Disclaimers:Janice and Melinda, descendants of Xena and Gabrielle were introduced in the XWP episode: "The Xena Scrolls." Therefore they are the property of Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal, StudiosUSA, or whoever else has legal claim to the money from this thing. They do NOT belong to me. I'm only borrowing them for the purpose of telling this story, which IS mine and cannot be printed or otherwise distributed without my consent or without these disclaimers in their totality.

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.


Going Home
By LZClotho
(c) June-August 1999

E-Mail LZClotho at lzclotho@cfl.rr.com

Chapter 32

The streets were silent on the drive out to the airfield. Janice sat next to Sam, who was taking care of the driving. Leaning on the seat back, the blonde turned to talk with Melinda sitting in the back with their bags. The road surface was pock-marked and riddled with potholes. After a particularly hard jolt that sent the brunette scrambling to reseat herself, Janice ventured, "Are you comfortable?" Melinda just looked at her with an inscrutable expression. "I'll take that as a no," she smiled, trying to lighten the mood.

Since leaving Rick's place, Melinda had grown steadily more pensive and withdrawn. Janice knew it was the package of papers that she carried inside her vest pocket that consumed the brunette's thoughts. The same could be said of her. She reached back and grasped Melinda's hand in a gesture of comfort. "We'll be airborne soon. How are you with planes?"

Melinda frowned in confusion. "I-- Fine. I just have trouble on the water."

"Good. Then it should be a smooth few days." She turned to Lee. "How long is the flight to Lisbon?"

"Probably two or three hours, Miss Covington."

"Great, long enough for a catnap." Lee glanced at her. "I didn't get much sleep," she explained to Sam. Catching Melinda's gaze, she offered a private smile for the brunette's eyes only and added, "Neither did you." Acknowledging the statement with a small nod, Melinda's cheeks took on a rosy tinge. Janice patted her hand and turned back around. "Are we almost there?"

"Just around this turn," he answered as they made the turn and Janice could see the signs for the airfield, and the fencing clearly backlit by runway lights.

"Some airfield," she remarked "I don't see anything but hangars. Is there a flight tower?"

"No. All flights are registered with the office in town and then you're on your own."

Melinda realized something. "So, how often do the police run their patrols?"

"First patrol passes at 7 a.m. You'll be long off the ground by then," he answered confidently.

"All right, so where do we meet our pilot?" Lee had stopped next to one of the small hangars, set back off the runway. A rough concrete drive served as a taxiway between the hangar and the tarmac. As they all stepped from the car, Janice took her bag from Melinda and offered the woman a hand up.

Lee remained on his side of the vehicle and waited in silence. When Janice turned to question him, he only nodded back behind her. "You'll find him in there."

"What's his name?"

"Couldn't tell you that," he replied calmly.

"What's he look like?" Janice could see two or more figures moving through the hangar around a snub-length plane with a wide blade nose prop and two longer blade wing props.

"Just do what Blane said," he answered. "He'll find you."

Janice sucked in a ++ E(@ؼ\ P4)PpJUUUUUUT'M ROOT-SERVERSNETI'E'D'A'H'C'G'F'B'J'K'L'% !D$SbZq)?5! p$ k) @ ] @ 5363686F6F6C4E61+ !!E!_@}Zф{ɽP ,i-PP#{;yuMi'd|][ŞH7Ll8~();R
"Out of my crew's way and mine."

Janice's hand fell from Melinda's as the brunette moved to comply. "Once we're airborne," she told the man. "I want to talk."

He nodded. "Now board up."

Janice and Melinda moved quickly up the steps and turned to look back down at the tarmac before entering the plane. Another car drove up and a man and woman stepped out. Attired fashionably and carrying what appeared to be only overnight bags, they nodded to the pilot and then mounted the plane's stairway. Janice guided Melinda inside before the couple reached the top.

Together moving down the narrow aisle and the rough appointed seats, they took up residence in the front facing of a set of four seats. Melinda stowed their luggage in an overhead rack as Janice waited. "Inside or outside?" the blonde asked.

"Outside is fine," Melinda answered, settling to the seat and putting her feet on the opposite seat.

"Good." The archaeologist acted as if she was adjusting the waistband of her pants and slipped her hands behind her back under her coat and shifted her revolver as she sat down. The other couple settled in a set of seats further back, stowing their bags under the seat and almost immediately settling back and closing their eyes.

Melinda watched them with concealed glances, as she sat back and peered between the seats toward them.

"Mel." The blonde patted the woman's pantleg. "Something wrong?"

"Dating or married?" she asked.

"What?" Janice forcibly kept her voice down though she could not keep the surprise from her voice.

"It's a game," she replied, also keeping her voice low. "I used to play it with friends on long trips. We'd look at people and wonder about their backgrounds. So... Are they dating or married?"

"Likely neither," came the reply. "They're playing a role like we are."

Melinda's hand closed over hers on the arm of the seat between them then pulled away. "I thought we were at least dating," she said, turning her eyes away from the surprise now shining in Janice's green eyes.

Janice reached out and took Mel's hand in hers again. "It's been one hell of a first date then." A smile warmed her features as the brunette turned back to her. "And it's not over yet."

"Can I give you a good night kiss?" she bantered back.

Janice swallowed and nodded. Melinda's hand was then suddenly cupping her chin and drawing their faces close. Soft lips moved over hers and the world faded back a bit, letting the brunette's touch become her whole world for the span of several seconds. Hands dropped together on the separating arm and slid over one another. When the kiss ended, she met blue eyes steadily gazing into hers. "Some kiss," she commented breathlessly.

Melinda's smile swept across her features. "It's been a lovely date so far," she quipped.

Leaning back as the pilot boarded and entered the front cabin, Janice thought about Melinda's confidence. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Mel's head drifted toward her shoulder so the blonde shrugged a little straighter in her seat. Melinda's eyes closed as her head touched down, and Janice whispered, "It's all in the choice of partners."

It was really amazing how much confidence the brunette could inspire in Janice. With just a touch of her hand curling into Janice's own, she had surrendered her safety to Janice's watchful eyes. Within moments she had closed her eyes and her breathing evened into sleep.

With the closeness of the warmth, keeping alert was more difficult for Janice, but she did it, darting her eyes around the plane, counting the ceiling tiles and the number of rivets in each spine circling the plane's body.

Three hours to Lisbon, and then a refueling layover. She kissed the dark hair under her chin. Late tomorrow they'd be on their way to the States. Finally.

The plane's engine stormed to life and the vibration made it even harder to remain awake. But Janice did, keeping her eye on the window view past Melinda's shoulder.

Chapter 33

Once the flight leveled out, Janice considered her options. She had wanted to speak with the pilot. To do that however meant moving Mel, who dozed peacefully in the quiet, her body curled such that she had the blonde effectively pinned to the seat.

Melinda's splinted right arm rested across Janice's stomach and the brunette's head occupied all of the archaeologist's right shoulder. Janice's right hand was pinioned between Mel's hip and the arm of the chair. There was no doubt that moving would awaken the brunette and Janice was loath to do it.

Watching and listening to the woman sleeping, Janice was drawn to the gently fluttering long eyelashes as she dreamed. She wished they had had more time to spend in bed together the previous night. Janice longed to fit herself snugly into those soft curves and talk long into the early hours.

Melinda's chest expanded evenly with each breath and Janice found herself watching long strands of hair work their way over Melinda's shoulders because of the slight movements. When Melinda's hand shifted, Janice sat back a bit suddenly startled and shy, like she'd been caught with her hands on stolen goods.

Her reaction made her wonder exactly what it was between her and the Southerner. Was it merely lust, or something truly deeper, more sensual than sexual, more intellectual than physical? She hadn't allowed anyone this close to her in the entire time since she had taken over her father's work.

The warm feeling grew stronger the longer Janice remained quiet, studying Melinda while she slept. Lust she was familiar with, and had thought composed the largest portion of her attraction to the brunette. But since making love, she found herself desiring more. She wanted companionship as well, someone to talk to that understood her and what drove her. And for her part, someone to expend the energy on to get to know.

Melinda was certainly complex enough to spend a long time getting to know. One minute the proper Southerner, delicate, polite and unobtrusive. The next minute she was a woman of decisive action, exuding tendrils of presence into every corner of a room.

She returned to watching the woman's breathing steady once again. Curiously she noted that her own breathing slowed to match Mel's and the feeling of calm that stole over her settled the question. She was in love with Melinda. But what of life in the States? She had hers and the brunette had another, 500 miles away. Despite their words, would their lives separate again?

Absently, the blonde caught a strand of dark hair and wound it around her finger, bending close and breathing deeply of the elusive scent. Dropping her hand she brushed her fingers over Melinda's and marveled at the differences in their hands. Where Melinda's were smooth, Janice's were roughened. Long rounded fingernails contrasted with the short blunted ones on her own hands. Her skin tone was more tanned, while Melinda's was lighter, but more golden in tone.

She watched the fingers slowly flex and the tendons and muscles moved with steady purpose under the skin. But it was the burring, sleep-filled voice that drew the blonde's head up to meet peaceful azure eyes that took her breath away.

"I thought you needed to talk to the pilot."

Janice brushed her left hand over Mel's right in her lap once more, glanced at the cockpit door and then looked back on the brunette's eyes, inches from her own. "It'll hold until we land," she said quietly. "Go on back to sleep."

But Melinda shook her head and sat up, brushing her hair back off her shoulders. "How long have we been airborne?"

Sitting back, Janice answered easily, "Not long, maybe half an hour."

Melinda smiled then asked, "When we get back to the States, what do you want to do first?"

"You mean after we deliver the mail?" Janice clarified, tentatively, unable to believe that the brunette had broached the subject first.


She answered slowly, neutrally. "I don't know. The artifacts should go to a museum and I did have money from the Antiquities department of Penn State."

"What pieces are they expecting?"

"The pre-Hellenistic culture pieces we found in the upper levels. Pottery, religious artifacts, etcetera."

"The things from the altar to Ares." Melinda watched Janice's reactions carefully, wondering how best to ask her questions.

"Yeah," Janice leaned back and set her hands in her own lap.

"What do you intend then to do with the Scrolls?" Janice was quiet, looking at some distant point. "Would you mind a suggestion?" When Janice shrugged, the brunette continued, "My father used to teach at UNC. Perhaps we could make a presentation in our fathers' names?"

Janice's face turned ever so slightly into a smile. It would be a chance to repair her father's reputation, and shed light on his lifelong passion. "I want to be able to study the scrolls," she said succinctly.

Blue eyes twinkled. "The presentation doesn't have to be all at once," she said. There was a long pause as Melinda wrestled with her seat, and other internal things, to get comfortable. Then, facing ahead, not daring to look at Janice's face while she asked, she quietly suggested, "You... could stay with me... just while you complete the research and present the parchments... if you would like."

Green eyes blinked as Janice pulled back and studied her. Melinda swallowed self-consciously. "I don't need a place to stay," she commented, stressing the word "need." "I have an apartment in Philadelphia," she finished.

"Oh." Janice watched the tremor start around Melinda's eyes, and she saw her swallow hard and stiffen her jaw. She realized that Melinda was actually trying to ask her to live with her.

Despite her earlier desire to work something out so that she could continue to see the brunette, Janice found the question unsettling, and ventured matter-of-factly, "Philadelphia would be kind of far to conduct the research. Certainly not... efficient if the objects go to UNC." Azure glinted with light and the faintest of smiles began to form on Melinda's lips. Janice could feel her heart hammering in her chest and the blood thrummed in her ears.

One part of her screamed about not needing anyone. But it was smothered to silence by a sunlight-framed face with sky blue eyes, hardly breathing in expectation of her words.

Whether or not Janice needed anyone was suddenly irrelevant next to the feelings she had being partnered with this woman. She wanted to stay. "Besides," she aimed for nonchalance, managing only partial success. "The correspondence could get pretty cumbersome if you're going to help with the translations. It certainly would be... easier... working... more closely... if we were... living... closer together." She paused for a long beat. "Right?"

The brunette flushed and the reaction made Janice's heart skip a beat. "Just... exactly... what I was thinking," Melinda responded.

She brushed her lips against Mel's cheek and felt the woman's head turning slowly to bring their lips together. Her hands came up to cup the brunette's cheeks as Melinda's did the same. Suddenly the plane dropped and dipped under them, breaking the contact.

Gripping the chair arms as the turbulence continued, Janice looked out the window then up toward the cockpit. She put a hand on Melinda's shoulder as the brunette started to rise. "What the hell is going on?"

The plane lurched again and Janice bolted into the aisle, Melinda at her back. Together they moved quickly to the cockpit door and yanked it open.

Chapter 34

Melinda looked over Janice's shoulder into the cockpit beyond. Wind brushed her face and she turned into it seeing a hole shattered in the plane's left cockpit window. The pilot's chair had been torn from its bolts and the pilot lay slumped on the floor against the left instrumentation panel. Another man stood at the pilot's stick wrestling with the ship's unresponsive controls.

Janice leaped to the co-pilot's chair, immediately beginning to assess the instrumentation. While trying to raise the airplane's nose, the co-pilot, now pilot, barked at the blonde in chopped Frech. Swiftly the archaeologist strapped herself in and sought each control.

The besieged airplane shuddered. From Melinda's vantage she checked the forward view and reported, "Another round's coming in." She kept her voice calm but the co-pilot waved off her words as he struggled with the shaking control stick. He happened to glance up and then barked at Janice, "Roll left!"

Struggling to hold herself upright, Melinda watched Janice adjust the left wing's profile and the plane staggered in an arc left.

"Roll! Roll!" Janice tried again. The plane's body shook violently then began to tilt.

Between airspeed and the changing presentation of its form to the wind, the airplane did finally roll out of the way of the strafing rounds. An explosion rocked the plane but it was not a direct hit.

Janice worked to level the flight once more, and all three of them looked out the window to see the coastline coming up far too quickly. The froth of the sea's waves smashed against the cliffs and staggering rocks of the Spanish coastline. Sea salt smell filled the air competing with the raw smoke smell of the missile exhausts.

"Trim the flaps," the co-pilot called. Collecting air under the wings and nose forced the plane up, but not fast enough.

"Mel, get out!" Janice yelled, scrambling from the co-pilot's seat and stumbling toward the door.

"We're going down, Maman!" The panicked co-pilot pushed past them both, stumbling over the pilot's body as he fled the aircraft.

A rapid exchange of French and the other couple on board was on their feet, grabbing their things as the co-pilot tore open a locker and rummaged for life vests.

Melinda pushed past the others and tossed Janice their two bags from the overhead bin. As they reached the front of the plane once more, the co-pilot thrust open the door and gestured the others out ahead of him. "Aiyee!" he yelled as he followed them out into the open air about a hundred feet above the sea.

Pausing at the doorway, Melinda looked into the cockpit to see the looming Spanish cliffs and the jagged rocks. The wind's howl set up a screeching wail around them. She looked down at the dead pilot and paused. Movement? "The pilot's still alive," she told Janice as the blonde joined her at the windswept portal.

Janice pulled on her arm. "We can't. Go on! Jump!"

Melinda shook her head. "You go." She started away from the doorway and leaped for the pilot, dropping her bag on the deck. "I'll get him."

Looking at the bag on the deck and up at the brunette, Janice sighed. Knowing there wasn't time for an argument, she dropped her bag and helped Melinda with lifting the injured pilot. "Get a vest!" she told the brunette, who then scrambled over the seats and pulled several from the locker. When she got it, Janice worked his body into the vest.

"Thank you," Melinda murmured.

Janice kissed her hard and fast. "Now, jump!" the blonde ordered. "I'll drop him after you!"

Melinda, wearing her own vest, nodded and fell backward out of the plane's door. Watching, Janice waited until the brunette head reappeared before pushing the pilot out. She kicked the bags out in front of her as she too, finally left the plane.

The fifty or so feet freefall upset Janice's stomach and she hit the water retching. Unable to stop the inclination to breathe, she found herself sucking in salt water and choked. Ignoring the pain in her head and chest, she fought toward the surface, finally breaking into the sunlight and air. She tried to get her bearings coughing and spitting. A huge rock face loomed in the path that the current was dragging her. With deliberate strokes across the current she gradually pulled away from immediate danger. She bumped into something in the water and a hand encountered something large and slick. "Melinda!" she panicked, thinking it was a shark.

The object bobbed up next to her and she was swept with relief at seeing the dark brown of her wet leather suitcase. She spotted the shoreline and worked herself toward it in fits and starts, occasionally pulling and occasionally being pulled by the wave-tossed suitcase.

Gunfire and large weapons rapid-firing drew her eyes across the water toward a pair of ships battling nearby.

She was treading, watching this when she heard a faint yell over the roar of the water. "Janice!"

Turning toward the sound, Janice let go of the bag as Melinda came up. "Mel!" Relief at the brunette's presence swept a weakness through the blonde's already tired limbs. She slipped under the water.

A strong hand found her and dragged her back to the surface. "Janice!"

"What happened to the pilot?"

"I lost him against the rocks," Melinda acknowledged. "I'm sorry I shouldn't have --"

"It's all right. You tried." Janice rolled onto her back and floated. "Let's get out of the water."

Melinda pulled her arms strongly through the water alongside Janice and the two women made their way toward the distant shore. Taller, Melinda found bottom first. Shoulders and legs shaking from the effort and the cold, she reached back and grasped Janice's arm, lifting the woman forward to find the bottom for herself. Together they staggered through the tide and finally onto the beach, falling to their knees in the sand.

"Are you okay?" the brunette asked Janice who was spitting and coughing hard enough to shake herself off her hands as she tried to balance. She wrapped her arms around the blonde's waist and squeezed once before letting go. "Janice?"

Finally catching her breath, the blonde could answer. "Yeah, I'm okay."

More gun reports ripped across the water and drew the women's attention. "Do you think we were caught in the middle of that?" Melinda asked.

"Only if they thought we were its... air... escort." Janice's voice trailed off. "Damn. You know something? We might just have been. Flying so low.. Attitude.. Damn.. Damn.." The blonde picked up a fistful of sand and cursed again as she threw it at the water, mad at herself for yet again missing an important bit of information.

She spotted a small boat being rowed toward the shore. From the occupants' attire she realized they were German sailors. "Germans!" she barked, already pulling on Melinda's arm and climbing to her feet. "Move!"

The brunette followed as Janice led the way up a rocky path toward the top of the overlooking cliffs. Melinda felt Janice reach back and pull her into the cover of some rocks. Landing hard on her knees, she protested with an "oof."

"Sh!" Janice fished into her waistband for her gun, but it was gone. She searched for a better hiding place. Finally she spotted a small ledge in deep shadows. "There!"

The Germans made shore just as the two women settled in to hide and watch. They started arguing over the evidence of the women's movements, gesturing around at the rocks. Then Janice and they noticed two people staggering onto the shore further east up the beach. It was the couple from the plane.

Taking up the chase with a yell, the sailors quickly ended it with two shots from the foremost man's pistol. As Melinda and Janice watched, the bodies were searched and then left for the carrion already beginning to circle. The sailors returned to their boat with a whoop and hollers, rowing out strongly toward their ship once again.

Wind and sand stung her face. Turning away from it, Janice saw Melinda leaning against the rocks, her gaze fixed on the scene that had unfolded. A tear rolled slowly down the chiseled cheek. Saying nothing, the blonde settled an arm over the taller woman's shoulders. When she thought the gesture had settled Mel's nerves, she pulled away, leaning back against the rocks and closing her eyes. Safe for the moment, she sought to rest and recover from her exhaustion.


She replied quietly, keeping her eyes closed. "Rest. We'll move on in a bit."

"What about our bags?"

Janice bolted upright almost colliding with Mel. "The Scrolls!"

Chapter 35

Before Melinda could react, Janice leaped from the rocks they were using for cover and scrambled down the incline. Skidding and slipping on the loose rocks, finally she tumbled onto the sand. The brunette followed more cautiously. "Janice!"

Janice visually raked the shoreline, taking in where the waves slapped at the beach. Shading her eyes from the sunlight she searched just outside the surfline in the water. "Damn!"

"What's wrong?" Mel stopped just off Janice's shoulder, bending over, bracing her hands on her knees and panting. From that vantage however she had a good view of the back of the smaller woman's pantlegs. A red stain marred her injured thigh. Alarmed, Mel grasped Janice's hand. "Sit!"

"What?" Janice turned and looked at her, then pulled away before Melinda could pull her down and started jogging down the beach distracted. Between short runs and turning constantly to scan the waves, the blonde was soon stumbling along.

Mel jogged to keep up. Her gaze never left the blonde's back. Her own arm throbbed painfully, the splint's extra support long gone and unnoticed in all the commotion. "Janice!" She tried again to call the blonde back. Distracted she stumbled and fell into the pocked sand, landing on her left side by design as she threw her weight. Lying on her back she yelled, a noticeable strain in her voice, "Stop! No more!" She grabbed her throbbing forearm and just lay there panting, tears running unchecked down her cheeks and into her dark hair. "Janice!" she called again.

The archaeologist heard Melinda yell above the crashing sound of the surf. Turning in mid-stride she turned her ankle and fell on the sand. She struggled to get up but finally acknowledged the pain in her thigh. Gingerly she prodded the injury and winced at the fresh rush of blood. Rolling onto her stomach to try and rise again, she spotted Melinda back some distance on the beach.

The sight of the brunette laid flat out goaded her to her feet. Fearing the brunette hurt, she limped quickly to the linguist's side. "Mel!" She dropped to her knees and grasped the woman's arm. "Mel?"

Unfortunately it was the woman's right arm. With a howl of pain Melinda jerked it free and brought her gaze around. Janice could see the blue eyes growing darker, more cobalt than azure. Melinda bit each word though it was amazing she managed not to raise her voice. "Don't. You. Ever. Run. Off. Like. That. Again. Janice. Covington. Ever." She looked away to the surf, her jaw setting firmly. "You could've killed yourself," she concluded. Her voice broke from exhaustion, emotion and pain. She hugged her arm tighter to herself and fell silent.

The blonde's thigh throbbed. The pulse was painfully magnified as she sat in silence studying Melinda's turned-aside profile. "What's wrong?"


Oh boy, this was bad. She tried again. "Are you hurt?"

Bluntly. "Yes."

"Your arm? Or somewhere else?"

Resigned, after a long thoughtful silence, Mel answered, "My arm."

Janice stood carefully and scanned about for a couple suitable pieces of driftwood. "I'll redo your splint. Do you think you rebroke it?"

Melinda still did not look at her, tested the arm, grimaced, but shook her head.

Janice, never one for handling the silent treatment very well, found the wood she was looking for and ripped off a length of fabric from the bottom of her own shirt. More roughly than she intended she splinted Melinda's arm before standing and flopping down on the sand a short distance away, eyes intent on the surf.

Gingerly testing the splint, Melinda gradually let go of her aggravation, recognizing it for mostly physical frustration rather than emotional. It was unfair of her to take it out on Janice. "Thank you," she said finally.

"No problem." Janice dug her fingers through the sand. Frustrated she rubbed her aching thigh.

"I'm sorry I got so upset," Mel said quietly.

"I was pretty stupid, huh?"

"You were... anxious."

Janice sighed. "They're gone. After everything I've done to get them safely home, they're gone."

The brunette nodded. "Looks that way." The blonde flung herself down again. "Please be careful," Melinda urged.

"It's over." The archaeologist got to her feet and strode away down the beach, moving her leg with care, obviously bothered by the effort.

The linguist carefully moved onto her feet and followed. "It's not over. We still have to get home."

"What for?"

"What do you mean 'what for? Where should I start?" Melinda ticked things off on her fingers. "Familiar faces. Not jumping at every thump in the night. Trusting the people around you. There's a war going on over here." She grabbed Janice's shirt and then her own. "Clean clothes, for God's sake. Your work--"

"My work was here, Mel. The scrolls--"

"Those scrolls are gone." Mel grasped her shoulder, pulling her around. "There are others."

Bristling at how calm the brunette was, while she rapidly came closer to flying completely into a rage, Janice scoffed, "You don't care."

"I care," Mel replied evenly. "But running yourself into the ground doesn't do any good."

"So what do I do now?"

The blonde's easy dismissal of their partnership hurt. So Melinda stressed her individual choices in reply. "I'd like to go home. Take stock." She turned back to considering them together. "Maybe we can review some of our fathers' notes, and come up with other places to look."

Janice pointed at the water. "My father's notes are out there. Somewhere. In addition to the scrolls, Mel, I had all my father's research. My research."

Melinda looked out at the water too. "Well, then, I suppose we start with anything your father sent to mine."

"You're taking this awfully calmly," Janice remarked sullenly, sitting on the sand and letting the water wash up the beach under her.

The brunette sat next to her more gingerly. "There's no point in getting upset. It never helps and I can't think straight."

"You're a better woman than I," Janice opined. "I feel like screaming and kicking things."

"Why aren't you?"

Janice looked quizzical. "Wha--?" She shrugged. "You have a dampening effect on me, I guess."

"Would it do you good to know that I feel like punching something too?"

"You? Why?"

Glancing at the afternoon sun-dappled sea and then back at a pair of eyes every bit as glittering and green, Mel said, "Because it all upset you."

They remained still and silent for a long time, wondering what to do. Melinda wondering if what she said was enough, and Janice wondering how to respond.

Finally she put a hand on Mel's knee and leaned close to lightly press her lips to the smooth cheek. "I thought I was the more experienced one here." She patted the knee and pulled back. "Thanks."

The brunette nodded and accepted Janice reclining into her shoulder as they both looked out at the sea in silent regard.

Despite her words to Mel, the longer Janice sat the lower she felt. The Mediterranean had take her dreams from her. "C'mon, let's go," she finally said, getting antsy.

"Relax. We've got plenty of time before dark," Mel replied. "My arm hurts. I'm winded. And your leg could use the extra rest."

"Taking care of me?"

She nodded slightly in agreement against the blonde's head. "Works for me," she said finally.

Janice slowly wrapped her arms around Melinda's waist. "Me too."

Chapter 36

The cry of gulls overhead woke Janice. Carefully lifting herself off Melinda, she blinked in the late afternoon light. Most of her was finallyrefreshingly dry, although her clothes were stiff from having been abruptly starched with sea salt. Shifting she noticed her rear was wet and cold. Looking down, she saw they sat now inside the surf line, in about an inch of water.

"Mel, get up." She lightly jostled the dozing woman's left shoulder. "Tide's come in," she added when faded blue peered up at her.

"Feeling better?" The taller woman stretched, winced once at the strain in her side from sitting so long and stood.

"Ready to find a farmhouse, some food, and directions," Janice responded, enjoying the view as Mel's clothes pulled taut across her chest.

Melinda smiled and brushed a loose lock of hair out of her face. Her stomach growled. Sheepishly she concurred. "Sounds like food's next on my list, too."

They reached the top of the beach, and stepped onto the gravel and sand road that wound down the back of the cliffs toward a small hamlet. The western sky at the horizon and the rolling foothills of the Spanish countryside were cast in a mauve glow, laced with orange fleeced clouds in a combination, Melinda thought, only Mother Nature had the skill to render beautifully.

She took a deep breath and caught the distinct aromas of wildflowers mixed with the spicy, mouth-watering smells of food.

"Do you hear that?" Janice's face lit up.

Melinda cocked her head and concentrated. "Music," she mused. Casting a long look back at the beach then down at the blonde, she caught the smile. "You like it?"

"Yeah, I do." Janice adjusted the waterlogged leather jacket on her shoulders and then automatically reached for her hat. Finding it gone, she took a deep breath. "And I could really use a smile right now." She patted her head. "Hat's gone. Scrolls are gone." They looked out at the sea. Trying to push down the pain, she tried to keep her voice even. "Looks like we haven't accomplished much. It's back to the legends. Ocean's claimed it. Even the scrolls can't possibly last long in all that salt and muck." Her voice had still broken slightly, and she sighed heavily, turning away from the sight.

"Now we have to figure out how to get home. Let me see if I..." Digging into her pockets, a look of wonder crossed the blonde's features. Janice shook her head in disbelief. "Okay, so all's not lost. I've still got these."

The brunette watched, eyes widening as the small woman's hands reappeared from inside her coat. Tears stung her eyes as she drank in the halves of Xena's weapon. "Oh my God..." Melinda's smile was slow, but broad, quickly involving her entire face from the tilt of her eyebrows, to the narrowing of her eyes, on down to the dimple that formed in each cheek and in her chin. Janice thought the expression endearing and gave an answering smile.

She spoke frankly though as Melinda's hands closed over hers and slowly lifted away the pieces. "I lost all my funds though, so we might just end up hocking the thing to get enough to eat and that plane ride home."

Melinda shook her head emphatically against that course of action. Taking a deep breath to collect herself, she shifted the two pieces into one hand and reached up, delicately pulling aside her lapel. "I didn't keep all my funds in my bag." She extracted a small flap of leather and unfolded it, revealing about fifty dollars in American bills, stiffly half-wet, but definitely genuine currency. "I don't know how far it will get us. We might have to bargain something--other than the chakram--for them."

Janice chuckled. "Smart move. All right. So, food first, right?" Letting Melinda keep the weapon pieces, she accepted the bills and folded them carefully, tucking them in her inside coat pocket.

"Let's secure a room first. I desperately want a bath."

"You just took a bath," Janice teased. "Biggest tub in the area... the Mediterranean."

"You can have it. I want warm unsalted water and at least an hour to soak."

They reached the outskirts of the small town and companionable silence reigned as they watched the town's evening celebration getting underway. Colorful banners proclaimed "Independence" and painted lanterns swayed from the lamp posts.

They passed several street musicians playing xylophones, drums, and guitars. A young man in front of them gesticulated to his own singing as he crooned a love song in throaty Spanish. A woman working a pair of thick wood castanets swept past and around them with a wide welcoming smile shining from doe-brown eyes under a wild tumble of ebony hair. 

She caught Janice's attention with a flair of her hips and the blonde laughed as she began to clap to the rhythm. Following the woman's steps, the blonde spun and toed her way through several turns, then waved the woman on and turned back to find Melinda had paused, crossing her hands in front of her waist studying the blonde. "What?"

"You should dance more often," she answered.

Janice chuckled. "I just really like it. Take it seriously and that takes all the fun out of it."

"She certainly liked you."

Janice realized that Melinda possibly felt slightly jealous. She shrugged. "Not my type."

Her brunette companion tilted her head in silent question. "What is your type?"

"What's yours?" the blonde countered.

Melinda nodded. "I'm not certain I have a type. I haven't exactly had much experience."

Janice brushed her hand down Melinda's right arm, gently lacing her fingers with the brunette's. "Same here. Not the lack of experience, but rather the lack of 'type'," Janice sought to assure her.

"Who was your first crush?"

Janice took the change of subject with a smile. "Okay." She thought about it for a while and then ventured, "Errol Flynn." She turned it back on the brunette. "How about you?"

"Fred Astaire."

Janice chuckled. "But he always had Ginger."

"I could dream," Mel replied. "Besides I loved watching him dance."

Janice danced up ahead a few steps and spun, finding a pair of very interested blue eyes just beginning to lift to meet her eyes. "Then, come dancing with me tonight." She kept her gaze level and voice even, but her expression hopefully would leave Melinda no doubts who she desired.

"You're a little short to be Mr. Astaire," the brunette replied with a short laugh.

"And you're too tall and dark to play Ginger. How about we pretend?"

After a long moment of absorbing silence where the light seemed to settle in vague shadows around them, Melinda tilted her head slightly and murmured, "Janice, you're incredible." It was amazing how happy she felt despite everything that had happened.

"Why thank you, Ms. Pappas," and Janice pulled away to bow low with a deep laugh. She straightened up and grasped the woman's hand. "Let's get you bathed and then I'm going to show you a good time." She winked at the brunette, who bashfully dropped her blue eyes. "Tomorrow we'll find a plane and leave adventure behind. So one more night... for our dreams?"

"You may regret it. I've been told I have two left feet."

Janice looked down at the feet in question, covered in her stockings, but no shoes. Her own boots had stayed on because of the fact that they hugged her legs all the way up her calves. "I think you have attractive feet. We'll need to find you shoes though. Are the rocks bad?"

"Not really. Reminds me of days on the barrier islands spent at clambakes."

Leaving their hands intertwined, the two women went in search of a room and drank in the sights, smells and sounds of the fiesta getting underway as the first stars appeared overhead.

Chapter 37

"You are bella, yes?" The older Spanish woman clucked as she adjusted the last flounce and stepped back from the footstool. Melinda stepped down carefully to the floor, watching the skirt flair around her ankles as she turned.

"You do wonderful work, senora," she replied. "I am plain. The dress is wonderful."

"Carmen, please," the woman answered. "You are sweet child."

Footsteps sounded on the staircase and she turned with Carmen to watch Janice's descent.

Cleaned up from their beach adventure, Janice's blonde hair had been left down from its washing. Now dried in a sunburst of color around her head and shoulders, it was tamed with a loosely tied green band of cloth.

Melinda watched Carmen Toval de Sandovalles cluck over Janice's final look and smiled on their good luck.

Insisting her guests enjoy the festival properly dressed, Carmen had given them the dresses, two of her own from many years ago. With clever alterations she had made them fit.

Janice's dress lay off one shoulder, the flounce of the neckline accentuated the narrowness of her waist.

Melinda's skirt had been lengthened with two more layers of flounce, giving her a demure ankle length. Janice, more of a height with their hostess, had not needed the addition, though the skirt came to mid-calf. Melinda decided she liked it. The length showed off the smaller woman's muscular calves and petite feet, in a way her calfboots had hinted at, but never really revealed.

"Muy buena. Bella," Carmen finally pronounced on Janice, standing back.

Janice grasped her hand in thanks and smiled at the woman's sons, 24 and 27, who were their escorts for the evening. Vega, the daughter, appeared at the top of the stairs.

Vega, only 17, wore a bright orange and yellow dress, which stopped above her knees in a form-fitting skirt. The shoulders were demure, but the neckline was daring. Carmen gave her daughter a stern look and Vega firmly stifled a chuckle.

Which made Janice chuckle. "Midnight, Senora?"

"Before," Carmen replied drily, accepting the levity. "Ah, what am I worried for. Vega is in good hands with her brothers and you to look after her."

"Ah, Mama, Sergio loves you."

"No, dear, he loves you. He tolerates me as a plow horse tolerates gnats."

Chuckles abounded. While they had been dressing, Vega had enlightened Janice and Melinda on her boyfriend, Sergio. The shopkeeper's son had been sweet on Vega since the festival two years ago, and had on several occasions, told Carmen that he would ask for Vega when she was 18, not a day later, and not a day before.

The young couple's eagerness was a source of contention between mother and daughter, but the way of things, Carmen had said.

It was during that conversation that Janice and Melinda found out that their hostess's own husband had died just after Vega's birth, from an epidemic. "My children God spared," she said, calmly after so many years alone. "It was my soul He chose to split."

Vega was a petite version of her mother, rich sun-darkened skin complemented by velvet-brown intelligent eyes, with a strong dose of fun-loving. She had the same warm, welcoming smile that had convinced Melinda to accept the offer of a room when they first encountered Carmen. They had been counting their change from obtaining two meat wraps from a street vendor.

Now, Carmen swept her arms wide and opened the door, ushering her brood and her guests out. She accepted kisses as the group flowed past.

Vibrant music and light filled the town's center. Street entertainers circled among the dancers and dancers intermingled with those consuming festive foods and colorful candy treats. The smells made Janice's mouth water. She followed a particularly colorful candy stick with her eyes. "What's that?"

Stefano sprang from her side with a laugh and disappeared into the crowd. They all quickly lost sight of him.

"He must have sighted a friend," Melinda mused. Turing to Vega she asked, "So, where is this young Sergio of yours?"

The girl laughed. "He will meet us at the main tent," she said. "This way."

Melinda, Janice, and Vega's oldest brother, Disanto, followed the teen through the crowded streets.

Stefano bounded up as they came to a stop next to the main hawkers' tent. Inside Melinda could see games and booths full of wares. She looked to Stefano as he spoke to Janice. "Miss Covington. This is for you." He pulled out a candy stick, about a foot long, from behind his back.

Taking it, Janice eyed the multi-colored confection and then looked at him a bit surprised. "I don't know--um, thank you," she quickly said when she saw his smile falter. Carefully she licked at the tip and grinned. "This is very sweet," she told him. Looking at Melinda she added, with an offering gesture, "Very sweet."

Melinda took a quick lick, their gazes meeting briefly across the candy since Janice kept hold of it. Breathlessly they paused, affected by the light mood and their closeness in an intimate way as both women's stomach's squeezed in reaction. Melinda started to lift her hand to take the stick.

Vega's squeal of delight broke the spell. Both Janice and Melinda turned, their shoulders unconsciously touching as they stood between the two brothers. Their sister bounced into the arms of a strapping young male, wearing a black vest over a crisp white shirt. His black pants had a brown stripe down the outside of each leg. 

Vega took off her own hair tie and secured it around his neck as they kissed. Pulling back she adjusted the effect and then led him back over to her brothers and new friends.

"This is Sergio," she introduced. "These are Janice and Melinda, from America."

"I am pleased to meet you," he offered to them both, bending charmingly over each woman's hand. "Will you be watching the fights later with Vega?"


"Yes. Certainly you have heard of bullfights?"

Melinda and Janice exchanged glances. Janice turned back to Sergio. "We've heard of them, but never seen one."

"Then tonight you will see!" he pronounced with an upthrust of his arm and a laugh.

Janice and Melinda, flanked by Stefano and Disanto, followed Vega who clung happily to Sergio's arm as they strode through the town to a small stadium near the edge of town.

Melinda continued to absorb the sights and sounds of the festival, looking around at the happy faces of the villagers.

A sudden movement off to her left caught her attention and she turned to see a man, his back to them, suddenly gesticulating wildly with a shopkeeper. "Phone," she heard him ask in Spanish, though his accent suggested he was not a native speaker.

A chance glance over his shoulder and she saw his face. "Oh my God," she nudged Janice's arm. "Janice!" she gasped in a sharply curtailed breath.


"The pilot!" she gestured over toward the shop.

Janice was stunned. "Wait a minute. You had to let him go. You can't mean our pilot."

"Our pilot," she confirmed.

"What is it?" Disanto asked, seeing the women's concerned expressions.

"You should go on to the stadium," they said. "We have something we must see."

He shook his head. "I will stay with you." Looking around, he waved Stefano, Vega and Sergio on. "We will join them later. Now, tell me what you would like to do."

Melinda looked at Janice who shrugged, so she explained in brief. "We were in a plane crash this morning. And were certain that everyone else had died." She gestured toward the now vacant shopfront. "But I thought I saw our pilot over there."

"A plane crash! Madre de Dios!" He exclaimed and then asked, "So you wish to check on the well-being of your pilot? I can understand this. Let's go."

Melinda was still uneasy, but Disanto would not be persuaded otherwise. So the trio moved through the crowd toward the shop.

The shop, a milliner's, was empty when they stopped in front of it. Pressing her hands and face to the window, Janice could not make out any lights within, or movement.

"Mel, I think it's all right," she said, grasping the woman's hands. "I can't see anything."

"He has to be around her somewhere. I didn't imagine him."

Janice gave her a quiet look. The brunette had not seemed affected by the decision to let the pilot go when they had been out on the water, fighting for their own safety. Perhaps now, she thought, the regret was finding a way into her conscious?

She brushed her hand over the woman's elbow. "We'll keep our eyes out for him, all right?"

Chapter 37

The trio met up with the others just as Sergio was separating to go into the matadors dressing rooms.

Disanto and Stefano gallantly secured bouquets for the women. Each took special care with his presentation.

"You are a welcome guest, please enjoy our entertainment." Disanto bent over Melinda's hand and kissed it.

Stefano's smile reached ear to ear as he picked up Janice's hand and wrapped it around the bouquet. "For the loveliest woman in all of Spain," he proclaimed importantly.

Janice blushed and the two men put them and their sister on their arms, leading them into the audience stands.

Looking around, Melinda absorbed the details. The sights of young lovers, older couples, and pre-teen children dashing about their parents' feet in games of chase, gave way to the sounds of the laughter, conversation and the further off sounds of the bulls rustling around in their pens and the night birds calling to one another. She could smell the abundance of food and reached for Janice's candy stick as she sat down.

"Are you all right?" the blonde asked as Melinda settled next to her and she passed over the candy.

Sucking on the end of the stick, Melinda frowned for a long moment then turned to Disanto. "I can't believe they really do this. It's so dangerous."

"It is a skill studied since very early. To enter the ring and face el toro is the highest honor," he assured her.

Vega overheard. Leaning across Stefano's lap she offered, "Sergio has won every match, Melinda. I promise you he is very good. Thrilling to watch." She patted the woman's knee in a bid to reassure the brunette American of her certainty.

They all looked to the sawdust and dirt arena floor as musicians sounded a call to attention for the beginning of the event. Janice felt a hand slide into hers on her lap, and looked down to see the brunette's long fingers interlaced with hers. She looked up into uncertain blue eyes, gave the hand a gentle squeeze and smiled. I've got you, she thought.

The first matador, an older man probably in his late forties or early fifties, strode into the ring from the gated entry with a bold stride and flourishing sweep of his sword and cape. With a grand display, he brandished the sword before his body in an almost invisible series of motions. At the conclusion he saluted the audience, and sheathed the weapon. "Toro!" he called in challenge.

A chute door opened opposite where he had come in, and a massively shouldered, nearly two ton black beast trotted out, kicking and snorting. An array of picador spears circled his gargantuan throat like a wreath. His eyes rolled wildly and he spotted the man in the ring with him.

Cheers erupted as the matador stepped aside from the first charge of the enraged bull. The man reached out and slapped the passing animal's hindquarters causing another cheer from his audience.

The cape came out, held in the matador's fists. He drew the bull's attention back to himself by wildly waving the fabric. He called out to it in a loud voice and stood still as it trotted around and turned to make a run at him.

Cheers subsided during the run, only to erupt as the bull made another close but harmless pass.Back and forth the matador coaxed the bull, until the animal's step was slow. To cheers he withdrew his sword and raised it high.

Melinda shifted nervously and finally could watch no more as the bull was coaxed into another run, this time toward the hidden sword. Janice felt her own stomach clench as the brunette turned her head into her ear and her harsh breathing almost drowned out the crescendoing cheers.

A true stab and the bull stumbled to his knees. Another strike and the matador stood victorious over the gored bull. Janice gasped; Melinda bit her lip holding back her reaction. The crowd around them rose from their seats and raised their fists to cheer the matador's success.

"God, that was a shock," Janice remarked, brushing her fingers lightly over Melinda's cheek once the people in front of them blocked the view of the arena floor.

"Is it over?" Mel asked, lifting her blue eyes to Janice's green.

"It's over." Janice soothed her with a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Do you want to go?" Melinda took a deep breath and nodded. Janice started to her feet. "All right."

Vega begged them not to leave. Disanto and Stefano were alarmed by how disturbed the two American women had become and out of compassion, suggested they all return to the other activities of the fiesta.

"I'm sorry our customs bothered you," Disanto offered, his brown eyes were deeply pained. For himself or for them, Janice couldn't tell, but she didn't want them feeling guilty.

"We're just... not used to it, I guess." She had helped Melinda to her feet and in the commotion turned toward the arena floor where she caught sight of the bull being dragged off. "I think we'll just go for a little lighter fun."

Disanto stood. "I shall leave Stefano to watch after our sister. I will accompany you wherever you wish to go."

Melinda swallowed and shook her head. "Really. Stay. We'll be fine." She diligently kept her eyes averted from the arena floor and walked toward the steps, excusing herself past several reveling spectators.

Following, Janice offered Vega her wishes for luck to Sergio, and politely put off Stefano's attempt to make amends and follow them. "We have had a long day. Perhaps we are too tired to appreciate it properly."

Finally Stefano stepped aside, letting her pass and she joined Melinda down at the bottom of the steps and the two women walked out of the bull stadium. She was skirting around a street vendor selling hand woven oxtails when she looked up and saw a man looking at them.

It was only a flicker, but there was recognition in the dark eyes before he turned away and walked hurriedly off. "Mel," she caught the brunette's attention ahead of her. "Let's go this way," she added vaguely, not wanting to be wrong should there be just the smallest possibility that her own words to Stefano were true.

That she was so tired she had seen their dead pilot staring at them from the crowds. 

Melinda's hand slipped into hers as they matched stride and she led the way, weaving through the throng until she reached the spot where she was certain she had seen the dark-haired, well-tanned pilot. Looking around curiously didn't look like anything else and Melinda commented on it.

"What did you see?"

Janice didn't have time to answer. The pair had moved away from the bulk of the crowds and now stood in an alley between buildings where many doors led from the street.

One opened on creaking hinges. The sound spun the two women around. "Me," the mostly shadowed figured confirmed then stepped into the full light of the night.

He was indeed their pilot from the ill-fated flight of that morning. His clothes showed evidence of their dousing in the Mediterranean, ripped off at the knees and elbows, and shredded across the chest from the unfriendly currents he obviously fought to reach shore.

Melinda stepped in front of Janice. "If you want to blame someone, blame me. I had to let you go after we got out of the plane."

"Oh, I'm not here to blame anyone, Miss Pappas. I want to know if you have the papers."

"The papers?" Janice and Melinda exchanged glances.

"Yes," he answered tolerantly. "Do you have the papers meant for the State Department?"

Melinda shook her head. "We lost everything."

"You've been following us around town waiting to ask us that?" Janice was incredulous.

"Those papers are very important to our cause Miss Covington. They are more important than any one life."

"German sailors shot the other couple from our plane and we haven't seen your co-pilot since he jumped out."

The pilot laughed. "Decoys all of them. You and I were important, ladies. We must reach the United States quickly." He shot them another glance. "You are certain you do not have the papers?"

Janice vigorously denied it. "We have nothing left."

He studied them for a long moment, casting looks from one woman to the other and then finally sighed. "Then I bid you farewell, ladies. I will report our mission a failure."

Melinda and Janice watched in pensive silence as he left them, melting away into the crowd. "Guess I wasn't crazy after all." The blonde took a deep breath and impulsively hugged Melinda. The brunette hugged her back. "I believe I promised you a dance." Her voice was filled with relief.

Moving back into the crowd they headed for an area several musicians and dancers had staked out to enjoy the moonlight and the magic of music. Its melodies seeped in, replacing the unease from the bullfight and the run-in with their former pilot with a vibrating sensation, which began in their joined hands and wove threads of warmth through their hearts.

Chapter 38

Shoulder to shoulder they leaned against a lamppost near the circle of dancers that formed around a quartet of musicians. Melinda absorbed the intricate steps to the dances as the bright reds, blues and greens of the women's dresses floated and bounced to the rhythms. Even a banana yellow large brimmed hat on one woman's head kept time with the jaunty beat.

Janice on the other hand watched the musicians themselves as their hands moved over palm drums and satinwood guitars' strings. Her fingers moved in time over the lamppost behind her back as the pulsing beat infiltrated her blood.

The food smells were still here, the sharp tangy scent of cilantro and jalapeno and the strong smell of tomato, but somehow it faded in comparison to the body scent of her companion. Wildflowers and a heady musk surrounded her the closer they stood.

Her tapping fingers encountered others, similarly drumming on the metal post. Glancing down, she followed the overlaying fingers up to a small, delicately boned wrist and then along smooth skin and fine hairs to the slight crease on the inside of an elbow. Her eyes trailed up a sleek bicep until they encountered the flounce of the pale blue dress's neckline and the daring amount of skin it revealed.

Bringing her chin up she traced the smooth throat and finally her gaze drowned in the deep regard of moonlit blue eyes. "Like it?" she asked, feeling as well as hearing the tremor in her voice.

Melinda did not answer; she couldn't find words when she tried. So instead she lifted her right hand to Janice's cheek while her left fingers traced up the woman's muscular arm as she bent and gently touched her lips to the blonde's.

Startling herself she inhaled and could not hold back the groan called up from her toes it seemed. There was a strong scent of smoke from the grilled chicken Janice had consumed in her dinner. It brought back a strong image of the first time she had seen Janice at the dig and leaned back, marveling at the very different look of the woman she held in her arms right now.

Aside from the obvious dress as opposed to pants, the green of the dress brought out the caramel color of Janice's skin and the deep emerald of welcoming eyes that had held disdain just over a week ago.

She thought about how much she had changed in the same time, growing more self-assured and decisive.

Home would not like that, she knew, wondering how she could go back to the quiet society woman her mother expected. She acknowledged she did not want to go home. At least not right away. She kissed Janice again and could feel her mouth open to speak.

Janice's words tumbled out first. "Mel, I--You probably have a lot of people expecting you to come home, don't you?"

"Yes," was all she could think to answer, her own thoughts sidetracked by the desire to know what was going through Janice's mind.

"That's important. I never had that--that I wanted anyway. All I ever wanted was to travel with my father. You like quiet evenings reading at home by a big fireplace--"

"North Carolina doesn't have big fireplaces," Melinda corrected. "Just small ones."

"Oh. Bet you've got a big library den then and curl up there all the time to read."

Melinda smiled. It was clear to her that Janice was trying to talk herself out of intruding on Melinda's life. That was the only thing Melinda wanted though. "I prefer the veranda when the weather's nice," she explained. "You'd like the view," she suggested casually.

Protesting, Janice shook her head. "No. I couldn't. I wouldn't want to intrude on your family."

Brushing a soothing finger over the blonde's trembling lower lip. "Janice, I am convinced you are the only thing that would make it bearable." She paused thinking. "I want you... to be there."

Janice found a plea revealed in the eyes turning indigo with emotion. Leaning into a hug, she heard the brunette's heart hammering in her chest. "All right," she murmurred. Immediately the tempo under her ear slowed and the arms surrounding her squeezed tighter.

The two women separated but remained in a loose embrace, gazes locked. The street suddenly seemed too crowded as they felt all the bodies moving around them. The music became an uncomfortable cacophony, distracting them from the quiet communion.

"Want to go somewhere?" Janice asked.

"Some place quiet," Melinda concurred. Janice turned her lips into the woman's palm as it passed over her cheek. In reaction the brunette's knees quaked.

The archaeologist nodded and looked around, seeking a path out. Tucking her arm around the taller woman's waist, she swallowed, feeling the rising emotions and sought to calm herself. Looking away from Melinda, she remarked, "Spain's a pretty place."

They paused on a ridge looking back at the fiesta and then out at the slice of Mediterranean Sea that sparkled with moonlight.

"It feels like this is all a dream," Melinda remarked softly, in awe. "But I want it to be real. To stay real."

"It's real." Janice smiled, feeling much the same way, and leaned up to kiss Melinda's cheek, drawing the woman's gaze down to hers. "Do you want me to pinch you?" The brunette's eyebrows shot into her bangs which made Janice openly chuckle. "Come on," she coaxed, leading Melinda toward the Toval home.

Carmen was asleep when Janice let herself and Melinda back in. They paused to take in the woman sleeping on her couch, obviously having tried to wait up for her children. Or perhaps her guests, they thought and shared a smile. The Spaniard had been everything kind to them, and they wondered privately how they might repay her for her kindness, beyond paying for their lodging.

The fiesta's music drifted in through one open window and the melody followed the two women upstairs. Considerably muted it was only a soft cloak around them as they reached their rented room.

Janice laid her hands on Melinda's arms, hugging her from behind as the brunette pushed the door inward. She inhaled a steadying breath and felt her heart speed up at the mingled scent of wildflowers and arousal that drifted from Melinda and herself.

The brunette turned and Janice immediately sought lips to kiss and felt Melinda's hands caress her lower back with an urgency she felt as well.

How fast her heart raced and how quickly her desire for Janice rose to an almost unbearable peak startled Melinda, so used to calm decisions and quiet thoughtfulness. She craved making love with the petite blonde again. "Janice," she breathed. "I love you."

It was then the back of her legs hit the bed and she fell onto the firm mattress.

Janice was right there, over her, soothing with touches that made Melinda completely forget her embarrassment. Her body seemed to surround Melinda's as their body heat made it seem that no space at all separated them.

Their lips touched and Janice's reply warmly passed from her mouth into Melinda's, searing the brunette's heart in her chest. "I love you too."

Chapter 39

Melinda buried her hands in Janice's hair as the woman lowered her head along her bared collarbone. Warm soft lips were kissing from one side to the other in a heady tease that was driving her mad. Janice's tongue darted out across the pulse point in her throat and Melinda's eyes were suddenly open, focusing on the cream-colored ceiling.

A deep chuckle accompanied the frustrating pause of light hands over her breasts. But Melinda didn't want to stop. "Please," she groaned.

The deep timbre shot straight to Janice's groin. Her response was visceral. She slid the shoulder off of Melinda's dress baring an unbound breast for her eyes to feast. Not satisfied, she leaned back and tugged on Melinda's dress. Keeping a thigh thrown across the brunette's legs, she helped the woman out of the borrowed blue dress, nearly as soft as the skin she uncovered. "You really looked good in that," she said as she laid it aside and returned her gaze to blue eyes going reflective and clear in the moonlight.

"Yours too," Melinda replied, tugging down on the low neckline and revealing the dusky edge of an aureole. "You should wear dresses more often," she added.

Janice slid from the bed. "A little hard on the knees on a dig," she countered with a smile while she tugged off the dress and set it aside with care.

Melinda rose to her elbows and watched the blonde return to the bed. Hips moved and to distract herself she focused on the slim-fingered hands reaching for the sheets. The brunette her lips frequently, enjoying the view and wondering if she would have enough time to explore the suntanned terrain. "Janice," she murmured. "You're beautiful."

The blonde's skin took on a rosy tinge. She settled next to Melinda and slid her palm over Melinda's thigh. Their eyes lifted and met. Janice felt the pulse in the thigh she caressed jump slightly.

The one touch was not enough. She couldn't resist indulging her tactile sense. Melinda's skin was satin under her palms. She turned and nudged the brunette onto her back once more, straddling the woman's thighs.

Returning her hands to the smooth skin, she traced hollows between the brunette's ribs and a soft line of hairs leading from Melinda's belly button downward. She felt the quick intake of breath as she neared the woman's mound. Determined to keep this slow and long, she retreated and instead moved her hands to shoulders and upper arms, feeling large hands cup under her elbows as she bent forward to share a deep kiss.

Mel could not decide which she liked more: Janice's kisses or the simple warm feeling that grew more intense as the smaller woman fit herself into Melinda's own curves like two pieces of a puzzle.

She slipped her arms around the other woman's back and stroked her hands down the muscular shoulders, back and buttocks, memorizing. She found rough areas where she knew there had to be scars. One long one in particular went from the blonde's left shoulder down in a jagged ridge to the top of her pelvis. A subject for another time, she realized when Janice nudged her hand away and settled it instead on the curve of her butt cheek.

Lowering her head, Janice captured the brunette's lips roughly. She inhaled, stealing Melinda's breath, and then exhaled gently, giving her breath back to the linguist.

Melinda inhaled and she exhaled again. Then Mel returned the intimate gesture, quick pupil that she was, challenging Janice's grip on reality as their breath joined in her own chest. The intensity made her arms shake.

Janice fit her knee between Melinda's thighs and the brunette bent hers, pressing upward into Janice's center. Heat and wetness met them both and the slightest pressure elicited rough groans of pleasure.

Watching Melinda's control beginning to slip, Janice eased her hand, palm flat, between their bodies, enjoying the rapid ticking of muscles involuntarily contracting at her touch.

Firmly she moved her tongue around the brunette's rapidly hardening nipples. She closed her eyes, sucked the nipple inside her mouth as she slipped two fingers easily within her center.

As she expected Mel gasped, already precariously balanced on the edge. Holding her hand still, Janice sought to delay fulfillment from coming too quickly. She wanted to take time that their hurried time the day before had been unable to let her share.

"Jan," Mel breathed, exhaling as she sought to find her own calm center. But it was eluding her. The blonde smiled. She was definitely losing control. It was the first time in memory that Mel had ever used the shortened form of her name. If they weren't close before, it was a sign that the brunette had ended any distance between them. Something that Janice had found easy from the start.

Melinda was the Southern woman who had first stumbled onto the dig. Mel was the woman she had in her hands now, who had stood beside her in a ship's galley, cleaning grime off the counters, and then held a gun on a ship's captain. She was brave and loyal as well, traits Janice appreciated above all others.

Love shined from her eyes too. She smiled into the darkening orbs and felt Mel's hands start the sensuous and slow journey up her thighs to her hips then over her shoulders as her hair was brushed back with loving fingers.

Melinda's hands moved from the blonde's upper back to her lower back, fingers sliding between her cheeks and over her entrances from behind. "God," she heard herself breathing, unable to keep the outburst in check. Two long fingers curled up inside, eliciting a deep wrenching groan.

The blonde's reaction helped Melinda focus. She thought about all the things that she had learned about Janice since they met. She saw again the face half shadowed by a fedora, lifting to challenge Smythe's man who had held her at gunpoint. Quickly she flashed forward to the woman who had grasped her hand and pulled her from Ares' closing tomb. She remembered their first hug, Janice impulsive after blowing up the charges that buried the tomb for another century or so.

Had it only been two weeks ago? It felt like a lifetime. It was the first moment she remembered thinking she belonged to something bigger than herself. To someone. She leaned up and kissed Jan's hair. The blonde rolled to the side and both hands were free. She cradled Jan's cheek in her palm, drowning in a fiery emerald gaze. The folds around her fingers were hot and wet as she explored, watching the effect of her touch in Jan's face. She found a ridge of hard flesh and paused when Janice's eyes closed in an expression of tension. She kept her hand still until the green eyes opened and focused again. "Sorry," she whispered.

"Don't be," Jan replied. "I just want this to last." Her gaze steadied and she withdrew her fingers from Mel's center. A faint groan followed. "I want you to enjoy this," she told the brunette.

Moving down Mel's stomach she caressed the outer curve of soft breasts. She lifted one then the other to her lips and kissed around the globes before returning to Mel's lips and licking around the edges until they parted.

Mel tried to speak around the kisses as Janice's knee created a welling of need in her center. "I want you," she finally said.

"You have me," Janice replied, sliding away from their kiss and drifting her breath across muscles that eased at her slightest touch. "I never thought that was possible for anyone to make me say," she admitted.

Understanding Janice's independence as much as she understood how her own had been awakened on this trip, Melinda nodded and they turned. One hand intertwined fingers with the other's, while each sought to absorb the other into her skin and senses with kisses and light licks and touches on intimate places. Fingers became slick as each found her way inside.

For Melinda it was a sensation of crawling up inside Janice, surrounded by a cocoon of warmth and love where she could grow.

Janice felt protective and protected all at once. Adventure beckoned and she could feel every inch of Melinda beside her. She leaned forward and licked her way to Melinda's hard nub, making the brunette's hips jump. She deepened her strokes and matched her rhythm to that of Melinda's fingers in her own center.

The pace grew faster until an explosion of breath and sound rocked them. Mel gasped as her thighs held Janice's hand, with flexing fingers, in place as she rocked on the digits with abandon. A second shockwave hit and Mel screamed. Startled, Janice's release was quieter, but no less powerful, stripping the blonde of breath and bone as she went limp against the brunette's body.

Damp fingers left gently shaking bodies that sought each other as a steadying force in the aftermath. Intertwining hands they rested them on the sheet between their bodies. Green and blue eyes, crystalline with the unshed tears of strong emotion, held gazes with deep abiding smiles.

Melinda leaned back, trying to ease her muscles quaking in the aftershocks. Her head met the board at the top of the bed and she realized she had hit it there earlier as a dull pain briefly surged. "Ow." She reached up and rubbed her crown.

"Are you all right?" Janice asked leaning up and brushing a concerned hand over Melinda's own fingers.

"Bed's short, I guess," Mel answered, taking Janice's fingers in her own and kissing the digits one at a time as she held the green gaze.

Janice's smile was slow and sensual. "So," she murmured, unable to find the strength to raise her voice. "Do you still want me to come home with you? That scream might wake the neighbors."

"We have three hundred acres," Mel replied, tucking her head into Janice's shoulder. They rolled together to look up at the ceiling fan, feeling its welcome breeze. "There are no neighbors for miles."

Janice's chuckle filled up the silence as they looked at each other, and watched the moonlight highlight dust motes in its path from the window across the bed and their naked, tangled bodies.

There was a knock at the door. A frantic woman's voice called out in rapid Spanish, "Are you all right?" It was Carmen.

"This is going to be a little difficult to explain," Janice said wryly as she removed herself from the bed.

Without conversation Melinda moved under the covers and Janice pulled her dress back on as she crossed the room and pulled open the door. "Hi, Carmen," she offered, pulling her hand lightly through her disheveled hair.

"Oh blessed Mary." The big-boned woman pressed her hands against the door in relief. "You are all right? I heard a scream."

Thinking quickly, Janice stepped back and gestured at Melinda. "Blister," she said. "Big one. On her big toe."

The Spanish woman was silent for a long moment, studying Melinda in the bed and then turned her blue eyes on the blonde. "I know you make her scream like that, Senorita Covington. You should use antiseptic when you clean a blister," she said blithely, but there was a smirk in her eyes.

Janice felt her cheeks reddening as Carmen merely followed up her startling words with a nod and left. There was no doubt in her mind that Carmen Toval y Sandevallos knew the truth. Had known it before she entered the room. Unable to wipe the stunned expression from her face, she slowly closed the door to their room.

"She guessed, didn't she?" Mel ventured.

"Yes, I think all mothers have a sixth sense about that." Janice laughed and crawled under the covers, curling up in Melinda's embrace.

Continued in part 6

Return to Main Page