For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
Come visit me at: www.coloradobardsplace.com or my publisher at: www.pdpublishing.com
Denny crawled forward from the small nook the other three were still huddled in. The water cascaded down over the rocks in a torrent, the usual calm, almost soothing, waterfall seeming to be angry and violent. She tried to peek around it, searching desperately for any sign of Michael and Dean. She knew yelling out their names would be useless; the roar of the storm and the waterfall were deafening. Nothing. Nothing but roaring blackness.
“Shit.” She headed back behind the water, unable to make out the expectant gazes aimed at her. She figured the girls would want to know, so shook her head, but then realized chances were good they couldn’t see it. “Nothing.”
Mia sighed, clutching tighter to Pam, who rested her cheek on the girl’s head. Rachel met the brunette halfway across the nook, reaching out blindly to make sure that black spot on slightly less black backdrop, was Denny. “You okay?” she asked.
“Yeah. I’m just hoping with everything I’ve got that they made it. I should have stayed. Helped.” Denny’s head fell, the long, wet strands of her hair falling to form a black curtain.
“Hey,” the blonde said softly, feeling her way up to Denny’s shoulder and squeezing lightly. “There’s nothing any of us could have done, Denny. Nothing.” The brunette said nothing, but Rachel could feel the shoulder she grasped shaking. Confused, it took her a moment to realize Denny was crying. “Come here.”
Denny went willingly into the blonde’s arms, resting her head on her shoulder, feeling the chilled skin against her cheek. Deceptively strong arms wrapped around her, holding her close. The brunette had no idea why she was crying, except that all her emotions seemed to fire at her all at once; grief, fear, anger and loneliness.
“It’s okay,” Rachel whispered in her ear, reaching a hand up to hold Denny’s head steady against her shoulder. After a few moments, the coffee shop owner calmed and took a deep breath. Stepping away from the blonde, she felt ridiculous, laughing at herself to ease her nerves.
“Sorry,” she murmured, wiping at her eyes and taking a shaky breath.
“Don’t apologize. I think we’ve all lost it at least once here.” Rachel smiled, her eyes adjusting to the near complete darkness just enough to be able to make out the pale shape that was Denny’s face. “Come on. Let’s go sit down.” She took the brunette’s hand and led her back toward Pam and Mia, tugging until Denny sat down with her.
“We’re going to need to rebuild. No doubt everything’s been washed away,” Pam said, her voice void of emotion as she stared out into the night. It sounded as if the rain might be lightening up a bit. No one said anything, not much use. It wasn’t like it could be easily heard, anyway.
Rachel watch the vicious beauty of Mother Nature as her mind wandered back to their rude awakening, which seemed like hours ago, but in reality was no more than half an hour ago. Voices, then the rain, itself, as it finally broke through the thick foliage above their shelter, and eventually was too much for the weaved leaves, and they were all drenched. Then her mind wandered further to how she’d woken up, Denny wrapped around her, and the blonde relishing the protective warmth. She could remember times when Matt had tried to get her to let him hold her, and she would refuse. More often than not, they’d end up with his head on her shoulder, or the detective rolling over, angry and hurt.
It was silly, she knew, and completely psychological, but Rachel felt vulnerable and weak when she allowed herself to be held. Her life had always been about ensuring she had complete control over herself, her mind, her emotions and her craft. Growing up with an amazingly controlling father, and a mother that was too weak to stand up to him, the Holt girls had taken any amount of control they could, which meant mainly in their own minds. This lack of control had sent Rachel into her own head at a young age, creating an entire world inside that she, alone could create, build or destroy.
So why had she allowed Denny to hold her? Yes, she had been asleep, and good sleep was hard to get on the hard, cold ground, but their shared body heat seemed to send them both off into a deep sleep. Rachel didn’t think the brunette would have done that, otherwise. Glancing at her now, she didn’t think Denny even knew what she’d done, as when the coffee shop owner was awoken, Rachel was already running out of the shelter.
She realized it all boiled down to being very tired, warm and content for the first time in months, and the easy, trustworthy persona that was Denny. Green eyes closed as Rachel rested her head back against the wall
Cold. So very cold. Dean tried to pull his legs even tighter against his body, his knees nearly pushing through his ribs as it was. He was wet, covered in mud and tired. Does the blasted rain ever end?! He ducked his head out of the tiny hiding place he and Michael had crawled to, looking up into the sky, which was beginning to lighten, the rain still falling, but now at a much more reasonable rate. It was more like a pleasant afternoon drizzle.
“If I don’t see rain again, be fine by me,” Michael grumbled, eyes closed as his head rested back against the trunk of a tree.
“Amen to that.” The attorney sighed heavily.
Michael’s eyes slid open and he glanced over at the man sitting no more than a foot away. He was amazed to find none of the contempt for the smaller man that he’d felt the same time the day before. Now, looking at the miserable attorney, he felt a sense of pride and camaraderie with the little guy. Feeling eyes on him, Dean met the Texan’s gaze with his own questioning one. He was surprised to see the smile grace Michael’s rugged features.
“We ain’t so different, are we?” Michael asked, his deep voice filled with pleasant surprise. Dean smiled, shaking his head.
“Nope. Guess not.”
“Thanks, man.” Michael held out a large hand, which was quickly taken. With one, firm handshake, an understanding of sorts was forged and all assumptions left behind.
“Anytime.” Dean couldn’t help but fill his chest feel and a sense of a job well done. He released the mechanic’s hand, and tucked it with the other one, under his armpits. “What a mess,” he said absently at length, looking out over the destruction.
“Ain’t that the truth. Reckon that was a hurricane, or at least a pretty damn ugly tropical storm,” Michael said, remembering the storms from his childhood. Hell, Katrina still woke him with nightmares. He knew that everything was gone, and they’d have to start over.
“Wonder what happened to the girls,” Dean sighed, worried they hadn’t fared as well. The thought of being stuck on the island with Michael, with no buffer, made him cringe. No matter what kind of understanding they’d reached, he still didn’t think it was wise. Michael was real good looking guy, with a real cute butt. Dean knew he’d be murdered with the mechanic’s bare hands were he to even think about that. That said, he tossed the thoughts out of his head.
“Don’t know. Did you see them?” Michael saw Dean shake his head. Sighing heavily, the Texan drug himself to his feet, his body screaming at him. He was cold, hungry, tired and beyond sore from battling the elements. “Come on, Dean. Let’s get this over with, and see the damage.”
Dean groaned as he, too stood, surprised by the steadying hand on his arm. Smiling his thanks, he followed the Texan out to the beach. Sure enough, and to the horror of both men, the beach was I ruins. Deep ruts marred the normally flawless sand, which was wet and filled with small oceans of its own. Tree and plant parts littered the sands, where their shelters had once stood was now the new home to a toppled palm.
Michael whistled through his teeth, shaking his head as he tucked his hands into the back pockets of his jeans, which he couldn’t wait to peel off his body. The wet, muddy denim felt like a cast iron vise around his lower half.
Dean wanted to cry. It reminded him of the destruction of Ground Zero in the months after the terrorist attacks, which took place not far from Will’s office. “This is unreal,” he said, his voce soft as he reached up, pushing wet, dirty hair out of his eyes. Michael only nodded.
“Let’s explore, see if we can’t find the girls and anything that can be salvaged.”
Dean followed the large man, but then noticed something out of the corner of his eye. His laughter was so sudden, so completely unexpected, it started Michael. The Texan’s gaze shot to where Dean was trotting off to, his own amusement bubbling up until his laughter met the attorney’s.
Green eyes slowly slid open, though for the second time in five hours, she wasn’t sure why. Warmth engulfed her on either side, combating the cold behind and beneath her. She was sitting against the back wall of the waterfall nook, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. Okay, that explains the coldness under my ass. Glancing to her right, she found herself face to face with very dark hair. An inspection of her left side revealed the same. It seemed Mia and Denny had found her shoulders as comfy pillows. Smiling to herself, the author was loath to disturb either of them, but then what had woken her made itself very clear once more.
“Shit,” she muttered, her bladder once again speaking its mind. All the wonderful fish and water she’d had the night before was finally making its last curtain call. Finally her physical need overran her emotional one, and the author gently extricated herself from the sleeping duo who flanked her. Making sure they stayed asleep, the blonde scurried out of their hiding spot, out into the drizzle, which was beginning to warm with the rising sun.
Despite the devastation the storm had unleashed, Rachel was assaulted by the intense brightness of color around her. The plants seemed to have brightened their neon mode by at least fifty percent over night. It would have been breathtaking if the broken leaves, pummeled flowers and snapped trees hadn’t come into play.
Her bladder announcing its intentions of letting loose any moment brought the blonde back to the reason why she was wandering out in the wild in the first place. She walked precariously around what was usually a deep pond, but was now a veritable lake, trying to find a good bush that was still in one piece. Zeroing in on such a bush, Rachel sighed in relief as she pushed what was left of her jeans down, yelping at a rogue leaf that tickled her in a spot she hadn’t been tickled in quite some time.
As the blonde’s bodily functions took over, she let her mind wander, wondering where they’d build their next shelter, certainly further up from the beach and deeper into the jungle. As her thoughts bounced around, they landed briefly on Michael and Dean, praying they made it, though her heart clenched at the mental picture of the two men, who were night and day of the male species. She smiled slightly, remembering Dean’s easy smile and somewhat tempestuous personality, while Michael was gruff and rugged, yet had a heart of gold. She wondered what Melissa was like; what kind of woman had tamed the beast of Texas, and managed to mine her way to that gold?
Rachel was brought roughly out of her thoughts and screamed out as something smacked her in the shoulder. Stopping mid-stream, she shot to her feet, looking around savagely for a snake. What she found was long and could be slimy, but it wasn’t any snake.
Blue eyes flew open as a shrill scream rent the air. Confused and disoriented, she got to her feet like a shot and was running out of the little alcove, doing her damndest to run on wet, slick rock and dirt, and not fall into the brand new ocean that had developed over night on the island. Briefly she wondered what the eighth ocean would be called. Her amusement was short-lived as she heard another scream.
Rachel held her pants closed as she bent over and picked up the flesh-colored object that had bounced off her shoulder and lodged itself into a tumble of leaves and branches. She screamed again as something pinched her ass. Turning around with wide eyes, Rachel’s heart swelled with her relief.
“Dean!” She threw herself at him, as covered in mud as he was, she didn’t care. In fact, she wondered how the rather prissy man was handling the grime. It didn’t matter as he wrapped his arms around her, just as relieved to see her as she was him. “You made it,” she breathed, hugging even tighter. She felt a sting behind her eyes that she quickly swallowed down, though it returned when she saw the tears in his own eyes. “What about-“
“I’m here, too, darlin’.”
The blonde let out another small cry when she found herself pulled into an almost painfully tight hug, breathing out her sigh of relief into the large man’s chest. “Oh, thank god.” Pulling away just enough to look up into his face, she gave him a relieved, watery smile. “We were all so worried.”
“Rachel!” Denny yelled, running through the foliage, trying to find the author, who sounded to be in trouble. “Rach-“ She cut herself off mid-yell when she saw the grinning trio. “Son of a…” The brunette ran headlong to the two men, grabbing both in a headlock, relief and anger clashing together. “Do you two have any idea how goddamn worried I was?!”
Dean and Michael were taken aback by the usually laid back woman’s reaction, having only seen her get fired up the one time, over Michael calling Dean a name.
“Don’t you ever do that again, you got it?!”
Within moments everyone was crying at the happy reunion, all hugs and smiles.
“Anyone up for breakfast?” Dean finally asked, waving the retrieved dildo in the air for emphasis.
Tiffany Riley sipped from her clear plastic cup, stained with red drops from the fruit punch being served. Her eyes, nearly coal black, studied the brunette across the room, talking to Jim Lopez, one of the district managers. The new accountant wiped her red punch mustache with a napkin, adorned with a colorful turkey and wishes of a happy Thanksgiving. She couldn’t keep her eyes off the researcher, knowing full well what had happened to Hannah over the summer, her loss. Tiffany was reluctant to approach her, though wanted to get to know her.
It had been a month since the shorter woman started working with the company, but Hannah Donnelly had caught her eye right away. She’d lacked the courage to so much as speak to the woman, but figured today she’d take a risk.
Running a hand through short, auburn hair, Tiffany Riley let out a long breath and set her plastic cup down on the refreshments table and straightened suit jacket, thrusting her shoulders back to show a sense of confidence she did not feel. She walked slowly toward the woman in her sights, smiling slightly in relief as Jim Lopez squeezed the beautiful woman’s arm, then walked away, headed to fill a plate with the turkey dinner provided smorgasbord style. Left alone, Hannah sipped her punch, watching her co-workers interact.
“Nice get together they put together, huh?” Tiffany asked, standing at Hannah’s side. The brunette glanced at her, nodding.
“Nicer than last year. We got cold cuts.” Hannah chuckled with the shorter woman, whom she’d noticed in the office on and off. She thought she was new, but didn’t know her name.
“At my last job, over at Hoff and Curtman, they handed out hard candy.”
Hannah chuckled again, shaking her head. “That’s terrible. A slap to the face.” They stood in silence for a moment when Tiffany introduced herself. “Hannah.” The researcher took the offered hand, then dropped it, noting the softness of the accountant’s hand. She blocks it out of her mind.
“So any plans for the long weekend?” Tiffany asked at length, feeling her palms getting sweaty as she tried to build up her courage.
“Not really.” For a moment, Hannah looked profoundly sad. “Hanging around the house, maybe do some spring cleaning.”
“In the autumn?”
“Yeah. Kind of like Christmas in July, suppose.” They shared a small smile before turning their attention back to the room filled with people, murmurs of conversation and the occasional peal of laughter. Tiffany tried to think of a way to get to know Hannah outside of work, some way to casually invite her out without it seeming she was asking her out.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of thinking this turkey they’re serving is a little gross. I’m not a dark meat gal.”
“Yeah.” Hannah glanced down at the remnants of her mostly uneaten dinner on the table next to her.
“I was thinking about maybe grabbing a sandwich at Rocky’s.”
“Ohhh,” Hannah grinned, “I love Rocky’s. Their meatball sandwiches are to die for.”
“Mm, yeah.” Tiffany’s eyes brightened, as if the idea had just struck her. “Want to go get one?”
Hannah was surprised by the offer, but couldn’t help the small smile that graced her lips, nor the nod she gave. She couldn’t get her four day weekend to start soon enough. It was her first Thanksgiving without Denny, and she just wanted to curl up in her flannel pjs and shut the world out. Maybe a little socializing first would be good for her. “Sure.”
The winter air was truly and fully settling over Buffalo, New York. Both women tugged their jackets tighter around their bodies, raving the fierce wind as they walked the block to the popular deli. Nearly blown inside, they welcomed the warmth and calm of the small place, which was next to empty on the late, Wednesday afternoon.
“Hey, ladies. What can I get for you?” the man behind the counter asked, leaning his hands on the counter on either side of the register. Taking their orders and money, he told them to grab a seat, and he’d bring their orders to them.
“I think this is the emptiest I’ve ever seen this place,” Tiffany commented, dragging her scarf out from around her neck, the action making her shiver slightly. Hannah nodded.
“I know. If only it was always like this.”
She has such a beautiful smile. The accountant cleared her throat, smiling at the man as he brought their drinks. One thing she didn’t like about the place was the no refills policy. She often wished she could take a full cup back to the office with her. Hannah held the cup of coffee she ordered between chilled palms, blowing over the black liquid. Tiffany spared a glance at the woman sitting across from her, trying to study her face in the split second she allowed herself. She made a note to herself to start asking around about the beautiful brunette. More than she already had.
I won’t get sick. I won’t get sick. I won’t get sick.
“You okay, Will?” Garrison asked, her voice tinny in the headset mic they both wore. The architect nodded vigorously, though his face got more green as they flew out over the water. The pilot tried to not chuckle, just hoping he wouldn’t puke in the Bell 407. The seven-seater was flying low, the waves rushing beneath them. The bubble cockpit made it easy to see a good portion around the chopper. After stopping in Florida to re-fuel, they were on their way: mission two.
Will swallowed his sickness down, not liking this height thing at all, but there was no way he wasn’t going to be there just in case. It was the holiday season, and he had time from work to take before the end of the year, so he was using it wisely. The sandy-haired man had come to respect and like Garrison Davies quite a bit. She was a good person with a big heart. During their last flight, she had told him all about her partner, Keller, and their ward, who Garrison called her daughter, which was actually Keller’s much younger sister. After saving the girls from a savagely abusive father, Garrison and Keller had fallen in love, and started a life together, raising the then five year old Parker.
Will was touched by the story, and grew to respect the pilot even more. Watching the obvious love between the two pilots, as Keller also flew with Davies’ Hangar, the architect became that much more determined in his search for Dean. The memorial back in October had been a success for his goal of getting the famous author’s husband on board with his wild idea. Sure enough, the high-profile backing had indeed garnered financial support for the mission to find any remaining survivors.
Garrison felt guilty for taking the money from the dear man sitting next to her, but she’d promised to help him, though she felt it was a fool’s errand. Knowing the power behind an aircraft, she had been stunned to hear of any survivors at all, let alone anymore out there somewhere; it was just not feasible, but the pilot didn’t have the heart to tell him this.
The first trip Garrison had covered chartered territory, but now was going off the beaten path, checking in with the closest tower every few minutes, giving her location and direction. The cockpit remained silent for some time, both flyers keeping their eyes peeled to the sea below, praying to see anything that would be indicative of … well … anything.
“I can’t believe how much water there is down there,” Will noted, squinting at what he realized was a fisherman’s vessel below, which they quickly buzzed past. Garrison nodded.
“There sure is. A shit load of ice melting, huh?”
Will chuckled. “Yeah. Isn’t that the truth.”
“Shit!” Dean muttered a few other choice words as he sputtered salt water out of his nose, his sinuses burning from the unexpected swim. “Son-of-a-bitch, bastard, piece of shit. Shit!” Treading water, he noted the bobbing pieces of wood, almost taunting him, as it floated close by, slowly drifting further and further away from each other, vines floating lamely from around the trunk they’d been secured around.
“Guess that didn’t work,” Michael grinned, chuckling at his companion’s glare of death. The Texan had been pissed off, oh lordy yes! But as soon as he’d seen how upset Dean was, he figured one of them had to keep a flat head. He swam over to one of the logs, grabbing onto it, then swimming back toward Dean, sending it drifting toward the attorney. “Hold onto that,” he instructed, swimming toward the other three logs that were getting further away. He figured one of them would just have to get away, as he only had two hands, and didn’t want to swim too far out.
Dean did as he was told, watching as the big man swam toward the other logs, wrapping powerful arms around two before grunting as he turned them around, holding on as he kicked back toward shore. Dean followed.
“Well, hell, doesn’t seem that worked all that well,” Pam snickered, shielding her eyes with a deeply tanned hand, watched her boys return from an attempted fishing trip. She heard Denny chuckle behind her.
“Nope. Don’t you hate it when your plans fall apart at the seams?”
“I told them to use the double knot-“
“-and tie the vine around the other way, too,” the brunette added as the women headed back into the jungle, sharing a knowing grin. “Men.”
“No doubt. You’re the smart one,” Pam said with a roll of her eyes, making her equally deeply tanned companion laugh.
Rachel sat perched in a tree, watching out over the beach and ocean, legs drawn up and stiff sheet of paper resting on her thigh. Her hand was poised over the page, unmoving as she watched the approach of Denny and Pam. Green eyes rested on the lithe figure of the brunette, noting yet again how much Denny’s eyes nearly glowed electric blue from the sun-darkened skin of her face. When she smiled, as she was at the moment, her teeth were like a mega-watt light bulb tuned on. In a word, she was beautiful.
Dragging her eyes from the coffee shop owner, she turned her attention back to the page she’d been working on all morning. Rachel had no idea she could write so tiny, but space was of a precious commodity, and she already knew it wasn’t going to last much past the end of the year, and they were in late November as it was. Thanksgiving was sometime soon, or past, but they’d all decided to celebrate it that night. Michael and Dean were out attempting their newest rig, since their former fishing raft had been long swept away from the wicked tropical storm that had stripped them of everything they’d managed to salvage and make.
That was okay; what they had rebuilt was better, anyway. They’d learned a heavy lesson, and used that knowledge beautifully. Just beyond a small cluster of palms to the author’s left was their new shelters, built with ingenuity and practicality. The same basic skeleton had been used, Pam, Rachel and Dean painstakingly weaving grasses and leaves to once again wrap around trunks of trees that had survived the storm, forming the shape. The massive amounts of fallen trees and branches proved perfect building materials, enabling them to reinforce their structures and make more sturdy walls and roofs, which helped to keep the cold night wind and winter rains.
Rachel brushed her bangs out of her face, growling when they fell back into her eyes. Her hair had grown immensely, falling in shaggy golden waves all over her head, though her bangs were just long enough to be a menace. As she finished her creative thought on paper, she blew a breath up to blow the annoying hair out of her eyes. What she wouldn’t do for a pair of scissors!
The blonde’s attention was grabbed from her story once more when she heard a slight groan, though muffled, coming from near the waterfall. Curious, Rachel climbed down from her perch with the swift grace of hours of climbing to find food or hunt for the perfect leaf. With stealthy steps and hops over fallen trees, she followed the noise, which had turned into a deep moan.
Rachel felt her stomach flutter in suspected anticipation of what she would find, but her curiosity was getting the better of her. She knew she should probably turn right back around and mind her own business, but just in case it wasn’t what she thought, and there was a problem, she decided to continue forward. About to round the bend into a slight clearing before hitting the new river they had in the middle of their island, Rachel stopped, biting her lower lip. The moaning was getting slightly louder, though she could tell there was an attempt being made to keep it down.
Mentally the author pinpointed everyone she’d seen, and their current positions: Michael and Dean were playing surfer boys with their fallen logs; Denny and Pam were talking quietly amongst themselves somewhere near the girls’ hut. Rachel was hiding behind a chunk of foliage playing peeping Tom. That left Mia.
Green eyes wide, the blonde peeked around her hiding place, seeing the waterfall and nook behind it. The barest hint of flesh color could be seen behind the roaring water, along with slight movement. A loud groan followed by a gasp sent the blonde loping back into the darkness and relative safety of the dense foliage, her heart pounding.
I can’t believe I did that. That was so bad. Getting my jollies peeking at Mia in, well, less than public circumstances.
Rachel felt guilty as she headed out of the jungle, her own horribly neglected nether regions letting her know in no uncertain terms that they could also use a little attention.
“I’m such a letch,” she muttered, noting Dean and Michael dragging what was left of their mighty fishing vessel to shore. “You guys didn’t wrap that second vine around, did you?” she asked, grateful for the interruption of her thoughts, and for her cheeks returning to their natural color. Dean glared but said nothing. Michael sighed, pushing his hair off his forehead and rubbing at his beard.
“Really thought it’d work,” he muttered absently, staring down at the remnants.
Rachel snorted. “I know.” She patted the man on his freckle-ridden shoulder and headed off toward the girls’ hut. “Hey,” she said, ducking so she wouldn’t knock her head, again, on the low-rise door frame. Denny, who sat alone in the center of the hut, which was larger than the last one, looked up from the cocoanut shell she was scooping.
“Hey. Want some?” She offered the half-shell to the author, who took it, happily scooping out two fingers full of the pure white substance. She hummed as she sucked in first one finger, then the second, tongue licking off the cool cocoanut. Denny’s eyes were locked on her mouth and finger, blue eyes unable to look away.
Denny forced herself to look away, concentrating on her lunch of cocoanut and water instead. She could feel the blonde, who had sunk down to sit next to her, the warmth from her sun-kissed skin, the warmth of her very presence. Dan it!
“So what do you-“ Rachel cut herself off, stunned when suddenly her companion disappeared through the grass flap of their shelter. Confused, and a little worried, the blonde followed, afraid that maybe Denny had heard something, a problem. When the blonde looked around the dense foliage around her, she saw no hint of the other woman. Nor was she on the beach. It was like the brunette had vanished.
“You lost, blondie?” Dean asked, on his way to the waterfalls to rinse off the sticky salt water.
“No,” Rachel said absently, her brows still drawn together. “Have you seen Denny?”
Dean turned in a small circle, scanning his surroundings. “Nope. Sorry, Rach.”
“S’kay.” Sighing, a small sense of disappointment, and even crazier, hurt, filling her. She headed back to the shelter for her afternoon nap.
Denny took several deep breaths, allowing the warm air to fill her lungs and get her body under control. From her vantage point in the tree, she could see out over the entire island, and the ocean all around them, though the pounding surf had been muted by distance. Her heart was pounding, her palms sweating.
Abstinence was not in Denny’s makeup, and she was caught in a fierce battle waged inside. Everyday it seemed she was drawn more to Rachel, and was fighting to keep the image and memory of Hannah alive. She tried to close her eyes and bring up her partner’s face, her voice, her body, a certain time they made love… When she had it, when the image would come into focus, it was ripple and shatter, only to be replaced by beautiful green eyes.
“I can’t do this.” Hannah had been, was, the love of her life, and Denny couldn’t forget that fact, nor could she just allow her body’s base needs to overrule her heart or what was right. She had slowly found herself trying to deny the attraction to Rachel Holt, telling herself it was that basic need that made her skin tingle every time the blonde was around her, but honest was the best policy, and Denny couldn’t lie to herself anymore. “Shit, shit, shit!”
Dinner had been good, the rare treat of birds, two of them, for dinner, rather than fish, which everyone was tired of. No matter how many different ways it was cooked, it was still fish. Pam had taken special care over the couple week, crushing all the berries she found, using them to mix with water, creating a weak Kool-Aid of sorts, which everyone had sucked up with a desperation for something different, if even in small amounts.
Stomach full, body partially warm, but her mind troubled, Rachel lay awake. She turned onto her side, bringing the newly weaved grass mat further up her body, sneezing as a blade tickled her nose. The sound opened two blue eyes, which were then staring into Rachel’s. The author was deeply bothered by what had happened earlier in the day, Denny hurrying out of the shelter, then disappearing until it was time to help with dinner. Even during the meal, which had been filled with not only good food, but laughter and war stories of Thanksgivings past, Denny had been strangely quiet, never once meeting the blonde’s concerned gaze. Even their usual wishes of a good night’s sleep had been skipped.
“Did I piss you off?” Rachel whispered, mindful of the two sleeping women behind her. Denny, who slept next to a wall, sighed quietly, then shook her head. She could see the hurt in Rachel’s eyes, and it pained her that she’d put it there.
“No,” she finally whispered back.
“Then why have you been avoiding me today?”
She had Denny there. Why indeed? So I wouldn’t do something stupid to make you hate me, or me hate myself. She knew she couldn’t tell the blonde this, so Denny wracked her brain, trying to think of a good excuse, and then a way to not let it show that the author made her blood burn.
“I just needed some time alone today. That’s all.”
Rachel heard the explanation, and in some part of her mind it made sense, but for some reason she didn’t believe the coffee shop owner. Even so, she didn’t push it, but instead nodded in acceptance to the explanation. She was silent for a moment, watching the brunette’s face, blue eyes once again straying from the scrutiny. As Rachel studied Denny’s face, she thought that the brunette was perhaps the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen; a beauty that both intimidated her and drew her closer. Suddenly she felt a need for just that.
“Cold night,” she whispered, feeling shy and manipulative. Yes, it was definitely cooling off, but the blonde knew she could sleep fine. For the first time in her life, Rachel felt the need to be physically close, share personal space, with someone. She wasn’t sure if it was to somehow comfort the troubled Denny, or herself.
Denny’s eyes flickered up to meet Rachel’s, her heart beginning to pound in her throat. She knew what the blonde was asking, and swallowed heavily as she knew she couldn’t deny her. Rachel was cold, and wanted to be warmed. With a small nod, Denny lifted her arm in invitation, much like Rachel had done for her the night of the storm, and the last time they’d shared body heat.
Rachel glanced over her shoulder, making sure Pam and Mia were still asleep. For some reason, she felt like what she was about to do was… wrong. Turning back to the brunette, Rachel clutched her mat to herself as she scooted the short distance to Denny, turning to her other side to give her back to the taller woman.
Denny tried not to make it too obvious as she inhaled the natural scent of the blonde, who’s body was barely gracing her own. “Comfortable?” she whispered into Rachel’s ear. At the blonde’s nod, Denny allowed herself to relax, concentrating on keeping her companion warm, and not her raging hormones.
Rachel was indeed comfortable, too comfortable for her own liking. She was beginning to wonder if it had been a had idea. She felt a peace wash over her as Denny’s hand came to rest lightly on her waist, the barest brush of the tops of long thighs against the backs of Rachel’s. Without her knowledge or permission, the blonde suddenly realized that her own hand had covered Denny’s, pulling gently until their conjoined hands came to rest on her stomach, this move forcing the brunette a bit closer.
Denny squeezed her eyes shut, willing her fingers to remain still, as well as the pounding in her nether regions.
Rachel felt deeply comforted, as though everything were okay. She closed her eyes, sighing softly as she fell into sleep, no idea that her sleep-mate was wide awake, and praying to Apollo, the sun god, that he would shine soon. She also missed a pair of dark eyes, hiding their presence under dark lashes, watching.
Hazel eyes took in the elegance of the restaurant around him. He’d never been to Boston before, though he’d had a few opportunities with Rachel. He wished he’d taken her up on those. It didn’t help things that the last time the author had been to Bean Town, Matt had declined so he could get to know Diane better.
“There she is.” Will pushed back from the table when he spotted the blonde pilot, waving her over. Garrison smiled when she saw the architect, weaving her way through the busy establishment, taking Will’s offered hand, then Matt’s.
“Hey, boys.” Allowing Will to push her chair in for her, the blonde studied her two companions. She smiled at the waiter he suddenly appeared, giving him her drink order before turning back to her clients. “I’ve contacted a friend of my father’s, Jake Potter, who is a cartographer. He used to make maps during the Korean War. He’s charted me the entire area of the Caribbean.”
“How did he do that?” Matt asked, dark brows drawn, bringing up his beer to sip.
“He researched every single map he could find of the area, and basically made a compilation map for us.” Thanking the waiter who brought her seven and seven, Garrison sipped before she continued. “I’m thinking it would be better to wait out the holidays, maybe give it another go come spring-“
“Come spring?” Will felt instant anger grip him. Leaning forward on the table and lowering his voice, though the intent was clear. “Garrison, if we wait until spring, we won’t find a goddamn thing!”
“Will-“ Matt tried to get the man to calm.
“No,” the architect cut him off, determined to make his point. “If we’re going to find anything, we’ve got to take the bull by the horns and do it now. What if he’s drifting out there somewhere, on some,” he stumbled over his own thoughts, rage and profound grief clogging his throat, “some floating seat cushion! If we wait, he’ll be dead.”
Garrison reached across the table, intending to cover the man’s larger, well-manicured hand, but it was yanked away. Eyes turned to the sound of scraping as the chair was shoved back, the tall, good-looking man with sandy hair storming toward the front of the restaurant.
“Shit.” Garrison shoved her own chair back, leaving Matt wide-eyed and wondering what the hell to do.
Will heard his name called as he headed out into the winter wonderland that was Boston, the noisy city crashing in around him.
“Damn it, stop!” Garrison ran after the man who had much longer legs than her own, but finally she caught up to him, snagging his London Fog-clad arm, and whirling him around. Sad, tired eyes looked down at her. Before she knew what hit her, the pilot found herself with a bundle of sobbing Will in her arms. She held him, rubbing soothing circles on his back, feeling an amazing amount of affection for the sweet man as he cried. Suddenly she got it, and had never felt more determined to help him. “Okay, Will. Okay.”
“Alright, so, what have we got here?” Keller Davies said, tossing another corn chip into her mouth, doused with salsa. Her blue eyes met those of the two men and her partner, who stood around the dining room table in Will’s suite. Her dark hair was kept out of her face by a light blue and gray doo-rag.
“Well, I’m thinking that we start mapping out some of the land masses,” Garrison said, sitting back in her chair, ankles crossed on the table’s edge. She folded her fingers over her stomach. Keller nodded in agreement.
“Maybe Jake can help out, or any number of Frank’s war buddies.”
Matt watched the two women talk and work together, their harmony obvious as they seemed to read the other’s mind and then finish her sentence. It was a foreign concept to him, and wondered if he and Rachel could have ever had that.
“One thing, Will,” Garrison said, a note of apology in her voice. “this is our busiest season right now, so you have to understand that.”
The architect nodded, munching on his own salsa-doused chip. “I do.”
“Okay. So,” she clapped her hands together, booted feet hitting the ground with a thud. “I think we’ve got a plan of action, and I’ll make some calls, see what I can come up with.” Keller began rolling up the map that was smoothed out over the table, that Jake had drawn up, Garrison getting to her feet.
“Wait,” Matt said, something niggling at him, and speaking his mind for the first time that night. “What’s to say we can find anything when the authorities couldn’t?” His eyes darted back and forth between the two women, who stared at each other across the table. Finally Keller’s blue eyes settled on him.
“Because we’re the best.”
Hannah wiped her mouth, still unable to stop the giggle from causing more Pepsi to spout out from between her lips. “I’m sorry,” she managed, watched in amused agony as Tiffany wiped her sweater, a good-natured glare aimed at the researcher.
“I’ll forgive you. This time.” She chuckled, remembering the look on Hannah’s face when she’d realized she’d just spit soda all over the redhead when she’d accidentally made her laugh with her impression of George W. Bush.
“Oh, this time, huh?” Hannah chuckled, sitting back against Tiffany’s couch, feet curled up under herself. They’d spent an amazing day together, Christmas shopping and laughing. Oh, how Hannah needed to laugh! Tiffany was one of the funniest people she’d ever met, and had the rare capability to reach inside the brunette’s well-guarded heart, making her forget about her problems, and give her life a bit of light that went out when Denny died. “And if it happens again?” Am I flirting? She felt slightly giddy at the thought, though slightly panicked. She knew she could trust Tiffany. They had become great friends, and it felt good.
“Ohhh,” Tiffany purred, I’m sure I can think of something.”
Hannah was taken slightly aback at the look in the redhead’s dark eyes. Desire. She swallowed, dropping her eyes from the accountant’s, sipping from her soda, feeling it burn all the way down her throat.
She’s nervous. Tiffany studied the beauty before her carefully, noting the subtleties of her body language. Only moments ago the brunette had been laughing, light and airy. At the first sign of serious, she closed up. Clearing her throat, Tiffany decided a change of subject was in order.
Getting to her feet, the accountant scurried back to her bedroom, then hurried back, a small bundle hidden behind her back. “Okay, I’m always giving you shit about being a nerdy researcher for computers, so I saw this the other day, and just had to get it for you.” With a huge grin, she brought the little guy out from behind her back, held under the arms between her hands.
“Ohhh!” Hannah cooed, looking at the adorable brown teddy bear, dressed in a white researcher’s jacket and big, wire glasses over black, glossy eyes. Tiffany had even written Hannah over the left breast pocket in magic marker. “He’s so cute! Thank you.”
Tiffany basked in the tight hug, feeling Hannah’s breasts pressed against her own, the warmth of her body, and smell of her perfume invading her every cell. “You smell so good,” she whispered into the brunette’s neck, surprised that she’s spoken it out loud.
Hannah felt a slight tremor in the contact, and softness of Tiffany’s words. Her eyes slid closed as the hug continued, soft hands making lazy circles on the brunette’s back. She shivered at the sigh that blew through the short hairs at her neck.
“Thank you,” she said unnecessarily in delayed response to the compliment.
Tiffany pulled back just enough to be able to see into Hannah’s eyes, which were filled with slight fear, and… something else. The accountant brought up a hand, gently brushing a few dark strands out of the equally dark eyes. This has been so hard on her. The redhead’s hand found its way to Hannah’s jaw, caressing the soft skin with her thumb.
Hannah felt her breath catch, her heart pounding in need and fear, yet her insides were being gripped by guilt. Before she could voice these thoughts, soft lips pressed against her own. Tiffany felt the brunette respond to what she had no intention of doing, but couldn’t resist. Hannah’s lips softened, her breathing shallow as the kiss began to deepen. When the redhead’s tongue caressed Hannah’s, the spell was broken.
The researcher pulled back with a gasp, her hand going to her mouth, lips feeling the very place where Tiffany’s had just been.
“I, I can’t do this, Tiffany,” she whispered, her eyes filled with hurt, almost feeling betrayed, though whether it was by Tiffany or herself, she wasn’t sure. She rose to her feet, almost knocking the redhead over in her haste to escape.
“Wait, Hannah …” Getting her bearings back, the redhead jumped off the couch, hurrying after Hannah, who had already reached the front door of her house. “I’m sorry.” She caught up to her, placing a hand on the brunette’s shoulder, turning her away from the door. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I swear, I’m sorry.”
Hannah nodded, unable to meet the dark gaze. “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”
Tiffany nodded, her stomach falling. Somehow she had the feeling she wouldn’t be hearing from the woman who had come to mean a great deal to her in the past month. “Okay,” she said, her voice quiet and defeated.
“Good night.” Hannah slipped out the door, still clutching the teddy bear in her arms.
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