Disclaimers: Mine, mine, all mine! *insert evil laugh here*

Sex: Duh!! J

WARNING: I do NOT give permission for this story to be reposted in ANY changed form: change of character names, title storyline, etc. That is considered stealing and I will seek legal action.

Note: For my precious Sebastian “Bubba” : September 1999 – March 2010. I love you with all my heart, my baby boy. Thanks for coming back to see me.

If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com .


Lost And Found


Kim Pritekel



Part 2


To say that Sam was nervous would be an understatement. Well, to say she wasn't confused would be a lie. She sat in the old rickety truck her boss at the construction site let her use, staring up at a huge old warehouse. She looked at the address posted on the front of the building then at the paper she held in her hand, written by Claire, herself. The numbers matched, so Sam had to assume she was in the right place. Either that or mapquest was really, really good at taking her to a crazy location with the same numbers nailed to the side of the building.

Deciding it would be better to not be late in case she was in the right place, Sam opened the squeaky door of the truck, tool belt in tow, and walked up to what she assumed was the front door. She looked around for a bell, but before she was able to decide what to do, The solid metal door was slid open, Claire standing in the open space, dressed in – what looked to be – a favorite pair of jeans, fitted and thin on the knees, the texture almost looking like velvet to the eye.

“Good morning,” Claire said with a half-smile. “Glad you found it alright.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, looking up at the outside of the building. “Wish you would have told me you lived in a warehouse.” She grinned. “Thought I was in the wrong place.”

“Yes, I guess that hadn't occurred to me. I never have company here, so it didn't cross my mind. Come in.”

Claire stood aside, allowing Sam to walk in past her. The blonde found herself in a dark hallway with cement walls and floor, though it quickly led to a circular set of stairs made of wrought iron. She had the choice of either going up the stairs or going through another metal door. She glanced over her shoulder at Claire, unsure where she should go.

Claire had brought Sam to her home to work, and the great thing about her home was, it was an easy distinction. Living in the warehouse, yet having it separated out between living and work space, it would have been easy to guide Sam to go through the metal door and into the workspace, but for some reason – which she herself didn't fully understand, she told Sam to mount the winding staircase.

At the top of the stairs, things turned from cold, cement and metal warehouse to warm and lavish home. The carpet was thick and completely decadent, Sam's every step sinking into the softness of the cream-colored heaven. The staircase opened up into a massive space, which Sam supposed would be otherwise be called a “living room” in ordinary homes. Though the ceilings were more than twenty feet high with high windows nearly lining every available wall space up by the ceiling, the room was decorated as a beautiful living space would be.

Fine leather couches were placed at one end, a conversation area with a coffee table and end tables. An impressive flat screen TV was mounted on the wall. Fine art dotted the walls as well as pedestals throughout the huge room. A wet bar stood at one end of the room, along with four bar stools tucked under the counter, which was close to another hallway that led into a kitchen fit for the most experienced chef.

Sam looked around with her mouth hanging open in awe. “This is so gorgeous,” she whispered, turning in a slow circle in the living space. She looked at Claire who stood far behind her, watching for reactions. “How long have you lived here?”

“Seven years. I've slowly chipped away at it until I finally have this,” Claire answered, looking around her, trying to see it through Sam's eyes. She had to admit, it was impressive.


“Come on. Let me show you the rest.”

Sam was led down yet another hallway and shown four bedrooms, the first of which belonged to Claire. It was massive with a massive four-poster bed and even one of those fake fireplaces, though to look at its cherry finish, you'd never know it. With a flick of a gas switch, flame would dance merrily within the confines of the structure.

“The place just wouldn't support a real one,” Claire supplied, watching as Sam studied it, running her hand along the ornately carved mantel.

“I've always wanted a fireplace in my bedroom,” Sam lamented softly “But then,” she grinned, turning her attention to the rest of the room, “a fireplace at all would be awesome.”

Claire watched Sam's progress through her bedroom and bathroom, smiling as Sam cried out in envious pleasure from the bathroom.

“How many people can you fit in this thing!” Sam looked down at the massive bathtub, noting the well-used candles that surrounded it.

“More than I'd ever invite,” Claire said, stepping up beside her. “Come on, let me show you the rest of this place so we can get to work.”

Sam was shown two guest bedrooms, decorated tastefully and simply, and then finally shown the final bedroom. It seemed to be decorated for a child with bright colors and dolls placed all over the white canopied bed. One doll in particular caught Sam's eye: the doll was obviously well-loved, her painted features worn and her hair a strange array of strands cut in crazy ways. Her dress was stained, one shoe missing.

“Do you have a daughter?” Sam asked quietly, a strange feeling filling the large bedroom. It was the second largest after Claire's.

“No,” Claire said sternly, leading Sam out of the room and closing the bedroom door with finality. “We've got work to do.”

Sam was surprised to essentially be kicked out of the bedroom, but figured there had to be some reason behind it. As she followed Claire back into the hallway, she looked around. “Where's Lily?”

A rare smile graced Claire's features as she indicated Samantha should follow her, which she did. They sailed down to the first floor of the warehouse via a large elevator. Claire led them into a medium-sized room that once was opened up by a bay door for loading and unloading. The large open space had been extended and fenced in by ten-foot chain link with a chain link “ceiling”. The room and outside chain link room was filled with structures that Dr. Seuss would be proud of. Cat towers built at crazy angles and covered in varying materials, all topped – some eight feet tall – by padded thrones for a cat to watch over their perceived kingdom.

Sam's mouth fell open as her eyes widened in disbelief. She walked into the room, noting cat toys of every variety that were piled into a wooden box against a wall. What could only be described as a cat drinking fountain was anchored against the wall, a large, easy-to-push button would send cool, fresh water trickling into the bowl with a built-in drain.

“Cat's have this thing about fresh water. Sebastian used to constantly whine as he sat in my tub, wanting me to turn the faucet on for him. I got sick of it so devised this so he could get it whenever he wanted.”

“And he learned how to use it? Push the button?” Sam asked, kneeling next to it and pushing the very button she spoke of.

A little fluffy storm tore around the corner and to the drinking fountain, excited blue eyes watching the water that trickled from Sam's push. Sam removed her hand and was delighted to see Lily's tiny paw take its place.

“My god!”

“Easy as litter training, and takes about as long, too.”

“I guess, considering you've only had her for a few days.” Sam stood, hands on hips as she took in her surrounds. “Are you going to get her a friend? I mean, this is a ton of play space for one kitty.”

“I'm considering it. We'll see. Come on.”

Sam followed Claire from one wonder to another. This room, which was Claire's home workshop, took up the lion's share of the warehouse. It was the largest space with ceilings that reached more than thirty feet in height. Cat walks were mounted at varying heights around. Shelving had been strategically placed to hold tools, materials and finished products.

Sam walked over to the area that was slightly walled off, though there was no ceiling over the smaller room. Inside were the big boys of power tools: table saws, generators and other large, expensive equipment.

“I can't believe you have all this at your house,” Sam marveled, looking at Claire with stunned eyes.

“Makes things easier when I feel like being lazy.”

“Have you always worked this stuff by yourself?” Sam asked, running her hand down the smooth wood of a doll house that was in the beginning stages of construction.

“I had a guy that used to work with me from time to time. For some reason he walked off the job.”

“Gee,” Sam said dryly, “can't imagine why.” She received a look that warned. Smirking, she turned away from Claire and toured the area, noting more of the decorations she'd seen at Claire's store and warehouse behind it, as well as new varieties. “So, what are you wanting to do here? And, why do you need me to do it?”

“Follow me.”

Sam was led outside to an area that was fenced off by a tall, brick fence laced with barbed wire across the top. The courtyard-type space was nearly as large as the bottom floor of the warehouse inside, but what was beautiful about it were the miniature buildings that were placed on temporary wooden foundations to where they could be moved easily by forklift.

None of the structures were completely finished, none painted at all. One was a simple square structure at the moment, roughly cut holes for windows and a door and nothing more.

Sam shoved her hands into the pockets of her cargo pants, her mind trying desperately to reconcile all that she was seeing with the cool, almost cold woman who stood watching her, arms crossed over her chest like a head mistress watching over her most troubled students.

“You did all this?” Sam breathed, walking over to one structure that looked to be the closest to completion of any of the others. It looked like a gingerbread house, the candies and cookies actually carved into the wood, which would later be painted with bright, mouth-watering colors and designs.

Claire nodded. She guarded herself as she carefully watched Sam's expressions and demeanor. She was sharing a great deal of herself with a veritable stranger, and wanted to make sure she wasn't putting herself on the line only to be hurt.

“I'm in awe, Claire. Everything I've seen in your warehouse back at your store and everything I've seen here, exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.”

Claire could see how genuine Sam was by her expressive green eyes and the tone of admiration in her voice. She felt wonderful, though held in, instead turning away and clearing her throat. “Thank you. Before we begin, I have to warn you: I run a tight ship and once I get going on something, I don't stop until it's complete.” She nodded at the buildings behind Sam. “Rod quit, so I've had to leave these as they are, and I want to get them completed so I can begin on my new idea campaign.”

Sam nodded, glancing over her shoulder at all the miniature buildings again. The tallest stood about eight feet, the smallest, no more than four. “I'm young and strong,” she grinned, flexing impressive biceps in teasing.

Claire, in truth was impressed, but instead she glared. “Are you implying that I'm old and weak?”

Sam burst into full out laughter, figuring that would as close to “teasing” as she was going to get from Claire. She shrugged, playing coy as she kicked at a rock with the toe of her shoe. “I dunno. Guess if the shoe fits….” The look on Claire's face was priceless, which sent Sam into another fit of laughter.

Not sure whether to be amused or extremely irritated, Claire decided on neither. Instead, she turned and headed back inside. “If you want the job, I strongly suggest you follow and get to work.”

Sam was about to follow when she felt something rub against her ankle. She looked down to see Lily looking up at her. “Well, hello there, little lady.” She held her up to her eyes, placing a kiss on Lily's head. “I think your new mommy needs to lighten up. What do you think?” Kitten in arms, Sam followed where Claire had disappeared into the warehouse.

Claire hadn't been kidding when she said she ran a tight ship. By time the sun was threatening to fall, Sam was sitting on her ass, staring up at the progress she and Claire had made that day. To her boss' credit, she'd been there working as long and hard as Samantha had. Together they'd managed to finish the gingerbread house, including the rest of the carvings that had needed to be done, then layer of primer and finally paint. After the paint dried, a layer of weatherproofing shellac would be applied.

Sam rested back on her hands, legs straight out and crossed at the ankles before her. She admired Claire's impressive artistic skills; the entire house looked edible. It reminded her of the ones she and her grandmother would make at Christmas time. Her gaze traveled to the gingerbread house's neighbor, which was a three-sided Victorian dollhouse with lots of levels that could be seen on the un-walled fourth side. Claire had shown her the custom-made furniture earlier in the day, all of which made Sam drool at the intense craftsmanship as well as the incredible style the dollhouse would be sporting.

She thought back to her own self as a little girl, and would have killed to have had a life-sized dollhouse with scale furnishings. As she's been working on the castle next to the dollhouse which would have to be finished the following day – Sam couldn't help but sneak peeks at how Claire was painting the inside of the dollhouse, replete with intricate “wallpaper” and “rugs” on the floor.

Exhausted, Sam fell backwards, resting her head on her hands as she stared up into the sky, which sprouted the most amazing color combinations.

“I used to love sunsets when I was a kid,” Claire said, suddenly standing a few feet from Sam's prone form.

Sam arched her head to be able to see her, even if she was upside down. “Well, as the ridiculous artist you've proven yourself to be today, I can only imagine.”

Claire gave her a weak smile before returning her gaze to the sky. “You did good today, Samantha. It was a tremendous amount of work I asked you to do, and you did it without complaint, without question and without hesitation.” She met Sam's upside down gaze. “Thank you.”

Sam nodded before pushing up with a grunt, eventually getting to her feet. “It was truly fun,” she said, walking over to where Claire stood, arms ever-crossed over her chest in a protective hug. “I'm gonna go. I'm so tired and need a shower pretty bad.” To prove her point, she raised and arm and sniffed her own armpit. Grimacing at the stench that brought to her nose, she chuckled. “Yeah, need a shower.”

Claire smiled, though it was tight. She kept behind that tight-lipped smile what she had actually wanted to say and ask. “See you tomorrow,” she said curtly, then headed inside.

Sam stood out in the courtyard a wee bit confused at the suddenness of Claire's departure, but decided she should just go. She had no idea if she had passed Claire's rigorous test – though assumed she had with the brunette's reluctant praise – and didn't have a clue if she'd be needed again, or when.

Blowing out a long breath, Sam climbed into the old truck, praying it would start on the first try. She was tired, she was hungry and she was disgusting.

Claire stood in her kitchen, which had the window that looked out over the parking lot of the warehouse. Arms crossed over her chest, she watched as Sam climbed into her rickety old truck then drove away. With a heavy sigh, she turned to look at the table behind her, set for two.

She walked over to it, slowly putting away the second set of dishes, Lily watching from the corner of the room, sitting on her haunches. Claire didn't notice her, instead trying to fight the tears she held back. Why couldn't she be like a normal person and ask a simple question? Sam, you worked so hard today, would you at least let me feed you? I make a wicked lasagna.

Instead, Claire smoothed foil over the finished lasagna pan and placed it into the fridge, her appetite disappearing with her courage.



Claire was trying her best not to reach out and strangle her potential client. The woman was a fat, lazy indecisive person who was holding a surprise 60 th birthday party for her husband, but had no clue one what she wanted. Claire sat in the woman's gaudy parlor, smiling and suggesting theme after theme, color combination after color combination, all of which the woman rebuked. She had no idea that her phone had already run four time, two voicemails waiting for her in the glove compartment of her car.



Sam threw her cell phone onto her bed, running frazzled hands through her hair.

“You're working for her or not?” Leon asked.

Sam glared at him. “If she had answered her fucking phone even once, Leon , I'd have an answer for you. Did you see me speaking into my phone even once ?”

Leon shook his head dumbly.

“Then that's your answer.” She sighed, glaring at her phone, as though it was its fault.

“Why don't you go in with me today, dude. At least you know that way you've got work,” Leon suggested, flinging his key ring around one of his fingers to indicate he needed to leave.

“Fuck,” Sam blew out, indecision making her even more angry. “No, you go on ahead, Leon . I can make about five times what Joe's paying at the site.”

Leon looked at her, his dark eyes wide. “You sure? She may not call you back.”

“Yeah, I'll deal with her. Tell Joe I'm sick or something.”

“Uh, okay.” He reached for the doorknob but stopped just shy of turning it to leave. “You still on for the party tonight?”

Sam rolled her eyes with a loud sigh.

“Sam, you promised!” he whined. “Even if you kill this bitch today, you gotta make bail long enough to come.”

Sam nodded. “Fine. A promise is a promise, even if it's a sucky promise.”

Leon grinned toothily. “Awesome! And hey,” he said, pulling open the door. “an orange jumpsuit would look good on you, I'm sure.”

“Thanks,” Sam muttered, giving her friend a wave goodbye as he left her place. Sam glared one final time at her phone, her gut telling her to wait it out.



Claire sat in her car, her client finally making up her damn mind. As she listened to all her missed calls, half of them left by Sam, she felt a strange mixture of anger and guilt. She deleted all of Sam's messages then tossed the cell phone to the passenger seat of her car. She glared at the phone. “You shouldn't assume, Samantha,” she muttered, inserting the key into the ignition and getting the car started. As she pulled onto the street, she continued to mutter justification. “I told you I needed you for jobs, so you should have just figured today would be no different than yesterday.” She glared at the stop sign that made her stop. “I guess the princess needs a smoke signal sign of when to and when not to show up at work.”

As she merged onto the highway she had to do everything she could to not exercise her need for road rage. She actually let the guy pull in front of her without a single-fingered salute or honk of her horn; her mind was far too much on Sam and her voicemails. “What the hell?” she asked her empty car. “Are you that special?” She remembered the final voicemail where Sam had mentioned the fact that she had another job, and needed to know what to tell that boss as far as when she was and was not available. Guilt began to take over her anger. “You should have just asked,” she muttered weakly, angrily flicking on her turn signal as she turned on the street which would take her to Creative Mayhem.

She was surprised when she saw Sam's hunk-of-junk truck sitting in the parking lot next to Richard's Taurus. With a heavy sigh of dread, Claire parked her own car then headed into the store with long, purposeful strides, her jaw set and determined.

Claire pushed through the glass and metal door, making her way through the space like the Queen of England, herself, purposefully ignoring the two pairs of eyes that watched her go. She slammed one of the doors in the warehouse loud enough for it to be heard by Richard and Sam, giving the signal that she should be left alone.

Sam looked at Richard, stunned. “Why I get the feeling she'll blame me for this?”

“Because she will,” he muttered, palming the stack of fives from the drawer he was counting down. “Honestly, Samantha,” he continued, not missing a beat as he continued to count the money, “I'd just leave now. You won't be able to reason with her-“ his warning was cut off as Sam stormed through the store, shoving her way through the door that would lead to the warehouse beyond. “Uh oh,” Richard muttered, turning back to his counting.

Claire had just pressed the button to boot up her computer and set her purse down when her office door slammed open, making her jump. She glared at Sam, who was obviously steaming mad, her eyes vibrant green against the redness of her face. “Excuse me,” Claire said, glaring back at the smaller woman.

“Don't,” Sam said, holding up a finger. “You don't scare me, Claire, and I sure as hell won't let you treat me like you treat everyone else.”

Claire stood to her full height, crossing her arms over her chest. She looked down at Sam with cold, calculating eyes. “And how's that?” she asked, voice deadly calm.

“Like the world is your toilet for you to shit on!”

Claire could only stand there and stare. Not since she'd been a helpless child had she been spoken to that way. She was so shocked her anger didn't even have a chance to rise. Sam saw she had her full attention, so continued on.

“You know what I think, Claire Hobbs? I think you're so used to everyone being intimidated by your demeanor, looks and bravado that you can't stand the fact that someone actually has the balls to stand up to you. Well guess what, chickie? I do, and I quit!”

Claire remained where she was for several heartbeats after Sam stormed back out of the office in a whirlwind of anger. She was shocked and felt numb. She wasn't even aware she was still standing there until she heard a tentative knock at the office door. For a very strange moment, she hoped it would be Sam on the other side, but it was Richard.

“You okay?” he asked quietly once the door was opened for him. He wasn't sure what he'd find, and was surprised to see nothing had been broken in the office, which was a good thing, though the look of his boss wasn't a good thing: she was pale and drawn, and looked like she was about to be sick. He instantly felt protective over Claire and angry venom towards that bitch Samantha. “She's not worth it, Claire. She's a little bitch who-“

“Is right,” Claire interrupted, her voice soft. She sighed and looked at her employee. “Please watch the store today, Richard. I've got some things I need to do.”

Richard wasn't sure what to think as he watched Claire gather up her belongings, shoulders slumped and energy low. Without a word or another glance, she breezed past him and out of the office. This alone was shocking, as Claire never left anyone alone in her office, not even her most loyal employee of six years. Richard blew out a breath as he switched off the light and softly closed the door behind him.

Claire sat on the park bench, glancing over to the place where she'd collapsed that day – which seemed like a lifetime ago – and where Sam had all but picked her up. She thought about the blonde and the things she'd said to Claire that morning in the office. Immediately her mind tried to come up with excuses of why Sam was wrong, but Claire forced them down, deciding for the first time to really look at her part in what happened.

She focused for a moment on what she knew about Samantha Reiker as a person: she was kind and caring and a damn hard worker. She could tell Sam was a risk-taker and very little fear of her world. That thought stopped Claire in her mental tracks. Sam wasn't afraid. She wasn't afraid of Claire, she wasn't afraid of life, she wasn't afraid to be who she truly was, whomever that may be. Claire didn't know the blonde all that well, but that much was apparent.

Was there perhaps a bit of envy on Claire's part? She had to admit, looking at Samantha, seeing the light and life in her eyes made her think of Tanner. The comparison sent a slight smile to Claire's lips. She wouldn't allow her mind to completely fly in the direction of the long lost sister, and only family she'd ever known. She couldn't allow her mind to fly off that way, or she'd likely never be able to pick herself up emotionally again.

Glancing up into the sky, which was already beginning to cloud over as yet another spring storm rolled in, Claire sighed. She knew she had to fix the situation which she had caused, so gathered her courage and her car keys, and headed off towards the unknown.



Samantha turning in a slow circle, looking over everything to make sure she hadn't forgotten to pack anything. It wasn't as though she had a great deal to pack, but that being said, she didn't want to lose anything, either. She walked into the small bathroom, noting she'd forgotten to pack her bathrobe, which still hung on a hook on the backside of the door.

“Crap,” she muttered, tugging it down and walking to the bed where she unzipped one of her three bags and shoved it in.

Before she could do anything else, a knock sounded softly on her door. Sam glanced over her shoulder as though she could see whoever stood on the other side through the cheap wood. With an irritated sigh she walked to the door, unlocked it then pulled it open. To say she was stunned to see Claire Hobbs standing out in the hall was a huge understatement.

Sam said nothing, nor did she move aside to allow Claire to enter.

“Can we talk somewhere?” Claire asked, her voice though firm, held a slight tremor which belied the confidence she tried to portray.

“We are somewhere,” Sam said, nodding back towards the room behind her.

“Yes, but…” Claire's eyes brightened as an idea occurred to her. “Have you eaten? Maybe we can go get some breakfast…” Claire's voice trailed off when she saw the smirk brush Sam's lips. “What?”

“You afraid I might kick your ass if we're alone? Feel safer in a public place?”

Claire sighed, but nodded. “Essentially.”

Sam accepted the noncommittal response, making her way far enough into her room to grab her keys and find her wallet under the packed bags on the bare mattress of the bed. She didn't hear Claire walk in behind her, so was startled when she heard her voice, not five feet away.


Sam found her wallet and turned to the taller woman. “Yep. I've had enough of this town and the crazy people in it.” Sam didn't even spare a glance at her as she breezed by her and out to the hallway, waiting for Claire to leave her room so she could close and lock the door.

The ride to the restaurant was a quiet one, Sam watching out the passenger-side window as Claire drove skillfully through town. Finally they pulled into the parking lot of a 1950s-style diner, and were seated in a red vinyl booth. Sam looked around the dining room, noting the small juke box that sat against the wall on their table.

“Cute place,” she said, the first words spoken since they'd left her room.

“I like it,” Claire offered, pushing her laminated menu to the edge of the table. “You have to know when to come here though, otherwise it's pretty busy and noisy.”

Sam nodded, glancing over the menu items. She made her choice and tossed her menu atop Claire's. She waited until the waitress had left after getting their drink and breakfast orders before turning her attention to Claire. “So, what did you want to talk to me about?”

Claire felt a pang of fear lance through her. What indeed. She cleared her throat, grateful for the momentary reprieve as the waitress delivered their drinks. Once she was gone, Claire knew better than to stall anymore, especially from the impatient look in Sam's eyes.

“I have to say,” she began, mixing in sugar and cream into her coffee. “No one has spoken to me the way you did this morning in a very long time. Not since I was a child.”

Sam watched Claire's moments, noting the reluctance of the blue eyes to meet her own gaze. Claire seemed to find any and everything far more interesting than actually having to face whatever expression may be on Sam's face. She filed this away for later examination. She felt it held a key to much of Claire's behavior.

Claire's mind somersaulted for a moment as she realized she was about to tell Sam things that no one knew about, other than those who were present at the time. “My younger sister, Tanner and I were raised in various orphanages,” she began softly, her gaze solely focused on her coffee cup. “She was five years younger than me, so I protected her as best I could until…”

As Claire's voice trailed off and seconds ticked, Sam was afraid Claire wouldn't finish her tale. “Until?” she prompted softly.

There was silence for a moment as the waitress presented their breakfast dishes and each woman busied herself readying the food to her specifications. Claire took a bite of her jellied toast then a drink from her coffee.

“Until Tanner was adopted out. She was seven, I was twelve.”

Sam felt her heart break for the little girl she was now able to see sitting across from her. “I see.”

Claire nodded, but still refused to look up at Sam; she couldn't bear to see the pity in her eyes that she heard in her voice. “It was rough, but you do what you gotta do. It wasn't a pleasant experience, but as I got older, I realized that I could use my height to my advantage, so I did.”

“What, did you beat up on all the other kids?” Sam asked, a smile in her voice.

Claire met her gaze for the first time since the conversation had begun, a sage nod her response. “I put several children into the hospital in those days.” She saw the surprise in Sam's eyes and returned her focus to her food. “I'm not proud of that fact, Samantha but if I'm going to be honest with you, I might as well be totally honest.”

“Why did you become so physically violent?” Sam asked, saturating her pancakes with strawberry syrup.

“To get aggression out? Survival of the fittest? Who knows, truthfully. I was a quiet kid and used to get the shit beat out of me by the older kids because they knew I'd never tell on them. I got tired of it.”

“Whatever happened to Tanner?” Sam asked, sipping from her orange juice.

Claire let out a heavy sigh and one of the only smiles Sam had ever seen grace her features. Sam was blinded for a moment as the expression turned what was already a beautiful woman into a stunning one. She was glad it was Claire's turn to talk because she was momentarily left speechless. She cleared her throat, surprised at her own reaction and returned her attention to her breakfast.

“I don't know. I tried to find her when I was eighteen and out of the system. Some relative that I never knew died and left us a boatload of money. No one could help me find her.” She began to cut up her ham, perhaps a bit more aggressively than necessary. “Maybe she's dead.”

“You can't believe that, Claire!” Sam exclaimed, reaching across the table to stop Claire before she sawed through the plate. Claire looked up, surprised at the touch. “You can't believe that,” Sam said again, her voice softer. “Maybe you should really try and work on this negativity you seem to have going.” Sam was shocked by the burst of laughter – the first she'd ever heard from Claire – which made her instantly smile. “Seriously!”

Strangely, telling Sam her story, Claire felt better than she had in years. It was almost as though some huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She very much wanted to hear about Sam and her past, but knew she had to finish her story and explanation of why she was the way she was. “Well, anyway, once I got out into the real world, I invested my portion of the inheritance and bought the store and my home. I decided that no one would ever effect me again, and I haven't.”

“At what cost?” Sam asked, a brow raised.

Claire looked up, surprised as she was so proud of what she'd accomplished. “At the cost of love perhaps, or close friends, but to me it's worth it. I've become very successful and I love what I do and what I have. Most people can't say that, Sam. Can you?”

“No, in all honesty I can't. But,” Sam said, holding a finger up for emphasis, “I have love in my life and most importantly, in my heart. We're not so very different, me and you.”

“How on earth do you figure?” Claire blew out, incredulous.

“My folks dumped me off on my grandmother's doorstep when I was a kid. I was unwanted and unloved by either of the selfish bastards.”

Claire could only stare, truly stunned. “I must say, I'm truly shocked. I figured you had mother, father, sister and brother and a dog named Rover.”

“Hardly,” Sam laughed, waving off such nonsense. “I had my grandmother and that was it. She died a few years ago, and I've been trying to find my way ever since.” She stared out the window thoughtfully as she chewed, trying to get even the tiniest glimpse of her future. She glanced at Claire. “I'm sure that's why I move around so much. I'm trying to find that one place, that one situation where I finally feel I belong.” She shrugged, taking another bite of her food. “It eludes me.”

“Well,” Claire said, accepting a coffee refill before continuing. “I hope I'm not being presumptuous, but I have a strong feeling that your wanting to leave town now is large in part due to your recent experiences with a certain business owner who shall remain nameless. Am I right?”

Sam chuckled, nodding. “Yes, you're right.”

Claire grabbed Sam's gaze with her own and refused to let it go. “Samantha, you did some extraordinary work for me yesterday and I don't want you to leave. I'd really like it if you'd be willing to stay and finish the project I have in mind.”

Sam sighed as she sat back in the booth, annoyed. “Claire, I've already quit my job with Joe – in fact I have to get his truck back to him today – as well as I've already given notice where I live.”

“The job obviously isn't a problem, as I'm offering you one right now that will last until either we're finished, you storm out angry again, or you decide to drop everything and leave town once more. Honestly? It could be any of the three options.”

Sam grinned, pushing her empty plate away from her. “I don't have a place to stay, Claire, and can't afford to get another one so quickly. Plus, I just lost my transportation.”

Claire sat quiet for a moment, finally sighing - decision made. “When I was renovating the third floor of my warehouse – my home, essentially – I created a small space on the second floor where I basically lived for nine months. I'm willing to let you stay there – rent free – until, like I said before: either we're finished, you storm out angry again, or you decide to drop everything leave town once more.”

Sam studied her for a long moment, unsure what to do or say. Her mind was screaming at her that it was a really bad idea, but her gut told her she had nothing to lose.

Claire took Sam's quiet for doubt so decided to sweeten the deal. She removed a sealed envelope from her purse and slid it across the table. “That's your pay for yesterday, and what you could make during this.”

Sam slid open the envelope and peeked inside. She was stunned as she counted the money within. “Claire, this is six hundred and fifty bucks.”

“And I think you're worth every penny. You worked a hard, fourteen hour day yesterday without complaint and absolute creative ability and talent. I'm willing to pay for the goods, Samantha.”

Sam sighed, looking at the money again. She knew that money – which was hers outright – could get her to the next town easily. Even so, she had to admit the work she'd done for Claire had been some of the most rewarding she'd ever done, and she had loved it. Perhaps she'd found a bit of a new direction in her life. She wanted to see it through. For the first time in her life, she would stick it out and not run.

“Alright,” she finally said, meeting Claire's gaze. “I'll do it.”


To be continued


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