kitchen and living room. She really didn’t want to meet them now.

The call to Dani was short. She didn’t care what Dani brought her. What she wore over the next few days didn’t interest her. She only cared about Michala. They had reservations Friday at the Hyatt. She hoped that in a few days, she wouldn’t need any clothes. She closed her eyes. God how she wanted to be there, letting Michala do things to her she never thought she would ever let anyone do.

Kelly hated feeling helpless. Hated having to sit and wait while others got to do what she so desperately wanted to do herself. She wanted to be out there following leads. She wanted to be shifting through the evidence. She needed to know that everything that could be done was being done to find Michala. It didn’t mean she thought all the officers involved weren’t giving this case their very best. She believed they were. She just needed to know for herself that no stone was left unturned. Because if the worst happened…

If the worst happened.

What was she going to do if the worst did happen? If Michala was found too late. If she was never found at all. Kelly knew the statistics all too well. Despite what Hollywood would have the world believe, happy endings didn’t happen often. Those were reserved for fairytales and miracles. Not for ordinary people living ordinary lives.

No, she thought angrily, and stood. She wasn’t going to sit in here by herself and imagine the worst. They would find her. Michala would do whatever she had to do to keep herself safe until they did. Kelly had to believe that. The only way she was going to survive this was to believe they would find her.

They would have a happy ending. Because anything less was simply unacceptable.


Day Two of their vigil started early. Kelly was in Michala’s room with Michala’s twin curled up in her arms. She was awake more than asleep during the night, mostly because of Randa. The nightmares Kelly feared would visit her had tormented Randa instead. Kelly quieted her down with a solid embrace, soothing words, and little kisses on her forehead. By the time the sun was rising, Kelly knew Randa would never be just a colleague again. She was only fooling herself if she thought they could be just that while she was in a relationship with Michala anyway.

The door opening caught her attention. As she waited for the head to emerge, she tried to guess which of the women who spent the night it would be. Before she was even aware of it, Kelly was pulled into the Cary family as if she was one of them. She realized it when she watched Shannon talking to Paige. She sat close to her, one hand holding one of Paige’s and the other making soothing circles on her back. She went to Randa next and did the same thing. When she sat down beside Kelly and reached for her hand, Kelly was struck by the significance of the gestures. Kelly wasn’t here to give comfort and support to the Cary family, she was here to receive it with them.

The strawberry blonde head that poked into the room made her smile. Poor Susan. How she wanted to be the one comforting her girlfriend. Randa was allowing little hugs and would hold her hand for a few minutes, but for the most part Susan was not being allowed to comfort her as anything more than a friend of Michala’s. How much of that was Randa not wanting her parents to know the truth about her and how much was just the truth of how she felt Susan fit in her life Kelly wasn’t sure. She did hope this wasn’t the end of their relationship.

"Good morning," she whispered as Susan crept to the bed.

Red rimmed hazel eyes met her gaze briefly before sliding to rest on Randa. Susan swallowed once before she sat on the bed. Taking a deep breath, she reached out to brush short blonde strands from Randa’s face. The night must have been endless for her. "How did she sleep?"

Kelly glanced down at the peaceful face nuzzled on her shoulder. "Badly. She had nightmares."

Susan nodded, her eyes never leaving her lover. "She has been since the break-in. She didn’t want to talk about them. I didn’t want to push, not now. They’re very much alike in that. If they don’t want to talk about something, they won’t. With Michala, I know when I can push. But this one. She’s a mine field. I’m never on solid ground with her. I always feel like I’m one step from being out the door."

Kelly was searching for something to say when a voice from close to her ear asked softly, "Is that really how you feel?"

Randa rolled over to stare at Susan’s pale face. Kelly watched Susan’s gaze meet Randa’s. Whatever she saw had her shoulders slumping and she bowed her head. "Yes. You never let me in completely."

Randa sat up and wrapped her arms around her knees. "Do you ever pretend I’m her?"

Susan’s reaction might have been amusing if the question hadn’t been so very, very sad. Her head snapped up. Her jaw hung open. Disbelief quickly gave way to anger. "Do you think that? I couldn’t have her so I settled for you? Is that really what you think Miranda?"

Randa buried her face against her knees. Kelly fought the urge to comfort her. She may sound like her and right then she even looked like her, but this woman wasn’t her lover. Randa said wearily, "I don’t know what I think."

Kelly wanted to be anywhere else. This was much too private. She didn’t like being a part of this kind of scene when she was one of the participants. The silence in the room was nerve racking. She could only stare at Susan as Susan stared at Randa. Because she was watching, she saw the truth in Susan’s eyes. She was in love with Randa. Hopelessly, helplessly in love.

The decision was made in an instant. Kelly leaned over and wrapped her arms around Randa. "You should see how she’s looking at you. How she feels is written all over her face."

Cautiously the blonde head lifted. Kelly smiled at her tiny gasp. She kissed her on the top of her head and gave her a tight squeeze before moving away. She slipped from the bed and walked behind Susan to hug her. "I’ll try to keep Paige out of here."

She didn’t look back as she left the room.

Sounds from the kitchen warned her that someone else was up. It was late, after midnight, when they headed for beds last night. Most of the friends had stayed until well after eleven. Everyone was hoping Michala would be found before the day ended. They left reluctantly with promises to return. Kelly would be surprised if one of them had returned so quickly. She took a deep breath and stepped into the dining area. She wondered which of Michala’s nearest and dearest awaited her-her other best friend or her mother.

Jess was standing at the sink, leaning against the counter and sipping a cup of coffee while staring out into her backyard. She turned as if she saw Kelly coming to the kitchen from the corner of her eye. Her smile was fleeting. "Coffee’s fresh."

Kelly nodded and made herself a cup. When this was over, she didn’t want to even smell coffee for at least a month. Jess was watching her so she took a sip. "Thanks."

Jess nodded then turned back to the window. Kelly felt an overwhelming need to say something. Of all of them, Jess was the most silent. As day turned into night, as the news became less, the more withdrawn Jess became. She was one of the first to leave, excusing herself to take a shower. She never came back down. She wanted to be left alone in her suffering, if her repeated brush-off’s of Shannon and Susan were any indication. Kelly didn’t want to leave her alone. She knew Michala would not have allowed it.

"I almost feel sorry for him," she remarked casually. She forced a smile to her face when Jess glanced at her over her shoulder. "She’s gotta be furious. Come on, the mailman? I can just see the look on her face when she realized what was happening."

It shouldn’t have been funny.

Certainly the situation itself wasn’t.

But it was because in times of great stress sometimes you just have to laugh.

Jess closed her eyes. Kelly waited tensely for her reaction. As Jess simply stood there, she feared she had overstepped the line. How to fix this? She should have gotten her coffee and excused herself to the patio. Jess couldn’t have been more obvious with her desire to deal with this stoically, silently on her own. She wondered if this was a trait she coincidentally shared with Michala or if they had developed it from growing up together.

"I hope he turns his back on her," Jess said finally. She faced Kelly. She wasn’t laughing, but her smile had the same effect on Kelly. She felt the tension ease inside her. "He’s hurt her pride. Michala doesn’t like being made a fool."

Kelly sat down at the bar and cradled her cup in both hands. "He better hope we find her before she takes him out."

"You know what’s going to happen, don’t you? While we’re running around in circles trying to find her, she’ll be saving herself. We’ll get a call from some small town sheriff. She’ll either kill him or leave him tied somewhere. The most we’ll have to do is bring her home."

Kelly didn’t have a problem with that scenario. She didn’t care how Michala was saved. She didn’t care who got the credit. As long as it ended with Michala coming home, Kelly didn’t have a preference for anything else. "I can live with that."

Jess grinned. "Can you live with her reminding us of it forever?"

Kelly laughed and nodded. "I can live with anything that brings her back to us safely."


The cabin was small. He built it himself, he told her proudly. She could tell. She also saw his handiwork in the crudely made chairs and tables. Ethan Allen had nothing to fear from him. The same could not be said for her. Michala kept that firmly in mind when she allowed him to take her hand and lead her outside. In a macabre imitation of lover’s strolling hand in hand, he took her on a rambling tour of his little slice of heaven.

They were as isolated as she thought. A single, overgrown lane was the only road. She was pretty sure from the terrain that they were in the mountains. He had cleared away just the trees needed to build the cabin. In any other situation, she might have been charmed by the alcove he had made his own. Now she was frustrated because the only escape route she saw was his Ford pick-up. With her luck, he kept the only key in his jockey shorts.

"How’s your head?"

She forced herself to stand still as he reached out to touch the bruise across her left temple. His fingers were gentle. "Hurts."

He cupped her chin. His smile was teasing. "The headache excuse worked last night, but don’t expect it to work tonight."

Michala smiled at him. "You don’t have to worry about that."

He’d have to kill her first. If she didn’t get away today, he would kill her tonight.

"I know. I’ve got to get some supplies. I put aspirin on the list. Is there anything special that you want?"

Michala stared at him for several long moments. He wasn’t a bad looking guy. Dark hair styled in the severe cut favored by the military. His hazel eyes were more green than brown. He wasn’t very tall for a guy, but he was buff. He had a good job. He wasn’t a troll who had to kidnap women. Yet, here she was, kidnapped. And he was acting as if yesterday never happened. As if she was here of her own free will.

She shook her head. "No thank you. Is the store very far?"

He laughed and turned them back to the cabin. "A few miles. I’d take you, but it’s nothing but an old mom and pop place. We can go to Charleston tomorrow if you want. They have malls."

"That would be nice." So this is what it felt like to be in The Twilight Zone. She was living the reality of a kidnapped woman. He was apparently living the reality of a man on vacation with the woman he professed to love. Michala saw more opportunity for escape if she joined him in his reality than if she tried to drag him into hers. She leaned close to him and wrapped her arm around his. "I know I said I didn’t want anything special, but I won’t say no to chocolate."

Ten minutes later, Michala was standing on the front porch waving goodbye. Was it going to be this easy? All she had to do was walk into the woods and find her way home? She waited until she heard only the sounds from the woods before making a break for the trees. Her plan was to stay several yards away from the road as she followed it down the mountain or hill or whatever it was they were on. Should he realize his mistake, she wanted to hear him before he saw her.

Carefully, she began to forge a path through the thick underbrush. She didn’t care that she was leaving a trail for him to follow. She had time on her side. Time and a determination for this to end without one of them being hurt. She felt sorry for him and it had nothing to do with Stockholm’s Syndrome. He needed help. Professional, locked away for some time, possibly medicated help. Lucky for him, she was in a position to make sure he got the best of it.

Michala thought it went with the current theme of her life that once she got to the end of this road, she would be coming back.


The phone rang for the one thousandth time that day. Kelly had long stopped getting up to see who it was. If it wasn’t the press wanting quotes, or a friend wanting news, it was Kendall calling to give them pointless updates. Kelly stared up to watch the setting sun. She couldn’t believe another day was going to end without Michala being found. She didn’t want to spend another sleepless night wondering if Michala was alive.


Kelly was out of her chair and into the house in less than a second. She was reaching for her gun before she remembered she had locked it in her car. She stood in the doorway and stared around for the reason someone was yelling her name.

Susan grabbed her in a bruising hug. "She’s all right. The police have her."

The dining room and kitchen was crowded with people leaning against each other, watching Jess cry as she listened to someone on the phone. Kelly felt shaky as the tension left her body in one giant release. She held on to Susan because she knew she couldn’t stand on her own. Michala was all right. She was with the police. It was over.


Jess’ furious voice brought her head up and her eyes wide. Whatever whoever said to her had enraged her. Kelly stared at her. Jess was looking around the room at the rest of them in disbelief.

"And they let her?"

Oh, this didn’t sound good. Jess and Susan stared at each other. She said, sarcastically, "Dr Cary has offered to help the police take him into custody."

Jess’ stunned, shocked reaction was mirrored across the room. Susan began to hit her forehead against Kelly’s shoulder. Kelly bit down on the laughter that was bubbling up in her. She thought it was such a Michala thing to do. She wasn’t surprised in the least that she wanted to help her kidnapper. It was that desire that led her to form DVIT, to fight for Tyler with everything she had. She was more surprised the rest of them were surprised. She would have thought they were used to this.

"All right Kendall. Thanks for calling us. Tell them we want to talk to her as soon as possible, okay? All right, bye."

Jess hung up the phone blindly, one hand covering her mouth. She swallowed several times before she faced them. Her eyes darted over their heads. "Michala was found by a South Carolina state trooper about a half hour ago. Technically, she’s fine. Apparently she got away some time this morning and has spent all day walking in the woods looking for a road. She’s talked them into letting her go back in with them to get him."

The room was dead silent. No one breathed or cried or moved. They were staring at Jess as if waiting for her to laugh and say it was a poor joke. She didn’t. She refused to meet their horror stricken gazes.

"You were right Jess," Kelly said, her voice sounding loud in the room. "You said she’d save herself."

"Why does she have to save him, too?" Jess demanded. "Why can’t she walk away this one time?"

All the reasons why lined up in her head. Before Kelly could list any of them, Paige went to Jess. She put her hands on Jess’ shoulders. "She can’t walk away. Haven’t you learned that yet?"

And that said it all. If Michala could have walked away, she would have.

The spell was broken over the room. People began talking as one. Kelly slipped back onto the patio. As much as she understood that it wasn’t in Michala’s mental make-up to walk away, she understood Jessica’s frustration. Just this once, she wanted Michala to say to hell with someone else. She wanted her in a helicopter on way her back to them right now. She didn’t want to spend the next few hours waiting and wandering what was happening. She wanted it over completely.

At least the hard part was over. She had to smile. She couldn’t wait to hear the whole story. How did Michala get away from him? Did she use her brains to outsmart him or as Jess suggested, was he lying injured or dying somewhere? Maybe Michala wanted to go back with them to answer that question for herself. Kelly could see her having a hard time dealing with it if she did kill him.

She sat at the patio table and lifted her face to setting sun. It was nice to know that ordinary people living ordinary lives could have a happy ending.


Camden, South Carolina was a tiny town that bordered northern Georgia. Their police force consisted of three full-time officers and two part-timers. Two rooms in the county courthouse served as the Sheriff’s office. Michala sat exhausted at a battered wooden desk, sipping the worst coffee she ever tasted. She was on her third cup because it was hot. She didn’t remember a time when she felt dirtier, colder, or more tired than she did right then. She looked like a victim from an explosion. Her clothes were slashed beyond repair. Her shoes never made it off the mountain. Her body was covered in cuts and scratches. The state trooper who found her thought she had been raped.

She wanted to go home. She wanted to get into the back of a police cruiser and just go home. If she thought she still had one, she would have sold her soul to be heading back to Atlanta with sirens blaring. She’d only been gone a little over twenty-four hours. It felt like twenty-four days. She lifted her head to gaze without interest around the room. She wasn’t going home anytime soon by the number of men and women gathered around her. Some were FBI because she was taken over state lines.

"Dr Cary? I’m Dr Kimble. If you’ll come with me, we’ll get you washed up and into some clean clothes." He held out his hand to her.

Michala was painfully aware that all conversation stopped. She looked behind the older doctor to see concerned eyes watching her. The state trooper hadn’t believed her fantastic tale easily. The shock on his face when dispatch confirmed that a Dr Michala Cary had indeed been kidnapped the day before in Atlanta told her that. They were treating her like spun glass and every time someone talked to her, they seemed to be waiting to see if this would be the time she shattered.

"Thank you," she said and stood up without assistance. "That’s the best offer I’ve had all day."

Startled laughter followed them from the room. Michala avoided all eye contact. All she saw in their eyes was pity. How long would it be, she wondered, before she was no longer that woman? That woman who tried to take that poor little boy from his parents. That woman who was stalked. That woman who was kidnapped. How long did she have to wait until she was Michala who? Surely her fifteen minutes had to be over soon.

"There’s a shower in the back," the doctor said as he led her into an oak paneled antechamber down the hall from the Sheriff’s office. A striking woman smiled at her from where she stood removing a small pile of clothing from a duffel bag. "Dr Cary, this is my wife Karen. Those fellows out there don’t want you left alone. I thought you’d be comfortable with her. She’s a nurse."

Before Michala could say a word, he stepped out of the room and shut the door.

"Why just look at you!" Karen said and hurried over to her. "If your momma could see you now."

Michala watched Karen reach for the buttons on her shirt with a strange detachment. Her brain ordered her hands to catch the woman’s wrist to prevent the nurse from undressing her. Instead she smiled, saying, "She wouldn’t care how I looked. She’s glad I’m alive."

Karen slid her hands inside her shirt to slip the ruined cloth from her shoulders. She paused at Michala’s soft words. Dark brown eyes stared at her in understanding compassion. "I know, honey. I’ve got four girls of my own. I hope I never know what your momma’s gone through since yesterday."

Michala debated telling her that her mother’s journey to this particular hell didn’t start yesterday. Yesterday was more an ending than a beginning. Although none of them knew it at the time. Her train of thought was broken when she felt fingers at her waist. This time she did catch Karen’s hands. "I prefer to do that myself."

"Whatever you want honey. I’ll start the water. How hot do you take your shower?"

Michala cast a glance over her bare torso and arms. Her skin was crisscrossed with scratches. Blood was dried in many of the small welts. "Warm, I think. These cuts are going to sting."

Under Karen’s watchful eyes, Michala took the quickest shower of her life. She was feeling more like herself once she was dressed in blue jeans a little too large, red Gamecocks T-shirt and Nikes that surprisingly fit. She grinned at her reflection in a small locker mirror. Actually, she was feeling more like Miranda. "I look like my sister. We’re twins."

Karen laughed. "Shouldn’t you look like her then?"

Michala decided to skip that conversation. Karen was technically right anyway. She should look like Miranda. She turned to the woman. "Thank you for the clothes. I know the media is waiting outside. I’m glad my family doesn’t have to see me the way I looked before."

"Have you talked to them yet?"

The offer to call home was made to her from several people. Michala declined now just as she had declined then. She needed to finish this and she knew one plea from anyone she loved would send her home. She had put them through enough. It wasn’t fair that she was adding this to the list of things she had done to them. She had to do it anyway. For own self, she needed to see this through to the end. She needed to know in her own mind that it did actually end. She didn’t want to read about it. She didn’t want to hear someone else’s account of it. She wanted to know it because she was there.

"No. I will later." Michala wasn’t so sure she would do that either.

She saw that Karen, with four girls of her own, was revving up to plead her mother’s case. A sharp knock at the door was a welcome interruption. Michala didn’t know if she could find the words to explain to Karen why she hadn’t made that all important call to Atlanta. "Come in."

"Dr Cary?" A young black man stuck his head in the room. She saw from his tan shirt and insignias that he was a member of the local police. "They’re getting ready to head out. Sheriff Owens wants this on you."

She took the vest from him without a word. The times were few, but she had worn a bullet proof vest for DVIT calls. She strapped the heavy vest on with skilled hands. She smiled at the young officer. "Let’s go."

The next few minutes were spent standing back as the FBI agent in charge gave last minute instructions. Michala felt small as she walked out of the courthouse surrounded by armed and armored officers. She didn’t turn to look at the cameras recording their progress as they crossed the lawn to two black vans. She heard her name and gave a small prayer of thanks that she had learned not to respond to shouting reporters. She was shepherded to the first van and ducked quickly inside.

The younger of two FBI agents sat in front of her. He braced his elbows on his knees as he sat forward. "This is how we want to play this Dr Cary."


The Waiting Game was never one of Kelly’s favorite games to play. She was more of an action kind of woman. It didn’t help that she wasn’t alone in this leaky boat. The time didn’t pass faster and the nerve shattering tension didn’t lessen one iota just because others knew how she felt. If their frustration and agitation were any indication, no one was being comforted by anyone else’s presence.

She stayed on the patio because they were flipping through the channels hoping that one channel would have something the others didn’t. So far, the breaking news was only that Michala was safe. Kelly thought Michala would call at her first opportunity. She hadn’t and as the hour passed, Kelly stopped holding her breath every time the phone rang. She was resigned to the fact that the next time she spoke to Michala it was going to be in person.

"It’s almost over."

Kelly turned to the subdued voice. Susan dropped down heavily in the chair next to hers. Her brief smile was sad. "I’m trying not to imagine all the many terrifying reasons she’s not wearing her own clothes. Jess says she hasn’t seen her in jeans and a T-shirt since high school."

Kelly’s breath caught painfully in her throat. She swallowed hard, trying to force her heart back to its rightful place in her chest. "You saw her?"

Susan nodded slowly. "Yeah, they just left to go…wherever they’re going. She’s with a SWAT team."

"How awful am I that I hope they kill him?" She could see the scene so clearly. Her fantasy of his bullet ridden body crumpled on the ground wasn’t marred any by the fact she couldn’t have picked William Grier out of a police lineup. She wanted him dead. She didn’t care how.

Susan glanced over at her. "You’re a better person than I if this is the first time you’ve thought that. I’ve wanted to kill him since the break-in."

"I’ve been too busy playing catch-up. Until now, I just wanted him caught."

Now she wanted today’s sunset to be his last. She couldn’t even say she wanted that solely for Michala or a desire for her not to have to testify at his trial. She didn’t want the state spared the expense of extradition. She didn’t want to spare the rest of them the pain of having to relive this in court. She wanted him dead because she couldn’t stand the thought of him alive somewhere. Of him getting parole. Of him having a shot to do in some tomorrow what he did not do today. More than anything else, she didn’t want Michala living with that fear shadowing the rest of her life.

Kelly closed her eyes and rested her head back against her chair. The rest of her life. She was looking forward to the rest of Michala’s life. She smiled and had to admit she was looking forward to her place in the rest of Michala’s life. She didn’t want to seem like she was complaining. Because God knew there wasn’t much about her time with Michala she would change. She would like to have a few of the "first times" as memories. The anticipation of the first date. The terrifying expectations for that first end of the date kiss. Knowing that tonight was the night. She missed those little dating rites of passage.

Of course, she didn’t miss the doubts, insecurities, and insanities that went along with getting to know someone. Always wondering if you’re on the same page in the relationship. Questioning if the significance of something was the same for the other person as it was for you. Feeling your way through the emotional minefield left behind from the last person who tread this way. Kelly didn’t hope that she had escaped all the potential setbacks of a new relationship, but she was grateful for the ones she did.

The phone rang. Kelly rolled her head to the left to look at Susan. "You don’t think it’s over yet do you?"

Susan shrugged. "I haven’t been right about anything else so I’m not going to guess about this."

Kelly nodded. Michala’s luck, if she had any, seemed to operate under Murphy’s Law. The myriad of things that could go wrong with a SWAT team attempting to take a psycho into custody was mind boggling. Add Michala to the mixture and the mind was blown by the possibilities. "It’ll be over when it’s over."

"It’s over now."

Kelly froze at the flat announcement. Every instinct she had screamed at her not to turn around and see with her eyes what she heard with her ears. Words of denial bombarded her mind. She stood up slowly, shaking her head as if that alone could change the horror of what she was about to hear. The hardest thing she ever had to do was stand up and face Randa. Whose bloodless face said more than any words she could use.

Susan spoke first, her voice low and urgent. "No. No, no, no. Don’t say it, Randa. No."

Randa slumped back against the sliding glass door. She tore her gaze away from Susan. Kelly stepped back when those dark anguished eyes pinned on her. Randa cleared her throat. "There was an explosion. It started a fire. They’re trying to get rescue crews into the area."

"Rescue crews? So there are survivors?" Kelly seized on the important part.

Randa closed her eyes. "They don’t know. That was Kendall. She wanted to tell us before we heard it on the news." Her eyes snapped open. "She’ll call when she knows more."


The black Ford F-150 was parked to the side of the small cabin. The setting sun filtered weakly through the Pine trees, casting the clearing in shadows. Michala prayed their simple plan worked. She wanted to go home.

Both vans came to a rolling stop several yards from the front door. Soon the silent night was shattered by doors opening and bodies, weighted down with guns and armor, moving off to circle the cabin. Michala stood next to the van. She had the easiest job. Let him see her and lure him out of the cabin. Once he was outside, they would take him into custody.

"Are you ready, Dr Cary?"

Michala took a deep breath and walked out into the open. "Let’s get this over with Mr. Redman."

She flinched the first time his voice echoed from the bullhorn. In the silence that followed, she waited tensely. Her gaze flicked over the door, over the uncovered windows, and back to the door. The FBI agent spoke again after several minutes had passed. Michala stared hard at the cabin, willing him to let this end without bloodshed. All he had to do was walk out. Just walk out and it was over.

Michala would never be sure if she first saw the door opening or if she heard the creaking. Suddenly he was there, taking a few steps into their trap. Michala took an instinctive step forward. "Hi Will."

Will turned his head to look over his left shoulder. Slowly, with calm deliberation, he moved his head until he was looking over his right shoulder. Michala was ready when he turned his bemused smile on her. "I trusted you."

"I know." Michala took another step closer.

He crammed his hands into the pockets of his worn blue jeans. He looked down at his bare feet, saying, "You could’ve been happy here. You didn’t even try."

Redman grabbed her arm when she would have taken another step. She glanced at him over her shoulder. He shook his head at her. "No, Will, I couldn’t have been happy here. You know that."

Will darted a quick look at her. "It’s her, isn’t it? You love her. You couldn’t be happy here because of her."

"I couldn’t be happy here because of me."

Will suddenly stood tall and pulled his hands from his pockets. His smile was brilliant. "It doesn’t matter now."

The absolute finality in his voice chilled Michala. Something was off and she couldn’t put her finger on it. But then something had been off about him since he snatched her in the parking lot. His behavior, even for someone not operating on all batteries, was confusing. On the one hand he seemed to know what he had done and on the other, he didn’t understand the consequences of his actions.

"You said that before-it doesn’t matter now. Why doesn’t it matter now?"

Will didn’t seem to hear her. His eyes were sweeping over the trees as if looking for the police he knew were hidden there. His smile never dimmed. Michala wondered if he was hearing voices. The expression on his face indicated an internal debate or dialogue.

"Will? Why doesn’t it matter now?"

His head cocked as if he heard something behind him. He shot her a bright, happy grin. "Bye."

Michala opened her mouth, but any sound she might have made was deafened by the fiery eruption that consumed her field of vision. She turned to run from the explosion. A scorching blast of air picked her up and slammed her against the side of the van. She was unconscious before she hit the ground.


Kelly didn’t know where Camden, South Carolina was and she didn’t know where to begin to look for the place Will had taken Michala. Neither of those facts dissuaded her from wanting to get in her car and drove until she found both. She was pretty sure that all she needed to do was find Camden. She could follow the emergency vehicles and news vans after that. Almost anything was better than sitting at Jessica’s waiting for the phone to ring.

What did keep her on the patio, waiting, was fear. She would rather sit on that damned patio for the rest of the life and never know if Michala survived the blast than go up there to see her in a body bag. Usually not knowing is so much worse than knowing. Kelly didn’t want to know. She shut out the voices when the phone rang. She refused to look up whenever someone came onto the patio. When it was over, when nothing could turn back time, she would face it. But she refused to ride the wave of uncertainty until they knew absolutely.

"Here, take this Kelly. You haven’t eaten all day."

Kelly saw her hand reach for the steaming mug before her mind could frame the rejection for her mouth. Instead of no thanks, she glanced up and forced a smile. "Thank you."

Paige nodded her head once. Kelly found she couldn’t meet her eyes. "You should come inside."

"No," she began, her voice hoarse. She cleared her throat and took a sip of Chicken Noodle soup. "I’m fine out here."

Please go away, she silently begged. She could ignore Michala’s friends. She could brush away her twin’s concerns. But not her mother. Unlike Michala’s friends, Paige was innocent. She had left her shattered daughter in the hands of her friends, believing Michala was safe with them. She was wrong, not that it mattered anymore. She had Kelly to watch over Michala now.

"Look at me," Paige commanded. Kelly felt her heart pounding in her chest and wished for the courage to defy Paige even as she was lifting her gaze to Paige’s face. Paige was standing over her with her arms crossed and a severely disapproving frown on her face. Kelly felt the years drop away until she felt like a recalcitrant five year old. "Do you feel better suffering through this alone?"

"It’s not the same for me," Kelly muttered, hoping that was enough to send Paige back inside.

"Oh really?" To Kelly’s horror Paige sat in the chair next to her. She watched her lean back and cross her feet, settling in for a chat. "Why are you so special?"

Kelly did not want to have this talk. She put her cup of soup on the patio table with a sharp click of ceramic on glass. "It’s not the same for me. I barely know Michala."

"Then I owe you an apology Kelly. My information must be wrong. Someone told me you’re in love with my daughter."

Kelly didn’t need two guesses to know who that someone was. She closed her eyes, waiting for embarrassment to color her face. She could lie. She could deny it. Kelly almost convinced herself she could even look Paige in the eye as she did it. Then Michala’s face popped into her mind. How she looked Friday night in the bar, with her feelings shining so clear in her eyes. Kelly squeezed her eyes hard and sighed before she turned to face Paige. "I am."

The hardness on Paige’s face softened. "I know. I saw how you looked at her that day at the Center. You failed miserably if you were trying to hide your feelings."

Kelly had to laugh. It was poetic justice that she outed herself to Paige. "I didn’t realize I was so obvious. I hope I didn’t embarrass you."

"You made my day. Do you know how long I’ve waited for someone to look at her that way? Do you know how many times I’ve been forced to smile and be polite to a woman who was looking at her and seeing only the doctor title and successful practice? Do you know what makes it worse?"

Kelly shook her head silently. She had no clue what could be worse than seeing Michala with someone who looked at her to see only dollar signs.

"I’ve had to be happy that Michala at least tries to find someone. I’ve never looked across the table at one of Miranda’s mistakes and wondered what she could possibly see in this man."

Oh, no, Kelly thought evilly, that would be so very, very bad. She shouldn’t do it. The cardinal rule was never, ever out someone else, especially to their mothers. Unfortunately for Randa, Kelly was a firm believer that rules were made to be broken. Paige only wanted her daughters to be happy. She had no guidelines for what that had to be so she had no expectations to be crushed.

Kelly stared at her face. Whatever expression Paige would have at her words would be clear in the light coming from the house. "They are identical twins."

Paige cast her a look of confused amusement. "Yes I know. I realized that when I had trouble telling them apart when they were born."

Kelly smiled and shook her head. "They are identical twins."

Comprehension dawned slowly. They stared at each other. Kelly forced herself to sit without fidgeting under Paige’s seeking eyes. Randa’s success at keeping her orientation from her mother was starkly evident. Paige’s face lost all expression. She blew out a deep breath before slumping in her chair. "Well," she said softly, "that explains so much."

Kelly felt she had to say something. But what? This wasn’t her secret to tell, she knew better than to do this, and it was too late to take the words back. "Are you all right?"

Paige nodded slowly. "I don’t understand why she didn’t tell me. She knows I don’t care. Doesn’t she? I couldn’t love Michala anymore than I already do."

The hurt bewildered tone made Kelly feel an inch tall. She’d made a huge mess and at a time when Paige didn’t need more doubts about her daughters. She tried to salvage the situation. "Maybe she thought you could be all right with Michala because you still had her."

"I see." Her tone said not only didn’t she see, but there was little chance Randa could say anything to make her understand.

"Look Paige," Kelly sat forward and took her hand. "I’m sorry. This wasn’t my secret to tell."

Paige sent her a brief smile. "You’re probably right, but you were the only one willing to tell me. Thank you. I didn’t realize Randa thought I had given up on Michala. That was never a message I meant to send."

"Come," Paige pulled her by the hand from her chair. Kelly was too surprised to do anything but follow. Paige picked up her cup. "This is cold now. You shouldn’t be sitting out here."

Kelly didn’t fight it anymore. After breaking the news about Randa, she felt obligated to give into Paige. She owed her something for canceling out her dreams for Randa. The least she could do was give into her demands that she join them in their suffering. Even if it made her own worse.

Paige came to an abrupt halt a few steps from the sliding glass doors. Kelly barely managed to miss slamming into her back. She was a lot closer to Paige than was comfortable. Paige turned her head to whisper, "She’s with Susan, isn’t she?"

Kelly might have tried to lie. She’d done more than enough damage as it was. She didn’t get the chance. Her face gave the truth away. Paige’s answering smile was happy and relieved. The fingers around hers tighten briefly. Kelly was pulled into the house. She knew she was being pulled into something much scarier. This family.

"That was Kendall," Shannon said as she came from the living room. Her gaze skimmed over the room. "They’ve got the blaze contained and paramedics are up there now. They’ll be bringing people down soon."

Kelly tugged her hand from Paige and turned to go back onto the patio. Paige caught her before she took a single step. With a look that brooked no argument, she pulled her into the kitchen. Kelly leaned against the counter and let their conversation just drift over her. She would be here. She would pretend to be a part of them. No one had to know that without Michala, it didn’t mean anything.


Michala became aware of two things-she was laying flat on something hard and hands were roaming her body with impunity. Alarm bells shrilled in her brain. Urgent signals went out to her body to stop the attack. She reached out for the hand on her chest and went limp as bone crushing pain took her to the black edge of unconsciousness. Suddenly her eyelid was forced open. Brilliant, excruciating light blinded her left eye and then her right. She thought she was groaning, but heard nothing. Before she could worry about what was happening to her, she felt a needle prick her arm and a numbing warmth dulled the worst of the pain.

Soon, she could open her eyes without wincing. Her head was immobile, but as carefully as she could, she scanned the area around her. She was confused by the unfamiliar brightness of the room. The question of where she was fled from her mind as faces appeared above her. Her fright must have been clear for one woman leaned over and laid a calming hand on her chest and smiled. Michala frowned as she realized the woman was talking to her but she heard no sound. Alarmed, she tried to sit up. Hands reached to hold her to the bed. She felt another needle prick and her last thought was that this one was going to knock her out.

Consciousness came in stages. A warmth surrounding her, protecting her from a pain she could almost feel. Slowly she became aware that she was in a bed and someone was holding her right hand. Finally her eyes slit open. The room was lit from a light spilling through the open door. A hand came to her face and she jerked away in surprise. Her mother was suddenly leaning over her, smiling. Paige reached over her head and obviously spoke to someone. Michala reached for her mother’s arm. Why was she whispering?

Before she could get her mother’s attention, the light was turned on and people clad in hospital scrubs surrounded the bed. One older white man in surgical green bent over her and was talking while shining a pen light in her eyes. Michala blocked his hands and pushed him away. She tried to speak, to ask him to talk louder, when everything stilled around her. Her mother was staring down at her with undisguised shock.

The doctor leaned over and asked with exaggerated care, "Can you hear me?"


He nodded and bent closer to her ear. "Do you remember yesterday? The explosion?"

Explosion? She searched her mind for memories of yesterday. She remembered being in her office. "Was there a gas leak?"

The doctor patted her hand. "Do you know what city you’re in?"

Okay, she was getting scared now. Michala turned to her mother. "What happened to me?"

"Michala," the doctor said and ducked his head into her field of vision, "You were in an explosion yesterday. You’ve been unconscious for almost eighteen hours. You’ve got a small hairline crack in the back of your head. It’s important that you tell us the last thing you remember."

She could feel the pain now. Throbbing aches everywhere. She forced herself to focus. She had a head injury, obviously had some memory loss. She closed her eyes. She saw herself in her office, sitting at her desk writing in patient files. "Being in my office. A patient must have just left because I’ve got a folder open. I’m writing notes from the session."

"Honey," Paige asked in a hesitant tone, her eyes darting between Michala’s face and the doctor. "Your office at the Center?"

Michala laughed weakly. She shook her head as much as the pain allowed. "No, the new offices. I remember about the Center."

Paige sagged with relief and her smile was a thousand watts. She said to the doctor, "They’ve had the temporary offices for only a few weeks."

The doctor returned her mother’s smile. He nodded at her. "That’s good. Short term memory loss is to be expected. Your head injury was our major concern, but you’ve also got four broken ribs and your left scapula is fractured. We had to put in a pin."

While that explained the pain, it did not explain how she came to be in an explosion. "Was there a gas leak at the offices? Was anyone else hurt?"

She knew by the looks that flashed over her head that something extreme had happened. If her head wasn’t pounding she might have tried to force her brain to give up the locked away memories. They were there, she just had to access them.

Her mother brushed hair away from her face and leaned over to kiss her on the forehead. "You’re weren’t in the office. I’ll be back. You’ve got some people who really want to see you."

Michala could only watch as Paige quickly left the room. She knew who the people were who wanted to see her and as much as she loved her friends, she didn’t want visitors. Drained didn’t even begin to describe how weary she felt. It wasn’t just forcing words out over the pain of four broken ribs, it was the strain of trying to hear and understand. She closed her eyes, hoping she would fall into the deep well of oblivion before her mother came back.

Her thoughts drifted to the explosion that had put her in the hospital. She didn’t go very many places these days. If it didn’t happen at the office, where else could it have happened? Her eyes opened in fear as she thought about Jess. She was alone except for a blue clad nurse. The red head smiled at her as she hung an IV bag. Michala turned her attention to the doorway. She was now anxious for her mother to return.

She let out a shaky breath as they filed into her room. Her eyes skipped over the rumpled, red eyed group eagerly until she saw that no one was missing. If anything, she was pleasantly surprised that Kelly was among them. That her mother had talked to them was obvious when one by one they leaned over and spoke loudly before kissing her. Kelly kissed her on the lips. She was glad Kelly didn’t let their little quarrel keep her away.

They didn’t stay long. Paige let them speak to her for a few minutes, so they could see for themselves that she was all right, and shooed them from the room. She held onto Kelly’s hand to keep her from leaving with them. She had missed her and if nothing else, this gave them a reason to talk. Michala wasn’t letting the chance slip by without a fight. Who knew when they could talk again?

When they were alone, Kelly lowered the side rail and sat beside her. They stared at each other in silence for several long moments. Michala searched for something to say. They last time they talked Kelly accused her of being childish and selfish. Michala never thought the next time they talked she would be in the hospital with a concussion. She never thought Kelly would be smiling down at her so sweetly with tears glistening in her eyes.

"You should sleep. Your eyelids look like they weigh a ton each."

Michala nodded. Her whole body was being to feel like it weighed a few tons. She squeezed Kelly’s fingers. "Will you be here when I wake up?"

Kelly leaned over to give her a soft, lingering kiss. She drew back to stare into her eyes. "I promise."

Michala fell asleep with Kelly’s hand wrapped around hers, with the comforting press of her body next to her. For the first time in a long, she remembered how peace felt.


Kelly waited until she was sure Michala was asleep before letting herself react to Michala’s appearance. Paige warned them she was bruised and covered in cuts and scratches. A white cotton brace immobilized her left arm and gave support to her broken ribs. They could tell as they talked to her that she was having trouble hearing them. Kelly was prepared for all that. What she hadn’t prepared for, could never have steeled herself against, was the confused vulnerability in her beautiful brown eyes.

It was all too clear to her that Michala was surprised to see her there. That she didn’t know what to say was painfully evident. When Paige told them she had short term memory loss, Kelly was only glad Michala didn’t remember the kidnapping or the events that followed. Foolishly she didn’t stop to wonder if their weekend together was something Michala remembered. It hurt to realize that Michala remembered them apart.

"Is she asleep?"

Kelly nodded, but didn’t look at Paige. She couldn’t tear her eyes from Michala’s bruised face. She felt torn. One part of her thought she shouldn’t be here if Michala didn’t remember they had made up. Michala deserved to make a choice she could remember. The other half of her wanted to keep her promise for so many reasons. She loved Michala and there was nowhere on earth she’d rather be. A part of her would die if she had to go back to Atlanta and wait for Michala to either remember the weekend or make the same choice again. She was angry that the uncertainty of where she fit in Michala’s life was back with a vengeance. They were past that. She didn’t want to go back.

The last thing Kelly expected was Paige to sit behind her on the bed and pull her into a loose hug. "We’re taking her home tomorrow."

"And her doctor’s all right with that?" Kelly admittedly didn’t know much about head injuries. What little she knew came from medical shows. The part about not moving people with head injuries was moot. Michala was already in a hospital.

Paige asked, amused, "Didn’t you two get to the part where you trade family histories? The twins followed in their father’s footsteps. Well almost followed. Holden’s an Internist."

The fundamental truth of that statement left Kelly numb. No, they hadn’t traded family histories. Or past histories either for that matter. She knew about the last year of Michala’s life. She knew how she came to be a sleep-all-day-bar-hop-at-night-take-anyone-home-who-would-go-with-her retired Psychiatrist. But she didn’t know who Michala was before that. Michala knew less about her.

Would they be together if the last year never happened for Michala?

Kelly stared at her sleeping face.

Last year, before her life fell apart, Michala had a girlfriend. If last year never happened, if Tyler never entered her life, Melissa Davies would still be sharing her bed. Melissa left Michala. Kelly was still someone Michala picked up in a bar. Even if Michala remembered the weekend, Kelly knew she would never really know how Michala felt about her. But that wasn’t exactly true either, was it? Michala made it very clear that she didn’t want Kelly in her life when Kelly was asking questions about the phone calls. What did she say that Sunday after Randa and Susan left? The people who were allowed to care had just left and if Kelly wanted to care she could leave, too. Kelly remembered that she didn’t leave.

"I’m going to get a drink. Do you want something?" She carefully moved out of Paige’s arm and away from Michala.

Lucky for her, Paige only had eyes for her daughter. "If you find coffee, I take mine with cream."

Kelly nodded and hurried from the room. She knew the others were waiting there. Where else would they go? Kelly called upon her years of facing difficult situations calmly and rationally. All she had to do was get away from here, away from them, and then she could fall apart. She smiled at their questioning faces. "She’s asleep. Is there a coffee corner or something like it around? Paige would like a cup. Cream only."

As she expected, Holden, Randa and Susan offered to go search. They had caravanned down in three cars. None of which were Kelly’s. Hoping her voice sounded casual, she turned to Jess. "Listen, now that we know she’s fine, I need to go back to Atlanta. Can I borrow your car? I don’t want to leave Sam on her own with DVIT."

Jess was leaning next to her against the wall. She crossed her arms over her chest. She stared at the opposite wall. "You want to go back to Atlanta?"

"Yes. I’m sure that Sam’s been handling everything exceptionally well, but the program is set up for three people to administer. Randa needs to stay so I should go back."

It sounded perfectly reasonable to Kelly and she was patting herself on the back that she had come up with a legitimate reason to go back to Atlanta. How could anyone argue with that?

"Yeah, you’re probably right. I saw Michala’s desk when she was still with DVIT. Sam should be buried under folders by now. But I know Michala would prefer you stay rather than Randa. She and Susan can go back in Susan’s car."

"Michala’s her sister. I’m sure she’d rather stay."

Jess pushed away from the wall and stepped in front of her. Anger made her clear blue eyes a stormy sea tossed gray. "And you are her lover. Or should I say was her lover?"

Because she couldn’t bear looking into Jess’ eyes, Kelly closed her own. She should have known Michala’s best friend would see through her. She supposed she should count her blessings that it was Jess instead of Susan. The police tended to act before they thought. She hoped Judge Newhouse would be sensible.

"If you want to leave, leave. You haven’t wanted to be with us since this began. I thought you were just uncomfortable with us. We haven’t had a chance to just be together like normal people. But if it’s really that you don’t want to be with her anymore, then go. I don’t want her with someone who would dump her while she’s in a hospital bed. She deserves better."

The words chosen so carefully to cut as deep as possible left her shredded. She couldn’t have stopped the tears even if she tried. And she had been trying since she left Michala’s bedside. She opened her eyes when she felt Jess move closer. She was braced against the wall, her arms on either side of Kelly.

"Are you crying for her or for you?"

Kelly tried to look away. She could lie to Jess. She could say it was for Michala. She thought she could say anything that would get her away from here. She couldn’t do it and look in her in the eye. Jess obviously knew that because she moved her head with Kelly’s, forcing her to see her face. "For me."

"What happened in there? Why are you so sure Michala wants you to leave?"

Kelly reached for what little dignity she had left. She wiped away her tears. She took a deep breath. She didn’t dare hope Jessica would agree with what she was doing, but she did hope she would understand just a little. "Would you say Michala’s made good decisions the last six months?"

Jess didn’t smile. She shook her head. "Michala wouldn’t say she’s made good decisions the last six months."

"How do you know I’m not one of the bad decisions she made? If her life hadn’t been turned inside out she would still be with Melissa. She didn’t want me in her life before the break-in. She threw me out Jess. You said it yourself, this hadn’t been normal. I don’t want to be here when she goes back to her normal life and realizes I don’t fit in it."

It was brief and she covered it up quickly, but Kelly saw Jess’ eyes soften. Jess looked down the hall and then turned back to her. She nodded her head once. "I think you’re wrong. But just in case you are right, this is what we’ll do. When she wakes up, you tell her you’re going back to Atlanta. I’ll go with you. I do need to get back to my courtroom. There’s something there I think you should see. After that, if you still think she doesn’t know what she’s getting into, you can walk away. Susan and I will personally make her regret she ever thought she was in love with you."

Kelly agreed because she knew she didn’t have a choice. She met Jess’ cold steel blue eyes. "I’m sure you will."

"Count on it."


She heard voices. Soft laughter. Someone was holding her hand. Michala opened her eyes and found Jess sitting beside her bed holding her hand. Her friend wasn’t looking at her, she was grinning at someone on the other side of her bed. Michala turned her head. Susan was sitting up from her chair to smile at her.

"Hey you," she said loudly.

Michala smiled back at her. "You don’t have to talk so loud. I can hear you."

Both women were instantly standing over her. Jess squeezed her hand. "You’re improving almost by the hour. How do you feel?"

"Like I was in an explosion. Care to fill in the details?"

"Sorry, we’ve been sworn to secrecy. The doctors think it’s better for you to remember on your own."

Michala turned soulful eyes to Susan. Jess was the enforcer of rules. Susan was the breaker. "Susan?"

Her friend kissed her on the forehead. "No, babe, not this time. You need to do this by the book."

"That bad, huh? Everyone’s acting so weird I’m going to think my stalker got me."

And then she knew that he did. Susan and Jess were too stunned by her careless words to do more than stare at her with their mouths open. She looked form one to the other as they tried desperately to change the last minute. Fear chilled her and she made herself ask, "Was there really an explosion?"

"Yes, there was an explosion," Jess said impatiently. "Do you think we’d make that up?"

"I think you would yes, if you thought you were protecting me. If I was raped."

Michala watched Susan’s face. Jess was better at hiding her emotions. Susan wasn’t. Whatever happened to her, she wanted to know the truth. However painful that truth might prove to be. She just hoped the truth wasn’t as bad as what she was imagining.

"You weren’t raped," Jess said softly. She tugged on Michala’s hand to get her attention. Susan walked around the bed and sat down next to her. Michala let her gaze flicker between the two of them. "We’re in South Carolina. He-"

"He?" Jess looked up at Susan. Susan shrugged, as if saying they’d come this far they might as well go all the way. Michala looked expectantly at Jess. They had told her this much, they might as well tell her everything.

Jess sighed deeply, a sign that she was giving in. "Your mailman. He was your stalker."

The story Jess told was too bizarre to be anything but true. Michala was bewildered by the identity of her stalker. Will was never anything less than pleasant to her. He also never said or did anything that raised a flag for her. Will wasn’t the last man she would have thought was her stalker, but he was only one or two men ahead of him in line. He had seemed normal to her.

"I don’t remember any of it," Michala said almost to herself. Even now, after she heard the story, she still didn’t remember any of it. Was it the truth? Would they lie to protect her from some awful truth? Michala believed they would. She didn’t doubt that she would do the same for them. If something too horrible for words happened to one of them and by some grace they were spared the memory, yes she would lie to keep it from them. She accepted they would do they same for her.

Susan slipped her hand under theirs. "You will in time. The doctor thinks it’ll be a few days, no more."

"Yes," Jess agreed and met her eyes in a stare that didn’t flinch. Either Jess really agreed with the doctor or she really hoped he was wrong.

Michala hoped she was prepared when she knew the truth. If she knew the truth. She didn’t think the others would contradict Jess’ story. They might even pretend to be outraged by Jess going against the doctor’s advice. But if Jess’ story was the one they wanted her to believe, she could see all of them lining up behind her. She could always send for her medical records if her memory didn’t return. The truth was out there should she ever want to know it.

When her door opened, Michala wasn’t sure which of them was more relieved. Kelly paused by the foot of her bed. Her gaze slid slowly over them. She took in how close Jess and Susan were sitting to her, lingered on their linked hands, then she was smiling at Michala.

"This looks serious. Am I interrupting something?"

Susan slid from the bed and leaned over to kiss her lightly on the lips. She left the room without acknowledging Kelly’s presence. Jess kissed the back of her hand. She shot Kelly a look she couldn’t decipher. "I’ll be waiting outside."

Kelly stared at her for a moment and then nodded. "Thank you."

Michala would think later that if she hadn’t been rattled by the talk with her friends, she might have noticed that Kelly was nervous as she stood there watching her. Her hands moved restlessly on the end of her bed. Her smile was strained. Michala held out her hand and she noticed that Kelly hesitated before she came over to sit on the bed. She watched Kelly closely as she asked, "Are you all right?"

Kelly’s laugh was stilted and she had trouble meeting Michala’s eyes. With Jess’ words ringing in her ears, Michala jumped to the only conclusion she thought explained Kelly’s odd behavior. She slipped her hand away from Kelly’s. Kelly was having enough trouble being in the same room with her. Michala didn’t want to compound that by making Kelly touch her.

"I’m fine," Kelly said, her tone betraying her. "Now that you’re okay. In fact, I thought I would catch a ride back with Jess. She was saying she needed to get back to court. I don’t want to leave Sam on her own too long. You know how it is."

"I do know." Kelly’s relief confirmed her worst fear. Michala closed her eyes. She used the ready made excuse being in a hospital bed gave her. "I’m tired Kelly. You should leave."

She didn’t open her eyes to watch Kelly. She didn’t want to see the pity or revulsion she knew she would see in her eyes. She just wanted Kelly to go. Kelly didn’t disappoint her. She left quickly without the pretense of a kiss. Michala was grateful. She much preferred Kelly forgo kissing her than suffer through a chilly goodbye kiss. She wished she could go back to sleep. She didn’t know which horror to dwell on-the fact that she was raped or the fact that Kelly could barely bring herself to touch her. Not that it mattered, both were making her nauseated.

Her laugh was a hollow sound in the room. She really had to stop asking how her life could get worse. Some twisted fate seemed to take her words as a personal challenge. She really didn’t want to entertain what else could happen to her.


The four and a half drive to Atlanta was made in total silence. Kelly spent the drive staring out of the passenger window, trying to imagine a life in Atlanta without Michala. She could possibly avoid being in the same place at the same time as Michala. They had enough friends in common she should be able to manage at least that. She would have to resign from DVIT. That was a given. She wasn’t going to spend the rest of her life staring at the mirror image of Michala’s face.

As they got closer to Atlanta, Kelly became curious about their destination. She couldn’t even guess at what Jess wanted to show her. She didn’t believe for one second it would change her mind. She wasn’t sure what would. Her time with Michala was tainted by the extreme circumstances of Michala’s life. How could she ever trust that Michala’s feelings for her were real? How could she ever know that Michala wanted to be with her just because?

Kelly was so lost in her thoughts she didn’t realize they had reached their destination. She sat up from her slumped position in the seat and stared. Jess turned the car off and shot her a quick glance. "Come on."

Kelly followed her slowly. She didn’t have a good feeling about this. They were at the Cary Center. The real Cary Center, not the temporary offices.

Jess said as she unlocked the door, "Susan and I were supposed to meet her here that day. She had an appointment with the interior designer to pick out fabrics and colors. The construction part of the remodeling is over."

The air smelled sharply of wood and fresh paint. She trailed behind Jess down the long central hallway. She couldn’t stop herself from peeking into rooms as she passed them. Kelly wanted to wander through the offices and conference rooms. She saw the Center after he demolished it. She wanted to see for herself that every hold he put in the walls was filled. This was Michala’s dream. She wanted it handed back to her in pristine condition.

"This way," Jess called to her.

Kelly pushed her thoughts away. Jess brought her here for a purpose. Maybe when she had made whatever point she needed to make, she would let Kelly roam around the place. Kelly didn’t see herself coming here again. She walked to the front of the Center and saw Jess moving up the staircase. Kelly stopped and frowned as Jess reached the top. She unlocked the doors. Well that was just cruel. Did Jessica really think she was going up there? "Whatever it is bring it down here."

"I can’t. You have to come up here." Jess’ voice was ice cold.

"I’m not going up there Jess. Just tell me what it is."

"I don’t think very highly of you right now Kelly, but I do think you’re a woman of your word. I can’t bring this to you. You have to come up here. You told me you would."

Angrily Kelly stormed up the stairs. She paused on the threshold. "This better be good."

Kelly was several steps inside the apartment before she realized it wasn’t an apartment anymore. The spacious room was completely empty of all furniture. Kelly walked to the kitchen and was speechless to see that the kitchen was gone. The fridge was still in place, but the other appliances were gone. In their place was a microwave, Espresso machine, coffee maker, and a lot more counter space. It looked like a smaller version of the kitchen downstairs.

"What is this?" She asked, turning around to face Jess.

Jess shrugged. "How would I know? Michala never made it here remember?"

"If you thought I would be surprised that she’s moved out, you’re wrong. I already knew."

Jess gestured to the hallway. "Then I suppose the rest won’t surprise you either."

Both doors were half open along the hallway. Kelly didn’t stop at her guest room. She knew that whatever Jess wanted her to see was in Michala’s bedroom. She put her hand against the door and pushed it open. Sunlight flashed across the gold name plate on the door. Kelly stopped and angled the door so that she could read the black etched letters.

Lt. Kelly Pryce.

Kelly stared at her name on that door for an eternity. At first her mind was blank. She was too stunned to think. Too stunned to understand what it meant that Michala put her name on this door. What did it mean? Did it mean anything at all? Finally Kelly walked into the room. This time she expected the room to be bare. She stood in the center of what was once Michala’s bedroom and turned slowly. Honey oak bookshelves gleamed in the bright sunshine. The walk-in closet was converted to filing cabinets and storage space. Michala put a lot thought into making this an office. For her.

"The other room is for Sam. Can you imagine how Susan and I felt when we saw that Michala was moving DVIT into the Center? She was finally moving on."

Kelly nodded, but she wasn’t really listening to Jessica. The implications of this room were sinking in. Even if Kelly wanted to believe she was never important to Michala because it’s easier to lose something if you told yourself you never had, she couldn’t dismiss this so easily. Michala invested a lot of time and a lot of money into this part of the remodeling. She had done it when she had every reason to think Kelly wasn’t available to her anymore.

"So do you get it now?"

"Yes." And she did. Maybe if the last year never happened for Michala, she would still be with Melissa. Maybe if she hadn’t lost Tyler, they would only be co-workers at DVIT. For every decision made in every life there is an option left unexplored. One , if chosen, could change everything. The other, rejected, changes nothing. The last year did happen and all the choices Michala made and all the consequences that followed were set in infinity. Kelly didn’t lie to herself and wish there was a way she could change some. She would change nothing in the last year of Michala’s life if there was even a tiny chance that would change her being with Michala now.

"What are you going to do?"

Kelly stood there in that sun drenched room, a future before her she would have paid dearly for, and laughed as all the dark doubts faded away. She put her hands on her hips and turned around in the room. "Well, first, I’m going to put in an Oscar performance when she shows me this room. I don’t want to ruin the surprise for her."

She glanced at her watch. It was a little after eleven. "Are you hungry? I’m starved. Let’s get lunch."

Isn’t it funny how everything is brighter and life is better when you get your heart’s desire? Suddenly the future was something Kelly was eager to meet. "Where are they taking Michala? Is she staying at your house?"

With her thoughts bouncing all over the place, Kelly quickly left the Center. She had all the time in the world to see the changes. She had the rest of her life.


Even with pain killers, the drive back to Atlanta was excruciating. By the time their little convoy pulled in front of Jessica’s house, Michala was more than ready to be knocked unconscious. Her mother and Shannon helped her into bed and sat with her until she feigned sleep. She wanted to be left alone and knew that as long as she was awake, they would stay by her side.

Michala didn’t want to think or feel. She wanted to sink into the nothingness of sleep. That should have been easy enough with the drugs in her system. The pain wasn’t her problem. If she could shut her thoughts off, she knew the drugs would dull the pain enough to allow her to sleep. Unfortunately for her, her brain didn’t come with an off switch.

What made it worse was that what she was remembering wasn’t what actually happened. She was substituting her own feminine nightmares for the black hole where her memories should be. She tried to tell herself she was imagining it worst than it was. She had gotten away from him. Her injuries were from the explosion. The only scars from being with him were emotional. Having sex with a man wouldn’t kill her. Millions of women did it every day and lived to tell the tale.

She would have bet major bucks that she would never be one of them.

She caught her door opening and closed her eyes to a slit. Her parents were supposed to be going home. If her mother couldn’t bring herself to leave yet, Michala could understand. She was lucky Paige didn’t move into Jess’ house when she did. She was grateful her mother never asked her to come home. Michala admired her mother’s strength. She hoped she inherited some of it.

The woman who came into the room took her breath away. Kelly had changed into tan jeans and white polo shirt. Michala watched her slip silently to the bed. God, what now? She didn’t think she could pretend sleep for long if Kelly was going to stare at her. Kelly didn’t stare at her. She balanced herself against the bed post and kicked off her shoes.

"Do you want me to get behind you? You might be more comfortable if you laid on me."

"Go away." Michala winced at how childish she sounded. She wanted to be an adult about this. She had to save some dignity at some point. Now looked like a good place.

Kelly waved her hand over the bed. "Front or back?"

"I’m not kidding Kelly. Just go away." When she got her hands on that damned little fate who kept doing this to her, she was going ring his neck. Cheerfully. Happily. Premeditatively.

"I’m not leaving, Michala."

Suddenly it was all too much. The pain, both of her body and in her heart, was too much too bear. She didn’t care what had changed in Kelly’s little world. As usual, not a damn thing had changed in hers. "I don’t want your pity. I’ve think I’ve gotten more than my fair share already."

Kelly sat down next to her and reached for her hand. Michala pulled the covers up to her neck. Kelly stared at her, startled. "I don’t care if you can handle it now Kelly. I can’t. Now please, go away."

"You’re talking in riddles. I’m going to assume it’s the drugs. What can’t you handle that you seem to think I can?"

Michala was so tired. She closed her eyes and relaxed against the bed. Sleep was near. She could feel it creeping closer. All she had to do was make Kelly leave and sleep would claim her. She was so tired. She wanted to give in, give up. Let go for once. She opened her eyes for what she hoped was the last time for many, many hours. "That I was raped. You’ve done your good deed. I’ll make sure you get your points. Okay? Can you leave now?"

Of all the reactions she thought Kelly would have to her harsh words, her face paling wasn’t one of them. Neither was Kelly moving closer to her. Kelly’s eyes were wide and direct as she stared at Michala. "You were not raped. The trooper who found you thought you were. I understand you looked pretty banged up. You were very clear that Will never touched you."

Michala wanted to believe her. She didn’t remember and if she didn’t ever have to, she would rather think it didn’t happen than that it did. But if that wasn’t why Kelly was so uncomfortable with her, what was? She didn’t imagine Kelly’s behavior in her hospital room. "You could barely touch me in the hospital. If that wasn’t why, tell me what is was."

Kelly bowed her head. Without looking up, she tugged on the blankets until Michala’s hands were uncovered. Her left was bound to her side. She clasped the right in both of hers. Michala wasn’t prepared for her glance up with tears in her eyes. "I can’t believe you thought…I guess that’s how it looked to you, but it hurts that you thought that."

"Then tell me how it really was."

Kelly let her hand go with a kiss. She brushed away her tears with shaky fingers. Her back was ruler straight as she sat up. She braced her hands on her knees. "You don’t remember spending last weekend with me at the Peachtree Hyatt, do you?"

Michala just shook her head.

"You were surprised to see me at the hospital. I knew that your last memory of me was me walking off Jessica’s patio that Saturday. Because you didn’t remember, I didn’t feel I should be there. You were confused enough without me adding to it."

"I didn’t care why you were there, Kelly. I was just glad you were."

This time, Michala reached for her hand. "Don’t make me try to pull you over here."

Carefully, they tugged, pulled and rolled each other and the blankets until Michala was propped against Kelly. When she laid her head on Kelly’s shoulder, she felt comfortable for the first time since she woke up in that hospital.

"Where do we go from here?"

A very good question. Michala tipped her face up to Kelly’s. She didn’t have long now. Sleep was calling her insistently. She smiled at Kelly. "We’ll find out together."

The End

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