ALT - This means that the story will contain scenes of intimacy between consenting adults who also happen to both be female. If for reasons of age, location or personal belief you are not permitted to read this story, then please move on to another work.
TIMELINE - Basically just after "The Xena Scrolls" episode ended.
(c) June-August 1999
E-Mail LZClotho at firstname.lastname@example.org
More used to long and early hours, Janice woke first. Comfortable though, she kept her eyes closed letting the sensations in one at a time.
The early morning sun warmed her back and she flexed her shoulder muscles in cat-like content at the feeling. She shifted her jaw and swallowed against the slight dryness of her throat. Turning her chin into her pillow she felt it shift in response.
Her eyes blinked open and she remembered where she had fallen asleep. Or rather, on whom. She inhaled and caught the muted scents of cinnamon and natural salts, tempered with something that smelled like honey. Incredible. She lifted her head and gazed on Melinda's collarbone, eyes drifting up over her barely moving throat and chin with fascinated eyes.
She was bringing her left hand up to indulge her senses in a caress when she felt muscles flex in the arm curled around her back. She moved her gaze higher still and watched blue eyes appear from behind long lashes. Moving her own shoulder she moved out of the sunbeams from the window. Melinda's face took on a golden flush.
Finally their gazes met and Melinda slowly smiled. The expression reached down into Janice's stomach and pulled on something. A warmth blossomed and she smiled in reply. "Good morning," her voice a soft burr. She eased onto her hands lifting her weight from Mel's chest and scanned the woman, her expression slowly becoming serious as she noticed the bruising on the brunette's arms, and caught sight of the edge of a bruise on her chest. "Are you feeling any better?" Careful of her own thigh which only twinged in protest, Janice sat up.
Melinda leaned on her left side and followed suit, careful of her splint. She pulled the long fingers of her left hand through her hair, settling it in reasonable order. "A little," she finally answered.
"I'll help you unwrap it and clean up, then. Do you feel up to a little sightseeing today?"
"You don't have to help me," Melinda countered while reaching for her glasses. "I'll manage." She tucked them onto her nose and adjusted the left side with her good hand. When she tried the same with her right, the movement failed, made impossible by her splint. The strained muscle and the cracked bone screamed in protest at the small movements.
Janice reached over and adjusted the ear piece. "It's all right. I want to help." She ran a hand lightly down the splint and over Mel's fingers. "It's kind of my fault."
"I was on the pier by my own choice, Janice," she countered, her tone colored with "we are not going through this again" annoyance.
"Not that." She grasped Mel's hand and pinned her left on the bedcovers. "I thought about it. You jumped into those crates because I scared you, didn't you?" Janice held Melinda's gaze for a long silent moment.
"Well... Not scared." Melinda swallowed.
"Startled then." Janice was rewarded for her insight by a small nod. The motion was filled with a sensuality that came naturally to the brunette, and it captured Janice's imagination. She leaned close, keeping hold of Mel's gaze. "Well, I'll make sure I move--" She gestured toward Melinda's lips with her eyes. "More deliberately." She slipped her left hand from Melinda's right and showed it to her. She saw the woman's heartbeat pick up in the pulse at her throat. The heat between them rose a notch. "From now on." She brought her lips to Mel's offering up a long light kiss. Her hand slipped around the brunette's back, pressing firmly in the middle, bringing their bodies closer.
"No sudden moves." She showed her right hand as it slipped away from Mel's left. Slowly, while blue eyes followed, Janice traced a path over Melinda's left side, up the curve of her ribs and the swell of her breast through the night shirt. Her other hand paused on the bandage on Mel's right side.
"I've never felt like this before," Melinda's murmured voice became swallowed up when Janice's lips touched hers again.
"Me neither," Janice replied, just as low. As she lowered Mel back to the bed. It was true. Her past relationships were fast, carnal, over as quickly as they started. They were begun in heat and ended in hatred, or disinterest. This felt different. Down to the soles of her feet, Janice felt different, a lot of joy, a little fear, a lot of apprehension. Then she met Melinda's eyes and felt contentment, passion and promise. "But--"
"But I like it." Their voices slid together as their bodies did, gazes intertwining.
Janice's thigh protested when she tried to adjust her position. She bit her lip and felt the shock wave from the pain collapse her limbs. Melinda caught her with her left arm, and tried with the right, only to groan aloud when the break strained. Janice crashed to the bed beside Melinda, the spell broken as she closed her eyes in tension and pain.
Breathing deeply against her own aches, Mel tugged the blonde locks behind Janice's ear. "I think we'll wait though," she said softly, "to explore it."
Melinda tugged Janice against her
left side as they let the mood pass slowly, listening to their heartbeats
that steadied into a matching rhythm.
"You do wonders for that beat up hat," Melinda commented. Janice leaned against the bed while settling her fedora on her head. She tilted it slightly askew over her right eye, stiffening the brim with a practiced sweep of her hand.
"It feels good to finally be back under it," Janice replied. "What with always portraying the proper lady for Bristol."
Mel nodded. The blonde filled out the rest of her outfit nicely as well, she thought. Tan pants and a white button shirt with a wide collar that emphasized the smooth, definition of Janice's throat, slim waist and rounded hips.
Then the blonde pulled on her leather jacket. The mottled dark and light tan leather hid the woman's charms like wrapping on a present, hiding Janice inside the loose shape. "Where did you get that jacket?" Mel tugged on the collar. "It's a little big for you."
"No short jokes okay?" Janice said teasingly. "It works nicely that I fit into small places on a dig."
"You fit perfectly into other places too," Melinda offered in rejoinder, tucking Janice tinto the crook of her left arm. She used her right to lift the woman's chin for a kiss.
Janice absorbed the kiss and fed it back to the brunette, tucking her arms around Mel's waist. She caressed the brunette's ribs through her light blue blouse. She felt the edge of the bandage on Mel's stomach which she had helped reapply earlier. Looking up she caught sight of the smaller bandage remaining over Melinda's left temple and remembered the agonizing wait in that wood pile for help. "I'm glad you're here," she said quickly before she could think about it.
"So am I."
Stepping back to offer her elbow, Janice offered gallantly, "Care to see Casablanca with me, Miss Pappas?"
Down in front of the boarding hotel Captain Renault had arranged, Janice hailed a cab. She helped Melinda in before sliding onto the backseat herself. "Marketplace," she told the cab driver.
They had been exploring the market for the better part of three hours. Leaning against a building wall, Melinda admitted, "I think I've had enough." They watched a plane roar overhead, its engine changing speed as the pilot prepared to make his landing on Casablanca's outskirts. "You think that's our plane?"
Janice shielded her eyes and took in the plane's size. It was a six-, perhaps eight-seater. "Doubt it." She brought her gaze back to Mel and saw the rounded shoulders as she adjusted her splint. "We could go early and visit the travel office to ask." She brushed a reassuring hand over the brunette's left arm. "Worried? Or tired?"
Blue eyes blinked several times and Mel brushed her hand over her brow before patting Janice's. "Captain Renault did say. So it must be just exhaustion talking."
"We'll sit a while." Janice led the way to an outdoor cafe table.
"Isn't your leg bothering you?" she asked as she settled into a wrought-iron chair.
Janice sat as well, successfully hiding the wince as her thigh twitched at the change in position. "Not really. I've worked through worse."
"High tolerance for pain?"
The blonde grinned ruefully. "Gave my grandmother 'heart palpitations' she used to say when she saw how many times I kept trying crazy stunts and busting bones."
"I thought you were with your father growing up."
Janice looked off at the milling crowd. "Sometimes."
Mel's hand slipped around hers. "Your grandmother preferred you didn't travel with him?"
"She always blamed him for my mother running out. She ran out on dad, and me, but my grandmother never saw her again either."
"Oh. But since your dad traveled so much it was probably better for you in one place."
"You're looking at probably the only woman who was never properly 'finished' in the Philadelphia society. I was thrown out of two schools and in the third when everything went to hell."
The brunette frowned. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not. Finishing schools are for pampered, mealy-mouthed--" She suddenly realized who she was talking to, and concluded quickly. "They're not for me." She changed the subject. "So, what's life like in North Carolina?"
"Much like life in Philadelphia I suspect," Melinda answered hollowly. She looked up and waved over a waiter. "Hungry? I'm famished." She requested, "Lemon pastry." An eyebrow arched at Janice and the blonde found herself scrutinized very politely by the waiter.
"I, um, the same. I guess." He smiled and departed with a quick bow.
Left with Melinda's silence Janice felt an aching need to explain. "I'm sorry if it sounded like--"
"No." Melinda shook her head, looking out on the crowd. "No need to say anything." She pulled off her glasses and awkwardly cleaned the spotless lenses.
"Expressing your point of view? I know."
"Would you let me get through the apology just once?" Janice raised up and stilled Mel's hands across the table. "Now, look at me." Blue eyes fighting some emotion Janice couldn't identify slowly rose to meet her gaze. "I'm quite sure you had a great childhood and that you have some great friends from school. I was just saying I didn't. It came out wrong. I'm sorry I hurt you."
Melinda sat up straighter. "All right. It took me by surprise I suppose." She carefully tucked her glasses back on. "We can't expect to understand each other completely."
The waiter returned with their orders. As Mel picked up her fork and Janice reached for the pastry with her fingers, the blonde chuckled. "I'd like to learn." Janice smiled and bit into her pastry.
"I'll do the same." Melinda chewed carefully and swallowed. "Will you tell me about you growing up?"
"What? You mean all at once?" Janice dusted her fingers clean. "How long have you got?" she asked with a chuckle.
"Based on what you said you didn't grow up with your father, and growing up with your grandmother in Philadelphia wasn't fun." After pausing to nibble, the brunette continued," What did you love most while growing up?"
Janice didn't pause. "Dad's letters. No contest. Because of them I was there for every discovery, every triumph. Even a few of the failures. I knew that I wanted that life. He wrote so vividly. Everything about it was perfect. The adventure, the danger, the revelations."
"And now? Do you feel the same about archaeology now?"
Janice smiled. "It's an adventure, Mel. More than I imagined, and I was able to imagine quite a lot." She nibbled on her pastry and continued. "You know the first time I saw Smythe my father was laughing in his face."
"When did your father die?"
"Smythe killed Dad nineteen months ago," Janice replied matter-of-factly.
"So he didn't know you tried to contact my father."
Janice pursed her lips. "He didn't know I wrote. But Dad told me that Melvin Pappas was the only person he trusted enough to work on these translations."
Melinda stabbed her fork into her pastry and mused, "I didn't know much about my father's life."
"But he taught you syntax," Janice sought clarification, her tone clearly confused. "That's not quick, or easy."
"I started reading his papers about a year before he died."
Janice's brow furrowed. "Self-study?" She put down her pastry. "Incredible."
"After my father died, I looked up Dr. Jerral at the university. They had worked together--I knew his daughter... from school." She tapped her forehead. "I studied privately. Seems I have a knack. Jerral was surprised at my quick progress."
"Why did you start studying?"
Melinda pursed her lips again and took a deep breath. "I hoped it would make us... closer, I suppose."
"I don't understand."
Shaking her head, Melinda gestured for the waiter. "Our bill, please."
"Too long," was all she said as she studied the paper for a moment then dug into her purse. "Time to clean up for our dinner dates," she said finally.
Janice frowned, aggravated that the story wouldn't unfold right now, but nodded. "Can I promise a long quiet night by a fire someplace when this is all over and get to hear the story?"
Accepting Janice's hand on her elbow, Melinda nodded.
"Good evening. Welcome to Rick's again, Captain." The two men and their companions were greeted at the door by a portly white haired man, rounded glasses perched on a cherubic nose and hiding hazel eyes under a head of fly-away white hair. He paused as he recognized the brunette. "Miss. The orchestra wondered what had become of you. It was a lovely voice you shared with us."
Melinda was surprised. With all that had happened she had almost forgotten the silly song. "I... missed my boat," she said softly.
"Miss Pappas has agreed to be my guest while she waits for her plane," Captain Renault explained, tucking her arm back under his elbow. Nodding toward the blonde, he added, "This is her companion, Miss Covington."
"And Lieutenant Boutre. Yes! Welcome to you both once again. Would you like a table in the main room, or a private parlor?"
The captain's eyes gleamed. Janice, who had been scanning the room with interested eyes, noticed it. "Main room," she interjected. "I like the music," she explained when the men's eyes leveled on her.
Boutre smiled. "I think captain, we have guests tonight who should be indulged."
Renault was silent for a long moment. "All right. Near the windows. I need the air."
"Yes sir.. This way, please." Tucking menus under his arm, he led the party to their table.
Passing the orchestra stand and the piano player, Melinda caught his eye, and smiled. Sam returned the smile and started a light, airy tickling of the keys.
"You like piano music?" Renault's question accompanied his hand sliding on her back as he pulled out a chair. "Please." He indicated the seat.
"Thank you. Yes, I do." She set herself down gracefully.
"Sam will come over to play just for you, if you like, madamoiselle," the waiter said.
"Oh no." She shook her head. "That isn't necessary."
"As you wish, madamoiselle," he replied agreeably. To all four he posed, "A drink to begin your evening?"
With Boutre's suggestion, the four decided to share a bottle of Burgundy Black, a strong pungent wine made from the deeply purple grapes common to the region. Both a tart and sweet experience. "I have not had such a favorite from home since accepting the posting here," Jean remarked.
Janice asked, "So you are from there?"
"Oh yes. Tresame was the nearest town, a speck of nothing even at that, to my family's property."
"Was it a vineyard?" Melinda asked politely.
Jean shook his head. "My family raised chickens and ducks. We just liked our wine very much," he chuckled.
"Miss Pappas, you are from the southern United States, are you not?"
"Yes." She said no more.
The waiter returned with the foursome's drinks. He popped the cork and offered it to the captain to sniff. Nodding, Renault directed with a wave of his hand that all should have a glass. "To America, then," he toasted, lifting his glass, eyes warm on Melinda and then Janice in turn. "For sending us such shining representatives." Sipping he then set down his glass and asked, "Did you enjoy your visit to the marketplace?"
Melinda covered her surprise. "Yes. It was a lovely chance to stretch our legs since we will be flying out tomorrow."
"Oh, I doubt that," he replied. "All tomorrow's flights are filled. A week at least before you could have a seat," he informed them nonchalantly.
Janice shook her head, beginning to get an odd feeling in her stomach. "You promised us two seats tomorrow, Captain."
"I had not checked the exit lists. Surely you don't expect me to remove someone else so that you might have a seat. Others have been awaiting a flight much longer." Still appearing unfazed, he sipped his wine quietly.
"To Lisbon then?"
"Full also." He smiled at Melinda who looked ruefully to Janice.
Melinda mentally checked her geography. "Toledo then?"
"I do not believe any flights land in Toledo, Miss Covington," Boutre interjected, souding helpful, despite the information.
"That doesn't help," Janice replied tersely. "Is there a charter service?"
Again Boutre was thoughtful. "There are two charter services at the airport. Mileto's and Congo Air Caribbean."
"Both would charge the shirt off your back, Miss. No offense meant, but that's the truth," Boutre finished, sipping at his wine.
Seated across the table from one another, Janice and Melinda exchanged looks. Then the blonde had an idea. Her look to the brunette suggested, "follow my lead." Turning to Boutre, she asked, "Would you like to dance?"
Melinda went along, her misgivings doubling when Renault's gaze gleamed predatorily. "Shall we join them?" he asked her.
"I would like to discuss tomorrow's planes further," she replied.
"On the dancefloor then," he countered. Standing he grasped the back of her chair and breathed in her ear, too low for Boutre or Janice to hear. "For a... shall we say, finder's fee?... I could arrange to have two seats on a plane the day after tomorrow." Melinda could hear the leer in his voice.
Glancing up to catch Janice's eye, Melinda saw only the blonde's back as Boutre led her over to a small space by the orchestra. She asked herself what to do now, as Renault's hand closed over her wrist. She hated making scenes.
She remembered her conversation with Janice as they embarked from Greece. Looking at Renault, she wondered how to prevent that from happening here. It certainly did not seem promising.
Boutre took Janice's hand and led the blonde to the small area near the orchestra currently occupied by two other couples. The four made room for the newcomers. As Melinda watched, the Frenchman took Janice in his arms for one of Sam's slower tunes.
She felt her heart rate change just before Renault's hand closed over her arm. "Shall we join them?" he asked, already leading her, despite polite resistance, to the dance area.
Uncomfortable, but unable to come up with a way to leave without causing a scene, Melinda followed Renault's competent but unimaginative steps. When she turned she caught Janice's eyes on her and smiled. The blonde looked toward her dancing partner and Melinda's heart skipped a beat with anxiety.
Renault leaned close and looked up slightly into her face. "You are an excellent dancer." She absently nodded. With his index finger he traced a line on the inside of her palm as he held her left hand. "Do you have any other skills to share madamoiselle? I might be persuaded to accommodate you... should you... accommodate me."
Melinda stopped moving, pushing his hands away from her as discreetly as possible. "Captain, I--" She was utterly stunned to silence.
"I have much I could hold against you. It is only for a night. Certainly you American women can find nothing objectionable in a little fun?"
Melinda blinked. She felt an answer boiling up, carried along on a burgeoning rage. The edges of her vision turned dark and Renault's face shimmered a bit in her sight. Her left hand opened and closed rhythmically at her side as she tried to figure out what to do. The faces of the diners around them began to blend together.
An arm moved swiftly across her body, shoving her away. A blur connected with Renault's jaw and she saw past her protector as the police captain crumpled to the floor.
Melinda's vision cleared and she met green eyes looking up inquisitively. "Are you all right?" Janice's voice was hurried. "Come on, we're getting out of here." The two women turned and found their exit path blocked.
Rick Blane, the cafe owner, with the piano player Sam at his shoulder, looked them over. Then their gazes flicked up behind the two women. Janice moved instinctively, protecting Melinda from the rising Frenchman she had belted.
"Louis?" Rick's voice was calm, questioning, but not challenging.
"Only a misunderstanding. I stepped .. on her foot," Renault explained.
When Janice turned to view Blane's response, she was surprised to see him raise a hand to her shoulder. "Sam, would you see that the ladies have a moment to clean up?" He brushed his hand over her knuckles, and she glanced down to see the scrapes.
"Yes, sir, I will." He motioned to Janice and Melinda. "Come along now."
Janice listened as she walked away keeping herself a step behind on the brunette's left side.
Blane's voice changed as he moved Renault toward the door. "I won't tolerate fighting in my place, captain."
"It was, but you're the law around here, so I can't do anything. Boutre," he added. "He's your captain."
"I didn't see anything, Mr. Blane," the gendarme answered honestly. True, Janice thought, she had kept his attention elsewhere, while she kept an eye on Melinda and Renault.
But Blane apparently didn't believe him innocent. His voice was well-masked, but Janice could detect the disgust. "Your kind never do. Now. The ladies are staying. Are you going?"
Janice risked a glance over her shoulder and saw the captain and lieutenant suffering as the center of attention in a silent room. Satisfied, and flexing her sore knuckles, she put her hand on Melinda's back as they left the dining room.
Sam led them up a short flight of stairs. "Mr. Blane has a room where you kin clean up and relax. You gots a room someplace else? I'll send someone t' fetch yore things."
"He's is very kind," Melinda said. Her first words since her mind blanked at Janice's spectacular defense.
"Mr. Blane, he don' like fightin' in his place. Nor a woman gettin' trouble."
"We don't wish to stay here any longer. Can Blane help us find a flight out tonight?" Janice asked as they paused before a door.
Sam unlocked it and pushed inward. "I don' know, but he'll be up later after the place closes for the night. T' talk and y' kin ask him then." "Our things are at a room Renault arranged for us," Janice supplied.
"I know the place," Sam replied. He nodded toward Melinda who walked past him into the room and sat mechanically at the small table in a straightback chair. "She gonna be all right there, miss?"
Janice again felt the edgy tingle that had made her stop Jean and throw herself between Melinda and Renault. "I'll see to it," she replied firmly.
"All right, miss." Sam took himself out, closing the door with a firm click.
She moved across the room in a flash to the brunette's side. "Mel?" The linguist couldn't find words, so resorted to nodding. The blonde put her hands on Melinda's knees as she balanced in a crouch. "I'm sorry I let that happen."
"Not your fault," Melinda managed. "I should have paid more attention to... should have realized..." Her voice trailed off and she put her face down in her palms. "I can't believe I.. that he..." She faltered again. Distraught blue eyes sought green. "What was I thinking?"
Her gaze locked finally with Janice's and she knew what she had been doing instead of watching Renault. She had let herself get distracted by Janice's burgeoning relationship with Jean Boutre. In doing that, she had not taken the time to properly counter Renault's advances.
"You weren't actually attracted to Renault, were you?" The archaeologist dug a little.
Mel shook her head. "Were you?"
"Were you... Did you like Jean?"
Janice shrugged. "Information is always useful."
She remembered how her body had tensed every time Boutre moved closer to the blonde. Fear? Or jealousy? "It was a ruse?" Breath rushed out of her lungs.
"It worked. We learned all sorts of things because they found us comfortable to talk to."
"Yes, but now... how do you propose we get out of Casablanca?"
Janice smiled. "We seem to make friends as easily as enemies around here. I think we can find our way onto a private charter."
Melinda's smile appeared with Janice's congenial tone. "You think so?" "Yeah, I do." She stood up, feeling a wave of relief flow through her limbs. "After everything that's happened, maybe I better ask."
"Ask if you want to go on separately, or together?"
Melinda was surprised. "Why wouldn't I want to go with you?"
"Are you a glutton for punishment?"
"No. But I'll take a good adventure any day." Janice shook her head. "Besides. Somebody has to keep you out of trouble." Melinda's left hand slid up Janice's hip and she rubbed her fingers over Janice's raw knuckles.
The touch sped up Janice's heart rate. She responded to the dig with a low throaty voice. "Oh, trouble huh?" She leaned into the brunette, settling her thighs between Melinda's knees. She bent down and cupped the woman's chin in her palm. Breathing across the soft lips, she murmured, "Then you better stop me. I think I'm in trouble." She claimed the brunette's lips in a deep kiss. She tasted the wine on the woman's lips and licked once over the softness.
Melinda groaned as tendrils of fire raced through her body in response. "I don't want to stop." Grasping Janice's shoulder with her good hand, she looked up into smoldering emerald fire. Trying to understand and control the reactions of her own body, her voice was breathless. "Maybe it's me, maybe it's the situation and I'm just scared..."
The bed bounced a little under Janice's elbows as Melinda fell back against the mattress, pulling the blonde down over her. Caught up in the fiery expression on Melinda's face, and the trails of heat left behind by the woman's hands, Janice sucked in a deep breath. "Or maybe we're falling in love," she added, surprising herself and Melinda with the words.
Janice caressed Melinda's cheek as she explored the woman's lips with her tongue. Her sigh passed into Mel, who gave it back.
Trailing her left hand over Janice's side then down across her hip, Melinda found the spot where the petite woman's shirt had pulled free of her trousers. Her fingers contacted the soft warm skin just below the outline of ribs. Janice's breathing hitched in her throat, heightening Melinda's desire. She tried touching Janice's cheek, to coax open the woman's eyes, but her confined right arm frustrated that.
"Janice?" she breathed against full soft lips. Under her hand she felt the blonde's heartbeat hesitate.
Pulling back and settling her weight on her hands instead of Melinda's hips, Janice only hoped she wasn't about to hear a request to stop. "Yes?"
"Could you move?"
"Oh." She brushed Mel's fingers that peeked out of her splint. Then she noticed the tears staining Melinda's cheek. Brushing them away she asked, "Did I hurt you?"
Melinda shifted and patted the mattress space to her left. "No." She smiled and lifted her right fingers to Janice's face, tracing the contours awkwardly. The blonde's eyes closed in sensual reflex. "Come here." Her soft words were rewarded with Janice's cheeks turning pink. Green eyes washed through with desire as she lay down beside Melinda.
Janice trailed her fingertips over the buttons of Mel's blouse. Through the sheer fabric she could feel every heartbeat and reveled in the brunette's rising body heat. She cupped her palm over Mel's covered breast and smiled seductively when Mel's breathing changed.
She set about unbuttoning the sheer blouse and nibbled at the brunette's lips. In a great rush she let out her breath, as her hands slid against the taller woman's twin mounds for the first time. An almost electrical pulse charged through her body. Patience was abandoned. Tenderness abounded, but they helped one another out of their clothing more hurriedly. Shoes and stockings joined socks and boots in a heap on the floor, followed closely by the rest. Kissing skin as it was revealed, Janice and Melinda soon lay naked together on the bed, skin to skin for the first time.
Finding it easier to move now, the linguist caressed her right hand over the curve of Janice's hip and slid fingers under the loosened blouse. The first time her fingers moved over Janice's nipple, the woman froze in place, arms shaking as she tried to remain upright. She absorbed it all with avid curiosity, noting how each touch changed Janice's breathing, causing it to hitch, or stop. Then she saw the woman draw her lip between her teeth. Mel nibbled at the archaeologist's prominent collarbone. "I--" Melinda licked her lips and swallowed against her dry throat. "I'm not use--"
"Not usually this bold?" the blonde supplied. She moved onto her knees and wrapped her arms around Melinda's neck before kissing her soundly.
"Not used to this," the brunette corrected when Janice let her go for a breath. It was as close to an admission of her utter lack of experience as she was comfortable with right now. She watched Janice move, muscles moving easily and felt her groin tighten painfully. Her heartbeat pounded loudly in her ears.
She wanted to show Janice how much she had come to feel over the last week, but inexperience left her adrift. She tugged the blonde's head insistently indulging in a kiss, something she understood, but which still left her gasping in reaction. "I don't know what to do," she murmured, hoping Janice would understand. She lifted her eyes to Janice's green, seeing a sense of wonder and lingering edge of hesitation mirroring her own.
Janice pressed her body along Melinda's. Body heat mingled and formed a cocoon sensation on their skin. Pulling back, Janice kept up a light stroking of Melinda's side, as she watched the changing tensions in her companion. Piercing blue eyes that drilled into her soul left a feeling between desire and awe. Janice fell into Melinda's arms again.
Melinda nuzzled her face through Janice's hair, inhaling the intoxicating scent of... She smiled as she identified only soap and baby shampoo. It seemed perfectly suited to the simplicity with which Janice lived her life, and mingled with her body fragrance in a heady way.
Drifting in the scent of apples and lotion, Janice pressed her cheek into the hollow between Melinda's peaks and kissed the swells lightly. Arms tightened reflexively around her shoulder. The action widened her smile more as she lifted her head to find Mel's eyes. Her head butted the woman's chin, raising a startled "ow" from the brunette.
Janice brought her other hand over then traced her forefinger lower following the faint swell of the brunette's stomach. She cupped the rise of the woman's pelvis and the soft dark down covering Mel's mound. "How about we move a little... more deliberately?" She consciously invoked the same words from their last memorable kiss. Instead of claiming Mel's mouth, she moved a finger between the woman's labia, causing her hips to jump. "Startled you again?" Janice teased lightly, moving her finger in small circles over the rigid flesh she found.
Mel's hand moved in a circle on Janice's back. "A little," she admitted. "But... don't stop." Janice's steady strokes elicited an involuntary groan. "God." She was unable to think clearly, a sensation both exhilarating and frightening.
"I was thinking more along the lines of goddess actually," Janice remarked with a smile, slipping a finger easily through the warm soft folds awash with wetness. She leaned forward and kissed Mel again, as the woman's head fell back. Her kisses drifted down over Mel's throat as she slid one finger to the second knuckle inside Mel's center, feeling the brunette's inner walls ripple in response.
"That feels wonderful," the brunette breathed.
"You feel wonderful, Mel," Janice replied. She moved her fingers, sliding them deeper, rewarded with Mel's quickening breath and shifting hips.
She lowered her mouth to Mel's breast, drawing the nipple in. Responsively Mel arched her back off the mattress and Janice's fingers slipped all the way inside.
She arched her fingers along the inside walls of Melinda's center. Her fingers found a tiny rough spot just at the edge of her reach. One touch made her lover shake, so she withdrew, not wanting her to reach fulfillment yet. She let the tip of her tongue drift over the woman's hardened clitoris.
Mel felt an explosion building. Like a shaken champagne bottle, she could imagine the bubbles appearing and rushing toward the cork. The feeling centered in her groin. Finally as Janice's fingers slid out almost completely then moved quickly back, her body spasmed and an orgasm washed over her, brightly flashing daylight behind her closed eyes. She gasped and groaned, her hands closing over Janice's upper arms.
Her own orgasm close from the wash of sensations as Mel's muscles rippled around her fingers. Janice released the nipple in her mouth. Then she slid along supple, damp and warm skin and brushed damp hair from Melinda's forehead.
The taller woman shifted to ease her own groin that still throbbed and her knee came up between Janice's thighs as she raised up to offer her lips to Janice's to share the musky taste.
The smaller woman moved to increase the pressure, then her hands moved quickly from grasping Melinda's shoulders to her hips. Turquois eyes grabbed her and Melinda watched while stroking fingers over Janice's increasingly damp skin as the woman reached orgasm. Janice's thighs squeezed Melinda's knee. The blonde grasped her hand and guided it into herself. "Feel what you do to me," she murmured.
The sensation was unique. When Melinda pulled back, feeling the strong hard muscles of Janice's thighs and then returned to the soft cocoon of her core, the contradiction fed her curiosity. She brought Janice off once more with her tentative exploration, and lingered on the precipice herself until the blonde's fingers slipped down her stomach and into her, as they kissed again.
With Janice's touch, Mel felt a rising urge, envisioning herself as a panther shouldering through underbrush. It was the weirdest flash, eliciting an incredible sensation of coiled power and she let it guide her through unfamiliar territory.
Tentatively she explored Janice's skin, growing bolder with each of the woman's reactions. A shiver, a gasp, or a low throaty moan followed her touch. She drew out each reaction with a dedication that later she would compare to her linguistics study habits. This was decidedly wanton of her, she realized, as Janice's incoherent voice crackled over her skin, and she only sought to drive the woman out of her mind with desire.
"Mel?" Janice's throaty voice slid over her, as silken as Mel's favorite pair of pajamas back home.
She paused, resting her cheek against the inside of Janice's thigh, tenderly kissing the skin just above the bandage. "Yes?"
"I'm so glad you came to Macedonia," Janice murmured. She ran her fingers through the dark locks, noticing the array of color, from lustrous black to a red-tinged blonde and all the brown shades in between. "You were so reserved." Janice threw her head back, caught up in the sensations caused by Mel's lips tracing along her swollen flesh. "I'm... glad... I finally saw... the real... you." Her words drowned in gasps as Melinda's lips found her hardened clit. "Sweet Mary, Mother of God," she groaned, tightening her fingers in the brunette's hair.
Mel's stomach muscles tensed in reaction to the sweet new taste and smell that was rapidly climbing toward the top of her list of favorites. Finally she eased away and watched Janice ease down from the heights she had been to herself earlier.
"That was a surprise," Mel breathed, kissing Janice's forehead as she counted slowly, trying to slow her breathing. She traced idle lines on Janice's stomach, seeing a flash of dark ink forming swirls in her vision across the skin. The vision accompanied a wave of emotion that gave her a sense of rightness, easing away the last of her fears that her inexperience would be a problem.
Janice watched the fleeting emotion pass across Melinda's features however and wanted to help. She turned playful. "And here I thought I was deliberate enough." She suggested, "Maybe I should try again?"
Blue eyes blinked in languid objection and recognized that Janice didn't care about her experience or lack of it. That hadn't been what this had been about. "Later." She rolled herself into Janice's embrace, sliding down until she could rest her head on Janice's shoulder. The intensity waned, leaving her exhausted and content in its wake.
Janice arranged Melinda's loose hair gently as the brunette's eyes closed. She felt an edge of her rare playfulness remaining and lazily twirled locks of Mel's hair around one another in a soft braid. This felt incredibly good, Janice acknowledged and closed her eyes and absorbing the smell of lotion and apples now tinged with perspiration and the scent of Melinda's release.
She tugged Melinda more snugly into her shoulder and lifted her injured thigh carefully across Mel's strong one. She watched the sleeping face, marveling at how often she had done that over the last week, increasingly aware of her growing attraction for the Southerner. But acting on it had been as unexpected as much as it had finally become inevitable. Certainly she had not expected anything like this lay in store for them a week ago when the very proper looking woman first stumbled into her tent in Macedonia.
Janice absently continued stroking Melinda's naked shoulder as she soaked up the quiet. Melinda's light breathing, besides stirring the blonde's hair where it rested on her shoulder, rasped contentedly. She then identified the soft tick-tock of a clock's gears and followed it to a small box-clock on a nearby table.
She shook her head in disbelief. Almost two hours had passed since the cafe piano player--she remembered the owner calling him Sam--had brought them up here.
"Mel?" She bent and brushed her lips against the sleeping brunette's forehead. She bit her lip against a groan of pleasure as the taller woman moved and her lower stomach was brushed with long fingers. "Wake up. We've got to get dressed."
A blue eye peeked up at her, the action impossibly endearing. "How late is it?"
Melinda stretched, wincing slightly as her right arm moved wrong. "I'm... sorry. I fell asleep." She blinked and rubbed her face briskly with her left hand. "It's not well done of me, I suppose."
Janice just patted her shoulder. "I'll make a deal with you, okay?" She chuckled and leaned back on the pillows, propped up on her elbows, taking the opportunity to admire the brunette's naked figure as she rested on her elbows and stomach next to her. "No expectations in the bedroom. No proprieties. Be yourself."
A look of consternation altered Melinda's smooth features.
"If it makes you uncomfortable, we won't do it. If you'd like to try something, say so. I'll give anything a try at least once." She smiled as Melinda's expression changed as she realized she was being given a huge freedom.
"And the other side of things?" Mel asked.
"Don't expect me to adhere to all the society rules when we're there."
Melinda absorbed that and realized the unspoken pledge. Janice was planning to stay. She felt so much pleasure at that prospect that her chest hurt. "Do... do you mean that?"
The blonde grasped Mel's hand and lifted it, cupping it in her own as she brushed her knuckles against the brunette's cheek. "Do we have a deal?"
Blue eyes ignited with an inner light and Janice found herself pulled into a hug surrounded by the tinkling of relieved laughter.
She realized that Melinda had thought honestly that Janice might leave. How could she have considered the archaeologist to be that shallow? On the tail of that she remembered Mel's words just before Janice made love to her for the first time.
But that was silly, she countered. She's a grown woman, nearly thirty. She can't be that... naive about...
The blonde studied Mel's body language, as the brunette plucked at the sheet, eyes cast down. Damn. "Um. Mel?"
The dark head came up so suddenly, so anxious to hear the blonde's words, that Janice could guess at the answer even as she formed the question in her mind.
"I'm your first lover, aren't I?"
Blue eyes widened then narrowed. Then she watched Mel shake her head negatively. "I... Of course, I..." The brunette cleared her throat. "I've dated before, of course."
Janice lifted Mel's chin with the side of her hand. "I'm your first lover. Of either sex. Aren't I?" She tenderly kissed soft quivering lips then pulled back. Dark hair shifted across Melinda's bare shoulders, as the linguist nodded in silence, looking dejected.
Thinking through every moment of their lovemaking, the archaeologist saw dozens of moments she would have handled differently, or said something different, if she had learned beforehand of Melinda's ... lack of experience. "I'm sorry your first time wasn't... more special," she apologized.
Mel was quick to argue. "Oh, no. No, it was..." She let the amazement, contentment and memory wash over her again. "It was... I felt like I had been waiting all my life. And it was better than I ever dreamed. You were..." Melinda brushed the blonde woman's cheek tenderly. "Perfect."
The unabashed praise went straight to Janice's cheeks, brightening them red in the low light of the room. "It's getting late. We ought to get dressed." She captured Melinda's hand and dropped her gaze away from the brunette. "We'll likely--"
A sharp knock sounded at the door.
The blonde's voice sank to a throaty whisper. "Have visitors soon." Springing off the bed, she gestured Melinda toward the bathroom. "Just a minute!" she called out.
Melinda closed the bathroom door and Janice stepped into her trousers sans underwear and rapidly buttoned up her shirt. She strode to the door and opened it inward. "Good evening," she greeted her visitor.
Rick Blane stood there looking slightly rumpled with his coat askew and his bowtie undone. "Good evening, Miss--?"
"Covington. Janice Covington." Quickly she stepped back and let him enter the apartment. As she watched him step through, she realized where Sam had delivered them. "Thank you for the use of your rooms. My friend and I appreciate what you did down in the dining room."
"No problem. Where's your friend?" He looked around, clasping his hands behind his back and meeting her eyes again.
"Mel--Melinda Pappas. She's... indisposed right now." Just then the water in the bathroom, from the sound of it, began to rush into the sink.
"That's fine. Fine. I understand from Sam that you are bound for the States."
"Yes. As soon as we can find a flight out," Janice confirmed. He led the way over to a table on the other side of the room with two chairs.
As they settled, Melinda appeared at the doorway, her hair wrapped up in a towel and a robe around her figure. He studied the brunette for a long moment that almost prompted Janice to comment. But then he said quietly, "I may have a solution to that."
Blue and green eyes met across the room, exchanging hopeful smiles. "Tell us," Melinda asked politely.
Melinda walked over to the table trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach. She caught Janice's eyes on her instead and almost turned around. The blonde's expression would have been that of studied disinterest to anyone else. But Melinda could see the slight tension around the corners of those green eyes, the slightly widened pupils and the brief moment when the blonde's tongue wet her lips. It made her stomach do flips and want nothing more than to get back to the bed. The whole experience was just too new. While in the bathroom, she had regained some measure of calm by splashing water on her face. But that had not truly stopped the visions in her head of the blonde's naked body against hers.
In the mirror she had spotted the towel and robe hanging on hooks behind her, which had given her the idea to pretend to have been bathing.
Now, Mister Richard Blane, the cafe owner, was politely maintaining eye contact and she gave him a reserved smile. "I apologize for the disturbance," he said, even though it was his apartment. "I thought it best we talk now rather than later." He split his attention between her and Janice as he continued. "I know of a flight leaving at daybreak tomorrow. It's bound for Lisbon for refueling. Then on to the States. I know the pilot well."
"A mail plane?" Janice clarified.
He shrugged. "Sort of." Looking askance at each woman he continued honestly. "It's not the most comfortable flight, but after you downed Renault, I think you'll find it better than staying here."
Melinda looked at Janice then asked, "Has he threatened to detain us and pursue charges?" She settled a hand on the blonde's shoulder and squeezed. Janice shifted and Melinda couldn't help the smile that shaped her lips as she felt the woman's muscles bunch and flex under the cotton.
"Boutre had him carried out, so no, he's not downstairs. If Renault has woken up, he's back at his office right now."
Janice shook her head, putting her hand over Melinda's fingers and feeling the edge of the woman's splint. "No more trouble." Leveling her gaze on him, she dropped her voice into a bargaining tone. "What do you want for putting us on that plane?"
"Couriers." He paused. "I want you to deliver a few messages for me." He looked to the door then the window. "I was going to go, but everyone already knows you want to leave Casablanca. Your departure would not look unusual."
"Whereas yours would. No thank you. I played that game once and got stung badly." Janice stood and watched Mel sit down. Hands stuffed in her pockets, she paced, considering her options. More espionage? She shook her head. He's American. Probably been over here a while. Maybe it's just messages for his family.
Don't be an ass, Janice. Not twice. Bristol had done the same, playing on her expectations of what men like him do and why. Well she wasn't going to fall for it again.
And that was the crux of her problem. She and Melinda wanted out of Casablanca. They had tried the official route, and discovered that path was lined with bedroom demands. Now here they had an unofficial route, and it was paved with the same choice that had eventually led to her killing a man.
She turned slowly and studied Melinda sitting quietly. The brunette kept her head down, studying her hands twisting on her lap. The stark white of the bandage nestled in her dark hair drew Janice's thoughtful study. The Southerner had been hurt badly in an accident, in a place she would not have been had Janice simply been more circumspect in her decisions. She flexed her fingers, remembering the hard feel of Melinda's splint contrasting with the softness of her skin as they made love just an hour ago.
No. There would be no more putting the brunette in danger. "I think I'd rather take my chances with Renault," she said finally. Mel looked up to her at that declaration. "Wouldn't you?" she asked rhetorically.
Melinda kept her counsel in silence for a long beat, very aware of Blane's attention. She finally replied, "No. I wouldn't. I want to go home." She left off "with you" with difficulty, unwilling to let anyone hear the plea she knew would be in her voice. "And I am not leaving this city with you behind bars."
"Seems your friend wants to leave, Miss Covington. What do you say?" He brushed his palms over the tabletop. "Do we have a deal?"
Janice looked at Melinda, who calmly gazed back presenting her back to the cafe owner. For her eyes only she noticed the blue eyes widened in concern. I'm not trying to leave you, she wanted to say. I'm just not willing to put you in danger by trusting the wrong person. Instead, she said, with a question in her voice, "Mel?"
"Please don't, Janice."
Frustration mounted and the archaeologist's voice was rough when she came to her decision. To Blane she directed, "I want to know everything I'm carrying and why. No secrets."
The cafe owner stood slowly. "It's better... for you both, if you don't know."
The blonde shook her head emphatically. "I know everything you do... or no deal. I'll find us another way out of Casablanca if I have to cross the desert and get out by Cairo." She stabbed a finger at him. "You want us to carry it then you tell us what it is."
Blane was silent for a long moment. She remained still, setting her jaw firmly and keeping her gaze level as he took her measure. His words, when he finally did speak, however, startled her. "Do you have a gun, Miss Covington?"
"Sam's having our things retrieved," she answered calmly though her heartbeat had doubled.
"You'll need it." He offered a hand, which she took and shook briefly. "We have a deal then." Coming around the edge of the table, Blane nodded to Melinda. "Good evening, Miss Pappas."
"Good evening, Mister Blane."
Janice walked beside him to the door. "Miss Covington, I'll be back in an hour with the papers and your information. At four a.m. I'll have Sam drive you to the airfield." She nodded. "Don't make me regret involving you."
"Don't make me regret getting involved, Mister Blane." She held the door firmly as she concluded, "After I read through everything and feel comfortable, then I'll agree to deliver your messages. Not before."
He nodded and she firmly shut the door behind him. Turning around once more she found Melinda only a step off her right side. "Looks like we have one more adventure before we get home, Mel." She slid her fingers over the brunette's arms and into the roomy sleeves of the robe. It felt so good burying her face in the soft cloth covering Melinda's breasts. She breathed in deeply and let it out with a sigh.
Melinda's hands in turn, slipped around her back. Warmed all the way through by the "we," she smiled against the blonde's hair and said, "Just so long as it's 'we'. I'll follow you anywhere, Janice Covington."
That warmed Janice all the way through in return and she tilted her head back to meet Mel's understanding gaze. The woman's embrace tightened and Janice's parted lips were met in a lingering kiss.
They were still standing in the embrace, resting their heads together when Sam knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" Janice asked quickly. Melinda pulled out of her grip and took a step back.
"It's me, Sam, ma'am. I's got your belongin's."
Melinda smiled at that. The clothes they had worn to the restaurant were inappropriate for the rough travel they were about to face. Janice rubbed her shoulder as she turned away. "Glad you found it. Come on in, Sam."
The black man led another two men who toted the bags inside. "There fine?" he pointed to the bed and looked inquisitively toward the women.
"Yes. Thank you," Melinda answered.
The men set the bags on the bed and walked out. Janice detained Sam with a hand on his arm. "Sam?"
"Yes'm?" Chocolate eyes regarded her with an indulgent, almost grandfatherly smile, which she found refreshing.
She considered her question carefully. "Is Richard Blane a good man?"
The piano player nodded briskly. "De bes'. Works hard. Tries good. Makes an honest livin'." He straightened up. "Why you askin'?"
"Just my curiosity, is all," she replied. "Don't worry about it." She patted his shoulder as he left. "See you in a few hours anyway."
When the blonde turned back she found Melinda was already going through her bag. "What do you suggest?" the brunette asked.
"Clothes," she replied with a quirky grin. Playfully she reached out for the robe's lapel and leered at the bared breast.
Melinda chucked the nightgown in her hand at the blonde. "Seriously."
"Seriously." Janice caught the light cotton garment and shook it out, studying the style. "Ruffles? Ugh." She walked over to the bag. "Don't you have anything practical in here?" She ticked off on her fingers her suggestions, pulling out examples and dropping them on the bed as she went. "No ruffles. No pleats. Oh dear, no flowers." She dug in toward the bottom. "Who packed you for this trip anyway? The Mother Abbess?"
Melinda frowned and took the garment Janice had just pulled out, away from the blonde's hands. "Look at the very bottom," she said evenly.
Which Janice had just reached. The blonde pulled out a pair of midnight blue jeans and a men's flannel shirt. "Much better," she stressed.
"For when I was going to stay on at the dig... after helping you out of your jam, of course," Melinda explained. She put her hands on her hips. "Contrary to popular opinion, I do have some sense."
Janice held the flannel shirt up to the brunette's berobed torso. "Big enough you think?"
Taking the shirt, Melinda nodded and started to untie the robe's belt. "What are you going to wear?"
"The usual," she replied with a smile, digging in her bag for tan jeans and a thick cotton button top.
"And the hat," Melinda added, as she saw Janice pulled out the beat-up fedora and snugly adjust it on her head.
"Yeah. And the hat. Helps me think," she countered, and started back into the bag after her toiletries.
Melinda snatched the hat from the blonde head. Janice reached for it, but the brunette lifted it out of her reach. Jumping for it, the archaeologist frowned.
"You shouldn't wear this beat up old thing." Melinda ruffled Janice's hair with her free hand. "You have beautiful hair." She bent and kissed Janice's lips. "And, you know, it hides your eyes." Her baby blues blinked and smiled into the green ones inches away.
The blonde had to laugh, but wanting her hat, she stunned Melinda with a sensuous kiss. When the woman's hands dropped in surrender, Janice made a grab for her maligned accessory.
With a victorious smile she slipped the fedora on her head. She swallowed hard at the sight of Melinda's glazed blue eyes devouring her absently. "I'm going downstairs to talk to Blane."
"If you're going, so am I," Melinda countered.
"Not like that you're not," Janice replied, wiggling her fingers in which she held the robe's belt. Melinda stood in underclothes and the unbuttoned flannel just hanging on her shoulders, revealing the curves of her body easily. Because of Janice's quick hands, the robe lay in a pool around the brunette's bare feet. The blonde admired the fetching view with a broad smile then tapped her hat's brim in farewell.
"I'll be down quickly," Melinda promised. Janice left, pulling the door shut with a click behind her.
She stood in a pool of golden light from the bedside lamp, the maroon robe pooled around her bare feet. Her dark hair swirled around flushed cheeks and bare shoulders. The shoulders tapered into sleekly muscled arms, ending in hands with long elegant fingers. Blue eyes swirling like the sky on a cloudless evening swiveled up to meet her gaze. Janice's heart thudded double time.
Again. Moving down the stairs to meet Rick Blane in the café office, Janice paused, tightening her grip on the handrail. She had intended only to leave the woman too undressed to immediately follow so she had time to speak alone with Blane. However, Janice found herself fighting a surge of desire that robbed her of breath and the power to think clearly. Come on, Jan, you've got work to do, she scolded herself. Focus. This may be her first sexual experience, but it wasn't yours.
So why was she unable to close her eyes without seeing the brunette's slender curves? Falling over and over again into the memory of those blue eyes turning indigo at the moment of the woman's fulfillment. She heard again the soft cry from the deepest part of her own chest when Melinda touched her in her inexperience. God, she was falling hard.
She brushed her hair from her face to regain some semblance of composure and continued down to Blane's office, the only light in the darkened café coming from underneath one door down the back hallway. Knocking, she waited for him to open the door or call her inside. She studied her hands and forced Melinda from her mind for the moment, hoping she was going to be able to get them home safely after everything that had happened.
"Come in," Blane's strong voice finally pierced the silence.
She turned the handle and pushed inward, stepping through and looking up to see Blane, with another man on his right. They were both leaning with both fists on the desk, head and shoulders positioned such that she realized they had been looking at something on the desk when she entered. "All right, Blane. I'm here ready to talk." She looked to the second man before returning to Blane and asking vaguely, "Do you have something to show me?"
Rick straightened up, as did the other man. "Good. I was just about to come see you."
"My friend is sleeping, so I thought it best we met here," Janice hedged. "So. Let's see it." She held out her hand. He dropped a packet of papers into it, the yellow of the manila envelope a bright spot in the rather shadowy room. "May I?" she indicated a table she had noticed when she first entered. Silently he inclined his head and nodded.
Janice strode to the table and emptied the contents of the envelope onto the surface. Papers slid in disarray and she picked up the ones on top. She scanned the dates and numbers scattered on the pages, and shuffled through others, finding roughly drawn maps, obviously by observers on hand. Troop strengths and the dates on which they had been tracked. But which army? Whose forces? "Where would I be delivering these?" she asked, continuing to read.
Blane's voice sounded directly behind her left shoulder and she spared him a quick glance as he said, "The Undersecretary of State in Washington."
Janice raised her eyebrows in surprise, and no slight admiration. "Pretty high up there. Can I see some proof he's expecting these? I'd rather not just walk into a set of handcuffs."
Blane gestured to the other man. Janice watched him approach on her right. Unlike the cafe owner he kept a bit of distance, obviously aware that she would feel threatened and boxed in if he entered her personal space. "Show her, Lee."
Janice kept her eyes on Lee's (was that his first or his last name?) hands. The blond man reached into his pocket. As he started to pull it back out, she stiffened, dropping the papers and reaching for her gun. "No, Miss Covington, just papers," he said stopping instantly. He nodded. "Excellent reflexes though."
She slid the gun back to its place in the back waistband of her pants and took the papers he presented to her. She identified the seal of the United States on the top. She scanned the emblem, looking for signs of forgery, or mimeography, but found nothing suspicious and read the body of the message:
We must assure that Interests are served in knowledge and keen observation of the Foe. It is the decision of this department that the one known as Black John can meet this purpose. Documentation of the Foe should be transported regularly for full compensation.
Janice scanned the rest of the document. Its vagueness both suggested the proper authority, as well as making her stomach flip with uncertainty. "Okay. Black John. Is that you? Or him?" She looked up at Lee.
"It does not matter," he replied tightly. "One of us is not much without the other."
"So, the Café American is a meeting point. Makes sense. Legitimate business in a freely operating city. Who would shut you down without proof? What are you going to do once the Germans threaten here?"
"I already left one city because of the Germans, Miss Covington. I'm not leaving another."
Taking new measure of the café owner, Janice nodded slowly. Conviction she understood. This didn't feel like Bristol's carefully contrived stories convincing her to help. She looked away from both men and felt them both take a few steps back as she returned to her study of the documents to be carried.
"What do they intend to do with the information?" she asked. "Are there plans for the US to join the war?" She uncovered a map of what looked like the French coastline, detailing ports and landings. She knew from her own knowledge of the situation the Germans already occupied those locations. So these were definitely details of German movements.
"What he intends to do with it, we don't know, but it is enough to know that we will keep the States safe."
Moving to other documents she found other sites circled with numbers over them. An accounting of the distribution of German occupation forces? Then in other areas, written upside down from the other numbers were more numbers written in different hand. Resistance forces? Allied military positions?
She saw names scribbled near many of the numbers. All were followed by code symbols, probably of rank. Commanders? Contacts? She didn't know enough of the situation to tell for certain. Thoughtful as she continued absorbing the contents of the collection, she failed to hear the knock on the door to the office.
Blane's strides across the room to check out the interruption brought her head up. When he stepped back from the door, she saw Melinda standing there, dressed now in her flannel and jeans. She nodded to Blane who gestured for the brunette to enter. Lee shifted on the balls of his feet. "My friend, Melinda Pappas," she introduced. Working to overcome her feelings of discomfort, she relented and decided she could use the brunette's point of view. "Mel, could you come take a look at these?"
She held up two papers that she was having trouble with, and watched the woman cross the room to the small table. The brunette settled in another chair, taking the papers with slow fingers and looked from Janice to Blane to Lee with a curious expression before bending her head and reading the documents. "Are these them?" she asked obliquely.
Janice nodded. "Yes."
"Who's going to be receiving them?"
Looking to Lee, who lifted his eyes to the ceiling in a gesture of 'what the hell' before nodding, Janice answered, "The Undersecretary."
"State? Or Defense?" She shifted the two pages out of her hands and picked up others, reading determinedly. She set those quickly aside and reached for more, obviously looking for something in particular.
"What is it?" Janice asked.
Instead of answering her right away, Melinda looked up to Blane and Lee. "Six months?"
"More likely a year," Lee answered with a flash of interest in his hazel eyes. He had watched with interest at the papers she picked and chose in the pile.
Janice put her hands on her hips and interjected, "What did I miss?"
In reply, Melinda pointed to three papers. Pushing everything else aside, she laid them side by side on the tabletop, arranging overlapping edges and then stepped back. "That."
Numbers and names and lines of landforms started to blend, forming new lines and formations. She suddenly realized she was looking at a map of the Pacific and identified sixteen major islands. It was clearly plans, not for German movements, but for Pacific Rim occupation... by Japan. "How did you get these?" Incredible. They were half a world away from the area under discussion.
Blane answered her. "An alliance is forming."
"Between Japan and Germany? You're kidding. To what end?"
"Hitler intends to use Japan to distract us," he conjectured.
Janice shook her head trying to take this all in. "How'd you see it, Mel?"
The brunette shrugged. "The troop numbers were strangely spread out, then I just flipped one around in my head, and realized I was looking, not at the French countryside, but at a section of the Pacific."
"What was a German doing with the Japanese plans?"
"Is that courier dead or alive right now?" Melinda asked.
"Carrying them to Berlin, and no," Lee answered. "So, will you now carry these for us?"
Melinda's hand slid onto Janice's shoulder and squeezed. She could almost hear the brunette's voice in her head, assuring her that it was the right decision. The blonde looked squarely at Blane. "All right, you've got a deal."
Rick held out his hand. "You've got your plane ride home then." He walked toward the desk and pointed at Lee. "He'll take you to your pilot. His job's as a mechanic at the airfield."
Janice and Melinda stepped back and waited for Lee to cross to the door.
Rick looked up at Melinda. "Be careful when the Germans come looking for those plans."
"I'm a businessman, Miss Pappas. The Germans won't bother." He mused, "There are much bigger nuisances to the Cause than me."
"The Germans consider no threat too small, sir." She offered him a friendly smile and accepted his silent nod. "Good night."
"Good night," he answered, as she followed Janice and Lee out the door.
On the cafe floor the trio paused. "You should return upstairs to complete your packing," Lee said. "I'll tell Sam you're ready to leave."
Janice and Melinda nodded and watched the blond man walk away. Putting a hand on Mel's shoulder, Janice leaned close and in a low voice asked, "Do you think we're doing the right thing?"
Melinda's blue eyes drifted down and she smiled into questioning green. In an equally quiet voice, she confessed, "If half of what it reveals is true, we need to get it to somebody back home."
"How did you decide to look at it that way?" Janice asked, curious.
Melinda shook her head. "Pictograph communications often used to frustrate me until I realized that sometimes you had to change your perspective to figure out what the connection between the pictures might be. It's a trick I first learned to read Egyptian."
Janice nodded. "Trust a linguist to realize there's more than one way to say something." She smiled easily and slipped her hand into Mel's. "All right. Let's get packing," Janice concluded, leading the way back up the steps to the room.
Continued in part
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