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.
Written by KM
As crest and fall of tempest tides
And weary days grow longer
That which seeks to test our will
Does often make us stronger
Daylight pushed through the darkness, the haziness of sleep still present as one green eye half opened then quickly shut to avoid the morning's intrusion into what had been a welcome escape from reality. Sleep could be a blessed thing. Besides, it was much too early to be awake. Robin mentally surveyed her situation, then cautiously let her eye open once again and roam about the room. Her room. It all came rushing back, even as she tried in vain not to remember. To be sure, the sadness at what had happened the previous evening was still there, but with the morning's light came an understanding that was new. Events can conspire to destroy, but as persistent and relentless as those events may seem, some things were simply indestructible, forged of a rare strength. The bond between her and Jess was just such a thing. And those conspiratorial events, from her father's meddling to the Management Committee hearings to her grief over David and now to James's return and the secrets that came with him, would never break that bond. Robin was sure of it, more sure than she'd ever been of anything in her life. Something niggled at the back of her mind, something Jess had once told her, that helped to put it all in perspective:
The love we share is eternal, like the sands of the desert and the waves of the sea, indestructible even to the most mighty, ancient yet still not born.
And so it was. And would always be.
It was then that Robin realized she was alone in the room. Where's Jess? An aroma of brewing coffee tickled her nose, and she closed both eyes, now more at peace than she'd been in what seemed like a very long time.
Within seconds, the door to the room opened wide and a tall brunette carrying two mugs of a steaming hot beverage entered. As if on an undisclosed mission, she swiftly crossed the carpeted floor and set the items down on the nearest nightstand. Robin still appeared to be asleep, and Jess just watched, the barest hint of a sober smile forming across her face. She gingerly sat on the edge of the bed, unsure of how to wake the younger woman or whether that was even wise. Robin looked peaceful, and their lives had been anything but peaceful lately. Several moments passed, and finally long fingers reached over and lightly brushed Robin's cheek.
The petite woman jerked slightly. She must have dozed off again. Sea green eyes fluttered open, then squinted at the bright morning light, ultimately spying with interest the mugs resting on the nightstand. "One of those better be for me," she mumbled.
That brought a wide smile. "Absolutely."
Sitting fully upright, Robin stretched her muscles, feeling the last vestiges of tension ease, then relaxed back against her pillow. For some reason, there was a mildly uncomfortable silence that followed, each woman not quite sure of what to say.
Jess looked away, years of practiced avoidance paying high dividends once again. Finally, though, she forced herself to confront the white elephant planted squarely in the room. Sincere blue eyes caught and locked onto Robin's. "I'm……I'm so sorry."
Quickly and without a second's hesitation, Robin leaned forward, wrapping her arms around the older woman's shoulders. "I know." Robin didn't let go. Instead, she tightened her hold. "But we've worked through it."
The hug felt good, almost too good, and Jess was sure she didn't deserve it. "I'll spend the rest of my life making it up to you."
Robin released her, but they remained just inches apart. "I remembered what you told me that one time, about how our love is strong and enduring, like the waves of the sea and the sand of the desert, and about how it's indestructible."
Jess listened attentively.
"I believe that. I believe that no matter what tries to tear us apart, we're stronger." Her voice held a note of defiance. "They won't win."
A look of understanding passed between them, and then Jess cleared her throat. "You okay?"
"Yeah." A smile. "But if I don't get some of that coffee soon, I'm going to be in a very, very bad mood."
"Well, we certainly can't have that." Jess retrieved one of the mugs from the nightstand and handed it to Robin, glad for the normalcy of the light banter. "How about if we finish our work today and then spend some quality time together tonight?"
The younger woman took a sip. "And I can have you all to myself?"
"No one else exists but us."
"Deal." An impish grin.
Uh-oh. Jess knew she was in trouble. "You're making plans, aren't you?"
"I'm going to borrow a phrase you're very fond of."
Another impish grin. "I plead the fifth."
Robin stepped off the elevator at the law firm of Roberts & McDaniel and headed toward her office. The job today would be to get the work done and get the motion filed with the court. After that, there would be nothing standing between her and Jess having some much needed time together for themselves. Thank goodness for the weekend. Preoccupied, she breezed through the library and rounded the corner, nearly plowing right into a wandering Paul.
"Whoa!" The senior associate stopped in his tracks.
Robin sidestepped him. "Sorry."
"Everything all right?" He was, after all, still enamored with her.
Unable to let it go, he continued. "You look tired."
Good grief. "Paul, I'm okay, but I have a lot of work to do today, so if you don't mind……"
Trouble in paradise? Perhaps this could be an opening for him. "If there's anything I can do to help…..."
She swiftly cut him off. "Jess and I have it covered, thanks."
Well, work wasn't exactly what he meant. Should he tell her about her beloved Jessica stepping out on her? After what he'd seen this week with the junior partner and that guy, twice no less, perhaps he should say something. He'd be doing Robin a service, really. She should know what was going on. And just what was going on? Two-timing, that's what, and he didn't like it. Robin deserved better. Even though Robin had spurned him, he still had a glimmer of hope that she'd eventually turn his way. After all, how long could a relationship like that with Jessica last, anyway? He decided to ride to Robin's rescue. "May I speak with you privately?"
When will he give up? "Now's not a good time. Perhaps next week."
I really don't need this today. "If it's not urgent, next week will be a lot better for me."
Reluctantly, he relented, deciding to choose his time carefully. Revelations like this needed the right moment and the right place. In due time. "All right." He stepped back to let her pass by.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Robin cut around Paul and made a beeline for her office. Trying to be polite and professional while feeling uneasy was a very difficult feat. She flung her briefcase on the nearest chair as she entered her office, looking up to find something most unexpected. There, placed in the center of her desk, was the loveliest assortment of long-stem roses she had ever seen. Two-dozen, in fact. Multi-colors of red, yellow, white, pink, orange, coral, and even lavender filled a large decorative glass vase. The rosebuds were just beginning to open, and tiny beads of water were freshly sprinkled across their velvety petals. She leaned forward and took in their sweet fragrance, then picked up the card and read it.
The most stunning of sunsets
Could never compare
To the beauty that is you
Robin blinked several times, her eyes growing a little misty at the sentiment. She knew it was Jess's way of trying to make amends. Petite fingers gently grasped one of the red roses to lift it from the vase, careful to avoid any possible hidden thorns lurking at the top of the stem. Surprisingly, not one of the roses had any thorns or even looked as if any thorns had been removed. Amazing. And knowing Jess's penchant for symbolism, each one of those rose colors was meant to signify a specific element of their relationship. Robin mentally ran down the list: red – love, yellow – friendship, white – purity, pink – gentleness, orange – fascination, coral – desire, and lavender – love at first sight. Wow.
Briefly, the young associate contemplated dialing the phone to express her thanks. Then, driven by a strong desire to see the sender of the flowers in person, she instead sped from her office directly toward that of the junior partner. Rounding the corner, she approached the office door, knocking lightly before entering.
Blue eyes glanced up immediately. "Hi."
Robin was beaming. "Thank you."
"They arrived?" Jess smiled.
A nod affirmatively. "And they're beautiful." Robin moved toward the cherry wood desk, lowering her voice slightly. "The card is beautiful, too. Who knew you could be so poetic?"
"I have my moments." Came the quick, yet almost bashful reply.
"You certainly do." A pause. "No thorns."
"I requested varieties without them."
There was a hidden meaning in there. Robin had learned Jess was prone to such things. Nothing to hurt me.
Nothing to hurt her. "Glad they were to my specifications."
There was an understated affection to the simple gesture of sending those roses, one with tons of meaning and yet also filled with so much beauty. "I love them." Robin glanced over and for the first time saw a large bouquet of flowers on the credenza off to the far side of Jess's desk. "I see I'm not the only one receiving flowers today." A blonde eyebrow lifted. "Who are they from? A client?"
The junior partner paused for a second. "Um……no." The answer was barely audible.
Without hesitation, Robin stepped forward and took the card from its holder, reading it silently to herself.
The younger woman looked up but said nothing, her eyes almost waiting for an explanation.
"Is there something you haven't told me? I thought you hadn't accepted his offer."
Jess sighed. "I haven't. It's his arrogant way of assuming he has the upper hand."
Robin thought very hard before eventually making her demand. "Get rid of them."
"Get rid of them."
"Well, I'm sure they cost him quite a large chunk of change. Might as well let them sit over there and brighten up the place." The older woman reasoned. "Besides, he needs to think I'm impressed."
The blonde head nodded slowly, an internal war going on that kept her on edge. Yes, it was critical to the plan that James think he was in control. Still……those flowers symbolized a familiarity with Jess that was unacceptable to Robin. "I still think you should get rid of them."
"They mean nothing."
They mean nothing? "Jess……" Robin's voice rose a bit louder. "Don't you understand? Flowers always mean something."
Outside the office, Angie sat at her desk. Since the door was open, she could hear what sounded like much more than a normal discussion going on. Trouble in paradise? She listened harder, but could only make out something about the flowers that had arrived earlier that morning. Then the office door closed abruptly. Darn! She picked up the phone and punched in a few numbers. "Betty, it's me. I've got some scoop to tell you. Meet me in the break room in five minutes." A slight pause. "All I know is Jessica got flowers today from someone, and Robin is none too happy about it. See you in five."
Inside, Jess stood next to Robin. "Why do you say they mean something?"
Robin took in a breath. How to explain this? "The roses you sent me……they're beautiful."
"The colors are so vivid, hues of a sunset, and your card tied into the symbolism of those roses, with each color signifying an element of our relationship." Petite fingers grasped Jess's hand. Even though it was totally inappropriate in a business setting, Robin didn't care. "And there are no thorns."
"Exactly. Your flowers to me have layers of meaning. What makes you think that his lilies and carnations and daisies and freesias, and whatever else is in there, not to mention his card which purports to welcome you aboard, mean nothing?"
"It's just his way of manipulating the situation." Actually, though, Jess was starting to get the picture. "But, yes, I see your point. He thinks he owns me."
Bingo! "He's stepping in where he shouldn't be." That territory is taken.
Jess could have slapped herself. And here she thought the flowers were just a manipulative ploy. Jess, you're an idiot. She strode on over to the credenza, picked up the bouquet, and tossed it unceremoniously, vase and all, into the nearby trash can. "Is that good?" She winked at Robin.
The younger woman smiled. "Don't you want to stomp on them first?"
Jess smiled back. "We probably shouldn't make a mess, should we? Besides, they're not worth the effort." She eased back around her desk and into her leather chair. "So, you okay now, kiddo?"
"Good. Give me about an hour, and I'll have the first half of the motion ready for you to prepare the table of cases and exhibits. Deal?"
"Deal." Robin felt more at ease. "May I interest you in lunch later on?"
Jess was right on cue. "You always interest me."
"Hey!" A look of mock indignation. "I resemble that remark."
The young associate laughed, then stepped to the door. "You, me, and lunch, when you get to a good stopping point. No excuses." With that direct order, she left the office.
The junior partner leaned back in her chair, staring ahead at nothing in particular.
The most stunning of sunsets……
Back in her office, Robin was starting to feel a little agitated all over again. Although Jess had finally understood the true significance of the flowers James had sent, Robin was sure he had many more tricks up his sleeve. And to be honest, this was all growing very tiresome. But what to do about it? The young associate stared out the window at the man-made lake below, watching the large fountain spray its symmetrical design on the shimmering water's surface. From high above, there appeared a rainbow effect on the fine mist blown about by the light breeze as the water fell gently in its predetermined pattern. Small white swan boats, their occupants oblivious to all distant onlookers, paddled lazily in meandering patterns around the perimeter.
Okay, so James was arrogant, possessive, devious, manipulative, calculating, and all sorts of other diabolical adjectives, but he still must be somewhat intelligent in order to have built what appeared to be a successful business. Perhaps Jess could just reason with him, tell him he doesn't stand a chance and make him see the light. Right. And donkeys can fly. So, how then to get him to back off? There must be a way. Petite fingers tapped in rhythm on the desktop. Finally, Robin flipped open the phone book and scrolled down one of the pages with her index finger, searching for the correct listing. Upon finding it, she dialed the number beside it, waiting patiently as the receptionist connected her to her party and her call was finally answered. "This is Robin Wilson. I need to see you as soon as possible." A brief pause. "Good. I'll be right there."
She hung up the phone, feeling surprisingly better about things already. Well, at least she had a plan. And it was clear that Jess was certainly going to need some help in this department. Jess was brilliant to be sure, but she was too close to the situation to see the big picture. Or at least see how the big picture was developing. It was time to get serious. Something needed to be done and fast. Robin got up from her desk and grabbed her purse, fishing out her car keys. She checked her watch. I've got just under an hour before I need to be back.
Fifteen minutes later, Robin had reached her destination. She breezed through the revolving door of the impressively tall building and proceeded across the stylish lobby, heading straight for the elevator banks off to the far left-hand side. As the doors closed, she punched the fifth floor button and waited for the elevator car to bring her to the selected floor. Suite 520. The doors reopened, and Robin followed the corridor around the corner, quickly finding the number she was after. She poised herself in front of the door, then knocked.
A second later, the door swung open. "Robin. It's nice to see you again."
Without much of an acknowledgement, she strode inside and stopped when she reached the center of the room.
Mildly amused, James "Jay" Prescott held back a grin. "Sorry for the mess in here." He hastily gathered together some papers from the circular table near the window. "When in town, I'm forced to work out of the hotel suite until our office space is ready." He motioned toward one of the chairs, but Robin made no effort to accept his invitation to sit. Okay. "Would you like some coffee? It's fresh."
"No, thanks." Robin stood her ground, if only figuratively speaking.
"All right." The niceties were out of the way. Now on to the good stuff. "So, tell me, to what do I owe your visit?"
In truth, she was wound up tighter than a drum, but Robin kept herself in check, remaining cordial. She had a mission to accomplish after all, and it was imperative that she not betray her true feelings for this man. "Jess told me about your job proposal to serve as office manager and corporate general counsel with your company. She also told me that you've given her the authority to hire anyone she wants."
A raised eyebrow. James was intrigued. "Yes, that's true." A pause. "As long as whoever is hired is qualified, of course."
"Of course." Arrogant does not even begin to cover it. "She also told me that you've suggested she hire me."
Ah, so Jess spilled the beans. Actually, he was surprised it had happened so soon, but he went with it. "Yes. I think you'd be an asset to the company and a great addition to the team. I understand that you and Jess work well together, and I can't see splitting that up. From a business perspective, I'd like to gain the full benefit your working relationship."
Stunned, James creased his brow. "Well, the last time I spoke with Jess, she was adamant that you were staying with the firm."
Interesting. "So, then you'll be joining us?" He didn't wait for a second confirmation. "Excellent." Something suddenly crossed his mind, and it was juicy. "Where's Jess? I would have thought she'd be here to share in the good news."
Robin was quick to answer. "She's busy with a court filing today."
"I see." Even more interesting. He proceeded to feign nonchalance, as if that issue was of minor importance and nothing but a mere technicality anyway. "Well, there'll be time enough to go over the details later." Definitely juicy. Jess is totally clueless about this. It was a major feat to keep the smirk from his face. As it was turning out, things were falling into place faster than he had envisioned. Wasn't the morning was full of surprises……and juicy ones at that? He smiled broadly and stretched out his hand. "Welcome aboard, Robin!"
Playing her part, she shook his hand firmly. "Thank you. Also, I'll be attending the meeting with Jess later next week."
Spunky. "Actually, the meeting we're having is for the upper management. We're just going to hash out the operating budget, office configurations, contract obligations, and set up the official kick-off targets and first year fiscal goals."
Robin took a step closer to James. This is non-negotiable. "Well, you, yourself, said that Jess and I work well together and that you want to gain full advantage of our working relationship." She offered a small but determined smile. "If that is true, then it would be advantageous for us both to be apprised of the kick-off specifics to ensure a smooth start-up."
Touché. Seeing that Robin was not about to budge on this point, he decided to let it go. After all, if he was right, and he was sure he was, Jess was going to blow a gasket. Agreeing to Robin attending the meeting would only enhance that event. How could he resist? The little blonde had played right into his pocket. "You have a valid point. We'll look forward to your being there and offering any input you feel would assist us."
"Great." She turned to leave, then turned back. "One other thing……"
Definitely spunky. "What's that?"
"No more flowers to Jess at work."
"So they arrived?" He looked pleased. "It was just a small token to welcome her to the company."
I'm wise to you. Those flowers were anything but a small token of anything. Robin really, really didn't like this guy. She made up an excuse. "It's just that Jess hasn't told anyone that she may be leaving the firm, and receiving……tokens……of that nature could invite questions."
"Hmmm…..." James appeared to ponder what Robin said. The little blonde is ticked. I'm sensing possessiveness. "Okay, I agree. No more flowers to Jess at the office."
"Good." Satisfied, Robin continued on toward the door. "Jess and I will see you at the meeting next week, then." Now to explain to Jess.
"Thanks for stopping by." James watched the door close as Robin left the suite, a grin slowly emerging followed by a light chuckle. Well, well, well. Wasn't that a bit of interesting dialogue? And it all fell right into his lap without him lifting a finger. Now, how long to wait to make the call? He glanced at his watch. Fifteen minutes should do the trick.
Precisely fifteen minutes later, the ringing of the phone broke Jess from her concentration. Should she let it go to voicemail, or answer? She was pretty far along with the final revision of her motion, so what harm could it do to take the call? She lifted the receiver. "Jessica Harrison."
"Jess! Hi." Came the exuberant voice across the line. "It's……"
"I know who it is. What do you want, James?"
"Aw, don't be such a party-pooper, Jess. After all, didn't you receive the flowers I sent?"
Blue eyes darted across the office to the trash can situated in the corner, the edge of one lonely lily limply visible above the rim of the wastebasket. "Yes, I did get them. And I can assure you I've put them in a most appropriate location." A smirk.
"Good. Just a small token to welcome you to the company."
Small token, my ass. "I haven't accepted yet."
"Ah, formalities......" Unaffected, he set the bait. "So, isn't it great?"
The man was ridiculous. "Look, I'm busy. I haven't got time for games today. Say what you want to say, and then say goodbye."
"C'mon, Jess. I just thought the three of us could celebrate or something."
Check that. The man was not ridiculous, he was on drugs. "What are you talking about?"
Gotcha! "Robin, of course. Isn't it great? Hey, how about we all meet for dinner tonight?"
Jess's antenna went way up. Either the man was certifiable or something sinister was at play. Either way, she didn't like it. "Number one, there is absolutely nothing about Robin to concern you. Number two, the three of us will not be doing anything together, ever. You got that?"
"Hmmm……" He stopped on cue, his voice carrying a deliberately perplexed tone. "That's strange…..."
Jess knew she was going to regret asking, but she asked anyway. "What's strange?"
Time to reel her in. "Well, since Robin's coming on board, we're all going to have to work together."
Okay, that settled it. The man was ready for the loony bin. Bring in the white coats. "I thought I made this abundantly clear to you last night. Robin's not coming on board. She's staying with the firm. End of story. What part of that don't you understand?"
"Well…..." James finally let the cat out of the bag. "I suppose the part where Robin's accepted a position with the company."
"She has not. Where in the world would you ever get that idea?"
Actually, this was almost too much fun. "From Robin." He paused for effect. "Of course."
"From……?" Jess had grown weary of this game. Either James was delusional, or he was up to some sort of trick, and quite frankly, she didn't have the time or the inclination to play. "Look, I've got better things to do right now. You want to indulge in some fantasy, go right ahead, but I've got a deadline to meet."
The extent of her denial is amazing. "Now, I'm really confused, Jess."
"Not exactly a newsflash."
"Robin clearly accepted a position with the company."
"You're dreaming. And just when was this supposedly to have happened?"
Now James knew that what he was going to say next would send Jess completely over the edge. "Well, earlier this morning when she came by my hotel."
All the blood suddenly drained from Jess's face, and she went as white as a sheet. This was no game anymore and had definitely crossed the line. Unfortunately, she had a sinking feeling that everything he was saying was all true. And at the moment, she just couldn't fathom what that meant.
"Jess? Are you there?" He waited patiently for the anticipated explosion, but it never came.
Finally, Jess found her voice, though raspy and barely audible. "She……um……she came by to see you?"
"Right. She said she had reconsidered and had decided to accept the position with us." James then added the final assault. "She also said she'd be joining us at the start-up meeting next week."
Stunned silence followed. The fact was, Jess simply couldn't think of anything coherent at this point to say.
She must be in shock. "Hey, I'm sorry, Jess. I was sure you knew." That, of course, was not the truth.
She cleared her throat. "What……um……what time was Robin there?"
"I'd say she left here about twenty minutes ago. She should be back by now." He supplied the last part helpfully.
Slowly, Jess took a deep breath, and then another. Then, with a calmness she absolutely did not possess, she spoke again. "I'm going to have to go now. We'll discuss this later."
"Fine, but I'm scheduled to leave in about an hour for the airport and won't be back in town until late Sunday night." He pretended to be annoyed with the unsettled nature of the situation. "Listen, I don't know what's going on with you two, but I need to know who's in and who's out. Time's getting short, and there are dozens of people counting on this operation. We simply can't go into start-up with personnel issues."
"Gotta go now, Jess. We'll talk more on Monday." With that, he hung up the phone, rather pleased with himself. To his mind, that conversation had gone extremely well, and he was quite proud of his powers of manipulation. He only wished, though, that he could be a fly on the wall of a certain young associate's office starting in……he glanced at his watch……about two minutes. That would be priceless. Damn, I should get a bonus for this.
Tricky. Jess stood up from her desk. Handling what came next was going to be tricky. She was torn between anger and fear, and right now, fear was winning. Robin had done something extremely foolish, and not only would there be minefields to navigate in dealing with James, but there'd also likely be a few personal repercussions to what she had done. Robin had placed herself squarely in the cross-hairs of James, and she didn't even realize she'd made herself a target. All the effort Jess had gone to in order to shield Robin as much as possible from James, the success of which was largely debatable, had now been blown away in an instant. Why did Robin do it? What in the world was she thinking? And Jess wasn't fooled for an instant by James's supposedly innocent routine. That phone call was orchestrated down to the very second the phone rang. Right now, though, as devastating as that phone call had been for so many reasons, every intuition Jess had, including the fine hairs that stood on end at the back of her neck, told her Robin was in danger.
Surprisingly composed, for all appearances sake anyway, Jess left her office and walked swiftly down the hall and around the corner to Robin's office. She stopped in front of the open door, then entered without a sound, waiting until Robin looked up from her computer screen.
The younger woman had returned about five minutes earlier, and had just had time to read a few of her emails before Jess's arrival. "Hey." She smiled. "You got part of that document ready for me?"
Without saying a word, Jess closed the office door behind her. She stood on the opposite side of the desk and just looked at Robin. Then, azure eyes caught sight of the array of multi-colored roses sitting in a vase on the credenza against the opposite wall. The most stunning of sunsets……
"Jess? What is it?" Robin, though, had a distinct feeling she already knew.
After another long moment, Jess spoke, her voice betraying her heightened anxiety. "To quote something someone recently said……is there something you want to tell me?" Although the reference was to Robin's question of the night before, the question and tone now presented was one of extreme concern.
"I…..." Before Robin could answer, Jess continued.
"I had a phone call just now."
Robin leapt from her chair and met Jess on the other side of the desk. "Jess, I need to explain."
The older woman was finding it very difficult to speak. "Sweetheart, what have you done?"
Quickly, Robin grasped Jess's hands in her own. "I…...I was going to talk to you tonight about this after we got through with our work today."
God, it was hard to focus, and the walls were closing in. "No, let's talk now." Jess glanced around. "But not here. The park. Outside."
"But, Jess, the motion……"
"Damn the motion. Right now, you're my priority. Let's go."
They silently walked out into the hallway and toward the elevators, ultimately making their way to the ground floor. Once downstairs, they exited the building and turned the corner, eventually reaching the small park behind the old courthouse building. The mid-morning sun hadn't gotten too strong yet for the day, and the shade of several large live oak trees covered a large area of the park. They found an empty bench beneath the shade of one such tree and sat down together, each not sure exactly the best way to begin.
Robin spoke first. "Please let me explain."
Jess simply nodded.
"I had this gut feeling that you were getting into trouble. You had been focused on James for so long and all the little tricks he's been playing that he was tying you up in knots. But there seems to be bigger picture going on. He's throwing smokescreens at you, keeping you distracted, all the while he's putting some other plan into motion. So, it seemed to me that the only way to protect you was if someone got your back. I got your back. The only way to do that was from the inside."
Jess listened, half of it making complete sense and the rest……well, the rest was making her nauseous.
"So, to get inside his operation, I accepted the offer." Green eyes held Jess's. "You can't do this alone. He'll blind-side you with something, and you'll be too distracted to see it."
Oh, Robin……you played into his hands. "Sweetheart, I know the risks I'm taking, and yes, I've been distracted and made a few admittedly poor decisions, but all the while, I was the target of his game. And it was clear that his aim, at least in part, was to use you to get to me." Jess grasped Robin's hands, not caring who at the moment might be watching. "Now, by putting yourself out in front of him like that, you've made yourself a target, too."
"A target of what? What are we targets of?"
"That's what I'm trying to find out, and I'm getting closer. I can feel it. I think by this meeting next week, I'll have it figured out. I just need a little bit more time."
"And I'll be there with you every step of the way, Jess. I'll get your back."
The older woman sighed wearily. What was done was done, and there was nothing she could do about it. It was time now to try to make sense out of everything, if that was possible, and analyze the events so far. "Here's what I see is happening. He's been playing me against you, trying to cause friction between us, for what purpose, I don't know. Just look at his unexpected visits to the house and the office, his job proposals, dinner, coffee, and now the flowers, all designed to manipulate me into doing things I'm not proud of, to cause you to distrust me, and to come between us."
Robin agreed it was true. But she knew the real reason for all of this. He wants you back, and I'm in the way.
"Now, in addition to playing me against you, he figures he can play you against me and cause double the trouble." Jess reflected some more. "Look at when you went to over see him this morning. He probably thought the gods were smiling down on him to have you show up there like that. Then, he timed his call to me precisely to the moment when he knew you'd be back in the office, just to let me know all about your going over there to see him and what you did. He deliberately taunted me, trying to get me to lash out in anger at you for what you had done and the fact that you did it without discussing it with me, which, by the way, you did and which I really, really wish you hadn't."
The blonde head nodded. "You could've gotten angry at me, and I really wouldn't have blamed you."
"I did……for about half a second. Then, I realized who we were dealing with. A master manipulator. And although I wish you would have discussed this with me before you went over there, considering my behavior of late, I'm not really one who can throw stones." People in glass houses…… A hint of an apologetic smile. "So, we need to be smarter than he is, and from now on, work together. Deal?"
The younger woman gave her a small smile back. "Deal."
"Good. I guess now we're both in this thing, and as the saying goes, don't let the snakes know who's in the nest until you're good and ready…..."
Robin finished the sentence. "Then you hit them right where they live."
"Exactly, and that company is where he lives." Jess put an arm around Robin's shoulders. "He can't come between us. I promise. Whatever delusions he has of that are all in his mind."
I believe that. "So, what's our first move?"
"I had originally thought I could get close enough to figure out what he's really after by pretending I'm interested in his job offer and then sniffing out his true intentions first-hand." Dark eyebrows creased together. "Now I think we need to be proactive and flush him out, instead."
Makes sense. "Okay, what's the plan?"
"Follow my lead." The wheels were turning feverishly. "He wants to come between us. So, let's let him think he's succeeding. He's just arrogant enough to believe it."
"Okay, I'm in." Robin leaned a little closer to Jess. "So, we're having big troubles, huh?"
A large hand gently stroked Robin's face as Jess answered with mock seriousness. "The worst."
Just then, a gray squirrel ran in front of them, stopping to forage for some long lost buried acorns in the ground, before racing on to another tree and scurrying up one of the lower branches. This simple activity was enough to break the two women from their mild trance, and they once again became aware of their surroundings.
"Um…..." The younger woman whispered. "I think people are staring." Indeed, a few passers-by had cast more than a casual glance at them.
"Let them." Jess whispered back, then winked. "I doubt we'll make the headlines." She stood up from the bench, pulling Robin along with her. "Ready to go, kiddo?"
"Yeah. But do we still have time today to finish the motion?"
"We'll make a heroic effort."
Just as Robin and Jess got off the elevator on the sixteenth floor back at the office, Harry Roberts came around the corner from the direction of the library. "Jess, good. I've been looking for you. May I see you for a moment?"
Not the best timing. "Actually, Harry, I've got to get something out today……"
"Now. Jess. My office." It was a command, and Harry's demeanor implied there'd be absolutely no debate about the matter.
What now? Blue eyes cast a quick look over at Robin. "I'll have that document for you very soon." Jess watched the young associate leave, then followed Harry down the hallway to his office.
"Sit." He gestured toward one of the chairs and promptly closed the office door. "I'll get straight to the point. There's a rumor going around……no, make that two rumors……and I'd like an explanation."
The junior partner cringed internally. If James had so much as thought about calling Harry and spewing his crap, she was going to be forced to take more drastic measures. "Okay," she replied cautiously.
Harry leaned back against the front edge of his desk. "The first rumor is that you and Robin are having personal issues, which, as you know, by the very nature of your relationship and the working arrangement you have here, are fuel for the grist mill. Something about someone else giving you flowers and Robin and you having a vocal quarrel about it here in the office. I heard this from my secretary who heard it from yours. True?" He raised a questioning eyebrow.
What's with this gossip? Those people know nothing. "Look, Harry, it's James. He sent the flowers knowing Robin would see them and become upset. He's trying to cause trouble between us, but Robin and I are dealing with it."
The chairman of the litigation department lifted his index finger and pointed it firmly at Jess. "I told you that man was trouble. I told you to keep his business out of this firm." He shook his head. "Now, I want you to put a stop to it. Cut your ties, and be done with him once and for all."
"I'm close to figuring out what's going on. I need one more week." The junior partner pled her case. "Just one more week."
I ought to be committed for letting this persist. "I really do not like this, Jess, especially taking into consideration the second more serious rumor I've heard."
Oh great. "What's that?"
"That you've accepted an offer and will in fact be leaving this law firm very soon to go work for an architectural design consulting firm, which I assume is his."
Where in the world did Harry hear that? And more importantly, where did whoever told Harry about it get this information? It had better not be from James. "That's not true. I'm not going anywhere, Harry. I would have discussed anything of that nature with you first." Jess tried desperately to make him understand. "As you know, James made me an offer. I have not accepted, and I won't. He may presume I'm going to accept, but that's his problem. You see, in order for me to get rid of him, and believe me, I want that much more than you know, I have to at least seem as if I'm interested. It's true I've been playing along, but only until I have things figured out."
Harry sighed heavily. It had been a long week and was getting longer by the minute. And it wasn't even lunchtime yet. He tapped the intercom button on his phone. "Betty, please bring me in some coffee." He then paced the floor back and forth trying to figure out what to do. "I know it's the nature of law firms to have their fair share of gossip. Right now, they're only rumors, but if word gets out that one of our top attorneys is jumping ship, however incorrect that may be, internal rumors can turn to external rumors, especially in the legal community. And then external rumors of this nature lead to widespread speculation that the firm may not be doing well or that it's splitting up entirely, and soon the word on the street is that people are leaving here in droves and we're not the firm we used to be, etc., etc. Then our client base starts questioning our abilities to represent them, and without proper handling, the whole thing snowballs." He gave her a serious look. "I don't have to tell you this."
"No." Jess now realized that James had been planting tidbits of information with various sources within the firm, and perhaps even throughout the local community, implying that she was jumping over to his company. Son of a bitch. Were there no lengths to his tricks?
After considering the situation a few moments longer, the litigation department chairman gave Jess a stern warning. "All right, Jess, one week. You've got exactly one week to put an end to this. This firm's good name will not be damaged by this scoundrel. If you think you had a tough time with the Management Committee before, just wait. I can't protect you from them this time if something goes wrong. There are ethical and fiduciary responsibilities you have to the other law partners of this firm, and they will have your head if they think you've conspired with Prescott somehow to take this firm down and deplete its client base."
Damn it! I never saw this coming. It was true, Jess had been so concerned with Robin and keeping James away from her that she never even imagined he had been out there behind the scenes working to try to make it impossible for Jess to remain at the firm even if she had wanted to do so. What was it Robin had just been telling her? I've been distracted and unable to see the big picture. The urgency of the situation was just ratcheted up. In fact, it was becoming a crisis. Before James could do any further damage, Jess was going to have to take care of business. And that meant coaxing him into revealing his true intent sooner rather than later. "Harry, I'm sorry. I'll handle this, and you have my word that it will end within the week."
The older attorney relaxed, if only a little, and a knock on the door signaled the arrival of his coffee. Betty placed his favorite ceramic mug on his desk, turned and gave Jess a disapproving look, then left the office. "You see what I'm putting up with?" He made the casual comment after noticing the foregoing exchange. His eyes then softened. "So, are you doing all right?"
The junior partner knew he meant that from a personal standpoint. "I'll be honest and say that it's been a rough few days. Robin and I have……well, we've been tested. James has really mixed things up for both of us, but we're back on the right track."
He nodded. "You need to be careful, both personally and professionally. Men like Prescott don't care who they destroy as long as they get what they want. You know the type. Robin's father is another one of them. Both you and Robin need to be very careful how you handle this situation." He took a long sip of his coffee, then set the mug down on the desk beside him. "Now, is there anything else I should know?"
Jess debated whether to mention anything about James's unexpected after-hours visits to the law firm's offices. Up until now, she had thought those visits were just due to his arrogance and manipulative intent directed solely at her. But after today, she wasn't so sure James didn't have an ulterior motive. It could just be paranoia on her part, but at this point, she didn't want to take any chances. She owed Harry the truth. "There is one other thing."
"Oh?" He questioned. "Should I be sitting down for this?"
The junior partner grimaced at the rhetorical question. She was testing the limits of Harry's good nature, and she knew it. "James came by the office a couple of times this week after hours."
The litigation department chairman stiffened. "Here? He's been here?"
"It's okay. I got him out quickly both times. He knows not to come back."
"You'd better believe it." Harry was clearly annoyed. There were confidential client files all over the place, and he couldn't afford any breaches. "I'm putting building security on notice. He'll be arrested for trespassing the next time he steps one foot on the premises, and you can tell him that. I will not stand for this, Jess. Keep him away from here. I mean it. He will not make trouble for this firm just to get to you. Are we clear?" The harshness of Harry's tone caught the junior partner off-guard, but she knew he was only protecting the firm's interests.
"Yes." There really was nothing more to say.
"Good." He stepped around his desk and took a seat in his chair, rubbing the corners of his eyes. "What a mess. I ought to have my head examined for agreeing to go along with this." He knew, though, that it was Jess's personal life that was the most in jeopardy. She had to handle Prescott herself. No one else could do it, even if she destroyed herself in the process. And for everything she'd been through, and he was one of the few people who knew the emotional toll it had taken on her the last time that snake was in town, he sincerely hoped she could come through it this time largely unscathed. "All right, I expect this to be resolved in a week's time." His voice held a note of resignation. "If you have any problems, you come to me." Be very careful, Jess.
The junior partner nodded. For some reason, she felt compelled to get up and go to over to him, gently taking his hand. "Thank you. I appreciate having your support."
He nodded in return and gave her a warm look, clasping his free hand over hers. "Now, get back to work. I believe you have something due today."
"I'm on it." She turned and left his office, smiling just a little on the inside. He really is a softie.
The sound of gentle easy listening music filled the room, and two figures sat upright in the large waterbed sipping their glasses of cream sherry and enjoying casual conversation. Had the day really come to an end? It had been one of the longest weeks in memory, the chance for relaxation and down-time virtually non-existent until now. Lots of anxiety, hurt, and just plain stupidity. Finally, though, Robin and Jess could reconnect with each other, and spend an entire weekend doing nothing but that. The soft glow of the bedside lamp cast a mood of contentment in spite of the upheaval that had precipitated the early evening, and the cozy bedroom offered a respite from the troubles of the outside world.
"More sherry?" Jess offered to refill Robin's glass.
"Thanks." An impish grin. "Are you trying to ply me with alcohol?"
"If it works." The older woman quipped.
"Actually……" Robin set her glass on the nightstand and inched over closer to her companion. "I have very specific plans for you tonight, remember?"
"Ooooh. Do tell."
"Well……" Robin leaned in a little closer. "It involves me lying down……"
"Okaaay." Came the drawled reply.
"And your very skilled hands…..." Petite fingers gently lifted one such hand. "In certain strategic locations."
A raised eyebrow. "I see." Blue eyes bore into green. "Care to elaborate on that?"
"Sure." Another impish grin. "A backrub, Jess. It's time for you to get busy. And it had better be good."
Jess casually sipped her sherry, then countered with her sultry reply. "I can guarantee, Robin, that what I have in mind for you will definitely be good."
A slight blush followed by a light giggle. "You are the most seductive person I have ever met."
"I have a reputation to uphold."
"And you do it so well." Robin's voice suddenly took on a more serious tone. "I'm sorry for all of the trouble this week."
"I'm sorry, too, sweetheart." Jess cast her eyes a little downward. "I hope you can still trust me."
Two petite fingers hooked under the older woman's chin and lifted it so their eyes met again. "I trust you with my life."
Jess reached over and set her wineglass on the nearby night table. She'd had some recent insights, and she wanted to share them with Robin. "You know, I've been thinking a lot about this, and sometimes I wonder what I would do if you weren't in my life." She touched the diamond cluster ring on her finger Robin had given her. "You fill in the gaps."
"In me." It was something Jess was realizing more and more. "The pieces come together with you, and when I don't see something, you fill in what's missing." Slender fingers brushed the blonde bangs from Robin's eyes. "You truly are an amazing person."
Robin took the compliment. Sea green eyes then caught sight of the arrangement of multi-colored roses positioned on the corner of the dresser, intently studying their appearance. She had insisted on bringing them into the bedroom, instead of leaving them out in the living room, so she could enjoy them to their fullest. Hues of a sunset……After all, sunsets held very special meaning to both of them.
Jess noticed the attention to the bouquet. "They don't hold a candle to you."
The younger woman smiled. "Flattery will get you everywhere."
"I sure hope so." Jess smiled back, then placed a gentle kiss on Robin's lovely lips. "I love you, honey." There was an overwhelming swirl of emotions lying just below the surface. "I will love you forever. I……have loved you forever." I know this. She wasn't sure how she knew it, but she knew it, nonetheless. She could feel it.
"I think I know what you mean. It seems as though we've been here before, been through everything people could throw at us, maybe even lifetimes of facing challenges, but through it all, we've always been together." Robin caught a glimpse of something in Jess's eyes, and she had the courage to say the next part. "I think our souls are linked together."
Jess wasn't normally one for extra-spiritual beliefs, but she couldn't deny the intense connection they both felt. "You mean like familiar souls?"
"Exactly like that."
The dark head nodded. "I could see that." Although it was unusual, what other explanation could there possibly be?
The younger woman lightly bit her bottom lip as she suddenly thought of something. "I have a confession to make."
Ooooh. "Spill it, kiddo."
"I'm afraid I kinda was a little bit jealous about the flowers that you got from you know who today. That's one of the reasons I wanted you to get rid of them."
Jess's voice was warm and soothing. "I know that, Robin."
"I'm also afraid that I kinda said something to him about it."
Secretly, Jess was intrigued. "Oh? And what did you say?"
Robin hesitated, then blurted it out. "I told him not to be sending you any more flowers at the office."
A smile. "Did you now?" A slender finger trailed a path down Robin's neck.
"Yeah. People might misunderstand."
"Indeed." The finger had made its way to a petite collarbone.
"Besides……" The younger woman was now becoming distracted. "If anyone's going to be sending you flowers, it had better be me."
The top button of the nightshirt suddenly came undone. "That's my girl."
"And then……" Robin's breath caught as the next button conveniently popped open. "Everyone will know they're from me." She sank down further into the pillows.
"Damn right." The remaining two buttons were systematically unfastened, dancing fingers grazing the silky soft skin below and leaving little goosebumps in their wake. That took care of the first one-third of the nightshirt. No more buttons, but still plenty of fabric impeding further progress. Not to be dissuaded from their immediate mission, the fingers instead traced tiny circular patterns in the uncovered flesh beneath them, frequently dipping in and out of the loose cotton material, teasing places well out of view.
"It occurs to me……" The younger woman's breath caught for a second time. "That this is a just clever diversion to keep you from giving me my backrub."
"Au contraire, Robin." An unmistakably seductive voice whispered into a conveniently placed ear. "My fingers are just warming up." A slight pause. "Now, take off your nightshirt and turn over."
Obeying the command without delay, Robin divested herself of the nightshirt in question and turned over onto her stomach. She could feel Jess's strong hands expertly kneading the muscles of her back, and what was left of any of the day's stress quickly evaporated under the welcome touch. It was heavenly, and the wine she'd had only served to enhance the whole experience. Suddenly, she felt a hand brush away the hair from the nape of her neck and moist, heated breath instantly replace it. She was lost in the intoxicating sensation. "You're not playing fair."
"Fair?" A lingering kiss to the newly exposed area. "Who said anything, Robin, about playing fair?"
Robin helplessly gave in to the jolts of electricity that followed. Oh boy, I'm in big trouble now.
The gentle waves lapped against the sandy shore, a tranquil sound accompanying them as they rushed up the beach before quickly receding. A fitting end to the day. Seagulls, their distinctive cries echoing across the shallow waters, flew lazily above, dipping occasionally down to the almost glasslike surface for food. Small brown and white birds raced up and back across the glittering seafoam left by the waves, stopping to peck at the wet sand and perhaps find a meal of their own.
By now, this particular portion of the beach was largely deserted as the sun had started to wane and nightfall was not too long off. There were, however, a few remaining stragglers trying to soak up the last remnants of the day, as well as several others strolling leisurely along the water's edge. Save for an early afternoon thunderstorm which quickly passed, it had been a beautiful day and promised to be an equally beautiful evening.
"I love the smell of the salt air." Robin took in a deep breath as she walked along, her bare feet sloshing ankle deep through the few inches of water between the beach and the sea. "It makes you feel so alive."
"Did you enjoy your day?" Jess ambled along beside her, watching their footprints disappear behind them with the next wave.
"Yeah, I did. I'm so glad we came over here today. I know it's a little bit farther away to drive, but I think the Gulf of Mexico is my favorite. The Atlantic is nice, but the Gulf has more of a relaxing feel. Maybe it's the gentler waves, but it's just so soothing here."
"Soothing?" A small smile. "I seem to recall a few choice words earlier this afternoon when someone, whose name I will not mention, got rained on."
"Hey, if you would've hurried up and unlocked the car, I wouldn't have gotten so drenched."
"And if you would've hurried up and finished eating lunch back at that restaurant, we would've been in the car ages before the storm hit."
"I was hungry." Robin defended herself. "And besides, how was I supposed to know it was going to rain?"
"Um…...maybe the thunder was a tiny hint." Jess winked. "Just a thought."
"You are so mean to me."
"So I've been told." The older woman snaked an arm around Robin's waist. "It looks like the evening's shaping up, though. Should be a nice sunset."
Robin stopped and turned to face Jess, gazing into the bluest eyes. "Sunsets are our thing."
There were the loveliest flecks of gold in those sea green eyes staring back at her. A reflection off the water? Jess was captivated. Or highlights at just the right angle? She could gladly spend a lifetime trying to figure that out. "I would definitely agree with that."
They continued on with their stroll along the beach, dodging a few of the more aggressive waves as the tide started to come in, until the moment approached when the sun was about to begin its descent. What could be better than a beautiful end to a wonderful day? The outline of the two figures stood in silhouette against the backdrop of the setting sun and circling seagulls in their midst. It was a picturesque scene worthy of capture on canvas, as a few seagulls crossed single file directly in front of the bright orange ball making its way toward the water.
"It occurs to me that nearly every time we watch a sunset, you give me jewelry." Robin playfully commented.
"Is that so?" Jess stood up close behind the smaller woman. "You looking for more?"
A giggle. "A girl always looks for more."
Long arms encircled her. I could get lost in this moment. "Well, then…..." A warm smile. "I guess I'll need to file that away for future reference."
Robin tipped her head back and gazed into those mesmerizing blue eyes once again. A wayward thought of sapphires popped into her mind. Jewels. "See that you do. It's very important to have our priorities right."
A contented sigh. "I wish we could stay here forever." Robin gave voice to what they both had been thinking. Surely this moment didn't have to end. "Can we move?"
"Move?" Jess had to admit the idea had a certain appeal. "Are you serious about that?"
"Well……" Robin gave it a second thought. "Only half serious. I know I'm just trying to escape the bad stuff we've been through." She did that a lot. Escape. When times got tough, Robin seemed to want to run away. She ran away after David died, and now that James was back, she wanted to run away again. "But I know that it's not the answer."
Good girl. "You're right, sweetheart. We need to confront our troubles, and if we want to move somewhere else someday, we'll do that on our own time and for a reason we decide."
"I think if we ever do decide to move, here would be a great place." Robin couldn't imagine a more beautiful setting.
"Yes it would."
"And your mother's not too far away, and your brother and nephews……"
"Sold." The older woman whispered into a petite ear. "Now let's watch. The sun's going down."
They stood silently, motionlessly, as the main event unfolded. Hues of bright red, gold, white, pink, orange, coral, and a deep lavender slowly filled the evening sky as the sun disk dipped ever further toward the horizon's edge, casting its colorful pathway across the sea. Sounds of waves lapping the shore and seagulls' cries over the water together formed a scene so serene it was hard to imagine the chaos and turmoil left far behind at a distant place and another time. It was absolutely magnificent.
Robin could feel Jess's arms now tighten around her and a low alto voice speak softly into her ear as the next words were simply spoken.
"The most stunning of sunsets……" Jess repeated the sentiment she had expressed with those roses so carefully chosen. "Could never compare to the beauty that is you."
Robin spun around in Jess's arms, not minding for a moment whether anyone lingering on the beach might be watching, and gave her a tender, heartfelt kiss. Then another. Robin couldn't deny it. Intuition was a powerful thing. She was so taken with Jess, felt so connected in ways she couldn't even begin to explain, that she truly believed they were, in fact, familiar souls. I've known you forever. "Has anyone ever told you….." Her voice was one of complete amazement. "How incredibly romantic you are?"
Jess graced her with an adoring smile. "Just you." It will always be you.
After several minutes had passed, the sun in its entire splendor finally sank beneath the sea, but the glow of that moment for each of them did not fade or disappear from memory. The crest and fall of tempest tides had now turned tranquil, and a new strength had been forged, indestructible to the most mighty, and as enduring as the sea.
To Be Continued ..
Return to the Academy
© Copyright 12/06/04