DISCLAIMER: These are all original characters and are ©copyright devlin@xenafan.com. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies may be made for private use only and I'd appreciate if you included all copyright notices and this disclaimer. If you have a fanfic site, please drop me an email before putting this on your site (I like to keep track).

VIOLENCE WARNING: More talk than action, but it is here (come on it's Uber Warrior Princess). If you're a guy, however, you may feel the need to cross your legs and groan every once in a while!

SEX: Oh, please...you people should know me by now! Yup÷it's here! Hey, it's Uber Xena and Gabrielle, for cryin' out loud! It's quite explicit once it gets rolling, but it's not gratuitous. If the thought of two women in a loving/sexual relationship bothers you÷well, as Xena said, "Bite me!"

HIGH ANGST WARNING: I was threatened within an inch of my life if I didn't start putting this disclaimer on some (all?) of my work. I will henceforth rate the angst content with sad faces, one being the lowest and four being the highest. This story earns: L L L (3 sad faces for those without TT Fonts)

UNDERAGE WARNING: Hey, the Supreme Court said in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997) that laws against making available, online, certain "indecent" materials for those under 18 was unconstitutional÷look it up! Besides, this is perfectly "decent." J

You may not only walk on the grass; you may also feed the bard here! I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think about it. Homophobes need not apply, however. I'm at: devlin@xenafan.com

 

Special thanks go to:

Laura, my research assistant. Her hard work in researching anything and everything about Greece makes me look like a better author than I am. Thanks, L. see ya in Florida!

To my x-mas misfits who seem to like everything I write & the Merwolf pack...a bunch of pups that have been more than flattering with their praise.

Finally, to that ever faithful one I have at home...the dark warrior of my own soul.



New Original Fiction by LJ Maas


Merido's Daughter
by LJ Maas

 

Tessa watched their reflections move behind her as she peered pensively out the window. The images cast back in the window were of a burly man being ushered into the office between Stefano and Alex. They pushed him into a chair and he sat there obediently. The tall, dark-haired woman waved her hand in a dismissive gesture at her two large henchman, but still she gazed out the window, her eyes the color of the Aegean Sea that lay below. The two assistants left her in the room alone with the rugged fellow and although her back faced the man, even he knew he was still lucky to be alive. Attacking her didn't enter into the picture.

She sighed deeply as she looked out onto the beautiful vista. The sunset was indescribable. The yellow-orange glow turned the blue-green sea below the same soft color and the muted hues bounced back at her from the whitewashed houses along the edge of the sea.

She pinched the bridge of her nose and wished she were anywhere else at this moment, perhaps at sea on her catamaran, nestled in the arms of a beautiful woman. She closed her eyes and could feel the setting sun on her shoulders as the Meltémi blew strongly from the north. She could almost feel the woman in her arms. She shook her head slightly and opened her eyes. This wasn't the time for dreaming. Besides, her business didn't exactly afford her the kind of relationships with the type of women who might enjoy fine wine and Milton on the sea.

She needed to focus to the task at hand. Running the slender fingers of one hand through her ebony hair, she swallowed down the longing and the melancholy, they would only make her weak. She needed strength for this business of Mr. Meridio's. After all, he paid her well to do what she was best at, enforcing Mr. Meridio's will.

Another deep breath and the woman with the soulful gaze disappeared. As she turned, the burly man looked into her face and what he saw there caused him to swallow hard. Her perfectly chiseled features spoke highly of her pure Greek heritage, but it was her eyes that had the man mesmerized. Moments ago she looked out onto the world with deep blue cerulean orbs, now she turned her gaze on the seated man and her eyes were as cold and pale as ice.

"Mr. Stefanopoulos...my name is Tessa Nikolaidis." She said in a low alto voice devoid of any emotion.

He swallowed again. He knew who she was. The corners of her lips curled upward slightly, watching as he crossed himself, hoping to ward off what he thought was surely the evil eye.

She couldn't stop the indifferent smile. The Greeks always considered women with blue eyes more capable than any of being able to curse someone with the evil eye. Besides that, there was only one thing that thrilled her more than seeing the look on a man's face once he realized who she was, and that was his fear.


"Miss. Meridio?" The flight attendant addressed the young blonde who had her eyes closed.

The attendant hated bothering first class passengers; they could get very testy, but this one seemed genuinely nice when she had come around to serve brunch.

"Miss. Meridio?" She repeated.

The petite blonde opened her eyes to reveal dark green irises, the color of a lush forest. She pulled herself up slightly; seemingly surprised she had fallen so deeply asleep. Wisps of golden wheat colored hair fell across her eyes and, as was her habit, she shook them away with a quick toss of her head. Quickly running her hands through her short locks she focused on the attendant.

"Yes?" She asked, looking up expectantly at the attendant who bent toward her.

"Miss. Meridio, the pilots have taken a message for you." The attendant held out a piece of paper. "Do you read Greek?"

"Yes, thank you." The blonde replied, opening the folded note and smiling.

Only her father would have the audacity to make the pilots deliver an emergency message to her when she was only fifteen minutes from landing in Athens. He told her his Karê would be at the airport to meet her. Casey folded the note closed again and wondered who his new right-hand man was. She never liked the man everyone called Tusky, but she remembered the sadness to her father's letter when he told her the large man she had grown up in fear of, had been killed in an unfortunate car bomb attack. That was five years ago. They blamed it on the Turks or the Albanians, much like they blamed everything bad that happened in Greece.

Casey stretched and leaned her elbow on the armrest of the seat, her chin resting comfortably in the palm of her hand. She looked out the airplane window and lost herself in the billowy white clouds. It felt strange to be going home again, although most people would not consider Greece her homeland, nor would they, at first glance, take her as a native. When she told the attendant she did indeed speak Greek, she answered with a very short, nai. The woman looked surprised, but said nothing.

Greece was Casey's home, in an eccentric sort of way. As the story was told to her, her mother was born to a Greek father and French mother. Her father went against family tradition by not marrying a woman of full Greek blood. The story got a little muddled after that. Neither her mother nor her father would ever explain much to her, but from what she could gather, when young Cassandra Meridio was only five years old, her mother took her daughter and left Greece for the United States, never to return. Casey now held dual citizenship in both countries.

It was always very civilized between her mother and father. Casey spent every summer of her life at her father's estate on the island of Mýkonos. The rest of the year she lived with her mother on Long Island. For the past six summers, Casey hadn't been to the Greek Island. College life had been too time consuming and every summer she traveled around the globe on an archeological dig. Finally with her Master's Degree in Ancient Civilizations in hand and the funding of the University of California behind her, she was returning to her father's home. She had been placed second in command of the dig, mostly because of her heritage and command of the language and area. It was a joint effort between the United States and Greece, and young Casey was going to make the most of her first opportunity.

She was a little nervous about seeing her father after so much time, but she really had nothing to worry about. Andreas Meridio cherished his daughter like a Goddess. His young daughter wanted for nothing growing up and on the day she graduated, she had a royal blue, BMW M3 convertible waiting in the driveway. When she told her father of her assignment in Chóra at the Archeological Museum, he insisted she come home to the estate to live. Casey's first thought was to make up some excuse to live on her own in an apartment, but since it had been six years since she visited the island, she decided to be pampered for a while at the estate and look for an apartment once she was there. A few weeks of vacation couldn't hurt, she thought.

The blinking of the cabin lights brought her out of her reminiscing and she refastened her seat belt. Hopefully, her father's Karê would at least be someone she could get along with while she lived there. She shuddered slightly as she remembered the unfeeling stares she always received from Tusky. Let's hope this one is a little more on the friendly side.


 

"What are you trying to do, get us killed?" The dark-haired woman hissed and grabbed the card that said Meridio from the chauffeur driver's hands. Turning it over so the name was hidden, she slammed it into his chest. "Vlákas," she cursed the man's stupidity.

"But, I don't know what she looks like." He stammered with a heavy accent.

"Don't worry...I do." She said.

Every day for the last five years she looked at the picture on her employer's large oak desk. The girl was all of about twelve with long blonde hair and braces gleaming on her teeth. She was a tiny thing, looking even smaller sitting atop a large black stallion. Tessa wouldn't have needed the picture to remember, anyway. She had the image of Meridio's daughter as a child burned into her brain.

After all, How much could one girl have changed?


 

Casey stood and stretched muscles that had grown tight during the seventeen-hour flight from California. She'd had a little bit of a jog rushing to catch the connecting flight in Amsterdam, but she fell asleep and barely moved since then. Making her way from the airplane, she was dreading the wait in customs, that coupled with the fact that she had no idea who she was supposed to be looking for, was already beginning to make for a stressful afternoon. Laptop case in hand, she moved through the busy airport like a seasoned traveler, unaware of the eyes that followed her every move. She was able to move swiftly through the East terminal to where the baggage reclaim area was.

She stopped a young man working as a skycap and surprised him by speaking in Greek, explaining it would be worth a large tip if he obtained all her bags and directed them to customs for her. The young man tilted his hat back and leered at the small blonde. When she held up a ten thousand Drachmas bank note invitingly, his eyes went wide, but suddenly his face froze, not on the money, but at something over Casey's left shoulder. His face went pale and he shook his head at the small blonde, trying to move away from her. Casey took hold of his arm to pull him back to face her.

"Ochi," the young man said forcefully and he pushed the hand away that still held the crisp bank note. As if Casey didn't understand the language, he repeated himself in English.

"No!" he looked up behind Casey and began to back up.

The young woman was quite surprised at the man's frightened behavior. He bowed slightly, turning and all but running away. Suddenly, Casey felt a presence behind her. She remembered the look on the young man's face and turned with one of her best American back off glares.

Neither woman would ever remember afterward if any words were exchanged in those first few seconds. It was as if every bad movie cliché came to pass and time simply stopped its progress for a few precious heartbeats. It felt much longer to the two women who stood staring at one another.

Casey stood looking up into the bluest eyes an artist could have ever imagined. The woman in front of her was easily six inches taller than the petite blonde was. She had long ebony hair that cascaded across broad shoulders and down her back, her dark bangs swept casually to one side. One eyebrow arched up under those bangs and Casey thought she saw a definite look of amusement, or was it surprise, in the stranger's contemplative glance. The woman looked suspiciously like an American Federal agent in a tailored black suit and white silk blouse. She seemed perfectly at ease as she held her hands, pensively folded, in front of her.

Tessa watched as the small blonde walked through the airport, ordering the others to stay behind. She saw her opportunity when the skycap attempted to hit on her. Once the young woman turned around, it took every bit of the taller woman's self-restraint not to laugh out loud at the look she was being given. Then Tessa found herself caught in a gaze that swirled with all the colors of the ocean. This was definitely not the twelve-year-old in that picture. This woman must be someone else entirely. The top of her head only came up to Tessa's chin, but her body was a work of art. All sleek muscle covered by skin that looked so soft, the dark-haired woman had to clasp her hands together to keep herself from reaching out and touching it. Then Tessa remembered who this woman was and as suddenly as her eyes had softened, her expression slipped back into its cold pretension.

"Cassandra Meridio, I presume?"

The voice startled Casey out of her haze. The taller woman's expression went from quiet contemplation to severe impassivity in the blink of an eye.

"Yes?" The blonde replied.

"My name is Tessa Nikolaidis, I work for your father."

Casey took the offered hand and for a second thought about not letting go. She couldn't understand the feeling when it was obvious from the dark-haired woman's indifferent stare that it was only a perfunctory handshake, Casey simply couldn't explain it. The funny thing was that the taller woman seemed reluctant to end the contact too.

"Please follow me, Ms. Meridio," the taller woman asked, then promptly turned and began walking, fully expecting the small blonde to follow.

"But...my bags..." Casey started,

"I've already taken care of your bags, Ms. Meridio." Tessa replied.

"Shouldn't I be in Customs?" Casey responded, slightly breathless from keeping up with the woman's long strides.

"Already taken care of." Tessa replied once again.

"Hold it!" Casey stopped and finally realized she was practically running to keep up. "How about we ease it down to a slow jog, huh?"

For the first time since the two met a small hint of a smile played at the corners of Tessa's lips.

"Sorry," Were the only words Tessa spoke as she indicated the door to the car.

The limousine pulled to the curb seconds before the two women walked out into the heat of the afternoon. Swiftly pulling open the door, Tessa let Casey enter and sat across from her next to a muscular young man in his thirties.

"This is Alex, also in the employ of your father. He doesn't speak English very well." She indicated the man seated next to her.

The beefy young man smiled shyly at the small blonde as Casey introduced herself in Greek. He shook the small hand and pulled away quickly, shooting nervous glances at the woman seated next to him.

Casey watched and listened to the dark-haired woman's English, but couldn't place the very slight accent. The inflection of her voice when she used English was just a bit off, as if she had learned English in England or Australia. She couldn't be American; she spoke the language too perfectly. Tessa looked over her shoulder and spoke to the driver in Greek, asking him to drive by the port road to the airfield. That's when Casey realized the woman was Greek. The throaty way she rolled her R's, a technique that had always been difficult for Casey seemed to roll off of the dark-haired woman's tongue with a natural ease.

Tessa picked up the phone on the first ring. She proceeded to conduct business, speaking sometimes in Greek, then in English. She held a black leather portfolio in her lap and constantly scribbled on the legal pad inside. All the while the dark-haired woman kept one eye trained casually on the petite woman seated across from her. The blonde seemed to take business dealings in stride and looked out the window, her chin resting nonchalantly in the palm of her hand. Tessa wondered how many of these rides the girl had gone on with her father, being ignored just like this, business always coming first. Suddenly the dark-haired woman caught an unguarded moment of pain in the small blonde's features. Then, just as quickly it was gone.

Tessa closed her notebook and turned off the phone.

"May I offer you a drink, Ms. Meridio?" Tessa asked, gesturing to the small bar.

"Actually, my friends call me Casey. I'd love a vodka if you have it."

"Indeed we do, Ms. Meridio. Ice...tonic?" Tessa replied.

Casey realized with that one response how it was to be between she and this woman. Extremely beautiful, but cold and distant, Casey understood that she would always be Meridio's daughter to the stranger who hid her emotions so carefully. She shook her head at the offer of additional amenities.

Tessa watched the woman's expression as the Karê poured the both of them a drink, purposely ignoring the offer to call her employer's daughter by her first name. She's a beauty, that's for sure, but this is the last thing you need in your life right now. No complications, that's what you promised yourself. And this one...Meridio's daughter...she could definitely make life complicated.

Casey took the offered drink from the dark-haired woman's grasp and a spark jumped between their fingers. The young woman pulled back her hand and looked at her fingers as though she'd been burned.

"It's dry this time of year," was the Karê's only explanation, but even she felt it.

It was more than static electricity; it was scintillation borne of a fire that burned deeply within each woman, but always kept in control. Neither recognized the cause, but each of them, quite suddenly, felt the incompleteness of their lives.

Tessa was tempted to smile and tell the young woman she would love to call her Casey and for a moment, she felt her lips part as if to speak the words. Gahmóh Toh!

What the hell has gotten into you, Niko...are you out of your fucking mind? What are you going to do...fuck the girl? You do and you'll be under the cornerstone of one of Meridio's new buildings. Get it together woman!

Casey watched the dark-haired woman's face as she sipped the refrigerated vodka. It was ice cold with a citrus flavor, yet it still burned slightly as it slid down her throat. The woman's blue eyes darkened and she appeared to be about to speak, the frown lines in her facing relaxing a bit. Just as quickly, the woman's tanned features hardened and the open look on her face slammed shut. She grabbed the phone once more and angrily flipped open the notebook in her lap, ignoring the small blonde completely.

The short flight to Mýkonos was uneventful and Casey found another car was soon taking them up the small hill to her father's estate. Overlooking Tourlos Bay, the medieval house had been situated on this modest bluff, looking out onto the bay for centuries. Casey remembered when she was a child always running away to escape for a few moments of solitude to the beach at San Stefanos.

There was an enormous amount of activity once they exited the vehicle. Some of the confusion was simply due to the fact that Andreas Meridio's only child hadn't been home in nearly six years. Much of the ensuing activity, however, surrounded around the tall, dark-haired woman. She answered questions as she walked and gave directions to workers, staff, and gardeners, while always seeming to keep one eye trained on the horizon, scanning the area for what, Casey didn't know. Finally it hit the small blonde.

Casey stopped and stood only a couple of feet from the taller woman. She fixed and incredulous look on the older woman and Tessa returned the frank gaze with one of her own.

"You...you're my father's Karê?" Casey asked in amazement.

"I'm sorry, Ms. Meridio, I thought I made that clear." Tessa replied flatly.

"You most certainly did not, but I think you already knew that. Did you enjoy taking me for a fool, Ms. Nikolaidis?" Casey asked with a hot edge to her voice.

For only the second time that day, Casey watched as the dark-haired woman came close to smiling.

"Miss Meridio!"

Casey turned and a bright smile lit up her face, her anger immediately vanishing.

"Olympia!"

An older woman, gray beginning to streak through her hair, rushed up to the two women. She wrapped strong arms around the small blonde and hugged her tightly.

"I've missed you in my kitchen." The plump woman laughed. "I have no one to steal Dolmádes from underneath my very nose."

Casey laughed and remembered the times she would help in the kitchen simply to sneak bites of the stuffed grape leaves the older woman made to perfection.

"Hey, I learned to cook, stealing food in your kitchen." Casey put on what she hoped was an affronted expression.

"Well, at least some girls learned how to cook," Olympia chided in Tessa's direction. "This one would burn water if you gave her a chance." She pointed in the dark-haired woman's direction.

For the very first time Casey watched as a small smile replaced the Karê's customary scowl. Tessa leaned down closer to the cook who was nearly as tall as the dark-haired woman.

"Why should I bother to learn when I can get beautiful women to do it for me?" She grinned.

Olympia laughed at the tall woman. "Someday you'll be sorry you didn't learn more."

Tessa leaned even closer to the older woman and grinned. "If I learned any more I'd be dangerous." She finished with a wink.

"Cassandra."

Casey knew the voice even before she turned around. "Pappa," she whirled and flew the half dozen steps to where Andreas Meridio's tall frame stood.

He hugged the girl and practically lifted her off the ground. The handsome man kissed his daughter's forehead and whispered something in her ear, to which the small blonde smiled and nodded, tears filling her green eyes.

Tessa and Olympia watched the exchange and the cook couldn't help but notice the change in the Karê's expression. For a moment the dark-haired woman let down her guard and smiled as the father and daughter embraced. She seemed to be a million miles away in her own memories, but it only lasted for a moment then her impassive facade was slipped into place again.

"Mrs. Karoubas, I hope you're planning something special for tonight, you know how my Máhtia Mou eats." He said with a smile, slipping an arm around the young woman's waist and pulling her closer.

"Oh, I see everyone has my number, eh?" Casey laughed good naturedly at the tall man, secretly enjoying the pet name her father bestowed on her as a small girl. He always told her she was his Máhtia Mou, his darling.

"Indeed I do, sir, all Miss Meridio's favorites."

"Excellent, thank you, Mrs. Karoubas." He dismissed the older woman. "I see you and Tessa have met. Tessa, join us for dinner, won't you? I'm having a few guests in. I'd like to welcome this one back home properly."

"Of course, Mr. Meridio." Tessa commented, realizing this wasn't a request, but a command. "If you'll excuse me, I have some work to attend to before then." The tall woman walked away toward the back of the estate without another glance at Casey.

Casey was only half listening to her father, her eyes following the uncommunicative Karê until the beautiful woman was out of sight.


 

Tessa watched the boats sail into Tourlos Bay, her back to the two seated men. They had been going over this report for the past hour. Andreas Meridio sat behind an antique Mahogany desk that, Tessa mused, must have taken ten men to carry in. Alex sat in a chair across from him. They were grooming Alex to be second in command, but he just wasn't a leader. If anything happened to her, Alex would be in charge, and Meridio would most probably be a dead man.

"Tessa, what do you think?" Meridio asked.

Tessa never turned away from the window. It seemed she spent a lot of time daydreaming out of windows lately. She tried to focus on the conversation at hand, but the vision of a pair of deep green eyes kept jumping to the forefront of her thoughts.

"I think it's her first day and you're pushing." She finally answered.

Andreas nodded and leaned back in the large leather chair. Tessa was the only person alive he would allow to speak to him in this manner. Her assessments were usually brutal, but always honest. He looked at the report the American investigator had faxed him. If his daughter saw the papers he held in his hand, she would probably be on the first plane back to America. He couldn't take chances and needed to know what his daughter had truly been up to in the last few years.

Again he perused the papers. She had a number of roommates in college, thank the Holy virgin they were all female. She didn't party to excess; rather she was more of a workaholic, like her father.

"Tessa, what does this mean when he writes about her orientation towards sex?" Andreas asked the silent woman.

The Karê allowed a smile to play at the corners of her lips. Personally, she thought this little tidbit was too good to be true. It means she eats pussy, you morons!

She waved her hand at the men behind her. "It just means she doesn't sleep around," she lied.

"Of course she doesn't." Meridio looked offended at the thought. "She's only twenty-five years old, for God's sake!"

Tessa's grin, hidden from their view, grew wider.

"She's a good Catholic girl, Mr. Meridio," Alex stated. "Says here she goes to Mass at least once a month and see, she even goes to confession. You know a lot of those American girls don't even bother anymore."

Yea, I bet the priests drop their teeth when that ball of fire comes in, Tessa laughed to herself.

"Alex. My daughter is Greek, not American." Andreas responded coldly.

Tessa could hear the edge to Meridio's voice.

"Oh, of course, Mr. Meridio. I was just saying--"

"Shut up, Alex." Tessa warned before the young man let his tongue get him in real trouble.

"Mr. Meridio, if you want my opinion, why don't you just let things lie for a while where Cassandra is concerned. Let her get used to being here again and see how she acts once she gets settled into her position at the museum. The family business need not concern her for a while yet. Take it nice and slow," Tessa continued, turning around to finally face her employer and putting on one of her most charming smiles. "No sense anyone getting hurt needlessly."

Tessa smiled at the older man as he nodded his agreement. He never noticed that her smile looked more serpentine than caring.


 

Perhaps two dozen people showed up to Andreas Meridio's dinner party. Casey was oohed and ahhed over until she escaped to the balcony for a much needed breath of air. She leaned over the parapet that overlooked the swimming pool and sighed deeply.

"What's the matter, you don't like being the heir apparent?" The low alto voice came at her from the shadows and she recognized whom the seductive sound belonged to immediately.

She turned away from the voice and looked out onto the lights of the bay.

"It has all the thrill of being a prized mare, put on display to be sold to the highest bidder." Casey responded.

"Ah, but good horseflesh," Tessa emerged from the shadows, a glass of wine in hand. "The ones with the breeding, they command a high price. One wants to know what they're getting for their money."

"And what do they do once they've invested time and money in her and she's not all they thought she would be?" Casey asked.

Tessa walked up behind the young woman, so close Casey could feel the taller woman's warm breath on her neck.

"Usually, they think it's all in the genes. They figure if they didn't hit it with this one...well, they just put her out to breed. Nothing to do all day but decide which stallion she'll let mount her today."

Tessa's moist breath on the back of her neck was doing some dangerous things to the rest of the young woman's body. Casey felt as if the dark-haired woman's voice had lowered to a whisper. She shook her head and put some distance between the sensuous voice and herself.

"Stallions mounting her, eh? Well, Karê," Casey arched an eyebrow at the tall woman, "therein lies the rub."

Before Casey could continue her explanation a young serving girl opened the balcony door and addressed Casey. "Dinner is being prepared to serve, Miss Meridio."

"Thank you, I'm on my way in." Casey responded, moving toward the door.

Tessa followed the small blonde, enjoying the cat and mouse respite. "You are aware as lady of the house, you will be expected to bless the evening." Tessa said to the girl's back.

Casey stopped and turned to look up into clear blue eyes, but she couldn't figure out if they were serious or mocking.

"And, I suppose you have been filling that position for the last five years?" Casey asked.

Tessa simply tilted her head to the side, bowing slightly in acquiescence.

"Ms. Nikolaidis, do you want to be the lady of the Meridio house?" The young woman continued.

Tessa laughed. Not only was the deep throaty laughter extremely sexy, but it was the first time Casey heard the genuine sound from the Karê.

"That, Ms. Meridio, is perhaps the farthest thing in the world from my mind." Tessa answered truthfully.

"Well then, I guess I'll just have to muddle through somehow." Casey said sharply and returned to the dining room.


 

Andreas Meridio sat at the head of a long table. Tessa was seated to his right, Casey to his left. The Karê watched with mild amusement, as the young woman stood to begin the dinner. The group fell silent and watched the young woman. The dark-haired woman was perhaps the only one in the room who noticed how the petite blonde's hands shook slightly.

Casey said a quick Hail Mary that she wouldn't embarrass herself, her father, or give Tessa Nikolaidis even the tiniest reason to say I told you so. She may have been raised in America, but her mother never let her forget where she came from nor the tradition surrounding her birthplace.

She reached down and lifted her fluted champagne glass, while at the same time gently picking up a brand new twenty drachmae piece that was placed face down on a small plate. She held up the shiny piece and dropped it in her champagne glass. When it floated to the bottom she held her glass high.

"To good fortune, good health, and to the sea." Casey said strongly. "Yamas!"

She finished and drank the bubbly liquid until the glass was empty. With a grin in Tessa's direction, the small blonde produced the coin between her teeth. Everyone at the table held their own glasses up and the familiar toast of Yamas, or to us, was heard all around the table. From Tessa, Casey was sure she heard a muttered, "Touché."


 

"You surprise me, Pappa. You hired a female Karê?" Casey teased her father slightly.

The small blonde sipped on her almond cordial, kicking off her shoes, she tucked her bare feet underneath her and relaxed on the large leather sofa in her father's den. Actually, Casey was hoping her father would tell her a little more about this mysterious, withdrawn woman.

"No giving Tessa a hard time, young lady." Andreas answered. "Another glass of sournáda?" He asked.

Casey shook her head at the offer of another glass of liqueur. She was already flying from the wine she'd consumed with dinner. "What do you mean a hard time?"

"I know you, Cassandra. You have your mother's temper as well as her eyes. I may have to ask Tessa to go along with you when you go into town or down to the Baka. Now, before you get all indignant," Andreas held up a hand to silence his daughter. "There's been more trouble in Greece than when you were here last. Trust me, Máhtia Mou, Tessa is the person you want around if any trouble should happen. Katalavaynés?"

"Yes, Pater, I understand." Casey answered with an evil grin, which her father couldn't keep from chuckling over.

"Know this, my Máhtia Mou, Tessa is not a woman to be played for a fool. You won't have her chasing after you like poor Tusky did. You almost gave the man heart failure a few times do you realize that? I'm giving Tessa free reign around you my dear daughter. She can tie you up if she has to." Andreas finished as he turned to pour himself another almond cordial.

Casey's eyes narrowed at that last bit and she was thankful her father had turned his back to her.

Tie me up, eh? Hhmmm, how very interesting.

"Just remember, no acting like a teenager or Tessa's likely to turn you over her knee. Katalavaynés?"

Oh this gets better and better!

"Yes, Pappa...of course."

Casey mustered up the kind of innocent smile that used to have the good sisters at Sacred Heart School for Girls believing that there was no way on earth this small innocent creature could possibly have been engaging in perverted acts with other female students.


 

"Nikki...Nikki," Alex was still pounding on the door when the Karê pulled it open, her body barely covered by the red silk robe she hastily threw on.

"The island better be on fire!" She hissed.

"We got trouble." was all Alex said.

Tessa ushered him in to explain.

"It's the girl, she--"

"What happened?" Tessa's voice was immediately tinged with concern.

"No, it's not like that. She's swimming in the pool."

Tessa just stared at the nervous young man. "You're waking me up at fucking midnight to tell me she's swimming in the goddamn pool?!" Tessa's voice grew louder with each word.

"Naked." Alex finished flatly.

Tessa stopped moving and suddenly laughed softly. "Alex, go get a free look, just make sure Meridio doesn't catch you." Wouldn't mind taking a look at that myself.

"Nikki, it's not just me that knows. Every guy on the estate is hanging out a window just to get a look. It don't look so good, her being an innocent kid and all."

Tessa laughed silently to herself. Innocent is the last thing this one is.

"Look, she's Meridio's daughter, go tell him."

"Aw, Nikki, don't make me do that. He'll want to know how I know and what do I say? That I was watching too?"

Tessa stood there and ran her fingers through her long hair. A low growl escaped from the dark-haired woman's throat as she ripped off her robe, moving into the bedroom. She quickly pulled on a pair of jeans and sneakers and walked into the living area to find the shirt she'd tossed off earlier.

Inserting her hand into one arm of the cotton shirt she looked up to see Alex staring hard at her chest.

"Oh, for Christ's sake, Alex it's not like you've never seen a pair of tits before!" She spat as she pulled the shirt over her broad shoulders.

"Never a pair that looked that good." Alex joked nervously.

Tessa paused and looked up from her task of buttoning up the garment, fixing an icy stare at her underling.

"You won't think they look so good when you're dead!"

"Sorry, Nikki," Alex mumbled apologetically.

"Come on, let's go save the princess." Tessa growled, striding off in the direction of the pool.


 

Casey hated to admit it, but she was getting, correction, she was, drunk. Feeling a little buzzed and not being able to sleep, she opened a bottle of wine and consumed a third of it when she realized that she wanted to go for a swim.

A little voice inside her brain told her this wasn't exactly the way to start off on the right foot in her father's house, but that tiny voice was swimming upstream against a wave of alcohol and Casey completely ignored the muffled sound inside her head. She floated on the pool's surface, her eyes partially closed and a dreamy expression on her face. She let her mind roam as she imagined fantasies of varying natures being played out. Finally the lover of her fantasies took on a familiar dark-haired, blue-eyed look, thoughts of muscular arms and bronze skin putting Casey's body into a most pleasing state.

Suddenly the lights in the pool went out and Casey was left in darkness until her eyes adjusted to the dim light surrounding the patio. In that instant, when darkness surrounded her, it felt as if her heart stopped beating until the deck lights came into view. She cautiously swam to the edge and when she looked up she was staring into the cerulean gaze that, moments ago, was doing unspeakable things in her fantasies.

Casey folded her arms on the top ledge of the pool and rested her chin on a forearm. "Hello, there Karê." She said with a seductive smile.

Tessa eased her tall frame down to one knee in front of the smiling young woman. The dark-haired woman was trying as hard as she could not to grin back at the beautiful girl, nor let her eyes roam below the water's surface. Just don't look down, Nikki...whatever you do, don't look down.

She reached up a hand and rubbed her own face, realizing that having this woman around could eventually get her killed. She felt a peculiar desire run through her, one that she hadn't felt in a very long time and knew that sooner or later she would be sorely tempted to give in to the young woman's charms. The odd thing was, that she didn't know why. She was certainly no stranger to the pleasures of a woman, but she'd never had trouble resisting one before. This one, however, this one affected her and she couldn't understand how that could be.

"Ms. Meridio," Tessa began softly, "having trouble sleeping are we?"

"Not exactly trouble. I suddenly had the urge to take a swim." Casey answered.

"Without a bathing suit?"

"Feels better this way," the blonde grinned. "Besides, I thought it might help me sleep."

Might I suggest a glass of warm milk as an alternative?" The dark woman responded. "Ms. Meridio, might I also remind you that there are a great number of men on this estate and as we speak, at least half of them are ogling you in the pool?"

Casey looked up at the windows of the large mansion that surrounded the lower patio area where the pool was set. "Really, I didn't even realize." She said with a mock sincerity that the Karê wasn't falling for.

Actually, Casey did realize. She wasn't much of an exhibitionist, but the alcohol helped lower her inhibitions to the point that it didn't matter. After the talk with her father, Casey knew there was only one thing that would bring the Karê out and that was if she thought Andreas Meridio's daughter was in trouble. Of course, Casey had no idea what she was going to do now that she'd gotten this far. The idea of flirting with this forbidding woman was one thing; actually thinking she could seduce such a beauty was terrifying.

"Think you're sleepy yet?" Tessa asked in a bored tone.

Standing up, she moved over to where the young woman's terry cloth robe lay across a patio chair. Tessa walked to the other side of the pool, by the steps at the shallow end and held up the robe in her hands, indicating that Casey's swim was over. The dark-haired woman had a look on her face that said she wasn't used to being disobeyed, especially not by this tiny slip of a girl.

Casey noticed the expression and immediately bristled at the older woman's superior attitude. She took one look at the Karê's face and grabbed the metal handrails at her side and began pulling her naked form from the pool. All the while watching the dark-haired woman's eyes for some hint of a reaction. What she received satisfied her to the core.

Tessa was sure her eyes went wide as she watched the small blonde's sleek body emerge from the semi darkness of the water. She was caught up in the vision of muscles bunching and flexing in the young woman's arms as she pulled her weight from the water. Casey's dripping wet form stood in the shadows as Tessa stood rooted to the spot at the other end of the pool. The blonde reached up to run her fingers through her short hair, wringing some of the water away in the process. The Karê looked on and felt her stomach flip slightly. She couldn't see everything, but she could notice how the young woman's breast were lifted sensuously, the moonlight gleaming against the wet skin, when Casey lifted her arms.

Tessa began to feel an intense heat settle between her legs and she shifted her feet to ease the pressure the tight jeans were placing on her center. She didn't like losing control of a situation and she had most certainly lost control of this one. This woman was standing there like this was the most ordinary thing in the world and when Casey tilted her head back slightly, Tessa saw the smirk on the young woman's face. Oh, I don't think you're quite ready to play with the big girls, my dear.

The Karê turned to face the woman full on and held the cloth robe up, a shoulder in each hand. She gave a little smirk of her own and arched an eyebrow in the girl's direction. You come to me, little one, the gesture said.

There was a slight moment of panic for Casey as she stood feeling the warm night air surrounding her naked body, watching in surprise as the dark-haired woman stood her ground, preparing to see if Casey would give in.

In each woman's mind, the first one to lower her eyes would lose. Tessa played at control and was determined to act as if this woman's body wasn't affecting her in the least. Casey, on the other hand, knew that if she lowered her eyes it would be a display of subservience and she wasn't about to give in. The young woman took a deep breath and walked as nonchalantly as she could to where the Karê stood.

That's it, Nikki, make her come to you. For the virgin's sake, just don't look down. You can always take care of that ache between your legs with your own hand once you get back into your room, just don't look down...don't look down...don't----

Oh my God...Théh Mou!

Tessa did look down. It was nothing more than the flicker of an eye, but Casey caught it. The dark-haired woman cursed herself, but it was too late, she already had the image burned in her brain. Curves in all the right places, hard muscle in all the right places, and most definitely a natural blonde.

They both knew who won this round and when Casey stood in front of the Karê, she paused before turning around to allow the dark-haired woman to help her put her robe on. Tessa figured she might as well be slaughtered for a sheep as a lamb, so she felt no guilt in taking a good long look at the small blonde's shapely backside. She turned the young woman around by her shoulders to face her.

"Sleepy yet?" The Karê asked.

"I don't feel too good...I think--" Casey began, then she got the oddest look on her face.

Tessa had seen the look plenty. It was the distinctive expression one has just before they unexpectedly lose their dinner all over your shoes.

The Karê raised an eyebrow menacingly. "Don't you da--"

Tessa could only watch as the young woman did what no other person could have possibly done and still have hoped to be alive the next morning.


 

Tessa sat on a high stool, leaning one elbow on the ceramic countertop of the kitchen. The Karê liked to enjoy her midmorning meal in the quiet of the kitchen with only Olympia, the cook, as company. The long counter was set up much like the kafeneía or the American cafés. The older woman didn't try to engage Tessa into any inane conversation and the Karê was always respectful and cleaned up after herself.

The dark-haired woman sat sipping on her Greek coffee while perusing the weekend edition of the Ta Nea. It was printed in Athens, and usually arrived a day late at the local kiosk, where everyone else bought their newspapers and magazines, but this was the Meridio household. Her employer waited for nothing and the paper was ferried in daily.

Tessa occasionally popped a bit of food in her mouth from the plate in front of her, chewing slowly and reading at the same time. Olympia poured more of the strong, steaming coffee into the Karê's cup and the dark-haired woman offered a slight smile in thanks. Tessa's hearing was remarkable and she turned immediately at the soft sound near the entrance to the kitchen, just in time to see Casey turning around and attempting to leave the way she'd come. Olympia noticed the retreating figure and called out.

"Good Morning, Miss." The old woman said cheerily.

Casey was caught now. She'd tried to turn around and slink out of the kitchen before anyone caught a glimpse of her. She really didn't feel like talking to anyone and the Karê ranked number one on that list. After she had been sick one more time this morning and could feel anything beyond the pounding pain in her head, she began to remember the events of the previous evening. She truly did not think she would ever be able to look the woman in the eye again for as long as she lived. Of course, who should be the first person she should run into this miserable morning, but her father's Karê.

Casey mumbled a good morning without raising her bloodshot eyes from the floor. She gently eased her body onto the stool next to Tessa, praying the tall woman had a shred of decency in her heart. Casey was so wrong.

"Bet your head kind of hurts." Tessa leaned over and said loudly in the small blonde's ear.

Casey could only whimper in reply, her hand going up to her temple.

"Would you like a meal, Miss?" Olympia asked, unaware of the small woman's condition.

Casey looked up and to Tessa's great satisfaction, the blonde turned a few shades of green right before their eyes. Quickly shaking her head, Casey looked down at the plate the Karê had in front of her, then looked up into the blue gaze.

"Sardellés," the dark-haired woman responded in answer to the unasked question. "Here, try one," Tessa cruelly held up the small grilled sardine wrapped in a grape leaf and wiggled it under the small blonde's nose.

Casey leaped from her seat and bolted from the kitchen as if the room was on fire. Tessa laughed loudly, a satisfied grin breaking across her face.

"You should be ashamed, Tessa. What did you do to that girl?" Olympia said sternly.

"Me?" Tessa asked in disbelief.

"You didn't--" Olympia began to ask.

"Are you crazy? Do I look like I have a death wish?" Then Tessa revealed to the older woman the drunken girl's exploits of the previous evening.

"She may really be ill...perhaps you should go see to her." Olympia pressed.

"I should?"

Tessa was about to argue with the older woman, but she saw the truth in it and if anything happened to the girl on her watch, there would hell to pay with her employer. The Karê growled in frustration as she stood up and went to find the young girl.

The dark-haired woman stopped abruptly as the downstairs bathroom door opened up and the blonde walked out looking a little shaky. Even though the taller woman was concerned, she couldn't help the laughter that bubbled to the surface.

"I don't think I've ever seen anything this small move that fast!" Tessa chuckled.

Casey was about at her limit and she looked up into the dark-haired woman's amused expression while tears filled her own eyes.

"You can be a very horrible woman, did you know that?" Casey asked as she abruptly brushed by the Karê, leaving the taller woman standing there, wondering what just happened.

Tessa could barely react, thinking only of the young woman's words. Of course, I'm a horrible woman...ask anyone on the island, they'll tell you that! Looking at the stairs up which Casey just fled; she ran the fingers of one hand through her hair and rubbed her neck. Funny thing was, she didn't really want to be horrible to Casey. She was taking great pains to be a bitch to this sweet girl and for the life of her, she couldn't figure out why. Was she jealous? That was always a possibility. No, when it came right down to it, this gentle young woman could end up getting hurt in all of this and Tessa didn't want to see that happen. For some unexplainable reason she felt very protective of her employer's daughter, again a feeling she couldn't fathom. She knew she was being paid extra to see that no harm came the girl's way, but it was something more, a feeling, deep inside that told her she would probably do it for nothing.

The Karê realized that this new lady of the house complicated her plans, and Tessa didn't like complications.

Shaking her head, she moved back toward the koozéna to face Olympia, realizing an apology to the small blonde would definitely be in order. Entering the sunlit room she opened a cabinet and pulled an olive wood bowl from the shelf that contained a number of tiny herb-filled bags. Tessa had no idea how complicated her life was about to become.


 

Tessa knocked gently on the door to Casey's room. She could hear the muffled sound of the girl crying and the noise tugged painfully at her heart. She had really only meant to tease the young woman. She had no idea it would affect Casey the way it had. Olympia told the Karê that Cassandra hadn't been home for nearly six years and this must all be rather frightening for her too, living in another country and preparing to start a new job. Tessa knocked again.

"Ms. Meridio," she called out.

"Go away!" Casey cried.

Tessa took a deep breath and fought the response to just go back the way she'd come. Attempting to turn the doorknob and finding it locked; she reached in her pocket for a set of keys.

"I hope you're decent because I'm coming in whether you like it or not."

Tessa opened the door to find Casey lying on her bed, her arms hugging an oversized pillow to her body. The small blonde whipped her head around and quickly wiped her eyes when she saw the dark-haired woman enter her room.

"How did you-- Oh, great! Don't tell me you have a key to my room too." Casey muttered as she sat up and reached for a bottle of aspirin on the bedside stand.

"I have a key to every room on the estate," Tessa replied dryly and set the tray in her hands down on the table. She plucked the bottle of aspirin from the young woman's hands and tossed it in the wastebasket.

"Hey!" Casey cried out.

"Those things will kill you." The Karê said. "I have something that will work better anyway."

Casey leaned back against her pillows and watched in disbelief as the tall woman sat down on the edge of the bed and began to place tiny amounts of powders into the palm of her hand. She would reach into the small bags tucked in a wooden bowl and take the tiniest pinch of the herb, allowing the grains of powder to fall into her outstretched palm. Casey watched as a design began to take shape in the older woman's hand. When Tessa was finished the small circle of herbs in her palm was no more than two inches across. They formed a design comprised of a circle and two progressively smaller circles and inside the smallest one was an X.

Tessa looked up, but a strange look crossed her face.

"I, uhm, I think I should have done this in your hand." She uncharacteristically stammered.

"Why, what do I have to do with it?" Casey asked suspiciously.

"You, uhm..." For some odd reason Tessa was finding it hard to describe to the young woman. She demonstrated by sticking out her tongue and pretending to swipe it against her palm.

"I have to lick it out of your hand?" Casey asked with a bit of skepticism.

"Well, it's more like you just press the flat of your tongue against the powder to coat your tongue with the mixture. The design is more than a picture; it's done this way because the taste buds on your tongue will react to the different herbs and the areas of your tongue that they touch. Sorry, I've just never done this for anyone else before." Tessa explained.

Casey smiled through her headache and looked up into the azure gaze that looked more human than at any other time since the two women met. She reached out and pulled the Karê's hand closer to her.

"I guess after what you saw last night I shouldn't be embarrassed about this, huh?" Casey watched as the dark-haired woman's eyes sparkled.

"After what I saw last night, you still don't have much to be embarrassed about." Tessa replied.

Casey blushed slightly and realized that was probably as close to a compliment as she would ever come with this unusually stoic woman. She leaned her face close to Tessa's hand.

"Remember, just let it coat your tongue and don't swallow until I tell you." Tessa reminded.

Casey paused and looked up one last time at the beautiful Karê. "You do know if you poison me, you'll never get away with it." She deadpanned.

Tessa couldn't keep from chuckling at the small blonde's comment. It was then that the Karê realized, what a huge mistake it had been, to put the herbs within her own hand. She felt the warm wetness of the young woman's tongue press against her skin and her eyes closed to the intense pleasure she derived from the feeling. Behind the closed lids she envisioned the small blonde's tongue against a part of her body much further south and she had to stiffen her muscles to curb the shiver that was tingling along her spine.

"Gross," Casey said and Tessa's eyes opened quickly.

"Don't swallow yet." The Karê repeated her instruction and reached for a small white cube from the wooden bowl. She held the porous cube up in front of the girl. "Open," she commanded.

Casey opened her mouth and the dark-haired woman placed the object on her tongue. Enjoying the warm feel of Tessa's fingertips against her lips, Casey's smile was immediate.

"Sugar." The blonde said.

The taste had been equal parts bitter and salty, but when the sugar cube began to melt on her tongue and the Karê told her to swallow, Casey's mouth exploded into sensory delight. By the time the entire mixture slid down her throat, her mouth felt like, she could barely describe it. It felt like...flowers.

"My mouth feels like a flower garden." She smiled at the Karê.

Tessa smiled as she poured some more herbs into a small piece of cheesecloth and tied some string around it to hold it closed. Then she placed the bag in a mug and poured some steaming water over the herbs. She tossed a couple more sugar cubes in the mug and handed it to Casey.

"Drink this." Tessa said.

The tall woman stood, opening the French doors and allowing a warm, gentle breeze into the room. She pulled the heavy draperies, plunging the room into semi darkness. Tessa picked up the tray and moved toward the door.

"Tessa?" Casey called out.

The Karê turned and looked at the woman, her green eyes a little less pained. She looked fragile sitting there in the darkness on her bed, more like the little girl Tessa remembered from their childhood.

"Are you coming back?" Casey asked in a small soft voice.

Tessa gave the young woman a wry grin. "I'll be back in a few minutes, drink your tea."

The dark-haired woman closed the door gently and Casey leaned back into the softness of the pillows and sipped on the mug of tea. She closed her eyes and let the liquid's warmth ease its way into her body. Her stomach already felt better and she wondered if it was merely coincidence that the pounding in her head had eased up a bit. She smiled as she remembered the taste of the dark-haired woman's skin and the way it lingered on her tongue still, long after the sweetness of the herbs and sugar disappeared.


 

Tessa slowly opened the door to Casey's room and the sight that met her would have made it impossible for even the hardest heart to turn away. The young woman had literally fallen asleep with a smile on her face, wisps of golden hair fell across her closed eyes and her arms still hugged the pillow tightly. The Karê's brow furrowed and as she took a step closer to stand beside the sleeping figure, she remembered an Easter morning so long ago.

She bent down and brushed the hair back from the sleeping woman's eyes, the backs of her fingers lingering momentarily on the young woman's cheek. Tessa pulled up a soft leather chair and placed it at the foot of the small blonde's bed. She eased her tall frame into the seat and crossed her legs, resting her chin in the palm of her hand.

She had an incredible urge to hold the small woman in her arms. These feelings were new and they worried her a little. Tessa could deal with the feelings of physical desire the woman evoked in her body, but emotions such as unconditional love would only get the both of them in trouble. Too many complications, she thought to herself as she rubbed her fingers against her forehead. So what if we could hook up...what then? Hiding and slinking around from any eyes that might tell? She wondered how her boss would take the news that his only child was a lesbian. If Meridio found out that his daughter was mia lesveea, he'd have her in a convent so fast her American head would spin. Tessa didn't even want to picture in her mind, the things that would be done to her, right before Meridio slit her throat.

Oh, what the hell does any of it matter. There is no way a woman like this will ever love you, what are you dreaming for, Niko? Once she finds out what you're really doing here, working for her father, she'll either narc on you or she'll hate you. Tessa's heart thought that one would be as bad as the other would. She could be useful...help me get closer, Tessa tried to justify her possible actions. Sto dheáhvalo! She silently cursed. The dark haired woman could only hope that involving the girl wouldn't become necessary.

Finally, Tessa relaxed her mind and absently watched the easy rise and fall of the small blonde's chest as she slept.


 

Tessa's mind snapped sharply to the here and now, as she heard someone stop in front of Casey's door and turn the knob to enter the room. Her hands tensed on the arms of the chair until she recognized the figure of Andreas Meridio walking into the room.

Tessa quickly held up her finger to her mouth, requesting the man remain silent and she rose and stood by the door to speak to him.

"She had a bit of a headache, probably just all the excitement of being back yesterday." Tessa whispered in answer to her employer's questioning look.

"Should I call the giatró?" He asked with a concerned expression.

"No, I don't think a doctor is really necessary, Mr. Meridio. I made her a tea." Tessa answered.

Meridio looked at the small blonde on the bed and accepted his Karê's answer. Her way with herbs was known around the household and the older man considered his daughter in good hands.

"I just came around to see if she wanted to go to Mass this evening. Better let her rest." He whispered to the tall woman.

"If you're going to town I'd better go along." Tessa replied, slipping easily into the hard demeanor of her position.

"No, Tessa, you're my Karê not my bodyguard. I'll have Peter with me. I think it's important that you stay with Cassandra, just in case she feels worse later. Katalavaynés?"

"Yes, I understand, Mr. Meridio." Tessa answered.

The Karê watched the man bend down and lightly kiss his daughter's cheek, then he was gone. Tessa crossed the room and sat back in the leather chair, resuming her protective vigil.


 

"Yea?" Tessa quickly grabbed the ringing phone and mumbled sleepily into the receiver.

"Tessa, get dressed, I want you to take Cassandra to Mass this morning." Andreas' Meridio's voice commanded.

"Yes, Mr. Meridio." Tessa answered, hanging up the telephone and rolling over in her bed.

The sun was barely up and Tessa had gone out to the Kástro, a gay bar overlooking the Kástro district in Mýkonos Town, last night after her vigil at Casey's bedside. The dark-haired woman had every intention of finding an extremely willing young woman, preferably a small blonde, and simply getting laid. After the weekend she had, she felt she had not only earned it, but also deserved it. She started out at the younger clubs, Anemoi and Pierro's, but for some reason couldn't get hot and bothered about any of the women that approached her. She'd briefly entertained the notion of a professional, but by that time she just didn't care any more.

The management at the Kástro knew her as the Meridio Karê and so she was shown to a table outside on the patio where she sat with her back to the wall, able to see the patrons outside as well as inside. The local customers knew her as well and she returned their stares, watching the gay couples as well as the straight tourists enjoy their evening. A few of the local women eyed her invitingly, but once their friends whispered in their ear who the dark-haired woman was, they lowered their gazes and pretended not to be interested.

Tessa laughed ironically at herself. She was worried about a woman like Cassandra being able to love her. She couldn't even get the respectable women of Mýkonos to look at her. Sure, if she requested it, they would be brought to her table, if she demanded, they would be delivered to her bed, but somehow that just wasn't enough anymore. She desired a woman in her bed that wanted to be there, not just because she thought you'd let her father live.

And, so the Karê ended up listening to Vivaldi and sipping retsína, a wine flavored with pine resin, through most of the night. Drinking to ease the pain from the hurtful glares of those around her, and to forget the pair of deep green eyes that, in their innocence, seemed to mock her.

Tessa looked at the clock by her bed and jumped up, moving into the bathroom for a hot shower. Her head felt heavy and as she looked into the mirror at her haggard reflection, she knew she would have to use her hangover cure on herself today.


 

"I keep telling my father that it really isn't necessary to have you take me everywhere, Karê." Casey said quietly to the dark-haired woman who sat next to her in the back of the dark colored auto.

"It's no trouble, Ms. Meridio," Tessa murmured, "Besides, Greece has changed since you lived here."

"It certainly has. Who is that Peter that follows my father around? He's got the most unpleasant scowl on his face most of the time."

Tessa smiled at the small blonde's assessment of Peter Tsigaris. "He's your father's bodyguard and that look on his face is a warning to people who might find it tempting to hurt your father." The Karê replied.

"Hurt my father?" Casey turned from the open window to look at the dark-haired woman seated next to her. "My father grows olives for a living, who could possibly want to hurt him?" Casey questioned.

Tessa hoped she would have had more time before the young woman brought up this line of questioning, but here she was faced with making a lie sound plausible to an intelligent woman.

"Your father grows olives, yes, but he is a very wealthy and influential man. Many politicians see him as a threat because of the power that he wields. His holdings are vast, Ms. Meridio. I don't think you realize what a wealthy woman you really are."

The answer silenced the small blonde as she resumed her pose, staring out the window as they took the rode up to the Paraportianí church. Suddenly, she gave a little half-smile and whispered dreamily; "When I was a little girl, here for the summer, I used to ride my bicycle to Mass."

I know; the Karê wanted to say. I used to watch you.


 

It was like night and day entering the Greek Orthodox Church. Casey couldn't help but smile at the pleasant memories she had of her visits here, so different from American churches. First there was the quiet of the vestibule. Casey had to admit to herself that she was surprised when the Karê led the way into the busy church. The taller woman never let more than a handswidth of distance separate the two of them, her eyes always searching the faces around them. The small blonde was even more surprised as she watched the dark-haired woman bless herself with the holy water and pull out a medium weight crucifix on a golden chain, from around her neck. Tessa touched the piece of jewelry to her lips and turned to wait for Casey.

In complete contrast to the quiet of the vestibule was the seeming discord of the inner sanctuary. The priest began to chant the liturgy while parishioners stood rather than sat or kneeled. Some women to the side visited with one another as young children ran and played with one another. The atmosphere reminded Casey of so many good things when she spent her summers in Greece that she wanted to cry.

A young boy of perhaps five ran into the dark-haired woman's legs and she scooped him up grinning as he laughed at the strong woman.

"Forgive me, Karê." A woman who was obviously the boy's mother held out her arms to the taller woman.

Casey watched as Tessa's face returned to its customary impassive air. She nodded at the younger woman and gently placed the boy in her arms.

"They know you here?" The small blonde asked.

Tessa never took her eyes off the priest as she replied. "Are you surprised that people actually know me or that the people who do, go to church?" Tessa said, turning and finally fixing her gaze on the smaller woman at her side.

Casey didn't know how to reply to the taller woman, suddenly fearing she had offended her. Opening her mouth to stammer some sort of an apology, she caught the Karê's small grin as the woman turned her head back to the priest. Did she actually just tease me? Casey was beginning to find the Karê an interesting paradox.

As they prepared to leave the sanctuary, Casey tugged on the Karê's arm turning left into a small sort of chapel. The altar was much smaller than the one in the main cathedral, but dozens of candles in blue and red votives burned brightly.

Tessa watched with her arms folded across her chest as the small blonde placed some bills in a basket and lit a candle. She proceeded to kneel at the small altar, then crossed herself and began to pray. The standing woman continued to stare, feeling a twinge of envy that Casey could look so at peace as she prayed. The Karê smiled slightly as she considered her envious thoughts and crossed herself, warding off the power of the evil eye. No sense taking chances.

Tessa felt the silence surround her and found herself walking up beside the kneeling woman. Casey felt the weight shift on the kneeler and looked out of the corner of her eye. She spied the Karê, crossing herself, and then once again removing the crucifix from it's hiding spot underneath her shirt, to gently press it to her lips. The dark-haired woman's brow furrowed as she neither bowed her head nor closed her eyes, but stared intently up at the adornment hanging on the wall.

Tessa felt the weight of Casey's gaze and she began speaking without looking over at the young woman kneeling beside her.

"When you pray, do you think he hears you?" She asked quietly.

Casey looked up at the crucifix and wondered how to respond. "If you're asking me if I've ever seen the proof of an answered prayer, I think the answer is no, but it helps me to think that he does. I'm sorry I can't give you a better answer."

Tessa's look of worry was quickly replaced with a wry smile. "That's okay. It doesn't really matter."

The tall woman stood and held out a hand as Casey accepted the assistance and rose also. The small blonde turned back and watched as the Karê threw a handful of 10,000 drachma bank notes into the basket and lit two candles. Turning back toward Casey, Tessa never met the young woman's eyes as she led them from the church.

Once they were standing out in the bright sunlight in front of the cathedral, Tessa nodded to Demetrios, the driver, to get the car. The young man moved quickly and Tessa and Casey stood waiting on the side of the small side street bustling with early morning churchgoers.

"Do you think it actually does any good...going to church." Tessa asked introspectively.

"Hey, it certainly can't hurt." Casey smiled back, "I, for one, want to cover all my bases." Which made the Karê laugh out loud.

"It was so different, going to Mass in the States." Casey began. "They were so quiet it used to scare me. I would spend three months here then go back to America and be completely out of sorts for weeks. I always liked the casual atmosphere here. It was always so much more...I don't know, like family.

Casey blinked as a bright glare hit her in the eye. The blonde realized it was a passing car as the sunlight hit their windshield. She lifted her hand to ward of the glare and Tessa caught the car's motion from the corner of her eye. A dark sedan was moving by, but now it began to slow down. Way too slow, Tessa thought. Instantly, every one of the Karê's nerves was standing on end and a spurt of adrenaline was released into the tall woman's system.

"Casey!" Tessa cried out.

The dark-haired woman reached out and grabbed the hand that the small blonde was using to shade her eyes. The Karê jerked hard, pulling the young woman into her arms. As their bodies came together, Tessa wrapped her arms around the smaller figure, pressed protectively against her, and turned her back to the street.

They sounded like small pops, not even as loud as fireworks. Tessa felt a bullet ricochet by her ear just before she dropped to the ground, her body covering Casey's smaller one. She heard the window shatter in the car parked next to them and the Karê felt a burning sensation in her left forearm.

As suddenly as it started, it was over. Tires squealed as the car picked up speed, but not before Tessa looked up to see at least two of the passengers in the dark sedan. Demetrios pulled in front of where the Karê knelt, his brakes sounding sharply. He reached over the back of the seat and pushed the door open from the inside. Tessa literally picked Casey up and tossed her in through the open door, diving in herself.

"Move, now! Veáhsou!" She shouted at the driver.

"Are you hurt?" Tessa grabbed Casey by the shoulders.

The small blonde was shivering uncontrollably, but words seemed to be impossible at the moment. She looked into the Karê's eyes and the dark-haired woman saw the terror within the green depths.

"Cassandra," Tessa took the young woman's face in her hands, "are you hurt?"

Casey shook her head and tears filled her eyes, spilling down her tanned cheeks. Tessa pulled the woman close to her. "Sssh, everything is allright. It's all over now."

The dark-haired woman soothed the small blonde while pulling a cell phone from her inside pocket. She dialed 100 and began to speak rapidly in Greek. Ending the call, she placed two more calls in rapid succession and Casey knew the last was to her father. She could hear Andreas Meridio's shouts through the small phone. The young woman allowed herself to be held in the Karê's protective embrace and when the final phone call had ended, Tessa squeezed the small blonde's shoulder affectionately.

Casey looked down at the Karê's hand and noticed that blood had soaked through the older woman shirt at the wrist. The crimson stain turned larger and began to fall in tiny drops onto Tessa's slacks.

"Tessa, you're hurt!" Casey cried out.

The Karê looked down and gave the girl a lopsided smile. "Just a scratch." Then she winked.

The small blonde turned an incredulous look on the woman, but then she saw the wink. Casey couldn't help it; she laughed nervously and wiped the tears from her face. She grabbed her shawl from the seat where she'd left it before they entered the cathedral and held the Karê's hand in her lap as she wrapped the shawl around the woman's bleeding arm.

Driving at breakneck speed, they were at the estate in minutes. Small white police cars with blue lights flashing on their roofs surrounded the estate. Andreas Meridio was waiting on the front steps when the car pulled up. Tessa leapt from the car and began giving directions to a group of young men in black suits. In a matter of moments it was as if the chaos the household had been thrown into, was restored by the Karê's presence and direction.

Andreas hugged his daughter closely and began calling for a doctor before the young woman interrupted him.

"Pappa, the blood isn't mine, I'm allright. Tessa is hurt, though." Casey explained.

By the time the estate settled down it was evening. Olympia began unveiling a large selection of mezédes, or appetizers, that had been made earlier in the day, for the men that lingered. Plate after plate of food was set out for the men to snack on during the night, along with oúzo and gentilini, a white wine from Crete.

Tessa was now seated in one of the open-air sitting rooms, her shirt off, wearing only a white tank top. The giatró had just cleaned the wound in the Karê's arm and was preparing to sew closed the gash caused by a deeply embedded piece of glass, not a bullet as Casey had thought earlier.

The dark-haired woman noticed the small blonde holding a plate loaded with food, eating and watching the doctor treat the Karê's wound. She sat alone and still looked a little shell-shocked by the morning's events.

"I am amazed that you can eat like that and still remain so tiny." The dark-haired woman said, calling Casey over to her.

Casey sat on a chair a little closer to the table where the woman and the giatró sat. She blushed slightly at Tessa's words.

"I eat when I'm nervous." Casey responded.

"I'm just the opposite...Ow," She shot a look full of daggers at the giatró who had begun sewing the wound closed. "I can't eat a thing when I'm nervous. Not that I'm ever nervous," she finished the statement with the tiniest of grins.

Casey was rather astonished at their conversation, given the fact that this was the most cordial the Karê had ever been to her and it was while the woman was getting her arm sewn up without an anesthetic.

"Hey, how about sharing?" Tessa said, opening her mouth widely.

Casey laughed. "Which do you fancy? I have a little bit of everything."

"Uhm, the tsirosaláta." Tessa indicated the thin strips of smoked fish.

Casey speared a piece of the fish with a fork and gave it a squeeze of lemon juice and then dipped it in olive oil. She fed the mezés to the woman until it was gone.

"Sorry I ate it all, but that was the first food I've had today. I was starving." The Karê said.

"A Greek only eating once in a day? Sacrilege!" Casey said in a tone of mock disbelief.

Tessa raised her eyes to the figure that now stood behind the small blonde. Andreas Meridio kissed the top of his daughter's head.

"How are you, Máhtia Mou?" Meridio asked, his large hands resting on his daughter's shoulders.

"I'm allright, Pappa." Casey answered, raising her head to smile tiredly at the man.

The giatró finished the fine line of sutures and placed a dry bandage over the wound. He began tying a sling around the dark-haired woman's neck.

"Keep your arm elevated for a few days, like this." He indicated the position in which he wanted Tessa's arm to remain.

"Yea, yea." The Karê growled.

"Tessa, when you're through here we need to have a few words." Meridio said.

"Ready now, Mr. Meridio," the tall woman replied, standing to follow her employer.

"You," Meridio leaned down again to kiss the top of his daughter's head, "get some rest."

"I'm too wired to sleep." She complained, but by that time her father had already walked away.

"You," Tessa pointed a finger as she made her way to follow Andreas Meridio, "No late night swimming."

Casey giggled as the Karê turned and walked away.

My God, tell me I didn't just giggle like a schoolgirl. She's being so nice, what's up with that? Okay, maybe she feels sorry for you. Maybe you look like you've had the shit scared out of you today. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Allright tall, dark, and wonderful...how do I find out about the real you?


 

"My daughter!" Meridio screamed at the top of his voice. "In front of the Holy Church!"

Everyone in the room hung their head with the exception of Tessa. The tall woman stood in her customary pose, facing the window, seemingly lost in her own thoughts. It was as if she were split in two. There was a part of her that couldn't erase the fear that clutched at her heart when she thought of losing Cassandra, the way the girl felt in the Karê's arms, and the gentle way in which the young woman wrapped her shawl around her injured arm. The feelings went beyond mere desire and the Karê knew it. She realized that there was something more happening between the two women, something that ran so deep. Hadn't she felt the bond begin all those years ago?

Then there was the anger. The darkness pushed its way up and nearly threatened to take control of her very being. In the past, when she was younger and more reckless, the darkness drove her. It brought her to the position and wealth she now held, the older she grew, the more she learned how to control the blackness that would overtake her. She had obviously grown complacent with her newfound position. Ten years ago, no one on the streets surrounding the Piraeus would have dared to shoot at her. She controlled the money they made and the way they spent it. If a man had taken exception to her back then he kept it to himself or he was liable to show up in an Athens hospital without his arkheedias.

That was Tessa's trademark in the old days. The old boys, if you crossed them, they were likely to cut off your penis and stuff it down your throat after you were dead. Tessa knew the only way to command absolute loyalty, was through fear. When her dark side ruled her judgment, she had a man held down and she sliced off his balls, stuffed a towel between his legs and dropped him off at the closest emergency room. No man wanted to live that way and so the punishment became the perfect motivator. She tried without much success to push the feelings of rage back down.

"Tessa," Meridio said to her back. "I want the man responsible for this. I want his arkhédias in a sack on my desk."

Tessa turned around slowly. There wasn't a man in the room who didn't feel a tightening in his groin at the feral smile that pulled back the woman's lips, displaying her perfect white teeth.

"It will be my pleasure, Mr. Meridio."


 

The older man handed a glass of sournada to the dark-haired woman who sat in the chair across from his desk.

"Veeva." They both said in unison, taking a long sip of the almond flavored cordial.

Andreas Meridio slid open the top drawer of his desk, pulling his chequebook from within. He flipped open to the precise spot and began writing. He folded the cheque in half and held it out to Tessa. The brilliant blue eyes darkened in confusion.

"This is for you, Tessa. You saved my daughter's life today."

The corners of her mouth curled upward, halfway between a sneer and a smile, at the man's gesture. "You already pay me for what I do. I don't want to put a price on something like this."

"I'm not asking you to take it. This is payment for a hahré."

Tessa looked into the man's eyes and listened as he placed the emphasis on the word's first syllable. He was making payment on a favor or a debt and the money could not be refused. The Karê simply shrugged and accepted the note, casually slipping it into her pocket without bothering to look at the amount. If this truly were hahré then it would be rude to question the sum.

"Go buy a new boat or something." He laughed. "Go on, go rest that arm. And, Tessa?" He asked as the Karê stood to leave. "Thank you."

"You're welcome Mr. Meridio."

Tessa walked across the lawn and stood under the olive trees by the guesthouse where she made her home. She unfolded the cheque and swallowed hard. It was made out for a little over three million drachmas.

In essence, Tessa had told her employer that she wouldn't put a price tag on Cassandra's life. According to her father, Meridio's daughter was worth roughly the equivalent of one hundred thousand American dollars.


 

Tessa's arm began to throb painfully, but she didn't even feel like getting up to take anything. She knew a tea concoction or a few hits of oúzo would do the trick, but she suddenly felt bone tired. She came in earlier and undressed, leaving her clothes in a heap by the door. After changing into an old pair of worn jeans and a white tank top, she simply collapsed on the sofa.

A knock at the door brought her, groaning, to her feet.

"The island better be on fire!" Was the Karê's customary growl as she swung open the door.

"Oh," was all she could say when she saw Casey's stunned face.

"Well, you have an interesting way of keeping the solicitors at bay." Casey responded. "Hey, weren't you supposed to keep that sling on your arm?" She said sharply.

Tessa leaned her good arm high up on the doorjamb and let an eyebrow disappear up under her ebony bangs.

"Did you come over to my house just to yell at me, Mom?" The Karê asked with a mischievous sparkle in her blue eyes.

"Excuse me, Karê? Your house?"

Suddenly Tessa lost her expression of mock superiority and displayed a sheepish grin. "Touché." She said as she pushed the door wider, inviting the young woman in.

The Karê scooped her clothes from the floor and tossed them in a chair while the young woman's back was turned. Then the dark-haired woman allowed herself the luxury of taking in the small blonde's tanned legs, which were displayed admirably by the crisp white shorts she wore.

"I figured you might be hurting so I had a couple Percodan left and thought--"

Tessa plucked the bottle from the young woman's fingers and tossed it in the nearest wastebasket, much the same as she had with Casey's aspirin.

"Hey! You know if you keep throwing my drugs away--"

"You'll live longer," the taller woman finished. "What else have you got under there?" Tessa asked, indicating the large plate covered by a cloth napkin.

"Well, I'm just not sure I feel like sharing now." Casey replied; one hand placed on a slim hip.

Tessa could smell the sweet aroma coming from the plate and her mouth watered at the smell of fresh figs, her favorite. She tried to muster up a look that would induce the young woman to have pity on her.

"Oh, wait...is that actually a pout? Let me get a camera." Casey teased.

"Well," the Karê started, rubbing her injured arm gingerly. "I did practically save your life, but I guess I don't want that to influence you."

"Oh, don't even go there, Karê." Casey laughed.

"I could whine a little if that would help." Tessa joked.

"I don't think my heart could take it." Casey replied, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes. "Here."

The young woman pulled the napkin from the top of the plate and presented the platter to Tessa. Most of the plate was filled with fresh figs, sliced in half. The other portion of the plate held mizýthra, a cheese made from féta whey.

"Ahh, nóstimo!" The Karê slipped into her native tongue to exclaim the word, delicious. "How did you know that sýka me tyrí is my favorite mezés?" She asked as she motioned the small blonde into a seat in the living area.

"Pure deduction, my dear Watson. It just so happens that it's my favorite appetizer too. Besides, Olympia told me." She finally put on a sheepish grin upon admission of her informant.

Tessa opened a bottle of Gentilini and the women sat on the floor in front of the coffee table, enjoying their white wine and late night snack.

"Tessa, do you mind if I ask where you learned your English?"

"No, I don't mind. I went to school in England when I was eleven, then I went to the University at Oxford before I came home to live. You see we have a lot in common. I used to come home for the summers also"

"Your parents must have missed you terribly, being away all those months during the year." Casey responded.

Tessa suddenly looked extremely uncomfortable and Casey realized she must have landed on sensitive ground as the dark-haired woman jumped up and walked over to the stereo.

"Do you like opera?" The Karê asked.

"Absolutely! What have you got?"

"How about Puccini?"

"Madame Butterfly?" The blonde's eyes lit up.

"Let me guess...Un bel di?" Tessa said with a wry smile.

"How did you guess, I love that scene!"

Laughter rumbled seductively from the dark-haired woman's chest. "I had a feeling. You seem like the hopeless romantic type."

"It's an incredibly beautiful scene, it has such impact." Casey looked slightly wounded.

"She wanted to kill herself!" Tessa countered. "She should have blown them all off and went back home with her maid."

"Oh, you." Casey slapped the Karê in her good arm once she started the music and returned to her seat on the floor.

Casey listened to the rest of the aria, eyes half-mast, and a slight smile tugging at the corners of her lips. The dark-haired woman couldn't resist simply watching the young woman seated across from her. She felt her own heart lift at the blonde's obvious enjoyment from something as simple as music. It was at that moment that the Karê felt her dark side to be a million miles away.

She could scarcely believe that she was sitting here enjoying food, music, and even a limited amount of conversation with this woman, with anyone. It was as if she were someone else. Tessa Nikolaidis didn't make friends and she certainly never courted a woman. Yet, here was the Meridio Karê and she was actually enjoying herself. No one would believe it, she was sure of that. Her reputation among her peers and other acquaintances was well known and well deserved. Tessa realized that no one but Casey would ever see her this way. It was the small blonde with a heart as bright and warm as sunshine that brought out this goodness in the older woman. When she stood next to Casey, she actually felt like she could be redeemed.

When the final note of the Madame Butterfly aria had ended, the soft expression on the Karê's face was more from watching the small blonde across from her that from the tempest of the music. Casey thought otherwise.

"See, you're a closet romantic." Casey teased.

Tessa chuckled in that throaty tone of hers and smiled endearingly at the young woman.

"Being a hopeless romantic is something I just don't have the time for, little one"

Casey simply stared at the dark-haired woman for a few long seconds, as if she were trying very hard to remember something. Meanwhile Tessa's smile froze on her face as she grasped the words she just uttered.

"What?" Tessa questioned, stalling for time.

"Uhm, nothing...nothing" Casey answered, shaking her head. "I just had the strangest sense of deja vu, like...I don't know, like I'd heard you call me that before. Weird, huh?"

"Yea," Tessa agreed.

The Karê was more than a little confused. She cursed herself for her mental lapse in using the pet name in the first place. Then the older woman wondered why the small blonde didn't remember that Easter, twenty years ago.


 

The Karê leaned back in the thickly cushioned leather chair in her office. Her eyes remained closed, even as Alex and Stefano ushered two college-aged young men into the spacious room. The melodious strains of Art Tatum's piano filtered through the stereo speakers and the dark-haired woman held up a hand requesting silence when Alex cleared his throat nervously.

Tessa had been reliving the moments she spent with Cassandra last night, not wanting to lose the feeling of contentment that flowed across her like the music that filled the room. It was almost as if she were asking forgiveness from the small blonde for the woman she would now have to become. It caused an ache in her chest, being so close to atonement, yet so far. When she sat with Casey, it was easy to think of a future that contained neither violence nor pain. Yet, here in her office, with the smell of her victim's fear hanging in the air along with the last few notes of song, she felt that familiar feeling of power clutch at her belly.

It wasn't merely a darkness; it was a feeling that coursed through her, just as the blood that flowed through her veins. It was the thrill of the chase and the rush of victory all mixed together. She breathed deeply and let the beast loose a little at a time until her demeanor barely resembled the woman that Meridio's daughter knew.

Pushing herself away from her desk, she rose and stood silently, searching their eyes, these men that were more boys than anything else. Her penetrating stare and deeply etched scowl caused them both to lower their eyes from her harsh gaze. When the Karê began to speak, her awareness of that other side of herself, the one who could still love and feel, and want, was gone, replaced by this woman. This one who raised her lip in a sneer and began to speak.

"Which one of you is Míkolo?"

"I am." The young man with the new beard replied quickly.

Tessa walked around the desk to stand before the young man who spoke. She moved with a subtle power and a grace that belied her true intent. The non-threatening way she moved put the men at ease. With a lightning speed, so fast it was almost a blur; she lashed out with her right arm and backhanded the man across the face.

"That is the last time you will be allowed to lie to me." She hissed.

"Please don't hurt him. I am George Míkolo," the young man on Tessa's right admitted.

He looked like an Athens University student, clean-shaven, wire rim glasses. Tessa wondered where a boy like this got the arkhédia's to shoot a gun at her, at the woman who was under her protection. The more she thought about it the angrier she got.

"I want to know why." She asked through clenched teeth.

She held up a hand just as the young man began to open his mouth, effectively silencing him before he said a word. She reached across her desk for something and when the object in her hand came into view, she nodded to Alex and Stefano.

Suddenly the two large men were holding Míkolo down in the chair, his friend too terrified to even move. Tessa moved over the immobilized man and unfolded the ivory handled straight razor in her hand. She lifted her leg and pressed the weight down onto the tops of his thighs, then she slowly unbuckled the belt at his waist, all the while her cold gaze watched the young man's face.

Míkolo's friend, Yannis whimpered in his chair and began to mumble a string of Hail Mary's under his breath. Míkolo's own breath was coming in audible pants that resounded throughout the room. Tessa chuckled, but it was an entirely unpleasant sound.

"I think you know she's not going to help you, don't you?" She asked the rhetorical question as she stared down at the man under her, referring to the other man's prayers.

"I can be a very forgiving woman, most people don't know that about me. You see, I'm going to give you three chances." She said as she fixed an almost reverent gaze on the blade in her hand, tilting it so the light gleamed brightly when it hit the metal, then she looked down at the young man's crotch.

"For every lie you tell me, you'll become one member short of a threesome. If you lie to me more than three times, I'll leave you to bleed to death on my nice Persian carpet and not think twice about it. Katalavaynés?"

Sweat rolled off his brow and into his eyes and he blinked to wash away the burning sensation, nodding fiercely to the dark-haired woman.

Tessa brought the razor up to her own eyes and ran her thumb lightly along its edge. She never even looked at the young man when she asked her first question.

"Who fired the shots?"

"I did." He answered truthfully.

This surprised Tessa. She didn't think this scrawny boy had the stomach for it. She halfway expected him to piss his pants in fright. Usually, the first thing the guilty did was to beg for your forgiveness, groveling and crying for mercy. She'd seen grown men in this same position that acted much worse than this one.

"Who was the target?"

"Meridio's d-daughter." His voice cracked in response.

"Now you may tell me why." She said slowly, grinding her teeth together in an attempt at control.

His response came out in a torrent of Greek and bits of English.

"We didn't mean to hurt her, we only wanted to scare her! I swear on the Virgin, it's the truth. I thought she was here to take over her father's business and I talked some friends into helping me. We thought if we scared her, she would go back to America. I was only supposed to break the glass in the car she was standing by, but...I'm such a poor shot...I-I never shot a pistol before." Tears streamed down his face by this point.

Tessa wavered, fiddling with the razor anxiously held in her right hand. The boy's words were so pathetic they had to be the truth. She stared hard into his eyes and saw the verity of it. Easing the weight of her leg off the boy, she waved Alex and Stefano to let go. She folded the razor back into its handle and tossed it absently onto the desk. Walking behind the large olive wood structure she bent to a cabinet and pulled out a bottle of oúzo and three glasses.

She poured a generous helping of the liquor into all three glasses. She was only going to pour two at first, but the throbbing pain in her arm began again and a metallic taste on her tongue, that she knew was just adrenaline, had her pouring some of the liquid in a glass of her own. She handed the two boys a drink each and leaned upon her desk, sipping the clear liquid.

"You know we have a decision to make now." Tessa began.

"We could leave Greece...no one would have to know, Karê." Yannis pleaded.

Tessa kept her eyes on Míkolo and raised an eyebrow. "I think you know better than that, don't you?"

The young man swallowed and lowered his eyes.

"I can not only be forgiving, but I can also be merciful. You see I can't just let you both walk out of here. What kind of a message would that send to the foolish boys who might do me and mine harm the next time? No," Tessa swallowed the rest of her drink and moved around the desk to seat herself.

"Someone must pay for the crime and someone must go back and tell the others what a compassionate woman the Meridio Karê can be." Tessa smiled at the irony in her own words. "I leave it to you two to decide who stays...and who goes."

Tessa leaned back. This was the part where she usually learned the most about men and human nature. For all their machismo and bravado, Greek men, no...men in general, turned out to be a pathetically weak bunch. She had watched as simple housewives walked to their deaths, wanting nothing more than to spit in the Karê's face one last time. Just as she had watched men grovel and offer up their daughters in exchange for their own lives.

"I'll stay." Míkolo said quietly.

Tessa watched as Yannis warred within himself. He wanted to be brave; she could see that. He wanted to offer himself up, but his terror got the better of him. Instead he hung his head, his silence saying more than his words could anyway. She knew Míkolo was frightened, probably not at his own death but by the methods that would bring it about. He held himself together and Tessa felt if the time had been different, he would have made a good student of hers. He seemed as if he held the potential to be as cold and ruthless as the position of the Meridio's Karê demanded. She shook her head mentally. It was not to be, for today would be the last day this young man would see, as George Míkolo.

With a nod of her head, she watched as Stefano hustled Yannis from the room, the young man refusing to even look his friend in the eye as he passed.

Alex looked at Tessa and motioned a questioning eye at Míkolo, still seated in the chair. Tessa rose and pulled a compact 9mm Glock 26 and its holster from her desk, tucking it into her waistband at the small of her back. As she put on her black suit jacket she spoke to Alex.

"No, Alex, I won't need any help. This one I do by myself." She said with a chilling tone of finality. She moved to walk away from her desk and, seemingly as an after thought, she picked up the straight razor, sliding into her pants pocket.

The young man's knees shook and they had all the strength of a newborn calf as he walked along the office halls with the Karê. There was never a question in his mind about running from the tall woman now. It seemed standing next to the powerful woman in the elevator, that there was nowhere in the world for him to hide from the Karê's all seeing gaze. And, so he obediently followed along.

Tessa stood outside in the early morning sun waiting for the valet to bring her car around to the front. She knew the young man stared at her, but she couldn't look at him, her anger was too great. She practiced a few control techniques to push the beast back down for a while. If she looked over at the man who had very nearly taken Cassandra's life, she would gut him right on the street.

Once they were settled in her silver Mercedes, Tessa gunned the vehicle down the road to the docks. She only had to wait a few minutes until the car ferry that would take them to Athens was pulling into port. Míkolo watched the dark-haired woman and hoped that she had one shred of human compassion left in her and that she would send him to the Virgin swiftly. The possibilities of what she could, and probably would, do to him filled his mind until his hands shook constantly.


Part 2


 

The French doors were ajar and even in her sleep the small blonde smiled as she felt the warm, late morning breeze blow across her skin. Her mind was a million miles away reliving a different time, her eyes moving rapidly under her closed lids. Suddenly, Casey awoke, breathing deeply at the suddenness of her return into reality.

She ran a hand through her short locks, her brow furrowed in concentration. She hadn't experienced that childhood dream in years, but what would prompt it now? It was the same as when she was a child. She could never remember what she dreamt upon waking, but she always remembered the feeling. It started out as undiminished happiness and contentment and always ended the same, as if her life were suddenly incomplete, as if something had been torn away from her.

Why in the world would I be dreaming like this again? Geez, eighteen months of therapy...you would have thought I'd be cured by now, wouldn't you?

Casey rose and stood in front of the doors that looked out onto Tourlos Bay wondering, as she had numerous times in her life, how she could attain that feeling of completeness.


 

Andreas Meridio sat at the large wooden desk in his office and hung up the telephone just as Tessa walked into the room. The dark-haired woman didn't say a word, she simply walked up to where Meridio was seated and tossed a paper sack on the desk.

"What's this?" he asked in confusion.

"You said you wanted them in a sack on your desk." Tessa answered ominously.

The man carefully opened the sack and inside lay a plastic bag containing a bloody mass of something. As much as he had seen in his day, still, the vision of this made him exhale in a small groan under his breath. Tessa smiled to herself. All men reacted this way at the sight.

Meridio closed the paper sack. "Did he admit it?"

"They all do, in the end."

"Did you keep him alive?" Meridio questioned.

"Yes, Mr. Meridio."

"Good. I want him and any of the others to know who they're fucking with. I want him to remember the day he tried to hurt a member of the Meridio family."

"Trust me when I say that George Míkolo will remember this day for the rest of his life." Tessa added.

"A good morning's work, Karê. Come, join Cassandra and I for lunch." Meridio said rising from the desk.

The man walked to the door, then turned abruptly.

"Oh, Tessa. Dispose of that." He finished, pointing to the sack on his desk before leaving.


 

Casey was sitting on the outside patio, sipping a frappé, waiting for her father to join her for lunch when Olympia began to set another place at the table.

"Do we have company, Olympia?"

"Oh, no Miss. The Karê will be joining you and your father.

"Oh," Casey brightened a little.

The older woman tried to disguise her reaction. Meridio's daughter would not be the first young woman to fall for the enigmatic Karê, but Tessa had best be aware that it could be a deadly affair should the girl's father discover them together.

"Can I help you, Olympia?" Casey asked, already knowing what the older woman's answer would be.

"No, Miss, you just relax. These bones aren't that old yet." Olympia finished with a smile.

The cook made three trips back to the table before she was finished placing platters of food on the table. Casey had forgotten about the three-hour-siesta rule to lunch in Greece and how enormous the midday meal actually was.

"Kaliméra." Tessa said to the small blonde as she approached the table.

"Good morning yourself, Karê," the seated woman responded. "Pappa," Casey acknowledged her father as the man placed a light kiss on her cheek.

Tessa sat and commanded her body not to react with Meridio so near. Cassandra sat across from the dark-haired woman in a pale pink sleeveless top and a white skirt. The young woman's tanned, muscular legs were tucked up under her as Tessa quickly realized this was the small blonde's favorite repose. The dark-haired woman accepted a glass of iced tea from Olympia and allowed Casey, as the lady of the house, to fill her plate from the larger platters. The Karê was rather impressed that the young woman chose some of her favorites. Of course, all of the fare was exceptional and it helped that Olympia had been a world class chef in her younger days. Tessa sprinkled pepper over the Meltizánes imám baïldí, small eggplants filled with a ragoût of onions, tomatoes, and herbs, smiling to herself as she realized that the Dolmádes, parcels of grape leaves tightly stuffed with currants, pine nuts, and rice, were Casey's weakness. Of course, no Greek lunch would be complete without bread, cheese, and fresh fruit.

"What will you do today, Máhtia Mou?" Meridio asked his daughter.

"Well, I was thinking of going into town, unless you don't think it's safe?" Casey responded.

Meridio looked at Tessa for the answer. The older man valued the Karê's opinion and this was her area of expertise, after all.

"I think it would be a good idea," Tessa explained. "It would be good for the people to see you out after yesterday's incident, show them that you're not afraid."

"But, I have to admit that I am afraid, at least a little." Casey smiled weakly at the Karê.

"Only children and the simple minded live without fear, Ms. Meridio." Tessa commented.

"Besides," Meridio added, "you won't be having any more trouble from those hoodlums from Athens."

"Did the astynomía arrest them then?" Casey asked, wondering why they hadn't told her the police made an arrest already.

"Yes," Andreas Meridio said without hesitation. "They were young men looking to cause trouble, they probably worked in Lésvos, on the farms. Probably thought they had a score to settle."

During this whole time Tessa refused to raise her head to look at the small blonde seated across from her. The Karê was an extremely proficient liar, but she had the oddest feeling that Cassandra would know if she weren't telling the truth.

"You mean they worked on the olive farms? What kind of grudge could they have against us, Pappa?" Casey asked.

"Anything, maybe they thought they weren't getting paid enough, or that they didn't get enough holidays...who knows." Meridio responded.

"Would they really be angry enough to kill us?"

"They didn't mean to hurt us." Tessa finally entered her voice in the conversation. "They only intended their actions to scare, but they were rotten shots." She finished with a wry grin.

"Pappa, come into town with me?" Casey asked her father hopefully.

"Another time, Máhtia Mou, I have paperwork and phone calls to attend to. Tessa will go with you." He said.

"She'll be happy to, won't you Tessa?" Meridio asked, rhetorically of course.

"Absolutely," Tessa answered promptly, realizing she was not being asked, but told. "Where did you have in mind?" The dark-haired woman saw all her plans of an afternoon's sailing flying away before her eyes.

"Well, I told Olympia I'd go with her to the laïki agorá."

Tessa had her fork paused midway between her plate and her mouth and stopped. "Shopping?" The dark-haired woman heard the words street market and she was quite literally aghast.

"Better than that, Karê. Shopping for food. Olympia says the best fish don't arrive till after lunch." Casey teased.

Tessa's face held an expression of complete resignation, but not one fragment of delight. Andreas Meridio laughed at the grimace on his Karê's face. He rose from his chair, kissing his daughter, and slapping Tessa on the shoulder.

"Well, you ladies enjoy yourselves." He laughed and left the patio before his Karê could figure a way out of the fate she'd been set up for.


 

Tessa recommended that Meridio's daughter be seen around town, but down here at the street market wasn't exactly what the Karê had in mind. The taller woman followed dutifully behind the small blond and the older woman, pausing and trying not to look too bored as they stopped at each of the vendor's booths. She pushed aside daydreams of being on her catamaran on such a beautiful day and scanned the area, watching without being noticed as watching.

Casey threw cautious glances back at the Karê as the small blonde walked along with the older Greek woman. The Karê looked bored stiff, but she did make an effort and grinned at the small blonde when Casey turned and smiled back at her. Soon Casey began giving packages to the tall woman and although the dark-haired woman accepted them gratefully at first, she began to think she looked more like a pack mule, and this might not be the best thing in the world for her reputation.

Motioning to a young boy sitting on the curb, Tessa bent down and spoke to him rapidly in Greek, pulling a few bank notes from her billfold. When she pressed the bills into the boy's hands, he nodded enthusiastically and took the packages from the tall woman's hands.

Casey looked down at the young boy at her side and smiled, noticing he was carrying the sacks of fruits and vegetables that were in the Karê's possession only a few moments earlier. Glancing behind her she watched as an extremely smug smile of satisfaction graced Tessa's features. Casey laughed out loud.

"Did the Karê hire you to carry those?" Casey asked the young boy.

He nodded his head and smiled broadly. "She told me to follow the beautiful woman with the golden hair, but I already know you, Miss Meridio."

"Oh, is that so? Well, what is your name?"

"Peter."

"Well, Peter, do you like baklavás?"

The boy nodded again and Casey helped him juggle his burden to accept the pastry that the small blonde purchased.

"Olympia," Casey spoke to the woman beside her in a lower tone of voice. "Why does Tessa look as if she's being tortured? Does she hate shopping that much?"

Olympia chuckled at Casey's assessment of the tall woman a few paces behind them.

"On a day like this the Karê would be out on her sailboat. I think we put an unexpected crimp in her plans."

Casey stopped moving, once again surprised at how little she actually knew about the dark-haired woman. Looking back at Tessa the small blonde's smile became radiant.

"You have a boat?"

Tessa saw the sunlight mirrored in the young woman's smile and she felt herself returning the look. The Karê could tell that the radiance in the small blonde's features was from excitement.

"You sail?" Tessa seemed surprise at the revelation.

"I'm not exactly seasoned, but I had a Hobie Cat when I was a teenager. I make a great passenger, though." Casey blushed and she wasn't sure why.

"You should have told me. On a day like this, the Aegean would be beautiful." Tessa replied and Casey saw the blue color of the Karê's eyes deepen.

"You know, we could still..." Casey looked expectantly at Olympia, putting on the sincere face that for nearly twenty five years the older woman had a difficult time saying no to.

The cook looked from the young woman to the taller Karê and felt that she was looking at two teenage girls. The expression of hope on their faces caused the old woman to laugh quietly.

"I can see that you're both infected with the fever now and you'd be no good to me anyway. I think we should continue our shopping tomorrow." Olympia responded.

"Yes!" Casey smacked her hands together and the Karê again followed behind the two women, except that now she had a definite spring in her step.


 

Mýkonos harbor was one of the busiest tourist spots on the island and the taxi boats that carried passengers to the island of Delos left from the docks there too. Walking down the far dock where the larger boats and yachts were moored, Tessa and Casey both drew stares from the locals as well as the tourists. Men and women alike stole glances at the two women dressed in tank tops and shorts. Tessa stopped in front of the harbormaster's office and spoke with the men inside for a few moments. Returning to where Casey stood waiting, she showed the small blonde to the slip she was moored in.

"Wow, this is really something." Casey said in awe.

Tessa tried not to smile, but the Apógevma Nóstimo was her one source of pleasure and she swelled with pride at the young woman's words. A G-Force salon cabin cruiser, it was the largest catamaran in the harbor and cost it's owner over two hundred thousand American dollars. It was nearly forty feet long and Casey looked at the tall woman in wonder.

"You take this out alone?"

"It's not a big of a bear as you'd think. It handles like silk across your skin." Tessa returned and held out a hand to help the young woman on board.

"The Apógevma Nóstimo?" Casey smiled at the boat's name, Afternoon Delight.

"As much as I would like the other reputation, the reason for the name is that I only get out on her in the afternoons, after work or during my lunch." The Karê explained sheepishly.

It was rather nice, Tessa thought, having someone else with her. Casey was eager to learn and once Tessa laid the boat out to her a lot of things came back to the small blonde. The Karê leaned way over to toss out the aft line and when she turned she saw Casey quickly lower her eyes, the blonde's face a lovely shade of pink that the sun had very little to do with. Tessa turned her back on the woman as a huge grin crossed her own face. She had caught the young woman staring at her legs, and Tessa rather liked that feeling too.

Tessa was right, the double hulls cut through the blue-green water like a warm knife through butter. Casey had never been on a catamaran so large before, especially one with such a large cabin. They sailed up toward Tínos Island first, then turned and headed back, passing their starting point at Mýkonos harbor and sailing south around to Paradise Cove.

The dark-haired woman seemed extremely at ease on the water and Casey hadn't seen the woman's true beauty until now, her ebony hair flying wildly behind her, a relaxed grip on the steering wheel. Tessa seemed enthralled with the speed the most.

"It's like flying!" She said in Casey's ear at one point.

"Would you like to float and watch the sunset?" Tessa asked the young woman. Receiving an enthusiastic nod from the small blonde, she stilled the engines and pulled the main sail aside, letting them drift off the coast of Paradise.

"Hey, how about breaking out those mezés Olympia gave us." Casey suggested.

"Don't tell me you're hungry already." Tessa exclaimed.

"Hey, lunch was hours ago and I'm starving!"

"You're always starving," Tessa chuckled. The taller woman jumped to her feet and held out a hand. "Want a tour?"

Casey let the taller woman help her rise and show her through the cabin below.

"Well, we never had this on my Hobie Cat back home!" Casey laughed.

Tessa chose a bottle of white wine from Límnos and scooped up the sack of appetizers, while Casey gathered some napkins and a couple of wineglasses. They lounged informally on the bow, sipping wine and munching on the snacks Olympia provided. The cook allowed for the sweet tooth she knew both women were slaves to and packed sweet bread, Morello cherries, oranges slices that had been soaked in honey water, and candied pistachio nuts.

They polished off more than half the bottle of wine and Tessa leaned back with her eyes at half-mast, enjoying the feel of the slowly sinking sun and the woman at her side. She enjoyed Cassandra's company for many reasons, but most of all she delighted in the moments of silence where neither of them felt they had to fill up the quiet with mindless chatter. True, the Karê was an unusually subdued woman, keeping her own company for the most part, but she enjoyed this small woman by her, taking pleasure at having someone to finally share a sunset with.

They both lay back against the boat, feeling the roll of the water beneath them.

"Tessa?"

"Hhmm?" the alto voice hummed back.

"Were those young men shooting at me or you?"

Tessa opened her eyes and stared into the blue sky. "Frankly, I think either one of us would have been a feather in their cap."

"That doesn't really answer my question."

Tessa turned her face toward the woman without moving her body. "It was you."

Casey closed her eyes and seemed to think about this for a few seconds before the next inevitable question came.

"Why would men I don't even know, who my father doesn't even know, why would they want to hurt me?"

Tessa rolled over and held her head in the palm of her hand. Watching the pained expression on the small blonde's face.

"Your father has wealth and influence, more than you realize, all over Greece not just here on Mýkonos. Everyone knows that if you want to hurt someone, you hurt what he values most."

Casey rolled until her position mirrored the larger woman's. "Would it bother you if I had been shot?" the small blonde asked softly.

"Sto dheáhvalo!" Tessa cursed, sitting up, "Of course it would bother me! What kind of a question is that?"

The dark-haired woman stopped, suddenly understanding what the small blonde was asking. Would Tessa simply feel the impact of the loss because she was supposed to be protecting the young woman, because she was her father's Karê, or would it be on a more personal level? Tessa wasn't sure how to answer without getting herself in deep. Of course, when the taller woman looked down into the green gaze that so trustingly looked back at her, she knew she could answer with nothing but honesty.

"Yes, Cassandra...it would bother me a great deal."

"Good," the blonde suddenly brightened, "because it would bother me a little too."

Tessa shook her head and laughed at the young woman. "Théh Mou! You are incorrigible."

"Yea, but it keeps you on your toes, eh Karê?"

"That it does," the dark-haired woman couldn't help but smile back.

"Seriously, Tessa, why did you call the boys who shot at us from the car, malákas?" Casey asked.

The Greek term was never one Casey felt comfortable using. The closest English translation was masturbator, a stupid lazy person who sat around and played with himself. Growing up Casey heard boys tease one another by calling each other malákas, but it would be cause for physical violence if it ever came from a foreigner's lips.

Tessa didn't exactly know how to explain to the young woman all she felt. How could she tell the beautiful blonde how she felt about those boys without revealing too much of herself? Would Cassandra still worry what the Karê thought about her if she knew what the other side of Tessa's life was like?

"Because I thought they were the most despicable cowards for shooting at a woman in the first place."

Casey caught the singular use of the word and realized the Karê didn't lump herself into the helpless woman category.

"Mostly," Tessa continued, "it was the way they did it, driving along and shooting from their car. A real mángas doesn't shoot you while he is all snuggled, protected in his auto. It's like the American gangs, what you call drive by shootings in your Los Angeles. Such cowardly bastards." Tessa hissed the words. "They shoot you and don't want to show their face so they hide in their cars like old women!"

Tessa suddenly remembered who she was talking to and lessened up on the anger in her voice.

"I'm not saying that I haven't learned that killing is a stupid senseless business, but it takes more guts to kill a man when he can see it coming than behind his back. To walk up to a man and look in his eyes, to see his sweat and to know what his fear smells like," Tessa created the shape of a gun with her fingers and placed her index finger softly against Cassandra's temple.

"Then, while you're looking in his face and he's begging and crying for his own life, pop," the dark-haired woman pressed her finger harder against the side of the smaller woman's head and Casey shuddered at the realism in the Karê's simulation.

"You put a bullet in his brain. I'm not saying it's smart," the Karê repeated looking out onto the water, "but it's a hell of a lot harder to do."

Long moments of silence passed as each woman floated along, lost in her own thoughts. Casey's own mind raced with all the information she'd just been given and the implication behind the Karê's words. It frightened Casey when she realized how different their two worlds were. The small blonde would have no more a clue as to what it felt like to kill a man up close, as she would to knowing what it felt like to be the Queen of England. Her real concern came from the underlying feeling that Tessa indeed knew what it felt like to take a man's life away. Casey wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her chin on her knees, stealing glances over at the beautiful, dark woman at her side.

Tessa sat and waited for the small blonde to process all she'd been told. She's a smart girl; she'll figure it out. There was no other way to explain her anger to the young woman and Tessa cursed herself for revealing too much. No matter how much she might want or need this young woman in her life, she had to see to her vow first. It won't matter much. Once it comes to its fruition, she won't want you, Niko.

Tessa felt the weight of the smaller woman's stare and remained gazing out onto the vista before her as the sun was perhaps still an hour away from setting. Her blue eyes reflected the horizon and she anticipated the next question that was sure to come. Now that Cassandra had time to think about it, surely she would put two and two together and see the reality of their situation.

Casey watched the taller woman even as she realized that Tessa knew she was being watched. The light fluttering in the blonde's stomach was familiar to her, but it had been a very long time since she felt it and certainly longer since she'd done anything about it. It became clear to Casey that if Tessa were to tell her, right now, that she was a mass murderer or that she'd never harmed another person in her entire life, either way Casey would believe her. Whether it was good or bad, Casey knew she would believe anything this beautiful, mysterious woman told her. She rolled the words around in her head and had no doubt about their verity. Right or wrong, good or bad, dangerous or not, it simply didn't matter. The concerns couldn't change the way her heart felt. She had fallen in love with the enigmatic, Tessa Nikolaidis.

"Tessa?"

Again the Karê tried to steel herself for the question that would come next and even now, wondered how she could be anything but honest with this woman who was wrapping herself around Tessa's dark heart.

"Yes?" The dark-haired woman turned her head and brushed her wind blown hair from her eyes.

"What do your friends call you?"

Tessa's brow furrowed and she wondered if the young woman was making fun of her. "What?"

"A nickname, that your friends call you. Does everyone call you Tessa?"

"I don't have any friends." The dark-haired woman said, still staring at the girl in amazement.

"Can I be your friend?"

Tessa tried hard not to let the words affect her, but she knew she wasn't succeeding. She felt hot tears threatening as she remembered when a pretty, blonde five-year-old with eyes the color of the hillside at Filérmos asked her the same thing. Niko, can I be your friend?

"I think I'd like that." Tessa said softly.

Both women turned to watch the sun as it began its slow descent below the horizon. Goose bumps broke out over Casey's arms as the Meltémi blew in from the north, bringing a cooler breeze with it. Tessa jumped up and returned swiftly with her own jacket, Casey's, and a soft blanket.

They both sat, shoulders touching, leaning against the thick mast, watching as a golden glow lit the sky for the longest time before the sun gave the appearance that it was sinking into the sea. No words were spoken for a long time and suddenly Tessa was drawn from her introspection to the feel of a small body leaning more heavily against hers.

The wine and the sun had taken its toll on the small blonde and her head bobbed as she struggled to stay awake for the length of the long sunset that Greece was notorious for. She was losing the battle fast and Tessa did what she would never have done had she not had a bottle of wine and had she not been at sea with a most beautiful young woman. She repositioned her body and pulled Casey in front of her, between her legs, the girl's weight resting on the dark-haired woman's chest. Casey mumbled something in her sleep and surprised the Karê by snuggling into the strong woman's warm embrace.

Tessa could do no more than smile at her good fortune. And remembered that it had been less than a week ago when she wished she had this very thing, to be on her boat, a woman in her arms, and a sunset to share. Perhaps the Greek Gods of old heard her wishes and decided to take pity on her. Perhaps it was merely a coincidence, but whatever the reason, Tessa wouldn't take her wishes back now for all the drachmas in the world. She held the small woman close to her until only a very thin slice of the sun could still be seen. Suddenly the quiet bundle in her arms stirred.

"I'm not sleeping," she murmured drowsily.

"Yes, you are." Tessa chuckled in her ear.

"No, I'm lovin' every minute of the sunset." Casey desperately tried to get her bearings. Am I lying in Tessa's arms?

"Well, then you're the first person to ever snore while they're awake."

"I do not snore." Casey pulled away and turned to look in the woman's face behind her.

"Yes you do." Tessa drawled. She couldn't resist teasing the girl. "It's this cute little puppy dog kind of snore."

"Oh, you." Casey slapped the Karê's arm and laughed herself once she realized she was being teased.

"You about ready to head back?" Tessa asked reluctantly.

"Mmmm, no," Casey replied, not wanting to extricate herself from the warmth of the Karê's embrace, "but I guess we don't have much choice." The small blonde responded.

For both women the spell was broken, but as they sailed back into Mýkonos harbor, their hearts felt very full of feelings neither one of them could express easily in words.


 

By the time Casey pulled herself from her bed the next morning and cleaned up, Tessa and her father were already on the outside patio, drinking coffee and conducting Meridio business.

"Kaliméra." Casey smiled as she approached the table.

She was greeted in the same manner by the two as she kissed her father's cheek.

"Thank you," Casey responded to the strong cup of Greek coffee Tessa poured for her.

"Well, Máhtia Mou, I have business on Lésvos. Would you like to spend the weekend with us?" Andreas Meridio asked his daughter.

When her father indicated that the 'us' she would be joining would be himself and Tessa, Casey didn't even have to think twice.

"What time do we leave?" She smiled.

Tessa never looked up from her paper and she kept her face frozen in the same neutral expression as always, but inside the dark-haired woman was grinning from ear to ear.

"We leave at ten o'clock, can you be packed by then?" Meridio asked.

"For a weekend? Sure, Pappa."

"Well, I think I better handle a few items of business and get packed myself. If you will excuse me, Mr. Meridio, Ms. Meridio?" Tessa said, rising from the table.

"Of course," father and daughter answered in unison.

Casey watched the Karê walk away toward the guesthouse. Initially feeling a little hurt at the dark-haired woman's business as usual demeanor around her, she was soon to realize that this was probably a wise move on the Karê's part. The small blonde observed her father staring after the tall woman also.

"I'm glad you are able to get on with my Karê." Andreas began, turning back to his daughter. "Tessa is a very competent woman and I feel better having someone with her abilities around you."

"Cassandra, I need to ask you...has Tessa ever acted, well, has she ever made any advances toward you...any conduct that could be thought of as improper?" The man asked hesitantly.

"Wha--?"

"Now, before you go getting all upset, I ask for a good reason. I know that you young people think everyone and everything is just fine nowadays, but this is Greece, not America, and our ways can still be very Old World. Tessa does not make it a secret among our people that she is mia lesveea and--"

"Pappa," Casey interrupted, "Tessa has never treated me with anything but respect and thoughtfulness."

"Allright, I understand." Meridio held up his hand, feeling he was about to be lectured and the worst thing he could think of would be to be lectured by a woman, even if the woman was his daughter. "I just wanted you to know about her in case it would bother you."

"Pappa, I think you should know something about me--"

A large crashing sound came from behind them, causing Casey to jump in her seat. Olympia had been carrying a tray and the contents of the platter were now on the patio, in hundreds of tiny pieces.

"Mrs. Karoubas, are you allright...do you need help?" Meridio asked, beginning to rise from his chair.

"No, no, Mr. Meridio, Anna will help me clean it up." The older woman indicated a young girl who came running to assist the cook.

"What were you about to say, Máhtia Mou?"

Casey looked up, but she caught Olympia's eyes throwing daggers in her direction. The cook was facing her father's back and as Casey glanced up at the woman, she saw Olympia shake her head slightly. Casey looked in her father's face, now uncertain as to what to do. She had been about to tell her father of her own sexual preference, but it was obvious that Olympia didn't think it was the right thing to do.

"I...I was about to say...that it feels good to be back home." Casey finished and knew she's gotten it right when Olympia smiled and nodded her head.

"It's good to finally have you home again, Máhtia Mou. Now, go and get packed."

Casey made a point of walking through the kitchen to go upstairs and stopped when she saw Olympia. Picking up a piece of the broken china she grinned slightly at the older woman.

"I take it this was your idea of a subtle hint?"

"Miss Me-, Cassandra...there are many ways here that are different from what you are used to in America. If you told your father that you were mia lesveea, do you think that he would allow Tessa to accompany you anywhere? I fear that he might even discharge the Karê."

Olympia chose her words carefully. She had no idea how far the relationship between her employer's daughter and the Karê had gone, but she did want Cassandra to realize that she was in Greece, a county run by men. How well Olympia knew that men held all the power in her homeland. She also used the word discharge when even she knew that would be the kindest thing that would happen to the attractive Karê.

"Olympia, how did you know about me?" Casey asked in a low voice.

"I have been the cook in this house for nearly thirty years. I was here on the day you were born, for your first communion, and on your sixteenth birthday. There is very little I do not know about you, little one." Olympia finished, gently taking the small blonde's chin in her fingers.

"How would I have ever gotten along without you?" Casey smiled at the woman who had been like a second mother to her all these years.

"Go on, now. You don't want to keep your father and the Karê waiting."

Casey kissed the older woman's cheek and rushed up the stairs to her room. Olympia stood in place for a few moments contemplating the outcome of it all. Shaking her head, she began to move around the large kitchen.


 

Their private plane landed at an airport about eight kilometers south of Mytilíni, on the island of Lésvos. A limousine sat waiting for their arrival and the drive to the villa where they were to stay was short and uneventful. The Laureate, a restored villa, was situated on Vareiá beach. A public hotel most of the time, but like Casey was soon to discover, when her father stayed there it became his own private villa. Casey hadn't been to this particular villa before, but thought it was absolutely breathtaking. Set amidst a beautiful garden it was surrounded by avenues of bay trees and giant pines.

Even though Andreas Meridio bought out every room in the villa for his own personal use, the hotel staff stayed to work and were courteous and helpful to Casey. She was shown to a large suite of rooms and enjoyed the fact that Tessa had the rooms next to hers.

The three lunched together, but Andreas Meridio seemed somewhat preoccupied. Casey hated the way her father's bodyguard hovered in the shadows, but she tried to think of the silent man's role as an important one and kept her mouth closed about it. In the meantime, Tessa seemed to enjoy the information the small blonde knew about the island and its history, from an archaeological standpoint. Meridio abruptly stood and motioned to Peter.

"I'm going to the elaiotriveío, Máhtia Mou. I'll be there all afternoon. Tessa you are to bring Cassandra along when you are finished here." Then he brusquely kissed his daughter and left.

Casey groaned and grabbed the bottle of wine, pouring herself a generous glass.

"What's that sound for...you don't like the olive mill?" Tessa asked in confusion.

"Whenever my father says I'm to meet him at the elaiotriveío it means only one thing. He wants to test me. He likes to make sure I know everything about olives!" Casey moaned.

"And do you?" Tessa chuckled.

"I know absolutely everything there is to know about olives! When you eat them, when you press them, when you harvest them...the list goes on and on."

"They're only olives. How hard could it be?" Tessa questioned as Casey groaned her displeasure once again.


 

"So, tell me what you know about olives." Tessa said loudly to be overheard above the convertible sports car's engines and the wind that whipped past.

Casey always enjoyed the drive up the hillside to the olive mill outside of Plomári. Since they were staying at Vareiá, they had to drive around the Kólpos Géras bay and then up toward Plomári. One thing Casey learned quickly was that Tessa loved speed and the dark-haired woman drove like most of the locals, full out at break neck speed.

"Well, lets see...The olive groves that belong to the Meridio's date back to 700 BC, however there was a frost that wiped them out and they were replanted with new in the Eighteenth century. Olive oil used to be the big export commodity of ancient Greece. Did you know that they would massage great warriors with olive oil and they would scrape it off them and put it in jars to sell. Something about it being an aphrodisiac, I think."

"Oh, that sounds disgusting," Tessa exclaimed.

"You're telling me! Anyway, where was I? Oh yea, Lésvos and Crete are always in competition over who makes the most and the best oil. We have over eleven million trees here on Lésvos, but some say Crete produces more and a better quality of oil, mostly the people who farm on Crete. This island, however, uses every part of the olive, rather than just pressing for oil alone. We use the fruit for eating, of course, and it's pressed for oil, but we also grind up what remains after the oil is pressed out and use it for soaps. After they use all they can for the soaps, they take what's remaining for fertilizer."

"Cassandra?" Tessa stopped the young woman's informative lecture.

"Yes?"

"Is all this true?" Tessa frowned. She had been born and spent most of her life in Greece and didn't know a half of what this woman did.

"Absolutely! This stuff has been drilled into me every summer since I was little. You watch; the first thing my father will do is bring a plate of olives out and see if I remember all my old lessons."

"And, will you?" The Karê laughed.

"Geez, I hope so." Casey laughed in return.


 

"Why do we use Greek olive oil instead of Italiana?" Andreas Meridio walked along the concrete pavement of the olive mill, past the large wooden vats, his daughter trying to keep up with the man's longer strides, Tessa following along at the rear.

"Because Greek oil is better quality." Casey answered as Tessa silently applauded the young woman.

"Why?" Meridio responded.

"Because we have hotter, drier summers and that causes lower acid levels in the fruit."

They stopped at a table and Meridio motioned to a young man to bring out a large platter. Tessa watched as it happened just as the small blonde had predicted. The dark-haired woman watched as her employer drilled Cassandra. There were at least a dozen varieties of olives on the tray and the young woman hadn't made a mistake yet. Meridio seemed to take this quite seriously and Tessa wondered if the man wanted his daughter to at least be able to run his legitimate business ventures should anything happen to him.

The tall man simply held a fruit up and Cassandra was expected to know its name or its uses.

"Elítses," Casey wavered as her father held up the small dark fruit. "...uhm, oh, that's no fair, Pappa. Those are from Crete!"

Andreas laughed for the first time that afternoon. "Yes, but you did well in knowing what the competition produces." He held up another and so it went on for some time.

"Tsakistés...uhh, picked young and cracked before curing in brine. Kalamáta, the most famous Greek olive! Always almond shaped and cured in red wine vinegar." The young woman answered, popping one in her mouth then giving Tessa a wink when her father bent down to retrieve another olive.

"Thásos, salt-cured, strong flavor, and go well with cheese."

"Excellent, Máhtia Mou someday you will be a formidable opponent to the farmers on Crete." Meridio stated proudly.

Tessa saw something just then in the older man's eyes; something she hadn't seen before. Meridio praised his daughter, but not with the love and affection of a father to a daughter. Rather, the man commended her as one might do with a prized stallion, or another bit of valuable property. As if she were not a treasured piece of his heart, but something he owned. Something he trained and invested precious time and money on.

The thought disturbed the dark-haired woman as she stood watching the interaction between Meridio and his daughter. In her memory she always registered the man's attitude toward his only child differently. She wondered where this new look came from. Was Meridio simply placating his daughter until the time he could groom a man for her to take as husband? According to Greek law, all the young woman's wealth would then belong to her husband. It would be a miserable existence for someone such as Cassandra.

Much to Tessa's, as well as Casey's, chagrin, Meridio dismissed the tall woman telling her to take the rest of the day off. He explained that he would keep Peter with them, but he wanted to visit a couple of their distilleries in Plomári. The Karê couldn't very well beg to go along with them, even though a trip to the Ouzo distillery would dearly hit the spot. So, Tessa left with a slight nod to the young woman, leaving her in her father's care.

"Pappa, I feel bad making Tessa go off on her own." Casey said. Truth be known she couldn't have been more miserable at the notion of spending the rest of the afternoon without the Karê around.

Andreas Meridio laughed out loud at his daughter's worried expression, placing an arm around her shoulder and pulling her in the direction of the car.

"Not to worry, Máhtia Mou, she's probably headed toward the local brothel as we speak!" He laughed again.

The remark by her father did nothing to ease the small blonde's sadness, if nothing else, it actually increased her fears, wondering if the beautiful Karê was indeed on her way to experience a little rest and relaxation.

Driving back down the hillside, Tessa decided she would make a small side trip to Mantamádos. Their pottery was renowned throughout the Greek Isles and Tessa needed something new to burn incense in. Driving along the coastal road, where there was very little besides land and small villages, Tessa thought again of the reasoning behind Meridio's new attitude toward his daughter.

Perhaps Meridio was finally realizing that Cassandra would never accept the Greek magnate's true business. Even if the young woman could, Meridio's partners would never take orders from this young girl. Tessa herself had a hard enough time dealing with them and her reputation scared the hell out of most grown men. But, these were not Greeks, not even Turks or Albanians. These men came from across the Mediterranean Sea, from Libya. No, Tessa didn't picture Cassandra as the kind of a woman who would take part in the family business.

The Karê's main problem now would be to find a way to encourage the small blonde to stay in her archeology business, go back to America, anything so she wouldn't be around when Tessa's plan neared completion. The Karê's heart tightened in her chest at that last thought. Not having Cassandra around was just about the last thing the dark-haired woman wanted right about now.


 

Tessa took the steps two at a time up to the floor where her suite was situated, directly across from Cassandra's. Checking to see that she had no messages, the Karê changed into something a little less formal. She knew she would probably do no more than listen to some music or catch up on a little reading tonight. It was late when she got in and she was told that Andreas Meridio had already retired. After having donned a pair of cotton slacks and a short sleeved polo shirt, the dark-haired woman picked up one of the small sacks she carried in with her and decided to see if Cassandra was still awake.

"Oh, hi," was Casey's cool response when she opened the door to her suite, even though the woman standing in front of her was very nearly making her drool all over herself.

Tessa didn't know what the trouble was, but she felt the icy temperature of the room immediately.

"Have a good time in Plomári?" Tessa asked.

"Simply lovely." Casey answered sarcastically. "Did you have a good time...wherever you ended up?"

Tessa tried to gauge the young woman's tone, but for the life of her she couldn't understand what was going on.

"Where is it that you think I ended up?"

"Well...I--I, well, it's really none of my business." Casey replied, turning away quickly.

"No, I really want to know." Tessa responded, grabbing the small blonde's elbow and turning her around to face the Karê. "Where is it you think I've gone?"

Casey knew she was caught but good. Why did I even say anything in the first place? Now it's going to look like I'm jealous! There was nothing to do but voice her displeasure, so the small blonde dove in, head first.

"Father said that you were...that you were probably on your way to the local brothel." Casey said the words, but didn't dare raise her eyes to meet the blue gaze that suddenly sparkled with understanding.

Jealousy? Over me, little one?

"I see, and the fact that I would be with a woman and not a man...that would bother you?" Tessa decided to have a little fun at Cassandra's expense.

"No, of course not." Casey answered quickly.

"Oh, so it's not because I prefer a woman in my bed, it's because I prefer another woman." Tessa asked as if she were trying to get the situation clear in her head.

"Yes." Casey replied. "I mean, no...I mean...what do you mean?" The flustered young woman stammered.

Tessa leaned her head back and laughed long and loud. She had never come across a more endearing woman and her senses were being completely seduced by the small blonde.

Casey turned about as scarlet as a human could and when she realized there was nothing left, she simply laughed at herself and the Karê found that an absolutely charming quality.

"I'm sorry, Tessa, I had no right--"

Tessa placed her index finger over the young woman's lips, interrupting her thought.

"You had every right." Tessa found herself saying, yet still not believing it was her own mouth that just said it.

Quickly trying to recover, the dark-haired woman held out the sack. "I thought you might like this, I went to Mantamádos today."

"You went to Mantamádos without me...shopping?"

"Trust me, I don't shop like you or Olympia. If I see something I want," the Karê said in a low voice leaning closer, "I take it. If I don't like it, I leave it be."

"Oh," seemed to be the only response Casey was capable of.

"Are you going to open it?" Tessa asked, blue gaze sparkling in a combination of amusement and desire.

"Huh?"

"Your gift. Are you going to open it?" The Karê said slowly.

"Oh, yea."

Tessa enjoyed the blush and the dazed expression on the young woman's face.

"Oh, Tessa it's beautiful." Casey had noticed a similar, intricately designed, ceramic incense burner when she visited the guesthouse where Tessa lived.

Not knowing what else to say, Casey hugged the woman in front of her, and placed an innocent kiss on the tall woman's cheek. Tessa stood rooted in place, completely shocked by the young woman's guileless gesture. Now, it was the Karê who blushed. She could feel the heat creeping up her neck and tried to quickly change the subject.

"So, are you going to be a good hostess and offer me a drink or do I have to scrounge the downstairs bar?"

Casey laughed, as much from the Karê's remark as from the tall woman's embarrassment.

"I have retsína and some white wine. What's your pleasure?" Casey asked, with a mischievous sparkle in her green eyes and putting an emphasis on the last sentence.

Tessa caught the double entendre and smiled wickedly.

"Well, lets start with the retsína and see where that takes us."


 

Seated on the balcony outside of Casey's suite, both women watched the lights along the beaches of Vareiá, sipped retsína and listened to the breeze rustle the trees below.

"Tell me more about where you live in America." Tessa asked.

She was interested, true, but more than anything the dark-haired woman loved listening to Cassandra speak. The lilting tones of the small blonde's voice were absolutely captivating and the Karê closed her eyes, enjoying the sound.

"When I would sit on the beach on Long Island, that's where I grew up. When I would sit there, on cold days when no one else would go out and all you could hear were the waves crashing in and the gulls over the water, I would close my eyes and think I was on Mýkonos. Of course, I used to think the same thing when I was here in Greece. When I was here I used to want to be there, when I was there; well you know what I mean." Casey sipped her wine and watched the Karê, her eyes closed and a slight smile curling at her lips.

"I know I was very small and I don't remember much that happened when I lived here all the time, but I feel it sometimes, like perhaps I'm remembering a dream. There used to be so much to do here in Greece when I was small. I used to love the holidays, so different from the ones in America. Of course, most of the holidays we celebrate here are religious, but I missed that when we moved away. I only remember being here for one Easter, but I can't even remember that very well. I remember a feeling of it, though." Casey said with a faltering tone as if she were trying at that moment to pull something from her mind, but unable to.

Shaking her head she smiled again. "The more I try, the more it eludes me."

"Why can't you remember, do you think?" Tessa's voice came as a surprise, Casey had almost thought she was alone in her reminiscing.

"I don't know. I used to ask my mother that same question all the time. It seemed odd that all the best memories of my life would suddenly disappear like that."

What did she say?" Tessa asked with a curious expression.

"She said it must have been because that was the year we left Greece to come to America. The childhood trauma of it all."

"Sounds reasonable," the Karê mused, half-wondering if that was the truth.

Tessa knew what a life-altering experience that day had been for her, but for the first time she saw that perhaps what Cassandra went through might have been enough to traumatize a sensitive five-year-old. Like the roots of a tree, pain had such a way of spreading itself around, reaching its tendrils so far into so many lives.

"I was in therapy for it." Casey simply stated. "I know, you already think I'm nuts, right?" The small blonde smiled and the Karê chuckled.

"When I was small I would have these dreams. I never once remembered what I dreamt about, but the feelings were so intense that I would wake up crying. My mother tried to help, but all I could tell her was that I would start out feeling absolutely wonderful, like I could do anything, then everything went wrong and I would wake up with a pain so real that my chest would ache." Casey took a sip of wine and looked to see if Tessa thought she was a flake. The Karê sat watching her, listening intently.

"The dreams finally lessened, sometimes it would be years between the time I would have one again. It was when I had my first serious love affair. The very first night we slept together that the dreams came back. I had them every single night until I was taking sleeping pills just to get a few hours of sleep at night. Needless to say it effectively ended that relationship.

I started seeing a doctor, but after eighteen months all she could say was it was some kind of childhood trauma. Duh, I could have told her that! It had a lovely effect on my love life. It's rather strange, though, the dreams only resurface when I fall in love." Casey gave an ironic, painful laugh. "Tends to keep me single."

Tessa looked at the small young woman with a mixture of worry and concern, hoping that someday the dreams that plagued her would disappear altogether. That someday she would be able to recognize only the good moments of that day when she was five.


 

The dream started out as usual, but then it took an unexpected turn. She'd never been down this road before. Casey could hear someone screaming, but she couldn't see who it was. Suddenly she realized the voice belonged to Tessa. She had to get to where the Karê was, but they wouldn't let her reach her friend. There were no faces that were visible, but strong arms held her as she desperately tried to pull away.

"Noooo!" Casey screamed loudly, pulling herself to sit up in bed.

It took all of three seconds before Tessa was bursting through the door to the suite wearing only a robe and carrying a gun in one hand, followed by footsteps running up the stairs to the second floor. The Karê's posture changed immediately when she opened the bedroom door, seeing Cassandra and realizing the danger was in the small blonde's dreams and nothing more. Tessa wanted nothing more than to scoop the small woman up in her arms and hold on to her tightly, but those thoughts became dreams as Andreas Meridio pushed his way into the room.

"It's allright, just a nightmare." Tessa remarked as the man strode past her.

The Karê hustled the rest of the staff who had been awakened back to their rooms, returning within seconds to Cassandra's suite.

"It's allright, Pappa, really. It was just a nightmare." Casey said shortly, caught between embarrassment and anger.

"Do you still have those?" Meridio asked.

"Hardly ever," Casey lied. "I'm all right, really." She gave a half smile to her father who looked more concerned than he was willing to admit.

"Tessa will stay with you for a little while, then." He said looking back at the Karê.

"Of course," Tessa replied. "I'll be back in a moment."

Casey really didn't feel like arguing so when Tessa returned, dressed in jeans and a faded blue t-shirt, carrying a small brown bottle, the small blonde simply gave in. Her father kissed her and said to call him if he was needed, but Tessa knew he would prefer not to be needed. Nightmares were considered a weakness and no Greek man wanted to be around a woman's weakness for long.

"Don't tell me, it's more of your magic medicine?" Casey watched as the Karê poured two glasses of amber liquid.

"Conyák." Tessa replied, handing the young woman a glass of the brandy.

"How come I don't have brandy in my room?" Casey tried to put on a smile.

"Because you didn't ask for it." Tessa replied matter of factly.

Tessa took a sip of the liquor and set her glass on the bedside table, seating herself on the edge of the bed. Casey took one sip and looked up into blue eyes that seemed filled with their own distress. Tessa very lightly brought her fingers up and touched Casey's cheek.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"Sure." Casey replied, unsure of her own voice.

The green eyes began to fill with tears and Tessa watched, as the blonde head shook back and forth, indicating that she most certainly wasn't allright. The Karê took the glass from Casey's hand and set it with her own, then without thinking she gently enfolded the small figure in her strong embrace.

The tears turned into sobs at the dark-haired woman's tender and compassionate touch and soon Tessa held the young woman against her tightly, running her fingers through the short blonde locks, pressing her lips softly against the top of the girl's head.

Casey melted into the warm embrace and let the tears of a great many frustrations loose at once. She was comforted, not only by the arms surrounding her, but by the fact that Tessa didn't offer insincere and meaningless words to console.

"Sssh, Cassandra÷I'm here." Tessa murmured.

The Karê listened to the girl's weeping, but could think of no words to ease the pain. Little did she know, but the ones she uttered cut straight through to the small blonde's heart. Tessa wanted to give more comfort to the woman in her arms, but frankly she didn't know how. She had never been a woman of words and now, when she needed them the most, they deserted her.

It seemed as if a long time passed before Casey's tears stopped and she simply leaned against the dark-haired woman's chest, listening to the strong heart beating steadily. No words were exchanged as Tessa ran her hand in small circles against Casey's back. Tessa cursed herself once again for her inability to do or say more for the young woman, but for Casey, what the dark-haired woman did offer was enough.


 

It was only coincidence that Tessa and Casey both left their rooms at the same time. They met at the top of the winding staircase on their way to morning coffee. Casey was finding it hard to look the Karê straight in the eye.

"Well, you are quickly seeing me in all of my pathetic, vulnerable glory, Karê. I'm not exactly putting my best foot forward where you're concerned."

Tessa gave her usual low chuckle. "If that's as bad as it gets I still got ya beat."

"Thanks, Tessa, for...well, for just being there, I guess." Casey added.

The tall Karê didn't know what to say to this display of emotion and gratitude so she simply did what she was best at. She graced Casey with a lopsided sort of smile and winked at her.

"Ahh, Máhtia Mou, is the world looking better in the light of day?" Andreas Meridio asked, kissing the top of his daughter's head as he pulled a chair out for her.

"Yes, Pappa, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake up the whole villa."

"Nonsense, although Tessa looked a little disappointed that she didn't get to shoot anyone."

The Karê set down her newspaper and placed a small koulourákia on her plate. The small rolls were covered in sesame seeds and stuffed with currants. The Karê still believed, like most Greeks, that breakfast was the least important meal of the day, but she was quickly becoming seduced by the American tradition of a roll with her morning coffee.

Placing small bites of the bread in her mouth, Tessa spoke in her usual matter of fact tone, nothing like Casey knew her to be when they were alone.

"She scared the hell out of me." She said in Meridio's direction and the man laughed out loud.

"Trust me, if you ever get accosted in a dark alley let loose with one of those yells, I guarantee it will bring help left and right. You took away a few years of my life with that thing, which I can ill afford at this point in my life." Tessa finished with a smirk.

"Oh, very funny. I hope you're both enjoying yourselves at my expense." Casey responded with a smile.

The small blonde was surprised at this tirade from the Karê, but she understood the reasoning behind it. Tessa wasn't supposed to be growing close to Casey, she was in close contact with the blonde for the sole purpose of looking after Meridio's daughter for a while. It wouldn't do for Andreas Meridio to see his Karê in a position like she was last night. As innocent as the physical contact had been, Casey realized her father would never allow it.

Casey watched her father as he read the morning Ta Nea, occasionally jotting a note on the legal pad that he had in front of him.

"Pappa," Casey began enthusiastically, "come horseback riding with me today?"

"Oh, Cassandra, that's impossible today. I have appointments to keep. Besides, I'm too old to be riding hills like these, that is why you have Tessa. She'll go with you." Meridio replied, motioning to the Karê.

"Horses...great. My days just keep getting better and better." Tessa deadpanned.

Although Casey smiled at Tessa's attempt at humor, the young woman was certainly affected by her father's behavior. The small blonde couldn't understand it either. If she even brought up moving into an apartment of her own, he became incensed, but since she'd returned to Greece they hardly ever saw each other. Casey was beginning to feel like that prized mare again, only around for show.

"As much as I would enjoy riding with the Karê, I'm sure she has better things to do than to baby sit me. I could wait, Pappa, perhaps we could go this afternoon?"

"Go with Tessa," Meridio said firmly, "I'll be gone until late this evening, don't wait up, Katalavaynés?"

"Yes, of course Pappa, I understand." Casey put on an artificial smile for her father's benefit as the man left the patio.

The dark-haired woman tried to keep her eyes on her paper and appear as though she were not listening to the conversation, which wasn't all that easy considering the fact that the father and daughter were practically talking over her. Even Tessa could see the small blonde looked like a hurt little girl that had been put off one too many times. The way Meridio talked about his daughter all these years, Tessa thought perhaps he was different when it came to her, that maybe she would be the one redeeming quality of the man's life. It was turning out that Andreas Meridio was like any other man in Greece. Their women were cherished so long as they did exactly what they were told and made sure they were around when he needed a bauble to hang on his arm.

"So, when do we go?" Tessa asked the silent young woman.

Casey gave a weak attempt at a smile. "It doesn't sound like it's one of your favorite things."

The Karê thought the young woman was trying to fight off tears. "You know that was for show, don't you?" Tessa asked in a voice that was softer than usual.

"I know," Casey nodded. "The Meridio Karê must have a pretty girl she wants to do something with on a beautiful day like today." Casey tried to give the woman an out.

"Yes, she does." Tessa grinned just slightly, the smile giving her a look of charm and mystery.

She tilted her head slightly to meet the small blonde's eyes. When the cerulean gaze met up with sea green, the sparkle and the note of mischief seemed very uncharacteristic for the dark-haired woman. It took Casey a full minute before she caught the Karê's meaning.

"Are you sure?" The young woman brightened slightly.

"Absolutely." The Karê grinned. "Somebody's got to teach you to ride."

"Oh, is that right? Well, I guess we'll just have to see about that."

The smile in Tessa's heart grew larger as she saw the spark of green fire return to the small blonde's eyes.


 

"Gahmóh Toh!" Casey cursed. "Fuck!" She decided to add the English version just for good measure.

"Oh, it's allright girl, it's not your fault." She finished, laying a gentle hand on the neck of the large chestnut mare. "She threw it." She stated simply to the dark-haired woman.

Tessa jumped down from her own large mount and examined the horse's hoof just as Casey had done.

"You're absolutely right." Tessa mocked the small woman's ability to recognize the missing horseshoe.

Casey pushed the taller woman back slightly. "Oh, very funny!"

Tessa laughed and it felt good. The whole day they spent here in the hills, riding the horses, stopping for a picnic lunch, it all seemed like a dream to Tessa. She'd never had anyone to be with this way, no one she could call a friend and she was seeing a small glimpse at what she'd been missing all her life.

"I'll just walk her back, you can go ahead." Casey said.

"Cassandra, it must be a good three miles back to the villa. By the time you get back on foot I'll be too old to enjoy that dinner you owe me." She said with a smug grin.

Casey realized the truth of what the Karê said and she didn't know if she was so upset because her horse had thrown a shoe or whether it was because she lost the race to the top of the rise. Loser pays for dinner, that had been the bet, but Casey hadn't anticipated that the Karê was as good a rider as she showed herself to be. Oh, well...there are definitely worse things that could happen to a girl than looking into those baby blues over dinner.

"This guys a big boy," Tessa said, patiently patting her own horse's flank. I don't think he'll have any trouble giving both of us a ride."

The dark-haired woman pulled the reins on the incapacitated animal over the mare's head and tied the leather thongs off on the back of her horse's saddle. Pulling herself easily into her own saddle she extended a hand to the small blonde. Casey put her foot in the stirrup that Tessa had vacated and allowed the Karê to pull her up in the saddle. Situated behind the dark-haired woman, Casey was suddenly a lot closer to the tall woman than was probably good for her, given her feelings for the woman.

Tessa steered the animal down the steep path and Casey quickly realized she had only one thing to hang on to and it was either wrap her arms around the beautiful Karê's waist or be pitched head first onto the ground below. She tried to be casual about it, grabbing a hold of Tessa's belt rather than her body.

"You better hold on tighter than that, little one." Tessa voice came from in front of her.

For a moment Casey thought she was falling as she let her grip go from the woman's belt. The small blonde grew dizzy and then a wave of nausea caused her hands to tremble.

"Hey, I said you better hold on--" Tessa turned in the saddle to look at the smaller woman, but her voice froze at the sight of the young woman's face.

"Casey, are you all right?" Tessa's strained voice asked, pulling up on the horse's reins.

Casey opened her mouth, but she couldn't seem to produce any sound. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she couldn't imagine why she felt this way.

"I don't feel so good. Can we stop for a minute?"

Tessa dismounted immediately, grabbing her canteen and helping Casey from the saddle. The small blonde felt like the blood had been drained from her legs and she faltered with her first step, leaning heavily against the taller woman. Tessa didn't think twice as concern overrode propriety. She bent down and with surprising strength, scooped the smaller woman into her arms and carried her off the rocky path onto a dry grassy patch of ground.

Tessa noticed the flush on the girl's face and removed a bandanna from her own neck, pouring water from the canteen onto the cloth and soaking it through. She pressed the cool cloth to Casey's face, and then her neck until the young woman looked up with a weak grin.

"Gee, that was kind of scary." She said, her pallor a little less ghostly.

"You're telling me." Tessa said, leaning back on her heels, resting her palms on her thighs. "What just happened...too much sun?"

"God you're going to laugh at me, but I dreamed what just happened back there. I don't mean my nearly passing out, I mean when we were on the horse. In my dream last night you said that to me. You told me to hold on to you tighter and you called me little one." Casey ran her fingers through her now damp hair.

"I don't remember your face, but I remember your voice. You don't get it do you?" The young woman explained to the Karê. "Tessa, I never remember that dream, not once in all these years. This is the first time that I've even been able to recall small bits of it."

Casey seemed confused while Tessa bit her lip, concentrating on the small blonde's face. The dark-haired woman fought with herself as she listened to the young blonde. Shouldn't I tell her? God, all these years, but if she knows who I am she'll figure out what I'm going to do, I just know she will. I won't be able to hide it, not from her; not from those eyes that penetrate right straight through to my soul. Oh, Cassandra, I'm sorry, but I just can't do this yet, you don't understand what's involved, little one.

"I don't know what to say, Cassandra." Tessa answered honestly. "It sounds a little farfetched, but stranger things have happened, I guess."

Tessa reached out to touch the young woman's cheek. "Feel up to heading back now?"

"Yea," Casey nodded, quick to add a smile for the woman who was turning in to more than Casey ever imagined. "Yea, I feel a lot better now...come on, I'm hungry."

"You're always hungry." The Karê added with a chuckle.

They situated themselves on the large gelding once more. This time Tessa was taking no chances and she took the small blonde's hands in her own until the young woman's arms circled the Karê's waist. Casey certainly wasn't complaining about the arrangement and, silently, each woman enjoyed her circumstance.

Casey was silent for most of the trip, lost in her own thoughts. I know you think I'm a huge flake, but it was you, Tessa. It was your voice I heard screaming and it was you I rode on the horse with, just like this. How could my dreams be about a woman I've never met before, though? Especially when I've been having this same dream for most of my life?

Tessa was wrapped within her own private memories. Two women and their thoughts mirrored one another's so completely, yet in their heart they were worlds apart. One sought enlightenment, while the other tried to hide from the truth.





Tessa and Casey walked back into the quiet villa laughing out loud.

"I can just picture it," the Karê said, wiping tears from her eyes.

"There wasn't a thing I could do! I just held on for dear life and prayed to the Virgin until this huge stallion carried me across the finish line." Casey laughed.

"Did your father ever find out?"

"Oh, no, and spoil the illusion? I simply had mother take a picture of me with a smile on my face and a first place trophy in my hand as I sat on the back of that terrible beast."

"You're something else do you know that?" The two women walked up the stairs to their suites together, realizing by the silence that Andreas Meridio was still out. "I've looked at that picture everyday for five years and wondered how a tiny thing like you even got the arkheedias to mount an animal that size."

"Hey," Casey looked wounded; "it's vertically challenged, not tiny."

"Oh, excuse m--"

Both women froze at a crashing sound from within Casey's suite.

"Stay here." Tessa said in a tight voice.

Casey watched as the dark-haired woman reached behind her, under her jacket and pulled out a small pistol. She hadn't even realized the taller woman carried one, but now the reason Tessa always had on a jacket became clear. She followed the tall woman's progress with her eyes as the Karê quietly opened the door and slipped inside.

Casey couldn't stand this helpless female routine. She couldn't hear anything inside the room and became concerned about Tessa. Just as the dark-haired woman had done, Casey quietly slipped inside the dark room. She saw the curtains by the french doors blowing into the room with the breeze, but couldn't see Tessa anywhere.

"Tessa?" She whispered.

"When I tell you to stay it's for a reason." Tessa's warm breath brushed against Casey's ear.

Casey let out a startled cry and suddenly Tessa was moving away from her and the lights came on in the room. The Karê was standing by the light switch on the wall shaking her head back and forth.

"I got worried about you." Casey offered as explanation.

"Casey," Tessa's voice was soft but commanding at the same time. "I can take care of myself. I won't need to worry if I know that when something happens you will do exactly what I say, when I say it. Katalavaynés?"

The contrite blonde nodded. "I understand. I'm sorry Tessa."

"Just don't do it again, that will show how sincere your promise really is." Tessa said as she crossed the room to the open window.

The dark-haired woman knelt down and quickly scooped up some broken glass and tossed it in the trash. "Looks like the curtains knocked over a glass on the table...no big deal."

"Thanks, Tessa." Casey said softly as the Karê moved to leave.

Tessa had her hand on the doorknob, poised to leave, but she turned at the last moment and leaned heavily against the door.

"Nikki," she said barely above a whisper. "You asked me on my boat if I had a nickname. Well, that's what my friends nowadays call me." She explained to Casey's confused look.

The small blonde crossed the room to where the tall woman leaned against the door. Smiling almost shyly, Casey reached out her hand until it slipped into the Karê's larger one. Tessa's head was screaming at her by this point. She needed to say goodnight, to leave and close the door behind her. Instead the dark-haired woman refused to listen to her conscience and listened to her libido instead.

Holding Casey's hand in her own, she pulled the woman into her arms, feeling the soft, warm body against her chest. The next thing she knew, her lips were pressed against the sweetest mouth she'd ever tasted. When Casey's lips parted and a tongue hesitantly pressed against Tessa's lips, the dark-haired woman not only allowed entry, but permitted the small blonde to take her mouth in a kiss that left the taller woman dizzy. It started out gentle and quickly grew heated, their hungry mouths swallowing one another's moans.

Tessa turned their bodies until Casey was pressed up against the solid oak door, The dark-haired woman's left arm leaning on the door over the girl's head, her right hand stroking the smooth skin of Casey's throat, moving down dangerously low into the girl's cleavage. The hand came up again and slipped around the small woman's neck and Tessa locked her lips fiercely with Casey's.

Tessa was the first to remember where she was and whom she was with. She suddenly pushed away from Casey, holding her at arm's length. She refused to meet the blonde's eyes, simply struggling to control her breathing. I can't believe this is happening. I can't believe I let it happen. Oh, Casey, God how I want you.

Casey placed a palm on the taller woman's chest, her own breathing somewhat erratic.

"I'm sorry, Nikki...I--I...I'm sorry." She repeated, not knowing what else to say.

"No," Tessa removed her hands from Casey's arms; "I'm to blame. I just got...I got a little carried away."

"We don't have to stop." Casey whispered softly.

"Yes...yes, we do...I do. I'd better go," the Karê said and she turned and nearly fled from the room.

Casey leaned her forehead on the door, sighing deeply as she listening to the fading sound of the Karê's boots.


 

The early morning ferry trip back to Mýkonos was a silent affair. Tessa barely said two words to Casey after the incident in the blonde's bedroom. The Karê returned to using the same distant manner that she had when Casey first arrived in Greece. The dark-haired woman looked miserable and Casey appeared as if her heart were breaking. It was a testament to how well Andreas Meridio actually knew his daughter, for if the man thought there was anything out of the ordinary, he certainly kept it to himself.

Casey didn't even feel like looking at anyone let alone talking. Once back at the estate, she said she had some things to work on in preparation for the dig, which was to begin in two weeks time. She closed the door to her bedroom and stayed there throughout the day. She came down for a cup of tea around midday and even Olympia's Bougátsa, a pastry of sweet custard dusted with cinnamon and sugar, could not entice her. Casey did notice that Olympia and Tessa seemed to be arguing outside on the patio. Both their voices were low, but Casey watched as the Karê gestured strongly with her hands and stalked off toward her father's office.

When Casey was absent from the dinner table, Andreas Meridio looked at the Karê for explanation. Beyond telling the man that his right hand had just broken his daughter's heart, which was not something Tessa was anxious to do, she could offer very little. When Meridio asked her to check on his daughter and fix her a tea if she was feeling ill, there was little the Karê could do but comply with her employer's wishes.

"Ms. Meridio..." Tessa said as she knocked softly against the young woman's door. "Casey?" Her voice called gently once she realized no one else was about.

"Come in."

Tessa's first thought was to tell the small blonde to get her butt downstairs or both of them would wake up at the bottom of the Aegean in the morning. Her next thought was to simply stay by the open door and call the young woman to dinner. Both of those scenarios drifted away when Tessa saw Casey poised on the bench seat in front of the window, her knees bent and her arms wrapped around her legs. The sun was just beginning to set and the window was pushed open, the breeze delicately blowing at the wisps of golden hair that framed her exquisite face. The color of the golden sun gave the woman's image an ethereal quality.

"I'm sorry, Casey," was all Tessa could think to say.

"What are you sorry for?" Casey seemed genuinely surprised at the Karê's words.

"I guess because I can't be the woman you want."

"I think that's my problem...you are the woman I want." Casey replied, displaying a defeated sort of half-smile.

"You wouldn't say that if you knew me, I mean really knew me. You'd change your mind if you understood the kind of person I was...that I am. If you knew the way I treat women." Tessa argued.

"And, you're that bad, that evil that you really think I'd have a change of heart if I knew your secrets?"

Tessa's brow furrowed together and for an unguarded moment Casey thought she saw a deep, unendurable pain swirling within those azure depths.

"Yes." Tessa answered. "I'm not who you think I am, Casey. I am a horrible woman, you had that right on the first day."

Moving to stand behind Casey, the small blonde never saw the hands that trembled slightly as the Karê willed her emotions back in check. Tessa screwed her eyes shut tight. It will only hurt for a short time, little one, and then you can go back to America and find a nice girl that you can spend forever with.

"I'm not the kind of woman that falls in love, Casey. I use women. I take them when I want for what I want. I can be sadistic and cruel, and I can fuck them for one night and never even want to know their name. And, the next morning I can throw them out of my bed without giving a damn about their feelings."

The Karê took a deep breath for this last bit.

"You are beautiful Casey, but you just happened to be the woman standing in front of me at the time I got horny. Don't read anymore into it than that. Don't think I stopped last night out of some chivalrous notions you have about me. I stopped because I like my job here and your father pays me quite well to see that you stay safe. The check I got for saving your life the other day will make a nice down payment on a new boat."

Tessa was breathing rather hard, but hiding it well. She knew the only quick way to get over someone was to find a reason to hate them. She didn't think it would be hard to make herself sound loathsome to the young woman and she was giving the small blonde a lot of reasons.

Casey never looked up at the tall woman; she kept her eyes trained on the sinking sun.

"My father is paying you extra...that's why you've been spending time with me?" The small voice shook.

"Yes," Tessa replied between clenched teeth. "I'm sorry, Casey."

"Hey," Casey tossed her head back, the tightness of her jaw an indication of how hard she was trying to hold back her tears. "You act like you're breaking my heart here. For God's sake all we did was kiss. If I fell in love with every woman I kissed after dinner and a few drinks I'd never get out of bed!"

Casey ran her fingers through her short locks, willing herself not to fall apart in front of this woman. The last thing she wanted was for Tessa to see her cry.

"Please, tell my father that I'll be down in a few minutes."

Tessa raised an eyebrow in surprise. God, this girl has more tenacity than I gave her credit for.

Tessa nodded as she walked through the door and out into the hall. The moment the door was pulled closed both women felt a pain like the thrust of a knife, twisting deep within their hearts.


 

Casey walked through the large garage that housed half a dozen sports cars, passing by the large space that was meant for the limousine. Her father had taken the limo and left for the evening, citing that it was a men's club he would be at and that it was no place for a young lady. She walked around the sparkling blue car, ensuring herself that there were no scratches. The car just arrived today and as she slipped into the leather interior she was happy to be behind the wheel of her college graduation present once again. The car purred when she turned the key in the ignition and she pulled out of the garage swiftly, not turning on her headlights until she was down the long driveway of the estate.

Casey knew exactly where she wanted to go. She revved the car and turned onto the lane that would take her down into Venetía, or Little Venice. It had been years since she'd been in this town let alone the part of the city she was headed for. Her heart felt empty and she had only one goal. She wanted to be by herself, away from the Karê's prying eyes and she wanted someone to make her feel good.

When she finally pulled up in front of the two-story building with its brightly painted balcony and the sign that said, To Spílaio, The Cave, she knew she was in the right spot. She easily found the parking around the corner; not much had changed. She promised the young boy attending the cars a hefty tip if he saw that no one even dared to breath on her auto, then she took a deep breath and went in through the back door.

A few women looked up from their dart game, but they thought it must be one of the regulars coming through the back door at this hour. The night was early and The Cave was nearly empty, but Casey knew what the next few hours would bring. Every head turned when the beautiful blonde walked straight up to the bar. She kept her eyes from making contact with any one person, and carefully following tradition; in Greek, she ordered a bottle of oúzo and two glasses.

Choosing a table against the back wall, the small blonde poured herself a glass of oúzo and turned the second glass over. A table of twenty-something women smiled at the blonde's action and began to grin and joke with one another. Finally one of the bravest among them stood and straightened her leather jacket. She walked over and stood in front of Casey's table. It appeared the two made conversation for a few seconds, but Casey never turned over the second glass, and so the young woman smiled with good grace and went back to her own table. A few more of the early regulars tried their hand at impressing the woman with the golden hair, who was obviously American, but spoke flawless Greek. Casey never turned over the second glass, but the blonde smiled as she poured herself a second glass of the strong liquor. The night was indeed young.


 

Tessa sealed the last envelope and in her unhurried precise scrawl she entered the figures in the books that Andreas Meridio would look at first thing in the morning. Crossing the room to the large black safe, that was nearly as tall as her, she put the envelopes of cash into a canvas sack and placed the sack on a shelf inside the safe. She turned her head, her hand instinctively going to the gun ever present at the small of her back when she saw Alex step into the room.

"I almost blew your fucking head off, Vlákas!" Tessa hissed.

"I--I didn't know it was you," Alex stammered. "I thought you went with her."

"With who?" Tessa asked, slamming the safe's door and spinning the handle before she punched a series of buttons on a computerized panel.

"Meridio's daughter." Alex responded, in a confused manner.

"Isn't she up in her room?"

"No, she said--" Alex looked into Tessa's eyes as realization flooded his features. "She said she was pulling the car around to go get you...and you two were going out." He finished slowly.

"She wasn't coming to get you, was she Nikki?"

Tessa's eyebrow arched so high that Alex could only mumble a few prayers in his head, praying to the Virgin for protection from his mentor's temper.

"Are you telling me what I think you're telling me?" Tessa seethed.

"She's gone." Alex said with all the resignation of a dead man.

Tessa turned and stalked from the office and took the stairs to the second floor two at a time. Not bothering to knock she flung open the door to find an empty room. Slamming the door shut behind her, Tessa made her way downstairs and into the foyer, leaving a stream of curses in her wake that even made Alex blush, the young man wondering at the possibility of a few of them.

"I'll go look for her." Alex muttered by way of an apology.

"You," Tessa had her fist clenched and her arm halfway cocked and was ready to lay the brawny man out. She stopped and took a deep breath to get control of herself. Alex wasn't dumb, just not always smart. He let Casey get the better of him, but the Karê had been on the receiving end of that too. The small blonde was cunning when she wanted to be. "You...just stay here in case she comes back. If she shows up call me on the cell phone."

"What if she doesn't?"

"Then you better pray like hell that Meridio doesn't want to give his little girl a good night kiss when he comes home!" Tessa nearly shouted.

Tessa hadn't really been sure in which direction to start out. She went by the beaches and some of the local nightclubs, but no sign of the small blonde. Trying to think like an innocent young woman wasn't terribly easy. Besides the local places she couldn't figure where else Casey would venture. Suddenly the dark-haired woman slammed on the brakes and pulled off the deserted road. Did I say innocent?

Now that she thought about it Casey was anything but innocent. She was a woman with a broken heart and she was hurting. What would Tessa want in that case? To get laid, naturally, to get good and drunk then to find some woman willing to help her forget her heartache. Tessa spun the car back around to head off to the Kástro. If Casey wasn't there then at least the Karê was an expert at where every lesbian bar was located on Mýkonos.


 

It was one in the morning and The Cave was packed to capacity. Casey had been the focal point of the evening, but she knew what she was looking for and she wasn't about to settle at this point, not for a couple more hours at least. She was close to the halfway mark on her bottle of liquor, but she sipped slowly and enjoyed a few mezés and was able to keep her wits about her. Some of the women were attractive and some charming, but the small blonde kept the second glass on her table turned upside down, a silent invitation to those wanting to capture her affection for either a short time or the rest of the evening. If the waiting woman decided she wanted to join you in a little entertainment upstairs, she turned the glass over and poured you a drink. Once you swallowed the drink and turned the glass back over the deal was signed. It simply meant that the woman was yours for as long as you both were happy with the arrangement. It was a simple tradition, but followed closely and the rules were strictly enforced. Once you drank the offered libation, the woman was yours without grief from those that had taken their chances and lost. This setup tended to eliminate fighting and it lent to the casual sex aura about the place.

It was what The Cave was all about after all. The second floor was a large studio, couches, chairs, boxes, but no lights. You did whatever you wanted to with whomever you chose to be with in the large darkened room, while those around you, sometimes standing or lying right next to you, did the same thing. It was all consenting and you could have it as gentle or rough as your taste preferred. There were no names, no lights, and most of all no complications. There was absolutely nothing responsible about it and that was exactly what Casey wanted.

A shadow fell across Casey's table and when she looked up, she smiled. Very tall, very sleek and muscular, short black hair that fell into her eyes a bit, and when she smiled the brown eyes smiled too.

Brown eyes...well, guess you can't have everything Case.

The tall young woman said hello in perfect English. Casey grinned, but returned the greeting in Greek. Casey indicated the young woman should sit, but didn't yet pour a drink for her new companion.

"You are not Greek I am thinking." The young woman said in a quiet voice.

Casey leaned forward until her elbows rested on the table. "Does that really matter?" She responded in Greek.

Her companion laughed and shook her head back and forth thinking that she could certainly give the beautiful American a night to take back home and tell her girlfriends about.


 

Tessa was just coming out of Pierro's and she threw the attendant a bill and settled herself in her car. It was twelve thirty and she was actually beginning to worry. She began to think Casey might do something foolish. Picking some Greek girl up in a bar was one thing, but what if the small blonde weren't caring much about life in general. Would she try to hurt herself?

No that's not Casey's style...think, Niko. If you wanted to get laid where would you go? Whorehouse? Possibly, but Casey's the last woman in the world that would have to pay for sex. What if she didn't want anything but a good screw...no questions...no complications...

"Oh, shit!" Tessa cursed aloud. Once again she did a one-eighty and gunned the car up the hill to Venetía.


 

Casey and the young woman talked for a few more minutes, but still Casey had not turned over the glass. Disappointment was displayed in her companion's eyes.

"Perhaps I should go." The young woman said, rising. Propriety dictated that she stay no longer without Casey offering the drink.

"No, please stay."

The young woman sat back down and motioned to the bottle and the glass.

"Perhaps," Casey offered a seductive smile, her hand circling the base of the bottle, her fingers tapping on it gently.

The stranger reached out her hand and tenderly stroked the length of Casey's hand all the way to her fingertips. The small blonde grinned lazily and watched as the young woman's touch left a trail of goose bumps on her skin. Casey closed her eyes briefly as the pleasurable sensation, but when she opened them she was no longer looking into the brown eyes of a stranger, but her mind let her conjure up an image of a prussian blue gaze and dark skin. Casey thought it wasn't likely to get any better than this tonight as she reached for the bottle of oúzo.

Casey turned the heavy glass over and a number of smirks as well as jealous sighs rose throughout the bar. She filled the glass with a shot of the oúzo and sat back, staring into eyes that had disappointingly turned brown once again. The stranger smiled just slightly as she lifted her hand to accept the drink.

Slender fingers scooped the shot glass up just as the stranger's fingertips grazed the outside of the rim. Casey looked up into Tessa's angry face as the Karê swallowed the liquor in one forceful gulp, slamming the glass upside down onto the table.

"This bar is closed, go home little girl." She hissed at the stranger who was now on her feet. "You, come on." Tessa pointed at Casey.

"Just what in the hell do you think you're doing?" Casey yelled, rising to her feet.

"Taking you home." Tessa yelled back.

"It doesn't sound like your woman wants to go home with you, friend." The stranger commented evenly.

"I don't give a good god damn what she wants and she is not my woman." Tessa replied fiercely.

"Then she is free to stay if she chooses."

"Over my dead body." Tessa said ominously as she grabbed Casey by the elbow.

"I'd hate for that to be the alternative." The stranger said, pulling a long bladed knife from inside her coat.

Tessa stood still for a moment and released Casey's hand, moving away from the small blonde so she wouldn't be in the middle of anything.

"So, you want to play king of the hill, do you?" Tessa smiled a thoroughly evil smile.

The stranger simply smiled back, the same baneful grin.

Casey was caught up in the electrically charged atmosphere that suddenly took over the room. Any amount of a buzz she had going simply disappeared as she stood, stone cold sober, watching as the two women eyed one another warily. The stranger could have been Tessa five or ten years earlier. The same height and build, they measured one another up, waiting to see who would make the first move. They only stood a couple of feet apart and Casey watched as Tessa's left hand moved so fast that it was almost a blur. The dark-haired woman reached to her back, under her leather jacket and pulled out a Glock pistol, pressing it against the stranger's forehead.

"Guess what this means." Tessa spat.

The stranger was no novice to the street or having a gun pointed at her head. She tossed the knife onto the table and winked at Casey.

"I think it means you win." The stranger said.

"I think it means you're smarter than you look." Tessa responded.

The stranger raised her hands and Tessa lowered the gun, then replaced it in her holster. The two women stood there trying to decide what would be done. Casey watched as the fire still burned just below the surface.

"Allright, enough. Tessa, I'm leaving, just...please, both of you calm down." Casey said quietly.

"You don't have to be afraid of her." The stranger said to Casey.

"I'll be allright, thank you for a semi-lovely evening." The blonde replied with a nervous smile.

The stranger gently took Casey's hand, keeping one eye on the dark-haired woman whose lips raised in a menacing sneer as she watched the young woman draw Casey closer.

"She may say you are not her woman, but her eyes tell a different story." The stranger quickly whispered in Casey's ear, smiling then releasing the shocked blonde's hand.

Tessa held out her hand to Casey, but the small blonde walked abruptly past her and out the front door.

If she were my woman," the stranger called to Tessa's back, "I wouldn't give her a reason to come looking in a place like this."

The dark-haired woman never slowed her stride, but the stranger's words struck surprisingly close to her heart.


 

By the time Tessa reached the parking lot where she knew Casey's BMW was parked, the small blonde had started the car and was preparing to leave.

"I'll follow you to make sure you get home allright." Tessa stated.

"I said I was leaving, I didn't say I was going home."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"What part of it didn't you get? Do I need to say it slower?" Casey shouted back at the woman leaning over the car.

Tessa felt a rising fireball in the pit of her stomach and she desperately tried to shove the beast down. She was unused to being shouted at or disobeyed, especially by women. She quickly reached in and pulled the keys from the ignition. Casey jumped from the vehicle, slamming the door.

"God damn you, Tessa, give me back those keys!" Casey screamed at the woman.

"Not until you stop acting like a child!"

"Oh, fine, just keep the damn things, I'm going back inside." Casey made a move toward the bar.

"Forget it." Tessa was towering over her in a heartbeat, her hand clamped tightly around the small blonde's wrist.

"Oh, I see," Casey shouted at the dark-haired woman. "You don't want me, but you don't want anyone else to have me, is that it?"

Tessa reached up and grabbed the front of the young woman's blouse; her eyes lit up like blue fire, her gaze narrowing.

"So, is that all you want now...a good fuck?" Tessa said slowly.

"Yea, that's all I want, just one good fuck!" Casey returned hotly.

"Well, you should have told me that, baby." Tessa said pulling the small blonde by her blouse closer until their faces were inches apart. "I would have been glad to accommodate, then you wouldn't have had to sneak all the way down here. Come on." Tessa continued, pulling the small woman to the BMW.

"Get in." Tessa said not waiting for a response before shoving the woman through the passenger side door.

Tessa slid in behind the wheel and adjusted the seat before looking over at the small blonde.

"What's the matter, baby? You said this is what you want, right, just some uncomplicated sex? Trust me, I'll give you the best you've ever had." Tessa teased and mocked at the same time, undisguised lust now apparent in her gaze.

When Tessa started the car and turned out onto the one lane road up into the hills of Ano Merá, Casey had a deer in the headlights look and Tessa knew she had her now.

"Don't worry, baby, it'll be better than anything those little girls back at the bar could give you." Tessa purred.

The Karê's amorous intent was clear and Casey had to make a quick decision. Act like the scared little girl this woman thought she was or fight back.

Casey steeled herself and leaned against the door so she was facing the dark-haired woman.

"I don't know, this sounds like an awful lot of buildup to me. Are you sure your body is going to be able to keep up with that mouth of yours?" Casey said with a confident air.

Tessa slammed on the brakes so hard Casey had to use both hands to keep from being slammed into the dash. The dark-haired woman reached out and grabbed Casey by the back of the head, pulling the smaller woman's body halfway across the gearshift by her hair. Tessa's mouth crushed the stunned lips of the small blonde. She kissed her long and hard, her tongue forcing itself hungrily into Casey's mouth until the Karê heard a small whimper of surrender escape from the small blonde's throat. She pulled Casey away from her roughly, her hand still holding the young woman by the hair.

"Now, anytime you feel my mouth or any other part of my body isn't keeping up, then you just let me know." Tessa put the car back in gear and sped off, not looking across at Casey again until they reached their destination.


Part 3


 

"Where are we?" Casey asked as the dark-haired woman unceremoniously pushed her through the door.

It seemed to be a village farmhouse. It appeared quite small and apparently deserted, but it looked as though someone still kept it up. There were fresh logs in the fireplace, blankets on the sofa, and Casey noticed that there wasn't any dust on any of the furniture.

Tessa crossed the darkened room and lit an oil lamp that hung on a high peg near the kitchen area. She seemed to pay no mind to the small blonde who stood shivering from the night air, in the middle of the cabin. The Karê began a fire and soon the room was aglow and the leaping flames warmed the small area quickly.

"No electricity." Tessa explained. "You still cold?" She asked, leaning her backside against a square wooden table.

Casey nodded, but the next words she heard didn't make her any warmer, they simply made her shiver all the more.

"Come over here...I'll get you warmed up." Tessa leered.

Casey looked up in the Karê's hungry eyes and a thought raced through her head about a fairy tale and the way little red riding hood felt when she looked into the eyes of the wolf that was about to devour her. The small blonde couldn't tear her own needful gaze away and so she slowly crossed the room to stand in front of the seated woman.

Tessa quickly reached out and pulled the young woman to her. There wasn't any tenderness involved and if Casey thought it was to be a gentle seduction, she was very wrong. The Karê grabbed the young woman's backside and pulled her between her spread legs, squeezing the woman harder against her and spreading her own legs even wider.

"Is this what you wanted to feel tonight?" Tessa asked as her hands found their way under the smaller woman's blouse, her hands kneading both breasts roughly.

Casey gasped at the first touch and Tessa smiled that grin that didn't seem to belong to her, but someone else. The dark-haired woman snaked one arm around the girl's waist and began aggressively kissing her, one hand still fondling the small blonde's breast over the material of her bra. Casey began moaning into the Karê's consuming kisses, pressing her small body closer. When the young woman wrapped her arms around the Karê's neck, Tessa pulled back.

"Ah, ah, ah," Tessa remarked, prying the small blonde's hands from around her neck and pulling them behind Casey's back. She held both wrists in her firm grasp at the small of Casey's back, pushing up slightly until the young woman gasped in pain.

"Nikki, why are you doing this?" Casey asked, wincing.

Tessa put on a look of genuine surprise. "It's what you wanted isn't it, baby? Tell me the truth, Casey," Tessa began sucking and biting at the sensitive flesh along Casey's throat. "When that girl in the bar took you upstairs and asked you how you wanted it, you were going to give her complete control, weren't you? You were going to let her do anything she wanted to...tender, hard, it didn't matter as long as you got off, did it? You wanted to be up there in the dark giving it all to her didn't you...didn't you?" Tessa jerked up on Casey's wrists, demanding an answer.

"Yes, I--I did."

Suddenly Tessa released Casey's wrists and the young woman rubbed the area to get her circulation going again. The dark-haired woman slipped her arm around the girl's waist again and her hand found it's way under the blouse, this time gently teasing her nipples through the silken material of her bra, stroking them into tightened nubs.

"You didn't have to go all the way to the bar, baby." Tessa said, her voice turning deceptively soft. The Karê began to kiss Casey's lips, teasing with her tongue until the young woman opened her mouth and accepted the dark-haired woman's probing muscle.

"I would have given you that anytime. You could have come over to the guesthouse and I could have given you what you needed. You could have spread your legs or bent over and I would have given you anything you fantasized about."

All the while Tessa talked she kissed the young woman, nibbling gently on her lower lip. Her fingers under Casey's blouse squeezed and pinched the erect nipples until Casey was trying to hold back the rocking motion of her hips.

"Did you think her fingers and her tongue were more talented than mine?" Tessa continued, "Hhmm? Oh, no, that's right you didn't want to have to see her face, did you? Well, we can handle that too, baby."

Tessa released the young woman and stood, towering over her. The Karê grabbed Casey's shoulders and spun her around until the small blonde was facing away from her. Slipping an arm around the smaller woman's waist, Tessa crushed the blonde's body against her chest.

"Now you don't have to see my face, it can be as anonymous as you want." Tessa purred into Casey's ear as she reached around and began to unbutton the smaller woman's blouse. "Now I want you to tell me what you were going to let her to do you, upstairs in that bar."

Tessa continued, easily releasing the front clasp on Casey's bra. When the Karê's hands took possession of the firm mounds of flesh, Tessa moaned against the smaller woman's neck, grasping smooth skin between her teeth and biting down sharply. Her hands lingered over the tightly pebbled flesh and she rolled the aching points between her fingers, grinding herself against the smaller body in front of her. She slid her hands lower and Casey felt her slacks being unzipped, then a hand breaching the barrier of her panties, stroking the silky patch of hair. The young blonde's whimpers were constant as the dark-haired woman held her and teased her body.

"Were you going to let her touch you like this?" Tessa asked, her voice growing hoarse with desire. She could feel her own wetness growing as she touched Casey.

Strong, slender fingers slipped lower and Casey's hips bucked against the pleasure. The small blonde was close to tears. She had never been this aroused, yet hurt at the same time. She couldn't begin to explain to Tessa, that she wanted sex from those other women, but she wanted so much more from the woman that was now setting her body on fire.

"Oh, God baby, you're so wet." Tessa groaned as she slipped her fingers into the young woman's silky folds.

"Oh, God!" Casey exclaimed, as she felt Tessa's long fingers start to stroke her swollen clitoris.

"Like that, do you? Nice and slow just like this? Are you going to come for me, little one?"

That was the remark that woke Casey out of her libidinous haze, little one. Yes, this was exactly what she wanted from the stranger in the bar, but she loved Tessa too much to experience this casual contact with her.

"Nikki, please stop."

"Oh, no, I want to feel you come for me first."

Casey began to push against the taller woman, she grabbed onto Tessa's wrist, but the Karê was a much stronger woman. Suddenly, Casey couldn't hold the tears in any longer and her body began to shake with sobs. She cried out of pain and frustration, and a hurt that clutched at her chest tightly.

If it had been any other woman, Tessa would have gone on and taken exactly what she wanted, never thinking twice about tears. This wasn't just any other woman, though and now Tessa became confused, her head and her heart pulling her into two different directions. She handled her overwhelming emotions the only way she knew how, her anger bubbled to the surface.

"If this is what you wanted from her, then why not me?" Tessa hissed, pulling her hands from the young woman.

"Because I'm not in love with her!" Casey cried.

It took only seconds for the Karê to react. She turned Casey's body around to face her and shoved her, thrusting her back in the direction of the front door. Casey's body hit the solid wooden entrance and the impact nearly knocked the wind out of her. Tessa towered over her and her fist came flying in the direction of Casey's head. The small blonde didn't even have time to duck, but the blow wasn't aimed at the girl's head, but at the door, a good six inches above her. Tessa repeated the blow and then she pounded her fist against the wood until her knuckles were raw and bleeding.

You are not in love with me! Don't ever say that!" Tessa screamed as she hit the door again. "No one can love me!"

Casey flinched each time the Karê's fist struck the door, tears streaming down the small blonde's face.

"You don't know who I am...the things I've done, that I do, that I'll do tomorrow! I am a monster and--"

Tessa's voice finally broke and Casey could see the deep pain in the blue eyes gone dark with emotion. The tall woman's eyes darted back and forth nervously, filling with tears that she seemed unable to shed. She leaned her weight over Casey until her forehead was pressed up against the smooth wood.

"Don't you understand, Casey," Tessa said with utter defeat, "...women like you don't love women like me. I don't deserve to be loved, not at all and especially not by someone as good as you."

Never in her young life had Casey ever witnessed so much hurt and pain manifest itself into one woman's words. She took Tessa at her word and for the first time realized that the Meridio Karê had probably done things that would turn Casey's stomach, perhaps shock and frighten her. The dark-haired woman felt her own life to be beyond redemption, so far gone that she would give up any chance at happiness rather than infect Casey's life with her pain.

Only one problem with that, my love, I don't scare that easy.

Knowing that she might possibly find Tessa's fist connecting with her jaw, she went ahead and decided to risk the outcome. Standing nearly on tiptoes, the small blonde wrapped her arms around Tessa's shoulders and let one hand slip within the dark mane of hair.

"Everyone deserves to be loved, Nikki. I know I may not realize all the things that you've done and I'm not saying that I wouldn't be shocked or appalled by them. It's just that right now I don't give a damn what horrible things you've brought about, and it doesn't matter how cruel or how hard you act toward me. It will never make me stop loving you. Don't you understand me...I love you, Nikki."

Casey continued her soft whisperings, all the while gently caressing the tense muscles in the tall woman's shoulders. At length, she could feel the anger begin to slip away from the Karê's body. Tessa pulled away slightly, her arm still leaning heavily on the door at the side of Casey's head. The tears that filled the blue eyes finally fell, silently rolling down tanned cheeks. Tessa rose a hand and hesitated for a moment before reaching out and wiping Casey's tears away with her fingertips. The dark-haired woman continued to stroke the smaller woman's face as if in wonder, as if she were seeing her for the first time.

"I'm so sorry." Tessa whispered, leaning closer to place a feather light kiss on Casey's forehead. "I don't see it," Tessa continued to speak, her breath falling lightly against the small blonde's face. "I don't understand what you could see in me that would make you love me."

Casey smiled a little and reached up to place a tender kiss on the Karê's lips. The touch of her lips was so gentle and easy that Tessa had to wonder if their lips were touching at all, but the delicate contact was like a balm to the dark-haired woman's soul.

"Then I'll have to teach you to see yourself through my eyes." Casey said, pulling away from the kiss.

Tessa could think of nothing to say, to either counter the young woman's thoughts or to argue at the absurdity of their situation. Her head told her that there were arguments available, but, admit it or not, her heart desperately wanted this to happen. Feeling herself unable to speak or explain all she felt to the smaller woman, she did the only thing she could do. She wrapped Casey within her strong embrace and held her there, running her fingers through the short blonde locks and reveling in the feel of her lips as they brushed against the golden hair.

Casey pressed herself closer to the chest of the woman whose warm embrace now encompassed her. She listened to the strong heartbeat and breathed in the scent of her cologne. Casey's fingers began to run up and down the Karê's spine in a languid caressing motion. She smiled to herself when she felt Tessa's heart beat faster. The small blonde enjoyed the knowledge that the beautiful woman who held her did indeed feel something at her touch. Casey pushed the Karê's shirt aside where it was unbuttoned at the neck and pressed her lips to the smooth skin there. She felt a hitch in the taller woman's breathing and she moved her kisses lower. Unbuttoning two more buttons, she reached out her tongue and slid the tip against the dark skin within the hollow between Tessa's breasts.

"Oh God, Casey." Tessa groaned, letting her head fall back in serene pleasure.

The small blonde kissed her again, then moved away from Tessa and the Karê felt herself standing transfixed, her chest rising and falling deeply as she attempted to catch her breath. She watched as Casey went to the sofa and took the blankets piled there and arranged them on the rug in front of the fireplace. The young woman watched the fire for a moment and then added two more logs to the dying flames. They sparked briefly and caught fire, the reflection of the orange flames dancing across Casey's body. Tessa continued to stare as Casey unbuttoned her slacks and let them slide off her body.

"What are you doing?" Tessa found herself asking although it seemed a rather inane question given the look in the small blonde's eye.

"I'm undressing." Casey said matter of factly.

"Why?"

Brilliant exposition...you're a silver tongued devil! Get over there and do something, Niko. Stop her, help her, do anything...do her, just quit standing here like you're an innocent virgin.

"Because I want you to make love to me." Casey said, smiling a thoroughly seductive smile.

The moment had come and Tessa pushed herself from the door and walked to where the young woman stood.

"Casey--" She began.

The small blonde reached up and initiated a kiss that made all the others they shared so far pale in comparison. Tessa had honestly, never been kissed by a woman who had the power to make her knees go weak, but this girl was doing it. She felt the strong bones in her long legs start to turn to liquid at the passionate kiss. Casey moved her mouth to the Karê's neck and sucked hard at the flesh there.

With what seemed like a supreme effort, Tessa pushed the young woman away. "Please, stop."

The Karê had made her decision and would have to live with the consequences that would come. Casey raised deep green eyes to the cerulean orbs that looked down on her. For the first time today Casey watched as those eyes took on their familiar sparkle when they gazed at her.

"Just for a minute," Tessa said quietly, placing her index finger on the smaller woman's lips.

Tessa removed her jacket and pulled her cellular phone from the breast pocket. She carefully removed the holster and pistol from the belt at her back and placed it on the small table by the sofa. She punched two numbers onto the keypad of the phone and pressed the talk button.

"It's me. Is he back? What happened? Good. No, I found her," she said into the phone, looking up just as Casey removed her blouse and the unclasped bra that still clung to her shoulders. Tessa closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deeply.

"What? Yea, she's fine. Look; if you need me tonight, if anything happens at all don't let anyone know I'm not there. Call me on the cell, I probably won't be home till morning." Tessa put her hand over the mouthpiece because she was sure she was breathing heavily into the small speaker. Casey slipped off her panties and arranged herself on the blankets, lying on her side, her head held up in the palm of her hand, a Mona Lisa like grin on her face.

"Just don't let Meridio know I'm not there. Go over to the guesthouse and take my phone off the hook, turn on a light in the bedroom, make it look like I'm...otherwise engaged. No, she won't...she'll be with me." Tessa said at last, realizing she was entrusting her life to this young man with that last statement. Alex didn't disappoint her.

"You can count on me, Nikki." He responded sincerely.

"And, Alex. You handled yourself pretty well tonight."

Alex pushed the end button on his cell phone and grinned to himself. Then his expression grew worried. He hoped his mentor knew what she was doing. A guy screwing the boss' daughter was one thing. A dyke screwing Meridio's daughter was a match he didn't even want to think about lighting. He knew one thing, though. Nikki was in a pretty good mood when she was around the small blonde and the young girl was always nice to Alex.

He leaned back in his chair and thought about Nikki's last words. You handled yourself pretty well tonight. She'd never said anything close to that to him. He knew he wasn't the smartest brick in the load, but it sure felt nice to hear it. Maybe Meridio's daughter was just what the Karê needed.

Tessa clicked off the call and placed the phone beside her holster. Turning back to face the woman on the blankets, she let her gaze slowly travel the length of the woman's body, her eyes expressing unadulterated lust.

"Talk about cruel." Tessa said with a smirk.

"Well, you seemed to be taking an awfully long time on the phone and I had to do something." Casey indicated her naked body.

Tessa stood at the corner of the blanket and began to remove her own clothing as Casey's breath was suddenly stilled. The dark-haired woman took her time, removing each article of clothing with a deliberate and steady motion. Finally, standing over the young woman, Tessa let her arousal peak as she felt Casey's hungry eyes consume her flesh. The tall woman dropped to her knees and arranged her body so that she was lying alongside the small blonde, mirroring her pose.

"See something you like?" The Karê asked seductively.

"Absolutely." Casey replied, not even attempting to disguise the want in her eyes as they traveled along the tall woman's muscular physique.

"Then never let it be said that a Nikolaidis was unwilling to satisfy a woman's every desire." Tessa responded in a low sultry voice, repositioning her body until her length lay on top of Casey's.

"God, Nikki, you feel so good." Casey groaned as her body arched up to press against the dark-haired woman.

Tessa ground her hips in a tempting swirling motion against the small blonde's mound, Casey instinctively spreading her legs wider. The Karê moaned at the pleasurable sensation then released a low growl at the feel of the young woman's wetness. Casey began to writhe in mere anticipation, her movement exciting both women even more.

The heavy gold crucifix that Tessa wore around her neck, began to drag along the small blonde's body as Tessa raised herself up on her hands, still grinding their mounds together in a teasing motion. Casey reached up and kissed the crucifix lightly, moving the charm so that it hung down Tessa's back.

"Aren't you a good Catholic girl?" The blonde teased.

Tessa rewarded the smiling young woman with a charming smile of her own.

"Well, I am Catholic, and I am a girl," She began, reaching in to capture the soft lips below her in a kiss filled with fiery passion. "You can tell me about the good part in the morning."

Casey chuckled and the Karê began to move her body down the smaller woman's prone figure. The small blonde had an unshakable feeling that there wouldn't be any question there.


 

Tessa woke just as the black sky was lightening to a shade of gray. The rising sun was some time off, but the woman's internal clock nudged her awake at her usual time. She had probably been asleep all of an hour, but although she felt exhausted, her body never felt more alive or happy. Tessa Nikolaidis, happy?

Tessa smiled openly at her thoughts, but knew it was true. She kissed the top of the blonde tousled head that murmured something and burrowed herself deeper within the Karê's embrace. Tessa knew that for the first time in a very long time she was happy. If anyone would have told her that inside of a week she would fall this hard and this fast she would have either laughed in their face or laid them out with one punch. She would have assumed they were making fun of her. It certainly has been a long time in the making, though, hasn't it, little one? Much longer than just a week. Has it really been twenty years?

She refused to let herself think about what was waiting for them outside this little house. She wrapped both arms tighter around the small blonde and only wanted to feel what was right here, right now. She never thought herself capable of having someone like this love her, not being the kind of woman she was. Yet, here was Casey, lying in her arms after the most incredible night's lovemaking, as physical proof. It's true that the younger woman didn't know specifics, but Casey guessed and still she was here.

I do love you, Casey. Tessa cursed herself for not saying it aloud. Casey told her many times during the night those very words, but although Tessa felt them in her heart, she couldn't find the voice to say them aloud. Here she was, a woman that feared few things in life, yet she wasn't strong enough to profess the sentiment she'd never shared with anyone. She simply wasn't brave enough to give Casey her heart, when Tessa knew that even though all her love and happiness rested here in her arms, she still had an obligation to fulfill that would eventually cause Casey to hate her. There were things put into motion long before you got here and planted yourself in my heart, little one; things that I have to see through to the end.

"Casey?" Tessa called softly, attempting to rouse the warm body in her arms. "Come on, sweetheart, it's time to wake up."

"Oh, no," Casey groaned. "It can't possibly be time to wake up, I still have sleep left in me."

"Well, shake it off," Tessa chuckled, "because the sun will be up in an hour or two and we still need to pick up my car."

The dark-haired woman finished the statement by placing her fingers under the small blonde's chin and tilting her face upward. Casey quickly ran her hands through sleep tumbled hair and suddenly became self-conscious.

"I must look like hell." She stated with her chin still in Tessa's gentle grasp.

"You look absolutely beautiful." Tessa replied honestly, placing a sensuous kiss on the smaller woman's lips.

It took seconds for Casey to deepen the kiss, her hands beginning to roam across the Karê's body. Tessa stifled a moan and quickly grabbed a hold of the blonde's roving hands.

"Oh no you don't." Tessa laughed.

"What, don't I get breakfast?" Casey said coyly with a look on her face to match.

"You had a month's worth of breakfast last night." Tessa countered.

"Hey, can I help it you taste so good?" Casey whispered, nipping at the woman's earlobe.

Tessa took a chance that she would hit the right spot and began to tickle the small woman intently.

"Oh, God, no fair." Casey giggled breathlessly. "Now I really have to go to the bathroom."

Tessa could barely stop laughing as she rolled off of the young woman. "First door on the left." She continued her laughter, pointing down the short hallway.

When Casey finally popped her head out of the bathroom she looked somewhat confused.

"Nikki, there is too electricity in here."

Tessa had been lying on the blankets with her eyes closed, her hands clasped behind her head. Her eyelids popped open and as she rolled over to meet the young woman's eyes, her face took on a decidedly sheepish expression.

"Uhm, I lied?" she shrugged noncommittally.

"You," Casey began, pointing a finger at the dark-haired woman, "well...you're just too damn cute to yell at in the morning." Casey finished returning to the bathroom.

Tessa's face relaxed into a toothy grin as she watched the attractive figure disappear into the bathroom and heard the sound of the shower running. She jumped up and went to a small cabinet and pulled some towels from a shelf. Entering the small room she watched as the young woman ran a brush through her short blonde hair.

"Want to be a dear and wash my back?" Casey asked, turning and slipping her arms around the Karê's waist.

Tessa raised an eyebrow at the young woman's tactics, but suddenly the warm body pressed up against her naked flesh felt too delightful to turn down.

"Well, I guess it would be faster if we showered together and we would be doing our part to conserve water."

"Mmm hmm," Casey agreed. "After you."

Tessa stepped into the old-fashioned claw foot tub, pushing aside the shower curtain that ran all the way around the ceramic bathtub. She turned the nozzle up toward her body and let out a roar.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" She exclaimed leaping from the tub.

"What?" Casey questioned.

"There must be something wrong with the water heater, that stuff is like ice." She replied as she continued to shiver.

"Oh, that. Well, I only had the cold water on." Casey responded matter of factly. She reached down and turned the warm water handle. "I guess that pretty much evens us up for the no electricity comment.

"You," Tessa muttered, pulling the small body against her. "I'll get you back for that, sweetheart." She grinned maliciously. "When you're least expecting it."

They did manage to actually do a little washing amidst the kisses and caresses. Casey was having a hard time keeping her hands to herself and Tessa was having an even harder time not giving in to the young woman's advances. The Karê weakened, however, when the small blonde ran her tongue across a nipple already erect with desire.

"Ca-ssan-dra." Tessa drawled in a warning tone.

Casey's perfect white teeth bit down gently on the hardened flesh.

"Oh, yes." Tessa couldn't keep from moaning, suddenly to find that Casey was on her knees, letting her tongue slide into the dark thatch of hair between the Karê's legs.

"Oh, God, Casey." Tessa was groaning, leaning forward, towering over the blonde and placing both hands flat against the tile wall.

She involuntarily spread her legs, but only slightly, still it was enough for Casey to take advantage and bury her tongue deeper into the sweet wetness of her partner. Using firm strokes of her tongue, Casey knew that she could quickly bring Tessa to a point where the dark-haired woman would beg her not to stop. Tessa spread her legs just a touch more bringing them to the sides of the small tub. She moved the shower head so it was pointing away from them then released a few more breathless moans before Casey raised her head from her pleasurable task.

"We really...don't have...time for this, baby." Tessa panted.

Casey ran her tongue in one more extra firm stroke against her lover's, now throbbing clitoris.

"Do you want me to stop?" She asked quickly.

"Oh, yes!" Tessa's moan of pleasure was directed at the young woman's previous action so when Casey stopped completely, Tessa's eyes snapped open. "I--I mean, no!"

Casey performed the same routine and stopped quickly. "Was that a no, I want you to stop or a no, I don't want you to stop?"

"It...I...oh, God!" Tessa shook her head to try to will a little bit of sense into it. She figured that the reason her brain had refused to function was because all of her blood was now flowing straight to other parts of her body.

"I...oh God, please...I mean...Oh Casey, just don't stop eating me." Tessa finally blurted out, her hips thrusting forward shamelessly.

Casey smiled at Tessa's enthusiasm and positioned the dark-haired woman's foot on the rim of the tub.

Spreading her legs wide, Tessa released a growl that rumbled through her chest when she felt Casey's insistent tongue lapping at her center. Her hips began to rock against the young woman's fingers, thrusting inside her, and she placed her hand on the back of the small blonde's head.

"Please, baby...harder."

Casey wasn't sure whether the dark-haired woman wanted her to suck harder on the swollen clit she had in her mouth or if she wanted a stronger motion from her fingers. She decided to do both and the combination skyrocketed Tessa into an orgasm that left her body shivering and her legs unable to hold her own weight any longer. She sank down to the edge of the tub and held Casey in her arms.

"Oh, I'll get you back for that one too, little one."

"I'm counting on it." Casey teased.

Dressed and finally ready to leave the sun was just beginning to peek over the eastern hills. Tessa wrapped her arms around the small woman and kissed her tenderly.

"You have to remember, sweetheart that when we walk out of this house we can't be lovers." Tessa whispered.

Casey raised her head, a shocked expression on her face.

"That didn't come out right." Tessa grinned. "I mean, that to the rest of the world we can't appear to be lovers."

"That makes me feel a little bit better. How long, Nikki? Will we always have to live this way?"

"No, love, it won't always be this way, I promise. It's just that...well, there are things that I--"

"I know. Things you can't talk about, right?" Casey looked up with love radiating from the sea-green depths of her eyes.

Tessa nodded and pulled the small woman tightly to her body, enjoying the silken texture of the golden hair against her cheek. She didn't want Casey to see her face, but more importantly she didn't want to have to look into Cassandra's eyes. She held the smaller woman within muscular arms and said two quick prayers. One, that Casey would someday forgive her for what she had to do, and two, a prayer of thanks for this feeling of love, no matter how long it should last.

"I wish I knew what it was." Tessa said.

Casey pulled away to look into the blue eyes that sparkled with caring and desire. "What what was?"

"The one thing I did right to get you."

They shared a kiss that was equal parts devotion and desperation. Tessa held the door open and, taking a deep breath, Casey walked across the threshold to become Meridio's daughter once again.


 

Things couldn't have gone better if they'd planned it out, right up until the point when Casey was on about the fourth step headed up to her room when her father's office door opened up. The blonde panicked for a second and clutched the handrail in fear. She was much too far away from the top of the landing to run for it so she did the only thing she could think of. Turning around quickly she hit the bottom step just as Andreas Meridio came into view.

"Good morning, Pappa. Did you have a pleasant evening?" She said cheerily.

"Well, well, I am surprised to see you out of bed so early this morning. I'm glad though. I have some business associates on the island and they have a fondness for the steeplechase. I want you to have breakfast and put on your riding togs. I need your help in impressing these men. Katalavaynés, Máhtia Mou?"

"Of course, Pappa, I'd love to." Casey said with a bright smile that changed to a grimace as soon as her father was out of sight. Dear God, this is going to be the longest day of my life.

"Good morning, Miss" Olympia said as Casey entered the koozéna .

"Morning, Olympia. I need some of your strongest Greek Coffee."

"Make that two." Tessa's voice startled both women.

"That's easy enough." The older woman responded and turned back to the stove.

Tessa leaned on the counter next to Casey, and quickly scanning the area, she raised her index finger to the young woman's lips, the small blonde kissing the digit. The Karê rapidly pulled her finger away, but not before Olympia turned to face them, two coffees in hand.

The older woman looked hard at both young women and she slowly shook her head.

"I only hope you two know what you're doing." She said, mostly to herself, since neither Tessa nor Casey would raise their eyes.

"I have to go to work. Have fun sleeping all day." She whispered to Casey as she left with her cup of coffee, acting as if she hadn't heard the cook.

"Oh, haven't you heard? I get to entertain father's friends at the steeplechase track today." Casey said tiredly.

"Aren't you a bit wobbly for those jumps today?" Tessa asked with concern.

"I'll be okay." Casey replied, hoping that she didn't fall asleep in the saddle at any point during the day.


 

"Tessa, come in." Meridio said.

Tessa stood at the entrance, without coming right in, every morning for the past five years. Propriety dictated it so and the Karê wasn't one to break too far away from Greek tradition.

Tessa had barely taken her seat and a sip of her coffee before Meridio placed a manila folder in front of her. Upon opening the binder, she stared into the face of a man who was vaguely familiar, but whom she'd never met.

"Do you know him?" Meridio asked.

"I know of him. I've heard things...all bad. Why?"

"He's our new connection. Our friends across the water are shaking their organizational infrastructure a bit. He will be the man we deal with from now on."

"Lovely." Tessa exclaimed, closing the folder.

"I've invited them to lunch and to the horse track. He has a fondness for the steeplechase and good horses. We can make a present of one of our good mares. It will go a long way with a man like that. I want you to come along for obvious reasons, but Cassandra's going to be there and I don't want any of his men thinking she comes as part of the gift. I want it made very clear that she is my daughter, Katalavaynés?"

"Absolutely." Tessa shared her usual serpentine smile with her employer. "Trust me, if anyone of those men lay a hand on your daughter, it will be a very bleak day for his parents."

Meridio rose and placed a hand on the Karê's shoulder. "Good woman, I know I can depend on you to stay with Cassandra every minute, Tessa."

"You can count on me, Mr. Meridio." The dark-haired woman smiled broadly once her employer's back was turned.


 

Casey closed the door to her room and began to strip off the clothes that she still wore from the previous evening. She walked across the room and tossed the garments into a large wicker laundry basket. She stepped into the walk-in closet to find her riding pants and a pale green polo shirt, along with freshly polished boots hanging right in front of her. That Olympia is so damned fast, what would I do without her.

Turning with the hangars in hand she thought she heard a faint click in her bedroom. Walking out of the closet she noticed that a breeze blew in from the balcony door that was slightly ajar. Funny, I don't even remember opening the doors. She laid her clothes across the valet chair near the dresser and moved to close the doors.

Quickly a hand covered the woman's mouth and a warm body pressed against her naked flesh from behind. Casey recognized the familiar cologne immediately.

"I told you it would be when you were least expecting it, didn't I, little one?"

The hand slipped from her mouth and it began a possessive exploration of the front of the small blonde's body, a deep moan vibrating in her ear.

"Good, God, Nikki! You scared the hell out of me." Casey wasn't sure whether it was fear or desire that had her breathing so hard.

"I think I should get points for having impeccable timing." The tall woman replied, indicating the naked body wrapped in her strong embrace. With one arm locked around the blonde's waist, the other boldly caressed a path that began to ignite flames of passion in both women.

Tessa let her fingertips run along the definition of muscles in her lover's abdomen, bringing them up to cup the underside of a firm breast. She reached in and let her lips and tongue taste the smooth skin of the small blonde's neck, moving up to capture the soft earlobe within her perfect white teeth. She let her tongue swirl over the small bit of flesh in her mouth, while at the same time allowing her thumb to lazily stroke a quickly tightening nipple. Casey groaned out loud at the exquisite touch, arching her back into the Karê's caresses, trying to press her flesh harder against the woman's hands.

"Sshh," Tessa whispered into the small blonde's ear. "If you make any noise, I'll have to stop." The low voice continued.

Casey didn't know if her lover was trying to warn her or threaten her. She did know that there was no way that she was going to risk having the dark-haired woman stop at this point.

"I don't want to hear a sound, not a moan or even a whimper." Tessa said teasingly. Tessa grinned as she felt the frustration flow through the small blonde's body.

She raised both hands and began to knead the firm mounds of flesh within each hand, grasping the pink tips and rolling them between her thumb and forefinger. Casey endured the slow torture as long as she could before her own hands found their way on top of Tessa's, pressing the larger hands under hers against her firmly.

"Is this what you want, baby?" Tessa halted her kisses momentarily to whisper in Casey's ear, as she pinched and pulled the hardened points of flesh with a rougher touch.

Casey nodded vigorously and Tessa chuckled at the small blonde's attempt at silence. The dark-haired woman slid her hands down and across smooth, quivering flesh, which fluttered when the palms of her warm hands brushed lower, across the light down of her abdomen. Both hands swirled their fingers within the flaxen colored curls, teasing themselves lower into the warm wetness, only to abruptly change direction and brush through the curls once more.

Casey was trying hard not to make any noise at all. She knew they had to be quiet considering where they were, but it also occurred to her that this was a little power game of Tessa's. Deep down it was a way for the Karê to assert her dominance and even though the small blonde hated to admit it, even to herself, it thrilled her. Tessa was a woman of her word and Casey wouldn't be at all surprised if her lover pulled away only to leave her wanting. This fact, not knowing whether the dark-haired woman would give her release or not excited Casey in a way that she'd never felt before.

Tessa slid the fingers of both hands deep into the blonde nest of curls, unable to contain a groan herself at her lover's wetness.

"Oh God, baby...you feel so good."

Tessa felt Casey legs begin to tremble weakly and didn't think the small woman was going to last too much longer.

"Kneel down, to the floor." She commanded.

It was a good thing. Just as the Karê commanded her to kneel, Casey felt her knees buckle. She sunk to the floor, her lover on her knees behind her. Tessa sat back on her heels and pulled the smaller body to lean back against her. Casey turned her head and reached up her hand to grab a handful of raven hair. It didn't take much effort to pull a more than willing Karê's lips to her own.

Tessa's mouth swallowed any noise the small blonde was making, the dark-haired woman's fingers continuing to stroke the silky, wet folds of her partner. With one hand she began to stoke a throbbing clit, the other poised two fingers at her entrance and pressed against her sex in a teasing manner. Casey finally broke her lips away from the kiss, breathing hard, her eyes closed; she leaned her head back against her lover's shoulder.

"Oh please, Nikki." Casey murmured.

"Please what?" Tessa asked, knowing full well what the blonde desired. The Karê's center began to throb painfully at the slow and careful seduction and she began to grind her own hips against her lover's backside.

"Please...I want to feel you inside me."

"Mmm, inside you? Why, baby?" Tessa urged.

Casey could barely think considering the fact that every brain cell and nerve synapse was firing between her legs at the present moment. She understood completely what her lover wanted to hear. Dear God, Nikki, do you know how hard it is giving that up to someone?

"Because it feels so good when you fill me up," Casey turned her head and once more captured her lover's lips. Pulling away to catch her breath she continued. "Please, Nikki...I'm begging you...please, fuck me."

Tessa took the woman's mouth, her tongue exploring hungrily even as the thrust of her own hips grew stronger.

"That was a good answer, baby. Because you asked so nice and because you look so damn hot begging me like that..."

Tessa pressed two fingers inside the smaller woman and she felt Casey's hips instantly thrust themselves down hard on her fingers. She continued to stroke the hard nub of flesh with one hand while matching the rhythm of her lover's hips with the other. Tessa began to feel her own climax rushing upon her and held it off as long as she could, but the feel of this woman's excitement was having an intense effect on her body.

"Oh, Casey." The dark-haired woman groaned, feeling her body's shuddering release begin.

"Nikki..." Casey buried her breathless cry against the warm skin of the Karê's neck.

Casey's hand locked Tessa's wrist in an iron grip and the Karê stilled her movement, feeling her lover's inner muscles spasm, then clench tightly around her fingers. It was as if there was a connection between Tessa's hand, inside the small blonde, and her own groin. Feeling the fluttering of Casey's inner walls against her hand prolonged the release coursing through her own body.

"Théh Mou!" Both women hissed at the same time.

"I don't usually...as a rule...thank God after sex," Casey panted, "but...that was...incredible."


 

"You look pretty cute like that," Tessa kissed the small blonde's nose as she stood and buckled her skin-tight riding pants at the waist.

"Between you and me I hate them. I'd much rather ride in blue jeans and Tony Lama's."

"You and your bad American habits." Tessa folded her arms across her chest.

Casey ran her palms along the thighs of the tan riding pants then stepped forward and slipped her arms around the taller woman's waist.

"I love you, Nikki." Casey said softly, reaching up to place a tender kiss on the startled woman's lips.

"I...Casey...I don't--" Tessa uncharacteristically stammered, unsure of how to react to her lover's words. Oh Casey, if I feel it why can't I say it?

Casey stopped the dark-haired woman by placing her fingers over the soft lips she'd just kissed.

"I know. I know how hard this is for you, love. You don't have to say anything at all, I can feel what's in here," she finished, placing the palm of her hand over Tessa's heart and rewarding the taller woman with a smile that was as bright as the sunshine.

Tessa didn't hesitate and pulled the small woman to her, holding her tightly.

"You are truly a gift to me, little one." She whispered, trying hard to hold back the tears that burned the back of her eyes.


 

"Muhammad Bin Yamen, please let me introduce my daughter, Cassandra Meridio. She is an excellent rider and will show you how fine the horseflesh raised on Mýkonos is." Andreas Meridio looked slightly nervous as he made the introductions.

Yamen and his henchmen were quite polite upon meeting Casey. In their eyes she was a woman and looked at as nothing, but they learned to get along with the ways of other countries and the position women attained. The tall, Amazon looking woman, worried them however.

"And, this is Tessa Nikolaidis, my Karê." Meridio finished.

The Libyan visitors made no attempt to shake hands with the Karê, but Tessa never flinched or turned her eyes away from their obdurate stares. She casually folded her arms across her chest and glared back, the perpetual scowl upon her face. She was quite used to situations like this, Old World men who were offended at the idea of working alongside a woman. Tessa's retribution was to simply straighten herself to her full height, a good six feet two with her riding boots on, and look down at the shorter men. They always hated that and the dark-haired woman could barely contain her mirth when she saw a few of them straighten up to try and equal her height.

Casey gave the men a tour through the family stables, giving them more information than they probably wanted to know about horses, and the way they were trained for the steeplechase. Tessa stood back and not only kept a protective eye on the small blonde, but also studied her newest adversary, Yamen. The dark-haired woman listened as Casey spoke and was again surprised by her new lover. She knows almost as much about horses as she does olives. Why in the hell does she dig up dead stuff for a living?

They took a break for lunch, Olympia having prepared a veritable feast on the patio. Meridio and Tessa sat with Yamen, the rest of the men at another table, while Casey was relegated to lunching in the kitchen with Olympia. Under other circumstances, Casey would have been offended and probably would have tried to do something to display that attitude. Today she didn't mind in the least. She didn't like the way the men looked at her. Half of them, including their leader, looked down their noses as if she were nothing more than a piece of fine furniture or a rug beneath their feet. The other half of the men leered at her when they thought no one else was watching. Tessa was always watching, however, and Casey took comfort in that fact.

It was late afternoon and Casey's lack of sleep the night before coupled with the large lunch she just enjoyed, had the small blonde yawning deeply as she tightened the strap on the large bay gelding's stirrup. The horse looked like a skyscraper standing next to the small woman. She tugged on a pair of tight fitting leather gloves. Adjusting the helmet on her head, she took the reins in her own hands, and accepted a foot up from the stable hand. The horse seemed skittish and Tessa saw the muscles standing out in Casey's arms, biceps flexing strongly on the woman's lean arms, as she tried to rein the animal in. Finally Casey's will and firm hand convinced the animal to accept the bit and he shook his head, waiting patiently.

The Karê was impressed at her lover's mastery over the large beast, but she couldn't help noticing the yawn that Casey let out. She walked closer, looking up with concern written across her features.

"You sure you're up for this?" Tessa asked.

"Sure, just wake me up when I'm done." The small blonde deadpanned adjusting a set of goggles over her eyes.

"Case," Tessa lowered her voice so that only the small blonde could hear her. "Are you sure? You could break your back if you fall. I just want to make sure you're alert enough."

Casey couldn't help the smile that that found its way to her face. "Yes, Karê, I'll be fine. Don't worry, okay?"

Tessa gave a smirk at that and gently hit the horse's rump to get him going.

Casey watched out of the corner of her eye as the spectators climbed onto a few special bleacher seats and pulled out their binoculars. The steeplechase was by no means a flat course. The Meridio estate boasted a three-mile cross-country course, but Casey would only be using half of that so she would stay in view of the spectators. The steed was Mávro To Vounó, Black Mountain, and she rode him around to each of the jumps, giving the horse a look at the fences.

Tessa nodded to a stable hand and while Casey still warmed up her animal, The Karê took the reins of a white stallion they called Flash. He was the fastest thing in the stable and Tessa simply wanted to be prepared in case anything should happen out on the course. Hearing the woman she loved tell her she was fine and believing it were two different things, and Tessa didn't like the tickling feeling in her gut that warned her of trouble.

Casey was a supremely light rider, and sat her saddle evenly. Most of the other 'jump' jockeys she competed against were much larger than she was, in the 140-pound range. It took more than speed to win a steeplechase, it took a lot of muscle too. She took a few small practice jumps, a box hedge no more than three feet high, finally testing the gelding's strength over a four-foot rail fence. The small blonde enjoyed having an open field to run on, usually in a steeplechase competition she was vying for position with forty or so other competitors. The sound of the horses hooves surrounded you and echoed like thunder in your brain, the mud and divots of earth flew up into your face and body.

The large gelding was a jumper horse, big and strong. He was trained for the hurdles and didn't know how to do anything else in life but run flat out and lift his body so that appeared to be floating in air for a few precious heartbeats. He was larger than most steeplechase thoroughbreds. The strong animal made it look easy. He enjoyed the weightlessness of the small rider and the way she didn't tighten back on the bit. He could feel the excitement begin to flow like waves from the mistress on his back and it began to infect him as he ran and flexed his muscles proudly. The animal couldn't know that this was the surge of adrenaline that Casey always felt when she started to fly around the obstacle course.

She was three-quarters of the way through with her run when she saw the large center jump coming up. It was a nearly five foot timber fence fashioned after the Maryland Hunt Cup's largest jump. They had just set into their run and Casey felt her vision blur. Hindsight told her she should have just hung on and let the animal beneath her do his thing, but not being able to see clearly, she panicked and in that moment of distraction, she pulled back on the horse's reins. The large animal felt the pull of the bit against his back teeth and instantly dug in his heels. Casey realized, as she was in mid air being thrown from the large animal's back, that this probably wasn't the smartest thing she'd ever done.

Tessa leapt upon the white stallion's back without her feet even touching the stirrups. She sped across the course at breakneck speed, flying across the hurdles even more effortlessly than Casey had just done. The small blonde lay on her back and wondered why she couldn't breathe. She rolled onto her side and in the distance she saw Flash taking the jumps more quickly than Casey thought she would even be able to manage, and she thought of herself as a pretty above average rider. Astride the white stallion was Tessa, her dark hair flying around her, a look of fear etched across her tan face.

"My knight on her white charger," Casey managed to gasp breathlessly as Flash pulled up and Tessa jumped from his back.

"Casey, honey, are you okay? Where does it hurt?"

"I...could tell you...if I could breath!" Casey panted with irritation.

She tried to sit up and Tessa breathed a sigh of relief, realizing she could move.

"Looks like you got the wind knocked out of you is all, come on, lets get you on your feet." Tessa responded and quickly pulled the small blonde into a standing position.

The dark-haired woman pressed the flat of her hand against the small woman's diaphragm. "Breathe as deep as you can." Tessa directed.

Casey tried to take a deep breath and simply gasped.

"Again." Tessa said.

The small blonde tried again and as Tessa pressed her hand more firmly against her belly, she felt the tightness ease up. By degrees the spasm ended and Casey was breathing normally again. By this time her father and the visitors had made it to the spot of her humiliation.

"Cassandra!" Andreas Meridio had his daughter in his arms and pulled back to look at her. "Did you break anything?"

"Only my pride, Pappa." She said with embarrassment, rubbing her sore back.

"She's fine. She's a tough one, Mr. Meridio. She just got the wind knocked out of her." Tessa explained.

Yamen chuckled out loud. "Perhaps you should have had sons, eh Meridio?"

The Libyan smacked Meridio on the back as if it was a friendly joke and Casey's father could do little else but take it that way or risk offending his guests. Tessa saw right through the dark man's words. He'd been waiting all day to find something that he could use to his advantage, to stroke his ego, and this was it.

Tessa took Casey by the elbow and lead her back to where the gelding stood.

"Do you hear them laughing over there?" Tessa asked in a low voice. "You know what they're laughing about?"

"I've got a pretty good guess," the small blonde hissed.

"You feel good enough to ride Mávro back to the stable?"

Casey nodded.

"You don't have to do anything but ride back in. Do not," Tessa cautioned the smaller woman, "take anymore jumps. It'll go a long way if you don't let them see you cave, that way we win."

Casey understood the we to be women, and so she gave a little grin and stuck her left foot in Tessa clasped hands, positioning herself once again on the gelding's back.

Meridio turned and saw his daughter in the saddle once again.

"What in the hell is she doing?"

"No problem," the Karê replied offhandedly, just loud enough for Yamen and his clowns to hear. "She just shook it off, she's fine."

Tessa watched as Casey rode the gelding off in the direction of the stables. Suddenly the small blonde turned the horse and they began picking up speed. Even from her distance the dark-haired woman could see the look of wild determination on the young woman's face as she sped toward the five-foot jump. The horse and rider sailed across the fence with at least six inches to spare. Casey then took the large gelding through the rest of the course, trotting back and pulling up in front of the group.

"Nothing to it." Casey smiled.

"Impressive," Yamen had to admit before he turned away.

The men walked away and Meridio turned to Tessa. "See to it she gets home, I'll see that our guests find their way out."

Meridio left and Tessa looked up and raised an eyebrow at the small blonde. "You follow directions so well."

"Sorry, but I couldn't help myself." Casey apologized.

Tessa tried to look angry, but she just couldn't keep the expression going. The young woman atop the horse looked so contrite that the Karê had to smile herself.

"Hey, race ya back to the barn!" Casey took off before Tessa knew what was happening.

It didn't take long for the dark-haired woman to jump into the saddle and come even with the blonde and the bay gelding. Once she passed Casey, she barreled out ahead, flying over the fences like they weren't even there. Casey was mesmerized and pulled Mávro up to a canter. The white stallion and the dark-haired woman moved like one animal, absolute fluidity and strength. Finally Tessa realized she was alone and pulled her horse to a stop, waiting for Casey to catch up.

"What's the matter?" Tessa questioned.

"I had to stop and watch, it was...it was like...magic." Casey hesitated, trying to explain.

Casey saw a slow blush creep up into the Karê's face.

"Where on earth did you learn to ride like that?"

"My father taught me when I was little." Tessa responded, feeling the heat on her face. She wasn't used to being complimented, even if it was by her new lover.

"Then I have to meet him, because I would surely love to be able to jump like that."

Tessa's face immediately turned to stone, the hard edge to her mouth raising in a tiny sneer. "He's dead." She said abruptly, turning her horse away and spurring him on into the stable, leaving Casey in the middle of the field.

The young woman cursed herself for speaking without thinking. Great, Case! Your second stupid move of the day. How was I to know he was dead?

By the time Casey got to the stable, Tessa was already gone. Once she made it back to the house, Tessa was nowhere to be found.

"Olympia, did Tessa come through here?"

"Yes, Miss. I saw her go around to the guest house just a few moments ago."

The small blonde found herself at Tessa's door, knocking like she was a stranger. She knew the dark-haired woman was there because she could hear the strains of Puccini's La Bohème playing quite loudly. She knocked and called Tessa's name, but the Karê wouldn't answer.

"Fine!" Casey stalked off with a small limp from her sore back that wasn't getting any better as time went by.

Tessa couldn't answer the door, not with the state she was in. It had been like a dam breaking open and she barely made it back to the guesthouse in time. One thought of her father while looking into Casey's eyes had been enough to open a flood of emotions that Tessa managed to keep under her tight control for so long. She sat on the floor next to the couch, her arms wrapped around her legs that were bent tight against her chest. She sobbed as if her heart were breaking. She couldn't seem to stop and so she simply turned the music up louder to cover her cries.

She wanted so much to simply open the door and let Casey in. She wanted to feel her lover's arms around her, soothing her with her gentle touch and her loving words. But, she couldn't let Casey see her like this. In her condition, Tessa knew she would say too much. She would tell the small blonde everything, and when she did, Casey's ability to love her would grow cold.


 

"Just set up the table anywhere." Casey said, a slight grimace of pain flashing across her face.

The masseuse was a young woman in her twenties, pretty and athletic looking. Casey would usually have noticed something like that, but between the ache in her back and her worries and anger where Tessa was concerned, she was oblivious. The small blonde came back out of the bathroom with a sheet wrapped around her. This time she did notice the way the young woman's eyes took in her figure. The surreptitious gaze didn't go completely unnoticed by the small blonde.

A knock at the door drew her attention away just in time.

"Come in."

The door swung open and Tessa's dark figure stood framed in its outline, taking in Casey's attire and the young masseuse with a raised eyebrow. Casey had the sudden need to explain, especially when Tessa's eyebrow continued to arch high up under her ebony bangs.

"I'm getting a massage." Casey couldn't understand why her response was so weak.

Tessa pulled out her billfold and placed a generous amount of money in the young girl's hand.

"Pack up your things and go." Tessa ordered.

The young woman didn't hesitate, she began picking up her belongings to leave.

"Wait a minute! This is my room. Stay!" Casey pointed to the young woman who set the table down again, glancing between the two women.

"Take off!" Tessa hissed.

"Stay!" Casey repeated.

The young girl was in a near state by this time watching the Karê and the small blonde stare one another down. "Please, Miss." The girl begged of Casey.

"I hope you're happy, you've scared the hell out of the poor girl!" Casey seethed.

"Goodbye!" Tessa growled in a low ominous voice.

The girl knew who was in charge now. She scooped up the rest of her things and rushed through the open door, which Tessa closed and locked behind her.

Casey was fuming at the Karê's intrusion, mostly for treating her like a child again in front of someone else. She turned her back on the dark-haired woman and stood there feeling the blood flowing through her veins grow hot. It didn't take long before she felt Tessa's presence close behind her. The tall woman placed her hands on Casey's arms to pull her closer.

"Don't touch me." Casey tried to make it sound like she meant it, but the truth was she was desperate to feel Tessa's arms around her.

The Karê deepened her embrace, enclosing the smaller woman within her arms.

"I'm sorry, Casey. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." Tessa said, so softly it was nearly a whisper.

The small blonde turned in the embrace. Looking up into the repentant woman's face, Casey noticed how red and swollen Tessa's eyes were and realized she'd been crying. Oh God, that's why she didn't answer the door.

"Am I responsible for this?" Casey's fingers reached up to stroke a tan cheek, her anger melting away.

Tessa took the fingers in her hand and brought them to her lips. "It wasn't you, only some sad memories. I just--I couldn't be around anyone."

"Even me?" Casey asked.

Especially you, little one. Tessa kissed the top of the blonde head and rested her chin there, enjoying the warm softness of the woman pressed against her chest.

"I'm not...I'm not really used to this, you know?" Tessa faltered. She was a woman of action, not of words. She hoped the woman in her arms could feel what she meant rather than what she said. "I don't like...feeling weak."

"Is that what you think it is to show your emotions in front of someone who cares about you? Oh, honey, I'm not one of those nut cases you do business with. You don't have to worry that I'll use your vulnerabilities against you. Come here."

Casey took her lover by the hand and led her to the sofa across from the french doors. The view was a peaceful one, the sun just beginning to sink in the horizon.

"Just a second." Casey added and ran into the bathroom. She came out wearing a white terry cloth robe.

"I think I liked you in the sheet better."

"I'll just bet you did."

They sat on the couch and when Tessa moved to pull the smaller woman into her embrace, Casey shook her head. Throwing a pillow behind her back for comfort, she settled herself into the corner of the couch and beckoned the taller woman into her embrace. The look of indecision on the Karê's face bordered on fear as she thought about what the action implied.

"You're thinking about it too much. Try to give up just a tiny bit of that control. You don't have to be on your guard in front of me, Nikki."

Oh, but I do, little one. She hesitated, but something deep inside her told her that she did want to be held by this woman. Just once, it would be nice to have someone worry about her.

Casey was patient, she could see her lover at war with herself. Finally she was rewarded with a miniature smile and a pair of sparkling blue eyes. The dark-haired woman allowed herself to be enfolded in the deceptively strong embrace of her lover.

"Your heart beats so fast." Tessa said sleepily.

"Only when I'm around you, my love." Casey responded.

Little by little Casey could feel the strong woman's body relax. They looked out onto the sparkling blue of Tourlos Bay and watched the pelicans flying over the water, following the last of the fishing boats as they dropped anchor for the evening. Tessa couldn't remember a time when she felt more at peace with herself and the world around her. Her lover's delicate touch never stopped moving over the naturally dark hue of the Karê's skin. The small hands ran gentle fingers through the long ebony locks until, at last, Casey could feel Tessa's deep, even breathing. She looked down and was struck at the woman's intense beauty. In sleep, gone was the persistent scowl, her face unlined from the worries and the past that plagued her during her waking moments. The smooth brow and the lips, slightly curled upward in a relaxed smile, caused Casey to think she had seen this face before. Not the woman with the hard edge to her, but tranquil just as she was now. Sort of like a little girl.

"I don't care what you say, Nikki," Casey whispered, looking into the beautiful tan features of the woman in her arms, "I have seen you in my dreams, I can feel it."

She placed a gentle kiss on the dark-haired woman's forehead, and then the larger woman murmured something unintelligible in her sleep, snuggling further into Casey's embrace. The small blonde leaned her head back and watched as the sun dipped further in the horizon, filling up the room with its golden brilliance.


 

Tessa jerked herself awake and a moment of panic flooded through her at her unfamiliar surroundings.

"It's okay, you've only been asleep for a an hour." Casey reassured her.

The Karê sat up with a sheepish grin, running her hand through her hair. She could see that the last sliver of the sun hung just above the water.

"I've never done that before...just fall asleep like that, I'm sorry."

"I feel flattered then that you felt comfortable enough, besides, I think it's exactly what you needed." Casey replied, standing to stretch the muscles in her back.

"Hey, are you still hurting?" Tessa regretted throwing the therapist out of the room, but her jealousy had simply gotten the better of her.

"It doesn't really hurt, just stiff I think. Maybe I can work it out tomorrow."

"Or," Tessa moved her hands to her lover's hips and gently drew her forward. "I could work it out for you tonight. I have a nice whirlpool in my nice big bath."

"Mmm, but I have a whirlpool here too." Casey responded, her hands running through the long dark mane.

"Yes, but yours doesn't have a nice warm cushion to lie against, namely my body. Plus, I owe you a massage. I could make it one you won't soon forget."

"Sold!" Casey said without further thought.

Tessa stood and kissed the young woman. "Come down to the guest house after dinner. Make sure no one sees you, okay? I'll leave the back door open."

They kissed once more and the Karê was gone. Casey smiled as she dressed for dinner. She was starving...in more ways than one.


 

What will you do tonight, Máhtia Mou?" Andreas Meridio asked his daughter as they shared a cordial of sournáda.

Casey had been day dreaming, thinking of a certain dark-haired woman and the ways she might be able to work off the wonderful dinner Olympia had prepared. The older woman winked at Casey when she set down her plate with a large portion of Kléftiko in the middle. It was goat meat wrapped in parchment paper and cooked so that the juices and flavors were sealed in, and was one of Casey's all time favorites. By the time she got to the dessert of Sýka sto foúrno me Mavrodáfni, or fresh figs baked in Mavrodaphne wine, she was done in.

"Oh, I think I'm going to soak in a hot tub for a couple of hours and then go straight to bed." Casey replied, truthfully. Hey, he didn't ask if I'd be alone.

"Well, I think I'll call it an early evening too," he rose and kissed Casey's forehead. "I'll be in the upstairs study for a while if you need me and then off to bed. Kalinýchta, my dear, you were very impressive out there today."

"Good night to you too, Pappa and thank you."

Casey quietly made her way down to the koozéna. She put a few fresh figs in a bowl and tucked a bottle of Gentilini under her arm. She slipped across the back lawn and slowly opened the rear door to the guesthouse.

"Nikki?" She said quietly, leaving the wine and the figs on the counter.

"In here." Tessa called out.

Casey followed the sound of the Karê's voice and made her way into a large bathroom. The lights had been dimmed and candles of varying scents and size were scattered throughout the room. When she peeked around the corner she was met with a sight that took her breath away.

Tessa was lying in the large marble tub, leaning back against the side, one knee raised and her eyes slightly closed. A bottle of champagne and two glasses sat on the wide rim of the bath. Half-closed eyes opened lazily and a lopsided grin emerged.

"You, are the best thing I've seen all day." Casey smiled, leaning down to capture a pair of very willing lips.

"You, are highly overdressed for the occasion." The dark-haired woman responded, breathless from their kiss.

"Oh, I think I have a solution to that problem." Casey replied, beginning to remove her clothes in the same, torturous fashion Tessa had the night before.

The Karê didn't try to disguise her hunger as she watched the display before her. Her eyes became heavy-lidded as they broke away from the lush green gaze that held her, traveling down the small, lithe body. Tessa held out her hand and Casey took hold, stepping into the steaming water and seating herself in front of the larger woman. With Casey's back resting against her chest, Tessa gently turned the young woman's face and their moist lips met in a searing kiss, probing tongues taking their time to tease and arouse. Casey brought her hand up to a muscular bronze thigh, stroking the skin delicately, finally running her nails along its hardness.

The two women broke apart, breathless.

"Hey, you're supposed to be in here for the miraculous whirlpool properties." Tessa breathed in the small blonde's ear.

"Mmmm, I feel better already," Casey squirmed.

"Here, this will be better on your back, sit forward." Tessa directed and flipped a switch on a console pad near the head of the tub. The water began to bubble and swirl and the dark-haired woman adjusted a nozzle directly at the small of Casey's back. As the water hit the spot, Tessa began to lightly massage the area in small circular motions.

"God, that does feel good." Casey responded honestly.

Tessa rubbed the smaller woman's back and let the warm water flow against her skin, finally she turned off the jets and flipped on the whirlpool, leaning back and pulling her lover against her once more. They shared some of the champagne before settling in again.

"Just relax for a while," Tessa purred.

The feel of her lover's body and the warmth of the moving water, coupled with the hum of the whirlpool, sent Casey's body into such a relaxed state that she promptly fell sound asleep.


 

"I can't believe you let me fall asleep." Casey chided.

"Hey, paybacks, little one." Tessa reminded the young woman.

The two conversed briefly at the breakfast table on the patio before Casey's father arrived.

"I picked you up, dried you off and put you to bed. I did think about ravishing you in your sleep considering how good you looked, but decided I'd be honorable." The Karê smirked.

"And, I never woke up once, during all of that?" The small blonde seemed amazed.

"Nope. You're the heaviest sleeper I have ever come across. On the other hand I think you needed the rest."

"I'm sorry, Nikki."

"Don't be," Tessa voice softened to a whisper. "I enjoyed being able to hold you in my arms all night."

The sky blue eyes softened when they met the deep green of Casey's and a quiet message was passed. Tessa abruptly pulled her gaze away and looked down at her paper, taking a sip of her coffee as if Casey weren't even there. The blonde finally saw her father moving to the table long after the Karê heard his footsteps.

"Good morning, ladies." Andreas Meridio said as Casey poured his coffee.

Tessa and Meridio spoke briefly and Casey let her mind wander. She didn't recognize any of the names or understand a thing they were discussing and so she retreated within herself, hearing their conversation from a distance. Casey began to get an idea. Once the other two where finished with their conversation, the young woman took a shot at her plan.

"I'm going to Athens for the weekend." She said abruptly in her father's direction.

Tessa raised an eyebrow and looked in Meridio's direction.

"I have a couple of meetings set up with the museum curators. We have to get together before the dig begins."

"Cassandra..." Meridio began.

"Pappa," Casey interrupted, recognizing that tone in her father's voice. "I only have another two weeks of vacation and then I'll have to constantly be back and forth between Mýkonos and Athens. I'll have to get an apartment there at least for a little while. This is my job we're talking about."

Meridio gave an exasperated sigh and nodded. "But Tessa goes with you." He added.

"I do not need a babysitter." Casey complained.

"She's not a babysitter." Meridio countered, beginning to get aggravated by the whole situation. "She'll go with you and help you find an apartment. Do you have a problem with that Tessa?"

"No, sir. As a matter of fact I have a meeting in Athens day after tomorrow, it would work out well."

"Fine," Meridio just wanted the conversation at an end. "Take Alex if you need him too."

"Excellent idea, Mr. Meridio." Tessa replied, wondering how they were going to get out of bringing the young man along.

"Pappa, please! One babysitter is bad enough, please don't make me go with two." Casey grumbled.

"Oh, allright, but Tessa absolutely goes with. And, please, young lady stop calling the Karê a babysitter." Andreas Meridio swallowed the last of his coffee and rose to leave. "When will you go?"

"This afternoon, I should think." Casey answered.

"Come say good bye before you leave," Meridio said, kissing the top of his daughter's head. "Tessa, I'd like to meet with you also before you leave." He said just before he walked away.

Waiting until the man was out of sight, Tessa turned to the small blonde seated across from her, a smug smile of victory displayed on the young woman's face.

"Oh, you're good." Tessa remarked.


 

"Hey, I thought we were staying at the Grande Bretagne." Casey said as Tessa continued to speed the car past the Plateía Syntágmatos.

"We are. Well, according to the hotel register we are." Tessa smiled at the surprised woman. "I happen to have an old acquaintance who it just so happens is the conciérge there. He owes me a favor and he is very trustworthy. You said you needed an apartment, right? Was that for real or just part of your little plan?"

"Well, I will need an apartment to live in when I work over here and I thought...it could be somewhere we could get away." Casey trailed off uncertainly.

"We won't be able to do that." Tessa replied.

The dark-haired woman turned her head to look at the small blonde and immediately noticed the wounded look on her face.

"Hey," The tall woman reached out a hand to the blonde's cheek. "I didn't mean it like that. I do have a place in mind for you to get an apartment, but it wouldn't be smart for me to be seen there. If I know your father, he'll have someone keep an eye on you when I'm not around. We can't risk getting caught together like that."

"Oh," Casey saw all her plans of romantic getaways dissipating quickly. "So, what do we do, don't we ever get to be alone, Nikki?"

"Of course, we do, baby." Tessa said, shifting gears as they began to climb a steep hill. "Just sit back and all will be made clear in a few minutes. Trust me?" She grinned at the frowning blonde.

Casey thought about that question, but it didn't take her long. She had known this woman all of a week, yet she knew she would trust her with her life.

"Of course I do." Casey answered, sliding her hand within the larger woman's grasp and squeezing gently.

Tessa squeezed the smaller hand within her own in return and as always, thanked whomever was responsible for the happiness she was now experiencing. She sat in wonder at the optimistic young woman. Tessa had never felt this kind of unconditional trust from a lover before and it made her feel rather safe.

"Welcome to your second home," Tessa stopped the car in front of a two story wood and brick building that was nestled back among a grove of olive trees, partially hidden from the road.

The Karê opened the passenger side door and took Casey's hand, leading her around to a side gate that was securely held shut. Tessa punched a series of numbers into the computer console on the wall and the iron security gate clicked open. Tessa still held the young woman's hand and walked the two of them to a back patio that surrounded a beautiful swimming pool, a cascading natural rock fountain at one end.

"Who lives here?" Casey asked, turning around and taking in the beauty of the place.

"I do...and you, I mean, if you'd like." Tessa added the last part softly. She couldn't even believe her own ears. Here she was, determined not to add any complications to the already confused puzzle of her life and she just asked the most dangerous piece in this chess game to move in with her.

"You own this?" Casey seemed confused.

I didn't always work for your father. I was a successful businesswoman before I became the Meridio Karê. And, even I need a place more private than the guesthouse. Look around, see the cliffs up there?" She asked, pointing above them. "And that area over there, how it's surrounded by the trees? No one can see the estate without me seeing them first. Besides that, the entire estate is wired with a security system of my own design."

Tessa crossed the patio to the sliding glass doors and pushed another series of buttons. Lastly, I have two bodyguards. Stand still." The tall woman commanded.

Casey wouldn't have dreamed of disobeying the Karê's command as two large Dobermans bounded up to the patio, nearly knocking the small blonde over in their attempt to get to Tessa. She wrestled with the two huge animals for a few moments, then commanded they sit with a gesture of her hand. Both dogs obediently sat down, never taking their eyes off their mistress.

"My two bodyguards. They're better than anyone you could possibly hire." Tessa explained. "Watch."

"Heads up." Tessa said quietly

Both dogs immediately took a position in front of the dark-haired woman, barking and baring their teeth at some unknown foe. Casey jumped back at the sudden intensity in the animals.

"Down!" Tessa said and the dogs instantly obeyed, backing off and lying down.

"Wow. That would sure make me think twice." Casey said a little shakily.

"I'm sorry, honey...I didn't mean to scare you, but I want you to know what these girls are capable of. They're extremely intelligent. Come here," Tessa held out her hand and the small blonde came closer.

"That big girl over there is Mahogany and this is Cinnamon," Tessa explained, dropping to one knee and encouraging Casey to do the same. "She's a good girl, aren't you Cinny? Here she likes to be scratched under her chin, right here." Tessa demonstrated and soon Casey was playing with the dog, which seemed more like a happy puppy now.

The Karê leaned over and kissed her lover's neck, working her way down to her shoulder, pushing aside her dress to kiss the bare skin.

"I want her to see how close we are." Tessa murmured against the blonde's tan skin.

"Mmmm, another thirty seconds of that and she's going to get a good look at how close we are." Casey moaned in reply.

Tessa chuckled and pulled Cinnamon closer. "See, Cinny? Heads up, okay?" She repeated her directions a few more times while pointing the dog's head in Casey's direction.

The tall woman stood and pulled Casey up alongside her, stopping to kiss her passionately. Then pulled away and moved toward the house.

"Oh, Nikki, you're not going to kiss me like that and stop, are you?"

Tessa smiled in return. "There's more where that came from, I promise you, but I need to test this out first. I want to make sure you'll always be safe here if you're alone. Okay, they're going to bark again, are you ready?"

Casey scrunched her face up in preparation and Tessa laughed out loud at her lover. "Didn't you have any dogs when you were a kid?"

"Yes, but I had a Golden Retriever. He was cute and fluffy." Casey replied.

"Well, these two ladies are cute and tough."

Casey giggled. "Kind of like their owner, huh?"

Tessa simply winked. "Okay, here goes. Heads up." She commanded.

Again, the dogs jumped to their feet instantly. This time Mahogany stood her ground in front of Tessa, while Cinnamon pressed herself against Casey's legs, determined to fend off the imaginary threat.

"You give them the command to back off." Tessa said loudly over the barking.

"Down!" Casey shouted and the dogs obeyed the small blonde at once, coming to lie at her feet as if she had always been their mistress. "Wow!" Casey exclaimed and began to praise the animals that lapped up the attention that was being lavished on them.

Tessa watched and felt the action tug at her heart. Casey would be the only woman these animals would treat like this, other than their owner. She didn't know why, but somehow she was certain of it.

"Hey, what about me, I did train them." Tessa stood directly in front of the small blonde.

"Oh, did you want your tummy rubbed too?" Casey teased.

"No," Tessa said in a throaty voice, pulling the smaller woman against her own body and wrapping her arms around the slim waist. "I have something else you can rub, though."

Tessa reached around and began to unzip the small blonde's dress, the zipper stopping just above her lover's shapely backside. Reaching lower, she pulled the woman against her hips and let her tongue run along the outside of Casey's ear.

"Would you like to take a swim?" Tessa whispered in invitation.

"You know," Casey was finding it difficult to control her breathing, "I spent two-hundred dollars on this dress and you haven't said a word about how it looks."

"Mmmm, baby, you look wonderful in it," Tessa murmured against Casey's skin, pulling the dress off each shoulder. "But, I think you would look positively beautiful out of it."

Casey's eyes closed and she allowed her lover to slide the dress down her body. "You are very different out here." Casey remarked.

Tessa sucked hard on the skin at Casey's neck, not caring about the mark it would leave. "I guess I'm just more in my own element. I feel more comfortable in my own home."

"Then I think we should come here often." Casey whimpered softly against the Karê's shoulder.


 

The two women sat on a rug in the living area clad only in their bath towels, sipping white wine. They'd spent all of the late afternoon in the pool, playing like teenagers one moment, passionately caressing one another the next. They eventually made their way into the bedroom, both towels ending up in a heap at their feet.

Tessa allowed the small blonde to take her by the shoulders, pressing her down to the bed and onto her back. Casey captured the Karê's lips in a kiss that larger woman was quickly becoming accustomed to. Her muscles quivered helplessly and she was simply glad they were lying down. The dark-haired woman became a prisoner to those lips, then a tongue; soon Casey's whole body was expertly teasing Tessa's overloaded senses. My God, how in the world does she do this to me?

"Casey...baby?" Tessa murmured in between kisses.

"Yes, love?"

"I...oh, yea...I was wondering...ungh, God, you are such a talented lover!" Tessa finally blurted out.

Casey stopped her caresses and looked into her lover's face. "Are you asking me how I became that way?"

Suddenly Tessa realized how that sounded. Okay Niko, this is why you should just keep your mouth shut. "Oh, no, I--I didn't mean it like that. It's just I haven't come across that many women who enjoy the same...I don't know, who have the same, uhm...appetites as I do."

A smile crossed the small blonde's face. "So you're asking me if I sleep around or what?"

"Oh, no. Honey, I'm sorry, God this was stupid to even bring up."

Casey settled on her side and rested her head in the palm of her hand. She continued to stroke the Karê's dark skin, running a teasing finger around a brown nipple.

"Can I tell you something without you laughing at me?" Casey asked, suddenly a serious expression on her face.

"Of course." Tessa answered with an equally sober expression on her own face.

"I've never been this way with anyone. Not that I didn't want to be, I had my fantasies, but that's all they were. I never felt comfortable enough with anyone to tell them what I wanted, or even take what I desired. I've certainly never felt relaxed enough with a lover to use a...well, to try sex different ways. Everything you and I do feels so damn natural. It's like I'm not afraid to experience any kind of pleasure with you. I guess I'm not afraid to be myself around you."

Casey finished, but she hadn't yet looked up into the blue eyes that watched her with deliberate scrutiny. The azure gaze softened and Tessa found herself unable to hold back. She took hold of the small woman and rolled them both over, easing her own large body carefully over the smaller woman's frame.

"I wouldn't change one thing about you. Not one thing."

She leaned in and pressed her lips to the waiting mouth that parted quickly for her thrusting tongue. Tessa made sure that there wasn't a portion of her lover's body that didn't feel the touch of her lips or caress of her tongue.

Casey spread her legs and Tessa was enveloped in a heat that spread through her entire body. The dark-haired woman teased Casey's aching nipples with only the tip of her tongue. After what seemed like an eternity of torture to the small blonde, Tessa sucked each tight nub of flesh into her warm and inviting mouth.

Slender fingers reached down between Casey's legs and began to delicately stroke the outer lips, an arousing wetness already trickling from the young woman's inner folds. Tessa pulled away slightly and looked deep into her lover's eyes. Seemingly having made a decision, the Karê reached off the edge of the bed to the bedside table and pulled open a drawer. The item she pulled from the wooden table was laid on the side of the bed as Tessa resumed her hungry mouth's caresses. Hell, I like it, maybe she will too. Okay, baby, this is where we see what you really enjoy.

Casey watched out of the corner of her eye as the long, cylindrical object was pulled from the drawer. Her heart raced a bit faster and she felt a distinct increase in the wetness between her thighs. She heard an involuntary whimper escape from her own throat as she watched Tessa casually lay the toy to one side.

The sound caused the Karê to pull away and look down into the deep green orbs, gone dark with desire. The tall woman had a look akin to amusement in her sparkling eyes.

"Are you going to use that...on me?" Casey asked hesitantly.

"Perhaps...if you'd like." Tessa answered.

"Will I use it on you?" Casey tried a different approach with her suddenly uncommunicative lover.

"Hopefully." Tessa reached in and captured a perfect earlobe within her teeth, putting a gentle pressure on the sensitive flesh and delighting in the shiver than ran through her lover's body. God, how I love being back in control. No surprises, everything predictable.

"Do you have a harness for it?" Casey boldly asked.

"Huh?" Tessa looked up, her composure slipping a tad.

"I asked if you had a harness for it."

"I heard you I just...I mean, I didn't..." Wake up woman! She's asking, so deliver. "Do you want me to get it?" Tessa asked slowly.

Casey nodded her head slowly but enthusiastically, a seductive grin on her lips, then watched as her lover went from total confidence to flustered embarrassment to awkward shyness in a matter of seconds.

Their eyes locked and the fire that was turned up on high within Casey's body suddenly transferred itself to Tessa's belly, and the dark-haired woman gave one small grin and leapt from the bed. Pulling open the top drawer in a solid oak chest, Tessa searched for the black leather harness.

Casey couldn't stifle the giggle that arose.

"What?" Tessa turned toward the sound.

"The last time I saw you move that fast, you were saving my life."

A deep, even blush began spreading across her dark skin. Tessa turned away to retrieve the leather item and could feel her own heart racing along. This was becoming a common occurrence, being tongue-tied around this small woman.

Returning to the bed with the item, she was suddenly at a loss as to how she was expected to play this scenario.

"Uhm, do you want me to wear it or do you..." She trailed off.

Casey rose to her knees, picking up the toy in one hand she moved to the edge of the bed where Tessa stood, harness in hand. The small blonde took the harness and tossed it on the bed next to her. She began to kiss and nip her lover's neck, working her way down the well-muscled torso.

"Mmmm, why don't you first, then we'll...play it by ear." She responded with, to Tessa's eye, what appeared to be a thoroughly mischievous grin.

Casey nudged the standing woman's thighs apart slightly and she teased the swollen folds by pressing the large end of the dildo into her wetness, running the head along the moist slit. Rising up on her knees once more, the two women met in a kiss, their tongues warring for dominance. Casey continued the teasing motion of the phallus in her hand, swallowing Tessa's groans within her kiss.

The blonde turned the toy around until she was pressing the smaller end up into the dark curls. Tessa widened her stance even more, a silent plea for Casey to continue. The smaller end of the object was slowly slipped inside the Karê's slick opening and the accompanying protrusion fitted against her clit. Casey held the dildo and slid her hand up its length, pressing against her lover as she did.

"Oh God!" Tessa moaned, wrapping strong arms around the woman's waist, burying her head against the smooth skin of Casey's neck. "You know exactly what you're doing to me when you do that, don't you?" The woman asked knowingly.

Casey's only answer was an enormous smile.

The small blonde picked up the leather harness and it took only seconds for Tessa to find the equipment held snugly to her body. Each time Casey leaned her kneeling body into the dark-haired woman's, the Karê could hear herself moaning as the smaller end slid inside her and the protrusion rubbed against her swollen clit.

"Have you used this on many women?" Casey's voice interrupted the Karê's fantasies.

Tessa wasn't sure how to answer. She decided the truth would be best. "Actually, no. I haven't used it on anyone but myself. I've never even used the harness before. Look, baby, if you don't want to we--"

"Sssh," Casey's lips whispered, getting the answer she wanted to hear and Tessa watched as the smaller woman slid down to the bed, her lips and tongue leaving a trail of absolute fire in their wake.

Tessa's brow arched about as high as was possible, even for her, as she watched her lover reach out a pink tongue and swirl it around the head of the phallus. Casey made sure to press against the object and could feel it move against her lover.

"Yesss." Tessa moaned, her head falling back against her shoulders and her hips rolling forward.

Casey could taste her lover's essence on the toy and she moaned herself as the truth of the Karê's words was manifested. The thought of the beautiful, dark-haired woman using the toy on herself seemed to arouse the small blonde even more.

Tessa felt the delicious pressure again and her eyes snapped open to watch the woman between her legs. She usually wasn't this verbal, but the small blonde had her groaning like the world was coming to an end. She didn't know which was more erotic. Watching her lover's movements as she wrapped her lips around the head of the object and began to slide its length into her mouth or the feeling of the small end that slid inside the increasing wetness of her own sex. Alternating between gentle and firm pressure, Casey took more and more of the phallus until she stopped and let the object slide out, but not completely. She moved her head backward and forward; the pressure that the forward motion placed on Tessa's aching sex, bringing her pleasure to a quick peak.

The Karê couldn't believe this was happening or how turned on she was by the small blonde's actions. Casey slid her hands up the back of Tessa's thighs, clutching at the hard muscles of her buttocks. The young woman used her handhold to pull her lover's hips closer to her, taking more of the dildo into her mouth.

"Oh baby, yea." Tessa moaned loudly as her hips began to take on a life of their own.

Tessa reached down and buried her fingers within the short, blonde locks, encouraging the woman's mouth to keep doing exactly what it had been doing. By now Tessa's hips pumped wildly, her thighs began to tremble as she felt the distinct experience of electrically charged sparks shooting up and down the backs of her legs. Throwing her head back, the dark haired woman released a growl of pure pleasure.

"Cassandra!" Tessa said breathlessly.

The dark-haired woman let loose a moan, then her undulating hips froze momentarily as she allowed her orgasm to sweep her away, her heavy-lidded eyes, snapping open to reveal prussian blue irises, glazed over with passion. She plunged her hips once more, then twice into the talented mouth, finally exhaling the breath she just now realized she'd been holding. The gasp came out as a loud groan and she brought one knee up to the bed to steady herself, leaning over the small blonde.

Casey helped the dark-haired woman ease her tall frame onto the bed. Tessa laid on her back as the small blonde snuggled up close.

"I don't know...how this...happens." Tessa panted. "I start out trying to seduce you and I inevitably end up flat on my back, gasping for breath, and begging for your mercy." Tessa finished.

Casey laughed out loud at her lover's predicament.

"Are you complaining?" Casey continued to chuckle.

Tessa pulled away to look into her lover's eyes. With a smile of complete satisfaction, the dark-haired woman again rested her head on the pillow.

"Never." Tessa finally replied.

"Hey, there!" Tessa caught Casey's roaming hand in her own just as the small fingers were about to grasp the phallus on the larger woman's hips. "Are you trying to kill me?"

"Some big tough Karê." Casey teased.

In a move so fast Casey never saw it coming, Tessa quickly grasped the hands of her lover and rolled until the smaller woman was pinned beneath her.

"No fair!" Casey laughed and tried to squirm away at the same time, with no success.

The Karê nudged the smaller woman's knees apart and Casey complied quickly. Tessa could see the desire burning within the green depths of her lover's gaze, but she figured turnabout was fair play. She leaned in and hungrily kissed the smaller woman's mouth until Casey began to match her fervor, then she abruptly pulled away. The dark-haired woman repeated the process with other parts of the smaller woman's body, keeping the blonde's hands in her strong grasp. Tessa would use her lips and tongue to light a fire on Casey's overheated skin and then she would suddenly stop.

"Nikki, please..." Casey finally whimpered, arching her body up in an attempt to increase the pleasurable contact.

"Mmmm, please what, baby?"

"More," was all Casey's fevered brain could think to utter.

"More? More of what, love?"

"Oh God, more of...everything." Casey blurted out.

"Ahh, everything," Tessa responded in a low, husky voice, continuing to kiss and nip at her lover's neck and shoulders. "Don't you really mean more of this?"

Tessa pressed her hips into the apex of her lover's legs and her own belly clenched at the small blonde's throaty moan. Casey felt like her body was in another dimension. Her small frame shivered as she felt the phallus slide across her wetness. Her hips rose off the bed to prolong the contact and she heard a quiet grunt of satisfaction from her lover as the small dildo inside her, pressed against her already sensitive flesh.

"Tell me," Tessa said in a strong whisper against Casey's ear.

The moist breath and the sound of her lover's rugged voice vibrated against her skin and Casey whimpered involuntarily. The small blonde understood what her lover was requesting, and she was powerless to do anything beyond giving in to the dark-haired woman's demands. Casey's head told her to hold out, her heart whispered that she would do anything to please her lover, and finally her body overrode the other two by absolutely demanding the pleasure the Karê was about to bring to her.

"Please, Nikki." Casey repeated her previous plea.

"You know what I want to hear," Tessa said pressing her hips against the smaller woman once again. "Tell me what you want, Cassandra."

Tessa's throaty whisper in her ear and the abundant wetness between her legs all combined to produce an ache that transcended above all her other wants and desires. The final straw was when Tessa whispered her name, rolling the syllables in that incredibly low, sexy voice of hers. Casey could feel her brain sparking like it was on overload. That's when she felt Tessa's hand guiding the head of the dildo, pressing it against her opening.

Small hands suddenly realized they were free and reached up to entwine themselves in long strands of ebony hair. Casey looked directly into the flames of blue fire that danced in her lover's eyes and whispered the words that Tessa wanted to hear.

"Please, baby...fuck me."

In one smooth motion Tessa slid the length of the phallus inside the small blonde and stilled her hips letting Casey become accustomed to the sudden fullness.

"Sweet Mother of God!" Casey exclaimed as Tessa's hips began sliding the dildo in and out in a slow, torturous fashion.

"Do you need me to stop?" Tessa asked in alarm.

"Oh no, please, Nikki, don't stop." Casey cried out.

Tessa took in the expression of rapture on the smaller woman's face and felt her hips set their own pace as each movement brought about pleasing sensations within her own body. Casey's hips rose from the bed to meet each thrust and bury the object even deeper inside. Her breath came in pants and she had to fight the urge to simply explode in immediate orgasm the moment Tessa's lips fiercely took her own. The small blonde's whole world narrowed to the feel of her lover's tongue in her mouth and the friction of the object sliding between her legs.

Tessa continued her penetration, delighting in the feel of the woman under her. Each forward thrust of her hips caused the same motion of the phallus within her own body, and soon the sensations caused her to feel as if she were actually inside her lover. The more she thought about it, the more it actually felt like it. Soon, Tessa was groaning at the imaginary feel of Casey's warmth surrounding her as she buried herself in the soft wetness.

The large woman and the small blonde beneath her moved to an age-old rhythm, but one their bodies instinctively knew. No words were spoken, no tender endearments or promises bartered back and forth. The raw excitement and passion literally crackled in the air around the two women. There would be other moments of tender lovemaking, but this moment of passion was one of carnal pleasure alone. Harder, faster, deeper, the only verbal pleas that were exchanged.

Casey felt her nails pressing into strong shoulders and felt her lover's responding growl before she heard it. Not a sound conceived out of anger but the seductive rumble of pleasure borne of pain. The small blonde raked her nails sharply across the broadly, muscled back and the sound rumbled forth from the dark-haired woman's chest again. Casey felt the strong arms wrapped around her and could feel the biceps bulging against her. She ran her hands down her lover's torso and could feel the muscles in her hips tighten and flex with each thrust inside her. In her mind's eye she could see the thighs that pressed against her open legs, all hard muscle covered in the softest dark skin. How could the young woman tell Tessa later that it was not only her lover's voice, but the image of the dark-haired woman's overpowering, muscular physique that send her careening over the edge into the arms of her climax?

"Come for me, baby." Tessa moaned the words breathlessly as her own orgasm could be held back no longer.

Their bodies shuddered together as waves of release rolled through them as one; their cries swallowed up by their kisses. Tessa finally collapsed onto the smaller woman, then sliding the phallus from her lover's haven, she rolled over and onto her back. Long moments of silence existed as each woman struggled to regain her composure.

Casey rolled over and snuggled against the dark-haired woman's side, an arm quickly wrapping around to pull the small blonde closer. Tessa turned her head a gently kissed the top of the golden head.

"Casey...I--I--" Tessa was caught again. She so much wanted to tell her lover how she felt, but a breath-stealing panic gripped her heart at uttering the words.

"I love you, too." Casey finished, kissing her collarbone then looking up at her lover with a lazy smile on her face.

Nearly a half an hour went by as they gently caressed and bathed in the afterglow of their passion.

"Are you going to sleep in this?" Casey finally spoke.

"I think it's welded to me." The Karê replied dryly.

"Let me help." Casey reached down and began to unfasten the harness, at last sliding the toy from within the dark curls.

"Ohhh." Tessa couldn't hold back the languid moan as Casey slid the object from her body.

"You're still so wet." Casey remarked.

"Well, you're responsible for that, I guess you should be the one to do something about it." Tessa tossed back.

The next thing Tessa realized the small blonde was nestled between her legs, her warm tongue tenderly lapping up the juices there.

"Good God, woman!" Tessa exclaimed but spread her legs farther apart, doing nothing to discourage her young lover.

Casey used as tender a touch on the swollen flesh as she could, avoiding the sensitive areas altogether. The taste of her lover seemed to explode on her tongue and it was all she could do to keep herself from burying her face in the sweet flesh. She let her tongue run softly along each fold, pressing the warm muscle just slightly into her lover's opening in a teasing motion. Tessa's hips picked up a slow, sensual grind in counter-rhythm to her lover's tongue and eventually, long slender fingers found their way into the golden locks and Tessa pressed her lover against her harder.

"Please, baby...now." Tessa pleaded in a hoarse voice.

Casey wrapped her arms around the bronze thighs and pressed herself deeper. Her tongue found its way to a swollen and very sensitive clit. Casey simply pressed the flat of her tongue against the tender bundle of nerves and could feel her lover's orgasm begin. The trembling thighs spread wider and Casey took the nub of flesh between her lips and sucked hard, releasing it to let it slide against her tongue.

It was a good thing they decided to stay in the apartment as opposed to the hotel because Tessa let loose a roar loud enough to make Casey's ears ring. The larger woman half sat up as the force of her climax hit her, dropping back down to the bed, her muscles continuing to jump and quiver.

Pulling the small blonde up to lie half against and half on top of her, Tessa kissed her soundly, delighted at her own taste on her lover's lips. When they pulled apart Tessa simply flung her arms wide on the bed and groaned.

"Uncle." She said in surrender.

Casey chuckled slightly. "I told you it wasn't my fault you taste so good."

Tessa had to laugh at the young woman's logic and pulled her into a tight embrace.

"You are extraordinary." The larger woman whispered.

"You're not so bad yourself." The small blonde murmured sleepily, cuddling closer to her lover.

Tessa closed her eyes in exhaustion and pleasure, but her brain still worked for a few moments until sleep took her. The Karê never felt so utterly loved, so entirely satiated, and so much in love in her entire life. So, this is what it's like...to be in love. Hmmm, no wonder everybody wants it so bad. Incredible, she thought to herself, absently tightening her hold on the small figure in her arms. Her large muscular body and Casey's smooth, lean figure seemed in complete contrast to one another, but as they lay together, they seemed to fit so well. To Tessa's mind it simply seemed so right.

A fleeting moment of negativity tried to rise up in Tessa's brain just before she fell asleep. Being a natural pessimist the dark-haired woman knew that anything good in her life was quickly followed by the bad. That was the way it had always been. For the first time in her life, she pushed that thought away instead of embracing it. She didn't want to think about what the future held for the two lovers. Tonight she only wanted to focus on the reality of the here and now. That reality was that she was in love and held a woman in her arms who loved her. For Tessa, that was more than she ever dreamed she would have.

The Meridio Karê was unaware of how quickly it could all unravel.


Part 4


 

Casey took the car early the next morning to drive down to the National Archaeological Museum in Exárcheia. Tessa tried to entice her back into bed, and it took all the will power the small blonde had, not to give in to the dark-haired woman's seductive advances. Later, returning up the same road to Tessa's home, Casey pinched the top of her nose to try and ward off the pain of the headache the meetings had caused.

She detested dealing with museum administrators and the fact that they were all men and she, being the only woman, didn't help either. She was second in command of the dig, her associate; another professor from the University in California was in charge. Cyrus Bennington was a nice man and more knowledgeable than anyone in the field of Cycladic sculpture. In his seventies, he was still from the old school and fit in perfectly with the Greek curators at ignoring nearly every suggestion Casey made. She was not only furious, but her head was now filled with a dull throb. God, this is going to be one long dig. She thought to herself pulling into the stone driveway of the estate.

"It's me," she said into the wireless console at the gate and listened as a click released the lock on the entrance.

Pulling the strong gate closed, she turned to find two Dobermans bounding toward her, tennis balls held snugly between ferocious looking teeth. The small nubs of their tails whisked back and forth quickly.

Hey, there...where's your mom at?" Casey asked, trying to fend off the wet animals with her briefcase.

Tessa heard the exchange from her seat by the pool. She smiled slightly at the domestic feel of it all. A sudden frown pulled her brow together as she thought of the future again. There would be no domestic life for the two of them, of that she was certain. She shrugged away the feeling of hopelessness. She refused to think about what would come later, at least not this weekend. This weekend she would enjoy being in love, for the first, and most definitely last time in her life.

"Hey, you look wiped." Tessa remarked.

The dark-haired woman wore a loose fitting tank top and shorts, and sandals on her feet. She grabbed the tennis balls from the dogs and threw them into the pool. Both animals leapt into the water and splashed and swam around the shallow end for a few moments.

"Come here," Tessa held out her hand.

Casey removed her jacket and unfastened a few of the buttons on the pale green, sleeveless top she wore. She slipped out of the low-heeled pumps and set them on top of the patio table. Tossing her jacket over the back of another chair, she slid into the Karê's lap. Tessa ran her hands along the small blonde's arm, raising goose pimples in the wake of her touch. Casey leaned her head on the sun-warmed shoulder of her lover and let out an easy sigh.

"I hate dealing with men." Casey sighed.

"Do I need to go in there and knock a few heads together for you?" Tessa asked teasingly.

That caused Casey to laugh. "How do you do it? I mean, After two hours I wanted to beat the crap out of those sexist assholes!"

It was Tessa's turn to laugh. "Take a number, honey. Women have been waiting in line for centuries expecting men to wake up and treat them as equals. I just figured out a little sooner than you that it's not going to happen. The time for being the woman behind the man is over, it's time to take what you want."

"But how? I can see how you do it, but I don't think I've got the physical presence to cause men to shake in their boots."

"No, you're never going to be able to strong arm men. I can because I can be physically intimidating, but it's more than that. I watch men and I understand the ways they think and ways they'll react in different circumstances. The truth of the matter is, whether all feminists want to believe it, is that men are different from women. Men react differently to fear; they have a whole different agenda in life and things that terrify them. One commodity that is common in almost all of them is that their pride or their machismo will always be their downfall."

Tessa continued to speak as Casey lifted her head up and listened intently.

"I can strong arm men, but you'll never be able to do that. You do have abilities that I'll never possess. You're and extremely intelligent woman, Casey, you're knowledgeable about what you do, don't let that intelligence hide under a rock. Secondly, you have a wit and a charm about you that could disarm an entire regiment of soldiers. Use what you have and don't worry so much about what you don't have."

"How did you get so smart?" Casey smiled and Tessa's stomach flipped slightly at the love her smile radiated.

Tessa simply smiled in return and they kissed one another softly.

"I think your girls feel neglected." The small blonde said, motioning for the two dripping dogs to come out of the shallow water of the pool.

"Mmmm, I wouldn't do that if I were you," Tessa said with a knowing grin.

"Why?" Casey asked.

The two massive canines began to shake the water from their fur, drenching the two seated women.

"Oh, God." Casey laughed, now soaked to the skin.

"Warned you." Tessa was nearly shaking, trying to hold back her laughter.

"Oh, some warning." Casey couldn't stop laughing until the Karê gave in and joined her. "This is just the way my day is going." The small blonde threw up her hands in defeat.

Tessa stood, easily holding the smaller woman in her arms. The dark-haired woman turned to the sliding glass doors.

"Where are we going?" Casey asked.

"To the bedroom...I'm going to help your day get better." The Karê said seductively.


 

"You like wearing dresses, don't you?" Tessa asked the young woman standing in front of the closet.

"Well, yea, I'm not sure why, but I guess I do." Casey answered, a little unsure of the reasoning behind the question.

The two spent the better part of the afternoon making love and lying around the house listening to music. Tessa suggested they go out somewhere nice for dinner to get out of the house and enjoy the warm evening. Casey was in the process of laying out her clothes when she placed a low cut, cream colored dress on the closet door, preparing to dress.

They spent the day together, dined together, and eventually showered together, and still Tessa felt like she couldn't get enough of the small blonde. She watched as the young woman moved about the bedroom, clad only in her short terry cloth robe. She admired the sleek, tan legs and was secretly glad her lover was one of those women who felt completely comfortable in a dress or a skirt.

"Dresses show off your legs. You have great legs, by the way." Tessa complimented, lying across the end of the bed, her head in the palm of her hand.

"Short legs, you mean." Casey countered.

"Uh Unh...just right. Damned near perfect."

"You're prejudiced." Casey turned around and said.

"Yep." Tessa grinned.

"I bet you haven't worn a skirt since you were twelve." The small blonde teased.

"I'm just not the type. You'd lose that bet, though. I went to Catholic school in England until I was seventeen. Wool skirts were the standard issue."

"Tell me about it! Same thing on Long Island." Casey smiled in commiseration.

"Come here, love." Tessa smiled as she sat up on the edge of the bed. "You are so beautiful." She said as Casey walked over and slipped her hand in the one Tessa held out in offering.

Casey stood over her and the Karê pulled her close enjoying the way the young woman shivered in pleasure at her touch. Tessa untied the knot at Casey's waist and pulled the robe open slightly, revealing her naked figure. Strong arms wrapped around the slim waist and the dark-haired woman kissed the taut skin across her abdomen. She reached out a pink tongue and slid the tip against the small blonde's skin. Tessa moaned softly.

"God, you taste so good." She murmured, nuzzling the underside of the standing woman's breasts.

Tessa pulled the standing woman down to sit on the edge of the bed next to her. She maneuvered herself to her knees in front of the small blonde, spreading Casey's legs apart. The kneeling woman shrugged out of her own silk robe and pressed her body close until she could feel her lover's wet center against her belly. Another moan and Tessa was kissing Casey as if it were the first time. Tender and soft, she caressed her lover's lips with her tongue before pressing harder, requesting entry. When she moved her kisses around to the blonde's neck, she pulled the cloth robe from the young woman's shoulders with a delicate glide.

"I need to know if you taste this good everywhere." Tessa murmured into her kisses.

"You tell me." Casey responded, hoping the larger woman meant what Casey thought she did.

In all their lovemaking, this was something Tessa hadn't shared with her yet and the young woman was desperate to experience this pleasure with her new lover. Tessa never stopped Casey from going down on her, but she never reciprocated the pleasure. Casey shrugged it off initially. It wouldn't be the first time she'd ever been with a woman who enjoyed the pleasure on herself but refused to perform oral sex. She didn't understand why Tessa waited so long, but the dark-haired woman seemed downright frantic about it now.

Tessa held the small blonde's face in her hands and kissed her for all she was worth. Casey's whimpers of delight struck straight at the large woman's heart and her stomach flipped in anticipation. She nuzzled the warm skin of her lover's neck and let her tongue play enticingly with a sensitive earlobe.

"I want my tongue inside you," the kneeling woman whispered, unsure of how the words would affect her young lover. She smiled when she received the answer she had hoped for.

"Oh yes, Nikki, please." Casey pleaded, guiding the dark head down her abdomen.

A low growl emanated from the depths of Tessa's very being at the first, luscious scent of her lover's arousal as she brought her head down between Casey's legs. The blonde leaned back on one elbow, her other hand pressed atop the raven head between her thighs. Tessa hovered over her lover's glistening sex, waiting for Casey's eyes to meet her own. The moment that the dark green orbs locked onto the blue eyes below that shimmered with lust, Tessa ran her tongue along the entire length of the small blonde's sex.

"Yesss," Casey's hips rose from the bed to follow the source of the delicious pleasure. "Please, Nikki...don't tease me...I need you."

Her lover's impassioned plea drove all thoughts of games or teasing from Tessa's mind. "Do you know how beautiful you are?" The dark-haired woman asked.

Not waiting for an answer, Tessa retraced her tongue's path along outer lips that glistened with sweet moisture. The tip of her tongue gently spread inner folds apart and she lovingly explored each crease and crevice. She avoided the swollen bundle of nerves even though she could hear Casey's frustrated whimpers. She continued her tongue's tender caresses until Casey's whimpers changed to throaty moans and her hips began to thrust against the tongue that slipped inside of her.

"Oh God, please...oh, please, Nikki...don't stop." Casey begged as the dark-haired woman began to concentrate on her swollen clit.

Casey writhed and drove her hips in tune with the strokes from Tessa's tongue; faster and deeper the muscle filled her until Casey knew she wouldn't be able to prolong the pleasure any longer. The small blonde finally allowed herself to give in to the absolute surrender her partner demanded.

"Oh, God, Yes! Nikki...Nikki!" Casey cried out.

Tessa plunged her tongue deeply inside her lover, wanting to feel the convulsive spasms of her release as they rolled throughout her small frame like a never-ending wave. Casey cried out as she exploded in orgasm, her whole body tensing then releasing in jerks and shudders.

Tessa ran her tongue gently through the quivering folds, gathering the sweet nectar her lover's climax had produced. Rising from her knees, she made her way up to the bed, pulling Casey's small figure against her. The blonde delighted in the feel of her lover's arms around her and when she tilted her head and felt Tessa's smooth lips on her own, she could taste her own arousal on the dark-haired woman's lips.

"Thank You," Tessa whispered.

"Shouldn't I be thanking you?" Casey asked in wonder.

"Not this time, baby. I've wanted you that way from the very first moment I met you. I couldn't even explain it to myself. You see, it's not something I usually do."

"Well, you sure picked it up fast." Casey grinned, leaning herself up on one elbow to look down on her lover.

Tessa smiled rather sheepishly and a light blush began working its way up her neck. "I hope you enjoyed it." The Karê seemed genuinely worried about that fact.

"Enjoy wasn't the word. You're serious aren't you? You never do this with other women?" Casey asked in surprise.

"Women do that for me, but I...Well, it's such an intimate act. I've rarely felt enough for anyone to...Casey, sex has never been about anything more than feeling good for me. I used women for what I needed...there was never any emotions involved." Tessa turned her head away in embarrassment. You should have never opened yourself up this way, Niko. She's history for sure now.

"Hey," Casey said softly. "Hey," she repeated, taking Tessa's chin in her hand and turning it toward her. Casey watched as tears uncharacteristically rolled down the high cheekbones. "I know how hard this is for you, Nikki...opening up in front of someone else. I'm not going anywhere, though. I already knew that you weren't about to win any Mother Theresa awards, you don't have to hide your past from me. Those other women...we are talking past right?" Casey finished hesitantly.

Tessa displayed perfect white teeth in a smile meant only for her lover. "Yes, baby...they're all in the past."

"Can I ask you one more thing?" Casey asked.

"Anything, love."

"Can we go eat now because I am really hungry." Casey replied.

Tessa laughed at her lover and pulled her tightly against her own body, kissing her passionately. "By all means, lets get you fed. Besides, you'll need your strength...for later."


 

Dinner was a fantastically romantic affair, as Tessa seemed to have acquaintances all over Athens. They had a private meal on the rooftop of one of the most elegant restaurants in Greece. They took a long walk down the shop streets, doing nothing more than talking and enjoying one another's company.

Tessa watched her companion ooh and aah over the jewelry displayed in the shop window. Large diamond wedding sets were displayed prominently, but Casey seemed the most impressed with the small delicate pieces. Tessa stood close behind her until the small blonde could feel the taller woman against her back. Tessa spoke in a tone so soft and low only Casey could hear her.

"I'd like to see you wearing one of those for me some day."

Tessa could scarcely believe her own ears. Did I just ask her to marry me?

"All you have to do is ask, love." Casey responded, realizing that time might be a long way off for the two lovers. Oh please, Nikki, ask me someday when you're serious!

Tessa was once again thrown for a loop by the small woman's response. Casey seemed to take everything in stride. Nothing the Káre said; nothing Tessa mentioned as a part of her horrible past, seemed to set this girl back. For perhaps the hundredth time that weekend, Tessa tried to push down the fear that rose like bile in her throat. There will come a time, little one, and then I'll be the cause of your pain.

Tessa reached in quickly and squeezed the small blonde's shoulder. It took a great deal of control not to wrap her arms around the girl right here on the street, but she did have to remember who they were and where they were. Athens may not be Mýkonos, but it was damn close. Too close to take chances in spots where prying eyes might be keeping tabs. So far, nothing they'd done out in public could be misconstrued as anything more than the fact that the two women were perhaps becoming close friends.

Casey felt the contact as the taller woman squeezed her shoulder and she leaned back against her, just slightly in reply. Tessa explained the way they would have to act in public and while Casey hated the idea, she understood. She'd been there before, anyway. It wasn't like it would be any different in the states. The one difference here in Athens was that everyone seemed to know Tessa. Business owners, students, even women on the street, nodded their heads and greeted her using her current title, Karê.

They decided to take a break and sat outside at one of the local tavérnas to enjoy a glass of retsína. The owner led them to the best table without having to be asked.

"Nikki, how does everyone know you here?" Casey asked.

Tessa searched the blonde's eyes and felt another piece of that wall around her soul give way. "Are you sure you really want to know?"

Casey understood the logic in that question. Tessa was really asking her if she wanted to hear about that horrible past she kept referring to.

"Yes, I want to know all of you, Nikki. The good and the bad."

Tessa motioned to the owner to leave the bottle when their drinks were brought around. She wasn't sure where to start. She couldn't tell her lover too much, but she didn't want to lie about who she'd been, about who most people thought she still was. The Karê shook her head, tossing her bangs from her eyes and cleared her throat.

"Athens used to belong to me." She stated simply. "I controlled everything that came in and went out via the docks. The men in the unions were loyal to me, not because they wanted to be, but because they were afraid of me. Everyone paid me to control the city. >From the prostitutes to the police, I ran their entire lives through my own little reign of terror that lasted for nearly ten years. These people are not being polite because they respect me, Casey; they're doing it out of fear. Because they know what I've done...what I could do again."

Tessa watched the deep green eyes as she spoke, searching them for some sign of revulsion...abhorrence, but what she did find, staring out from the viridian depths nearly melted her stoic will. The Karê saw her own pain mirrored in the eyes of her lover. Casey's eyes filled with tears and they radiated a depth of emotion that Tessa hadn't had directed toward her since she was a girl, when her father was alive. It was unconditional love.

"Nikki," Casey said softly, "How did you become that way?"

Tessa thought about how to answer that question. The truth was that on an Easter day, twenty years ago, she had her world pulled out from underneath her. Everything she'd been taught about honor, trust, and integrity became a lie. In the space of a few moments in time, an eleven year old Tessa Nikolaidis found out that only the strong got what they wanted, that wealth and power were the ultimate weapons of destruction, and that there was only one thing that people understood. Fear. How could she tell Casey that she spent the last twenty years becoming the kind of person that existed for only one thing...revenge?

"I guess it started when my father was murdered. I became a little disillusioned after that."

Casey turned a little light-headed and she couldn't take her eyes off the red awning behind Tessa. The Karê watched as the small blonde flinched at some memory, her face taken over by that far off expression.

"Casey, are you okay?" Tessa reached her hand over the table and covered the smaller one resting there. "Your hands are ice cold...Casey?"

The young woman shook her head a little to clear the cobwebs and locked on to the blue eyes in front of her that were filled with concern. The red awning behind where her lover sat seemed to be filling up her entire vision.

"I'm sorry, honey. I'm just getting one of those weird feelings, you know? It seems to be passing." Casey finally lifted her head. Her bright smile eased the dark-haired woman somewhat. "Would you mind if we just went back home?"

Tessa smiled slightly at the sound of that...home. Coming from Casey's lips it had a sound of love and permanence to it. "Yea, I think that's a good idea. Let me settle the bill, will you be okay here for a few minutes?"

Casey nodded. "I'm fine now, really. Pickup a bottle of retsína too."

Tessa rose and with a worried glance at her partner, walked inside the small tavérna.

The small blonde sipped the rest of her wine and pushed the empty glass aside. An older woman in her forties scooped up the glass and set in on tray.

"Efcharistó." Casey smiled, thanking the woman.

"You do not belong with her." The older woman said softly.

"I beg your pardon?" Casey responded.

"The Karê, you don't know the kind of woman she is. The kinds of things she does."

Casey's voice took on a hard edge. "I know exactly what kind of woman she is, thank you. She is trying to forget what happened in her past."

Casey added this last and she wasn't sure why she felt she should explain to this stranger. The woman looked toward the door, watching for Tessa's return.

"You think it is her past that haunts her? Do you call a few days, the past?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Do you know what happened to the young men who shot at you on Sunday?" The woman looked again at the door and leaned closer to Casey. The blonde's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Yes, I know who you are, Cassandra Meridio."

The woman juggled her tray in one hand and pulled a folded piece of the Ta Nea out of her apron pocket. She held the newspaper clipping out for Casey to see. Cassandra's picture was displayed next to a short feature on the incident in front of the church.

"What happened to them?" Casey asked hesitantly, suddenly afraid of the answer.

"All but one returned, the man who shot the gun. No one has seen him since the day the Karê took him for a car ride here in Athens. It is rumored that his arkheedias were delivered to your father in a sack."

"You're wrong." It was all Casey could think to say, but it came out weakly.

The older woman spied Tessa coming back to the table and she took a rag and pretended to wipe the table clean. "If you're so sure she has changed...ask her what became of George Míkolo." She added quickly before turning away.

Tessa walked back to the table and thought that Casey looked even worse than when she left.

"Come on, let's get you home." The dark-haired woman frowned.


 

The quick ride back to the estate passed in silence. Casey wanted nothing more than to discount everything the stranger had said. But something nagged at her insides; something that told her Tessa wasn't being completely honest with her. She couldn't put her finger on it, but the thought had fluttered quickly in and out of her conscious mind for days now. She knew that her lover was protecting her from certain aspects of the Karê's dark past, but she wondered if that was the only reason Tessa shut her out sometimes.

Tessa drove with both hands on the wheel, pondering her lover's silence. The Karê bit her lip, cursing herself silently for bringing up her father. It seemed like it would only take the tiniest of things to jog Casey's mind and once again she would be thrown into the horror of that day. Tessa watched her lover's pain at not being able to remember; yet so sure something was wrong. It broke her heart that she couldn't ease the young woman's suffering, but if she revealed everything, wouldn't it only cause Casey more needless pain? You're lying to yourself again, Niko. Is it really Casey's well being that you're worried about or that you know that if you tell her what you're really about, she'll leave you?

The five-minute car ride seemed to last an eternity, for both women.


 

Tessa sat the cup of hot tea on the end table by the overstuffed double wide chair Casey sat in. "This will warm you up at least." The tall woman said, kneeling in front of the small blonde and rubbing her hands to get some warmth into the freezing limbs.

Casey didn't even look up at the Karê and finally Tessa stood to move away. Casey's hand shot out and took hold of Tessa's long, slender fingers.

"Sit here with me," she said, moving over in the large chair.

Tessa smiled softly and tossed her jacket over the sofa. Casey watched as the Karê also removed her pistol from the small of her back. The tall woman eased her frame into the chair and Casey easily slid into her lap. The contact the younger woman established seemed to calm the dark-haired woman's fears considerably and Tessa wrapped her own warm embrace around her lover.

"Honey, what can I do?" Tessa asked.

Casey's body shook slightly and the Karê realized it wasn't the shiver that occasionally ran across her lover's skin when Tessa touched her. The young woman was actually trembling. Tessa pulled her closer against her own body, thinking that at first it was the memories of that day that caused Casey's condition. Oh, little one, if I tell you why you have these dreams, it will only cause you more pain.

"Talk to me, Casey. Tell me what's wrong."

Casey buried her face against the smooth, dark skin of her lover's neck. She loved the scent of Tessa's skin. The small blonde shook her head back and forth, unable to speak. How can I ask her? It will change everything if I do. If I ask her, then isn't that the same as telling her I don't trust what she's been telling me, and if I don't ask, will I ever be able to trust her completely?

Tessa suddenly felt wet tears on her neck and knew that this was more than just a piece of Casey's old nightmare brought to life.

"Honey, what is it? Are you having second thoughts about us...about being with me?"

Casey nodded her head against Tessa's shoulder as her tears continued. Tessa took in a deep breath and held it momentarily before releasing it. She could feel the hot tears burning the backs of her eyes, but she didn't want to give in to them. She never knew it could happen so fast or that it would hurt this much. She swallowed down the pain that suddenly clutched at her chest and tried to sound sympathetic, although her own heart was breaking.

"It's allright, baby, shh. I'll take you to the hotel; you don't have to stay here tonight, I understand."

"No, that's not what I mean." Casey sobbed as she lifted her head to look into Tessa tear filled azure gaze.

"What, Casey?" Tessa gently brushed away the tears from the young woman's cheeks. "Has someone hurt you...have I done something to hurt you?"

Casey shook her head but still the tears rolled down her cheeks. "I need to ask you something, but I'm afraid of what you'll think of me after you hear what it is."

Tessa tilted the young woman's head up to look into her eyes, brimming with tears. "Is it something about my past?"

Casey nodded.

"Something you've heard that I've done?" Tessa asked knowingly.

"Yes." Casey nodded again.

Tessa pulled the woman close and felt the small blonde tuck her head snugly under the Karê's chin. "Casey, you can ask me anything you need to. I won't ever judge you for that."

"Do you promise your answer will be the truth?"

Tessa's eyes searched the room as if unconsciously seeking a way out. Can I tell the absolute truth? The dark-haired woman felt the small figure in her arms shake with her sobs and Tessa's heart felt like it was being ripped from her chest. She knew right then what the answer to any question her lover asked of her would be. Even if Casey guessed, Tessa would own up and admit the truth simply to ease the young woman's hurt.

"On one condition." Tessa answered softly, pulling Casey's head up to look at her again. "Only if you'll stop crying for me, allright?" Tessa whispered tenderly and kissed the blonde's forehead.

They sat that way for a while until Casey calmed her nerves and stopped the flow of tears. Tessa sat back and ran her fingers through the short blonde hair, holding to her lover tightly with her other arm.

"Nikki," Casey started without raising her head. "I need to know who George Míkolo is."

Casey felt the Karê's whole body tense under her. She said nothing more, waiting for her lover to respond. She felt in her heart that when Tessa gave her word to tell the truth, she would.

Tessa froze at the sound of the young man's name. Where did Casey hear about him? The Karê searched her brain for the few people they'd crossed paths with since dinner. The woman at the tavérna! Now she remembered how the woman had moved away rather quickly when Tessa made her way back to the table and how Casey had looked rather ill. The question was...who was the woman?

"He's the young man who shot at you last weekend." Tessa answered simply.

"Did you kill him?"

"No, love I didn't kill him." Tessa answered softly.

"Did you hurt him?"

"Well, that depends on your definition. I think I scared the holy hell out of him, but no, Casey, I never touched him."

"But, that woman back at the tavérna, she said you cut off his balls and delivered them to my father as proof that you murdered him. Why would she say that?" Casey raised her head now to look into the blue gaze of her lover.

"Because that's what your father asked me to do...that's what I used to do, Casey. I told you the men in Athens feared me, it's because that's the way I handled disloyalty. It was my trademark."

Tessa felt a small shudder run through the young woman's body.

"My father?" Casey whispered, but she seemed to be directing the thought at herself and so, Tessa remained silent. "Why is George Míkolo missing?" Casey asked after digesting the last bit of horror.

Tessa knew she was in deep now. It would all be over because now that she started, she knew she had to confess everything to Casey. Tessa needed to explain who she was and most of all...who Casey's father was.

"I can only tell you that he is alive, but I can't demonstrate that fact right now. If you'll trust me until Monday, I'll prove it to you."

It was the only thing Tessa could say, the only answer she could give. "Do you trust me, Casey?" Tessa asked in a voice so low that it was barely a whisper.

The young woman looked into her lover's face and saw something new there. Tessa's faced looked tired and defeated, as if for the first time the woman was experiencing what it was like to be unsure and afraid. As gently as she knew how, Casey kissed the lips in front of her.

"I'll do more than trust you, my love. I'll believe in you." Casey whispered.

Tessa held the woman to her in a fierce hug and kissed the small blonde's temple.

"You are everything to me, Casey...everything."


 

Tessa laid her body down alongside the naked figure of her lover and they did nothing more than kiss for a long time. Their lip's caresses were sensual and unhurried, neither woman wanting to rush into the flames, rather they wished to enjoy the smoldering embers of their passion. Tessa began by stroking the smooth skin of Casey's body, from mid-thigh to her waist. Slow and relentless, the dark-haired woman ran her fingers in feather light strokes across her lover's entire body.

Casey was simply amazed at how gentle this lover of hers could be. Looking at Tessa from afar you could only see the hard edge of her demeanor. Her body, cut through with its muscles and sharp angles looked as though it had been chipped from stone. Casey's hands found appearances to be deceiving, however. Tessa's skin was smooth as silk, her lips; warm and inviting, and her touch; so much more tender than anything Casey ever felt before.

Tessa lavished the young woman with more attention than Casey had ever experienced from all her past lovers combined. The dark-haired woman seemed to take her pleasure in pleasing the small blonde, who after hours of delicious torture, was eventually begging for release. Tessa held Casey's body on the edge for what seemed like an eternity, bringing the woman's passion to a peak, then slowly drawing back. Time and time again until the blonde could no longer hold back the tide that was welling up inside her.

When Casey's body shook with the first tremors of orgasm, Tessa simply followed her lover over the precipice. It wasn't enough for the dark-haired woman and once again she slowly built the fire within the young woman, this time encouraging Casey's release. Again and again, Tessa slowly brought her lover to another peak. She wanted to give everything to this woman who had slipped her way past the defenses of her dark heart, just as she wanted everything from her lover. Tessa asked for Casey's complete surrender as she eventually brought her body to a point of delirious exhaustion.

This was all Tessa had left to give, so that Casey would at least have memories of their tender lovemaking. Casey would always be able to look back on one night and know that Tessa had given her everything of herself, everything she had to give. It was nearing dawn and Casey slept soundly in the Karê's arms. Tessa watched the young woman in sleep, running her fingers through the impossibly soft, golden hair. At length, the dark-haired woman slipped from the bed and listened as Casey murmured a protest at the loss in her sleep. Tessa placed a kiss on the small blonde's cheek and the half-smile returned to her sleeping face.

Tessa walked out the sliding doors of the second floor bedroom onto the wooden balcony, followed by the two Dobermans. She sat on the floor of the deck and leaned her back against the house. The dogs padded over and lay pressed up against her. As she leaned her head back and looked up into the gray, early morning sky, the tears began. Tessa did nothing to try and stop them.

So there is penance to do in this life, after all, she thought to herself. This would be hers, to finally give her heart away, only to lose it. To experience the ecstasy of someone as wonderful as Casey loving her, ready to forgive her dark past, only to have to give it up. In her life she had been beaten, shot, but the pains of those incidents were nothing compared to the anguish that poured over her now.

She couldn't lie to Casey any longer. She could no longer pretend that they would have a life together. Tomorrow she would give Casey the last piece of herself. She would take her to the Center and show her who she was; what the young woman's father was, and where the small blonde fit into the chess game. They wouldn't like it at the Center, they weren't too happy when she showed up with Míkolo, but Tessa thought Jack could explain it all to Casey. If she tried she might lose her nerve halfway through or she would be tempted to take the woman in her arms and sugar coat it. Jack would know what to say and how to say it. He had daughters; he would understand the young woman's pain and confusion. Then again Jack could be a heartless bastard when he wanted to.

Tessa absently scratched behind Cinnamon's ears as the animal lay her head in the Karê's lap. Still the tears fell and Tessa closed her eyes tight to the pain as realization washed over her. She had just made love to Casey for the last time.


 

Tessa woke with a start, lying in the middle of the King-size bed alone. It was at least midmorning by the way the sun was beginning to stream in through the windows.

"Casey?"

"Down here." Casey called from the floor below.

Tessa breathed a sigh of relief. She thought for a moment that Casey was gone. She pulled on a robe and wandered downstairs, for the first time catching the tantalizing aroma coming from the kitchen.

"You got out of bed last night...I mean, early this morning." Casey accused once she felt the warm presence at her back.

"Yes, I'm sorry. I couldn't sleep."

The smaller woman turned and slipped her arms around the Karê's waist. She looked up into red rimmed eyes and she suspected the reason for her lover's early morning departure. They kissed and Tessa closed her eyes at the sweet taste of her lover's mouth. When they pulled out of the kiss, Casey wrapped her arms tighter around the slim waist and rested her head on a soft, warm chest. Tessa kissed the top of her head and held her tighter.

"So, what are we having for lunch?" Tessa asked.

"Something I think you'll like." Casey replied secretively.

"Do I have time for a shower?"

"Yep, if you make it a quick one." Casey responded.

By the time they sat down for their meal, Tessa was cleaned and dressed and Casey set the table outside for their meal. When she sat the plates of food down Tessa's eyes widened and she grinned.

"Keftédes! These are my favorite." She cried, referring to the fried, meatball-like items made of pork. "How did you know and where in this house did you find the ingredients?" Tessa asked in wonder. "You know the only person who makes these for me is my mo--" She stopped abruptly, catching herself, but Casey didn't seem to notice.

Casey served the Keftédes on a bed of fresh mint along with saffron rice. "I'd love to say it was kismet or something, but actually Olympia told me. I learned to make these a long time ago in her kitchen. I've already been down to the market and back this morning, sleepyhead."

"I'm sorry, honey, I could have gone with you."

"You were sleeping so sound I didn't want to wake you."

"I can't believe I didn't wake up when you left. I've never felt comfortable enough around anyone to let down my guard like that." Tessa confessed.

"I know." Casey smiled. "I hope it was okay, but I brought Cinnamon with me. She just sat in the car with the top down and looked menacing whenever some guy would hit on me."

"Good girl, Cinny." Tessa said to the animal, scratching under her chin, looking up with a lopsided smile at the small blonde.

"Go on," Casey said with a smile. "Eat before it gets cold."


 

"I need to take you somewhere today, Casey." Tessa said, placing her coffee cup back onto the table, afraid to raise her eyes.

"To tell me more about who you are?"

"Yes." Tessa finally looked up and the fear was evident in her blue eyes. "I need for you to know all the truth about me. There are things you'll hear...about me...and, about your father that you won't want to hear. I'd like to give you the chance to back out if you want, Casey. I won't think badly about you, frankly I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to call it quits with us right now."

"I'm not about to give up on you, Nikki. I told you before, I love you...all of you."

"You won't after today." Tessa replied ominously.

Casey took a deep breath and wondered if she was really up for this. When did life get so hard?

"It's so terrible then...what I'll hear?" Casey asked.

Tessa nodded her head, that same wounded look haunting her expression. "I'm going to bring you to meet some people I know, that I work with. The things they tell you will all be true, you have to trust me on this. I want you to at least hear them out, then I'll answer every question you have."

"Allright, Nikki." Casey answered, not yet realizing that this would be the last day that she would proudly call herself, Meridio's daughter.


 

The car ride into the historic district of Kolonáki was a relatively silent one, both women lost in private thoughts. Tessa pulled the car into a modern underground garage and they walked the two blocks to a four-story brick building.

"A travel agency?" Casey questioned when she saw the sign, then wondered why a travel agency would need such a large building.

"Not really." Tessa replied, holding the door open for the smaller woman to enter.

They exited the elevator on the fourth floor and Tessa led the way through a small maze of offices. Finally she stopped in front of an older woman's desk. The stranger had thick rimmed glasses and auburn hair that had long ago lost its natural color.

"Tell Jack I'm here, I'll be in the conference room." Tessa said briefly then ushered Casey into a room that could indeed be considered a conference room.

"Have a seat, I'll be right back. Do you want something to drink?" Tessa asked.

Casey shook her head and watched as the dark-haired woman closed the door behind her. The young woman surveyed her surroundings and couldn't put it together. The supposed conference room looked the part, a large table surrounded by high back chairs and a large ornate mirror on the wall. A travel agency that looks nothing like a place of business? Casey silently pondered.

Tessa stood with her arms folded in an adjoining room that was completely dark. The mirror in the conference room allowed her to view Casey without the small blonde seeing her. She watched and could see the wheels turning inside her lover's brain.

"Are you out of your fucking mind?" A male voice hissed from behind her.

"Afternoon, Jack." Tessa replied, not taking her eyes off of Casey.

"I'd really like to know, have you completely lost that Greek mind of yours, bringing her here?"

"She needs to know the truth."

"Bullshit! You need redemption and you think because you're screwing her, that now it's time to come clean."

Tessa turned her head and her blue eyes went pale. "You're watching me now?"

"I'm watching out for you! You happen to be a valuable commodity within our organization--"

"Which is why I ought to be able to make a few demands now and again." Tessa interrupted.

"I think you're wearing them out. Just what in the hell did you think that Míkolo business was?"

The man walked closer to the mirror and rubbed his face with the palm of his hand, sighing heavily. "Yea, well it's easy to see what the enticement is. Tell me Tessa, how bad is it?"

"I'm in love with her." She answered. So, why can't I say it to her?

"This wasn't the way this was all supposed to go down, you know?" Tessa said almost as if to herself. "I want you to tell her the truth."

"You know she's going to tell her old man once I do. No way is she going to just sit back and watch. No, forget it."

"This is not a negotiable point." Tessa hissed, turning an angry face to the man.

"And, just which truth do you want me to tell her? The way I see it or the way you see it?"

"What in the hell is that supposed to mean?

"It means, do I tell her you plan on whacking her old man?" the older man growled.

"You only need to tell her what she needs to know." Tessa replied.

"So I tell her you're setting up Meridio, but I don't tell her that in return I'm gonna turn my head while you put a bullet in his brain for what he did to your father."

Tessa grew silent and lowered her head, bringing her hand up to rub the back of her neck. Jack was harsh, but she knew the man dealt in harsh truths everyday. She rather admired the older man and Jack told her numerous times that he was sorry the Bureau hadn't found out about her sooner. He said they would have made a great team on the right side of the law.

"Just don't say anything about my father, okay?" Tessa asked.

"She was there, how can she not know about it already?"

"She was a little kid. She doesn't remember what happened that day. She has nightmares and I don't want to set anything off we're not equipped to deal with." Tessa responded truthfully.

"Oh, wonderful," Jack replied. "I get stuck with the tough dyke and her looney girlfriend."

So fast he never saw it coming, the man's body was slammed against the wall, the woman's strong arms holding him in vise-like grip.

"She is a lady and you damn well better treat her that way." The dark-haired woman rasped.

"Allright...allright." Jack said hoarsely.

Tessa loosened her grip and the man tried to collect himself. "Come on." He said at last.


 

"I thought maybe you dumped me here." Casey said.

Tessa came back into the room followed by a man in his late forties, maybe fifties. He was fit and trim with a little gray at the temples. Casey thought the man reminded her a great deal of her father.

"Never." The tall woman responded, taking Casey's hand in her own. "Cassandra Meridio, I'd like you to meet Jack Armstrong."

"Armstrong?" The small blonde asked with an amused smile.

"Don't even think about it." Jack shook the small hand offered to him.

"Oh, please." Casey couldn't resist.

"Okay." He said, rolling his eyes as if he's heard this line a million times.

"Jack Armstrong...the All American Boy?"

Even Tessa chuckled at the amusement Casey displayed and the discomfort the agent exhibited.

"My father had a wicked sense of humor." Jack replied.

Once Casey and Tessa settled into their seats Jack put on his game face and began.

"Ms. Meridio, I'm a Special Agent working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the Unites States. I'm here in Greece to head up an operation to catch a criminal that has managed to stay one step ahead of the law for a very long time now. We're here working with members of InterPol because this criminal represents a threat to the National Security of more than one country. That criminal's name is Andreas Meridio."

"This must be some kind of mistake. My father isn't a criminal." Casey said haltingly looking from Tessa to the stranger. "Nikki?" Casey asked the dark-haired woman.

Tessa placed a hand over Casey's smaller one that rested on the table. "I told you these things would be very hard to hear. I didn't want you to find out this way, Casey, but I care too much about you to see you stuck in the middle like this."

"Ms. Meridio, do you know what an arms dealer is?" Jack Armstrong asked.

"Guns? You're telling me my father sells guns?" Casey asked in a stunned voice.

"Not just guns. Military weapons; everything from hand grenades to light missiles, tanks, M-50's, air to ground missiles, high-caliber weapons of destruction. Now he's beginning to do a lot of business with third world countries. We're very afraid he may have gotten his hands on some nuclear weapons."

"The Libyans?" Casey asked almost in a whisper.

"Smart lady. Yes, the people you lunched with the other day are among the people we're worried about. We're at somewhat of a stalemate. We know where Meridio sells the arms once he gets them, but what we really need to know is who he gets them from. Without some actual proof, extradition will be all but impossible."

Casey looked like a woman who had been just told the impossible and was trying hard to digest the information. When the small blonde looked up, Tessa had her head lowered staring at the hands in her lap.

"What do you have to do with all of this, Nikki?"

"Ms. Nikolaidis works for our organization, we set her up as the Meridio Karê." Jack intervened.

"And, Tusky...was his car bomb really an accident?" Casey asked, suddenly suspicious.

"Let's just say that Mr. Tuscadaris' demise was fortuitous." He replied ominously.

"It sounds to me like you people aren't a whole lot better than the people you're out to catch." Casey said sardonically.

"Believe me, Ms. Meridio, we are." Jack said quickly perching himself on the table in front of the seated young woman. "These men kill people. Men, women, children, it doesn't matter if you get in their way."

Armstrong backed off as he caught the blue fire emanating from Tessa's eyes. This woman used to be a heartless killer and he wasn't in a hurry to push her to her limits today. God help the first idiot that lays a hand on Meridio's daughter. He's going to wish he'd never been born in a big way.

"Ms. Meridio do you know that small arms like the kinds your father deals in claim over 200,000 lives every year? Do you know why so many civilians are dying in supposed military conflicts? In World War I, for instance, 5 million people died, and 80 percent of them were soldiers. In World War II, 60 million died and half were soldiers. Since 1945, 30 million have died in wars and 80 percent of those were civilians. Men who deal in small arms are personally responsible for keeping some parts of this region of the world in an almost permanent state of war or civil war."

"Allright that's enough." Tessa said between clenched teeth. "Let's stay on track, shall we?"

"So all this talk about your past?" Casey looked over at her lover. "You're really a government agent?"

"No, honey. What I told you is true. I--I--" Tessa stammered.

"Ms. Nikolaidis is working for us in exchange for immunity for any crimes she may have committed while living in the Greek Islands." Armstrong jumped in. "She didn't exactly come willingly. She got her hand caught in the proverbial cookie jar, smoking gun and all."

Casey looked at Tessa who lowered her gaze to the floor. The small blonde returned her questioning gaze to the agent in front of her, a silent request to continue.

"She just happened to have killed a boy...the wrong boy."

"Nikki...you killed a boy?" Casey asked as Tessa's head shot up to glare at Armstrong.

"He was twenty-three."

"He also just happened to be a diplomat's son." Armstrong added.

"He was killing working girls down by the docks." Tessa turned to the small blonde to explain. "He'd hire a whore then he'd slit her throat for the fun of it. The police wouldn't do anything about it so I did."

"The embassy was handling it." Armstrong cut in.

"So, they were going to send him back to his own country where he could do it to girls there? Where is the justice for the women who were murdered here?" Tessa hissed.

The small blonde understood that these two must have had this conversation before as each backed off to a respective corner. Neither looked about to acquiesce on the point, but Casey felt somewhat relieved as to why Tessa would kill a man in cold blood.

"Well, it became a moot point," Armstrong turned back to Casey. "Turned out Tessa had an underling who was just dying to become boss. He set her up. The gun was literally smoking when the police showed up. So, that's when I showed up. Her position within Meridio's organization affords us the perfect opportunity to bring this little empire down. It's taken almost five years Ms. Meridio, to get to this point. I'm rather interested, what will you do with all of this information I've given you?"

"I--I don't know." Casey answered honestly.

"We've got three ways we can play this. Let me tell you what your options are from here on in. First, you can go back to America and you'll be notified when it's all over. Your father will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison. Second, you can continue to live in Greece, but should you breathe one word of our operation to your father, or anyone that might tell your father about it, then you leave me no alternative but to prosecute you also. That means it's likely that you'll end up in an adjoining cell with your father."

"Allright, I don't think she needs any threats thrown at her." Tessa stepped in.

"I'm merely explaining what her options are." Armstrong explained.

"You said there was a third option?" Casey said in her tough as nails California attitude type of voice.

"Yes, you can join us."

"No!" Tessa shouted, standing up.

"I think that's the young woman's decision. She could deliver what we need. She might be able to get that extra step closer."

"You're fucking pushing it, Jack." Tessa growled.

"That's enough!" Casey said loudly.

The small blonde stood and walked over to one of the windows and thought it odd that such a distasteful place would have such a beautiful view of Athens. She shook her head slightly to clear away the pensiveness and finally looked up at the man.

"Mr. Armstrong, apparently you've gotten a bad impression of what being Greek is all about. I have no intention of going against my family at this stage. You've told me a great many things, but you haven't offered me one shred of evidence to back up these accusations."

"Touché, Ms. Meridio. You're right, but I think we can provide you with that." Armstrong turned toward Tessa. "Why don't you show her a few things in the file room." He finished.

Tessa took that to mean their time was at an end. She held out her arm, more for Casey to walk in front of her than to be able to touch. In her heart she could feel what her young lover must have been thinking about her. Without warning, Casey slipped her hand into the Karê's grasp and squeezed it gently. Tessa rewarded the young woman with a small smile that was flooded with equal parts relief and amazement.

When the two women walked out the door with a slight backward glance in his direction, he caught the look on each of their faces. Once they closed the door behind them, Jack dropped into the chair with a groan.

"Those two are gonna ruin my career, I just know it." He said with a loud exasperated sigh.


 

Casey watched as reel after reel of 8mm film was played on a white projection screen in front of her. Hundreds of video tapes were stacked around the room all marked, Meridio. Tears fell as she viewed her father, the man she grew up worshipping, as he held center stage in each scene. They were all shot undercover so the quality left something to be desired, but there could be no mistake. She looked at hundreds of still photographs and listened to taped conversations until Tessa could see that the woman had reached her limit.

The two women walked at a leisurely pace through the lower gardens of the Acrópolis. Not a word was said about the day's earlier incident as they steered in the direction The Propyláia, which housed the Temple of Athena. Walking up the long flight of stone steps, Casey turned right to stand before what was left of the great temple. She pulled out a twenty-drachma coin and placed it gently on the wall, as she always did. She had no idea who picked up the coins, but since she was a small child every time her mother brought her to the Acrópolis, she taught Casey to pay homage to the ancient Greek goddess.

"My mother told me that if I believed with all my heart, Athena would make me strong." Casey explained her actions. The small blonde sat heavily on a stone block and wept. "I don't feel very strong." Casey cried.

Tessa held the small figure against her as she wept. There were no words that she could offer, but little by little, the love and the strength within the dark-haired woman, transferred itself into her lover.

By the time they arrived back at Tessa's estate, their silence became comfortable and no longer fearful and strained. They spent most of the evening in that companionable silence, wrapped around one another on a large rug in the living area. Tessa opened the patio doors to let in the cool night air just so they could light a fire in the fireplace and watch the flames hypnotically dancing across the walls.

Tessa lay stretched out in an old t-shirt and boxers, Casey leaning back in her arms wearing a short, silk chemise. Casey ran her hands along the Karê's strong arms, delighting in the feel of muscle under her fingertips. Her touch turned into a caress and soon her hand traveled down the hollow between the dark-haired woman's breasts.

Tessa, in the meantime, was trying hard to remember how to breathe. She knew in her heart that the small blonde wouldn't want her that way again; that she had destroyed the trust that existed between them. Tessa was very content to simply hold Casey and try to be a friend to the young woman. The only problem with that plan, as the Karê saw it, was that Casey didn't seem to be cooperating. The young woman seemed to have an agenda of her own.

"Casey?" Tessa questioned, raising the young woman's face. The look she saw there actually made her heart skip a few beats faster and she was suddenly confused. "I thought...I thought you wouldn't want me any more...' She trailed off, unsure how to verbalize all she felt.

Casey looked deep into the sapphire eyes that questioned her and worked up the best smile she could under the circumstances. "I told you, Nikki, I love you. I thought maybe you didn't want to be with me."

"What? Honey, what would make you think that?"

"I don't know what I'm going to do about all of this. I'm not sure what I should do. I am still Meridio's Daughter."

"Casey," Tessa lifted the woman's chin again to look directly into her eyes. "I'll understand no matter what you decide to do, love." Then she wrapped the woman in her arms and Casey leaned into the powerful touch.

She still wants me, the dark-haired woman thought to herself in utter amazement. Tessa was absolutely stunned at the young woman's infinite capacity to feel...to feel for her. This new awareness thrilled and terrified her at the same time.

Casey's hands eventually resumed their journey along her lover's dark skin. She lifted the shirt slightly to let her fingers run in circular patterns on the taut skin of Tessa's abdomen, letting them wander and make lazy circles. She smiled to herself when she saw the muscles clench under her touch. Suddenly an overwhelming desire washed over her. She wanted this woman, she wanted to take her and not with a gentle, loving hand, but in a way that she'd never expressed her passion before. She had the strangest feeling that her dark-haired lover would be more than happy to comply. She lifted the shirt higher and ran her tongue across a nipple that was already erect with desire. She nibbled on the tight flesh, producing a groan from Tessa.

"Oh, yesss, baby," the Karê moaned as Casey sucked harder, biting down on the tender flesh.

Slender fingers found their way to entwine themselves in Casey's golden hair. Tessa arched her back and pressed the blonde head harder to her chest, delighting in the rough touch. Somewhere in the back of Tessa's brain she thought that she should be taking control of their lovemaking, but the small blonde seemed to have a sense of determination and the physical sensations being produced within her body were so overwhelming that she could do no more than comply.

Casey slipped her hand into the loose fitting waistband of her lover's shorts and soon realized that Tessa wore no other underwear. Her fingers played with the silky dark curls, not straying any lower just yet. The small blonde moved quickly to her feet.

"I'll be right back. Make sure you have these off by the time I get back." She commanded to a rather stunned Karê.

"Oh, baby...now you have to get up?" Tessa panted.

By the time the words were out Casey was halfway up the stairs. Tessa let herself fall back onto the floor, but when she heard her lover's footstep coming back down the staircase, she realized she was still dressed. The taller woman wriggled out of her shorts and quickly tossed off her shirt, remembering the small blonde's parting order.

Wait a minute, Casey's ordering me to get naked? Hhmm, Casey ordering me around, this could be interesting. So, what do you have in mind for tonight, little one? Need to expel a little steam?

When Casey reached the living room she caught her naked lover staring into the fire, the most erotic grin on her face.

"So, are you going to share this fantasy?" Casey asked.

Tessa finally noticed the small blonde standing right in front of her. She watched as Casey tossed a folded blanket to the floor.

"That was the big emergency?" Tessa asked, sitting up.

"In case I get cold." Casey lied, reaching down and grasping the hem of her chemise and pulling it over her head in one swift motion.

She straddled the Karê's muscled thighs and sat down, just as Tessa reached for her. The dark-haired woman pressed Casey closer to her and the small blonde wrapped her fingers in the raven tresses and unceremoniously pulled the waiting mouth to her own. It was a small fight for dominance, Tessa giving in quickly, understanding Casey's need to be in control on this night. It wasn't the easiest thing she'd ever done, but the fire her lover was igniting and the throbbing ache that had begun at her center, convinced her to let her lover have her way.

Casey began to realize the power the submissive partner had, when it came to pleasure. Their fantasies and appetites were what kept the little scenario playing along. Fortunately, Casey knew her lover's body well enough to continually tease her to the brink, only to slow the rhythm to a frustratingly slow pace. Holding Tessa's wrists and not allowing the dark-haired woman to touch her, she sucked, bit, and nipped at her lover's skin until Tessa whimpered for release.

Casey reached into the folds of the blanket she procured earlier, carefully removing the dildo she hid there. Lying atop her lover, she held the toy in her hand and pressed the large end into Tessa wetness, teasing her with a small circular motion against her sex. Her lover's intense reaction was all she could have hoped for.

A low guttural moan escaped from Tessa's lips "Oh, God, yesss!" The dark-haired woman arched her back and spread her legs wider. "Oh please...please baby, do it!" She begged.

There was very little tenderness involved. Casey slid the phallus in one swift motion, burying the object inside her lover. Tessa cried out in pleasure as her slick inner walls expanded and the shaft was pulled halfway out then pushed forward again. Casey was soon following the rhythm her lover's hips set as the dark-haired woman begged to be taken harder and faster. Casey's hunger equaled, if not exceeded, her partner's and her thrust's increased in speed and force until Tessa was clutching at the rug on the floor as if to simply have something to ground herself to. The large woman's hips met each thrust, burying as much of the phallus as she could take, her breathing coming in ragged gasps.

Casey never felt this out of control or in control for that matter. She'd never taken a woman this way and the adrenaline rush involved in simply watching her lover writhe underneath her was enough to bring her close to the edge. She quickly straddled a bronze thigh and let her wet center slide across the muscled leg until the friction was more than she could stand. Tessa groaned when she felt her lover's wet sex rubbing against her leg. Suddenly the only sensations surrounding her, became the feel of her lover's legs wrapped around her thigh and the delicious pounding between her own legs.

Both women nearly screamed as Tessa's orgasm hit her, her body bucking into the intense pleasure, the tremors from her body causing Casey to follow after her.

The small blonde's body slumped onto her lover, both women trying desperately to draw much needed oxygen into their lungs. Casey slid the toy from her lover's body, producing another series of shudders from the woman below her. She rolled over onto her back and without a word, Tessa turned over and snuggled against the soft skin of the blonde's neck. Casey wrapped her arms around her lover and within moments, each woman had fallen into an exhausted slumber.


 

"Morning," Tessa mumbled sleepily.

She opened her eyes to see a pair of deep green orbs watching her intently. The Karê was surprised that her lover woke before her. She was more puzzled because she usually never slept like this. Her customary sleep routine was to rest for three or four hours and then be ready again for action. Now, each night she spent next to the small blonde she was currently wrapped around, she ended up being so relaxed that she slept soundly throughout the night.

"Morning." Casey replied, but her brow creased together with an expression of worry.

"What's wrong?" Tessa leaned up on one elbow, sure it was something she'd done.

"I--I guess I'm a little surprised you're still speaking to me this morning."

"Wha-? Honey, why would you think I wouldn't be talking to you?"

"After last night..." The blonde trailed off.

"I, personally, thought last night was incredible." Tessa arched one brow and gave a tiny smirk. "I am sorry I fell asleep so fast on you. You definitely wore me out."

"I...well, I didn't meant to...I've never..."

"You've never made love that way before?" Tessa prompted.

Casey nodded. "I didn't hurt you or anything, did I?"

"Oh, honey," Tessa pulled the woman in to her arms. "You did not hurt me."

"I just feel like I took you against your will or something."

Tessa pulled away from the small figure and put on her best indignant stare. "Cassandra," she drawled, "do you honestly think you could take me against my will?"

Finally the small blonde raised her eyes and a sheepish grin relaxed her features.

"Okay, point taken." Casey smiled at her lover. "I don't know where that came from, though. It's like all of a sudden I had this desire to be with you that way. Like I needed to be able to wield that kind of power or control. Is that absolutely terrible? Do you feel like I just used you?"

Tears pooled in Casey's eyes and Tessa pulled her closed against her. "No, baby, I don't feel anything like that. What I do feel is very loved."

Tessa wondered how she should combat the small woman's fears. Should I tell her about the sex that I'm accustomed to? How in the world do I even explain the concept of rough sex and the pain that quickly turns to pleasure under the right circumstances? Tessa didn't have to wonder much longer as Casey beat her to the punch.

"Is that the kind of sex you're used to with women, Nikki?" Casey asked, suddenly feeling extremely naive.

"Yes and no. Yes, I am used to rough sex. I don't think I ever made love to a woman before you, Casey. No, because I've never let another woman take me before, in a strange way you're my first." She paused to reveal an embarrassed grin.

"Then why did you let me?"

Tessa stared intently into the deep green eyes of the woman in her arms and answered with her heart.

"Because I knew I could let down my guard in front of you. In my mind I've always equated being the submissive partner during sex to mean that you were weaker. In my business, people make it a point to find out your weaknesses and use them against you. I just trained myself never to give up control to anyone. I'm glad you proved that theory wrong. I gave that up to you last night because I knew that you would never use it against me." She finished softly.

Casey ran a hand across the darkly tanned skin of her lover's face, tracing the line of her cheekbone with her fingers.

"Nikki, I would never think of you as weak, in bed or anywhere else, for that matter. It takes an incredible amount of strength to place your heart; everything you are, in another's hands. Thank you for letting it be me."

"I love you, Nikki." She finally whispered softly as Tessa held her close.

"Me too." Tessa responded, her voice catching, hoping that her lover would realize what she meant. When she felt Casey smile against her skin she relaxed, knowing the young woman accepted Tessa's form of the sentiment.

When they eventually separated, Casey sat up. "I'm thirsty, do you want something?" She asked, rising from the floor.

"Why don't you let me make you breakfast for a change. Contrary to popular belief, I can cook some things."

"No, don't get up, let's lay here together for a while. I just want something to drink."

"Okay," Tessa chuckled at her lover's pout. "I'll take some juice, then."

The lithe figure disappeared into the next room and Tessa sat up, stretching muscles that weren't accustomed to sleeping on a hard floor all night. In mid stretch she heard Casey's frightened scream and a glass crash to the floor. It took Tessa all of half a dozen strides to make it to the door that separated the two rooms, ready for action.

When the dark-haired woman rushed through the door she found Casey trying to cover most of her naked figure with a dishtowel from a very flustered young man who couldn't seem to take his eyes off the young blonde.

"What in the hell are you doing here? You weren't supposed to be back till tomorrow!" Tessa shouted at the stammering man.

"I--I--I..." He stuttered.

"Turn around," Tessa growled as she watched the man's eyes stay fixed on her lover.

He spun on his heel and began muttering apologies and something about forgetting a book he needed. Tessa in the meantime ran into the living room and returned, tossing Casey her slip.

"Okay," Tessa said gruffly, "you can turn around now." She finished, pulling her own shirt on.

"I'm very sorry Karê, I thought I could slip an and get me book before you were awake." He lowered his head in severe embarrassment.

"Um...remember me?" Casey chimed up in Tessa's direction.

Tessa gave her lover a grin and introduced the two. "Cassandra Meridio, meet George Míkolo."

You're George Míkolo!" Casey commented in amazement. "You didn't..." She finished, looking at Tessa.

"I told you I could prove it on Monday, when he was supposed to return." Tessa enunciated these last words, staring hard at the young man.

"Forgive me," George raised sincere eyes to Casey. "And, not just about today, Miss, but for my actions against you. I really didn't mean to shoot you, I simply wanted to stop--" He looked up abruptly at Tessa before continuing.

"She knows." The tall woman answered rather softly.

"I wanted to stop what your father was doing. Too many people are dying because of the weapons he sells. I mistakenly thought you were here to join in the family business...I thought you were just like your father."

"I am nothing like my father." Casey answered coldly, enunciating each syllable. She wasn't even looking at the young man, but out the window into her own past.

Casey shook the thoughts away and turned toward the two, the sunny smile on her face once again. Tessa came up to stand behind her lover, placing her hands protectively on her shoulder. The small blonde leaned back against the taller woman, making it clear to the young man that they were lovers.

"George is living here for a while; he takes care of the dogs and looks after the place for me. That is until next week, then he takes a trip, eh, George?"

The man finally smiled broadly at the two women, nodding his head enthusiastically. "I'm going to America!" He announced. "To the University in California. Mr. Armstrong says it will be just like Greece, that the sun shines and they have earthquakes all the time."

"You will love it there.' Casey said to the eager young man.

"Mr. Armstrong says that you will make it possible for me to return to my homeland again someday?" He looked anxiously between the two women.

"I...uh..." Casey stammered until Tessa stepped in.

"We'll do our best, George. You just need to spend your time concentrating on your studies for a while." The Karê finished for the small blonde.

"I should leave you now. Again, I am terribly sorry for startling you."

"We should be gone by midday tomorrow, George...you've got the key." Tessa said to the man before closing the door.

The two women looked at each other and started laughing.

"I'm not usually a screamer, but he scared the shit out of me." Casey laughed even more.

Tessa wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and rested her head on top of her chin. "One thing you have to admit, life with me will never be dull."

Casey pulled away slightly to look up at her lover. "I do believe that statement had a hint of commitment in it, Karê."

"I'm sorry if I've made you feel any other way." Tessa replied.

"You haven't," Casey answered, "but sometimes it's nice to hear it out loud."


 

"Nikki?"

"Hhmm?" Tessa answered. The tall woman was turning some skewers of lamb on the grill as Casey sat on the edge of the pool. Today they decided to do nothing more than be together and lounge about the house, resting their minds as well as their bodies.

"You never did tell me how you got out of delivering poor George's...well, you know, to my father."

"I didn't get out of it. I delivered them in a sack just as he asked."

"But"

"It's an amazing thing really, how very similar sheep's testicles are to the human male's. Another unsurprising fact is that few men are actually willing to pull them out of the bag and look at them. Kind of strikes too close to home for them." Tessa responded with a wink.

"Gross...that's enough to make me lose my appetite." Casey complained.

"Oh, yea, right...like anything could make you lose your appetite."

"Hey!" Casey put on a mock display of indignation and splashed some water in the standing woman's direction.

"Náh!" Tessa exclaimed.

"What's wrong?" Casey asked, turning around.

"Oh, some grease just spat up from the grill and got on my shirt. I'll be right back, I'm going to go throw on an old t-shirt. Will you watch the grill so the meat doesn't burn?"

"Sure, hon, got it covered." Casey rose and took the grill utensil from her lover's hand.

By the time Tessa got back only a minute or two had passed. "Thanks," Tessa kissed the small blonde's cheek, taking the utensil back.

"No prob--" Casey started as she turned to give the tall woman a kiss.

The red t-shirt Tessa wore overwhelmed Casey's field of vision and a staggering sense of fear, bordering on panic, clutched at the small woman.

"Casey, what's wrong?" Tessa asked, realizing she was beginning to see the signs of when bits of that Easter day would wash over the small blonde. The only trouble was that the Karê couldn't tell what her lover was remembering.

"It...um...it must be the glare on that shirt...it seems so bright." Casey stammered, her face turning pale and her breathing deepening. "Could you...do you think you could change into something else?"

Tessa reached over her head and grasped the back of the shirt, pulling it off, leaving her clad only in her bra. "Is that better?" She tossed the shirt into one of the chairs.

Just as suddenly, Casey's nausea disappeared. The young woman nodded in response.

"I don't understand it, I've never reacted to something that was red quite that way before. Wait a minute, the other night at the tavérna. The awning behind you was red, I remember because I started to get sick then, too."

"I'm sorry, honey." Tessa held Casey close to her, feeling her clammy skin warm slightly. I need to tell her what happened. It's got be better than putting her through this torture, doesn't it? How can I say I love her when I won't tell her the truth? Forgive me, Casey, but I can't stand the thought of losing you, not yet.

"Hey, why don't you run inside and get me another shirt to wear, get out of the sun for a few minutes, okay?"

"I don't know, I kind of like you dressed like that." Casey grinned lasciviously.

"I'll just bet you do, but standing naked, over a hot grill leaves me feeling a little vulnerable." Tessa replied.

Casey chuckled and walked into the house, feeling as if nothing had happened to her a few moments ago. When she finally returned she handed an old cinzano t-shirt to the taller woman. Tessa looked up to thank her and smiled at the baseball cap on her lover's head.

"You look pretty damn cute in that."

"Okay, so tell me, how does a Greek woman, educated in England, wind up with a Chicago Cubs baseball cap?" Casey asked, pulling the cap onto her own head.

I went to Chicago on business once; some associates took me to a game at Wrigley Field. The sound of the stadium...and the grass was so green; well, it actually took my breath away. I've been a fan of American baseball ever since."

"You are an amazingly complex woman, do you know that?" Casey reached up to kiss the tall woman's lips.

"Yea, I bet that's what you say to all your Greek lovers." Tessa said gruffly, removing the meat from the grill as she spoke.

"Pretty much." The young blonde smirked.

"Oh, that's it, no food for you." Tessa smiled as she carried the plate into the house.

"Hey, don't tease me about food." The suddenly contrite blonde called after her lover.


 

"Nikki, this place is beautiful, but do you really think the owner will rent it to me?" Casey asked her lover.

They stood in the middle of the large two-bedroom apartment that Tessa came up with, as a place to stay once Casey had to work in Athens. The large two-story wooden building was divided into 3 apartments, two on the lower level and the one they now stood in, that took up the entire top level.

"I think it's pretty much a certainty," Tessa began, standing behind the small blonde slipping her arms around her lover's waist, "you happen to have an in."

"Oh, really? Do tell."

"Yea, the owner happens to have a thing for you," Tessa answered placing a soft kiss on the smaller woman's neck.

"Do you--" Casey asked, spinning around to face the dark-haired woman. The grin on Tessa's face told Casey who owned the building they stood in.

"I'll say it once again... You are an amazingly complex woman, Tessa Nikolaidis." Casey said softly, right before she reached up and soundly kissed the woman above her.

They spent the rest of the late afternoon getting an extra set of keys made and having the utilities turned on. They finished by doing a little dry goods shopping for items that Casey would need. By the time they left the apartment, Tessa thought it already had Casey's distinctive look about it.


 

"You're not sleepy at all are you?" Casey questioned the woman that held her in her arms.

"I'm sorry, hon, I'm just not used to getting as much sleep as I have the last few days." Tessa replied. She knew that she had been fidgeting for the last hour and Casey was sensitive to every one of her moves. "Would you mind terribly if I got up and read or something? I'll be right next door in the den."

"Of course not. You don't have to be with me every minute of the day to show me you love me, Nikki." Casey explained sleepily.

Tessa got up and put her robe on. Bending down she placed a gentle kiss on her lover's cheek. "Trouble is, I pretty much want to be with you every minute of the day." Tessa whispered.

Casey smiled and curled up against the pillow her lover abdicated, breathing in the scent of the woman and thinking how much she loved the fresh clean scent of her lover's skin.

There are many senses that exist within the human body that capture memories for us, none so strong as the sense of smell. By the time Casey was entering the dream stage of her sleep, the cells in her brain were still processing the scent that triggered the recollection of a day long forgotten by the sleeping figure.


 

"Can I ride him now, Pappa?" Casey jumped up and down in her excitement.

Andreas Meridio scooped up the five-year-old and held her in his arms. "Máhtia Mou, this is a big pony and you're still a small girl." He explained.

"But, Pappa, you said he was my Easter present!" The young girl pouted while a fiery determination burned in her green eyes.

"Yes, Cassandra, but he is large and you are small. You have to train him so he will be gentle and not throw you. Remember, he will be a grown horse, long before you," he poked the girl lightly in the belly and she giggled, "are a grown woman."

"But, Pappa--" Casey complained as her father set her on the ground again.

"Enough, Cassandra." Her father said sharply, dropping to one knee in front of the youngster. "I tell you what, if one of the older children will ride double with you, you can mount him. How does that sound?"

Casey jumped into the kneeling man's arms and hugged him fiercely. "Thank you, Pappa."

"Cassandra." Casey turned her head to see a young petite blonde woman coming down the path. "It's time for lunch, sweetheart."

"Coming, Mána," Casey called out to her mother. The small girl kissed her father's cheek and ran up the stone path to her mother's waiting arms.


 

"It should be me that rides with Casey, I'm the biggest," a tall boy said, pushing one of the youngsters aside.

"I think Casey should pick, it's her pony," Casey's friend Maria spoke up.

"She's too little to decide." Another boy chimed in.

"I'll be the one to ride with her." A dark-haired girl walked into view and stood in front of the first boy as if daring him to argue with her. She was eleven years old, but every bit as tall as he was. "That is if she wants me to."

Kneeling down to the small blonde's level, she smiled into the green eyes that looked up at her in awe. "My name is Tessa, would you like me to ride with you, Casey?"

Casey liked the way the older girl's blue eyes sparkled, just like the water in Tourlos Bay. Casey wished she could be big like this girl, she didn't act like she was afraid of those bigger boys at all. The small blonde nodded her head eagerly and held out her hand.

Tessa rose and took the girl's hand, walking over to the stable that held the pony. She sat the youngster on a bale of hay and explained to Casey all that she was doing as she saddled the strong pony. The tiny girl sat mesmerized and promised herself that she would remember everything the older girl was telling her. Casey knew she would too. She may have been the smallest girl in her kindergarten class, but she was smart and could remember things well. She never gave up when the bigger children did and it was this fierce persistence that allowed her to keep up when the older children let her join them.

Tessa jumped into the saddle and told Casey to stand on the bale of hay. The older girl maneuvered the horse into position and told Casey to put her left foot in the stirrup. Grasping the young girls arm in her own strong grasp, Tessa practically lifted the small child onto the saddle behind her.

"Well, what do you think?" Tessa asked as they departed the stable and walked the pony around the field.

Casey looked down to the ground. "It's pretty far if you fall, huh?"

"Then don't fall." Tessa responded with a chuckle.

After a time of trotting the pony around the grassy field, Casey stopped the older girl. "Can we go fast now, Tessa?"

"You want to gallop, huh? Okay, but you'll have to put your arms around me and hold on tight."

Casey slipped her arms as far around the older girl's waist as she could.

"You'll have to hold on tighter than that, little one." Tessa said, half-turning in the saddle.

Casey tightened her grip and Tessa prompted the pony into a speedy gallop. It was a short burst by most standards, but it was enough to make the small blonde happy. Returning to the stable, Tessa showed Casey how to remove the saddle and small blanket, and to rub the horse down to relax the animal's muscles.

"Tessa, come on, we're gonna play ball." One of the older boys burst into the stable to shout at the dark-haired girl.

Casey hung back, knowing the older children never let her play ball.

"Come on, little one." Tessa placed a protective hand on the girl's shoulder and the small blonde beamed up at her new friend.

Casey stood in a group of children, as captains were chosen and teams about to be selected. Casey was elated that she was going to play, but she felt miserable waiting to be picked. She was always selected last and it was usually more of a burden to whatever team got stuck with her. It started to wear on the youngster and her self-esteem wasn't very high anymore.

"I'll take Casey," Tessa announced.

"Oh, boy, we're going to win for sure now!" The older boy shouted.

Tessa's face gave nothing away as she motioned for the young blonde to stand by her side. Teams were finally settled and the children began a game of háhso, a Greek version of dodge ball. Tessa pulled Casey to stand by her.

"Do you know how to play, little one?"

Casey nodded her head. "I don't let the ball hit me." She said proudly. "But, Tessa...I don't catch good."

Tessa smiled down at the girl who only came up to her waist. "That's okay, I'll catch the balls. You just stand out in front and make what ya got work for you."

"What's that mean?"

"It means that you're small and fast, there's no way those stupid boys are going to be able to hit you. Jump out of the way and I'll be behind you to catch the ball."

Casey did exactly as the older girl directed. She hopped around and Tessa faithfully caught every volley that came at them, until they were the only two left from their team. Tessa picked up a ball and with a moment of precise aim rocketed the object toward one of the two boys left on the other team. The ball hit the first boy squarely in the back and bounced off, smacking the second boy in the legs.

"Game over, we win!" Tessa's teammates shouted.

Tessa had a look of triumph in her blue eyes as she looked down at her small partner. The dark-haired girl spit in the palm of her hand and raised it to the blonde. Casey did the same and the two girls slapped their hands together in victory.

Casey had always wanted to do that. She'd never won any sport before and always watched as the victors celebrated with the powerful handshake. She grinned broadly, even though it did feel a little slimy. The small blonde wiped her hand on her shorts and trotted off behind Tessa.

The older girl walked away from the group of children. Everyone knew that Tessa liked to go off by herself once in a while, but Casey trotted faithfully beside her dark-haired friend, jogging to keep up with Tessa's long strides. Tessa was used to being alone most of the time. She looked out of the corner of her eye and caught sight of the blonde, running to keep up with her. She slowed down to a stroll for the youngster. Tessa didn't have any brothers or sisters and this one was kind of fun to be around, even if she was just a little kid. There was something the older girl liked; that reminded her of her self. The small blonde had a lot of heart and used her brains. There was also a look in the green eyes. Kind of like they were telling Tessa that Casey trusted her. The dark-haired girl smiled to herself. Whatever it was about the tiny blonde by her side, Tessa had an overwhelming urge to protect the girl. She didn't know why, it was just a feeling she had.

"My Pappa works for your Pappa." Tessa finally spoke. She waited to see what the girl would say. She remembered the last time she made friends with the son of the man her father worked for. He thought he was better than her because of it.

Casey jumped up and down slightly. "Does that mean you can come over and ride the pony with me again, Tessa?"

Tessa laughed out loud at the excited expression on the girl's face. It doesn't even matter to her, she thought to herself. "Sure, little one." Tessa paused before continuing. "You know, you can call me what my Pappa calls me, if you want. He's my best friend and I will only let my best friends call me this...Niko."

Casey smiled brightly. "Niko, can I be your friend?"

"Absolutely!" Tessa smiled down at the girl.

The two wandered down into the olive groves and Tessa taught Casey how to skip rocks across the water of the small pond. Casey couldn't make it work, but she clapped her hands in delight as the older girl made the flat rock bounce across the surface of the water. When they came to the top of a grassy ridge they looked down on a group of men, perhaps twenty feet from where they were hidden by the tall grass.

"Let's pretend we're spies," Tessa whispered.

Casey nodded her head silently, wondering what spies were.

"See," Tessa whispered in a low voice, "that's my Pappa over there."

Casey followed her friend's hand, pointing out a very tall dark-haired man. "That's my Pappa next to him." Casey replied.

The two girls watched as suddenly the action below changed. The two girl's fathers began a heated exchange and even though Tessa couldn't hear everything that was being said, her brow creased into a frown. The movement of Andreas Meridio's hand happened quickly, but to the girls watching, it was agonizingly slow.

Meridio's hand came up with a pistol in it. He never paused; firing three shots into the taller man's skull before the dark-haired man slumped to the ground.

"Pappa!" Tessa shouted as she stood and began running toward the group of men.

Casey was frozen in place. She had watched the movies where people killed each other, but her mother insisted that it was all pretend. She told the youngster that they were all actors and when the camera turned off, the people got up and walked away. Casey waited for Tessa's father to get up, but he didn't. Suddenly she heard Tessa cry out again. The frightened blonde watched as her own father backhanded the girl away from him with a single blow. The dark-haired girl jumped back up and was suddenly out of control. One of the men caught her from behind and held on to the kicking and screaming wildcat. That's when Casey acted.

"Niko!" Casey shouted as she rushed down the hill toward her friend.

Casey had no idea what to do, but the action was without thought anyway. She thought she heard her father calling her name, but she could barely hear over Tessa's screams. Casey rushed up to the man holding onto her friend and kicked him hard in the shin. The startled young man yelped in pain and shoved Casey away from him roughly, knocking her to the ground.

Casey's fall was broken by something soft and when she rolled over to discover what it was, she came within inches of what was left of the face of Tessa's father. More than half his face was missing from the force of the gunshots and suddenly Casey realized she was covered in blood. The young girl let out a terrified scream just as another man grabbed her by the neck and pulled her up.

Tessa's grief turned her into a wild animal. She watched as the man who held the small blonde, slapped the girl in the head. That's when what little awareness was left in Tessa, snapped. She bit down hard on the man's hand trying to cover her mouth and kicked back sharply, feeling the heel of her boot connect with the man's knee.

He immediately released his hold and Tessa flung herself at the man holding Casey. The dark-haired girl kicked and bit until the man dropped his small blonde bundle to grab at Tessa. Both men took hold of Tessa and the older girl shouted.

"Run, Casey!" It was only a fraction of a second, but the tiny blonde realized her friend had sacrificed herself so Casey could get away.

"Run!" Tessa shouted again.

This time the blonde moved so fast the men didn't know she was running until her short legs had carried her halfway back up the rocky hill.

"Get her." Meridio shouted.

Casey turned around only once, when she reached the top of the ridge. When she quickly looked back she watched as her father struck the girl that was now held securely between two men.

"Niko!" She screamed, even as she turned and continued running until her five-year-old legs refused to run any longer.


 

"Niko!" Casey screamed.

Tessa was almost dozing in the leather chair, a book lying open in her hands. She bolted up and the book flew out of her lap. Rushing through the door, she wasn't prepared for the sight that met her. Casey was screaming as if completely unaware of her surroundings. The dark-haired woman flipped the light switch and grabbed the young woman, who started sobbing against Tessa's chest. Casey cried for nearly an hour and Tessa simply held her tightly, allowing her to purge the violent images from her mind's eye.

"Niko?" Casey finally asked weakly.

"Yes, baby...it's me."


Part 5


 

"Oh, God, he killed him, there was so much blood." Casey cried tearfully and Tessa realized now why the young woman had developed an aversion to the color red.

"I know, sweetheart." Tessa said quietly, gently stroking the blonde head.

"I don't understand...why didn't you tell me that we knew each other?"

Tessa took a deep breath and sighed. She brushed away the damp tendril of hair from the young woman's face. "When you were twelve, you and I met, do you remember?"

Casey shook her head back and forth trying hard to remember and amazed that she could have forgotten the young girl who, in one day, had come to mean so much to the small blonde.

"I was visiting my mother at your father's estate and you came running into the kitchen from outside. You'd been to the beach and I remember how sunburned your cheeks were. I was just leaving and I opened the back door, and you ran right into me. I had short hair and I was wearing sunglasses. I just graduated from high school and was getting ready to start at Oxford."

"And you took your sunglasses off and stared at me." Casey added, suddenly remembering that day.

"Yea. You looked at me and for a second you acted like you were going to say something, but you just smiled and introduced yourself. You had no idea who I was...it broke my heart." Tessa said sadly.

"My mother said that you never remembered what happened that day. She said it was a gift from the virgin and she made me promise that if I cared anything about seeing you grow up healthy and happy, that I would let the past go. So, I did. I could never let you go completely, though. Sometimes, when I was home for the summer I would follow you just to see what an amazing woman that tiny five-year-old grew up to be. I could never even explain to myself why, but I couldn't get you out of my mind."

Both women were crying by this time. Casey finally looked up and in a voice so soft that Tessa barely heard her, she said, "Can I still call you Niko?"

"Yes, love," Tessa replied just as softly. "I'd like that."

"Niko, who was your mother? You said you're were visiting her that day. Did she live on the estate?"

Tessa smiled a rather bittersweet smile and saw no reason to hold back the information at this point. "Casey, you've known my mother all your life."

Casey pulled away slightly to look into her lover's eyes, still filled with tears. She searched Tessa's face and began to see the answer etched in the lines of a face that had become so beautiful to her. The same proud, angular features, the hair streaked through with gray now, and the term of endearment that had obviously been passed from mother to daughter...little one. Casey smiled with recognition when she thought about the one other person who ever called her that name.

"Olympia is your mother." Casey said slowly, more as a confirmation to herself than to ask if she was correct.

Tessa smiled too, once the young woman fit the puzzle together.

"Oh, Niko...I'm so sorry. My family has caused the two of you so much pain."

"There is another side to that, love. You have been responsible for so much of our happiness also. During the years when my mother was ashamed to admit she even had a daughter, you were there for her to love. And just when I thought I would spend the rest of my life alone, never knowing what it felt like to be in love; to have someone love me, you were there."

"I don't understand, why do the two of you work for my father, how could he even hire you, doesn't he remember who you are?"

"Casey, my mother never knew what happened that day. Meridio's men took my father's body to the docks and it was made to look like he was murdered during a robbery. It was a great many years later before I could bring myself to tell her the truth. By then, what could she do? She is an Old World woman who tries to live her life in a male dominated society with as much dignity as she can. Besides, your father paid very well for my silence. He was the one who had me sent to England. He paid for my education all those years." Tessa admitted.

"But, when you agreed to work here, didn't my father try to explain or justify his actions at all?" Casey asked in amazement.

"By then I had become the woman I told you about, I hid my emotions well. I was told not to take it personally, that it was just business."

Tessa ran a hand through her long hair and her sudden silence and accompanying frown said more than words.

"There's more to this, isn't there, Niko? More you're not telling me." Casey asked.

"Yes, and I don't know about you, but I'm bone tired. Lets talk more in the morning, okay?" Tessa responded.

Both of them lay back on the bed, emotionally exhausted. They settled in to sleep, facing one another, their arms entwined around the other. This time is was Tessa's nightmares that kept them awake. The dark-haired woman cried out in her sleep and each time Casey ran a comforting hand along the woman's back, calming her. Once the small blonde thought she heard the larger woman murmur, "Run, Casey!"

At length Casey slept and in keeping with the night, dreamt about the last piece in the puzzle.


 

"Never again, Andreas...never again. I'm taking my daughter and we're getting as far away from this place as possible."

Casey's mother sat on the child's bed and ran a hand through the golden locks. By the time they found the girl huddled in a corner of the stable, the youngster was in shock. When Eva Meridio saw the blood covering the girl she screamed in fright, thinking it was her daughter's own blood. The doctor had been called and the child was given a mild sedative, but even through the medication, Casey could overhear her parents as they spoke above her bed.

"Wait just a minute Eva, this is my daughter we're talking about too." Meridio whispered sharply.

"My God, Andreas, what if Cassandra had been hurt. What if she never gets over this?"

"Don't even think that. Do you think I want my daughter scarred like that?"

"Poor Olympia, what will she and Tessa do? How could you have, Andreas?" Eva started to cry as she stroked her daughter's head.

"It was business!" He answered sharply. "Olympia will be provided for, as for that hellcat of a daughter she has, I'll make sure she gets shipped off to a good school. I won't let Olympia suffer because of her husband's disloyalty."

"Please, Andreas...if you've ever loved me, let me take Cassandra away from this life. I give you my word that she can return to visit as often as she likes, but please...let us go. It isn't safe for her here."

Meridio turned away from his wife and daughter to stare out the window. He knew he should be strong and demand that his wife stay; his father would have, but he knew that his business put anyone he loved in danger.

"Every summer." He at last whispered in defeat. "I want Cassandra here every summer." Saying that, he turned and walked out of the room.


 

"Hey, you got up without waking me." Casey remarked to her lover, leaning down to kiss the tan cheek.

"Sorry, but I wasn't all that quiet and you still wouldn't budge, so I thought it was meant to be." Tessa answered. "Kafé?" The seated woman asked.

"Yes, thanks."

The silence was deafening and Tessa finally raised her head to see tears rolling down Casey's eyes.

"Oh, honey, please don't." The taller woman left her own chair to kneel in front of the small blonde. "Casey, none of it was your doing.

"I'm sorry I didn't recognize you...I should have remembered you." She answered with a growl.

"Casey, you were five years old, cut yourself a little slack here. The human mind is a lot like a computer, when too much is fed into it at once it doesn't know how to process it and it shuts down. A five-year-old brain just wasn't equipped to handle what happened out there that day and it shut down. I still think it was the right thing to do; not telling you. You were able to grow up without the visions I've had to see in my head every moment of everyday since then. I always thought you were the lucky one."

Tessa ran the backs of her fingers across the young woman's cheek and her smile was so filled with sadness and pain that Casey had to know.

"Last night you said there was more. What aren't you telling me, Niko?" Casey asked.

The pained expression deepened. It was the pet name that added to the hurt. Tessa knew that she was about to betray her lover's confidence and trust in her, but she knew of no other way to pay her debt. It was a matter of honor and she was afraid that Casey would never be able to understand that; betray her lover or her father's name those were the two choices she was now faced with. The dark-haired woman stood and crossed to the other side of the patio table, looking up into the cliffs. She squeezed her eyes closed tightly and rubbed the back of her neck.

"Do you know what it was like for me, Casey? I had just seen my father murdered, I couldn't tell my mother for fear of what she would try to do, and I was shipped off to a foreign country; strangers everywhere. Every single day the vision of that afternoon replayed inside my head, some days it was all there was. Pretty soon it was the only memory I had of Greece. Then one day I made a vow, and after the words were uttered I was finally able to focus on something else. I was able to concentrate on my studies, talk to my mother, and finally remember what my homeland looked like, all because of one thought; one thought that was able to keep me going for twenty years."

"Revenge." Casey whispered solemnly.

Tessa looked at Casey and saw the realization that was dawning on the young woman bit by bit.

"It became all that I had. It was the only thing to keep me company during school breaks when other children would go home to be with their families. It gave me a focus and a will to live again...it became my whole life; the only reason I had for living."

As Tessa spoke her voice turned hard and determined as if she were focusing all that energy on getting through every day, just putting one foot in front of the other, like she did as a young girl. Casey didn't want to know this; she feared her lover's answer yet she had to ask the question.

"You're going to kill my father, aren't you, Niko?"

Tessa turned her head in her lover's direction; she at least owed her that much.

"Yes, I am." She replied softly.

More silent tears welled up in the green eyes and spilled over onto tan cheeks. "When Mr. Armstrong said my father would go to prison, that was just a lie then?"

"You were right about them the first time, Casey. They're not much better than the people they fight against. Their purpose may be higher, but they use the same methods. Once Jack has your father's connection, Andreas Meridio becomes expendable and Jack doesn't care too much what happens to him."

"You would do this to me, Niko?" Casey could think of nothing else to say.

"Oh God, Casey, I don't want to. I made a vow, it's a matter of honor." Tessa said weakly.

"I thought you loved me. I know you never said the words, but I thought you felt it."

"Oh baby, this is the hardest choice I've ever had to make." Tessa explained as tears filled her own eyes. "I never expected any of this to happen between the two of us. In a million years, I never would have thought it possible that you would love me."

Casey rose and the two women stood facing one another in the sunlight.

"It's a matter of my honor." Tessa repeated.

"Murder is not honorable, your father would be the first one to tell you that." Casey said sharply.

"It is payment for a hahré!" Tessa shouted, slamming her hand down on the table.

The hahré was a Greek term for payment of a debt, but the kind of debt that ran deep. When someone vowed hahré, the repayment could not be questioned in any way. You accepted what the person gave you and never refused to allow the payment, it would be the ultimate dishonor for both parties.

Tessa used the ancient Greek term and turned her back, once again looking out onto the cliffs. Cassandra knew there would be no arguments that could convince her lover not to take the action she had envisioned for twenty years. If not exactly a woman of honor, Tessa was a woman of her word and Casey knew that her father's life was already over, he just didn't realize it yet.

"Does Olympia know what you're planning?"

"No, and I'd prefer she didn't find out."

"I don't know what to do about this." Casey said with uncertainty.

"Don't do anything." Tessa replied, her back still facing the young woman.

"I can't just...let this happen, Niko."

"Please, Casey, don't interfere...I don't want you to get hurt."

"You...you would hurt me?" Casey seemed amazed at the admission.

Tessa wheeled around and faced the woman whose tears matched her own. "Never," she hissed. "I would never hurt you, Casey."

Casey wiped the tears from her cheeks and returned the bittersweet smile. "Only by breaking my heart." The young woman rasped, turning quickly and rushing into the house to pack.

Tessa heard the patio doors slide closed and slumped down into a chair. She held her head in her hands and let loose the sobs she had been holding back.

She had wanted it to go on forever, this wonderful feeling of loving and being loved in return. She had taken it as far as she could and finally the day she cursed had come. How could she go back on her word and refuse the hahré now? If she lost her honor, what would she have left?


 

Not one word was spoken between them. Their bags were packed and Tessa placed them in the car. On the pretense of having forgotten something, Casey ran back inside while Tessa placed their luggage in the trunk.

The young woman simply wanted to take one last look around. Her glance fell on the rug by the fireplace where they made love and she turned to see two pair of eyes looking at her through the patio doors. Mahogany and Cinnamon stood there, their little tail nubs twitching back and forth. Casey wondered in her heart if she and Tessa would ever return here together. It would never be the same, she would never be the same, and the ache in her heart was so intense that she simply wanted to lay down and die.

Tears filled her eyes and she brusquely wiped them away. She refused to cry anymore, not in front of Tessa. If the Karê could be strong and heartless, she could be too. She pulled the door closed and Meridio's daughter walked to the waiting automobile.

The moment they walked into the house, Olympia knew something had gone wrong between the two young women. It was obvious they both had been crying and the pained expressions on their faces were like matching bookends.

"Your father is away for the rest of the week, Miss. He asked that you ring him at this number should you need him." The older woman said.

"Thank you, Olympia. Will you excuse me please? I have a headache and I think I'd just like to lie down for a while."

"Of course, Miss. Perhaps some of the Karê's tea?" Olympia suggested.

Casey raised a pain filled glance in the dark-haired woman's direction. "No, I think I'll just ride this one out."

Tessa stood silently watching beside her mother as Casey walked the flight of stairs to her room. Olympia made sure she heard the door to the young woman's room close shut before she spoke.

"Tessa, what have you done?"


 

It had been many years since the older woman saw her daughter cry, but Tessa sobbed into her mother's arms just as she did twenty years ago. Olympia couldn't get a straight answer from the young woman as to what happened over the weekend, so she held her and petted her, and let the tears flow until Tessa had no more tears left in her.

"Do you love her?" Olympia asked her daughter.

"With all my heart." Tessa answered. "It's circumstances...Casey can't be with who I am right now." Tessa answered as honestly as she could.

"Tessa, you need to leave this life. We need to leave this place, you and I and Casey. You need to take her somewhere far away where Andreas Meridio cannot find you."

"It's not that easy. I can't just ask Casey to give up her life for me; to leave everything she knows."

"Would Casey go if you asked her?" Olympia pushed harder.

"Yes," Tessa answered in defeat, running her fingers through her hair. "Yes, I believe she would."

"Does this life hold that much for you then, Tessa, that you would give up this chance at happiness? With a woman as wonderful as Casey?"

"You don't understand!" Tessa hissed. "It's just not as easy as all that." The dark-haired woman finished, walking into the guesthouse bedroom and effectively ending the conversation.

"Nothing is ever that hard, little one," Olympia whispered to the empty room, "if you want it badly enough."


 

A knock at her door brought Casey out of her thoughts.

"Yes?"

Olympia opened the door carrying a small tray with a pot of tea. She deposited it on the table where Casey was seated and the small blonde noticed the koulourákia, small decorative sweet rolls.

"I brought you some hot tea; just a few herbs in it to ease the headache. Probably due to stress, eh?" The older woman stroked the blonde's head.

Casey looked up at the older woman and now saw it so plainly. They were indeed Tessa's eyes looking back at her. The young woman's eyes filled with tears and they spilled over to run down her cheeks.

"Tessa told me who you are...I'm so sorry, Olympia."

"Nonsense. Come here, little one." Olympia sat on the sofa and patted the space next to her.

Casey sat tentatively next to the older woman. When Olympia gently placed her arm around the young woman it loosed a new flood of tears and Casey was soon sobbing into the woman's arms just as Tessa had done earlier.

"My father ruined your life." Casey began.

"Cassandra...Casey, look at me." The small blonde raised her eyes and Olympia lightly kissed her forehead. "I'm going to tell you the same thing I told you when you were eight years old. Remember the summer that you refused to wear a shirt because the boys went around without theirs on? You wanted to go around without a shirt on to prove they were no better than you."

Casey smiled weakly at the memory. She remembered distinctly the older woman chasing her around to get a blouse on her tiny figure. When the cook finally caught up with her she sat the young girl down and had a sincere talk with her about the birds and the bees and why boys and girls were different.

"And, when you still complained, do remember what I told you?" Olympia questioned.

Casey's smile was tinged with sadness as she nodded. "That's just the way life is." She repeated the woman's words from so long ago.

Olympia wrapped strong arms around the smaller woman. "Well, that's just the way life is, Casey. If you want to experience the good, you have to be willing to accept the bad as well. Tell me something, little one...do you love Tessa?"

Casey was surprised and a little embarrassed at confessing her feelings for the Karê to the woman's mother of all people. "I--I..." She stammered.

Olympia chuckled at the young woman. "I'm not a fool, Casey. I think I knew before the two of you did. That day when you met, it seems a hundred years ago now, doesn't it? Through all of Tessa's grief over her father, every day she would ask about you. When your mother took you away and Tessa went off to school, her letters would always ask if I had heard from you or your mother yet. I'll never forget the day you saw her in the kitchen. You, an awkward young girl just becoming a teenager and she was already a young woman of the world, but if you could have watched how her heart broke when she realized you didn't remember her. I think it was fated before the two of you were even born that you would be together someday, in some way."

"I do love her, Olympia," Casey admitted. "I love her so much it hurts. I can't be with her...not--" Casey paused unsure of what to say to explain herself or the rift between she and Tessa.

"I told you I wasn't a fool, Casey," Olympia responded to the sudden silence. "I think I know what has come between you. I think I've known what Tessa had planned all along, but I didn't want to believe it. I want to believe it even less, now. I find it hard to accept, knowing how much your heart means to her, that she would choose revenge over your love."

Casey underestimated the woman all these years. She was wise beyond the young woman's understanding. She knew her daughter and what Tessa was all about better than Casey did.

"Things change, little one. Don't give up on Tessa's heart just yet."


 

Casey slowly opened the door to her father's office and peeked in. The Karê's voice could be heard from the other side of the door and Casey wondered who her unfortunate victim was.

"Goddamn it, Alex, see that they sign it this time! You tell those assholes that if I have to come down there it will be a sorry day for them! Go on, get out of here." Tessa growled.

Alex walked to the door just as Casey was pushing it open. The young man rolled his eyes to the small blonde and she smiled, laying a gentle hand on his arm as he passed by. Her look said that she was sorry.

Casey stepped into view and the hard lines in Tessa's face softened when they looked up at the small blonde.

"Is your head feeling better?" Tessa asked.

"Yes, thanks."

The dark haired woman rose and moved to the other side of the desk. Standing in front of Casey she tried to touch the smaller woman, but Casey pulled back. The hurt in Tessa's eyes was mirrored within the green of Casey's.

"I do love you, Niko, that hasn't changed, perhaps it never will. But, if you choose to follow this path, I...I can't be with you...I can't be your lover."

"He killed my father, Casey." Tessa said passionately. "He deserves to be dead."

"I'm not sure I disagree with you." Casey said and Tessa raised surprised eyes in the woman's direction. "The things he's done are unforgivable and you have every right to wish him dead, but it's not up to us to play god, Niko. We aren't the ones who should be judging whether he lives or dies...it's not our place."

"I'm making it my place!" Tessa growled.

A few more moments of silence reigned before Casey gave voice to what they both knew would come next.

"I do hope that once the hahré is repaid your life becomes everything you wish it to be, Niko, but if you go ahead with this plan of revenge, I won't ever be able to share that life with you."

"So be it." Tessa lashed out with words to hurt in the same manner that she was hurting.

"So, that's the way it's to be with us then, Karê?" Casey asked with a cold edge to her voice.

"That's the way it's to be, Ms. Meridio." Tessa returned just as callously, walking out the door and leaving Casey standing in the middle of the room looking very much like that scared, confused child from so long ago.


 

The stand off lasted for three days, each woman carefully avoiding the other. Casey sequestered herself in her room preparing for the first phase of the dig to begin. She e-mailed and telephoned, but it was soon apparent that she would have to start spending some time in Athens. She hated the idea for more than one reason. Athens would always remind her of Tessa now and the only apartment she had was the one that belonged to the Karê.

The young blonde sat and thought a lot about her father also, wondering when the moment would come. Would Tessa put a bullet in his brain as she'd demonstrated that day they were on the boat. She said that was the only way a real gangster would kill a man, when he could see it coming. She pondered on the man that she realized now, she barely knew; actually didn't know at all. She came to realize that he was the kind of man who could kill in cold blood without a thought or a trace of guilt. If her father ever felt remorse over his crimes, he surely didn't show it. He killed Tessa's father right in front of her and then has the audacity to hire her later saying it wasn't personal...it was just business. What kind of a monster does that?

Tessa kept herself just as preoccupied behind Meridio's office door. She worked long hours, then shut herself up in the guesthouse, usually drinking until she fell asleep. The previous night she had been so drunk that Alex had to literally carry her from the Kástro, back home. She felt like she was being torn in two, her love for Cassandra and her thirst for revenge, pulling her in opposite directions.

Tessa rose and walked to the safe and deposited the books and the money as she did every evening. She was just leaving when Casey walked into the office, nearly colliding with the tall woman.

"I'm sorry, but I needed to speak with you a moment." Casey said, wondering how the two of them could be so distant with one another when they'd made love only a few days before.

Tessa stopped and Casey realized the Karê was waiting for her to continue.

"I...I guess I just want to know if I..." Casey paused and searched the blue eyes looking for some signs of the lover she had come to know. What she did see were eyes that were as filled with pain as her own must have been. "I guess I need to know if I should look for a different apartment in Athens or--"

"Casey, that apartment is yours, to do with as you wish. I 'd like to think you would still use it. I have an old friend who takes care of the place and at least I know you'd be safe there." Tessa replied.

"Thank you." Casey said softly, not knowing what else to say. "Thank you," She repeated, turning and exiting the way she'd come.

"You're welcome," Tessa whispered to an empty room. Looking down at her hands, she realized that they were clenched into fists to keep them from shaking.

"Alex!" Tessa called sharply out the door.

The young man showed up immediately. "What's up, Karê?"

"Come on," Tessa growled impatiently.

"Where are we going?" Alex asked, pulling on his jacket.

"To get drunk."


 

Casey hadn't been sleeping well, so when the pounding on her door began, she jumped up right away to see who it was. Pulling open the heavy wooden door, Casey found Alex nervously shifting from foot to foot.

"Please, Miss, I need your help...it's the Karê."

"I'll be right out." Casey said as she closed the door. She threw on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and reopened the door.

Alex spoke quickly telling her about the fights the dark-haired woman had been in at more than one bar this evening. Casey followed the man downstairs as he spoke softly.

"She's in the dining room. She has one of her guns out and she's playing Russian roulette with it."

"Dear, God!" Casey rushed into the dining room to find Tessa loading another bullet into the thirty-eight's chamber.

Casey walked to the table and placed her hand over Tessa's. The seated woman looked up and for a second Casey didn't think the dark-haired woman was going to recognize her. Tessa blinked hard twice and then recognition dawned.

"Please, Niko...don't do this." Casey pleaded softly. It was the first time she used the nickname since their estrangement.

"It's okay," Tessa slurred holding up a bullet. "I only used two."

"Please put away your gun...it scares me."

Tessa looked into Casey's eyes and knew that she was the cause of both of their pain. She looked back down to the small hand that still covered her own and she felt the tears that she couldn't quite keep from shedding lately, return.

"I'm sorry," she murmured. Looking up at Casey once again, she tried to convey the depth of her emotion through her eyes. "I'm so sorry..." she rasped.

Casey could barely stand to watch as the woman she loved literally fell apart in front of her. She slipped an arm around Tessa's shoulder and the dark-haired woman leaned her head slightly against Casey's body. With her other hand Casey easily slipped the pistol from the Karê's grasp.

"Don't take my gun, Casey." Tessa implored weakly.

"I'm not taking it, love. I'm putting it into your holster," Casey flipped the safety on and eased the pistol in the holster at the small of Tessa's back. She patted it gently. "Feel it? It's right where you always carry it. Okay?"

Tessa nodded and Casey began to stroke the long dark hair. She bent down and placed a tender kiss on top of Tessa's head. The Karê slipped her arms around the standing woman's waist and they stayed that way for a long while, Casey whispering a litany of words to calm the seated woman.

"I'm so tired, Casey." Tessa said at last.

"I know, sweetheart," Casey replied, motioning Alex from the shadows to help her. "Come on, love...Alex is going to help us and we'll go to the guesthouse and get you in bed."

Tessa allowed the two to assist her in standing then they slowly walked across the lawn, Tessa leaning heavily on the both of them for support. Once inside the house they deposited Tessa on the bed and Casey removed her holster and shoes and pulled a quilt up over the woman. Casey walked into the living room and began picking up the clothes that the Karê had, uncharacteristically, left strewn about the room, while Alex simply stood there unsure of what to do.

A crash from the bedroom brought the young man out of his frozen stance. He rushed in to find Tessa trying to get out of bed again. Casey rushed to the door, but Alex waved her back.

"I have to get up...I need to talk to Casey." Tessa muttered.

"Hey, Nikki, take it easy, huh? She's already gone, so relax and lay back down, okay?"

Tessa looked past the young man into the darkened living room unaware that Casey stood just outside the opening to the bedroom. "She's gone?" Tessa asked.

"Yea, so what do you say we call it a night, huh?" Alex had coaxed the woman back into bed and she lay there, one arm flung across her eyes.

"Don't ever fall in love, Alex. People in our business aren't meant to fall in love...at least with nice girls. Casey's a nice girl." The Karê's voice broke and tears fell from her eyes.

"You know what the worst part of it is?" Tessa looked absently at the young man as she cried. "I never told her how much I loved her." The dark-haired woman choked on the last few words and she began to cry out loud. "I was too scared...now she'll never know that she is everything to me."

Alex looked back and could see Casey's silhouette standing just outside the bedroom door. He couldn't tell, but he figured it was a sure bet the small blonde was crying too. They must have had one hell of a fight to break up a good thing like they had going. Both of them seemed pretty miserable and he'd never seen Tessa act this way.

"Don't worry, Nikki," Alex responded. "I bet she knows."

"Do you really think so?" Tessa mumbled sleepily.

Alex looked back at the bedroom door and the small blonde was gone. "Yea...I'm positive."

Casey slipped from the guesthouse unable to listen to Tessa's weeping any longer. Her own heart was breaking at the sound. Once behind her own bedroom door she paced the floor, cursing her father. She realized that the cold demeanor Tessa displayed was simply a mask to cover up emotions that the Karê thought would make her appear weak.

Goddamn you to hell, father! You've caused all of this. You are responsible for that woman over there...you made her what she is; made her in your own twisted image the day you murdered her father. It's no wonder she's on the verge of a breakdown. All her life she lived only for revenge, she grew up to be just like you; a cold, heartless killer. Now, she knows that there might be something out there besides power and control and she doesn't know whether to follow her head or her heart. I hate you, Andreas Meridio...I hate you!

The small blonde fell heavily into the cushioned chair, pulling her knees up and wrapping her arms around her legs. Now that she knew Tessa was so torn between her love for Casey and what she thought was the keeping of a vow, she knew that Olympia's words were true. The older woman seemed so sure of what her daughter's actions would be. Things change, little one. Don't give up on Tessa's heart just yet.

Casey knew that she had to keep Tessa from going through with her hahré. She had to give the woman a chance. She had a feeling that when it came time to place the cards on the table, Tessa would do the right thing if Casey was involved. It would be one thing for the Karê to kill Meridio behind closed doors, and quite another in front of Casey, but it had to be Tessa's decision. She bit her lip and sourly thought about what she would have to do. If she were going to be able to keep her lover from destroying the rest of their lives, then she would have to become involved in the whole situation. As distasteful as it was to her she knew that there was only one way to do that.

The small blonde laid her head down on the pillow and closed her eyes. The last thing to cross her mind before sleep claimed her was that she just chose her lover over her father; the woman that she loved with all her heart over the man that tainted all of their lives with his need for wealth and power. In her mind it became her own form of hahré.


 

Casey walked into the travel agency with as much authority as she had when she walked through the doors with Tessa. The same dyed-from-a-bottle redhead was sitting at the receptionist's desk.

"Would you please tell Jack Armstrong that Cassandra Meridio would like to speak with him." Casey asked the older woman.

The woman looked over her glasses at the small blonde and smiled politely. "I'm sorry, Miss but there is no Mr. Armstrong that works here."

"I only want to talk to him briefly...I'm sure he could spare me a moment." Casey said between clenched teeth.

"I'm sorry, Miss, bu--"

"Look!" Casey hissed slamming her hand down onto the desk and leaning down; to be sure the woman heard her every word. "I want you to walk through that little door right there and walk into the conference room, tap on that pitiful excuse for a two-way mirror, and tell Mr. Armstrong that if I don't see his sorry ass out here in a matter of minutes, I'm going down onto the street to start telling everyone that the Albanian Mafia has an office here. Then I'm going to stand back and watch them burn this place to the ground. Now, what part of that don't you think he'll understand?"

Casey stepped back as the flustered woman rushed through the door of the conference room.

"Well, did you want to see all of me or just my sorry ass?" Jack Armstrong said from where he stood outside the conference room, his arms folded in a gesture of impatience.

"Mr. Armstrong, we need to talk." Casey replied, not budging an inch.

"I think we've done about all the talking we need to, Ms. Meridio. I can't think of anything you could say at this point that could interest me."

"Oh, I bet you're wrong." Casey said and grinned devilishly up at the man towering over her.


 

"I heard you would have quite a head this morning." Olympia said to Tessa as the dark-haired woman held out a shaky hand for a cup of coffee.

"I can't keep any secrets from you anymore, can I?" Tessa replied with a weak smile.

"It seems I miss all the interesting happenings around here."

"That will teach you to go play cards at the café." Tessa responded.

"Oh, Casey left a message for you this early this morning. She said it couldn't wait, but she had to go to Athens and she asked if you would come by the apartment." Olympia gave her daughter the entire message in one sentence.

"She went alone? Didn't you try to stop her?" Tessa stood quickly.

"Well, dear, it isn't exactly my place--"

"No, it's my place!" Tessa replied. "How did she go?"

"She said she was taking the ferry."

"I'll be back later. Phone me if Meridio gets in today." Tessa called back to her mother.

Olympia smiled as she saw her daughter rush out the door after her lover. Casey stopped by the cook's room to thank the woman and to tell her that she wasn't about to give up on Tessa's heart just yet. She said that she couldn't give details, but she had decided that Tessa belonged to her and she was going to fight for what was hers.

Tessa ran up the wooden steps to the second floor of the apartment building. On the door Casey had tacked a note, it was in the small blonde's hurried scrawl.

T.

I had to go see the travel agent about a trip...meet me there ,

Casey

Is she going back to America? Meet her there...there, where? What in the--oh, shit! Tessa flew down the stairs and took off toward the Center.

 

Tessa paced back and forth like a caged animal. Jack's office was so small she only took two strides before she had to turn around again.

"Well, I hear you and your girlfriend had a little rift." Jack chuckled as he came through the door.

Sometimes the agent regretted opening his smart mouth...this was definitely one of those times. Tessa body slammed the large man back into the door and held him there in a crossover hold. The fire in the blue eyes turned as pale as ice and Jack was regretting his decision more and more. He often forgot that Tessa wasn't one of those people you teased...about anything.

"Back off, Jack...back way the fuck off!" She growled under her breath, releasing the hold on the larger man.

"Where is she?" The dark-haired woman demanded.

Armstrong crossed the room and opened a door, nodding his head.

"Tessa, meet your new partner." He finished as Casey stepped into the small office.

"NO!" Tessa shouted at the top of her voice. She looked at the big man in amazement. "Are you out of your fucking mind?" She turned her gaze on Casey. "Are you?"

"There's nothing you can say that will make me change my mind." Casey replied.

"Casey, you know what these people are like."

"I think so...I can trust them to keep their word so long as I'm still standing in the same room...or until I become expendable." She enunciated the last word carefully, turning toward Armstrong.

"Now, that hurt." The big man said with a smirk.

"Casey!" Tessa was at a loss for a good argument, except for the fact that the woman she loved could wind up dead this way.

"Niko," Casey stared hard at the woman. "There isn't anything else to say. I suggest we take this topic home so we can talk in private." Casey motioned with her eyes to the man standing next to them.

"This is not over, Jack!" Tessa growled at the man as the two women left the office.


 

Since both women had a car, Tessa followed Casey back to the apartment. Casey pulled the BMW around to the back garage and Tessa parked on the narrow street. Just as the tall woman was about to get out of the automobile, Casey walked up and leaned her hands on the passenger side of the red convertible.

"As much as I'd love to argue with you, Niko, I'm dead tired. I didn't sleep a wink last night and all I'd really like to do is take a nap."

"Oh, sure." Tessa acknowledged that the small blonde did look pretty wiped out, but she felt like she was being given the brush off. "Here," she scribbled on a piece of paper, "here's my cell phone number. I'll stay at the estate, here tonight, and if you feel like...um, talking...call me."

"Thanks." Casey said, smiled slightly and turned to go into the apartment.

Tessa still sat there after she watched Casey enter the apartment. She was a little thrown by the small blonde's behavior. Casey acted like Tessa was just another friend.

Well what the hell do you think she's going to act like, Niko? You just dumped her a few days ago remember...or did you forget that you chose revenge against Meridio over Casey?

"Ah, hell!" She said aloud and sped off up the hill.


 

The old grandfather clock in the living area struck eleven and Tessa threw the magazine onto the coffee table. She had been reading the same passage in her favorite sailing magazine for the last three hours. She had concentrated on little else but Casey today. She tried to do a number of little things around the house that she'd been putting off, but soon she would find herself staring into space daydreaming about the small blonde. She felt certain Casey was going to call but so far, no word. The young woman gave her the brush off that much was sure.

Tessa was exasperated and walked over to the patio door and turned the outside lights out. She looked down at the two dogs at her feet. "Looks like we've been stood up." Tessa said.

The dark-haired woman froze at the faint sound of metal ringing against metal. Both animals had their ears turned forward and were growling low in their throat. "I know, I heard it too." Tessa said aloud.

She pulled open the drawer of the china cabinet and removed her Glock pistol. Checking the clip, she silently slid open the patio door and released both of the Dobermans. She waited for a full minute, but heard no sounds that would indicate the dogs had cornered someone. Could have just been the wind, she thought to herself. Damn weird that it happened just when the lights went out, though.

She slipped outside herself and moved around to the back gate, sure the sound had come from that direction. Just as she expected, she saw the silhouette of a figure, small; probably just a kid. Tessa was so focused on sneaking up on the intruder that she lost sight of the dogs. Finally she was within reach. She lifted the gun and pulled back the hammer, pressing it against the back of the stranger's head.

"Don't move or I'll blow your fucking brains out." She hissed.

"Jesus Christ, Niko!" Casey's trembling voice came at Tessa from the darkness.

"Casey?" Tessa finally realized that both dogs were merely sitting at the young woman's feet. Tessa immediately pulled the gun away from the blonde's head.

"Holy shit, Casey, I could have shot you!"

Tessa was breathing hard with the realization of what happened. Without thinking she pulled the small blonde to her and she could feel Casey's arms slip around her waist.

"I thought I'd surprise you." Casey whispered weakly.

"You surprised me allright. I'm so sorry, baby." Tessa replied, kissing the top of the blonde head.

It was as if the estrangement of the past few days didn't exist. Once the two women were locked in an embrace, all the rules of behavior seemed to fly out the window. They held tightly to one another, Casey running her hands up the Karê's muscular back.

"Casey?" Tessa asked.

"Hhmm?" Casey murmured, enjoying the feeling of her lover's arms around her once again.

"What is that sticking me in the ribs?"

"Oh, God!" Casey pulled away and she held out a mashed bouquet of roses. She tried to straighten a few broken stems, but they promptly fell back over. Tessa, in the meantime, was trying very hard not to laugh at the expression on the young woman's face. "They're...for you." Casey finished softly.

Suddenly the blonde looked indignant. She slapped Tessa across the arm with the rumpled flowers. "Why did you turn the lights out on me?"

"Hey," Tessa exclaimed, rubbing her arm, "in case you're not wearing a watch it's after eleven o'clock," Tessa replied. "Frankly, I thought you blew me off."

"I just woke up," Casey admitted sheepishly.

Tessa smiled at the contrite woman. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, I've never had a woman give me flowers before...thank you." Tessa accepted the crumpled bouquet and began to wonder what it all meant. "Do you...want to come inside?" she asked tentatively.

"That was kind of my plan." Casey responded. She slipped her hand into the taller woman's grasp and they went back through the patio door.

Tessa walked out of the kitchen with the roses in a pale blue vase. "I think they came through allright," she said placing the vase on the coffee table.

She had to admit she was a bit nervous. She wasn't sure how Casey wanted to play this. Were they just friends...ex lovers, what? Tessa sat down on the arm of the sofa, bringing her down to the standing woman's level.

"Casey..."

Casey stepped in and slipped her arms around the dark-haired woman's neck, pressing her lips firmly against the stunned Karê's. It was an involuntary reaction for Tessa to pull the young woman closer and moan into the kiss, but it was all the encouragement the small blonde needed. In seconds Tessa was being kissed in a way that brought all her other senses to near shutdown. When they pulled apart to catch their breath, tears filled the taller woman's deep blue eyes, and she reached out to stroke the young woman's cheek.

"Oh, Casey, I'm so sorry...I never meant to hurt you."

"I love you, Niko," Casey brushed her lips lightly against her lover's. "I don't care what's gone on in the past or what will happen in the future. I only know that I love you too much to give you up...I can't...I won't." She added with a fiery green light in her eye.

"Honey, do you know what you're saying? I haven't changed my mind about what I'm going to do."

"Do you mean, do I know that I'm choosing you over my father? Then the answer is yes. I won't live the rest of my live without you, Niko. I feel like I've been living in some sort of limbo for the last twenty years, stuck halfway between being alive and actually living. I know that you're afraid I'll get hurt, or worse, in all of this mess, but I have to do it this way, can't you see? If something happened to you, I wouldn't be able to go on. My body might keep going, but my heart would die along with you. I don't want to have to live the rest of my life that way. If anything should happen I want to be with you, Niko. Where you go I go." Casey finished as wet tears rolled across her cheeks.

"I guess the last question is...do you still want me?" Casey asked, not raising her eyes.

Tessa clutched at the smaller woman and held her tightly. She breathed in the scent of her and reveled in the texture of the soft, golden hair against her cheek.

"I should tell you no." Tessa rasped. "I should tell you that I don't love you, that I've just been using you. I should break your heart. Maybe that way you'd pack your things and go back to America. It would kill me to be without you, but at least I'd know that you were safe." Tessa said, placing gentle kisses along the side of Casey's neck and face.

"Forgive me, Casey, but I do want you," Tessa whispered tearfully. "I want you and I need you."

"Then it's settled...lets go to bed." The small blonde whispered into the Karê's ear.

"You've been sleeping all day." Tessa responded, wiping away her lover's tears.

"Sleeping wasn't exactly what I had in mind." Casey smiled up at her lover with a mischievous grin.

Tessa turned out the remaining lights and the two women walked up the stairs arm in arm.


 

It was an early start for both women the next day. Casey felt like she'd just gone to sleep, but was trying hard to concentrate on everything Jack Armstrong was telling her. He told her what things to look for, memos, invoices, anything with a contact name or country, if it was handwritten, all the better. They already suspected the main suppliers were the Libyans, but until they had the physical proof, InterPol refused to act. By the time they took a break for lunch, Casey's head was swimming.

She and Tessa rode back to the estate to have lunch. Tessa quickly called Olympia to confirm that Meridio was still doing business in Turkey and would probably be gone through the weekend. He didn't seem distressed that Casey went back to Athens once Olympia told him that Tessa accompanied the small blonde.

Tessa scooped up their plates and came back with a wooden box in one hand and a tray of frappés in another. Casey took a sip of the iced coffee as Tessa pushed the wooden box toward her.

"I picked this up this morning while you were with Jack."

"A present ...for me?" Casey said, lifting the lid of the box.

"Well, it's not really that kind of gift." Tessa replied, catching the expression on the young woman's face as she peered inside the box.

"Gee..." Casey hesitated. "A pistol...how romantic."

Tessa smirked at the comment. "I told you it wasn't that kind of a gift. It's a nine-millimeter Beretta Cougar. I want you to carry this from now on. Casey, do you understand?" Tessa asked, noticing the distant look in her lover's eyes.

"It's--I guess I was just thinking that this is the kind of thing that we're fighting against." Casey sat staring at the barrel that wasn't much longer than her hand.

"Well, this one just may save your life someday, so don't knock it. I want you to carry it with you all the time. Keep it loaded, but keep the safety on till you're used to carrying it around."

"Niko, I know this is a small pistol as guns go, but where am I going to carry it?" Casey questioned.

"In your purse." Tessa replied without thinking.

"In case you haven't noticed, I hardly ever carry a purse."

Tessa thought for a moment, "Yea, but you do always have that computer in your hand. How about your laptop? Is there any room inside the case for it?"

"Yea, that'll do." Casey replied.

Tessa spent the rest of their lunch break showing the small blonde how to load and care for the relatively small pistol. It fit perfectly on the inside pocket of the laptop and Casey tucked it away as they prepared to head back over to the Center.

Casey drove the BMW as Tessa played passenger, listening to the blonde's tales of her morning with Jack Armstrong and all that he expected her to remember. The dark-haired woman tried to concentrate on everything her lover was saying, but her thoughts wandered. She hated the idea of Casey wearing a gun. Tessa knew that if she couldn't find a way to reconcile what Meridio did to her father, by the time they found enough evidence for Jack to move in, she would end up doing something that might destroy her relationship with Casey. No matter what the young woman said she felt, Tessa knew in her heart that murdering Meridio might eventually be the wedge that would drive the two lover's apart.

Armstrong spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening drilling Casey on what she'd learned so far. He knew he was being hard on her, but he only had a short amount of time to get the small blonde to start thinking like an agent. Tessa helped, and much to Armstrong's amazement, showed a remarkable amount of patience with the young woman. They went over exactly what they expected Casey to do and what things, under no circumstances, did they want her to attempt. Armstrong explained carefully, mostly for Tessa's benefit, that they weren't working alone now. They were to keep each other informed, no surprises. Jack looked especially long at Tessa after he said that, he knew what a rogue player the dark-haired woman was. He was reminded of the beauty and the beast as Tessa sat, nodding and agreeing with all that the special agent was saying. The small blonde obviously held the power to tame the beast.

The last thing Jack did was to confiscate Casey's laptop. The agent grinned wryly as he handed the young woman her Beretta before turning the computer over to one of the techs from downstairs. He was having an encryption program loaded on Casey's machine. She was to use her regular electronic mail program for all her normal correspondence, but she was to use the special program for conversing with anyone from the Center.

Jack also explained that it wasn't safe for Tessa or Casey to come to the Center any longer. Their communication was to go solely through the e-mail program. The handsome man handed a plane ticket and a bag of brochures to Casey.

"A ticket to France..." Casey commented, fixing a seductive expression on her face she leered up at the man, "Jack, I thought you were married?" She smiled.

"Oh, that's very funny. Geez, you've been hanging around this one too long." He jerked a thumb in Tessa's direction. "You're getting to be just as much of a wise-ass as she is."

That made Tessa smile remembering her first few encounters with Casey in the last couple of weeks. "Hey, I didn't have anything to do with it...she came that way."

"That is a ticket and some travel brochures. Leave them lying in plain sight in your room on Mýkonos. That way if it ever comes back that you were here a couple of times, simply say that you were planning on a little R&R for yourself and someone at the museum mentioned this travel agency."

"You people think of everything." Casey joked lightly as she accepted her returned computer from a young girl from the computer department.

Jack leaned down and with an expression that was heartbreakingly serious he said, "Just remember, Casey, now you too are one of us people."


 

The next two weeks sped by at an alarming pace. Casey's work at the museum began demanding more and more time, while Tessa was deeply involved with Meridio's everyday matters. The young blonde was spending about every other day in Athens. Of course, Meridio was less than enthusiastic about his daughter being out from under his protection, which Tessa interpreted to mean out from under his control. So, the older man occasionally sent his Karê on errands to the mainland as a pretense to look out for the young woman. Tessa smiled when Meridio wasn't looking. Who was she to turn down a direct order? She had to wonder what the man was using for brains, but she rather enjoyed the fact that he was gullible enough to send the fox directly into the hen house...with his blessing no less.

From the computer in her home in Athens, in which Jack's boys installed all the necessary encryption software, Tessa would e-mail her lover when she arrived in town. Casey became very good at watching the world around her and, making sure there was no one following, she would make her way to Tessa's estate.

It was funny in an odd sort of way. Casey and Tessa talked about anything and everything during these times together, everything but the subject at hand. They both agreed it was almost like talking business in bed and neither seemed anxious to bring that part of their lives into their bedroom. So, they would wait until they were lunching or out for a drive to discuss particulars.

Late one afternoon Andreas Meridio caught Casey relaxing by doing laps in the large pool.

"Well, don't tell me I actually caught the eminent archaeologist at home." He joked.

"Very funny, Pappa." Casey felt the bile rise in her throat each time she had to use that term of endearment on her father, but Jack said not to change anything about herself or her habits. So she plastered a smile on her face, and acted like nothing was amiss.

"I wanted to tell you that we are going to do some entertaining for the weekend. Some business associates will be flying in and I thought I would have a party on Friday night. They'll be around a dozen in their party and they'll be staying in the guest rooms for the weekend."

Casey was dying to know who the business associates were. Could they be the arms sellers?

"Are they your Libyan associates?" Casey casually asked, walking from the pool and tying a towel around her hips.

"No, they're gentleman from Turkey." Meridio replied flatly.

Casey raised an eyebrow and didn't hide her surprise very well.

Meridio caught the expression and called her on it. "Don't tell me that a modern woman such as yourself harbors ill will toward our neighbors?"

"No, no, of course not. I guess I'm just a little surprised that you're so open to it." Casey responded.

Old World Greeks like her father had a habit; it seemed, of detesting Albanians and Turks. It was a feud as old as the Catholics and the Protestants. Few Greeks ever forgot that centuries ago the Turks, or the Ottoman's as they were known according to ancient history, captured Constantinopole, renamed it Istanbul, and made it the capital of the Ottoman empire. The Turkish military partially destroyed the Parthenon in the late 1600's, an unforgivable sin to historians. For 350 years, the Greeks lived under Turkish rule until their domination ended in the 1800's. Most of what is now modern day Turkey belonged at one time to Greece.

"These gentleman are different. We have been associates for a very long time and we have developed an excellent working relationship. I would like you to do me a favor, Máhtia Mou."

"You mean look pretty and charming at the party?" Casey asked, trying hard to disguise the contempt in her voice.

"Well, there is that, yes, but I was actually thinking of something else. I would like it if you would stay in the guesthouse with Tessa for the weekend. The guests here will be all men and I don't want anyone making free with my daughter. I'll speak to Tessa."

"Sure, I have no problem with that arrangement." Inside Casey was jumping up and down with joy. "Like your Turkish associates, Tessa and I have also developed a rather comfortable working relationship."

Casey smiled sweetly as her father reiterated his thanks and walked off. Inside she had a grin on her face that would have made the Cheshire Cat look like the Mona Lisa.


 

"Are you sure he said Turks?" Tessa questioned the small blonde for the third time.

"Okay, is it that you don't believe me or is there another reason that you keep asking me that?" Casey responded.

"Oh, I'm sorry, hon," Tessa replied, slightly distracted.

They were having a late lunch outside on the patio of a local tavérna on Mýkonos. Casey told her lover of the conversation with her father, but she hadn't yet told the dark-haired woman who her roommate for the weekend would be.

"What's the deal, Niko?"

"The deal, as you put it, is that I was unaware that your father did business with anyone from Turkey anymore." Tessa responded.

"Well, I know you're the Meridio Karê, but surely my father doesn't tell you everything that goes on in his dealings?" Casey asked.

"No, but up to this point I didn't know that. Frankly, I didn't think your father was that smart. You see a good mángas never tells those underneath them everything that goes on in their business. Even when I ran my own racket, I never told any one person everything. Meridio's just a little smarter than I thought."

"You said anymore," Casey paused as the waitress brought their food out and placed it on the table, then resumed her conversation. "Did he do business with the Turks at one time?"

"Yea," Tessa replied, trying to remember the details. "About two years ago we stopped getting any kind of sales from one of our major clients in Turkey. Rumors went around and I happened to catch a few of them. I told Meridio, but at the time we both blew them off."

"What kind of rumors?"

"That our friends in Turkey had decided to move up in the world. They supposedly had connections and were going to start selling, and not just handguns either...big ticket items like--"

"Nuclear weapons." Casey finished softly.

Tessa touched the tip of her index finger to her nose. "Correct. I reported it to Jack, but at the time everyone just laughed. The Turks just didn't have the money, power, or contacts to pull it off. Most folks in the business just thought they were pissing in the wind. Funny thing about that, though. If the rumors were false, then who do the Turks buy from?"

"You think they could be father's suppliers instead of buyers?"

"It could go one of two ways. Giving Meridio the complete benefit of the doubt and providing what he told you is true, then perhaps two years ago the Turks found a new supplier and that connection has dried up. So, now they have to buy from us again."

"Now tell me the scenario you really believe." Casey arched an eyebrow at the dark-haired woman.

"That the Turks did start selling and they became Meridio's big connection, only Meridio, being the smart man I'm suddenly discovering him to be, keeps it to himself. He does business as usual with the small dealers, I've got a name for every one of them, but he does an extremely private business with the Turks. He makes millions of U.S. dollars reselling things like Titan missiles. He becomes wealthier and wealthier by giving third world countries the capability of creating their own nuclear holocausts."

"Do you actually keep books with sales receipts and the like?" Casey asked, somewhat amazed.

"Business is business, whether it's legal or not. The more anal and paranoid you are the better your silent partners like you. Everything that comes in and goes out gets marked in the books. That's why I know we haven't done business with the Turks. It's beginning to look like your father is keeping a second set of books even from me."

"I still don't get the concept of keeping books in the first place. I mean, what if you're caught? Isn't it just fodder for the prosecuting attorneys?"

"When you deal with business people you have to keep business records. Your father doesn't come up with the cash to buy a weapon the size of an American fighter jet all by himself; he has silent partners that put up the capital. If those guys feel like you're cheating them, you damn well better have books to show them you're not."

"So, you're saying he's got invoices somewhere that you haven't seen?" Casey asked for confirmation of her theory.

Tessa leaned forward and there was a gleam in her eye. "I think this is it, Casey. I feel it. I think the men that are coming to Mýkonos for the weekend are the final piece in the puzzle."

"So, if we can find some of those invoices, anything that confirms all this, we turn it over to Jack and it's enough?" Casey asked.

"Yes, but that's not going to be as easy as it sounds. Meridio must have a place in his office I don't know about. Damn, can you believe we find this out now? We just had a whole week without him here when we could have looked through the place."

"Are you sure it's his office? They could be anywhere in his private rooms upstairs." Casey commented.

"No, he'd have them somewhere close to where he does business during the day."

"The safe is the obvious choice."

"Too obvious. I'm in there almost every single day. I know every inch of that safe and I've never seen anything out of the ordinary."

"Niko, couldn't we just wait until my father goes out of town again?" Casey wondered.

"Casey, if the Turks really are the ones and we can get proof while they're still in this country, then Jack can have InterPol arrest them and they'll have them here. That way they won't have to go through the whole extradition process. I don't have to tell you that the Turkish government is about as likely to turn them over to the Greeks as we would be if the positions were reversed."

"So, we have to find a way to search father's office before the weekend is over."

"Correction. We have to find a way for you to search his office." Tessa replied. "Look," Tessa began in explanation. "If I get caught rummaging through any place that exceeds my authority as Karê, I'm made immediately. If you get caught looking in one of your father's desk drawers you can bat your eyes and say you were looking for a pencil and the chances are good he'll believe you."

Casey nodded silently, agreeing with her lover.

"We'll have to figure out a way to slip you away from the party tomorrow night and into his office."

"Where to I start looking first?"

"Let me think." Tessa responded, trying to visualize the office in her head.

"Oh, I got it!" Casey said excitedly. "I bet he keeps them in a hollowed out book on the bookshelf."

Tessa didn't know whether to laugh or cry. She settled for a loving smile.

"Casey, this isn't an Agatha Christie novel."

"Well, I don't know. I just figured it works for Jessica Fletcher."

"Who is Jessica Fletcher?" Tessa asked.

"Don't you ever watch television?" Casey answered. "You know, Murder She Wrote...Angela Lansbury?"

Tessa couldn't help the grin. Here they were in a most serious and complex situation and her lover was drawing on expertise from fictional crime solvers.

"Yea, I know who the character is. I always remember thinking the last place on earth I wanted to be was that little town she lived in."

"Why?"

"Did you ever notice how people had a habit of dying there?"

Both women released a burst of nervous laughter and it helped ease the tension of the moment.

"Okay, once you get into the room go for the desk drawers and the small file cabinet just to the right of the safe. They should at least be good places to start. Casey?" Tessa queried the young woman.

Casey looked at Tessa expectantly. "Yes?"

"I want you to remember to be very careful. Please remember this is not James Bond stuff. It's serious and people have been killed within the Meridio organization for less. If you're caught doing anything just keep denying until your blue in the face. Okay?"

"Niko, do you think my father would have me killed if he found out what I was doing?" Casey asked softly.

Tessa leaned her elbows on the table and bent her body toward the small blonde seated across the table from her. "You've heard the saying blood is thicker than water? You've disproved that theory by choosing me over your father, realizing what I intend to do. I just don't want to find out what Meridio will do in the position of having to choose you or the money."

Casey looked down at her hands, finally looking up again at Tessa. "Niko, how do you know so much about what my father will do?"

"Because I was him, Casey." Tessa didn't even have to think about it before she answered. "I was just as heartless and every bit as cruel."

Tessa waited as the young woman across from her lowered her eyes once again. The Karê waited for her lover to say it. Tessa dropped her own gaze into her lap. Go ahead and say it Casey. If I was just like your father then why does he deserve to die and I don't?

The dark-haired woman was almost afraid to raise her eyes; afraid of the judgment she would find in her lover's gaze. Tessa willed her eyes to meet Casey's, but what she saw nearly stopped her heart from beating. There was that smile, that wonderfully bright smile.

"I'm still hungry...let's have dessert." Casey stated matter of factly.

Tessa couldn't help but smile, mostly at the irony of the whole situation, her whole life for that matter. The smile creased into a small frown, as the Karê thought about her own past. I've killed men in cold blood before; did any of them ever leave a wife and children behind? What makes me so different from him? Am I any better?

Tessa watched as her lover's smile turned brighter, the smile she flashed only for Tessa. The dark-haired woman's frown disappeared as she took in the young blonde. What are you doing to me, Casey? For twenty years I've had only one thing to keep me focused. Now, you walk in and suddenly nothing else is as important.

"Come on, let's go." Tessa smiled, rising and throwing a generous amount of bills on the table.

"Hey," Casey complained, "what about my dessert?"

Tessa put on a seductive grin and leaned down toward the small blonde.

"Let's go home...I've got something you can have for dessert."

Tessa walked away without looking back, assured her young lover would be following closely behind. Casey jumped from her seat and was close on the taller woman's heels, a smile filled with anticipation on her face.


 

"Don't you look nice." Casey remarked looking at her lover's reflection through the mirror.

Tessa stood behind the small blonde and ran a brush through her hair as Casey finished up her make-up. The taller woman wore a cream colored suit and a deep burgundy silk blouse.

"Admit it, Karê," Casey teased, walking in to the bedroom of the guesthouse to get into her own clothes. "You're just wearing such dressy slacks so you can wear heels. You love intimidating the hell out of those men by towering over them."

"Hey," Tessa called from the bathroom, smirking into the mirror. "I use what I got."

"Is that what you're wearing tonight?" Tessa asked dumbfounded as she walked into the bedroom.

Casey stood there indicating the taller woman should zip up the back of the short black dress. The neckline plunged a little more than Casey was used to, but she figured if she could keep their eyes there, she would have a better chance at getting what she needed.

"No, I thought I'd go bowling in this and wear jeans to the party, what kind of a question is that? Doesn't it look good?"

"No, it looks great...too great. Now I'm going to have to spend all night worrying about you and keeping guys from hitting on you." Tessa replied with a crestfallen look.

Casey chuckled and turned her back. Tessa slowly zipped the dress and slipped her arms around the young woman's waist.

"Just remember, I better not see you using any of what you've got tonight." Tessa whispered in a husky voice. "At least until we get back here."

"Only for you," Casey turned in the embrace and lightly kissed the woman's lips.

"You remembered to e-mail Jack, right?" Tessa asked as an afterthought as they were heading out the door.

"I did it as soon as I woke up this morning. He knows what we know." Casey replied.

"Which isn't a whole heck of a lot," Tessa responded, holding the door open for the smaller woman. "Shall we?"


 

The evening went by quickly. The Turkish men were a great deal more cordial to Tessa than their Libyan counterparts. The men who seemed to be the leaders seemed quite interested in the Meridio Karê. Tessa suspected they were looking to hire her based upon her reputation and she wouldn't be surprised if an offer came before they packed up at the close of the weekend.

So, Tessa did something she rarely did. She took center stage and entertained as well as informed. She not only talked about being a woman in this business, but also told of her experiences when she ran the docks in Athens. Within two hours she was plying them with oúzo and challenging a few of them to a drinking game.

Casey caught Tessa's eye just before the small blonde slipped from the party. She already made up a story in case her father caught her. Just say you wanted a few minutes of silence...you were looking for something to write with that's why the drawer is open. Casey said it over and over to herself so it would sound natural and not forced. She silently entered her father's office, never even seeing the figure that shadowed her.


 

"Okay...you're Jessica Fletcher," Casey whispered aloud.

Tessa told her not to be gone more than ten minutes at a time and she'd been in here for fifteen already. Unable to find anything that even looked like it had a Turkish name printed on it, she stood in the center of the room and looked around. Her father's bookshelves were in perfect order, nothing out of place. Perhaps that was why the large, leather bound copy of Chaucer's, The Canterbury Tales seemed so out of place with its spine pulled out about an inch further than the other books. Casey pulled the large tome from its resting place and opened it up. The blonde smiled brightly. Unh huh...this will teach her to laugh at me.

She opened the volume and there, resting inside a hollowed out cavern of pages were three packets of yellow slips. Quickly leafing through them, she recognized one of the names as a man she'd been introduced to earlier this evening. Jackpot! She thought to herself. She carefully removed the rubber bands. Tessa told her if she found anything not to take the first or the last one, take some from the middle. That way they wouldn't be missed for a little while. She quickly took two slips from the middle of each bundle. Folding them over carefully, she lifted her dress and tucked them into the waistband of her panties. Smoothing the dress back down and carefully replacing the book exactly as she had found it, Casey turned just in time to see the door to the office opening.

The small blonde could feel the heat in her face and she was sure whoever was there could hear the furious pounding of her heart. She willed her breathing a little slower and nearly cried in relief when she recognized one of the young Turkish men from the party.

"I though perhaps we could share a dance." He spoke haltingly in Greek.

"Of course," Casey smiled nervously. "Why don't we just go back to the party and I'd be happy to."

Casey noticed the man's bloodshot eyes and could smell his breath. She knew he'd had more than his share of drink already. Casey started to walk past the young man, but he put his arm up against the door.

"I was thinking of a private dance." He slurred.


 

"Tessa, where is my daughter?" Meridio questioned the Karê.

That's just what I'd like to know!

"I honestly don't know, Mr. Meridio." Tessa answered, leading Meridio from the dining room out into the hall to talk. "She said she was going to the powder room."

"I'm depending on you to keep an eye out for her, Tessa" Meridio was beginning to get as exasperated edge to his voice.

"I know, I--"

Casey walked out of her father's office, not seeing the tall woman or her father down the hall.

"Look, no means no, okay?" The small blonde said forcefully to the young man who made a move for her anyway.

That's when Casey saw her father and Tessa staring at the blonde. Tessa's eyes darted back and forth as if looking for a way to get them out of this.

"Kiss me." Casey whispered to the delighted Turk and he didn't have to be asked twice. With his back to the onlookers, he slipped an arm around the young woman's waist and pulled her in for a kiss.

Casey pushed the man away with a powerful shove, drawing back her hand; she slapped him hard across the face. The stunned young man reeled back from the force of the small woman's blow and began cursing in Turkish. He grabbed Casey's arm, but neglected to see the dark-haired woman who was suddenly towering over him.

Tessa had no idea if Casey planned it or not, but she was down the hallway in half a dozen strides. She struck a forceful blow to the man's wrist and he howled in pain, releasing the small blonde's arm. By the time he looked up, Tessa had her arm cocked back. The dark-haired woman's fist connected and the young man stood there, teetering back and forth and looking in amazement at the Karê's fist, which was drawing back for another blow. He stared at her like she'd hit him with a bar of lead instead of her fist. That's when his legs got the message and crumpled underneath him, as he fell into an unconscious heap on the floor.

"Cassandra, are you allright?" Meridio rushed up and pulled his daughter into his protective embrace.

"Yes, Pappa, I'm so sorry, I hope I didn't ruin your party." Casey answered. The small blonde added a tremor to her voice and conjured up a few crocodile tears to go along with her act as the terrified heroine.

"Miss Meridio, I'm so sorry. I should never have allowed you to go off to the powder room alone." Tessa apologized for Meridio's benefit, also explaining to Casey where her father thought she was.

"Thank you for coming to me rescue. He'd been following me around and I thought if I slipped into your office," Casey looked at her father, "that he would leave me alone. I didn't realize he'd try to force himself on me." Casey was playing the helpless woman to the hilt.

"Forgive me, Máhtia Mou," Meridio apologized to his daughter. "I should never have asked you to come to the party this evening. There are some men who just don't know how to behave in front of ladies. Are you feeling allright now?"

"As a matter of fact I am feeling a little shaky after all that." Casey lied. "Would it ruin your evening too much, Pappa, if I just called it an evening and went to bed?"

Tessa was biting the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing out loud. Had the situation not been so deadly serious it would have been comical.

"Of course not, Máhtia Mou. Tessa will go with you. Tessa, I want to see you by Cassandra's side every minute of the day and night for the rest of the weekend. I do not want a repeat of what happened tonight."

"You can count on me, Mr. Meridio. I won't let her out of my sight." Tessa replied.

This time it was Casey's turn to bite her lip and fight off the smile that threatened.


 

"You are truly gifted." Tessa exclaimed once they were inside the guesthouse.

"I got them, Niko." Casey looked up at her lover.

"Are you kidding me? From the desk?"

"From a hollowed out book." Casey answered smugly.

"Oh, quit fooling--really?" Tessa was stunned. She slipped her arms around the woman. "I swear, I will never make fun of your American television shows again."

Casey kissed the tall woman and broke away, lifting up her dress slightly to retrieve the invoice slips. Tessa scanned them quickly.

"This one," Tessa said holding up one of the slips, "he's the bald guy you met tonight." The Karê commented.

"I thought that was his name." The young woman replied.

"Okay, first things first. Get on your computer and e-mail Jack. Tell him what we've got and ask him how long we stick around now."

Tessa turned and walked into the kitchen. She pulled out a plastic baggy and placed the slips inside of it. After searching the room with her eyes for a moment, she opened a flour canister and tucked the package inside, covering the plastic bag with flour.

Casey typed the message to Jack, but was suspiciously quiet all of a sudden. It had all happened so fast and now their question was, how long do we stick around? It became a rather anticlimactic moment for the young woman realizing that now her life as Cassandra Meridio, at least the life she enjoyed in Greece, was over. The burden that Casey didn't want to look at yet still weighed heavily on her. If this is it, when will Tessa do it? Should she ask or just hope that her lover had begun to see past her vow.

As the two women lay on the bed together, waiting for sleep to claim them, each became surrounded in the same thought, only looking at it from a different perspective.

When will she do it?

Will I still do it?


 

It was after four a.m., but that didn't seem to matter much to Jack. He remembered those missions in the jungles of Guatemala where he'd stayed awake for a week, barely sleeping ten minutes a day. He was just dozing off tonight when he got the call that Casey had e-mailed. The small blonde said they found the proof, handwritten invoices, which implicated the Turks, who just happened to be spending the weekend at the Meridio estate. The Center was thrown into high gear with the news.

"Oh, she's good." Jack muttered to himself. They couldn't have possibly timed it any better. Now they could grab the Turks in this country and tell the consulate in Turkey to go to hell.

"We got a little bit of a problem here, boss."

Jack turned to look at the computer whiz kid the Bureau sent him. The kid was an agent, but how he got through the Academy was a mystery. He had Bill Gates, computer nerd written all over him. What pissed Jack off the most was the kid continued to call him boss after he told the kid he would break his kneecaps if he did it again.

"What the hell do you mean, a problem?" Jack asked.

"Well, the cameras we nixed at the Greek's place...they're in the know again." The whiz kid replied.

"What the hell is he saying in English?" Armstrong asked the young woman next to him. She was Korean, but at least he could understand her.

"The cameras in the Meridio estate. The dark-haired woman said no one ever looked at the cameras or the tapes, they were only running in case of a break in and then they'd run it back. So, we disabled them. We had one of our guys go in for a phone repair and slip a little magnet inside the taping mechanism of all the cameras."

"I know all this...get to the we're in trouble part." Jack growled impatiently.

"Somebody must have cleaned them out, the magnets I mean. See we set up a little satellite so we can see what they see. They didn't catch that when they did their housecleaning."

The young woman opened a laptop computer and with a few keystrokes scrolled through all the camera views on the Meridio estate. All were in fine working condition. The young computer tech blushed when they landed on the camera view from Tessa's bedroom in the guesthouse. The dark-haired woman lay sleeping with the small blonde wrapped protectively in her embrace. The tech quickly scrolled past the two sleeping women.

"So, how did you find out at four in the morning that the cameras were working again?" Jack said, tired of waiting for the punch line to this scenario.

"That's the we're in trouble part," The young woman replied. "We get an indicator when someone is using the system. Someone is viewing the cameras and replaying some recorded tapes."

"What?!" Armstrong shouted. "When?"

"Right now." The tech indicated the flashing red light at the top of the screen."

"Where...which cameras?"

"Um...Meridio's office...the daughter's bedroom, and uh..." she pressed a few keys on the keyboard, "the guesthouse."

"Jesus Christ! Out, we need to get them out of there now!" Armstrong practically screamed at half a dozen agents milling around the room.

Instantly the room became a flurry of activity.

"The phone, get me the number to Tessa's phone." Jack shouted, frantically flipping through numbers in the computer index.

"Cell phone and house phone are unsecured, boss." The annoying young computer nerd said calmly.

"You stupid fuck," Armstrong shouted, "it doesn't matter now...they've already been made!"

"It's ringing on three." Another agent shouted over the din.

Armstrong grabbed the receiver and punched line three.

"Yea?" The dark-haired woman's sleepy voice answered on the third ring.

"Tessa, it's Jack. Get outta there, get out now...you're made."


 

Andreas Meridio was dead tired. He'd stopped drinking about two hours ago, but his guests wanted to stay and party all night it seemed. He was under obligation to be a good host and that's exactly what he did. He stayed until the last one retired. He only had another hour or two until the sun came and he desperately needed to take advantage of the last couple hours of night that were left. Meridio's breath caught as he walked in and saw the flashing red light on the console of cameras in the outer suite of his rooms.

This was the first time that happened. It was a small security measure and known only to him. He sat down and brought the screen in his office to life. He had the alarm system installed when he first thought of the idea. He kept his private invoices in the book and had some computer company come in and hook up the book to a sensor alarm. Funny thing was that while they were here, they found out that none of the cameras were capturing to tape. The two young men that found the problem showed him a bunch of tiny magnets, explaining that it was probably done on purpose. Meridio didn't fret too much over it, he was always having the place swept for new bugs and cameras. InterPol was nothing if not persistent, but Meridio smiled as he rewound the tape from his office to the time the alarm went off. It would take a whole lot more than what they had to cause him to worry. Once he hit the play button and watched the scene unfold, his smile quickly faded.

Of course, seeing his daughter caught on tape was about as stunning as it gets. At least that's what the man kept saying to himself. He began punching in a series of buttons on the console trying to bring up all the times Casey had been in the house. What he saw on more than one tape, shocked him into speechlessness. He just knew in his heart that his daughter wouldn't do this of her own free will, there must have been someone else behind Cassandra's actions. He reversed the tapes further, attempting to capture his daughter in a room at the same time with the person he immediately suspected. What he saw happen between his Karê and his young daughter told him all he needed to know.

"That fucking bitch!" He hissed venomously.

"Alex," Meridio said into the phone's receiver once he calmed himself enough to speak. "Get Stefano and come up to my room, we have a traitor in our midst. Stop by Peter's room and bring him too." He added as an afterthought. In case Tessa wanted to put up a fight, he would add a little muscle to stop her.

His thoughts went back to his daughter and cursed himself for putting the innocent girl in the path of Tessa Nikolaidis. He was certain that Cassandra had no idea what she had gotten herself into. He also suspected that his young daughter had been seduced by Tessa's beauty and charm as so many other girls on Mýkonos had been. Meridio wondered why his daughter never suspected that Tessa was just using her as a piece in her little game of revenge.


 

"Casey!" Tessa whispered sharply. "Wake up...right now."

Tessa was already out of bed and throwing some clothes on. She grabbed her gun and shoved her keys into her pocket. Casey was literally scared awake by the tenor of her lover's voice. The young woman grabbed for a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, lacing her shoes before even asking for an explanation.

"What is it?"

"We've been made, that was Jack on the phone. He told us to get out of here fast."

Casey knew in an instant that the situation had in some way deteriorated as they slept. Somehow the missing invoices had been discovered and they were in serious and immediate trouble. That would be the only reason for Jack to call in the wee hours to tell them to get out.

"Don't turn on the light." Tessa whispered as she went out to the living room. Looking toward the main house through a carefully parted curtain, she saw Stefano and Alex walking this way. Peter Tsigaris, the large bodyguard, walked slightly behind them. They still had a ways to walk and the small grove of olive trees surrounding the guesthouse would hide what she had planned next.

She silently moved back into the bedroom and grasped her lover's hand, pulling her into the darkened kitchen. The dark-haired woman quickly retrieved the invoice slips from the flour canister and shoved them deep into Casey's pocket.

"Casey, do you know how to get around the olive grove and over the break wall?" Tessa asked.

"I'm not leaving you, Niko." Casey responded adamantly.

"Casey...sweetheart," Tessa whispered holding the woman's face in her hands, "remember when I told you that I can take care of myself, but only if I'm not worrying about you? I told you that I would need you to do everything I said exactly when I said it...remember?"

Casey's eyes filled with tears and she nodded her head. "I know how to get over the break wall." She said in defeat.

"Do you think you can climb up to your bedroom terrace from there?"

Casey nodded again.

"Okay, make sure you don't enter the house through any of the main doors. Grab a jacket of some kind, your gun, and your passport. I need to ask you to get Olympia out of there, Casey." Tessa opened another canister on the kitchen counter and pulled out a large roll of bank notes. She pulled the keys to her car from her own pocket, picked up her cell phone and thrust them all into the young woman's hands.

"My car isn't in the garage, it's parked down on the small hill by the pond. Just don't turn on the lights until you get on the road into Mýkonos Town. Take the road up to Ano Merá...you remember how to get to my house up there?" Tessa asked reminding Casey of the night that became a turning point for the two women.

"I think I remember."

"If you have Olympia with you, she'll know the way. No one knows I still own that property, it's the home we lived in when my father was alive. Use the cell phone and punch in star-seven-seven, that's Jack's secure line. Tell him where you are and I'll meet you there as soon as I can."

Tessa opened the door slowly and Casey threw her arms around the taller woman's neck. The dark-haired woman held the small blonde, then pulling away slightly, she kissed her passionately."

"I love you, Niko." Casey whispered.

"Right back at ya, baby." Tessa replied. Jesus, I'm as close to the end of my rope as I can get and still I can't tell you, Casey. "I'll see you later." Tessa added softly, touching her fingertips to Casey's cheek and stepped outside.

Tessa motioned for Casey to stay put until she saw that the men had not yet arrived at the guesthouse. Waving her hand, she kissed the girl quickly and pushed her in the direction of the break wall. Tessa couldn't keep from smiling as she watched her lover disappear into the darkness. Just like when we were kids, little one...you always were small and fast.

Tessa moved silently around the right side of the house and watched as Peter was trying to peer in through the front window. She couldn't catch sight of the other two men.

"Is this a social call?" Tessa drawled.

The bodyguard spun around and smiled stonily at the dark-haired woman. He smiled because she was unarmed and hand to hand was his specialty.

"Meridio said he wanted you and his girl brought to the house. Looks like your days of being top gun here are over, Karê. Of course, he didn't say what kind of shape you had to be in." Peter cracked his knuckles and moved toward the woman.

Tessa pulled her gun from her back and gave the man an evil smile. She had won the hand and was surprised at how easy it had been. Just when she started thinking she might get out of this alive she heard the click and felt the gun's barrel against the back of her skull.

"Don't do anything stupid, okay, Nikki?" It was Alex's voice.

"It doesn't have to be this way, Alex." Tessa practically whispered to her young protégé.

"Yea, it does." He answered.

Tessa turned her head slightly to look into the man's eyes. "Just don't let them hurt, Casey. Please Alex, don't let them hurt her." Tessa said so softly that only Alex could hear.

The dark-haired woman lowered the Glock that was pointed at the bodyguard and handed it by the barrel behind her to Alex. Peter took a step forward and Tessa braced herself for the blows to follow. She never expected it to be from behind. Suddenly she was struggling to stand and her knees gave out as she fell heavily to the ground.

"What the hell did you do that for?" Peter yelled at Alex as the young man was fitting a set of handcuffs around Tessa's wrists at the small of her back.

"Because Meridio said he wanted them brought to the house, he didn't say anything about beating the crap out of them beforehand." Alex yelled back.

The bodyguard was about to make the young man sorry for butting in, but he noticed the new glare to the young man's expression. If Tessa had indeed fallen from favor then this kid was next in line to be the Meridio Karê. Even Peter realized that it would be easier for his employer to find another bodyguard than a trusted right-hand man. The beefy man raised his hands in a gesture of defeat and gave in to the younger man.

"Come, on," Alex said, "let's get her to the house. Get Meridio's daughter, then find Stef and give me a hand."

"Jesus!" Stefano panted a few minutes later as they were dragging the dead weight of the unconscious woman's body toward the main house. "This girl is huge. Who would have thought she'd weigh so much."

"I wouldn't worry about that as much as what Meridio's gonna say when we tell him his girl got away." Peter was huffing slightly too.

The men were just entering the olive grove with their restrained burden when Casey pushed open the French doors to her bedroom.


 

Casey pulled the Beretta from her laptop case and tucked it into the waistband of her jeans. She pressed her ear against the door to the outside hall, but was greeted with only silence. She opened the door hoping she could come back and get the rest of what she needed, but Olympia was her first priority.

The small blonde made her way carefully down the stairs. She surprised herself at how quickly but silently she could move when she had to. She reached the back of the first floor where the cook's rooms were, but found the bedroom empty. The bed was made and Casey suspected the older woman was in the kitchen already beginning her day. That's exactly where she found her, preparing to make coffee as the darkness outside began to turn gray.

"Sshh." Casey held her finger to her lips and whispered to Olympia. "We have to leave, Olympia...we have to go right now."

The cook was a smart woman and she could see by the pistol tucked in the girl's jeans that this was no game. She nodded. "Tessa?" The older woman asked, fearful of the answer.

"She's okay." Was the only answer Casey gave, wondering if that was still true. "Go out through the kitchen patio and go around the side toward the stables. Tessa put her car out by the pond. I have to go back upstairs, but if anything happens or if I don't show up in the next twenty minutes, take these," Casey dug in her pocket for Tessa's car keys, "and get to the house in Ano Merá...that's where Tessa will meet us."

Olympia had no idea how the two young women had been found out, but she knew in her heart that Andreas Meridio would let none of them live if he felt betrayed. She nodded her understanding to Casey and followed the blonde's instructions down toward the old pond.

Casey flattened herself against the wall in the hallway as the door into the large dining room was opened noisily. She heard the sound of men's voices and scraping sounds. She peered around the corner, staying in the shadows of the dark hall, but couldn't tell what they were doing inside the room that was as dark as where she stood. She silently made her way back up the stairs and hit the second floor landing when she heard the click of her father's office door opening below her. She moved further into the shadows and watched as her father went into the dining room, then she turned and quickly entered her bedroom.


 

Meridio came closer to the unconscious woman and fairly shook with rage. He wanted to put a bullet in her head just like he'd done to her father, but he tried to control his passion. That kind of death would be too good for her. He wanted to see her suffer, watch her die very slowly, with as much pain as possible.

"Where is Cassandra?" He asked looking around the room.

"She wasn't there." Alex answered. "Stefano said her car is in the garage so she's probably on the grounds somewhere."

"Find her!" Meridio growled. "Then get back here. I don't want to mess up the carpet, we'll take her to the warehouse."

Alex and Stefano left to search the house, leaving the other two men in the room with Tessa. The sun was peeking out from behind the eastern hills when Alex opened the door to the small blonde's bedroom. Stefano searched the room next door and walked into Cassandra's bedroom just as Alex opened the door to the walk-in closet.

Casey pressed herself as far back into the shadows as she could, but Alex flipped the light switch on the closet's wall and Casey might as well have been in the middle of the large space. Alex met the frightened green gaze and they both simply froze there for what seemed an eternity.

"Anything there?" Stefano asked.

Alex narrowed his gaze and sighed loudly. He looked at the gun in the blonde's hand, and knew she could have shot him if she wanted to.

"No," he called out to Stefano, never releasing Casey's eyes. "Nothing here...I'll meet you on the first floor."

Alex opened his jacket and pulled Tessa's Glock from his waistband and handed the gun to Casey. "He wants us to take her down to the docks...it'll be warehouse number 47. I'll do what I can, but I can't hold them all off."

That was all the young man said and he turned and walked out of the bedroom, pulling the door closed behind him.

Casey grabbed her jacket and stuffed her passport, wallet and Tessa's cell phone in the deep pockets. She focused on the task at hand and tried not to fall apart. She and Alex would be the only hope Tessa had and Casey wouldn't allow herself to think about the alternative. Hearing a car pull up to the front of the house, Casey ran to the window over her bed and bit her lip at the sight below. Her father and Alex got into the front of the car, Stefano and the bodyguard carrying Tessa's unconscious body and placing it in the back seat. They drove off and Casey sprinted into action. She made a quick stop in her father's office and, no longer worried about being seen, she burst out the kitchen door. She made a mad dash across the field and past the stables, running full out down the hill toward the old pond. She barely stopped for breath as she ordered Olympia into the vehicle and jumped behind the red convertible's steering wheel.

Casey drove like a woman possessed. She punched the numbers into the cell phone Tessa gave her and Jack answered on the first ring.

"Tessa?" His voice sounded worried, on edge.

"Jack, it's Casey." The small blonde answered. "They've got Tessa."

"Casey, where are you? Have you got the invoices?"

"Jesus Christ, Jack, did you hear what I said, they have Tessa!" Casey shouted into the small phone as she cut the wheel hard, spitting dirt and rocks in the car's wake as she sped up the road to Ano Merá.

"Yes, I heard you, Casey. Now, where are you and where are the invoices?"

"I'm on my way to Ano Merá, I'm dropping off Tessa's mother and then I'm going to go get Tessa." Casey looked over at Olympia. The older woman had a death grip on the dash in front of her, but if she was as scared as Casey was, she sure didn't show it.

"Calm down, Casey," Jack tried to sound nonchalant. "We have a chopper ready to leave now, but I can't be in two places at once, here's the way it's got to happen--"

"Goddamn it, Jack, you listen to me...here's the way it's going to happen--shit!"

Casey hit the brakes as she slid past the long gravel road up to the house. She backed up and turned right onto the drive. Braking hard, she stopped in front of the small cottage.

"You are going to get that chopper here and pick up Olympia first, I need to know that she's safe. Then, I'll expect a little help down on the docks, they've taken Tessa to a warehouse there."

"Look, Casey--"

"I want your word, Jack. If you don't, I swear I will eat everyone of those fucking invoices and you can all go to hell!" Casey finished.

"Allright, allright!" Jack shouted back. "We'll be in the air in sixty seconds...you keep your head down, kid."

It was the nicest thing Jack could think to say to this small stranger who seemed to have more balls than he'd seen on a lot of special agents.

"I have to go." Casey said to the older woman who was already out of the car and standing next to the driver's side.

"I understand. Hurry, Casey." Olympia reached down and hugged the small blonde and stepped back from the car.

"Jack Armstrong is the name of the man who is bringing the helicopter here for you. Go with him and you'll be safe." Casey said and without any more of a farewell, the young woman took off down the gravel road.


Part 6, the conclusion


 

"She's still out." The bodyguard commented, letting the dark head fall forward again.

"That's a little too long for a tap to the skull, especially for one with such a hard head. Come on, Tessa...I know you're awake." Meridio's voice said evenly and Tessa knew she could no longer play possum.

"You bitch." Peter muttered as Tessa looked up and winked at him.

Meridio slowly came forward until he was standing in front of the seated woman. Tessa had her wrists and ankles handcuffed to the heavy metal chair. She'd seen plenty of these chairs in the days when torture was an every day occurrence. The dark-haired woman smirked up at the man above her.

Meridio hit the woman hard with his fist. It connected with her jaw and the man heard the satisfying sound of pain come from the woman. The blow rocked Tessa's head back, but she tried to act unaffected by the powerful strike. She locked her pale blue eyes on the man and spit the blood in her mouth down on his shoes. Punishment for the willful act was swift and three more punches followed in quick succession. She now had blood coming from her mouth and trickling from her nose. It wasn't broken yet, but a few more hits like the last one and she knew it soon would be.

Tessa knew that she was gone. She'd tried, but at least she would die with honor, she had repaid the hahré in her attempt. Now all she had left was to die, but she was never going to give Meridio the satisfaction of thinking he'd won. He might kill her, but he'd never succeed at breaking her.

"All this because I fucked your daughter?" Tessa commented dryly.

All three of the hired men looked up at Meridio. When they saw the look on his face, they knew what Tessa said was the truth. Alex tried to look as surprised as the others did, but he knew what had been going on all along. Peter and Stefano looked at the ground instead of up at Meridio. Andreas looked around in embarrassment. Tessa grinned as she hit her mark. The man was losing face in front of other men and that was never a good thing for a mángas.

"She spread her legs so damn fast for me...she never even knew I was using her." Tessa felt her head snap back two more times as Meridio punched her, then crossed the floor to a sink and began to wash his hands.

The older man obviously felt his control of the situation was beginning to slip. The longer he stayed here, apparently the more Tessa would embarrass him. He suspected that the enigmatic woman had seduced his daughter and now he had the confirmation. Cassandra was about to realize, however that there would be consequences for her actions. As much as he loved his daughter, he would still have to show her that disloyalty came with a price...a very high price.

Meridio put his suit coat back on and walked toward the door.

"Meridio!" Tessa called and the older man stopped and turned.

"Casey was the best fuck I ever had." Tessa grinned up at him.

The man's eyes narrowed and his gaze went cold. "Kill her...make it last a very long time. By the way, make sure she tells you where the invoices are before she dies." Meridio smiled back at the dark-haired woman and walked out the door.

The sunlight glared in their eyes as Meridio stood there, half in and half out the door. His attention seemed caught by something outside. He looked back at Tessa and if looks could kill, the dark-haired woman would already be lifeless. Meridio glowered outside again and, raising his hands slightly, backed into the warehouse.

Casey held her Beretta in front of her and kept it leveled at her father's chest as the man continued to back up. Tessa had to blink her eyes to figure out if her mind was playing tricks on her or not. Oh, Casey...baby, you're going to get yourself killed. Please don't do this.

"Cassandra, do you really expect me to believe that you would kill me?" Meridio asked his daughter as Alex, Peter, and Stefano all three pulled their guns.

"Father...knowing the things that you've done in your life...I'd just be a chip off the old block wouldn't I? Besides, I really don't think you're prepared to say, with absolute certainty, that I won't shoot you, are you?"

Meridio looked in his daughter's eye and damn if he couldn't tell for sure. That dyke bitch had brainwashed the girl but good.

"Cassandra, you don't understand who Tessa is--"

"I understand that you killed her father! I was there...I saw it!" Casey tried to calm the tremor in her voice.

"Yes, I did, but that is what she wants revenge for. She has only been using you to get to me. Casey," Meridio rarely used his daughter's nickname, but the man honestly wanted to get through to his child. "Even if you kill me, one of them will put a bullet in Tessa's head. She'll still be dead. Ask her...ask her now. She knows she is a dead woman, she has nothing to lose."

Meridio saw the flicker of doubt in the green eyes and knew he was getting through to her.

"Ask her, Máhtia Mou," Meridio said softly.

Tessa watched in horror as Casey lifted those green eyes to look in her face. Please understand, baby...this is the only way for you to get out of this, Tessa thought to herself.

"Niko?" Casey asked quietly.

"You're a beautiful woman, but that's all you were to me, Casey. You were just a way for me to get closer to Meridio."

Casey's brow knit in confusion at her lover's words. Suddenly she didn't know whom she should believe.

Meridio saw the perfect opportunity presenting itself. How better for his daughter to take her place within his organization and to vindicate herself in her father's eyes? He smiled slightly when he looked into the dark-haired woman's eyes and saw that Tessa was realizing what he had in mind also.

A stab of pain clutched at Tessa's heart when she comprehended what Meridio had in mind. If she hurt the young woman enough, wounded her to the heart, would Casey shoot her? Part of Tessa's brain thought it would be a sweet release in comparison to what Meridio already had planned for her, but the other half of her couldn't let Casey bear the unspeakable pain that would follow from that action. She needed Casey to know that she was only saying those things for the small blonde's own protection.

Tessa caught the flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye and watched as Alex stepped closer to her, giving himself what appeared to be a clean shot at the bodyguard and Stefano, who stood on the other side of her chair. It could be just wishful thinking on her part, but at least if she could get Casey to understand what she was really about, the young woman would be prepared to help Alex and take one of the men standing beside her out of commission.

"Cassandra, I didn't want you to know you had been used in such a vile way by this woman. I know she has humiliated you, but there is a way for you to pay for the hurt."

Meridio was speaking in low dulcet tones that seemed to be having a hypnotic effect on the small blonde. Casey stood looking at Tessa with dismay, then anger etched across her features.

"Who is to say, Cassandra, whose bullet will end your pain."

Tessa watched the young woman and saw the suffering swirling within the green depths, and then she saw Casey's gun hand twitch slightly. She knew she was only going to get one chance and it came to her in a blinding flash.

"Don't tell me you actually believed me all those times I told you I loved you." Tessa said with a sneer.

Casey's brow knit together and Meridio held his breath as he watched the young woman's gun hand raise until the barrel of the pistol was pointed in Tessa's direction. The young blonde's next movement was so quick that if you blinked your eyes, it was over. In a fraction of a second Casey raised her other hand to the pistol, spread her stance open, and pointed the gun at Peter Tsigaris.

The popping sounds the Beretta made echoed in the open warehouse. Casey fired two rounds in rapid succession, one into the bodyguard's kneecap and the other in Stefano's hand as he made a move with his gun. The young man's movements seemed slow in comparison to the precise actions of the small blonde. The bodyguard tried to reach for his pistol and Casey quickly put another round into his other leg. Both men howled in pain as Casey whirled and caught her father standing in exactly the same spot, frozen in place.

"You've sealed your fate, my daughter." Meridio said over the moans of the fallen men. "I'm afraid Alex will have to kill both of you now."

Alex stood with his revolver still in hand, but he seemed to be hesitating, weighing his options. Reaching into his pocket he removed the keys to the handcuffs and released the dark-haired woman.

Tessa's legs were a little shaky when she first stood, but once the blood circulated a bit, she seemed as steady as ever. Casey ran into her arms and the taller woman squeezed her tightly.

"I thought you said you couldn't shoot." Tessa said.

"I said I don't like guns...I never said I couldn't shoot." Casey said with tears in her eyes.

The small blonde ran over to the sink and wet a towel, bringing it back over so Tessa could wipe her face of the blood.

"It's okay," Tessa said softly to Casey's concerned look. "I've been used as a punching bag before. Alex, do you have my gun?"

"Here," Casey reached to the small of her back where she'd tucked the Glock into the waistband of her jeans.

Tessa accepted the pistol and slowly walked over to where Meridio was still standing. The dark-haired woman raised the gun and the man never flinched, only closed his eyes as the barrel was pressed against his temple. She stood there like that until he opened his eyes and spoke to Casey.

"You're going to let her do this, Máhtia Mou?" He asked his daughter.

Tears spilled from Casey's eyes as she took in the sight. She said nothing, but even she knew that not answering was as good as saying yes.

Tessa pulled back the stiff hammer and poised her finger on the trigger. When she fired the shot she watched as Meridio's body jerked forward. She continued to watch as he realized the round had been fired over his head. He spun his head between Casey and Tessa in disbelief.

Tessa grabbed his collar and although he was several inches taller than the dark-haired woman was, he surrendered to the rough treatment easily.

"Know this, Meridio, She is the only thing that is standing between you and death today." Tessa growled and the older man knew Tessa meant his daughter. "It's over...go home." She said and motioned for Casey to join her.

The small blonde ran into her arms and they began to walk toward the exit. Tessa stopped in front of Alex and held out her hand, offering a smile to the young man.

"I owe you, my friend." The dark-haired woman said quietly.

"I'm glad you feel that way, Nikki, cause I'm going to be needing a job, considering I just pissed my life away here."

"Wherever I go, you'll always have a place, Alex. You may have to improve your English a little considering we're not too welcome here in Greece anymore."

Tessa put an arm around Casey and they continued on their way, Meridio, not looking like a man who had just been defeated, called after them.

"You'll have to run for a long time, Cassandra. My partners will not take kindly to this and it will be a long while before you can stop looking over your shoulder."

"I'll take my chances, father." Casey replied dryly, pressing her body closer to Tessa.

Meridio looked up at the sound of tires bumping along noisily on the old wooden dock. "That must be them now." He smiled and suddenly Tessa understood why the man looked so smug.

"The Turks!" She grabbed Casey's hand and they ran for the far door.

"I'll take the sedan, maybe we can split them up!" Alex shouted as they burst out into the sunlight.

Two cars were heading their way. The second vehicle stopped and Meridio exited the warehouse and entered the auto. Casey tossed the keys to Tessa and they ran for the red convertible.

"Where the hell is Jack?" Casey shouted.

Gunshots rang out and Tessa heard the glass of a taillight exploding as the bullet shattered it. Casey felt a deep searing pain in her thigh and she stumbled just as she reached the car. She fell into the vehicle as Tessa was gunning the engine. The dark-haired woman fired a few rounds and shattered the windshield on the first car. Looking over quickly at Casey she saw the dark red stain spreading across the small blonde's jeans.

"Jesus Christ, Casey, you're shot!"

"I'm okay." The young woman said between clenched teeth.

Tessa pushed the sportscar as fast as it would go and began losing the heavier weighted sedans up through the twisting gravel roads to Agios Stéfanos.

I'm going to try to outdistance them by the cliffs, that way Jack can get to us by the road or the sea." Tessa explained, wondering how the hell they were going to get out of this one, but hoping Casey couldn't hear the fear in her voice. "Use your belt and tie it tight around your thigh like a tourniquet." She added.

There was only one car following them now, the other must have gone after Alex, who headed off in the opposite direction. The dark sedan was closing in, having made up the lost time on the straight-away portion of the road. The next turn was a hairpin and Tessa purposefully sped up, knowing the larger car wouldn't be able to make it. She cut the steering wheel hard to the right, stepping on the accelerator the whole time. The larger car spun off the road and landed in the soft sand near the edge of the cliffs. Its back wheels spun around creating a high-pitched sound as they turned without finding purchase in the slippery sand. By the time the men were jumping out to push the car back onto the road, Tessa was already gone.

They sped towards a small village and just as they hit the edge of the town, a small child ran into the road that Tessa's car was careening down.

"Shit!" She spun the wheel and locked up the brakes to avoid the boy. The momentum of the vehicle caused it to flip over once before landing upright again.

The dark-haired woman never even remembered being thrown from the car, but she couldn't have been out long as the boy was still standing in the road. She shook the cobwebs from her mind and tested her arms and legs.

"Casey?" She looked around, jumping to her feet and searched the area.

The small blonde had been thrown further from the car and she screamed in pain as she rolled over. Tessa dropped to her knees and with only a quick look could tell the young woman's leg was broken in more than one place.

"Don't move, sweetheart." Tessa tried to think what to do. Any minute the Turks would be coming up the road. "Casey, this is gonna hurt like hell, but we have to get out of here."

Tessa was right and when the dark-haired woman scooped the small blonde into her arms, Casey screamed in agony again. By the time the Tessa was moving toward the home in front of them, the young woman had passed out.

Tessa didn't wait; she kicked open the door and shouted the first thing that she knew would bring help. "There are Turks after us!"

Two young men jumped up to help her and an older woman motioned for her to bring Casey into a back room. Tessa watched as a gray-haired man pulled a pistol from the top drawer of a bureau, he closed the door and peered through the shutters.

Casey regained consciousness and wished she were still knocked out. The pain wasn't nearly as bad now that she was still again. The bullet wound was bleeding worse than ever and when she looked up she saw that Tessa had a large open cut across her cheek and the blood ran down the side of her neck, soaking into her shirt. The tall woman's arms were a mass of scrapes and cuts, but she smoothed back the hair on Casey's forehead and smiled at the blonde like none of this was even happening.

"Do you have a phone?" Tessa asked, knowing what the answer would be before the old woman shook her head.

"I do." Casey attempted to reach into the large pocket on her jacket, but gave up in pain.

"Here," Tessa leaned over the young woman and fished through the pockets. She brought out the phone and three packets of papers that she could only stare at. "Holy shit, when did you get these?"

Casey gave a weak smile as Tessa stared at the invoices from her father's office. "Well, there was no one there and I figured if some were good, then all of them must be better."

Tessa kissed her forehead and punched Jack's number into the cell phone.

"Where the hell are you two?" Armstrong shouted.

"I could ask you the same question. We're in a small village just at the edge of the cliffs, past Agios Stéfanos, first house on the corner. Look Jack, Casey's hurt, she needs to get to a hospital right now. She's losing a lot of blood." Tessa turned away from the small blonde and muttered the last sentence.

"We can have the chopper there in two minutes, we're at Meridio's estate. Your mother is safe and we just picked up a guy named Alex who says he helps you."

"Yea, he's with me." Tessa replied.

"Oh great, another one. Where are the invoices, does Casey still have them?"

"She's got the whole damn bundle in her hands, which means you don't get them till you get over here and pick her up."

"She's one hell of a girl, you know?" Jack shouted and Tessa could here the whine of a helicopter motor through the phone and knew they were taking off.

"Yea, I know." Tessa said, brushing the backs of her fingers against the small blonde's dirty cheek. "Just get your ass here and pick her up!"

"Where will you be?"

Tessa looked up just as the gray-haired man with the gun placed his fingers to his lips and motioned for silence. She could hear men's voices outside.

"I have something to finish up." Tessa responded and clicked off the phone in case Jack was tempted to call back about her cryptic message.

Tessa looked out the shutter and could see the men milling about the road, looking at the red convertible. She hoped it still ran and that the keys were still there. She walked back to Casey and that familiar pain clutched at her chest as she knew what she had to do and that Casey wasn't going to like it.

"Sweetheart," Tessa knelt by the bed and Casey opened her eyes, biting her lip against the pain. Tessa spoke in English and the old woman turned away as if understanding their need for privacy. "Jack's on his way, but those guys are outside and they're going to start busting down doors because they know we're here."

Tessa licked her lips and Casey knew what her lover was going to do before the dark-haired woman said it.

"And, you're going to try to draw them away." Casey whispered.

"Casey, I need to say something to you"

"No! Goddamn you Tessa Nikolaidis you are not going to tell me you love me now, and then go out there and let them blow you all to hell. I don't want to hear it until you get back and if you don't come back and tell me, I swear I'll never forgive you!" Casey was sobbing by this time.

Tears filled Tessa's eyes and she kissed the girl's forehead and smiled down at her, stroking the short locks of golden hair. "It's a deal." The dark-haired woman said and then she kissed Casey as if it would be the last time and both women felt it.

"I'm so proud of you, Niko...for the choices you made today," Casey said softly.

"I lived for so long with revenge as the only thing worth living for. You gave me something else to live for." She rose and pressed her index finger to Casey's lips, then she turned and was gone.

Tessa still had her Glock and checked the clip out of habit. Once the old man showed her where the door out to the alley was, she pressed the roll of bank notes into his hands. He shook his head, but she only turned and slipped out the door.

It was a small village, but the two story stone houses hid her from view of the main road. The alleyway was only a dirt path, but it was lined with bushes and trees. She pressed through the line of bushes and ran the remaining distance to the convertible.

Jumping into the driver's seat, she thanked the Virgin that the keys were there. She revved the car and hit the gas, throwing dirt and rocks, and enveloping the road in a cloud of dust. She heard shouts behind her, then fired a few quick rounds from her pistol so they would know it was her. She coughed at the dirt in the air surrounding her, but figured that if they couldn't see the car well, they would think she and Casey were inside the vehicle. She smiled one of her feral, adrenaline stoked smiles knowing she'd just bought Jack the time to get his agents into the village. She refused to even think about the possibility that Casey wouldn't get to a hospital in time. She just knew in her heart that it wasn't the young woman's time.

The helicopter landed right in the middle of the street about thirty seconds after Tessa sped off in the convertible, the sedan quickly following her. Two paramedics hastily worked on Casey in the room of the house where they found her. They began IV's, shot her full of something for pain, and stopped the bleeding from the bullet wound at least long enough to get her loaded onto the helicopter.

Jack ran alongside and helped carry the litter as a sudden explosion, a fireball rising in the sky, rocked them all. Black smoke billowed up into the sky, as agents already ran back to give Jack a report.

"Two cars...looks like the rest of our Turks. They took a dive off the cliffs...not much left of them." The young man shouted over the helicopter's blades to Jack, who was inside the vehicle sitting next to the stretcher Casey lay upon. He looked down at the small blonde and just stared at her.

"No..." Casey moved her head back and forth. "Please...no." She pleaded as tears spilled from her eyes.

Jack didn't like this part of the job; in fact he hated it. He hated losing good people, but as badly as he felt he knew it was nothing compared to what Casey was experiencing. He squeezed her hand and was glad for the roar of the engine as it drowned out the heartbreaking sobs of the small blonde who had just lost her father and her lover in the same ill-fated moment.


 

Casey spent seven hours in surgery as the physicians worked to remove the bullet that was embedded in her left thigh and to repair the broken bones in her right leg. From her hip to her ankle, she'd broken the limb in six different places. The surgeons explained to Jack that the young woman would be in for a few more surgeries and she would more than likely walk with a limp for the rest of her life. She lay unresponsive in the Athens hospital, Olympia never leaving her bedside, for three days. Jack had the American government fly Casey's mother, Eva Meridio, to Greece so that she could be with her daughter.

Jack watched as Olympia and Casey's mother met again for the first time in twenty years. They cried and shared their pain and Jack shifted from foot to foot, uncomfortable with women as well as their displays of emotion.

No one knew how to come right out and tell Casey about Tessa and her father. There were no survivors found at the crash site and the remains were charred beyond even dental recognition. The young blonde's behavior told everyone around her that she knew, however. Casey barely spoke and when she was able to eat solid food again, she just stared at the food in front of her until they had to restart her IV's just to be sure she was getting a little nourishment. Avery nice therapist came to see her three times a week, but Casey just stared out the window, unwilling or unable to talk about her pain.

Finally the doctors went to the mothers for help, for it did seem like Casey had two mothers. When one rested the other one kept vigil, and everyday they tried to get the woman to say more than three words in a row. Olympia would bring all of Casey's favorite food dishes to the hospital and occasionally the young woman would hastily take a bite or two, but just as quickly, her eyes would fill with pain and she would turn back toward the window.

Olympia walked into the room just as she did every day. This time she sat next to the bed in front of the window the small blonde spent all her time gazing out of, so Casey would have to look at her.

"Tessa would be very disappointed to see you behaving like this," Olympia said sharply. "Is this what my daughter gave her life for? Shame Cassandra."

It was the sound of Tessa's name that broke through Casey's pain. The sound of a name that she remembered as being the sweetest note she'd ever heard. Casey took in a ragged gasp and tears pooled in her eyes, spilling over the edges. And, as Olympia moved to hold the small woman in her arms, just as her daughter had done so many times, Casey released a cry of pain and anger and finally wept for her dead lover.




Six Months later...

Mýkonos Island, Greece

The Meridio estate changed a great deal over the next six months, mostly due to Eva Meridio's return home. It was as if a cleansing breeze swept through the mansion, the combined force of Olympia and Eva erasing any trace of the man that ran the household previously. Every piece of furniture in Andreas Meridio's private rooms and office had been removed. Since Casey still remained in a wheelchair even after her third surgery, Eva prepared the estate with special access doors and ramps although Casey told her time and again that she refused to let her body stay in the chair.

A paved walkway was put in from the house leading to the guesthouse and a driveway extended back to the private dwelling. Casey was adamant about living in the guesthouse even though both the older women warned that she might not be ready for such a move. It was true the small blonde still had occasional nightmares and crying was at least a once a week occurrence, but she was taking one day at a time. Now the mere mention of Tessa's name didn't send her into a depression, on the contrary, she had recently begun to enjoy Olympia's stories about the dark-haired girl.

Casey dropped the dumbbell into its place on the weight rack. She was glad Tessa had the weight room put in the guesthouse. This way Casey didn't have to go up to the main house everyday. She loved both her mother and Olympia, but being mothers, they could certainly wear on one's nerves. She reached both arms over her head and stretched, feeling her muscles complain at the extra workout she'd put them through today. She grew tired of taking it easy with such slow physical therapy on her legs and asked the therapist for exercises so she could work on her upper body from the wheelchair. Now, the muscles rippled under the soft skin as she stretched, her long hours of weightlifting beginning to show.

Casey moved to the window as she heard a car in the driveway. She maneuvered her chair onto the patio once she recognized the familiar face get out of the driver's side.

"Hello, Jack."

"Hey, there kid. How's tricks?" Jack asked, matter of factly.

The agent had been suspiciously absent of late and Casey assumed he finally had some time to spend with his wife and daughters. He held a large manila envelope in his hand and was beginning to get that, I'm uncomfortable as hell, look.

"Don't beat around the bush, Jack, it doesn't suit you at all." Casey smiled.

Jack remembered the first time he ever saw that smile. It was like someone opened a curtain and let the sunshine in. He watched now and realized that smile had become tempered with a deep-seated pain.

"Okay, here it is," He opened the envelope. "Tessa made me executor of her will."

"When did that happen?"

"The day you were in Athens, in training down at the Center. She left most of her dough to her mom, but she named you in the will too." Jack looked up and not seeing any kind of response, he continued. "She left you a sizable chunk of money in a couple of Cayman Island accounts, then there's this." He handed the photograph to the young woman.

It was the Apógevma Nóstimo, Tessa's Catamaran. Tears welled up in Casey's eyes and she couldn't stop them from rolling silently down her cheeks. She had only been on the large sailboat once, but if she closed her eyes she could see the sunset in her mind's eye that she and Tessa shared that day.

"Well, there's one more thing." He rose and walked over to the van, Casey's curious eyes followed. He opened the side door and two large Dobermans bounded out the door and began running around Casey's chair. The animals sat close to the chair and licked the small blonde's face. Casey cried, even as she hugged Cinnamon and Mahogany.

"Yea, well I guess she made the right choice. I had to drug them just to get them over here." Jack reached over to place a hand on Casey's arm, but froze with his hand in mid air as the dogs growled and bared their teeth at the large man. "Okay, then...I can see that's gonna get you a lot of second dates. Guess I better be going."

Casey laughed at the man's nervous behavior and suddenly realized that this was the first time she'd laughed since the accident.

"I hear you're going to be heading back to the States pretty soon." Jack said from a careful distance.

"Yes, There's a center in Connecticut where I'm going for the rest of my rehab. They're supposed to be able to perform miracles and they think I have a good shot at being out of this chair within a few months."

"You know I'll miss you, kid." Jack said softly.

"Thanks, Jack." Casey responded, absently scratching behind Cinny's ears.

"You know, once you get back on your feet, if you find you ever need a job you might think about giving me a call."

"Jack, are you seriously asking me to join the FBI?" Casey smirked.

"Hey, Quantico could use a cadet like you."

"I don't think so, Jack, but thanks for the offer." Casey smiled sweetly and held out her hand to the tall man.

When at last he looked in the rear view mirror, he smiled sadly at the way life had to go sometimes. His last glimpse of the small blonde was her leaning down from her wheelchair, gripping both the animals in a fierce hug.


 

One Year later...

Long Island, New York, U.S.A.

Casey was trying to stuff some additional items in her backpack. She topped it with a small bag of treats for the dogs and an extra bottle of water for herself. She was almost to the kitchen door when Olympia's voice reached her. Damn, I almost made it!

"Casey, you're going to eat something before you leave, aren't you?" Olympia asked.

Eva Meridio came in from the patio and almost ran in to her daughter.

"Casey, you're not going out dressed like that are you?" her mother walked past, indicating the sweatpants and sports bra the small blonde wore.

"It's official," Casey whispered to the two Dobermans who sat obediently at her feet, "we're in hell."

The two older women began planning their day; they were off to go shopping for antiques. Being fostered by two mothers was almost more than the small blonde could handle some days, but she wasn't really complaining. Since Olympia came to America to live with them, she found her mother was actually getting a life. The two old friends became the life of the community, doing everything from playing bridge to gardening. Casey was happy that her mother was showing signs of forgetting about the past.

Tessa's fortune allowed her mother to realize some dreams of her own. Casey pleaded for Jack's help in eliminating the red tape of getting Olympia citizenship in this country and of course the man always seemed to come through for Casey. He did it so well that the small blonde hit him up a few months later to get Alex into the country.

The Greek cook opened her own restaurant on Long Island and initially spent long hours turning the business into a restaurant with an impeccable reputation for authentic Greek food. Alex managed the establishment and found that he had a natural aptitude for that kind of business. In the last few months Olympia started teaching cooking classes at the local community college and became a big hit. The older woman was a godsend for Casey's mother when the young girl went to Connecticut for her rehab. So, now all three women lived in the spacious Long Island home and even though Casey had to bite her tongue about once a day, she wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'll be home late...I'm taking the boat out." Casey called back to the seated women.

"Be careful." Both women responded in unison.

"Yes, mothers." Casey made sure to tease as she closed the door.

The small blonde set her pack down and bent down to unlock her bike. Raising herself up again she slipped the backpack over her shoulders and hopped on the narrow bicycle seat. Her time at the rehab center was rough, mentally as well as physically. They said they could work miracles, but the young woman soon realized they meant they could make her work the miracles. The program was intensive and she was still just getting over her losses. Sometimes she would cry herself to sleep at night, missing her mother and Olympia. Once when she was having a particularly rough day she looked up across the grounds and she thought she saw the outline of a tall dark figure. When she blinked her eyes and looked again, the vision was gone. It was enough, though, to remind her of her lover and gave her strength to go on for another day, which turned into two and soon six months had gone by.

He strong legs pedaled the bike up the steep hill, Cinnamon and Mahogany loping along beside her. She'd tried to keep the two animals at home when she went sailing, but her mother said they howled the whole time she was gone. They were well trained and the funny thing was, even though it had been Tessa who trained the Dobermans, they obeyed every word that came out of Casey's mouth. Soon, she simply took them everywhere she went. It was a satisfying feeling having the two animals as bodyguards, almost like the feeling of being safe within Tessa's strong embrace.

Casey shook her head and chided herself. She promised she wouldn't do that anymore. She caught herself the last time staring at Olympia. The older woman's hair had earned a few extra streaks of gray and so she had her hair colored. It made her look years younger, but it had a different effect on Casey. Sitting in the living room, enjoying a glass of wine, Casey noticed how much that Tessa had favored the older woman. Once the small blonde realized she'd been staring, she turned away, blushing in embarrassment.

They reached the private docks and Casey smiled as Mr. Peterson opened the gate for her so she didn't have to fish around for her own key.

"Mornin' Miss." The old man waved and Casey waved back. She left the gate to her slip open, knowing she would have a visitor today.

Casey hopped aboard the Apógevma Nóstimo and lifted her bike over the boat's rail, hoisting the mountain bike up into the air easily with her powerful shoulder muscles. She went about the task of preparing to set sail. The small blonde moved about the boat with the efficiency and skill of a seasoned sailor. She still had the slightest limp to her right leg. It was barely noticeable and the doctors told her she would more than likely have to live with it. It took about a half an hour to get everything set up just the way she liked it. She tugged on the side stays, as was her habit, to test the tightness of the wires supporting the mast from the side of each hull.

That's when she heard the low growls from each animal as they lay passively on the deck of the boat.

"I know, let him get a little closer." Casey muttered under her breath. "Okay, heads up!" Casey said louder.

The two animals leaped gracefully from the boat's deck onto the dock and bared their teeth menacingly at Jack Armstrong.

"Shit! I hate when you do that, Casey." He said, backing up along the dock.

Casey laughed out loud. "Down." She said quietly and the dogs immediately ran up to the man and licked his hand in apology. "Jack, what in heaven's name was so important you couldn't e-mail me?"

"Well, I have this application, now before you say no--"

"Jack, I'm saying no. I do not want to join the FBI. My answer was no yesterday, last week, even when you sent me an application in my Christmas card, which was really pathetic, I might add. My answer will be the same a week or a year from now...it will always be no, Jack." Casey finished softly.

"All you do is workout and sail this damn boat around, or you just come out here and sit in it while it's tied up. You live with your mother, you never see any one...you're young, Casey, don't you think it's time you took your life back?"

Casey could have been angry with the older man, but she understood how Jack felt about her. She was only five years older than his eldest daughter was and he felt a certain fatherly responsibility toward her. That and the guilt over having gotten her into this mess in the first place.

"Yea, well, just in case you change your mind," he held out the application.

"Goodbye, Jack," Casey smiled and turned her back, "have a nice weekend."


 

"You're not from around here, are ya?" Peterson asked the stranger.

"No," the low voice answered, trying to step back into the shadows of the Harbormaster's office.

"Look, ya come by here every day to watch her and if you're thinking about starting any stalking kind of trouble, then ya should know I never forget a face."

Peterson watched as the face broke into a small smile that seemed to be tinged with irony. He was getting on in years and he guessed there might be a few faces that he forgot, but this one wouldn't be one of them. She was as tall as he was with long dark hair that fell into her eyes. Those eyes were what he'd remember. Pools of blue like the sky, but they had a look, kind of like a wounded animal that doesn't know whether to run away or just lay down and die. She had a long thin scar that ran along one cheek and she hardly ever took her eyes off the small blonde on her sailboat.

"Like I said, if it's trouble--"

"No! It's nothing like that," she answered. "Do you--have you known Casey long?" She asked.

"Well, let me see...I was here the day she put her first Hobie Cat in the water. She was just thirteen that year I guess. Pretty long, why?"

"Does she...does she seem happy...when you talk to her?"

"I guess if you knew her well enough you'd know that she had a bit of trouble when she was down in Greece. Pretty bad accident, I heard her father was killed...big mess. I don't know what all happened, but I do know that she ain't the same girl she used to be."

The stranger stepped further into the shadows when she saw the man's car coming toward them to leave the gate. She held her breath waiting as he rolled past, but the car stopped suddenly with a jerk and the passenger side window was powered down.

"You're not supposed to be here...hell, you shouldn't even be in the country." Jack's voice called out from the car.

The stranger stepped forward into the sunlight and leaned her head down to the window.

"I had to see her...I couldn't--" Her voice broke and she thrust her hands into her jeans to try to calm herself. "I just couldn't do it anymore." She finished.

"Two years, Tessa. We agreed it would have to be for at least two years. If everyone thinks you're dead, then Casey is safe, but if the Turks ever get wind that she knows where you are--"

"I know...I know. It's been so long and I was afraid...afraid she forgot about me."

Jack watched as tears filled the dark-haired woman's eyes. He'd seen those eyes filled with a lot of emotions...anger, hate, and even pain, but this was a new look. He watched as she swallowed and looked back out to the boat where Casey sat on the deck. Her blue eyes filled with abject despair and he wondered if he could do what Tessa had done. Could he have let his wife believe that he was dead, watching as she tried to put her life together, only to hope that there would still be room in it for him when he came back?

Jack sighed. He always sighed like that when he was about to do something that could possibly get him fired.

"Aw, hell...two years, eighteen months...seems pretty damn close to me. Go on," He met Tessa's eyes and finally saw a spark of life in them.

"Are you serious, Jack?"

"Yea, yea. Hey, what are you gonna say to her?" Jack asked.

Tessa smiled and Jack felt better about his decision already. The tall woman knew just what she would say. She made a deal and there was nothing on earth that could keep her from saying the words now.

"It's okay, Mr. Peterson...she's one of us" Jack called out to the Harbormaster standing close by.

"Jack," Tessa reached a hand through the window and placed it gently on the agent's arm. "Thanks...for everything."

The large man placed a hand over the woman's and squeezed it briefly. He drove off as soon as Tessa stepped back from the car.


 

Casey leaned against the mast and closed her eyes, feeling the sun shining down on her and thinking of the time when Tessa held her in those strong arms as she slept, here in this very spot. She kept her eyes closed tight, but the tears squeezed from behind her lids to cover her cheeks in their wetness.

A strange sensation passed through her, almost like a tingling up her spine. She heard footsteps on the dock behind her and uttered the same words she always did in these situations. "Heads up!"

Cinnamon and Mahogany jumped on to the dock, but they were whining, as if they didn't know what to do with the command Casey just gave them. Then the small blonde had that feeling again. She turned around slowly and met the vision that consumed her sleeping as well as her waking dreams. The dream that it was all a horrible misunderstanding and Tessa never did die. Her therapist said it was a natural response and it would go away eventually, but it never did.

Tessa reached out a hand and gently scratched Cinnamon behind one ear, never releasing the small blonde's uncomprehending gaze. Casey felt if she was going to go crazy, then this is the way she wanted to go.

The small blonde didn't even realize she was still crying. "Are you real?" She asked the vision.

Tessa smiled at that. That sexy smile that revealed those perfectly white teeth and ended in an all knowing grin.

"Yes, baby...I am very real."

Casey didn't hesitate, dream or not, she didn't even care if people thought she was crazing. She jumped over the boat's railing and when she hit the dock in front of the tall woman, Tessa scooped the blonde into her arms and held her in a crushing embrace.

"Oh, Niko, you came back to me!" Casey sobbed against the woman's chest.

Tessa held the young woman that way, stroking her hair and wiping the tears from her cheeks. Finally the dark-haired woman pulled away to look down into the beautiful face. She cupped Casey's face within her hands.

"We made a deal, remember?" Tessa responded.

Casey looked up at her with a confused expression.

"I promised I'd come back to say the words. I love you, Cassandra," the dark-haired woman drawled. "I have always loved you."

The two women held one another tightly; tears of joy being shed as they kissed for the first time in so long. Tessa remembered her first impression of her lover's kiss and she still thought it was the sweetest taste she'd ever known.

Tessa came so far to find something worth living for other than revenge, now, standing there on a dock in the middle of summer, twenty years, and thousands of miles from where they started, they each found something worth living for.



The End


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