Disclaimers: The characters in this story are mine. This is a 'uber' story, set in today's timeline, and some of the characters may bear a more than a slight resemblance to certain other characters we all know, but which are not owned by me. Any similarity to real people is unintentional and purely coincidental. The location is Orlando, Florida. This story is character driven. As in my previous story, there once again is no plot. There is no violence, nobody is trying to kill anybody else, nobody is chasing anybody else, etc., etc. There may be some minor angst here, but nothing too traumatic. The backdrop is a law firm, and from first hand experience, law firms can be rather routine places to work. This story continues the tale of two people set in that environment whose lives are anything but routine.

Subtext Disclaimer: There is subtext, or maintext as the case may be, here. This story deals with the deep, profound love and devotion between two people who happen to be of the same gender. Although there are some scenes depicting the physical expression of that love, there are no graphic scenes here. If that is what you are looking for, you might want to read something else.

Continuing Story Disclaimer: This is the sequel to my first story "Undeniable" and picks up about one week after its conclusion. You may want to read the previous story prior to reading this one, otherwise it will probably not make much sense to you.

Feedback: This is my second attempt at fan fiction. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. Please feel free to let me know if there is something you especially liked or didn't like. I can be reached at kmmoon@prodigy.net.


Written by KM

Part 6

In the dim shadow of the dawn's first light, Jess glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand and noted the time. Just past 6:00. She had been awake for the past several hours thinking about the confrontations the day was certain to bring. Robin was still sleeping, and in an effort to get herself up without disturbing her companion's slumbering form, Jess slowly and carefully extracted her tall frame from the waveless waterbed. She ventured out into the living room and stood over by the sliding glass doors, staring out at the tiny ripples in the heated swimming pool. As she let her mind wander, the familiar echo of her internal voice became louder, until it was finally too strong to ignore.

You must be very proud of yourself.

'What theŠ..?' The alternate internal voice was extraordinarily annoyed. 'Why are you back again?'

Must we resort to the same old tired routine? Point of fact, I wouldn't be here if something wasn't bothering you. So, now that we've established that, let cut the crap and proceed, shall we?

'I'm not in the mood.' The alternate internal voice sighed wearily. 'Just go away.'

Sorry. No can do. Come on, now. Spill it. What seems to be the problem this chipper morning?

As usual, the alternate internal voice grew belligerent. 'Listen, I'm not into trick questions. You know full well what the problem is. Therefore, as you very eloquently put it, let's cut the crap.'

My, we are a bit testy, aren't we? Fine. Then, let's begin. It seems there are several things on your mind, one of which involves that very special ring on your finger. Am I correct?

The alternate internal voice hesitated for a split second. 'Yeah, and what of it?'

Well, number one, you're going to have to take it off, and number two, you seem to have a bit of a doubt about the whole thing.

'Listen buddy, as to number one, Robin and I have discussed it, and we've determined that taking the rings off outside of home is the prudent thing to do' The alternate internal voice attempted a convincing argument. 'And as to number two, your assumption is absolutely and totally incorrect.'

Is that so?

'Absolutely, positively.' The alternate internal voice responded assuredly.

Wrong answer. Let's get to the heart of the matter, no pun intended. Isn't there just the tiniest bit of doubt in your mind that Robin's commitment to you, and your commitment to her, were more circumstance driven rather than truly sincere?

'What?' The alternate internal voice bordered between incredulous and extremely offended. 'I absolutely think no such thing.'

Once again, you refuse to admit it. By the way, do you have a problem discerning the difference between illusion and reality?

'You're really starting to annoy me, buddy. I'm not psychotic.' All things considered, it was a questionable statement. Is there a point to this conversation?'

Only that you and Robin should probably have a little talk and make sure you're both clear as to each other's motivations. Surely, you wouldn't want her or her father to infer that the ring that is so prominently displayed on her finger is the result of his insinuations to you regarding your lack of commitment. And again, surely you would want to know beyond any doubt that Robin's ring to you is given sincerely and is not merely an 'in your face' move meant to prove something to her parents.

The alternate internal voice, refusing to see the obvious, blew off the reasoning. 'For your information, not that I have to explain anything to you, I'm sincere and she's sincere. End of story.'

Fine. Have it your way. Just don't come whining to me later on when the questions start surfacing in ways you least expected.

'Like that would happen.' The alternate internal voice sniped, then became even more sarcastic. 'Can we move on and finish up this little tete-a-tete sometime before I start collecting Social Security?'

If you insist. What's your game plan for today?

'Simple. Robin and I talk with Harry. I convince him that the firm isn't in jeopardy. Then, I either continue on as before, or take a small leave of absence until we know what her father intends to do.'

Is that all?

An exasperated sigh. 'What do you mean, is that all? Isn't that enough?'

Perhaps. What if he asks you to resign?

'He won't.' The alternative internal voice treaded perilously close to denying the severity of the situation.

You seem quite confident about that. If he doesn't, Gordon or the management committee might do so.

The alternate internal voice continued, now in full-blown denial. 'They won't, and besides, I'll worry about that later. Right now, we're just dealing with today.'

What about Robin's father?

'What about him?' The alternative internal voice innocently asked.

Don't play coy. Do you plan on being present when he shows up at your house?

'I don't know. Robin and I haven't discussed that.'

Don't you think you should discuss it? After all, you don't know what his reaction will be. If you're present, it may be wind up being a free for all. Then again, if you leave them to their privacy, you can't keep your eye on things to make sure they don't get out of hand.

'I'll defer to what Robin wants.' It was a simplistic and noncommittal response.

Don't be foolish. Decide together what is the best thing to do. She'll need your support, not your placating her.

You think you know everything, don't you? You think you have all the answers. You think that I'm incapable of making any correct decisions on this matter, and that I need you, the all knowing voice of whatever, to tell me even when to breathe.'

Apparently so.

'I don't need this.' The alternate internal voice had now had quite enough. 'I have to go out there and put my job on the line, then I have to worry about Robin's talk with her father, and on top of it all, I have to wonder whether it's all sincere or contrived.'

So, you finally admit the problem. It all comes down to your doubts. Isn't this exactly where we came in? You'll never be one hundred percent sure about both of your motivations until you deal with it head on.

The alternate internal voice would hear none of it. 'I will never insult Robin by questioning her sincerity. Never.'

All right. Be that way. Stick your head in the sand and maybe it will all just magically go away.

'Damn right.' The alternate internal voice was once again in full sarcastic mode. 'Now, why don't you make like a tree and leave. Or, make like the wind and blow. Pick one.'

Funny. It seems, though, that you once again refuse to deal with the obvious. Denial does not suit you. Just remember one thing.

'And what would that be?' The alternate internal voice waited with false curiosity.

You've got a lot more to lose than just your job, and the sooner you come to realize that, the better off you'll be.

Ignoring the implicit warning, the alternate internal voice effectively shut down the conversation. 'I think I'm finished, here.'



The sun was now in full morning brightness, its rays streaking through the sliding glass doors and casting yellow-white hues upon the tiled floor. Jess continued her gaze at the pool, watching nearly mesmerized as the automatic pool sweeper performed its daily ritual, the tail occasionally flinging itself wildly above the water's surface. As a stream of water squirted haphazardly across the shallow end, the motorized sweeper dipped far below the now shimmering ripples, temporarily out of sight.

Small arms surrounded the taller woman from behind, the petite body pressing close against her back. Jess closed her eyes and enjoyed the warming sensation. This is the only thing I ever want.

"Been up long?" A voice still rough with sleep softly murmured between rigid shoulder blades.

"A little while." Came the preoccupied reply.

Robin stepped around Jess's larger frame and peered up into worried blue eyes. "Thinking about today?"

Jess looked at Robin for a moment, then refocused her attention back upon the pool waters. "Yeah. We need to talk about something."

Pale eyebrows knit together. "Okay."

"UmŠ.." Jess grasped Robin's hand and led them over to the plush sofa, sitting them both down. "Tonight, when you talk with your father, I want you to know that I can stay away or be here, whatever is the best thing. I don't want to be in your way if you want to have a private conversation, and yet, I don't want to leave you alone if you'd rather I'd be here."

Robin swallowed, considering all the options. "To be honest, I've been thinking about that, too. This is your house, and I don't want to tell you to go someplace else."

The older woman sensed something more. "ButŠ.."

"But, I really think I need to speak with him alone. I want him to know how I feel, and I don't want him to have the impression that what I say is somehowŠ.."

"Influenced by me." Jess finished for her.

"Yeah." An apologetic smile. "What do you think?"

"I agree." The dark head nodded. "I think that's the best way to handle it. I'll give you as much time as you need."

Robin ran her fingers through her short blonde hair in slight frustration. "I just feel bad that you have to leave your own house while I talk with him."

"Sweetheart, this is your house, too." Blue eyes stared pensively at the darkened fireplace. "This is what we'll do. Tonight, I'll go and pick us up something to eat for dinner, and then I'll wait until I see his rental car gone before I come back inside. Will that be okay?"

"I think so." The blonde head bowed slightly. "UmŠ..I don't want you to be gone too long, though. I mean, I don't think I'm up to arguing with him over and over again."

What exactly is she worried about? Jess mulled that statement around in her mind until it finally made sense. What if her father refuses to leave until he convinces her he's right? You're such an idiot, Jess. "Okay. What about this? I'll give you an hour with him. I'll knock on the door, and if you need more time, don't open it. If you're ready to end your conversation, open the door and that'll be his cue to leave." She looked directly at Robin to gauge her reaction. "Will that work?"

That could work. "Yeah." A small, yet warm smile. "Thank you."

"You bet, kiddo. Everything's going to be fine, so don't worry." Jess pressed her forehead lightly against Robin's. "You got that?"

That brought an even wider smile and a small chuckle. "Yes, I got it." Then another thought came to Robin, and she looked at Jess out of the corner of her eye. "UmŠ..Jess. What exactly did you have in mind for dinner tonight?"

"I don't know." It was a perfectly innocent answer.

Right. Green eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Yes, you do. Just spill it."

The older woman knew she'd been caught. "Okay, okay. Chinese."

I knew it. Robin smiled and shook her head in subtle amazement. "Jess, just make sure you get something else, too, besides 'you know what'."

Jess stood up and gave her a wounded look. "You have absolutely no faith in me." She entered the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee.

"Sure I do." Robin followed along. "I have total faith that you're going to get a certain Chinese dish which we know you always get." She retrieved the half and half and Florida orange juice from the refrigerator.

"For your information, Robin, I do like other Chinese food, too." Jess's expression was totally serious.

"Right, Jess." The younger woman reach over and patted Jess's arm. "You like other Chinese food, too." A subtle eye roll. "Get whatever 'other Chinese food' you want, then."

"Fine, I will."

A knowing smile was Robin's only response. I could bet money on this.


Robin sat in the corner chair in Harry Roberts' office, drumming her fingers impatiently upon the upholstered arm. She stopped briefly, glanced over at Jess in the next chair, then resumed her nervous finger tapping as they waited for the litigation department chairman to return. Without much additional delay, Harry finally entered his office, followed closely by his secretary, Betty. She dutifully placed a cup of fresh coffee on his desk and waited for further instructions. Harry took a moment to peruse some paperwork, than handed it to her with directions for distribution. Now that this pressing matter was adequately taken care of, he stepped behind his desk and settled himself into his navy blue leather chair, giving Betty a last minute instruction to close his door and hold all his calls.

Harry took a sip of his coffee, then looked across the desk at Robin and Jess. "Sorry for the delay. Now, what can I do for you both?"

Jess flexed her hands slowly, then decided to get straight to the point. "A situation has come up which we need to discuss with you." That sounded innocuous enough.

"A problem with a case?" Harry shifted and got comfortable in his chair.

"No." The junior partner continued. "It's a situation involving Robin and myself." It was still a fairly innocuous sounding statement.

"All right." The head of litigation took another sip of his coffee. "What's up?"

Here goes. Jess blew out a breath. "Robin and I have developed aŠ..personal relationship that we feel has the potential of impacting the firm."

That drew a raised eyebrow from Harry. "Well, I know that you're both sharing a house, and I'm not surprised that in living and working together, you've become good friends."

Robin spoke for the first time. "No, Harry. It's more than that."

"More?" He took his half empty coffee cup and deliberately placed off to the side, then focused his gaze squarely on Jess. "Why don't you tell me exactly what's going on?"

Jess paused slightly, then proceeded. "Over the course of our working together, Robin and I have become close." She glanced over and gave Robin a warm smile. "After a while, we decided that we wanted a more personal relationship." It was extremely difficult, Jess now realized, to put the nature of their relationship in terminology suitable for the business environment. "We've decided that we want to be with each other for the rest of our lives."

Harry leaned forward in his chair, his eyes very wide and his mouth slightly open. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

"Yes." The young associate spoke again. "Jess and I are together."

There was a very long silence as Harry stared at both attorneys, completely stunned. Not only was he old school in his law practice, but he was old school in other matters, as well. He cleared his throat uncomfortably, then spoke again. "I see."

"Now, Harry." The junior partner attempted to rescue the discussion. "We've been completely professional in all our business dealings. We've kept this very quiet in the office."

His face grim, Harry asked the next question. "You're aware of the firm's policy on personal relationships between supervisory personnel and subordinates, are you not?"

Jess held her chin up. "I am."

He stared at his hands, deep in thought, and without looking up, continued. "How long has thisŠ..relationship been going on?"

At this point, Robin saw no need not to be completely honest about the situation. "Almost since the beginning."

The head of the litigation department closed his eyes and brought his hand to his forehead, rubbing the bridge of his nose in an effort to absorb what he was hearing. "You've been involved together for months, and now you've suddenly decided to disclose this information. Why?"

The junior partner started to explain. "Because, HarryŠ.."

Robin interrupted. "Jess, let me." Her eyes captured azure, pleading to allow her be the one to answer the question. Upon seeing no resistance, she began. "Last week, I told my parents about my relationship with Jess. It didn't go well with them." That, indeed, was an understatement. "I didn't know it at the time, but last Friday my father flew down here and spoke directly with Jess."

The junior partner jumped back in. "Harry, let me tell you exactly what happened. Robin's father paid me a visit last Friday and wanted me to end my relationship with his daughter. I wasn't going to do that, for reasons I'm not going to discuss, and I told him so. In response, he insisted that if I refused to end our relationship, he would inform you and Gordon about this matter himself."

Harry gazed at Jess pensively. "So, let me see if I understand this. You kept your relationship concealed, and you never would have disclosed it to the firm but for the fact that Robin's father threatened to reveal it. Do I have that correct?"

Jess flinched at the way he put it, but his statement was entirely accurate. "Yes." She softly confirmed. "That is correct."

At this admission, Harry sat back in his chair, not hiding his disappointment. "All right. The first thing that's going to happen is that I'm reassigning you, Robin. Clay Taylor needs some associate assistance on several of his cases. Go meet with him sometime this morning and find out what he needs. I'll let him know you'll be helping him."

"Okay." The young associate responded quietly, then gave Jess a questioning look.

Harry caught the glances passing between the two attorneys. "Am I missing something?"

Jess squared her shoulders. "There's more."

"More?" The look of disbelief on Harry's face would have been comical if it wasn't so serious.

Robin closed her eyes, then proceeded once again. "Yes. During the past year, I've had some upsetting things happen, and I didn't deal with them very well. I lost someone very close to me. I've started seeing a psychologist to try to deal better with what happened." She looked from Harry to Jess. "My father believes that because of these things, I'm 'emotionally fragile', as he put it, and that Jess has somehowŠ..taken advantage of my situation." She winced as she said the last part.

At this point, the head of the litigation department simply stared at Jess across his desk, entirely dumbstruck, not saying a word, not moving, and not begging for a further explanation.

Jess swallowed hard, then broke the uncomfortable silence. "Harry, I haven't done the things Robin's father thinks I have. I would never do that. Nevertheless, when he was here on Friday, in addition to stating that he would reveal our relationship to you and Gordon, he also stated that he wouldŠ.." She took a deep breath, then held her chin up. "File a complaint with the State Bar Association against me and the firm for improper conduct if I didn't end my relationship with Robin." Damn it. This is hard.

Harry edged forward in his chair again, his jaw clenched visibly. "Exactly what improper conduct would he allege?"

"He believes that Robin is emotionally vulnerable. Since I prepare Robin's performance evaluations, he believes that she could perceive that her job is tied to continuing our relationshipŠ..in a way that is satisfactory to me, personally." God, I can't even say the words.

The young associate couldn't let that statement stand as implied . "Harry, it's not true. I never believed that. Never."

He held up his hand in front of him, his face expressionless. "Are both of you telling me that, Robin, your father intends to file a complaint with the State Bar Association implicating this law firm and Jess, who is one of our partners, in allegations of improper conduct, the nature of which is sexual harassment?"

The junior partner closed her eyes, the distaste in her mouth now threatening to overwhelm her. Nevertheless, she stated her answer calmly and succinctly. "Yes."

If the atmosphere inside the office was tense before, it was now strained beyond all measure. Harry hung his head and rested his forehead on the tips of his fingers for several moments, again not uttering a word.

Robin, realizing that Jess was in jeopardy, sought to explain further. "Harry, none of what my father thinks is true. Jess has never, even once, acted improperly toward me." Despite her efforts, the young associate saw that the situation was, at best, grave. "I've agreed to meet with my father tonight, and I'm going to make it clear to him that I won't end my relationship with Jess. In light of that fact, I'm also going find out from him whether he still intends to follow through with his threat to file a complaint with the Bar Association."

Harry folded his hands on top of the desk in front of him and spoke again, clearly displeased. ""All right. Here's what's going to happen. I'm going to discuss this matter with Gordon this morning and then with the full Management Committee. It's likely that the firm will hire outside counsel to represent us. Robin, regardless of what your father does or does not do, either someone from the Management Committee or our outside counsel will need to contact him regarding his intentions as it relates to this law firm." He emphasized the last several words. "For now, Robin, I want you to go meet with Clay Taylor and see what he needs by way of assistance. Furthermore, this entire matter is to remain strictly confidential, regardless of the ultimate outcome. Is that clear?"

Robin mulled that statement in her mind, not at all liking the implication. Having the entire matter remain confidential was one thing, but having it remain confidential indefinitely was most certainly a problem. Still, now was not the time to debate that issue. "I understand."

"Good. Now, Robin, if you'll excuse us, Jess and I have some partnership matters to attend to." The head of the litigation department gave them both a look that indicated there would be no argument.

This can't be good. Seeing a nod from Jess, the young associate rose and left the office, closing the door quietly behind her.

Once the door was safely shut, Harry looked pointedly at Jess. "What I want to know is why you didn't come to me with this when it first started. Haven't I always been supportive of you, given you whatever help you needed? Hell, I even stuck my neck out for you and pushed through your partnership well in advance of the normal track. I sat right there in your office not too long ago and reminded you of the perils of becoming too close to someone whose performance you evaluate. So, tell me, Jess, how could this have happened?"

His words, although quite understandable, stung. And the truth was, he was absolutely correct. "You've always been supportive, Harry, and I have greatly appreciated that, but to answer your question, all I can say is that there were many complications. I wasn't sure that my relationship with Robin would last very long, for reasons that I don't want to get into, and I saw no need to create a problem if one didn't exist." A slight pause ensued, mercifully disrupted by the faint whistle of the mid-morning freight train passing below. "I also wanted to continue working with Robin. I knew that you'd have to reassign her if you knew about our relationship. The fact is, and we both know it, I can be somewhat difficult at times to get along with. Robin does an excellent job, and for some reason, we seem to work very well together. I wanted that to continue. The bottom line, though, is that it was selfish of me to do that, and I realize it now. I put my own interests ahead of the interests of this firm, and for that, I'm very sorry." Jess bowed her head and stared at her hands. "I was alsoŠ..worried about what you might think of me if you knew about the true nature of my relationship with Robin. I was uneasy about that, and Robin and I weren't ready to disclose it to anyone."

The disappointment slowly left Harry's face, replaced now with genuine sadness. "Jess, I would have hoped that you would have been able to talk to me. I was there for you when all that mess with James happened, wasn't I? I won't deny that I'm surprised to learn of your relationship with Robin, and I certainly won't say that I understand it. I absolutely would never have guessed in a million years that either one of you wereŠ.." He left the thought unfinished. "The fact is, now we have a situation that is a real danger to both this law firm and you. If you had just come to me earlier, even when I sat in your office and discussed keeping a line between your professional and personal relationships, we could have reassigned Robin. If we'd done that, her father would have absolutely nothing to base his allegations on. You would no longer be her supervisor, and therefore, she couldn't possibly perceive that her job might be tied to keeping your relationship satisfactory to you, personally."

Jess couldn't deny his logic. Looking back on it, it all seems so mishandled now, but at the time, her thinking on the matter appeared perfectly reasonable, or so she led herself to believe. What a difference perspective makes. "You're right, Harry. I made a serious mistake. I'll accept whatever action you decide to take against me, but I want to say that Robin has done nothing wrong here, and I'd ask that she not be penalized because of my poor judgment."

Harry nodded, considering the request. "Okay. I agree, Robin's not the responsible party here, and I foresee no formal action being taken against her in connection with this matter. My best guess, however, is that the Management Committee will want to speak with both you and Robin separately, probably this week, and then make its final decision. I'm sure you understand the gravity of this situation, as it stands. Most likely, if Robin's father follows through with filing a complaint with the State Bar, our first duty will be to protect the firm. Unfortunately, in that case, the Management Committee will most certainly ask that you sever your partnership here."

Not a surprise. "I understand."

"If Robin's father chooses not to file a complaint, the Management Committee may consider the risk you took to be unacceptable to this firm's well being, and then still ask that you sever your partnership." The litigation department chairman stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Then again, it may opt to take a more lenient approach. Honestly, right now, I just don't know."

Jess decided to try her best shot at brokering a deal. "I'd like to propose an offer to the Management Committee. I'll be willing to take a leave of absence until this matter is resolved or until the Management Committee makes its final decision. If they later decide to ask that I sever my partnership, I'll do so retroactively as of today. If they take a more lenient action, I'll accept whatever that is, and then return to work after fulfilling such requirements."

The older attorney sighed heavily, then nodded. "All right. I'll take your offer to them. For now, prepare for me a list of all your cases and their status so that I can redistribute them for supervision among the other litigation partners. I'll ask that you begin your leave of absence immediately thereafter. In addition, I'd like to see both you and Robin in my office first thing tomorrow morning to discuss her meeting with her father, and also to discuss any further requests of the Management Committee."

"I understand." The junior partner stood up from her chair and glanced over at Harry, her expression one of true remorse. "For what it's worth, Harry, I am very sorry."

Harry merely nodded as Jess left his office, then sank slowly back into his chair as the full weight of the matter settled upon him. He picked up the phone and dialed Gordon McDaniel, requesting an urgent meeting with him. Under the watchful eye of his secretary, he slipped out of his office and gloomily made his way in the direction of the Managing Partner's office. What a fine way to start out a Monday morning.



Paul sauntered down the hallway and turned into the break room, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee capturing his attention and leading him directly to the coffee of the day. Irish Crème. He poured himself a cup, then poked his head inside the refrigerator, hunting for some half and half. Not locating any, he was mentally preoccupied as Angie and Betty made their way toward the coffeemaker, their low-key conversation now attracting his attention now far more than his flavored coffee.

"You should have seen it, Angie. They were all in his office with the door closed for a really long time. Then suddenly, Robin left alone, and she didn't look very happy. Both of our bosses stayed in there a little while longer, before your boss finally left. She was certainly looking grim, as well."

"Wow." Angie was definitely enjoying the gossip. "What do you think that was all about?"

Betty grabbed a cup of the decaffeinated blend and sat down at one of the tables. "I don't really know, except that my boss suddenly announced that he had a meeting with Mr. McDaniel, and that he would be tied up with the Management Committee all afternoon."

Paul, in an attempt to appear disinterested, added powdered creamer to his coffee and continued to listen to the hushed voices.

"So, that explains it." Angie joined her friend at the table and considered all of the information. "My boss told me that she had some administrative work to finish this morning, and then she'd be taking an indefinite leave of absence."

Betty's eyes grew wide. "Really? So, what do you think happened?"

"WellŠ.." Angie leaned in conspiratorially, putting the events of the last several days together. "Figure it out. Robin's father came to see my boss last Friday, and right after that, she left for the day and told me to cancel her afternoon appointment." The secretary took a sip of her coffee. "Then, today she and Robin met with your boss, and suddenly, now he's having meetings with Mr. McDaniel and the Management Committee, and my boss is taking a leave of absence."

"Yeah, but what would be serious enough for all that?"

Paul's ears perked up, and he leaned in a bit closer, but otherwise was silent.

"Oh come on, Betty. Like I told you before, there's definitely a little trouble in paradise. I'm guessing that Robin's father made some kind of demand on either my boss or the firm, or maybe even both."

Betty refilled her coffee cup. "Ooooh, I'd love to know what that was."

"Yeah, me too." Angie knit her brows together in thought. "You know, if there's some sort of relationship going on between them, and I think there is, my boss is in the position of supervising a subordinate with whom she's somehow involved." The secretary smiled, very proud of her deductive reasoning. "That's it, Betty. Don't you see? We've got a little favoritism at play."

"Yeah, but how does that involve Robin's father?"

"Yeah, you're right." Angie looked up pensively. "I haven't figured that part out yet. But whatever it is, it's really big."

Having heard enough of the conversation to get the general idea, Paul left the break room and rounded the corner, heading straight for Robin's office. From his perspective, she'd definitely gotten herself into something that she wasn't prepared to handle. He stopped in front of the closed door, then knocked.

Robin immediately perked up. Jess. "Come in." She watched as the door opened and Paul poked his head inside her office. With an inaudible sigh, she picked up her pen in order to appear busy and waved him in. "Paul, what's up?"

"Can I talk with you for a moment?"

Now what? The young associate had been on pins and needles waiting for Jess and really didn't want to spend her time chitchatting with Paul. Let's get this over with. "Sure, come in." She watched him close the door and settle into the chair opposite her desk. "Do you need some help with something?"

"UhŠ..no. Actually, I thought I should mention something to you, as a friend. There's apparently some talk going on among the staff about Jessica Harrison and you. It sounds serious." It was surprisingly difficult to discuss this matter in a way that didn't appear gossip oriented, which in fact it was.

Robin's eyes grew wide, and she nervously started to twirl her pen. How much does he know? Harry's words of admonishment about keeping the matter confidential came rushing back to her. "I really can't discuss anything with you, Paul."

The senior associate leaned forward in his chair. "Listen, Robin, whatever's going on, if you need someone to talk to, I want you to know that I'll be happy to help in any way that I can. I've been with the firm a while now, and I know how things operate around here."

Is he serious? More like providing a sympathetic ear to catch me on the rebound. In light of everything that was going on, his offer seemed more like an absurd joke. "As I said, I can't really discuss anything with you. I'm sorry."

"All right." Paul stood up. "For what it's worth, and you don't have to say anything, just listen. Becoming involved in any way with Jessica is a definite career killer. You can't possibly win. She'll either cut you down professionally, or if she's taken down, she'll take you down with her." He stepped over to the door and rested his hand on the doorknob. "It's sounds as though she's into something big, and things may not go well for her. You'd do well to be very careful." With that rather ominous thought, he left the office, closing the door behind him.

A dull, constant headache pounded at Robin's temples. She brought her fingers to either side of her head, slowly rubbing the areas in a futile effort to ease the tension. Predictably, it didn't work. Barely another minute passed before another short knock sounded at her door. I'm so not in the mood for this. Maybe they'll just go away. The knock sounded again, followed by a muffled, yet familiar voice from the other side. It's Jess. The associate's heart sped up. "Come in."

The door opened. "Hey." Dark eyebrows raised in a bit of uncertainty. "Bad time?"

"No." Anxious green eyes met blue. "It's okay."

"Good." The junior partner stepped inside the office and closed the door. "I wanted to let you know what's happening." She decided to put a positive spin on the morning's developments. "After you left Harry's office, I spoke with him about my taking a leave of absence, beginning today, until this matter is resolved. He has agreed to take the proposal to the Management Committee."

The same anxious green eyes studied Jess carefully. There's more. "What's the likelihood they'll consent to that?"

Damn. I'm too transparent. The older woman sighed. "Well, it really depends on what your father decides to do. If he goes forward and files the complaint with the State Bar Association, then the Management Committee will have no choice but to cut me loose. Keeping me on would be too much of a risk for the firm in light of the allegations. Then again, even if your father decides not to file the complaint, they could still cut me loose for jeopardizing the firm's well-being." Seeing Robin's grimace, Jess hastened to focus on the more positive news. "Robin, listen to me." She paused for emphasis. "Should your father decide to forego filing the complaint, the Management Committee could still just as easily determine that there was basically no harm, no foul. You'll already be working with someone else, and therefore, retaining my partnership would provide no substantive risk to the firm."

Robin's voice was very soft. "Do you really believe they would go for that?"

The junior partner didn't want to misrepresent the seriousness of what could happen, but worrying Robin was unnecessary, considering that nothing, as yet, was definite. "I honestly think there's a good chance of a favorable outcome." Although there'd likely be a reprimand. "They're going to want to talk with both you and me this week, and then before they make any concrete decision, either the Management Committee or the firm's counsel will probably want to speak with your father regarding his intentions."

The young associate closed her eyes, desperately wishing that her headache would simply disappear. "So, what you're saying, basically, is that my father holds your future in his hands."

Jess stepped over to Robin's chair and knelt down beside it. "No, that's not what I'm saying. It doesn't matter what your father does or doesn't do. I'm going to be okay, regardless. Harry's also assured me that there will be no repercussions against you. So you see, we're both going to be okay, here." Blue eyes fixed steadily on green, intent on conveying absolute confidence. "You got that?" A small, hesitant nod was the only response. "All right." The older woman stood up and walked back around to the front of the desk. "Now, I've just given Harry a list of my active cases and their status. As soon as he reassigns them, you can discuss with the supervising partners whether your continued assistance will be required. Otherwise, take your direction from either Harry or Clay Taylor. Are you okay with that?"

"Yes." There really wasn't much else to say.

Jess offered a small reassuring smile. "Don't worry. Everything's going to be fine. You go back to work now, and I'll see you at home later tonight." She stepped over toward the door. "So, I'll give you an hour with your father, and then I'll knock on the front door. Is that system still okay?"

As a matter of fact, Robin had just confirmed the time of her meeting with her father. "It's fine. He'll be at the house at seven."

"All right, kiddo." The junior partner winked, then turned the door handle. "I'll see you back at home." Without a backward glance, she closed the door behind her and headed directly toward the elevator lobby.

Jess punched the button and waited for the next elevator car to arrive. If only she really felt as positive as her previous words tried to convey. For that matter, if only she had handled everything differently right from the start. Then, too, if only she had acquiesced to Robin's father's demands and dealt with the consequences later on. If only this. If only that. She could beat herself up with second-guessing. The problem was, right from the very beginning, nothing was ever going to be easy. That was an absolute and inescapable fact. From the very first moment she saw Robin and noticed, however inappropriately, those beautiful sea green eyes capturing her in their verdant gaze, nothing was ever going to be easy again. It was a truism she'd come to accept, and gladly so, but still, she could have handled things so much better from the outset. If only she had done that, then none of this entire mess would have occurred, and the pain they were now both experiencing wouldn't exist at all. If only. With a disgusted sigh, she boarded the now waiting elevator and watched as the doors slowly closed, and perhaps most fittingly so, closed with them her continued partnership with the firm.

If only. She certainly could beat herself up over that.


Robin paced the floor nervously, gauging the time on the clock as she awaited her father's arrival. She glanced out the large living room window and watched as a pair of headlights pulled into the driveway. It's time. She'd known all day long what she wanted to say to him, but now that he was actually here, she stood at the window nearly frozen in place. Internally, her mind raced from one emotion to the other, warring between anger and sadness, and then back again. In truth, she was both, and everything in between. As the doorbell rang, she straightened her shoulders and calmly walked over to let her father inside.

"Hi, Robin." Thomas Wilson took in his daughter's appearance. "You're looking well."

That's a matter of opinion. Her voice was detached and carried no emotion. "Come in." She motioned him inside, then led him into the living room. "Have a seat."

Her father settled into the chair opposite the plush sofa and glanced around the room curiously. "IsŠ..umŠ..are we alone?"

"Jess is out right now." I'm not telling him when she's coming back.

He nodded. "So, tell me, how are you doing, honey?"

All things considered, Robin didn't know whether to laugh or cry at his absurdly paternal demeanor, one which seemed completely oblivious to the turmoil he'd so recently caused. "I've been better." Absolutely in no mood for idle chitchat, she sat down on the sofa and decided to get right to the point. "So, what was it you wanted to see me about?"

Her father steepled his fingers together, placing them to his chin for a brief moment, then responded. "You've no doubt heard about my conversation last week with Ms. Harrison."

Green eyes grew very cold. "I'd hardly call your threats and your ultimatum to her a conversation."

"Now, Robin, I only asked her to view the situation from another perspective. Things rarely are as they appear, and I pointed out to her the obvious appearance problems of her continued relationship with you. I only asked that she do the right thing for herself, for you, and for her law firm. That's all."

That's all? Now, Robin wasn't often prone to displays of anger, but she nearly lost her composure at his self-serving statement. "You didn't ask anything. You blackmailed her and you threatened her. And what's worse, you did this even though you knew I loved her."

Thomas leaned forward in his chair. He knew he'd have a hard sell with Robin, but he truly believed he could prevail if his daughter would just give him the chance to explain why he did what he did. "It's because I love you and because I'm aware of the pain you've been through during this past year that I felt the need to look out for you. I didn't want to see you emotionally devastated again."

"And just how did you think I would react emotionally to having Jess end our relationship? Did you think I'd just get over it, and that there'd be no emotional devastation involved with that?"

He rested his elbows on his knees and steepled his fingers together once again. "I knew it would be difficult for you at first, but I also knew that eventually you would come to see that it wasn't the lifestyle you wanted, and then you'd realize that it was the right decision in the long run."

Robin shot up angrily. "Let's get one thing straight. You decided to go behind my back to Jess and force her into ending our relationship because it was what you wanted, not because it was what I wanted. How could you possibly decide for me what's best for me? The last time I checked, I was an adult capable of making my own decisions."

"But you've had some emotionally difficult times recently, and it's only natural that you'd need some comfort. That's exactly why your mother and I wanted you to come home. We wanted you to have your family nearby to turn to, not this woman who you've barely known but a few months."

This is insane. Robin felt her anger build even further. "You interfered in a relationship that you knew was important to me. You can try to justify it all you want, but the fact remains that you hurt Jess, and because you hurt Jess, you also hurt me."

"Honey, your mother and I only want what's best for you. We've always wanted what's best for you. You need to know that. We don't want to see you hurt again, as you ultimately would have been in this circumstance." Thomas Wilson now got to what he considered to be the main point of his visit. "DidŠ..did she end it with you?"

"You mean, did Jess break off our relationship?" Robin let go a disgusted laugh. "Yes, she did exactly what you thought she'd do. She told me she was acceding to your ultimatum so that she could protect me against a scandal, one that you said you would create." Robin approached the darkened fireplace and closed her eyes tight, unable to look at him any longer.

Her father sat back in the chair, satisfied. "It's for the best this way, honey. I know it doesn't seem like it now, but you'll realize it someday. That lifestyle wasn't the right thing for you."

Robin whirled around. "Whatever lifestyle I live is for me to choose, not you. You have no right to make that decision for me. You don't get to pick who I love." As she said this, her hand moved and a flash of light reflected off the diamond ring she wore.

Thomas knit his brows together and pointed at his daughter's finger, confused. "What is that you're wearing?"

"This?" A petite hand lifted slightly to give him a closer look. "Jess gave it to me."

"What?" This made absolutely no sense. "She gave that to you? When? You didn't have it on last week when we saw you."

Robin now got an almost perverse satisfaction at his inquiry. "This past weekend, Jess and I exchanged rings."

What? Thomas stood up and faced Robin. "Why did she give you that? I thought you said she ended it with you."

"She did end it with me, just like I told you she did." Robin fingered the gold band, then focused her attention squarely on her father, noting his stunned gaze at her ring. "Contrary to what you profess to believe, Jess is a very honorable person, and you knew that. In fact, when you tried to 'persuade' her into ending our relationship, you counted on her doing the honorable thing. You counted on her breaking it off with me. But what you didn't count on in your blackmail scheme was that I wouldn't let her go through with it."

Her father couldn't believe what he was hearing, and his utter incredulity registered plainly on his face. "Robin, listenŠ.."

"No. You listen." His daughter was trembling in barely controlled anger. "You have no right to interfere in my personal or professional relationships with anyone. I'm an adult capable of knowing what I want. I want Jess in my life, and you'll just have to accept that. If you believe that somehow I don't know what I want, or that I'm making some supposedly horrible mistake, then whatever happens, I'll accept the consequences of my own actions. I don't need you to rescue me from myself."

Thomas shook his head. It was clear that his daughter had been completely taken in by this woman. "I presume this exchange of rings means something."

You better believe it. "We've committed ourselves to each other forever, and nothing you do is going to change that. Also, you should know that I stand by Jess. I can issue ultimatums, too. If you insist on filing your complaint with the State Bar Association, I don't ever want to see you again."

"Now, Robin, isn't that just a little extreme?"

Green eyes flared. "Don't you think that filing a complaint with the Bar Association against Jess for alleged sexual harassment, which I absolutely deny, is just as extreme?"

It was true, Thomas hadn't counted on his daughter's determination to continue this relationship. And although it stared him in the face, he absolutely refused to accept the subtle irony that his own actions had actually caused his daughter to become closer to this woman. "All right, Robin. You've made your point."

But Robin wasn't quite finished. "You should know that Jess and I have revealed our relationship to the chairman of our litigation department. He has informed the firm's Management Committee of the situation. Thanks to you, Jess is on an indefinite leave of absence and may ultimately lose her partnership over this."

"I think your blame, Robin, predictably is misplaced. This woman should have thought about the consequences of her actions before she broke the rules."

Not wanting to argue law firm etiquette with him, Robin chose to ignore the comment. "Are you or are you not going to file a complaint with the Bar Association? I want you to know that no matter what you do, I will always love Jess, and we will stay together. If you file that complaint, when all is said and done, Jess and I will still be together, and the only thing you will have accomplished is that you won't ever see me again."

Perhaps her firm's Management Committee will take care of this problem. It appeared that punitive action was already underway, and that being the case, his objective wasn't to alienate his daughter forever, even though he knew he was right about the situation. "No, Robin, I won't file it. I don't want to put you through an investigation of that nature."

Robin closed her eyes in visible relief. At least that's something. "You need to understand one more thing. I'm very angry with you for what you've done and the impact it might have on Jess's career. What you did is unacceptable to me. It's going to take a lot of effort for me to get past this, if I ever do. I'm not a child any longer. You'll have to accept that. You'll also have to accept that I'm doing what I want to do, and I'm with who I want to be with."

Thomas simply could not leave the issue where it stood and proceeded further. "Robin, it's clear that you don't always know what's best for you. Even David had the good sense to ultimately realize that."

What? The blonde head snapped up. "David had the good sense to realize what?"

"David finally understood that it was his obligation to take care of you, and that the financial burden of running a household should properly fall on him." Thomas stepped a little closer to Robin, trying to gauge the look of confusion on her face.

I never told him what David and I argued about that night. The emotional blow of his statement nearly knocked Robin over. "Are you saying that you spoke with David about that? Is that the reason he changed his mind?"

"He changed his mind because he became aware of his responsibilities."

"No!" Robin nearly doubled over in anguish. "You didn't. You didn't do that."

Thomas really didn't understand his daughter's reaction. "Honey, all any of us ever wanted was to do what was best for you."

Robin looked at her father with tear-filled eyes. "You interfered, and now David is dead." There was more significance to that statement than first appeared.

If she wasn't so occupied with that woman, she'd understand. He sighed audibly. "David's accident was a terrible tragedy, and I can see that you're still trying to get past the grief over what happened. That's exactly why your mother and I were hoping that you'd come home, so that we could deal with this as a family."

The green eyes that stared back at him held something so profoundly deep that it was entirely unreadable. "Jess is my family, now." Again, there was more significance to that statement than first appeared.

Thomas turned wearily toward the door, realizing that he'd gotten about as far with his daughter as he could for the moment. Let's give this just a little more time. "All right, Robin. You've made your point, here. I'll not file anything with the State Bar Association. I'm presuming your firm will handle things from now on. Please, though, think about what we've discussed. Your mother and I care about you, and we want to help you through the pain you're experiencing."

It was all too clear to Robin that her father had missed the point of their conversation entirely. Or perhaps he was just refusing to acknowledge it. "Can I ask you one more thing?" At his slightly surprised nod, Robin continued, her anguish still apparent. "Why did you help me through law school and assist me with my student loans if I wasn't supposed to bear part of the 'financial burden' of running the household?" I'm sure the reason isn't because you care about me.

To Thomas, the answer was truly obvious, and he couldn't understand why Robin would even have to ask. Nevertheless, he indulged her question. "You met David in law school, honey. We were hoping you'd find someone suitable for yourself."

It was all Robin could do not to fall to pieces, the full impact and implication of what he said hitting her with a devastating force. Stunned beyond all measure, she led the way toward the front door and peered cautiously outside, hoping that Jess wasn't already waiting. With as much strength as her voice would allow, she managed a weak goodbye, then watched as her father got into his rental car and pulled out of the driveway. She was relieved, even grateful, that he was gone, and even more relieved that Jess hadn't yet arrived home. The obvious reason for her temporary, but welcome, comfort was that she didn't want her father and Jess to run into each other. But the far more significant reason, and one which was yet to be fully realized, was that she couldn't bear to have Jess see her in such an obvious state of distress. With one look, the junior partner would not only immediately tear out of the house in frantic search of Robin's father, but probably make matters much worse in doing so. In Robin's anguished mind, the simple fact of the matter was that Jess was dealing with losing her partnership in the firm, and Robin, for better or for worse, just couldn't add her own problems to the already heavy burden. I need to calm down before Jess gets home.

The petite form slowly retreated back into the living room and sat down on the sofa, repeatedly rocking back and forth in an effort to dispel the heartache and to gain some semblance of composure. Finally, she wiped her eyes and took several deep breaths to calm her anxious heart, then sat very still on the sofa cushions as she waited for Jess to come home.

Somewhere between the Chinese restaurant and The Ranch, a taller figure stopped on the side of the roadway, got out of a silver Mercedes, and doubled over in an intense pain that had no rational or explainable origin.


Jess pulled into the driveway, and upon seeing that the rental car was gone, walked up to the front porch, Chinese take-out food in hand. She wasn't sure exactly what to expect, so she lightly knocked on the door and waited for Robin to answer. Barely a minute passed before the younger woman appeared in the doorway.

"Is it safe?" Jess strode inside, cautiously checking out the surroundings as she placed the take-out cuisine on the dining room table.

"Yeah." Robin put on her brave front. "He's gone."

"So, did it go all right?"

"Let's eat dinner and I can fill you in." In truth, food was the absolute last thing Robin wanted to think about.

"Okay." The taller woman stood silently for a moment, instinct telling her something wasn't quite right. "How long ago did he leave?" She pulled some plates down from the cabinet and stepped into the dining room.

I just need to get through dinner. "I guess it's been about twenty minutes or so." Green eyes peered curiously into the take-out bags. "So, did you get it?"

"Get what?"

A frank look.

Jess sat down. "What if I didn't?"

The frank look persisted, this time with a slightly raised eyebrow.

The older woman sighed dramatically, resigned that she'd been pegged. "Okay, fine. Yes, I did." An innocent look now appeared. "Want some?"

Robin took a seat, appearing somewhat preoccupied. "Maybe."

Hmmm. She doesn't want to play. Jess dished the shrimp with lobster sauce onto her plate. Okay, fine. Let's not dance around this, then. "Tell me, how did it go?"

The answer came very quickly. "He said he wasn't going to file anything with the Bar, so I think that's good news." It's the only positive thing that happened.

A crease formed in the center of Jess's slightly narrowed eyebrows as she studied Robin's demeanor. "Yeah, that is good news. I'm glad he backed off." Something's going on here. "Are you sure everything's okay?"

"Yeah." The blonde head nodded. "IŠ..umŠ..also told him about our commitment." Robin glanced at the ring on her finger.

"I see." Jess took a bite of her food as she pondered the information. "And how did he take that?" She's not eating.

"Well, he was surprised." Robin pushed the food around on her plate. "He thought you would have ended it between us."

"Did he give you a hard time about the fact that we're still together?"

Don't play twenty questions now with me, Jess. Please. "It's pretty much the same story. He wants me to move back there. I told him for the millionth time that I'm not going to do that. He said I need my family to help me deal with things. I told him that you're my family, now."

At Robin's matter-of-fact tone, Jess raised an eyebrow. Well, that was succinct. Maybe she doesn't want to talk about the details. "All right." The older woman sighed internally, then dished another spoonful of Chinese food onto her plate, taking particular notice that Robin hadn't eaten a bite. Don't pry, Jess. If she doesn't want to discuss it, let it go. "I forgot to mention earlier that Harry wants to see us first thing in the morning. He'll want to know what your father intends to do, and then he'll relay to us any further requests of the Management Committee."

Robin nodded, but was otherwise silent as she continued pushing the food around on her plate. I can't do this anymore. I need space. "Jess, I think I'm going to go lie down for a little while. I need some time alone." She reached over and placed her hand on top of the larger one next to her. "It's not you. It's just been a long, stressful day for me all the way around."

Reflexively, Jess gave her a warm smile. "Sure, kiddo. Go on. I'll clean up here." Unseen, questioning blue eyes watched as Robin left the table and headed down the long hallway. It was almost as if she couldn't get away fast enough. Stay out of it, Jess. She'll tell you what's going on if she wants you to know.


It was well over an hour later, after the dishes had been cleared and washed, after the daily newspaper had been thoroughly read, and after several game shows on television had concluded, that Jess stood up from her position on the sofa and began pacing the floor. Robin hadn't come back out, and although Jess's mind was telling her to let Robin deal with things in her own way, her instinct was telling her to do just the opposite. Damn. What the hell is going on here? Robin's behavior made absolutely no sense. It was understandable that she'd be angry, or even upset, after seeing her father, but this type of withdrawal was very strange.

With a single-minded purpose, Jess ambled down the long hallway and then into the master bedroom, somewhat surprised at seeing it empty. Well, she did say she wanted to be alone. The older woman felt a twinge of disappointment strike her at the apparent rejection, then turned around, intent on heading back into the living room. And she would have made it, too, if she hadn't felt another stab of intense pain come and go just as mysteriously as it had done earlier that evening. She braced her hand against the wall until the feeling passed, and then purely on instinct, turned back and proceeded further down the long hallway toward Robin's room.

Upon reaching her destination, she noticed that the door was slightly ajar and the room was dark. She flipped on the hallway light, then knocked lightly on the wood frame. "Robin?" Concerned blue eyes peered inside.

No answer.

Jess pushed the door open wider, bathing the bedroom in the dim light from the hallway. "Sweetheart? Is everything okay?" At the continuing silence, she entered the room, now seeing the petite form curled up on the bed. Sleeping? Surveying the situation, she stepped over and knelt on the floor beside the metal frame, then gently rested her hand on Robin's shoulder. It was at that moment, as her eyes gained greater focus in the faint reflected light, that she saw the trails of tears streaming from Robin's closed eyes. "Robin?" Jess now became very worried and moved her hand to the younger woman's face, stroking it gently. "What's wrong, honey?"

Robin couldn't answer. Jess, I don't want to involve you.

Damn it! What did he do to her? "Please tell me what's wrong, sweetheart."

After another lengthy silence, a small voice finally answered. "I can't. I'm not sure you'll understand."

Jess knew beyond all doubt that whenever Robin said those words, it was like a code, one which over the course of time, Jess had finally been able to decipher. It meant that whatever was wrong somehow involved David. David. Why the hell can't he ever leave us alone? Jess stopped herself. This was certainly not the time for irrational jealousy, and she had to push those petty feelings aside. You'll just have to accept that this is a part of her, Jess, and that it will likely always be there. Long fingers gently combed through disheveled blonde bangs. "Honey, you can tell me anything. Nothing will ever change the way I feel about you. You know that."

Should I? Robin wasn't sure she was doing the right thing, but she needed a life preserver right now, and Jess was it. She drew in a breath. "All right. Will you lie down here next to me?"

"Of course." Relieved that Robin was at least talking, Jess climbed onto the bed and settled herself next her. "How's this?"

Almost instinctively, the smaller woman snuggled close to the larger body. "Good." And, it was true. It was good. Very good. And very safe.

As gently as she could, Jess attempted to prod Robin into talking about what was upsetting her. "Tell me what's wrong, sweetheart." A long finger brushed back and forth against Robin's cheek.

I hope you'll understand, Jess. Robin took a moment to consider how she wanted to phrase what had happened, then began. "All this time, since the accident, I never understood why David changed his mind so suddenly about my having a career." Her voice was shaky as she spoke, and noticeably rough. "I blamed myself because we fought that night, and because I said some horrible things to him." Tears now came quickly. "And I never got to take them back, and tell him I didn't mean them."

"Shhh." Jess kissed Robin's forehead. "He knew you didn't mean what you said."

Robin's voice turned very somber. "I found out why David did what he did." The petite body began trembling. "My father went and talked to him, and told him that he expected David to assume certain responsibilities. He told him that it was David's obligation to take care of me, and that the financial burden of running the household should properly fall on him, and only him."

Well, that definitely explains a lot. The larger body wrapped around Robin tighter. "And after that, is that when David came to see you?"

"Yeah." More tears fell. "And we fought about it, and then he left." Robin looked at Jess with pain filled eyes. "I didn't know that my father had interfered." She struggled with the next words. "He interfered, and now David is dead."

It all began to come together for Jess. David wasn't upset solely with Robin that night. He was upset because he was put in a no-win situation by Robin's father. That son of a bitch. "Sweetheart, no one can change the past. At least you know the whole truth, now. You know that there were many things that led up to the accident. It wasn't your fault."

It was clear that Jess wasn't comprehending the obvious parallels. Robin inched higher and looked into compassionate silver blue eyes, her voice immeasurably sad. "You don't understand."

I'm trying, here. The older woman patiently prodded further, her tone very, very gentle. "What don't I understand, honey?"

"When my father interfered before, David died." A visceral shudder traveled all the way from Robin to Jess. "Now, my father's interfered again." The tears, once more, fell.

It took Jess longer than it probably should have to finally grasp what Robin was saying, primarily because she never saw it coming. But now that she'd make the connection, it was with extreme heartache that she realized it really wasn't so surprising, after all. Dear God. She's afraid history will repeat itself. "No, Robin, sweetheart. Listen to me." She wiped away a tear from the younger woman's face. "That was an accident. Nothing else. You have to believe that."

It was true that Robin knew on a purely intellectual level that Jess was absolutely right. But her heart held the fear, nonetheless. She snuggled further into the warm embrace, until her body stopped rebelling against the tidal wave of emotion that had overtaken her just moments before. There was still something, though, that her heart needed her to do. She wrestled internally with how to best phrase her intent, then finally looked up, and gave voice to her heart's appeal. "Jess?"

"I'm here."

Robin barely whispered the next words. "Could I feel you?"

Well, this was a strange request. Weren't they already snuggled together? Surely Robin could feel that. The older woman considered the unusual request further, and although still not quite understanding it, nevertheless agreed. "Of course. You can do whatever you want."

Slowly, and with infinite deliberateness, Robin began her journey. She took a larger hand into her own and stroked the length of each slender finger in reverent acknowledgement, then brought her lips down and kissed each finger softly, one by one. Lingering further, she caressed the palm, earnestly tracing its crisscrossing creases with her fingertips, then covered it's tender skin with several tiny kisses. After many moments of devout attention to the one hand, Robin repeated the gesture in a stunningly similar fashion on the opposite hand. She then proceeded onward to the right wrist, feeling the pulse beat, almost as if counting the cadence, then bestowed several gentle and venerating kisses there, as well.

For her part, Jess was totally transfixed. The touches and kisses were in no way sensual. They were more reverent. Still, she couldn't put her finger on what, exactly, she was experiencing or even what Robin's mission was.

Next, a petite hand moved to Jess's stomach beneath the faded red t-shirt and rested against the smooth skin, while Robin laid her head down on the older woman's chest. She listened to the strong, living heartbeat beneath her ear, taking comfort in its rhythmic harmony, then kissed both areas several times in a solemn benediction just as she'd done before. As her journey progressed, she methodically worked her way up to Jess's neck, breathing in the distinctive and nourishing scent, providing healing comfort to her wounded soul. With a feather light touch, the small fingers traced the broad shoulders, then moved along the collarbone, before stopping at the next beating pulse point. Her fingers lingered for many moments, feeling its living and pulsating rhythm, then, just as before, Robin placed several small kisses along her fingers' pathway in continued homage.

Jess laid prone on the bed, unable to move, enraptured by what was happening. It was almost as if Robin was mapping and memorizing her. She considered that for several moments, as she felt the gentle fingers tracing the contours of her upper body, then nearly cried as the realization finally hit her. It was unmistakable that Robin was committing Jess's entire being to memory, imprinting it firmly in her consciousness, as if one day it would be all she had left. No! This isn't right. Jess's mind practically screamed that Robin should stop, that history wouldn't repeat itself, that everything would be okay, but her voice curiously remained silent.

Robin's gentle fingers moved up to the angular face, mapping and tracing the strong jaw and high cheekbones with more tenderness than Jess had ever experienced. Silver blue eyes closed, as the delicate touch of the petite fingers glided over every part of her face, capturing her essence in an intimate connection. Small kisses followed in the fingers' wake, until each and every area had been duly sanctified.

Her journey finally complete, Robin laid on the pillow very close to Jess, but did not speak. She stared at the dim profile for a very long time, then the streams of tears returned.

Jess remained still, processing in her mind the significance of what had just happened. It was readily apparent that whatever Thomas Wilson had done, it had sent Robin spiraling into a place of intense pain. Intense pain. Jess had to forcibly reign in her anger. A part of her wanted to find him and tear him apart limb from limb, and another part of her just simply wanted to cry at Robin's anguish. She fought both impulses, and instead, focused all her energy on consoling the one who held her heart. Glancing over at Robin, she saw that the tears had now appeared once more. "Don't cry." It was a desperate plea.

Instead, the tears came faster. "But I don't want you to die."

Jess finally broke, her own eyes now releasing all the pent up emotion she's tried so hard to suppress. "No. No, sweetheart." She gathered Robin into her arms, and gently rocked her, whispering through her tears with as much reassurance as she possibly could convey. "I'm here. It's all right. You've got me forever, remember? I promise you, honey, I'm not going anywhere." Those last words were a promise she knew she ultimately could not control. I hope Matt Singleton's finished preparing my will. Jess slowly combed her fingers through Robin's blonde hair, offering her gentle words of comfort, then began to quietly hum a soft and soothing melody.

The tender stroking of her hair, combined with the low vibrations of the gentle tune, did in fact, ease Robin's weary soul. It wasn't long before she began to slip into sleep's embrace, surrounded within the safety of her heart's protector. As she drifted off, her mind offered up a fervent appeal, pleading that no one, not her father, not the firm, not the highest power in the universe, take this love from her. Even though she didn't realize it at the time, she had just given thought to a silent prayer.

Jess heard Robin's breathing deepen in sleep as the anxiety finally lifted, then reflected on the events of the day. Guided by instinct, Jess felt certain that there was more to this story, but until Robin opened up to her, all she could do was pick up the pieces of a profoundly battered soul. She shifted slightly, then noticed that a portion of her faded red t-shirt was gripped within a petite fist held tightly against Robin's slumbering body, as if she was desperately clinging to something that was slowly being taken away. For Jess, it was the first time in a very long while that she felt entirely and undeniably helpless in the face of such deep and intense anguish.

And it literally tore at her heart.

To Be ContinuedŠ..

© Copyright 04/23/2001

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