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 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 stories, there is not a whole lot of 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 or explicit scenes here. If that is what you are looking for, you might want to go ahead and read something else.
Continuing Story Disclaimer: This is the sequel to my previous stories "Undeniable" and "Considerable Appeal" and picks up about one month later. You may want to read the previous stories prior to reading this one, otherwise the storyline will probably not make very much sense to you.
Feedback: This is my third attempt at fan fiction. Comments are always welcome and very much appreciated. Please feel free to let me know if there is something you especially liked or didn't like. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angst Warning Disclaimer: Part 6 contains temporary emotional angst.
Fog. It was so thick and murky that the junior partner couldn't see even the faintest outline of the building next door from the impressive floor-to-ceiling windows in her office. Just total white nothingness. It was early morning, before most of the attorneys and staff had started to arrive for work, and Jess had gotten herself up, dressed, and out of the house even before Robin had stirred awake. Just like yesterday. And the day before that. There was a restlessness about Jess that wouldn't go away. An uneasy guilt. Something that kept trying to niggle into her conscious thinking, now finally succeeding to the point of unyielding distraction.
Although tempted to ignore the unwelcome intrusion, the alternate internal voice relented. 'What?'
You know what.
Fog had blanketed more than just the physical realm. 'I have nothing to say.'
That's the point. You didn't say what you should have said.
The alternate internal voice already regretted entering into this conversation. 'I don't want to listen to you.'
Ignoring the obvious was always your strong point.
The alternate internal voice was in no mood for a lecture. 'I can't hear you.'
Are you five? Covering your ears won't block out the noise you hear in your head.
Perceptiveness, obviously, was not a strong point, either. 'Look, pal, you got something to say, fine, then say it.'
'What the hell does that mean?' Actually, the alternate internal voice already knew.
You should tell Robin about your dealings with James.
'Absolutely not!' The alternate internal voice was defiant.
'Look, it's complicated. You wouldn't understand.'
Secrets will eventually come back to bite you.
The alternate internal voice knew it was true. 'I'm going to tell her just not now.'
'When it's safe.'
And when would that be?
It seemed patently obvious. 'When he's gone.'
Why wait? Get everything out in the open now. It's for the best.
'See.' An internal sigh. 'I knew you wouldn't understand.'
Robin can handle anything you have to tell her. Don't sell her short.
'I'm not worried about Robin.' An uneasy pause. 'I'm worried about him.'
What do you think you have to worry about with him, especially by telling Robin?
'Evidently you're even more clueless than you seem.' The alternate internal voice lashed out harshly.
Well, then maybe you should enlighten all of us with your great wisdom.
'I'm protecting her.' The alternate internal voice asserted.
How noble. So that's what you're telling yourself?
'It's the truth.' The alternate internal voice lied.
Truth. What a strange concept coming from you. So, you're protecting her by not telling her?
How is that protecting her?
'Are you dense?' The alternate internal voice was incredulous at the question. 'The moment she knows I'm playing up to James '
She'll confront him.
'Bingo.' The point was brilliantly made. 'And she'll want to help me, and that'll give him an opening to get to her. He's already showing far too much interest in her as it is. I don't need to make it even easier for him.'
So, what are you planning to do?
'Keep a wall of separation between them.' The alternate internal voice logically reasoned. 'He stays away from her, she stays away from him, and I have time to find out what the hell he's really doing here.'
You've got it all figured out.
'Damn right. The less interaction he has with Robin, the better.'
Why not just tell him to get lost, that you're not interested in his little business venture, if that's what it really is, and get him out of both of your lives right now?
'Because, he won't go away. He'll keep trying and trying to get what he's after.' A moment's reflection. 'See, I know what he's like. He won't give up so easily, and we'll always wonder what he's going to pull next. It's better to call him out on whatever his game is and then get rid of him once and for all.'
Good story. Or are you really afraid of something else?
The alternate internal voice had been caught dead to rights. 'So, you think there's more?' It was not an innocent question.
Your plan is too convenient. You're covering for something.
'I most certainly am not.' The protest was totally unconvincing.
There's that truth thing again or lack thereof.
'You're starting to really annoy me. I told you, I'm not covering anything.' The alternate internal voice vehemently insisted. 'So, drop it.'
Hello. Is anybody home? The lights are on, but no one's minding the store. You're not fooling anyone.
The outrage that followed could not be contained. 'Listen, pal, if you're impugning my motives, you'd better have damn good proof of '
Whoa! Take it easy.
'You take it easy! You show up here and accuse me of lying and being devious and who knows what other nefarious things, when all I'm really trying to do is protect Robin from that snake. He uses people for his own purposes, then discards them after he's gotten what he wants. He did that with me, but he's not getting anywhere near Robin with his games. Take it to the bank. I won't let it happen.'
That's brave talk, but you're not so brave as you seem. You were hurt by him once. It still smarts after all these years, doesn't it? So, maybe you want a little payback.
'So what if I do?' The alternate internal voice self-righteously shot back.
So, maybe you're keeping it a secret from Robin because you know she wouldn't approve.
The alternate internal voice scoffed at the notion. 'Not true in the least little bit.'
Oh please. Be honest with yourself. In your heart, you want revenge, pure and simple, and you know full well Robin wouldn't approve. That's why you're keeping your dealings with James hidden from her.
'All right, maybe that's so to an extent. But I'm also protecting her. He'll use her to try to get to me.'
Just like he used you, crucified you, back then to get what he wanted?
'Yes no it's not the same thing.' A moment's self-reflection. 'You see, I ' The alternate internal voice suddenly fell silent, the words not easily forthcoming.
'I screwed up.' The alternate internal voice reluctantly admitted. 'The other night at dinner with James, I made a mistake.'
'I let him see that Robin was a weakness for me. He baited me, and I fell right into his trap. Damn. I was such an idiot.'
So now you're worried.
'You bet I'm worried.' The alternate internal voice confirmed. 'I'm worried that he'll use her and hurt her just to get to me.'
And you also want revenge for what he did to you before.
A double whammy.
'Do you understand now why I can't say anything to Robin and I have to keep this to myself? The alternate internal voice valiantly pled the case. 'It's the only thing I can do.'
You're trying to convince yourself of that, but lies have a way of coming back at you.
'It's not a lie. Just an omission of fact. It's not the same thing.' Amazingly, the alternate internal voice was entirely confident in making such an assertion.
Does it make you feel better to think that?
'Of course.' The alternate internal voice insisted. 'Because, it's the truth.'
Truth. This is where we came in. It seems ignoring the obvious is still your strong point.
An internal eyeroll. 'I'm not listening to you anymore.'
Right. Five year olds
The smell of freshly brewing coffee permeated throughout the hallway, its enticing aroma just too much for any mere mortal to resist. The young associate breezed her way toward the apparent source, her favorite coffee mug in hand ready to be filled. The only question was, would the flavor of the day be hazelnut or chocolate macadamia nut? Hmmm. She caught another whiff. Time now to find out. Robin entered the small kitchen located on the far side of the law office, suppressing a yawn as she stood waiting for the gourmet coffee to finish brewing. She was tempted, of course, just to lift the carafe and sneak some of the unfinished brew, but since the carafe was nearly full now anyway, she opted instead to wait just a few moments more for the payoff. As she lingered near the coffeemaker, her mind fixated on only one thing how do they make coffee beans smell so good? She was so lost in her senses that she didn't hear the footsteps behind her.
"So, what's the flavor today?"
Startled, Robin twirled around toward the voice. "Paul." Great. Still wary of his intentions, she really didn't want to engage him in too much conversation, however innocuous. "Um its chocolate macadamia nut."
"Good." Paul Franklin offered her a thin but polite smile, still smarting from the last encounter he had with her. After all, he had tried to reason with her and explain all of the misery she had the misfortunate to endure just because she happened to get mixed up with Jessica Harrison. But his most recent efforts were to no avail. "With all that fog outside, I sure could use some chocolate coffee today to get me started."
The young associate grabbed her ceramic mug and began filling it, keeping silent as she watched the rich auburn-brown liquid reach just below the brim. The last thing she wanted to do was get involved in another conversation with Paul about her personal life. Without saying anything more, she quickly stepped to the side of the counter to allow him access to the coffee pot.
He figured he might as well keep things friendly between them. One never knew when fortunes might turn. "Things going okay?" He poured some coffee into a cup.
"Fine." The younger associate gave no further response, preferring instead to add cream and sugar to her coffee in silence.
Now Paul was privy to some interesting information, and although he didn't want to jump too quickly to conclusions and interpret things in the wrong way, he felt he had a duty to at least offer Robin a little hint. She deserved to be clued in and on the look-out if things turned out to be not so "fine" in the end. "Been busy?"
"Not too bad." She grabbed a plastic spoon and stirred her coffee briskly, then attempted to make her escape.
He stepped over and stopped her progress ever so slightly, being very careful not to appear threatening. He knew he'd have to be subtle, particularly if he wanted to convey the impression that he was someone who would always be there for her. He harbored some suspicions about Jessica's behavior, and after what he'd seen a few nights ago, he wasn't about to turn a blind eye to it. Whoever the man was that Jessica was leaving the office with, it was obvious that they were pretty close. A familiarity had exuded from both of them as Paul silently watched them step off of the elevator and leave the building together, headed straight for the little bistro down the street. Trouble in paradise. It figures. He resumed his conversation. "Not keeping many late nights, then?"
What's he after? "Not recently. We get home early enough for dinner most nights." She was quick to imply Jess into her nightly plans.
Paul nodded. "Good." A pause. Hmmm. How to phrase this. "You know, sometimes things can be deceiving and aren't quite as quiet as they seem. Like they say, there's always the calm before the storm. And then when it rains, it pours." He laughed slightly, as if he was instead trying to make a joke about having too much work. "Just look at my desk. Last week it was clear. Now, I can barely see over it."
Okay. "I'll keep that in mind." Robin deftly stepped around him. "See ya." She left the kitchen and made her way down the hallway back toward her own office. What was that all about?
It was nearly six o'clock, and the office personnel around the firm had begun to thin out as was usual for that time of the evening. The typical sounds of the busy workplace had all but subsided, and there were the beginnings of a steady quiet that would soon linger on throughout the hallways. The young associate closed the deposition transcript she had been reading, now acutely aware of the hour, and opened up her email program. It was time to go home, and hopefully Jess would be ready to leave soon. She typed in her message.
I'm leaving now. You ready, too?
She began packing up her briefcase with a few items to take home with her as she waited for the response. The reply came barely a minute later.
Sorry. Revising our Motion for Summary Judgment due tomorrow. Go on. I won't be late.
Robin sighed. Rats. She didn't particularly want to spend another evening at home alone this week. She thought for a moment. Maybe Jess could bring home whatever she had left to do and work on it there. There was no law that said all work absolutely had to be done in the office building. So perhaps the junior partner just needed a little in-person persuading on the subject.
The young associate got up from her chair and walked briskly down the hallway, through the reception area and around the corner to Jess's office, clearly set on her mission. The door was already open, so she walked on in without so much as slowing down.
Surprised, Jess glanced up from her computer screen, her fingers still in mid-type. "Something wrong?"
"You're coming home with me."
Jess was quick with the retort, smirking just a bit. "Now that's an offer a girl doesn't get every day."
"I'll ignore that." Robin planted herself in the nearest chair. "Listen, counselor, you're dedicated, and that's admirable, but the world doesn't revolve around work."
Huh? The junior partner swiveled around to face Robin directly. "The world may not revolve around work, but this motion is due tomorrow, and I have to make the final revisions."
"Can't you do it at home? Last time I checked, your laptop was in pristine working order."
A lengthy pause, then long arms folded across the cherry wood desktop. "What's really going on, kiddo?"
Now Robin felt a little foolish. She knew she was being selfish wanting Jess to come home, and she really shouldn't try to push her into feeling guilty about having to work on some occasions. They both knew how important their legal work was, and deadlines were deadlines no matter how inconvenient. "It's nothing. I had just really wanted to spend the evening at home with you tonight and not alone by myself." She smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry. I know you have to finish the motion."
It was actually kind of sweet, Jess decided. She'd never really had anyone before who cared whether she worked late or not, or came home at a decent hour or not. So she'd often worked for as long as she'd wanted and then went home whenever she'd wanted. But that was before Robin, and now she'd give anything to be able to just toss her work aside and leave with the younger woman this instant. "Here's what I'll do. I'll finish up the revisions tonight and save the exhibits and the case law for tomorrow. There'll still be plenty of time to pull it all together and file it before the end of the day. That way, I can get home in say " She glanced at her watch. "A couple of hours." Both dark eyebrows lifted hopefully. "Will that work?"
Robin grinned widely. "That'd be great, Jess." Maybe this night can be partially salvaged after all. "I'll heat up the chili we had the other night for dinner and keep it on the stove for you when you get home."
"Love some." The older woman nodded warmly. "Hey, by the way, I'll need your help on a research assignment in the next couple of days on whether the statutory principles of sovereign immunity apply to a new case that just came in. Our client was the consulting engineer on the design and construction of a roadway where an accident occurred. The plaintiff is alleging that a guardrail should have been erected which they contend might have prevented the accident."
"Sure. I'll get with you tomorrow on it after the motion is filed. Let me know if you're going to need any last minute help with the exhibits and case law." The young associate finished talking but curiously did not get up from the chair as expected. Instead, she just sat there for a few seconds looking at Jess, her head cocked to one side and her brows furrowed just a bit. A sense had come over her just now, but she couldn't pin it down.
The junior partner saw the expression. "What?"
"Um " Blonde eyebrows furrowed a bit more. "Something seems off."
"Yeah, something seems off with you."
"With me?" Jess was famous for answering questions with questions. "Like what?"
"I don't know. I can't put my finger on it." What is it? Maybe it was all the talk about work that brought it out, or maybe it was nothing in particular, but something just didn't feel right, and there was no way to possibly explain it. Robin sighed, perplexed. "It's just that you've been leaving so early in the mornings, and now you're working late several nights this week.........it just seems different."
Distracted is more like it. "No, I just have a lot of deadlines to get through, then things will calm down and get back to normal, I promise. Don't worry about it, okay, kiddo?"
The calm before the storm. Why did that suddenly pop into her mind? The young associate nodded, unconvinced. "All right." She got up from the chair. "See you at home then in a couple of hours."
"You bet." Jess watched Robin step toward the door. "And save some of that chili for me." A wink. "Deal?"
"Deal." With that, the young associate left the office, heading for her own office to grab her briefcase and shut down her computer for the night.
Once Robin was out of sight, Jess fell back heavily into her leather chair, letting out an audible sigh. Damn it, Jess. Be careful. Robin's not an idiot. She'll catch on soon. She knows you too well. The junior partner cringed inside. Keeping quiet about her plan was going to be even more difficult than she had thought. She turned her chair back toward her computer to continue working on the motion, determined to focus her attention on the task at hand. Minutia and legalese could be wonderful things. Besides, staying busy kept her from being distracted and kept those pesky voices at bay, and that's just what she needed right now.
About ten minutes or so had gone by, and Jess was just sending off a quick email to a client when she heard someone approach the office door. As she glanced up, a tall form appeared and stood in the open doorway.
"I'm glad you're still here." The voice, although familiar, still took her by surprise.
Shit. "James. What are you doing here?"
He stepped further inside the office. "I just wanted to drop off the documents for the start-up meeting next week so you'd have them to review." He produced the referenced items. "I was going to leave them up front, but there was no receptionist."
"They leave at six." You knew that. I bet you timed it perfectly.
He casually settled into the chair Robin had just occupied. "Well, since no one was out there, I thought I'd come by and see if you were still here and give them to you personally."
He has got to stop showing up like this. "Look, James, I told you before that you're not authorized to be here." She tried to keep the alarm from her voice. Twice in one week. Harry cannot find out about this. "Call next time."
"Hey, no problem. I just thought you could look over the documents, and if you had any questions or anything like that, you could let me know and we could talk about them." He smiled in a polite attempt to lighten the mood. "I wanted to make sure that you had everything you needed to get up to speed in time for the meeting."
Considerate. "You could've mailed them to me." This point, although true, was not really the point at all. He was here for a reason, and it wasn't just to drop off some papers. What does he want?
"True " James dragged the word out slowly. "But then we'd still have to discuss the preparations for the meeting. So, why not get it done all in one step?" It seemed like a logical argument to him. "And besides, everyone's counting on the start-up going smoothly." He sensed her increasing reluctance. "C'mon, Jess."
She closed her eyes. He was definitely persistent, and that fact made her even more determined to find out what he was really after. Against her better judgment, she relented. "Fine, then let's talk about it and get it over with."
"Gee, Jess, you make it sound so .distasteful." He made an unpleasant face to further accent his statement.
She got up from her desk, ignoring his antics for the moment, and grabbed her purse. "Let's go."
"Go?" Somewhat surprised, he stood up. "Where?"
"The coffeehouse around the corner." Jess cast a look back at her computer. The motion. Damn. She grabbed her purse from inside her desk drawer. "Let's make it quick. I've still got a lot of work to do here."
He'd take whatever she offered him. "All right, the coffeehouse it is." James followed Jess out of her office, happy for any small victory.
The junior partner checked and double-checked the hallway. Now, to get him out of here again before someone sees him
But the problem was, someone already had. Twice.
Robin set her briefcase down on the concrete deck of the parking garage next to her blue BMW and unlocked the car door. She was already starting to get hungry, her stomach grumbling at the thought of the chili she was planning on heating up for dinner. Not surprisingly, that fact seemed to make her move a little bit faster and provided just a little more incentive for her to make it home this evening without too much delay. Hopefully, the traffic wouldn't be too bad tonight. She quickly loaded her purse and briefcase into the back seat of the car and started it up, buckling her seat belt and flipping on her favorite radio station.
Carefully, she backed out of her parking space and ventured slowly down the three ramp levels to the garage's exit. The lone parking attendant in the visitors' lane sat idly, the five o'clock rush hour already having passed some time ago. Robin placed her parking card against the magnetic reader, just as she'd done countless times before, and waited for the gate arm to lift. Once clear, she edged just a bit forward to check for any on-coming traffic. Instinctively, she looked left, then right, then left again. If she had been thirty seconds earlier or thirty seconds later she would have missed them. But as luck would have it, she was at the right place at the right time. Maybe luck wasn't exactly the right word. Just as she turned her head to look left for the last time, she caught sight of two figures emerging from the lobby of the adjoining office building.
Robin blinked, then gazed at them, her mind trying to process what she was seeing. There, several yards away, a tall man with dark hair stood holding open the large exterior glass door, waiting as a tall woman with long dark hair exited from inside. Once the woman had stepped outside the building, the man casually placed his hand against the small of her back, gently guiding her forward. They proceeded onward and away from their observer, chatting in what appeared from a distance to be an amiable fashion, unaware that they were being watched. The events, almost surreal, unfolded in slow motion, or so it seemed. Green eyes stayed transfixed on the two retreating forms, intently taking note of their every move. The tall woman nodded at something, then gestured up ahead, her movements graceful even at a distance. The man let his hand drop from its place on her back, but the smile never left his face. He was smartly dressed and carried an air of confidence. They continued on with their conversation as they walked together down the brick paved sidewalk, finally turning the corner at the end of the block and disappearing out of view.
Jess. It was unmistakable. I'd recognize her from a mile away. Robin's heart sank in her chest. Jess was leaving with James. But why? What about the work, the motion? Robin stared at the now empty sidewalk. Where were they going? When did he get back in town? And more importantly, what was Jess doing with him? Tonight. Well, Robin could see what Jess was doing with him, and it was obvious that neither one of them thought each other was particularly unpleasant company. Robin took a deep breath to steady herself, but her hands began to shake as they rested on the steering wheel. She wasn't understanding this. Suddenly, the loud beep of a car horn sounded from behind, jarring her. She checked the rearview mirror to find another car in back of her impatiently trying to leave the parking garage. Gathering her wits together, Robin pulled out into the street to let the other car exit. What to do? Too distracted to drive, she pulled into a parking lot on the next block and stopped the car. She briefly considered turning around and going after Jess, taking her aside and finding out what in the world she was doing with him. With him.
Conflicting emotions washed over Robin as she sat silently in her car trying to make some sense out of what she'd just seen. A sense of panic came over her. James was back. Jess was going somewhere with him. Robin gripped the steering wheel tighter, trying desperately to stay calm and think this through. They were headed away from the building, so they obviously weren't taking Jess's car. Maybe they were taking his. The panic increased. She was with him. Robin brought her hand up to her forehead, her elbow now resting against the center of the steering wheel. She closed her eyes tightly. She was with him. Robin couldn't let herself think about what that might mean. Oh God.
All of a sudden, a sense of protectiveness replaced the full-blown panic that had formed, and reason emerged to clear the fog. It had been obvious from the start that James was after Jess again. He wanted her back. Anyone could see that. Why else would he be here? And as sure as anything, he'll hurt her. Look what he did before and all the damage it caused. An intense anger welled up inside of Robin. Jess had irreparable scars over what this man did, still to this day having moments of doubt as to whether Robin would ultimately leave her. He's no good. He can't be trusted. Robin wanted to send him away. Away from the both of them. Forever.
She continued to consider the situation. There had to be a rational reason for why Jess and James were together tonight wherever they were going. And Robin figured she shouldn't really leap to any conclusions. Imagined fears were often worse than the reality. All she had to do was wait until Jess got home, and then Jess would explain everything to her. After all, Jess loved her and would never betray her. That was a given. So, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this. Right? She also remembered that Jess had talked about some plan she had to try to find out what James was up to. This could be dangerous. Robin didn't like the idea. Never did. I've got to keep her safe from him.
Panic warred with protectiveness, but in the end, protectiveness won out. Jess was going to come home and tell her what was going on, and together they'd figure out how to get James out of their lives once and for all. And maybe I'll pay him a little visit, myself, just to be sure he gets the message. Robin shifted the gear into drive, now more confident in what had to be done, and began making her journey home. She and Jess were going to work through this thing.
The two prospective business associates reached the coffeehouse and took a table near the front of the café overlooking the street. The shadows cast by the tall downtown buildings kept the angle of the sun's glare from reaching inside, although what remained of the long summer's day still contained plenty of daylight. The cool air conditioning was a welcome relief even at this time of the early evening, while the aroma of gourmet coffee permeated the cozy confines of the trendy coffeehouse. Jess ordered a tall latté, while James ordered a double espresso, and they both waited in relative comfort for their beverages to arrive.
James took some papers from the large envelope he had been carrying and spread them out on the table, turning them fully toward Jess for her review. "Here are the financials." He indicated the documents on the left. "And these are the contracts we have lined up once start-up has been completed and the operations get underway." He pointed to the stack directly in front of her.
The junior partner merely nodded.
"We've got signed contracts for engineering and design consulting work totaling fifteen million ready to go, with another ten million in contracts at the bidding stage. We've got a team of civil and structural engineers already on board, and I've brought over two of our project managers from Texas who've agreed to relocate to Central Florida. What we need now is staffing to go with the team we're establishing."
Jess listened with infinite patience as he rambled on. Finally and none too soon, their coffee arrived, and she gratefully accepted her latté, stirring in a spoonful of sugar and taking a welcome sip.
The server placed the espresso on the table next to James. Without much acknowledgment, James continued with his presentation. "I've already discussed this with our chief legal counsel at our home office, but we'd like you to start by reviewing all of the new contracts to make sure the provisions comport with Florida law and, of course, offer any suggestions you might have on the content specific to the local customs and practices. We also intend for you to handle any litigation arising from any of the projects pursuant to those contracts. We know it's almost a certainty that in this business people are going to sue for one thing or another, and we also want to protect our own rights. In light of that, we feel we absolutely must have an arbitration clause in place in the contracts, and even contemplate including a pre-suit mediation provision, if possible. We'd like your legal opinion on these issues based on the laws and the legal climate in the State of Florida."
Clearing her throat, Jess finally spoke. "Well, since I'm not on your payroll yet, I can't offer you any legal advice at the moment. What I will tell you is that although there are clearly certain advantages associated with formal arbitration verses litigation as a means of contract dispute resolution, there are also certain risks. It would be something your Board of Directors would need to carefully consider."
"We understand. Once you're on our payroll, the Board will want a legal analysis and your legal opinion before they make any final determination one way or the other."
"That would be prudent." Jess deliberately kept things as non-committal as possible. In order to effectively play the game, however, she would have to seem somewhat interested in his venture. "What exactly is the purpose of the meeting next week?"
"To assess the staffing requirements, begin recruitment, coordinate office set-up configurations, and then make sure we're in line to meet our target opening date. As manager of the office, you'll need to be aware of the status, even though you'll have a full staff to handle the day-to-day administrative work. You'll also have input into the framework of the operation and can offer any suggestions you might have for things such as staffing and office policy."
"I see." She took another sip of her latté. "It appears as though you have everything going in the right direction." She was trying to do everything she could to placate him for the time being. He's got to think I'm seriously considering this.
"Yeah, it seems to be coming together quite smoothly. Take the next few days to look over the financials and make sure you're completely comfortable with them." James settled his gaze on Jess. "By the way, the people in the business know me as Jay." He shrugged his shoulders, offering a brief smile. "It's less formal."
Jess, appearing entirely unaffected, had no comment.
It's not easy getting a rise out of you, is it Jess? "So, do you have any other questions?"
"Not at this time." She took another sip of her coffee. "I'll let you know my decision after the meeting." And I know you're not going to like it.
"Great." He eased back comfortably in his chair. Let's try this. "So what's Robin say?"
What? That caught Jess completely off-guard. "Robin?"
Gotcha. "Sure. What's she say about coming on board with us."
Jess shook her head, nearly flabbergasted. "Whatever gave you the idea that Robin was going to be involved with this?"
"Well, I just presumed "
"Don't presume anything." She shot back quickly, attempting to set him straight. "Robin is not going to be a part of your business."
"Oh......" James appeared surprised. "I didn't think she'd turn it down, especially since she'd have the opportunity to keep on working with you." He noticed Jess's somewhat uneasy expression. "Ah I see. You haven't told her."
Jess didn't reply. She simply finished off her latté.
Now, this was certainly an interesting development. He was almost amused. Keeping secrets, huh Jess? "Hire her, Jess. She'd make a great asset to the team."
That did it. He was good at pushing her buttons, so much so that Jess nearly lost her composure. The only team Robin was going to be a part of was with her and her alone. End of story. There was absolutely no negotiation about that. And James was definitely not part of the package. "Robin is staying at the firm. You want me, anyway." It was a double entendre Jess hadn't realized she'd made.
A faint smirk, then James leaned forward. "What I want is the best team available, and that means you and Robin."
"Sorry. She's not part of the deal. She's staying with the firm."
"Don't you think you should let her decide that for herself?" His wheels were spinning. James considered that this turn of events could actually work to his advantage. "I mean, she might have other ambitions."
Not with you. "Look, you've made an offer to me. You've told me I can hire anyone I want. I do not want to hire Robin. Is that clear enough?"
He downed the rest of his espresso. It didn't really matter to him how he got the advantage, only that he got it. And it appeared now that he had. "Okay, Jess. You can always change your mind after you see how things are running and offer her the position then."
Was this man dense? "I will not be doing that. Robin is perfectly happy at the firm, so that's the way it's going to stay from " Suddenly, Jess stopped herself, but it was already too late. He had done it once again. She'd fallen into his trap and revealed too much. Too much about not telling Robin. Too much about her desire to keep Robin at a safe distance from him. Too much about her own weakness. Damn. As she looked back, it was absolutely amazing. Every single conversation she had ever had with this man since the first day he showed back up in town always somehow ended up being about Robin. Why was he so interested in Robin? That thought began to scare Jess, even panic her, and her mind ran wild. He has plans to use her for something. What other explanation could there possibly be? She tried not to let the creeping panic control her. "Are we finished here?"
"Sure." He gathered the papers from the table and stood up, handing them to her. "I'd tell her, though, Jess, if I were you. Could be a beneficial situation for both of you."
I seriously doubt that. Jess really didn't want to acknowledge it, but there might have been an implied threat in there somewhere. Her protective instincts briefly took over, and she tensed inwardly, trying to stem the dangerous level of panic that had come over her. Something about this whole thing just didn't feel right, but she simply couldn't pinpoint it. In fact, things were feeling more and more wrong with each passing hour. He'd better stay away from her if he knows what's good for him. Panic, in full force now, warred with protectiveness, and in the end, panic won out. "Don't worry. I'll make sure Robin knows everything she needs to know." And she sure as hell isn't going to know anything about this at least not now.
Robin paced the living room floor going over and over in her mind the scene she'd witnessed earlier that evening. James had looked far too comfortable with Jess. He had something up his sleeve, Robin was sure of it. Robin had managed to eat a little bit of chili when she got home, but in truth, her stomach just wasn't into it. And that was saying something. Now, she was waiting anxiously for Jess to come home and tell her what had happened with him. Although it wasn't especially late, it was late enough, and she was hoping that at any moment, Jess would come through the door. After another twenty long minutes passed, Robin heard the familiar garage door opener kick in and a car enter the garage. Finally. Robin dashed to greet her roommate just as soon as she stepped inside the house.
"Hi." Jess set her briefcase down in its usual spot.
"Hi. How'd it go tonight?" Robin couldn't stand not knowing for a single second longer.
"Um fine." The taller woman breezed by, poking her head inside the kitchen and seeing the pot of chili on the stove-top. "I'm glad you saved me some." She gestured toward it. "Let me get changed, and then I'll eat." She tossed back a glance. "Have you eaten yet?"
Blonde eyebrows furrowed. "Yeah, a little."
Without saying anything more, Jess continued on back toward the master bedroom to change clothes.
Robin stood in place for a second, then followed after her, entering the bedroom just as Jess was pulling on a clean t-shirt. "So, what happened tonight?"
Jess quickly slipped into some shorts. "I didn't quite finish the revisions, but it'll still be okay. I don't think it'll take me too long to get it done tomorrow." She lifted her long hair out from beneath the top of the t-shirt and headed back for the kitchen.
She's acting as if nothing happened. The younger woman trailed her, now starting to get confused. She watched as Jess casually ladled some red chili into a bowl and got herself some crackers.
Jess was completely oblivious. "Would you like to have some more?"
The taller woman sat down at the kitchen table, idly flipping through the day's mail while she ate. "So, listen, tomorrow, I'll finish revising the motion, and then if you can get the exhibits together and copies of the case law cited, and prepare a case law index, we can put it together. I'd like to have the judge's copy spiral bound with a clear cover. Same with opposing counsel's copy." She got up from the table and poured herself some milk, then went back to eating her chili. "Let's keep a copy for us and send a copy to the client. Bind that one, too."
Robin just looked at her.
"Angie can probably help with the labels and tabs and the getting the packages together." After finishing the chili, Jess strode over to the sink and rinsed her dishes. "Since tomorrow's the deadline, we'll have them hand delivered instead of mailing them."
It was almost surreal. What's going on? Green eyes watched as Jess sauntered into the living room and took a seat on the plush sofa. Those green eyes further watched as the older woman picked up the newspaper and began reading the front page as if she hadn't a care in the world.
To any knowing observer, it was obvious that Jess might have been trying a bit too hard to make things seem as normal as possible. And that was probably true. Inside, though, Jess was wound up tighter than a drum. She put her bare feet up on the coffee table and tried to relax. After all, it was time to decompress after that stupid, stupid evening, and frankly, she just didn't want to think about it or James anymore tonight.
Robin had other plans. She sat down next to Jess and looked directly at her. "How did it go tonight?"
Hadn't Robin already asked that? "Like I said, almost finished, but we'll wrap it up tomorrow." The older woman grasped Robin's hand and squeezed it gently. She realized that the younger woman was getting pretty tired of the long evenings lately. "I'm sorry you were alone here for a while tonight." More than you know. Considering everything, Jess would have given anything to have avoided it. "Listen, after we get through tomorrow, I promise things will ease up and we can spend some quality time together during the evenings. I'd really like that." She gave the younger woman a warm reassuring smile, then settled back into her seat and continued perusing the newspaper. It served as an effective distraction from more troublesome thoughts.
It was now plain that something was up. Robin started to get scared. Did James do something to her? Blackmail crossed her mind. But Jess seemed unfazed, and she certainly wouldn't keep something like that a secret. Would she? The primary question remained. What could be so big that Jess would not want to mention it and pretend that it didn't happen? Robin's greatest fears were close to being realized, or so she thought. Am I losing her? Imagined fears were often worse than the reality. But what if it wasn't imagined at all? The panic that she had kept so carefully contained all evening long now materialized in full force, so much so that it threatened to overcome her. I need to think. Quickly, wordlessly, she got up from the sofa and started down the long hallway. Without stopping, she passed by the master bedroom, and instead of entering it, she headed for her own room. Darkness surrounded her. She flipped the switch on the wall, turning on a small lamp on the corner of the dresser. It offered little illumination, both to the room and her heart. She sat down on the bed, quietly trying to make some sense, any sense, of what was happening.
Sometime later, although Jess wasn't sure exactly how long it had been, the older woman noticed that Robin had left the room. It seemed quiet, and for some reason, unsettling. After waiting several more minutes, Jess decided to find out where Robin had disappeared to. As she made her way down the long hallway, she caught sight of a faint light emanating from Robin's room. Hmmm. Maybe she wants to be alone. Concerned, but not wanting to disturb Robin too much, Jess cautiously approached the door. She could see the smaller woman sitting on her bed, her head buried in her hands. Has something happened? Jess gently cleared her throat to alert her presence. "Robin?"
The younger woman didn't look up.
"Robin?" Jess entered the room and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Are you sick?"
Green eyes lifted slowly, fixing on the blue eyes Robin loved more than anything else in this world. For a third time, she asked the question, now very softly. "How did things go tonight, Jess?" Please tell me.
We've already been through this several times. Jess kept her voice soft, as well. "Fine, but like I said, there's a little bit more left to do."
The green eyes closed hard, and Robin's breathing became very rapid. Panic had now assumed full control and was not letting go. Imagined fears were no longer imagined.
Jess could plainly see the building distress, and she reacted. "Honey, what's the matter?"
The younger woman opened her eyes again, this time pinning Jess in a stare so penetrating and intense that Jess, unnerved, was forced to turn away. Petite fingers reached over and caught the older woman's chin, slowly and deliberately bringing it back toward her own. The pressure was firm, and there was absolutely no escape. "Is there something you want to tell me, Jess?"
"I um " Blue eyes averted. After all, guilt had a way of revealing itself. "I don't know what you mean." Actually, Jess was starting to realize exactly what Robin meant, and the charade was fast coming to an end.
Intent on hearing the truth, whatever that ultimately was, the younger woman was determined not to let Jess get away with it. Her eyes captured Jess's once again and held them with everything she had. She asked the question one more time. "Is there something you want to tell me, Jess?" She braced herself for the answer, hoping against hope that her ultimate fear was not coming true. Tell me if I'm losing you.
"I um I don't I " It was useless. Jess just couldn't do it any longer. The look in Robin's eyes, even in the dim light so frightened it broke Jess's heart, and absolutely nothing was worth that. She could feel the trembling of Robin's fingers up against her chin, the stillness that hung in the air as they played this drama out, the hush that existed between them while Jess found the words to say what Robin already knew. There was something else in those green eyes, a hurt that Jess knew she had caused, and that realization made her physically sick. I'm so sorry.
The air conditioner cycled on, and the cool breeze from the vent above blew against Robin's skin causing her to shiver slightly. She waited, noticing the fine details of Jess's face, looking for clues to the answer she knew that was coming. She could see Jess's warring within herself, her own petite fingers still grasping Jess's chin, refusing to let go. It seemed like an eternity as the seconds stretched on, and Robin became more fearful of what she was about to hear. Am I losing you? She held her breath.
It was over. There was nothing Jess could do to avert the disaster that was set to come. She had arrogantly thought she was in complete control of this whole affair, but in truth, she was merely a pawn in a game of someone else's choosing. She could see Robin waiting for her answer, fingers tenuously clinging to her chin, anxious and afraid and wounded. I did this. She felt her stomach clench at that thought. The room was deathly still, save for Jess's own heart thundering inside her. Finally, she spoke, her voice rough and unsteady. "James stopped by tonight."
"I know." By now, it was a painfully obvious statement.
"How?" It was all but a whisper.
Does it matter? Petite fingers released Jess's chin, falling heavily to the bed. "I saw you. When I was driving out. You and James were leaving the building together."
It was Jess's turn to close her eyes tightly. She had been so concerned about someone seeing them inside the firm that she didn't even consider that someone Robin might see them leaving.
Hesitantly, Robin asked a question that scared her. Actually, it was one that had tormented her all evening long, although she had refused to give in to it. "Where were you going with him?" Were you planning to see him all along?
It was well past the time to come clean. As much as it destroyed Jess's plan and put Robin at risk, there was no use in pretending about anything anymore. "We went to the coffeehouse."
Coffeehouse? That answer was a little unexpected. "Why?"
"He's having a meeting next week to finalize start-up plans for his new office, and since he offered me a position there and asked me to attend, he wanted to give me some documents to review ahead of time." The older woman saw Robin quietly waiting for the whole explanation. "Harry told me to keep James away from the firm, so when James showed up out of the blue tonight, I had to get him out of there. We went to the coffeehouse. It was the easiest place to go." Jess shook her head. "I already told him he wasn't authorized to be at the firm, but he still showed up tonight. I had no choice." Both she and Robin knew that last part wasn't entirely true.
Robin nodded slowly but didn't really understand. "Were you going to tell me about it?"
Now that was a tricky question. "Eventually, yes, I would have told you."
Robin took in a sharp breath. "Eventually?"
"After he was gone." Jess stated simply. And he was no longer a threat.
Robin got up from the bed and went to the window. It was dark outside with only a sliver of moonlight casting a faint glow against a nearby sable palm. She tried to work through this whole scenario. What to make of it? Weren't she and Jess a team? Not to mention the fact that James, of all people, couldn't be trusted. So why keep this a secret? What possible reason could Jess have for keeping this from her? There were so many problems with this on so many levels that Robin couldn't even begin to wrap her mind around it. "So, you were going to hide this from me all that time?" It was said more as a statement rather than a question.
Jess went over to the window where Robin stood. She reached out and lightly placed her hand on the smaller woman's shoulder, immediately feeling it stiffen at the touch her touch so she pulled her hand away. Oh God. What have I done? "May I explain?"
There was the barest of nods.
"It became clear to me from the first time I saw him again that he was up to something. You know that. As time went on, he seemed to be inordinately interested in you for some reason, and as much as I tried to steer him away, he always found a way to turn the conversation back to you. That bothered me. It seemed very strange that he would be so interested in you and in our relationship. Too interested. And even after I told him that I was not going to discuss you or our relationship with him, he still persisted. At first, I thought it was just a perverted curiosity on his part, but now I think he's got something else in mind."
Robin turned around to face her. "Like what?"
"I don't know. That's the problem. I haven't figured it out yet, but I'm worried he has plans to use you for whatever he's up to. He sealed it tonight by presuming that you were part of the deal and were coming along with me to work at his new office. Of course, I'm not accepting his offer, but he thinks I am. He told me I could hire anyone I wanted for the office, and he thinks I should hire you. In fact, he seemed pretty insistent on it."
"What did you tell him?"
"That you were going to be staying with the firm. He wanted me anyway, so it shouldn't have mattered to him if you were staying put, but it did."
He wants you, that's for sure. "But why not tell me about this, Jess, especially since it affects me?"
The taller woman took in a deep breath, trying to formulate her answer. "I'm worried, Robin." Her eyes softened. "If he intends to hurt you, then " Her shoulders slumped.
It now dawned on Robin why Jess had done what she did. "You're protecting me."
Embarrassment took over. "I had hoped to, yes. I wanted to figure out what he was up to and get rid of him before he could do anything that might hurt you."
Convoluted as it was, Robin understood Jess's motivations. "He also has a history of hurting you, Jess, and I don't want that to happen again. If you had told me about all of this, then I could have been on the look-out for him, too." She stopped her train of thought as she saw that Jess wasn't looking directly at her anymore but instead was focusing her gaze on the floor. "And this would be a problem?"
Jess gently took hold of Robin's hand, this time feeling no resistance. "I was afraid that if you knew, you would've confronted him, and that would've put you at risk. I didn't want that to happen."
Robin didn't know whether to be appreciative at the sentiment or angry. "Jess, we can't be deciding for each other what the other should know, even if we think it's for the best reasons."
Wasn't that the kicker? James had implied almost the very same thing. "You're right." The taller woman suddenly looked away, as if she was now struggling with something else. "It's my fault, you know."
"This whole thing." Jess sighed. "I played it all wrong. I let him see that you were my weakness, and now he has the opening he needs to get to me by using you."
How in the world could all of this have been going on without me knowing about it? This was too big. Robin could feel it. There had to be more. But what? Imagined fears were alive and well. "Jess." Robin finally asked the one question that scared her most. "Do you still feel anything for him?" These words were surprisingly hard to say, and she bit her bottom lip more as a way to steady herself than anything else. "I need to know."
Now, that was another tricky question. Jess thought hard about it and decided that as long as she was getting things out in the open, she had to be completely honest about this. There was a long pause, much longer than actually needed for such a simple word, and then Jess gave her reply. "Yes."
The answer rung in Robin's ears. She drew back on reflex. No. A lump formed in her throat, and her eyes became misty and clouded with unshed tears. "I've lost you?" One tear fell, than another.
Jess's larger body immediately closed the gap between them. "No." She held Robin's face in her hands, the tears welling up in her own blue eyes, threatening to spill over. "Not for a second."
"What I meant is, I have strong feelings, but they're not ones I'm proud of." Slender fingers wiped away a tear from Robin's face, then gently stroked her cheek. "You're the one I love." So much. Jess looked at the floor once again, ashamed, unable to meet Robin's gaze. For some reason, it was hard to admit this next part out loud. "What I feel I want revenge, Robin. I want him to pay."
"You want him to pay for what he did to you." Watery green eyes found Jess's once again and held them. "So do I."
"More than you know." He's a rat. The younger woman now confessed her fears. "When I saw you with him tonight, I didn't know what to think. I saw him. He looked happy to be with you. He had his hand on your back as you walked out the door, almost possessive. He was smiling like he really meant it. And you " Now, it was Robin's turn to look at the floor. "You seemed comfortable around him as if maybe you felt like it was old times."
Jess could have cried. "No, I was playing up to him. That's all."
Robin tried hard to process all of this, and it wasn't easy. The whole thing was so tortured that only the mind of a master manipulator could have dreamed this up. James. But, something about this was still bothering Robin, eluding her. It was just an intuition, but it was there. Suddenly, she remembered a phrase Jess had said only moments before. 'I already told him he wasn't authorized to be at the firm ' As far as Robin had known, Jess had only seen James twice, once at the house and once tonight. So when ? Suddenly, she gasped, pulling away sharply from Jess, as if stung.
"Robin." The older woman reacted immediately. "What is it?"
Robin was visibly shaking. The doubt had returned. She covered her mouth with her hand. "You've been seeing him."
"What? No. Why would you say that?" This had gotten way too far out of hand. Jess was becoming scared. She hadn't meant for any of this to happen.
"When did you first tell James he wasn't authorized to be at the firm?" It was a direct question.
Oh God. Jess's internal voice had been correct. That secret had come back to bite her. She should have known it all along. This is what happens when you tell the truth in pieces. "Now, Robin, it's not like that."
"Monday night." Jess finally admitted.
The smaller woman rubbed her hands against her face and paced the floor, clearly agitated. "When you were working late?"
"He came by the office. I had to get him out of there. Just like tonight."
"So you went to the coffeehouse just like tonight?"
"No." Jess whispered. How could this have gotten to where it is now? "We went to a restaurant a few blocks away from the office."
"A restaurant?" Robin couldn't believe what she was hearing. "When I thought you were working and hadn't had anything good to eat?" She shook her head in disbelief, anger even, ultimately coming to the conclusion she had up until now steadfastly refused to reach. "You lied?"
"No. It wasn't a lie. I didn't want to get you involved, so I just didn't tell you about it." The older woman blew out a breath and tried to explain the unexplainable. "I started getting a really bad feeling about things, so I wanted to keep some separation between you and him. I didn't want him to hurt you if he got too close."
"But you lied."
There it was again. That word. Doesn't she understand what I'm saying? But, indeed it was a losing battle, and Jess, after trying for so long to deny its existence, finally realized it. She had brought this all on herself, and now she had to try to repair the damage. If that was possible. There was a cloud, a heaviness in the air, emotions all stirred up and obscuring the landscape from view. A fog that needed to be cleared away. "All right. Yes, I lied." The remorse was now evident. "I thought I could protect you from this man. Spare you from what he had planned." Her eyes grew watery with genuine sadness at the price her actions had cost them both. "I was wrong."
Suddenly, Robin saw it, in those blue eyes the truth of what Jess was saying. After all, this was Jess. She'd sooner cut off her right arm than deliberately hurt her. Robin should have known that all along. She did know that. The anger slowly dissipated as she heard Jess's words spoken from the heart.
"I'm sorry." Jess continued. "Forgive me?"
Tears now ran down Robin's cheeks unchecked as she watched and listened. She knew Jess was sincere. She saw it and felt it deeply. And really, what Jess was guilty of was poor judgment more than anything else. There was no malicious intent. There never could be with Jess. Robin nodded, now too caught up with her own emotion to speak, words not necessary to communicate what she wanted to express. It's all right.
Jess knelt in front of the smaller woman, looking up at her with such sorrow and regret. There was fear, too, in those repentant blue eyes, fear that everything had been destroyed. "Robin......" Jess choked back a sob. "Don't leave me."
That was all Robin had to hear. She knew exactly what that meant to Jess. After all, it was the one thing that paralyzed Jess, brought on by scars that seemed would never fade. Instantly, Robin dropped to the carpeted floor and gathered the taller woman in her arms, hugging her tightly. It turned out that for both of them, their greatest fear was that the other would leave, and that simply was not going to happen. "I will never leave you." Dependency issues aside, they were meant to be together. A petite hand caressed Jess's face amid the tears which now came fast and unabated, gently wiping them away. "And yes, I forgive you." She whispered the words softly, then kissed Jess's cheek so lovingly that the bond that had seemed nearly broken just moments ago was now stronger and more solid than ever. Their love was resilient, and if this turmoil proved anything, it proved that. She kissed the older woman's cheek again. "I love you, Jess."
Jess took welcome comfort in the featherlight kisses and the words of reassurance. It occurred to her that she should be the one comforting Robin after what she had just put the younger woman through. But yet, here Robin was comforting her. She placed a soft kiss on Robin's forehead and then one each on her golden blonde eyebrows. "I love you, sweetheart, and I promise with all my heart that I will never give you cause to question my love. Ever." She held Robin close for several moments, almost afraid to let go, then whispered. "Where are your earrings?"
"What?" Puzzled green eyes looked at Jess.
"Your diamond earrings where are they?"
"In the dresser, first drawer on the left."
The older woman got up to retrieve the items in question, fumbling around inside the drawer for a moment before sitting back down on the floor next to Robin. She opened the velvet case and revealed the diamond earrings she'd given Robin during their recent trip to the beach. A very faint sparkle reflected off of the cut of the diamonds from the incandescent light of the small lamp across the room. "Here." Jess held up the earrings so Robin could see, leaning in close and pointing at the stones. "Believe me."
At first, it wasn't making sense, but then as she studied the earrings, Robin reflected on the words Jess had said when she'd handed them to her. Diamonds are forever These earrings are meant to be worn together, as a pair Diamonds are strong, stronger than anything else in the world no matter what happens, remember that I'll love you forever Like diamonds. And suddenly, it all did make sense. Perfect sense. She remembered that Jess had given her the diamond earrings as a way to always remind her that their love was strong, stronger than anything else in the world. The diamond earrings were a pair, just as she and Jess were a pair, never one without the other, forever. A petite finger brushed across the diamonds. I know this. It was all so profound, she finally realized. Everything that Jess had done from the diamond pendant heart necklace she gave me her heart to her commitment ring she gave me her soul to the deed to the house she gave me her property to the legal documents and the will she gave me her life and now most recently, the diamond earrings she gave me her love forever all showed that Jess was entirely devoted to her and her alone. "Yes." Robin nodded. "I do believe you."
That brought the first smile all night, and Jess breathed an unsteady sigh of relief, one she was sure she didn't deserve. "Come on. Let's sit up on the bed. It's much more comfortable, don't you think?" A larger hand helped the younger woman to her feet.
Without answering, Robin carefully set the earrings on the nightstand and scooted onto the bed, taking Jess along with her. They leaned back against the headboard next to each other, neither one saying anything for several moments, until Robin turned and rested the palm of her hand lightly against Jess's face. She didn't say a word. She just let her touch communicate what she felt in her heart.
And Jess began to cry. She had come so close to losing it all.
"Shhh, Jess, honey." The smaller woman held Jess tightly until she finally calmed. "I understand. I understand what you've been trying to show me all along." It just took me a while to truly see the big picture.
"I'm so sorry."
Robin knew Jess was being harder on herself than she would ever be on anyone else. She didn't agree with the way Jess went about it, but she understood her motivations. "It's all right now." Sea green eyes tried to convey as much reassurance as they could. "I know what you did and why you did it." A slight pause. "But no more secrets, though, okay?"
Jess nodded, then managed a smile. "I'm an open book."
That earned her a smile from Robin in return. "Good. Then let's turn to chapter one." She gave Jess a sweet kiss. "I believe it's a story about a beautiful princess with many skills and a killer attitude."
A light chuckle. "Yes, but chapter two is much, much more exciting."
"Why is that?"
"It has pictures."
Robin grinned. Of course.
It was dark. It was rare not to sleep in Jess's bedroom, but Robin and Jess both had decided that after such a stressful evening, they would just stay put in Robin's bed and get some much needed rest. Neither one of them really wanted to move, cuddled comfortably underneath the covers next to each other, so they changed their routine for just one night. Sleep was elusive, though, their minds in too much of a spin to let pleasant dreams overtake them.
"Jess?" Robin hitched herself up on one elbow. "What are we going do about him?"
Jess thought about that but came to no immediate conclusion. "I honestly don't know. I guess I'll continue to play along with his game for now."
Petite fingers brushed the strands of dark hair from Jess's forehead. The younger woman seemed to be studying the chiseled features of Jess's face, from the soft skin to the silvery indigo eyes to the well-defined jawline and cheekbones. "What do you think he really wants?"
The fingers were gentle, soothing, and Jess let the feeling wash over her. Her eyes fluttered. "I don't know. If I had to guess right now, I'd say he wants to get to me for some reason." For Jess, it wasn't just ego talking. The man wouldn't have made contact with her if he couldn't have cared less about her. "He's after something."
He's after you. The fingers traced one dark eyebrow, then the other, as gray-green eyes locked onto silvery blue. The feelings were intense, and the fear, although somewhat dissipated, still hovered close to the surface. A sense of possessiveness was not far behind as the fingers slowly retraced their previous path. "But you're mine. He can't have you." Robin suddenly realized she'd actually said those words out loud. Her fingers stilled in place, then were at once swiftly caught by a larger hand, and Robin felt herself being swept up into a strong embrace.
It was the most beautiful sentiment Jess had ever known and also the most unsettling. She realized now even more than before just how much she had endangered by her secrecy, how threatened Robin must have felt, and how frightened. And they hadn't even discussed the issues of trust and what Jess's actions may have damaged in that department. "Sweetheart, I'm yours forever. Only yours."
The younger woman seemed to relax at the verbal confirmation, although that verbal confirmation shouldn't have been necessary at all. Jess nestled Robin alongside herself and wrapped her long arms around the smaller frame. She then placed a tender kiss on Robin's forehead, lingering for just a moment. I'll spend the rest of my life making this up to you. A fleeting thought entered Jess's mind just before she let sleep overtake her.
James couldn't have planned what happened tonight better if he had tried.
To Be Continued ..
Return to the Academy
© Copyright 12/06/04