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 email@example.com.
Written by KM
Knock knock knock. Hel----lo. Knock, knock. Hel----lo in there. What kind of idiot are you, anyway?
No response was forthcoming to the sudden internal barrage.
You'd might as well answer.
A silver-blue eye half-opened and peered blearily at the digital bedside clock. 'It's 5:56 a.m. Go away.'
You'd like that, wouldn't you? However, this matter requires your immediate attention. Again, what kind of idiot are you?
'Objection.' The alternate internal voice took offense at the question. 'Presumes facts not in evidence.'
You want facts? Exhibit A: Roses. Exhibit B: Poetry -- well, such as it was, anyway. And Exhibit C: Apologies out the you-know-what.
'What the hell are you talking about?'
You think a few dozen roses, some lines of mush, and professed confessions of guilt will get you off the hook. They won't.
'You forgot the sunset.' It was actually a nice touch, the alternate internal voice rationalized proudly, and well worth the effort.
You're a piece of work.
'Thank you.' Came the smug reply.
It wasn't a compliment.
There were at least thirty more good minutes of shut-eye remaining if only this conversation would come to a merciful end. 'Is there a point here, or can I go back to sleep?'
Oh right. You need everything spelled out for you. Okay, then, here's the point. You haven't fixed anything. You've glossed over everything that's happened with superficial mumbo jumbo, but nothing's changed.
It may have been early, but that comment set the alternate internal voice right off. 'Number one, buddy, you know nothing about anything. Number two, everything is all worked out. And number three, Robin understands and forgives me.'
Really? So much so that she went over to what's-his-face's hotel without telling you? What do you think that was all about?
'Just what she said. I've been distracted, and she wanted to cover me and get my back.' It was a lame attempt at an excuse for what the situation had become.
Now, think very hard about this. Didn't she forgive you just a little bit too quickly? Didn't she?
'No.' The response was barely a whisper.
I'm sorry. I can't hear you.
'No.' The alternate internal voice repeated more forcefully.
Obviously, we have a lot of work to do here. Those thirty minutes of sleep will have to wait for another day. Does Robin trust you?
'She does.' The alternate internal voice answered confidently. 'Absolutely.'
So, let's say a situation arose again where you felt uneasy about Robin being involved, would you discuss it with her anyway?
A slight hesitation. 'Yes.'
You had to think about that. What would be your visceral reaction? And don't equivocate.
'I wouldn't like it.'
You'd hate it. Admit it. You'd hate it.
'All right.' The alternate internal voice finally acknowledged. 'I'd hate it.'
And you'd do everything you could to protect her from anything uncomfortable.
'Yes, I'd want to do that, but I'd still tell her about it.'
The whole thing? You'd tell her the whole thing?
Another hesitation. 'Yes.'
You wouldn't tell her just what she needed to know or needed to hear?
'No. Even though I wouldn't like it, I'd tell her everything.'
Protecting her is a laudable goal. There's nothing wrong with that. You'd have her best interests at heart.
Well, when put that way, the alternate internal voice reasoned, perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad idea after all not to mention a few things if necessary. 'So you're saying it's okay to protect her by not fully informing her about a situation so she wouldn't be hurt.'
You just so much as admitted that when it comes to Robin, you can't help but want to protect her to all ends, even if it means invoking your will, not hers.
That realization stung more than it should have. 'But I might be privy to more information than she would be and better able to handle the situation.'
And that's the crux of it, isn't it? By not informing her, you deprive her of the ability to handle the situation. You are not the all powerful diviner of information who can dole out portions of the truth as you see fit, as much as you may believe it will protect her. You do not get to decide that.
Appropriately chastised, the alternate internal voice considered that advice. 'Okay, I admit I made an error in judgment.'
Praise the Lord and Hallelujah! We have seen the light!
'Funny.' The alternate internal voice was not amused. 'But what I did I did for the right reasons.'
Laudable, but nevertheless, wrong.
'Yes, I know that, and I've tried to make it up to Robin. I sent her roses that had underlying meanings to them, and I explained what she means to me on the card, and I told her I'm sorry.'
And don't forget the sunset.
'Yes. Exactly! See, she knows I'm going to be better about this from now on.' The alternate internal voice had it all figured out.
Does she trust you?
Well, all figured out except that. 'What?'
Does Robin trust you?
'I...yes.' The alternate internal voice's response was less confident this time.
Is that why she went to see James without telling you first?
'I already told you this. She went to see him to cover me, to get my back.'
And she went there because she trusts you immensely to include her in what's happening.
'Yes...I mean...' The alternate internal voice was now at a loss. Maybe it was true that Robin didn't totally trust her to tell her what was going on. A slight wince. 'Couldn't there be another explanation?'
Remember? Think hard. What did she tell you?
'That I've been distracted, and she wanted to be there to get my back and protect me.' The irony of them trying to protect each other was not lost in this internal cross-examination.
So, the question for the jury is, did Robin go over see him to get your back because you've been distracted, or did she go over there because she doesn't trust you to tell her the whole truth about what's really going on?
'Damn.' That stung big.
Has Robin forgiven you?
'Yes.' The alternate internal voice knew this for certain. 'Yes.'
Does she trust you?
'I...I don't know.' And that was the worst sting of all.
Then maybe you should work on that so there is no question.
An internal nod. 'Okay, you've made your point.'
Your Honor, the prosecution rests.
Two blue eyes opened in the faint pre-dawn light and wandered slowly about the bedroom, finally coming to rest upon the slumbering form in the waterbed no more than a few inches away. The alarm would sound at any minute, but for just an instant, those blue eyes fixed on the serene face of the petite woman so peacefully at sleep and oblivious to the preceding internal debate. Jess turned her head sharply to hide her tears.
It was time to take control of this situation once and for all.
The alarm sounded right on cue, the perky music of Orlando's favorite radio station's Monday morning program spilling out in full chorus into the bedroom while the show's host mentioned something about rising and shining. One petite hand instantly darted out and slapped at the snooze button, saving the chore of getting up for at least another few minutes. There is positively no way I'm gonna rise and shine. Instead, Robin scooted over next to her companion and snuggled up close, her eyes easily resisting any conscious need to open. It was very comfortable, warm and secure in this cozy little nest, and for several seconds she toyed with the idea of just staying put for the day. To hell with the rest of the world. And to hell with menacing old flames masquerading as business sharks harboring secret intentions. With a gentle motion, she casually brushed the side of Jess's face, then withdrew her fingers at once. There was moisture present, and Robin was very sure it shouldn't have been. She abruptly opened both eyes. "Jess?"
There was no immediate reply.
Robin inspected the older woman's face. "Have you been crying?"
Jess cleared her throat roughly. "I'm fine."
"That may be so..." Robin's light touch drew Jess's chin toward her own. "But that wasn't an answer. What is it?"
Sometimes getting things out of Jess was a heroic feat. "Are you upset? Is it something I did or..."
"Shhhh." Jess cut her off. "No, sweetheart, it's nothing. I promise."
It's not nothing. Robin thought back and tried to figure out what this could be all about. Sure, the past week had been stressful, and they had both done things that maybe they wished they could take back, but what could be upsetting enough this morning, especially after the beautiful sunset they shared last evening, to cause these tears? She sighed inwardly. There was one thing, and maybe she should have mentioned it earlier, but she thought it had already been resolved. Or maybe she just hoped it had. I guess not. She hitched herself up on one elbow and looked sincerely at Jess. "I think I owe you an apology."
What? It was almost funny. Jess had been mustering up the courage to apologize to Robin for betraying her trust, and here Robin was trying to apologize to her. Whatever it was that Robin wanted to say, it was not in any way necessary. "What would you need to apologize for?"
"I've felt bad about this since last week, and I thought that you would know that I never believed it. Not really."
Believed what? Jess registered confusion, and it was pretty clear it was obvious.
"What I mean is..." Actually, Robin was having difficulties of her own putting what she was trying to say into words. "I'm sorry for doubting you, for doubting your love for me, and for thinking..." Green eyes looked away, focusing instead on the Venetian blinds as tiny slivers of the first bits of sunlight peeked their way in through the horizontal slats. "For thinking that I had lost you ..." Her voice became a whisper. "To him."
Jess's blue eyes, barely dry, became watery all over again. She lifted her hand and cupped the younger woman's cheek with infinite tenderness. "My sweet Robin, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for. I'm the one who betrayed your trust...caused you sadness and pain. My actions put those doubts there, and I am so, so sorry. I will be sorry about that forever."
"I know it sounded as if I had lost faith in you...in us, even for only a split-second, but in my heart, I never really believed it." Robin's lips kissed the palm of Jess's hand. "I know we're connected to each other. Forever." She smiled gently. "Like crazy glue."
That drew a small smile in return. "Like crazy glue." Jess, though, sobered quickly. "I want to earn your trust again. I want to prove to you that you can always trust me."
"I do trust you, Jess. I trust you with my life." There was something, though, that still seemed unsaid or at least unaddressed, and Robin, being fairly perceptive and relying on her intuition, finally realized what it was. She closed her eyes and laid her head on Jess's shoulder, wrapping her arm snuggly around the older woman's waist. Then, she spoke very deliberately. "I went to see him without telling you first, not because I didn't trust you to deal with the situation or to tell me about it, but because I wanted to help."
Jess placed a kiss on the side of Robin's forehead. "And you knew I would have resisted your going over there because I wouldn't have wanted you to become involved."
"Partly. And I also knew you'd be more distracted if you knew I was going. I really thought that the two of us dealing with this would be better than just you alone since we could help each other out." Robin tightened her grip around Jess's waist. "But also, to be completely honest, I guess I didn’t tell you first because I needed to feel I had some control over the situation, too."
Jess could be perceptive, too. "Because you'd been left out."
A small nod affirmatively. "Are you mad?"
"Mad?" The older woman dipped her head to look squarely into Robin's eyes. "No." She grasped the smaller hand and interlaced their fingers. "I'm lucky."
There was something between them, indeed a connection, that transcended the present, or so it seemed. Robin, gazing into Jess's sparkling blue eyes, could have been charmed all over again if the conversation hadn't been so serious. Or maybe she was charmed anyway. And Jess could have sworn some guardian angel had shown her the depth of an unconditional love more profound than one could ever have imagined, and since the day Robin had come into her life, a love so rich that it had carried her crashing head-first into a new dimension of living.
Or so it seemed.
Jess entered the hotel through the revolving doors, sidestepping a bellman who was leading a rather large luggage cart through the lobby to the curbside valet station. Upon entering the grand atrium, she headed for the elevator banks to the left of the registration area. The hotel was unusually busy for a Monday morning, and a group of people wearing nametags congregated inside the adjacent restaurant area apparently making good use of the complimentary breakfast bar. Must be a convention.
She turned her attention to the reason for her visit and pressed the button for the next elevator. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied what appeared to be a familiar figure at the far end of the lobby perusing a newspaper. As she watched from her position, the figure folded the newspaper in half, placed it under one arm, and then exited the hotel, handing the valet a bill before retreating into a waiting car. Son of a....
Jess reached into her purse and fetched her cell phone, dialing a pre-programmed number for one of the direct lines to the office. She stepped over to a quiet corner and waited as her call was connected.
"Hey." Robin recognized the familiar phone number on the display immediately. "Have you met with him yet?"
"Just about to go up." Jess hesitated for a moment, then continued. "Robin, did you know your father was in town? I just saw him leaving the hotel."
A deep sigh. "Yeah, he called me a few minutes ago. He's here on bank business and wants to have lunch."
Oh. That wasn't exactly good news. "Did you agree?"
"I'm really not in the mood for any of his lectures about my life. But yes, I did agree to meet him if he promised not to pass judgment on my choices. He assured me that he's sorry for everything that's happened and just wants to spend a few moments with me while he's in town."
"You know, you really don't have to put yourself through that." Jess knew she was interfering, but knowing that man, a confrontation with Robin would only set Robin back. "You could tell him you're unavailable."
"Jess..." Robin understood the junior partner's sentiment. "He knows I'll get up and leave him sitting right there in the restaurant if he starts in on me. I really feel that if he honestly is going to make an effort to put the past behind us, even if he isn't ready to fully accept our relationship, I can at least try to give him a second chance."
Well, this was a new twist. What had changed? Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that Robin adamantly refused to speak with her parents, even on the phone? But she eventually did speak with her mother. And Jess had encouraged that, so why was she so opposed to Robin trying to make peace with her father? Because I don't trust him, that's why. And after every malicious thing he had done, all of the trouble and destruction he had left in his wake, now all of a sudden Robin could overlook all of that and give him another chance?
Okay, so Jess decided to try and see it from a more mature perspective. One last chance to make peace, if that meant not having to continually dredge up hard feelings and endure constant criticism, maybe it would be worth it. Especially if it meant that Robin could finally let go of that baggage. Ah, but, there was one problem. This was personal for Jess. That man had single-handedly put Jess's career and her most cherished relationship at risk and on multiple occasions had wounded Robin so terribly that it had taken months of sessions with Dr. Richmond just to restore Robin's faith and help her move beyond the pain. But, then again, if Robin could give her father a second chance, even though Jess really, really hated it, then maybe she should just leave it in Robin's hands. That was a tough call and definitely no easy sell. "If you're sure you'll be okay..."
"I will. Please don't worry, Jess. I know what I'm doing."
The junior partner still didn't like it, the uneasy feeling lingering and causing her stomach to clench up. "I could meet you there." She offered.
"Honey, that wouldn't be a very good idea." Actually, it would complicate things immensely, although the younger woman really did appreciate Jess's concern. "I have to do this myself. I have to do what Dr. Richmond says. I have to try to put the past in the past, and if my father can try to do that, how can I not try to do the same thing?"
Jess sighed heavily, reluctantly giving in. "Okay. But you call me if you need anything."
"I will." The young associate changed the subject. "Now, you'd better get up to your meeting before you're late."
"All right. I'll see you later on this afternoon?"
"Count on it, and I'll tell you all about it." Robin gently hung up the phone, crossing her fingers. Now if lunch today will just go okay...
No sooner had Jess rapped on the door when it opened wide and a pleasantly smiling J.R. Prescott ushered her eagerly into the hotel suite. The table against the back window was stacked high with paperwork, and a laptop computer sat perched open alongside a set of rolled up blueprints. Another set of blueprints lay unfurled on the small sofa against the adjacent wall.
"Office space not ready?" Jess cut past him and quickly took a seat at the table. "Behind schedule?"
"Nice to see you, too, Jess." James discarded the unfurled blueprints and positioned himself on the sofa directly in front of her. "Glad you could come by this morning. We have some things to discuss."
"You sounded a bit... tense when I spoke with you earlier this morning." She arched an eyebrow. "Things not going well?"
He waved it off. "Just the usual last minute frenzy."
"I'm sure your staff has everything under control." Jess placated.
"So..." James regained his usual confidence and leaned back against the sofa cushion, stretching his legs out in front of him and crossing them at the ankles. "Have you been able to resolve your little domestic issue from last week?"
He really has a way of ticking me off. "If you mean, have Robin and I come to an understanding about her working for your company, then I would say that Robin apparently is making her own decisions. For whatever reason and against my advice, she has decided that she wants to work for your company. It's not what I would have recommended, but it's what she's decided." Now, Jess was deliberately misleading him, and she could tell by his reaction that her performance was starting to pay off.
He sat forward, interested. "But you're not happy with that."
"Look, I can't tell her what to do. She has a mind of her own. In my opinion, it would be best for her to stay put at the firm and get a few years' experience before moving on to something else. There's no substitute for experience." Jess shook her head as if the whole idea was baffling to her. "However, since she wants to do this, so be it."
"Now, Jess, it sounds as if you may have a problem with this whole arrangement."
She pinned him with steely eyes. "What I have a problem with is your inserting yourself into my life. I specifically told you that Robin was off limits. I specifically told you to leave her out of this. Yet, the minute she steps foot in here, you can't wait to get her on board."
"Well, as you said, Jess, it was her decision. I can't help it if she failed to discuss it with you first."
Bingo. He had taken the bait. "She has no clue what's best for her. She sees this as an opportunity for her to work with me and for us to work together in perpetuity. That's not how it works."
Sounds as if there's a whole lot of trouble in paradise. "You two aren't having real problems, are you?" He casually asked the question even though his curiosity was practically killing him.
Jess feigned a sigh. "That really is none of your business."
I was right. "I beg to differ. If you two are having some...domestic difficulties, how would you be able to work together without bringing those problems into the office? I need a team."
"Robin and I are fine. I assure you we'll have no trouble working together professionally." She sounded intentionally unconvincing.
"So you've agreed, then?"
"I wish she would have talked to me first, but if this is what she really wants to do, then yes, I've agreed, although reluctantly."
"Good." He nodded thoughtfully. "Jess, I really think you'll see that this is a great arrangement. It'll be a win-win for all of us." Well, as he figured it, it would definitely be a win for him. And if he continued to play his cards right, he'd earn his pay and get his trophy, too. Life is sweet. "Hey, how about you and I get together for dinner again tonight? We can go over some of the last minute business arrangements before the start-up meeting later on in the week."
She gave him what appeared to be a very genuine smile. He's playing right into my hands this time. Turnabout is fair play. "I suppose I could do dinner again. Besides, there are a few things from my review of your paperwork that I think we should talk about."
"Excellent!" He sounded as if he had just won the jackpot. She was definitely warming up to him. He could feel it. "I'll pick you up at seven."
"Seven it is." Jess stood to leave, then gave him a glance. "And choose someplace expensive."
James didn't respond but just watched as Jess left. The trophy was well within reach.
It was almost noon when Robin entered the fashionable downtown restaurant amid the melding conversations of the bustling lunch crowd and the clinking sounds of silverware. The hostess greeted her at the front door and led her right to a table where Thomas Wilson had already been seated. He rose as she approached, waiting for his daughter to sit.
"It's nice to see you." He retook his seat. "Thanks for meeting me."
Robin nodded, then opened the menu, pretending to study it.
"Your mother misses you."
She glanced up. "I spoke with her not too long ago."
"Yes, she mentioned that. She was very grateful that you called."
The conversation was stilted and awkward, but it was a start. Robin took a sip of her ice water. "How long are you in town?"
"Until day after tomorrow. I have meetings today with some colleagues, and I'm giving a talk at a banking industry seminar tomorrow, then I'll be flying back to Detroit first thing the next morning."
There was a long silence until the waitress appeared to take their orders. Afterward, Thomas Wilson continued on with their conversation, such as it was. "How are you?"
You mean after you practically destroyed Jess's and my lives? Robin took a deep breath to clear the negative thoughts from her mind. "I'm fine."
"A few cases set for trial down the road, unless they settle first, which Jess thinks they will." She couldn't stop herself in time. She knew the mention of Jess's name would set him off, but then again, Jess was a fact of her life, and he was just going to have to accept that.
He raised an eyebrow. "Nothing else on the horizon?" He was sure there was more.
What else could he mean? "Just the usual things. Perhaps some travel in some of our cases. Oh, and I've been admitted to practice in federal court, middle and southern districts."
Thomas smiled. "That's great. I'm proud of you, honey."
He hasn't said one word about Jess. It was like waiting for an explosion to occur that never happened. Robin didn't know whether to be grateful or suspicious.
Her father continued his probing. "So you're happy?"
Robin smiled broadly, mostly for his benefit. "Very happy."
Now, Thomas knew his daughter well, and he knew that things probably weren't quite as rosy as she was making them out to be. "Are you taking care of yourself?"
"Yes." She had to make her point to him, if only just one more time. "And Jess is taking care of me, also."
He looked uncomfortable, but nodded. "Then that's all I can ask, that you're happy and healthy."
Okay, what happened to the real Thomas Wilson? This was definitely unlike him, but since he was being so docile, maybe she could take a chance and be a bit freer in her conversation with him. "I want you to accept me and accept my relationship with Jess. That's what would really make me happy."
He tapped the table cloth idly with his index finger. "I know. Your mother said it's also what you told her you wanted. I want you to know that we're both going to give it a try."
Give it a try? This could not possibly be the same Thomas Wilson who not too long ago tried to sabotage her relationships, who nearly destroyed Jess's career, and who tried to blackmail Jess into leaving her. Robin wasn't sure exactly what to make of this. Maybe mom's gotten to him. "If you're sincere about that, I would really like it."
"Now, you have to understand that it may not be easy for us, but we are willing to try. We don't want to lose you."
She nodded slowly, trying to absorb this turn of events.
"And Robin, I want you to know that if things here...don't work out for you for whatever reason, you always have your mother and me. We're your family."
He just couldn't leave well enough alone. "Jess is my family, too." I told you this before. "And things are working out very well with Jess."
He flinched. He was trying to keep it together, but the constant mention of that woman's name was eating at him. "I just meant that your mother and I will always be here for you. We know this past year hasn't been a particularly easy one for you. We just want what's best for you."
There it was again. Thomas Wilson always thought he knew what was best for her. Interfering in her life had become commonplace. She started to get angry but then recognized that he seemed to be trying to make amends in his own way. Even if that way is a bit overbearing. "I appreciate that you want what's best for me. So does Jess. I'll let you know if I need help with anything."
He bit his tongue and decided not to respond. His daughter would get tired of that woman sooner or later, and he was positive it was going to be sooner. In the meantime, he would bide his time and appear to be as supportive as possible.
After changing clothes from work, Robin rummaged around in her bedroom searching for her favorite bunny slippers. They appeared to be missing. Or just misplaced? She hunted some more without success, checking every nook and cranny, and then decided to look for the real culprit in the missing slippers caper. Embarking on a vitally important mission, she headed down the long L-shaped hallway and into the living room fully expecting to find the dastardly slippers thief at once. "Jess..." She stopped short. Instead of the intended perpetrator, she found another such guilty party sitting casually on the sofa obviously waiting for something. Or someone.
"Hello, Robin." James gave her a charming smile. "How are you?"
Surprised to see him, to say the least, she fought off the urge to beat him over the head. What in the world is he doing here? Well, at a minimium, she had to be civil. After all, he did think she was going to be working for him. "I didn't know you were coming over tonight."
Before he could offer a response, Jess breezed into the living room and stood next to Robin. "Dinner. We're going to have dinner to discuss business."
"Okay." Robin nodded. "I can be ready in just a minute." She turned to leave, but Jess gently caught her arm.
Blue eyes captured Robin's. "Just James and me."
A moment passed without any noticeable reaction. What is she doing? "May I speak with you for a moment?" The younger woman cast a quick glance at James then back at Jess. "Alone?"
"Sure." Jess answered her casually, then walked over to where James was sitting. "I'll be right back." She grasped his hand and squeezed it, then turned and followed Robin into the kitchen.
Once they were safely out of the room, Robin whispered. "I'm losing sight of your plan, Jess. What are you trying to do, flirt him into leaving town?"
Jess just rolled her eyes. "Look, sweetheart, I've got him right where I want him. His ego's big enough for him to think he's winning."
"But dinner? Again?" Robin sighed. "This is getting predictable."
"Whatever works. Now, you play your part, and we'll get what we want. Ready?"
A nod. "Ready."
The older woman raised her voice. "Listen, Robin, I don't understand why you're so upset. It's just business. Boring business. Nothing more."
Robin likewise increased her voice. "It's not just business, and you know it. How many times have you been out to dinner with him? It's bad enough you're going to be working with him day in and day out, but now you have to spend every other night having dinner with him, too?"
James' ears perked considerably. He could hear what sounded like an argument coming from the kitchen. This is juicy. Exactly what I thought. Trouble in paradise.
Jess responded to Robin. "You're going to be working with him, too. Have you forgotten that little fact? The one where you went over to see him without my knowledge and unilaterally decided that you would accept his job offer. You didn't even discuss it with me, and I'm supposed to be the one doing the hiring."
"Don't change the subject. Why can't I go with you tonight?"
"Because it's management issues, Robin. Nothing to concern you. Unless..." The older woman paused dramatically for effect. "You don't trust me."
"I see." Jess had to admit that Robin was good at playing her part. "Fine. I don't have anything more to say to you about this right now. We'll discuss it later."
"You better believe we will." The smaller woman took a step closer to Jess and leaned in, speaking for Jess's ears only. "If I don't find my slippers by the time you get home, you are so dead."
An impeccably sculpted eyebrow lifted, then fell back into place. Jess whispered her response next to Robin's ear. "Check the freezer."
Robin stepped back, giving Jess what could only be described as an incredulous look.
A wink, then a whisper. "I'll see you later, kiddo." Jess then raised her voice once more time. "Don't wait up for me." She turned and stormed out of the kitchen for added effect.
Once alone, Robin bolted immediately to the freezer and opened it. There, resting on a lower rack, were two perfectly frozen bunny slippers. Oh, she is so dead.
His eavesdropping over, James stood up as Jess entered the living room. "Everything okay?"
"Peachy." She brushed by him. "Let's go."
He smirked to himself. I just bet it is.
Salmon looked good on the menu. So did the rack of lamb. True to her request, James had selected a very expensive restaurant, and Jess was going to make the most of it. After all, it was a damn good way to overspend his money.
"Decided?" He glanced up from his own menu.
"Lamb." Jess answered absently, appearing to be distracted.
And that was just what he concluded. He closed his menu. "Want to talk about it?"
His purported concern was actually funny, and she had to keep herself from laughing out loud. "No."
"C'mon, Jess. You can talk to me. I know that incident with Robin back at the house has you upset. I can tell."
Nothing gets by him. She'd made it obvious enough. "I have it under control."
"Fine, but if you need to vent, I'm here."
Well, as long as he offered, she might as well play it up. "I simply do not understand what the big deal is. Robin knows you and I are discussing business. That's all it is."
If that's what you'd like to think. He was convinced Jess was in denial about her resurrecting feelings for him. "Maybe Robin's just a bit insecure. I'm sure she'll come around."
"Well, I've just about had enough of it. She's not my keeper."
James put forth his best sympathetic voice. "I'm sorry, Jess. If I'm interfering..."
"No." A troubled look. "These are just things Robin and I have to work out."
"Can you work them out? I mean, you and Robin are supposed to be working together now with the company. How can you do that with all this stuff going on between the two of you?"
Changing his tune so fast? Jess was sure this was part of his plan. "So what are you saying? You don't want her working for you now?"
"For you, Jess. She'd be working for you."
"I haven't accepted yet."
"Just a technicality." He waived his hand dismissively. "By the way, I need a formal decision from you. For the board, of course." He needed to report to his board of directors about his progress on the new office start-up. As far as he was concerned, though, Jess was already on the payroll.
"Here's the deal. I'll attend the meeting later this week, and by close of business on Friday, you'll have my formal decision."
He winked as if it was their little secret. "Right."
The waiter approached and set a bottle of cabernet sauvignon on the table, uncorking it and offering a sample to James. Upon James' approval, the waiter poured each of them a glass, then efficiently took their dinner orders and was gone.
Jess studied the wine label. "Expensive selection. Good year."
"Nothing but the best, Jess. I promise you, we're going to get everything we want in this venture." He raised his glass for a toast. "To success."
She smiled at him and raised her wine glass to his. "To success." The sound of the clinking glasses brought a more feral smile to her lips. To my success at destroying you.
You have no idea. "While we're talking business here, I have a few things I wanted to go over with you."
His arrogance returned in spades. "Shoot."
Don't tempt me. "I noticed from the financial statements you provided that your company recently received a large cash infusion."
"For the start-up of this office." He explained.
"Where did it come from?"
He leaned forward and smiled. "Now, Jess, it's just a minor investment."
"Where did it come from?" She repeated the question.
"Look, we have investors from time to time who want to reap a return on their capital without having to become involved in the mundane day-to-day operations. When we started the South Florida operation two years ago, we had a similar investment from a former partner who was in charge of a smaller company down there before we eventually merged together. He'd recently retired but wanted to remain significantly vested in the success of the new company." James paused. "This time our investor prefers to keep a low profile and has asked that we not disclose his identity."
Low profile? "So then he's anonymous?"
"Well, yes, I suppose you could say that he's anonymous to everyone except the board of directors. His identity would be disclosed only on a need-to-know basis. That was a condition of his investing. He's basically a private person who doesn't like publicity and wants to remain out of the public eye."
"And you and your board of directors agreed to this?"
"Why not? So what if the guy's a bit eccentric and maybe doesn't want the publicity or want to draw attention to himself. Besides, we needed the seed money he could provide in order to get the Orlando operation going."
"But how do you know where this guy's money is coming from? Have you checked it out? Is it legitimate?"
"Stop worrying." James assured. "It's all legitimate."
"But how do you know? Do you know this investor? Do you know his business? How do you know the money's not ill-gotten?"
"Are you asking whether some Mafioso is backing our business?" James snickered. "C'mon, Jess. Quit being so paranoid."
This was either very interesting or very bad. Some secret investor dumps significant capital into a company with an upstart office but refuses to be identified. Why? Why the need to remain out of the public eye? Hmmm. A competitor maybe? "Look, I'm not a fan of cloak-and-dagger operations. Do you know exactly where this money came from?"
"Yes, and I can assure you that everything is totally on the up-and-up. This investor anticipates a significant return on his investment, and so do I. That was the primary reason for his investment in the first place."
Jess was going to have to dig into this. It wasn't passing the smell test. "If I'm going to stick my neck out with this enterprise, you had better do a better job of convincing me. I haven't accepted yet, remember?"
"What can I say, Jess? The money is completely traceable and legitimate. No Cayman or Swiss bank accounts, no Colombian cartels, no crime bosses, no big guys named Guido or Vinnie." He held up his right hand. "Promise."
It still wasn't smelling any better, but Jess decided to let it go. Well, at least she'd let it go as far as James was concerned, anyway. "Fine." She placated him. "If you've thoroughly vetted this, then I'll accept your assurances." For now.
"Good." He relaxed back. "Anything else?"
"Not at the moment." She took a long sip of her wine pondering what to do with this new information. It was probably nothing. Surely, James wouldn't have given her those financial reports to look over if he'd had something to hide. But still...the smell of this thing lingered. Perhaps a few well-placed phone calls could yield some results.
J.R. Prescott poured himself another glass of cabernet. Poor Jess. First that thing with Robin earlier, and now she thinks we're in bed with the mafia. He smirked to himself. If she only knew...
It wasn't too late that evening when Jess quietly slid into bed next to Robin. The smaller woman had heard her come home a few minutes earlier, having just herself turned in for the night, even though she'd hoped she'd still get the chance to find out what had happened at dinner. In truth, the suspense was killing her.
"I'm awake." Robin rolled over to face Jess. "I'm glad you're home."
"So, tell me about it. What did you and he discuss?"
"Well..." Actually, Jess was not very tired. "It was mostly small talk. I think he just makes up excuses to go to dinner to get me alone."
No kidding. Robin touched her index finger to Jess's nose. "Very astute there, Snoopy."
Jess had to smile. She immediately grasped the finger in question and held on to it. "Everything's on schedule, the office space is coming along, staffing is nearly all in place, you know, the usual business-speak stuff." She released the petite finger slowly, suddenly lost in thought.
"Something's bothering you." Robin could always tell.
"It's just that when I looked over his financial statements, I saw that they've recently recorded a somewhat large cash infusion. When I asked him about it, he said it was seed money from some anonymous investor. I thought I'd at least get some general information about it, but he refused to tell me who this investor is or exactly where the money came from."
"That sounds a little suspicious. What reason would there be for this person to want to remain anonymous?"
"He only said that it was a condition of the investor, who according to him, is a private person who wants to stay out of the public eye." Silver-blue eyes darted back and forth across the darkened bedroom. "It seems strange, though, and he wouldn't tell me the source of the funds, only that it was all quite legitimate."
Robin inched over closer to Jess. "Do you believe him?"
"Not for a second. Even if the transaction was perfectly valid, the anonymity status of the backer is a cause for concern. I like to know the people I'm doing business with, as I think anyone would, even when I'm not actually intending to go through with it. He must have known I'd see it in the financials and question it."
"Maybe it's nothing. Just some guy who has nothing better to do with his money." Robin considered the situation. "Like that one guy we represented a few months ago who had so much money that he went around buying up a bunch of run-down hotels trying to fix them up to turn a profit. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't."
"Yeah, maybe." Jess was still unconvinced. "I'm going to look into it, though. It feels like there's something else there." Like perhaps a competitor trying his hand at a bit of corporate espionage. "Hey, by the way, good show earlier, kiddo. James bought our supposed argument hook, line, and sinker."
The ruse worked. "It was actually kinda fun. And if it gets him out of our lives sooner, I'm up for doing it again."
"We may have other opportunities. You played the part well, and I reinforced it at dinner. He's convinced we're having..." Jess made little quote marks with her fingers. "Domestic difficulties." Satisfied that at least one part of the evening went according to plan, she snuggled up to Robin and changed the subject. "So tell me more about how your lunch went today with your father. We didn't get to talk too much about it earlier."
"It went okay, I think. He and I didn't get into any arguments, and he was respectful and seemed genuinely interested in wanting me to be happy." The younger woman shook her head slightly, thinking back on the conversation with him. "But I don't know whether to believe that he's trying to meet us half-way or whether he really hasn't changed."
"What do you mean?" Jess grabbed Robin's index finger again and kissed it.
"I mean, he kept referring to how he only wants what's best for me and if things don't work out for me here..." Robin paused hesitantly. "And with you...that he and my mom are always there for me. To be honest, it made me a little uneasy."
He'll never accept me. I'll never be what he had in mind for his little girl. "He just wants to be first in your life, sweetheart, and he resents that he's not that anymore."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. I told him flat out that I was very happy and that things are working out really well for us, so he didn't need to worry about that."
I bet that made his day. The older woman cringed to herself at the fact that Robin had to keep defending their relationship. Damn. And I bet he could tell that she's been under some strain lately. "If he somehow sensed that maybe you've been stressed..."
"No, Jess." The smaller woman's voice was both gentle and stern at the same time. "I know what you're doing. You're taking the blame for something my father insinuated which isn't even true, and I won't let you do that."
"But we did hit that rough spot because of my..."
Robin cut her off immediately. "Because of your what? Your protectiveness? Honey, that's one of the very things I love about you." She propped herself up on one elbow and focused tightly on Jess's silver-blue eyes. "We're good, Jess. I told him that we're good, and I meant it."
Jess knew in her heart it was true. She felt it and was more sure of it than anything else in her life. Nothing, no matter what, would ever, could ever, destroy what she and Robin had with each other. Jess encircled Robin with her arms and guided the smaller woman's head to rest on her shoulder. "So, how did you leave it with him?"
"I think it's an amicable truce."
They were quiet for a few moments, snuggled together, each lost in their own thoughts about so many things. Finally, Jess attempted to take their minds off the more serious stuff. "So, tell me, sweetheart, did you happen to find your slippers?" An eyebrow arched in the dark as a tiny laugh escaped.
She is so dead. Robin stretched her hand over to a cup on the nightstand and reached inside, pulling out an object. With lightning speed, she placed her hand and the mystery object under Jess's Calvin sleep shirt and directly onto Jess's bare stomach. Jess's suddenly extremely cold bare stomach.
The older woman gasped and jerked straight up. "What...??????" It took her a moment to register what had just happened. She grabbed Robin's hand still holding the object in question. "Ice? You got me with ice?" Jess's expression was priceless.
Robin was giggling uncontrollably through all of this. "Paybacks, Jess, for freezing my slippers."
Not funny. "I trust they've thawed." Jess remarked dryly, tossing the ice cube aside.
"Yes, finally, and no thanks to you." A petite hand started to reach for the cup on the nightstand once again, but Jess grasped both of Robin's wrists and pinned her to the bed. "Hey!" Robin protested.
"Ice is not nice." Jess enunciated the words slowly.
Robin could feel the moist breath from above caress the side of her cheek as the larger body continued to pin her firmly in place. "Frozen slippers are not nice, either."
"Slippers..." Jess's lips were not more than an inch from Robin's. "Can't feel the cold. I can."
It was a good point. But not good enough. "The person wearing the slippers can feel the cold frozen slippers, especially when said slippers are supposed to be warm, as slippers are intended to be." Robin attempted to wrest herself free from Jess's grip, but it was no use. "Besides, there was frost all over them."
"They'd defrost..." A slight chuckle. "In time."
If Robin had to admit it, the gentle pressure from being pinned was a little exciting. "But I wanted to wear them right away."
"You could've worn socks instead." It was a perfectly acceptable solution.
"Obviously, you're failing to understand my point." The smaller woman made one more valiant effort to liberate herself, almost making it to that all important cup on the nightstand yet again. But she was stopped. Yet again.
Jess grinned and grabbed the cup while still holding one of Robin's wrists and pinning the rest of her sufficiently underneath her larger body. "Let's see. What have we in here?" She peered into the cup. "Hmmm. Quite a supply. Too bad you won't get to use it." She dug one of the objects from the cup and held it up mischievously. "Ice, anyone?"
It was hopeless. Robin realized she was thoroughly trapped. "You wouldn't dare."
The warm, moist breath now traveled past Robin's ear and down her neck, giving her goosebumps. The frozen tip of the ice cube suddenly brushed across her chin, then her jaw, and the combination of the warm and cold sensations was surprisingly exhilarating. Both women stilled for several seconds, breathing heavily from their struggles...or maybe actually from something else. Finally, Robin, with her gray-green eyes locked firmly onto Jess, whispered softly. "You're so dead."
Damn. This game-playing is sexy as hell. Jess flung the ice cube to the floor, then dipped her head and kissed Robin soundly. "Yep. I'm definitely a goner."
After all, ice had multiple uses.
The red light on the coffee maker glowed brightly as the water slowly heated and brewed over the ground Arabica beans through the cone filter and into the waiting glass carafe. Jess absently watched the dripping as it finally came to a stop while softly munching on a whole wheat bagel in the quiet stillness of the house. She poured herself a cup of the coffee, stirred in some sugar and cream, and perused the morning newspaper on the countertop. New federal courthouse. It's about time.
After several leisurely minutes of headline reading and article skimming, she glanced at the clock on the microwave. It was later than she thought and time to get going to work. She had at least three matters today that required her immediate attention along with several other looming deadlines. She grabbed her suit jacket from the kitchen chair and slid into it, fussing at length with the collar. It never laid right. It occurred to her, almost belatedly, that the house was too quiet. Robin should have been up and ready by now. She set her empty coffee mug in the sink and ambled down the long hallway toward the master bedroom.
"Hey, Robin. You up? You're going to be late." Jess entered the room and found Robin still in bed. Didn't the alarm go off? She stepped over to the younger woman's side of the bed to wake her, gently stroking her arm. "C'mon, sleepyhead. Time to get up."
Green eyes opened slowly, then closed quickly again. "I don't think I'm going in today, Jess."
"Are you sick?" Jess was growing concerned. She knelt down beside the bed and felt Robin's forehead. "You don't seem to have a fever. What is it? Are you coming down with something?"
Robin rolled onto her side away from Jess. "I'll be okay tomorrow. You should go on, or you'll be late."
There was something in the tone of Robin's voice, a flat emotion that indicated to Jess that whatever was wrong was more than merely a physical ailment. "Sweetheart..." The older woman gently eased her fingers through the blonde hair at the back of Robin's head. "What's wrong?"
Robin was silent for a long time. How could she explain it? She shouldn't be having this reaction, and she was embarrassed by her own weakness.
"Honey, look at me." Jess tugged on Robin's nightshirt until the smaller woman finally turned back around, listless green eyes now staring straight into blue. "Please tell me what it is." Damn. Did I screw something up?
"It's..." It was difficult to say.
Slender fingers smoothed the bangs from Robin's forehead. "It's what, honey?"
Robin drew in a deep breath, the words she spoke barely audible. "It's...been a year."
"A year?" Jess spoke slowly, trying to process the two words that meant all the difference in the world this morning.
The blonde head simply nodded.
As Jess studied the green eyes in front of her, she saw something she recognized. She hadn't seen it in a while, but it was back again today. Pain, guilt, regret. It was all there, and Jess knew now exactly what Robin had meant. It had been a year. It had been exactly one year. Jess's heart broke. Oh sweetheart. I should have calculated this. Today was one year since the accident. That terrible tragedy that had scarred Robin so badly from within. "A year." Jess repeated sadly, then reached out and gently cupped Robin's face with her hand, lightly brushing her thumb back and forth trying to soothe a troubled soul. Her thumb caught a tear that had escaped the corner of Robin's eye, and that did it for Jess. She gathered Robin in her arms and held her tightly. "Shhhh. Sweetheart. It's okay. Let it out." What Robin didn't see was that Jess had tears in her own eyes, too. Tears for the sadness that this day represented to Robin, a tragic day that in the greatest of all ironies had led to her ultimately meeting...and loving...Robin. It was still ironic, and something Jess was still not at peace accepting.
"I'm okay." The smaller woman dried her eyes and rested back against the pillow. In truth, she was embarrassed that she wasn't able to handle this any better. "You better go to work now, or you'll really be late."
Silently, Jess stood up and removed her suit jacket, then slid onto the bed next to Robin, kicking off her shoes. "Work can wait. You're my priority." Or maybe she was presuming too much. "Unless you'd rather be alone?"
"No, I wouldn't, but don't you have things you need to do today?"
In one fluid motion, Jess picked up the cordless phone from the nightstand and dialed the office. "Hi Angie, it's Jessica. Listen, something has come up, and I may not make it in today. Could you call Evan Spencer and reschedule our conference call for tomorrow, if possible, or the next day? Then ask Paul to file the Breckinridge appeal today and see if Harry can have lunch with Stuart Frazier to pitch the possibility of our handling their products liability work. I'll be available on my cell phone if anyone needs me. Great. Thanks." Jess hung up and turned toward Robin. "See? Done. No problem."
"You didn't have to do that, you know. I'll be okay tomorrow."
It was funny how one day could make such a difference. Jess wrapped a long arm around Robin, then hooked a finger underneath Robin's chin. "Tomorrow will take care of itself. Today, we'll take care of you."
The blinds were still closed, although bits of sunlight streamed in between the spaces, and it was comfortably cool inside the house. The bedroom itself was quiet except for the sound of a few birds happily chirping outside one of the windows. Robin, though, just couldn't be cheerful. Not today. She curled up next to Jess. "I'm sorry about this."
Jess appeared confused. "Sweetheart, what are you sorry about?"
"I think I should be able to deal with this better. I thought I could. But, today, when I woke up, it hit me hard. It was like somebody punched me in the stomach. I didn't want to face today. I just couldn't do it."
She's ashamed, and she shouldn't be. "What did Dr. Richmond say about how to handle it?"
"She said to just let what happens happen."
"Then that's what you do." The older woman kissed the top of the blonde head. "If you need to let it out, you let it out. If you need to talk, I'm here. If you need to be quiet, we won't say anything. And if you need to be alone..."
"No." Robin rushed to answer. "Don't leave."
"I'm here, and I won't go anywhere unless that's what you want."
A petite arm reached out and wrapped around Jess's waist almost possessively. Stay.
"You know, I should have known about today. If I hadn't been so distracted with...things lately, I would have..."
"No, Jess. You're here, and that's what matters most." Robin suddenly became reflective, or maybe it was just a way of putting things into some perspective. "In the beginning, when I first moved here, I didn't know anyone, and that was the way I wanted it. I wanted to be away from the past and everything familiar...so that I'd forget. But it was just avoidance really, and I couldn't forget, and you may not know this, but I was actually drowning." Sea green eyes captured pristine blue. "You saved me."
Jess just listened.
"Who would have thought that such an important law partner of the city's most prestigious law firm would have given me the time of day? But you did." The smaller woman smiled, amazed even now. "You did that and so much more. You were my angel, and you still are."
"You captured my heart, sweetheart, when I wasn't looking. One minute I was trying to one-up you into attending a document review in New Orleans, and the next, I was taking care of you when you had the flu and sleeping in the chair." Jess rolled her eyes playfully. "It was so out of character for me."
"You were my angel then, too."
A fond smile. "I remember. I guess you could say that you saved me, too. Do you know what my life was like before I met you?"
God, it was cozy. It always was with Jess, and Robin just melted into the warm embrace. "Well, only what you've told me."
"Let me tell you some more. I kept to myself mostly. I didn't want to be involved with anyone because I had more than learned my lesson about trusting people. I was a workaholic and made a lot of demands on people. In reality, I was not a very nice person to be around, and most people just steered clear of me. The only friend I had was maybe Harry, and he was more like a father to me."
Robin's hand slipped under the bottom edge of Jess's blouse to rest on her stomach, stroking it softly.
"And for some reason, that first day I met you, I remember being fascinated by your eyes, and I knew almost instinctively from them that you were someone I could trust. Do you know what a big step it was for me to let myself trust someone again?" Jess tightened her hold. "I became a different person because of you."
"I knew from the beginning I could trust, you, too. I knew that night you stayed with me when I was sick that I didn't have to be hurting inside anymore. I knew you'd take care of me and protect me."
"And I always will, Robin. I'll always protect you."
"I know." Robin said simply. "I trust you."
She does trust me. The question, so long ago asked, analyzed, and further analyzed, was now definitively answered once and for all. And believed. She does trust me.
Robin fingered the collar on Jess's blouse. "You must be uncomfortable in your work clothes."
"You're right." The older woman stood up. "I'll change and come right back." She gathered her suit jacket and shoes. "While I'm up, would you like me to get you some tea?"
A warm smile. "You betcha, kiddo."
"I'm feeling a little better now."
Another smile. "That's wonderful, sweetheart."
The taller woman glanced again at Robin. "Yeah."
"Your halo is showing."
That produced a sly wink and a devilish grin. "Just wait 'til tonight when the horns come out."
Robin found herself grinning from ear to ear. It was amazing how Jess could make everything seem better. Today would be all right. Tomorrow, and all that came with it, would take care of itself. And tonight...Robin felt an unexpected thrill...well, tonight those horns would be coming out.
Oh boy! I think I'm in very big trouble.
To Be Continued...
© Copyright 12/05/05
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