Disclaimers: The characters of Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas, Xena, Gabrielle and anyone else who are mentionedor appear in the ensuing pages that was on the television series "Xena: Warrior Princess" belong to Renaissance Pictures and the executive and creative talent there. I've created a bit more background to Janice and Melinda and also got them home from Greece in the prequel to this story, Going Home. 

Alternative: This story at its core is about a relationship between two women. If you are underage, this conceptis illegal where you live, or you have a problem with it, then please do not read this story. However, the action will be PG-13 in nature.

Home Front
(c) November 1999
by LZClotho

E-Mail LZClotho at lzclotho@aol.com


Chapter 1

The blonde sat up in bed, rubbing her shoulder and remembering the warm caressing breeze that had disturbed her sleep. Curiously, she glanced toward the floor length window half-shuttered against the late October chill. The ancient oak trees peppering the grounds of the plantation were only mildly bowed by a breeze that certainly could not be called warm this late into autumn.

Adjusting the shoulder of her cotton nightgown, Janice shrugged off the flower print comforter and sheet. Wrapping a casual grip around a bedpost, she slid to the floor. She padded across the small space rugs and a bit of polished wood floor to the window.

She leaned thoughtfully on the side of the opening, crossed her arms over her chest and blinked the sleep from her eyes. The rich green and crisp orange of the foliage delighted her senses. A smile played gently on her lips. Lazily she raised a hand and pushed her fingers through her unbound blonde hair.

"Cup of tea with that view?"

Janice swiveled her head around and bestowed her smile on the robe-clad brunette entering with a small tray. Her long dark hair was loose on her shoulders, a sensuous contrast to the woman's customary bun. It made Janice's heart speed up a little thinking of Melinda just out of bed. She straightened up and reached out to capture a steaming mug from the surface.

Melinda retrieved the second cup and set the tray on the nightstand. Turning back, she joined Janice, leaning casually against the window's edge. She nudged open the shutter and glanced out at the view of the grounds.

The blonde caught the sparkle of gentle reminisce in the cornflower blue eyes. "Mm hmm," she acknowledged. "Are you enjoying being back in your own bed?"

"I missed this," Mel answered in a wistful whisper that still managed to suggest a "but" was coming. Janice sipped her tea and waited. It wasn't long. "Guess I got used to the traveling." She squeezed her shoulders together in a shrug, settling her gaze on Janice's sun-bright green eyes.

The gesture and the wild shock of intense desire with which her own body responded brought out a small laugh in the blonde. "If you'd let me stay in your room, I could have remedied that." She grasped Melinda's hand as it came up in a gesture of protest. "But we have to keep in mind your mother, I know."

"I'm sorry. It's just..."

"Too weird for you." She nodded. "Remember we've had this conversation before. The day after we first arrived." She rubbed her hand over Melinda's bare arm, immersing herself in the sensations of touching her lover; more having been denied them by circumstance. The brunette's rose scent filled her nostrils. Her gaze centered on Melinda's lips, having drifted down from the soft lines of her cheeks and aquiline nose. God, I want to kiss her, she thought, resisting only because Melinda had asked it of her in a moment of self-consciousness.

She glanced past Melinda's shoulder and noticed the brunette had thought to close the door to the hallway. Just one couldn't hurt.

She eased her cup to the side, trailing her other fingers up to cover Melinda's cheek. With only slight pressure, as her gaze collided with the brunette's, Janice brought their faces closer.

With a light touch of her tongue she dampened her lips and felt the moment both their breathing changed.

The kiss was charged with coiled energy, restrained and headily passionate at the same time. She moved her lips over the full texture of Mel's and felt the moment her partner gave in to the abandon and returned the intimate touch.

Strong, soft hands slipped around Janice's waist, bringing their bodies together and lifting Janice to her toes.

The loud clatter of porcelain on the floor, even muted by the small rug, startled both women. They separated with their thoughts both a little blurred and looked down to see what had happened.

Melinda looked up from the cup and its spilled contents. Her remaining hand on the blonde's hip caressed gently as she formulated something to say.

Janice's smile stole the pain from taking hold of the brunette and making her feel guilty about the private indulgence. "I'll get a towel," she said, stepping out of Melinda's embrace.

"I think I'll suggest Mother visit Boston sooner rather than later," the brunette replied sucking in a deep breath and groaning, dropping her hand even as she claimed a hasty kiss.

The blonde ducked into the adjoining bathroom and returned with a pale orange hand towel. She bent and patted at the damp spot, letting her body brush up against Melinda, who crouched with her on the floor.

"Melinda Chelle, you get off the floor this instant!"

The chilled, deep but feminine voice caused both women to startle. Though off balance, Mel made it upright first, swiveling on her heels. With a quick hand she guided Janice to her own feet. As Janice focused on the slightly built woman in chestnut hair, Melinda offered a calm greeting. "Good morning, Mother. Would you care for a cup of tea?" Displaying her empty cup, she offered, "I have to go down for another."

"I'll have Vida brew a pot of coffee," she said in a voice that ended the discussion.

"Good morning, Mrs. Pappas," Janice finally offered her own greeting, still a little unsettled from the last few moments. She could see the color rising in Brenda Pappas's face as cool gray-blue eyes leveled on her. Unconsciously Janice straightened under the sharp regard. 

"Don't you interview for your new job today, Miss Covington? I suggest you'll be late if you don't stop dallying here."

Janice swallowed and started to respond. Melinda's hand on her arm and a step forward by the brunette stopped her though. "I'm taking her in myself," she heard the taller woman say, even as Brenda's features became granite at Melinda's cool tone. The older Pappas glanced briefly back at Janice then turned and walked away down the corridor, leaving the younger women alone once again.

Melinda slightly shook her head when Janice finally looked up at her. "Well, that went well," she allowed with a deep breath, blowing it out slowly. "C'mon, we'd better get downstairs before she sends Vida up to fetch us, then complains that the eggs are too cold because she had to wait."

"I'll be right next door," Mel answered, brushing her fingers over Jan's cheek.

"That's still too far away." The answer slipped out softly as she pressed her lips into the woman's palm. "But I'll manage." She brushed her own palm down the brunette's long lean back as Mel left.

Janice turned to her wardrobe and opened the Carolina fir doors. Looking at the one pair of tan slacks, white collar blouse and Spanish country frock, the blonde mused, "So, what should I wear to the interview?"

It had taken almost all of the week since they had arrived at Beaufort Oaks to line up the interview with the university's history department chair. With no full professorships open, she had agreed to discuss appointment as an adjunct professor, stepping in for Dr. Basil Cuthridge, a British and Celtic scholar, who was preparing to go on sabbatical until the following summer. Today she was expected to essentially survive quizzing by Cuthridge on the names, dates, and important research personalities involved in Celtic and medieval British history. She glanced toward the nightstand at the tome she had culled from Melvin Pappas's library and rubbed her temple. It had meant quite a lot of heavy reading the last few nights.

Having lost everything on the trip back from Macedonia, Janice felt the pinch to earn her first paycheck. Melinda had not mentioned one word about the expenses, sharing or otherwise. But Janice could feel the judgement pouring from Brenda Pappas, which only aggravated Mel and made Janice more determined that she nail down work.

In the next room, she heard the water start as Melinda began to wash. She went to her own sink and rinsed the last of the night's sleep from her face and neck. Refreshed, Janice slipped on her tan pants and white shirt, forgoing the jacket she kept--with Xena's chakram pieces--tucked in the back of the wardrobe. Ready to face the music, Janice declared silently and headed down to the breakfast nook.

Light salmon drapes were pulled back, tied with elegantly draped strips. The morning light bathed the breakfast nook in sunshine. A cloudless sky outside promised a beautiful, if cold, autumn day.

A small wooden table made of pine, dominated the cozy space, set among matching pine lattice-back chairs. A dark-skinned woman of modest height and garbed in a plain cut tan dress, moved around behind the chairs, laying out silver, small plates and bowls. She looked up at the sound of footsteps from the entry corridor. An expectant smile touched her face briefly then in disappointment she dropped her eyes away and quickly placed everything remaining in her hands on the table before pulling out the chair on her left. "Your place setting is ready, ma'am."

"Excellent, Vida. So, what has cook arranged this morning?" Brenda Pappas settled into the chair as the servant adjusted her chair closer to the table.

"Eggs Benedict, ma'am." She returned to arranging the table, and then moved to the small sideboard. "Juice, ma'am?"

"Carefully cleaned of pulp, Vida?"

"Just how you like it, ma'am." The dark-skinned woman's voice was low, and to anyone else's ears would have sounded annoyed, but Pappas was oblivious as she arranged her napkin across her lap and snapped open to the Society section of the News Observer. She reached out as Vida came close and without looking up, took the offered glass and sipped.

"Good, Vida."

"Yes, ma'am."

"My daughter and her friend will be down in a moment. That Miss Covington is going to an interview and Melinda has agreed to drive her. Make sure that Miss Melinda has her hat and coat properly addressed."

"Yes, ma'am."

More footsteps in the corridor made Vida glance up and this time her smile remained in place as the dark-haired tall young woman slipped through the doorway. "Good morning, Miss Melinda."

Adjusting her skirt with a casual hand, Melinda cupped Vida's elbow in her right palm and bussed the woman's cheek with her lips. "Good morning, Vida. Did you have a good night?"

"Yes, miss. You look well this morning yourself, Miss Melinda." Without an exchange of words, Melinda sat at her place and Vida delivered a tall glass of milk and a serving from the teapot. "Did Miss Janice enjoy the tea this morning?"

"Excellent choice, Vida. I think it calmed her nerves considerably. Thank you for your help."

"Coffee?" Brenda looked up briefly and indicated her empty cup with a sweep of her eyes.

"Oh, yes, ma'am." Vida moved quickly to fulfill the request and then walked toward the kitchen door. "I'll return in a moment with the plates. Help yourself to the toast."

Melinda nodded with a broad smile as the dark woman glanced toward her. As she reached for the plate of buttered toast, she heard footsteps marking Janice's arrival. The tread was light, uncertain, a distinct counterpoint to the young woman's usual confident stride. Noticing the diffidence in the blonde's bearing when she looked up, the brunette felt a resurgent aggravation at her mother's antagonism toward Janice.

Smothering the inclination to make a scene, knowing her lover needed her concentration for the interview to come, Melinda smoothed her face into a bright smile, gesturing to the seat beside her. Then she cast about for something to say. "Do you like Eggs Benedict, Janice?"

The blonde settled into the chair and glanced around the room once, orienting herself, then nodded as she put her napkin in her lap. "Sounds fine."

Melinda heard the distraction in her tone and focused her attention on Janice, excluding her mother with subtle body language and intensity in her blue eyes. "Would you like another cup of tea?"

Janice raised her chin to meet Melinda's gaze and smiled her thanks. "Yes, please." The woman took a long breath in and let it out slowly. "Guess I'm a little nervous, huh?" Melinda smiled, victorious in getting the blonde to forget for two seconds that her mother was in the room. As Melinda stood to get the tea, Janice turned back to the table and looked up at Brenda. "Good morning, Mrs. Pappas."

"Morning." The woman's eyes narrowed and her expression cooled. "That outfit seems a little drab for a university interview."

Janice straightened in her chair, pushing back from the table. Before Janice's brain could unfreeze and she had an opportunity to respond, Melinda's voice was sharp even in its liquid accent. "Janice's attire is entirely appropriate."

"I think I'll grab something at the campus." The blonde swallowed hard. "Excuse me, please." Pushing away from the table, Janice was gone in the next breath.

Her departure left mother and daughter visually squaring off in the small room. "Mother, I cannot believe you did that. I want you to leave. Today if possible."

"You can't force me from my own home, Melinda Pappas."

Melinda set down the cup she had been preparing with tea hard enough for the cup to rattle on the saucer. "I'm a lady. I will not have you treating Janice with such disdain. Just because you don't like the look of her clothes or her having a lack of your definition of 'breeding'."

"She's a leech, Melinda. Mark my words, she'll never repay us--"

"For what? I invited her here, Mother. I practically had to beg her." Melinda pushed off the table where she had leaned to ease some of the anger coursing through her body making her want to swing at something. "She was ready to go back to Philadelphia to no family, no home, and be alone. I didn't want that."

"So you'd rather send me out, alone?"

"That is not what I meant. You're being deliberately unkind. She's bent over backward trying to be polite to you. You didn't even say 'good morning' to her."

"I did," the older woman replied, standing now as well.

"Then you lit into her like she was a sack of cotton."

Both women ground to a stiff silence, eyeing one another. "Her father was nothing but trouble to this family, Melinda. Your father--"

"Is that what this is about? Daddy did work with Harry Covington, didn't he? Some of the business trips he took without us were to Covington's digs?"

"That man was a dreamer. Poisoned your father's good sense with all that nonsense. I tri

Melinda straightened with a suddenness that broke her mother's train of thought. "It is not nonsense, Mother. We--Janice and I--found a large cache of the Scrolls."

"Ludicrous." The smaller woman stood and backed up. "Impossible."

"I assure you it isn't. I translated several during the initial part of our trip home."

"Then where are they? You and your friend there came off a train without clothes or bags in hand." Brenda pointed at the entryway. "She's got you dreaming too."

"I told you about the troubles we had on our trip. The boat, the plane crash..." Feeling like she was spinning her wheels in sand, getting nowhere fast, Melinda finally just stepped back with a sigh. "Forget it. Just forget it. Believe what you want. I honestly don't care."

Vida took that moment to come through the doorway with three plates. She looked from one standing woman to the other and instantly stilled.

Having gotten much of her feelings off her chest, Melinda turned on her heel and left her mother standing alone in the small room, breathing hard. She heard Vida quietly offer Brenda a plate. Then she shut the entire unsavory incident out of her mind and went in search of Janice.

Chapter 2

Janice stood on a middle step on the main staircase. The blonde paused, resting a steadying hand on the scrolled banister when Melinda appeared beneath her.

As plainly as if the other woman spoke, Melinda saw and understood the pain that stiffened Janice's back and tightened her grip on the railing even as she turned a calm face to look at her. But the corners of her eyes were pinched and her nostrils tight. Kindly to allow Janice her silence, Melinda turned her gaze aside and schooled her own throat before speaking. "Come on. There's a coffee shop next to campus." She stepped up to a small closet at the foot of the stairs.

From it she retrieved a navy blue thigh-length twilled cotton coat, sliding it over her blushed rose blouse and dark rose knee-length skirt.

Janice appeared at her elbow as she was tugging her hair free of the coat's collar. The blonde moved past her to open the front door.

Melinda studied Janice's thin white blouse and knew the blonde would need a coat. She stilled the smaller woman with a hand on her shoulder. At the same time, she reached into the closet and pulled out another jacket.

The tan refined leather was a man's short style trenchcoat with wide lapels and a belt at the waist. Her father's safari coat, she remembered it from a trip the family made to Africa when she was a child.

She snapped it to smooth the fabric, and the billowing scent of mothballs hit the air.

Janice's nose wrinkled in an endearing way as she turned at the sound. "For the chill," Melinda offered, holding it out so the blonde would slip her arms into the sleeves.

Moving her jaw in silence as she contained her reaction, Janice did accept the jacket as well as Melinda's help freeing her blonde hair from beneath the material. The brunette's long fingers brushed over her nape and the warmth transferred to the blonde, easing the tension in her neck.

"Your father's?" Janice settled the coat more comfortably on her shoulders and felt the material stretch. Looking down she found the length almost to her knees. Dr. Pappas had been a very slender man, she thought.

"Let's go." Mel led the way down the front walk across the edge of the manicured lawn to the maroon 1940 Ford Deluxe Sedan, one of her first purchases after her father's death. The wide bench seat and extra large back seat provided the room to courier many donations for charities hither and yon. 

Both women dropped their heads against the breeze coming across the open grounds from the large lake at the northern edge of the property. Janice burrowed deeper within the loaned coat and Melinda was glad she had thought of it as well as been nonchalant about giving it to her. The sun burst on the tangle of Janice's hair as it blew around her face, casting an angel-like halo around the blonde head. Melinda felt renewed anger at her mother.

Reaching the car, she opened the passenger door and gestured Janice inside. Moving around to the other side, she opened the door and tossed her purse on the seat between herself and Janice as the blonde settled against the passenger window.

Intuition made her glance up at the house before sliding behind the wheel. Her mother peered from the gallery window, a tense hand gripped the heavy burgundy drapes. Catching her mother's eye, Melinda pointedly turned away and dropped into the car.

With a quick motion, Melinda shoved the car into gear, and guided it down the oak-lined drive onto the road into town.

Despite her own reaction to Melinda's mother, Janice could only imagine what that morning's scene had done to Melinda's state of mind. She glanced over at the brunette and studied the woman's profile as she drove.

She kept her eyes on the road, and both hands on the wheel. The driving wasn't complicated, and obvious from Melinda's fingers moving over the wheel's cover, she was terribly aggravated. Janice wondered briefly if some of it was directed at her.

"I'm sorry I walked out," she offered.

"It's not your fault."

"But your mother--"

"Mother can learn to mind her own business. Who I choose to bring into my home is my business not hers."

Janice winced at the anger she heard and in confusion asked, "What's in Boston?"

"Her family."

"Why would she go back there? This is her home."

Melinda took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "My father did not leave the house to her, Janice. He left it to me."

"Why would he do a thing like that? Isn't that unusual?" Janice paused. "Didn't he love your mother?"

There was a long silence as Melinda's hands flexed on the wheel, then quietly she said, "I don't know." Melinda shook her head.

Janice puzzled over that. Finally she caught the signs indicated the university town was just ahead. "Can I treat you to a sweet roll and some tea before I have my interview?"

Melinda pulled into a space marked in front of a small shop at the corner of Dunhill and Broad streets. Over the entrance a painted sign proclaimed "Greenley's Coffee Shop." "All right," she said.

Janice stepped out and straightened her clothes. She saw Melinda shade her eyes and glance across the way and up. Following suit, she identified a large face clock over a bank entrance. "7:22... Time enough for a quick bite before my meeting at eight." She linked her arm through Melinda's and led her into the coffee shop.

Both women's spirits brightened considerably as they settled at a small corner window table and a waitress brought two coffees when Melinda gestured with her fingers. Janice ordered, "A couple of the peach pastries?" When Mel confirmed with a nod, Janice added to the waitress, "And cream for my coffee please."

The waitress nodded and went behind the counter where an array of men were assembled, drinking coffee, enjoying platters of eggs, grits and seared ham slices. They were engaged in friendly banter with each other and the cook behind the counter before reporting for their own jobs. Janice turned her attention back to Melinda. "So, who do you have to see today?"

The brunette shrugged. "Just a few of the board members. Let them know I'm back in town, and I have a lunch appointment with the president's wife. She and I are both on the board at the Community kitchen. We're planning the Thanksgiving menu and where to get the supplies."

"That should be a busy day."

"You've got the harder job. Cuthridge is not known for being easily amused. Pretty dry personality. Even my father wasn't crazy about him."

"Well he's going on sabbatical. I have to convince him I can teach his classes, not work with him."

Melinda nodded and chuckled. "You're right. I'll come by the department after I've had lunch with Maryann. Probably around two."

"I think I can handle that. Who knows you might find me settling into my office by then." She smiled at the brunette and reached a hand across the table to pat her hand. "Everything will be fine."

"Except on the home front. What am I going to do about Mother?"

Janice shook her head. "Don't do anything you'll regret."

"But she's deliberately hurting you."

"I'll grow a thicker skin."

There was a long pause of silence as the two women accepted their pastries, Janice stirred in her creamer and Melinda took her first bite. Putting down her fork, Melinda's voice broke the silence in a rumbly caress. "Janice?"

"Mmm hmmm?" the blonde answered, chewing quietly on her pastry.

"I much prefer the skin you've got," Melinda's voice lowered even further, sending a skittering of tingles down the blonde's back as she shot a glance up at the brunette's luminous eyes. They shared smiles and finished their breakfasts in companionable silence.

Half an hour later, Melinda pulled the sedan up to the history building, parked and turned off the engine. Janice looked at her oddly when Melinda quickly stepped out and moved around to the other side, opening the passenger door. From her body language, Janice immediately realized that Melinda was nervous. For her. That revelation struck her silent even as she watched Melinda move around her to close the door. 

Without a word, the brunette pulled Janice into a tight hug, nuzzling her chin against her shoulder. She could feel Melinda shiver slightly. She put her own arms around Mel's back and squeezed. "Thanks."

Feeling the breeze on her face Melinda pulled back and pulled her emotions together. "You had better get going. Don't want to be late for your interview." She caught Janice's gaze and impulsively caressed the smooth cheek. "Good luck."

"I'll be fine. Cuthridge just better watch out. I might just impress his socks off." She chuckled, and a moment later, Melinda chuckled too.

"Don't let him get you flustered. He does it to his students too. 'Makes men out of them to face adversity,' he says. We students just called it perversity."

"So you had him?"

"Introductory level class about two years ago. Then I moved onto classes out of his field. Seems that happened a lot. Probably a lot of promising British scholars were driven into French or German studies because of Cuthridge."

Janice made a face of wry amusement. "Next you're going to tell me he's fat, jowled and older than Methuselah."

"No, actually --"

"Just go on. I'll be all right. Heavens, if I can face down Smythe, a farcical slime ball, and come out on top, I can certainly handle a beet-faced Brit with airs." She nudged Melinda's shoulder.

Melinda gave her another quick hug and returned to the car. The blonde watched from the stone steps as Melinda set the car back into gear and drove off. With a quick hand, she ordered her hair and turned to open the large, brass-handled doors.

A weight pushed it open from the other side, startling Janice who jumped backward. She looked up to see a large sallow hand wrap around the edge of the door, holding it from swinging further outward. A sheepish face appeared around that edge, worried brown eyes peering from a thin face with well-groomed muttonchops and dust-brown hair, shot through with a few strands of gray. "My apologies, miss," he said when he spotted her pushing herself off the stone railing. "I didn't expect anyone to be coming in at this hour."

"I have a meeting in the department at eight o'clock," she responded, genuinely smiling as he helped her to her feet.

"Applying to enter the program?"

"Something like that," she answered with a chuckle.

"Well, good luck to you then. I was headed to the dining room for a quick coffee. Department secretary makes a terrible brew." He held the door for her and waved her inside. "Pardon me, but I must be quick. I too have an early appointment."

Janice nodded and watched him hurry down the sidewalk toward the east side of campus. Interesting fellow, probably a graduate assistant, she thought. In the entry she paused, studying the building's interior while she shrugged off her coat and straightened her sleeves and brushed a few wrinkles from her slacks. A set of stairs, with a faded wood banister indicated the route to the second floor. A doorway in front of her had a glass inset for the top panel and a long corridor beyond with widely spaced doorways suggested classrooms. She glanced to a wood placard listing rooms and names. "Department secretary, 201. Okay." She glanced down the rest of the list, absorbing the other names. "Adelbaum, Vorhees, Thomas, Cuthridge, 208. Okay." She went further and saw "Pappas." "Wonder what Mel's father's name is still doing on the placard. He's been dead a year already." Shrugging the question off, though thinking she might file it away and ask Melinda later, Janice sprung to the stairs, bounding up them two at a time.

Chapter 3

Janice entered the secretary's office after checking the small tag on the wall beside the door. She heard movement in an adjoining office and looked around, identifying a pair of chairs to sit and wait.

Just as she settled, debating between a formal posture or a casual one, a woman walked in. She was of medium height wearing her golden brown hair done up in a high bun off a vaguely lined, modestly made-up face. Hazel green eyes widened slightly at spotting Janice. "I'm sorry. May I help you?" She put the small mug in her hands on the efficiently organized desk.

Janice came to her feet and introduced herself, then said, "I believe we've spoken on the phone. I'm here to discuss a position with Doctor Cuthridge."

"Oh yes, to fill in while he's on leave. It would be nice to have another woman around here," she remarked as she settled in her chair and moved two books with notes sticking out helpfully from the pages. Then she scanned over a paper written out in a grid format. "Yes, yes. Here you are. Dr. Cuthridge, eight o'clock." She glanced up at a clock on the wall and immediately stood. "A few minutes past. Oh dear, come with me." Janice followed the woman out into the corridor. "Dr. Cuthridge... intensely dislikes tardiness." She cast a last glance over her shoulder halfway down the hall. An appraising look preceded a conspiratorial smile. "I'll just tell him I held you up with paperwork."

The smile sprang to Janice's lips spontaneously as she felt a connection blossom with their shared possession of the simple secret. "Thank you, Mrs. Collier."

"Call me Bea." She knocked on the closed door of 208. When there was no answer, she knocked once more and then swung the door inward. The office beyond was empty.

Well, empty was the wrong term, Janice realized as she took in the cluttered space. There wasn't any person visible in the four-walled space. Floor to ceiling on three walls held mismatched bookshelves. Each was filled to overflowing; many books lay on their sides atop others lined up in the rows of stacks. She caught a few of the titles and smiled. Philosophy to general history. Thinly bound copies of academic papers sat next to map collections in thick binders.

The desk was also covered in books and papers. She spotted the corner of a nameplate and uncovered it with a careful hand.

"Yes, well. This is the place," Janice showed the plate to Bea with a quick smile. "Do you suppose he's buried in here under one of these piles?"

Bea shook her head and backed up to look down the corridor. "He was here earlier. I have no idea where--"

Janice looked up as Bea's voice stopped in mid-sentence and swallowed as her eyes caught sight of another figure in the corridor beyond.

Both women gaped at a man of moderate height, muttonchops shaped around an expressive face. A familiar face. Janice swallowed again. Bea however spoke first. "Doctor Basil Cuthridge, this is Doctor Janice Covington. Your eight o'clock appointment."

Bea presided as the two shook hands, Janice alternating her gaze between Bea and Cuthridge, instantly recalling their brief encounter on the steps out front.

Cuthridge apparently also recalled it. "Thank you for the formal introduction, Mrs. Collier. Dr. Covington and I briefly met one another this morning." He smiled at her benignly. "But I hadn't the pleasure of exchanging names." His eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled again. "Thank you, Bea. I'll take Dr. Covington from here."

Bea looked from one to the other, her face concerned. "I'll be transcribing Dr. Leavitt's lecture tapes. In the front office."

Janice kept her gaze even with Dr. Cuthridge's as he assured the secretary, "Thank you, Mrs. Collier. I'll ask if we need anything."

Bea's gaze fell on Janice who spared a smile for the older woman. "Thank you for directing me."

"Of course." The secretary finally responded as she back up to and out the door.

Janice chuckled as Bea disappeared. "She seems to think of you as a bit of a dragon." She herself remembered the smiling man who had so politely bumped into her earlier. Now she turned to see his back to her.

Dr. Cuthridge moved a pile of books revealing a chair with a thick gray overcoat still draped. "Have a seat." His voice held little inflection, instantly making Janice wary. When he looked up expectantly, she nodded, but did not sit. Instead she backed up and watched Cuthridge briefly scan a shelf and then pull a book.

"You probably have a lot of questions for me," she said finally.

"Some," he agreed, calmly flipping through pages. He stopped and passed over the book. "Read this please."

Janice studied him querulously for a brief moment. She remembered Melinda's advice that Cuthridge liked to put people on the spot. Adversity huh? She thought. Lifting her chin, she slipped the book from his hands. She turned it so she could identify the text. The character set was ancient, blocky from being more often carved than written. She blew out a long breath. "First century Gaelic, maybe second." She looked up and caught his nod. Calling up her skill in this area--Melinda was the real expert, she thought--and a little of the cockiness she had used countless times negotiating with her work crews on a dig, Janice began reading the text aloud.

Out of the corner of her eyes she caught a few winces by Cuthridge and modulated her tempo and the accent she found coming more easily. She caught the ghost of a smile as she stopped reading.

"Now translate."

Without blinking she returned to the top of the passage and began the translation. It was a description of a Celtic union rite--a wedding ceremony.

"At once pass the vine among their digits, interweaving as the roots of the willow tree. Incant the soma, or ritual song, with each drinking from the cup of Mother."

He took the book from her hands at that point. "Your syntax could use a little work."

Janice moistened her lips and rubbed her palms together. "My specialty is not Celtic, but there are many universal structures in the ancient tongues. I have a degree in European history and a specialist's in Mediterranean Medievalism, also several advanced degrees in Pre-Roman cultures."

"Read that in your application." He put the book down and edged his hip over the desk. "I liked the amount of practical experience in your resume, Dr. Covington. It suggested an ability to learn and think on your feet."

He was looking at her steadily now. The professorial demeanor left his features, and he returned to that man she had met on the front steps. The one she had mistaken, by the air of youthful excitement about him, for a graduate student. "What do you want to hear then?" Idealism shone from his dusty features which was then given voice, she knew as she listened, from the heart.

"Commitment." He took a deep breath. "Dr. Covington, I'm sure you've heard I'm very hard on my students." He picked up a magazine and flipped through it as he continued. "I'm hard on my students because I want them to succeed. Not for myself. Not for this," he folded the magazine and shook it at her. "For them. I enjoy harnessing an unbound love of history and channeling it into making graduates who will be incisive, investigative, dynamic, and adept at creative analysis." He sighed. "I want them to think. Not just ingest and spit it all back out."

"That's... very noble." She reeled a little at the conclusion of his impassioned speech. "What I mean to say is... If you love teaching so much, why are you leaving?"

"I registered the leave as sabbatical, yes, but..." He trailed off and Janice found herself watching him pace. "I'm sure you determined that I'm originally from Britain. Dover to be exact."

"Yes, I gathered that much. The name, the accent..." Here she paused with a light chuckle. "Sorry, but you aren't the typical American."

He nodded. "And I suspect neither are you, but back to the matter at hand. I don't know that I will return to the university when my sabbatical has passed."

"Investigating a new position?" Janice had heard of colleagues doing such a thing, using paid time off from one institution to cement a position at another. In just a short analysis, she honestly had not pictured Cuthridge as the type.

"No. Well, not an academic one." He paused. "I'm going to join the war effort."

Remember the troubles she and Melinda had just skirting the growing war, the words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. "That's crazy."

"No, it's patriotism, I suppose. I was... listening to the wireless one evening." He gestured at the radio buried under a small curling stack of papers on the windowsill. "They... the Nazis... bombed Britain."


He nodded. "My home is a pile of rubble. A hereditary noble's cottage on the edge of Dover. Nothing but a pile of plaster, twisted grommets and broken heirlooms." His eyes gleamed a bit greener. "I have to go, but... my students deserve a chance at completing their studies under good guidance." He straightened up and picked up a pencil, twirling it over and through his fingers, then pointed it at her. "You are friends with Mel Pappas, right?"

"Yes, she's better at the syntax than I am as a matter of fact."

"Oh, I know. She's only a credit or two away from completing her studies. She'd be able to present a dissertation within the year if she would just buckle down and write the thing."

"I could make sure she completes her studies." Janice briefly contemplated the nights at Beaufort in the future where she and Melinda could curl up together debating passages and dissecting translations, piecing together life in northern Europe before the dawn of modern history.

"She and my other senior students could also support you. You'll lecture, review my undergraduate students' research procedures, challenge them as well as the graduate students. It's long hours, not a lot of pay and no glory."

Janice smiled, her green eyes taking on the sparkle of accepting the challenge. "I think I'm pretty familiar with that."

"I have all my students' files here. We could go over the course materials and a few of their files. "He gestured. "Unless you have another appointment?"

Taking a long pause to think about it, Janice finally offered her hand in agreement. "I could give you my thoughts on their courses of study. How to guide them to more specific questions. And some content I could bring in to enhance the classes."

Cuthridge took her hand and smiled back. "Then, I think, Doctor Covington, that we can begin."

Together they cleared his desk and found the student files. He offered her a cup from the thermos of coffee he pilfered from the campus's dining hall.

Laughing she declined and they began to work.

Chapter 4

Melinda discreetly uncrossed then recrossed her ankles in the other direction, using a hidden hand to rub her thigh. Unobtrusively she checked her wristwatch and wondered how Janice had been doing for the last two hours.

Though she tried not to, the brunette sighed. Even Cuthridge would have been more fun than this, she thought, watching the others of the board discussing a budget item.

She had come in looking for the college president, just to let him know she was back and inquire if he had managed to reschedule a board meeting she had missed while overseas. She had not expected to hear that if she could wait twenty minutes the meeting could go ahead right now, that morning. She looked up across the table at the impressive figure of a middle-aged man, broad shoulders encased in a double-breasted blue suit, ready wit sparkling from brown eyes as he addressed a point to the dozen gathered board members. 

Jonathan Ryder Smith spoke softly, but his tone carried gravity. "A cost of living adjustment is prudent," he said.

"It isn't something we can afford right now," countered Harold Gobal, a widowed businessman. The Raleigh Mercantile owner had both well-developed pragmatism and wealth. He pulled at his salt and pepper beard with thoughtful fingers.

"Everyone is tightening their belt," Cassidy Zeigmacht added. The widow Zeigmacht held a seat also on the Raleigh city council, her one grown son a proud graduate of the university, so she supported it with her money and her incisive thoughts. Melinda detected the considerations going on behind the slowly scanning gray eyes. Those eyes lighted briefly on her and the brunette swallowed even as she heard herself being addressed. "What do you think?"

Melinda felt all eyes shift to her. Having basically inherited the board position from among her father's responsibilities, she tended to remain quiet and observant, not talkative at these meetings. Also as the youngest person on the board, Melinda was often deciding for herself where her own opinion lay, but not typically speaking much unless it was a Pappas endowed chair under consideration. Ziegmacht occasionally had Melinda over for tea following their monthly meetings and frequently admonished her for her silence. Now it seemed since Melinda's return from Europe that Cassidy intended to change tactics. She would draw the brunette out in public.

Studying the fiscal data that Smith had provided, Melinda started in on a listing of facts, hoping it would bolster her discussion. "In the last year we have lost thirteen faculty members." A tapping drew her attention to Smith rhythmically dropping his pencil eraser against the polished wooden tabletop. "To my knowledge, we have never lost that many in a single year."

Smith nodded and contributed, "With the departure of faculty, our enrollment declines. The attraction to our hallowed halls really is not football, as our coaching staff would have you believe." Melinda noticed Beauregard Collier stiffen up at this remark, then returned her gaze back to Smith. "We have to find a way to keep our faculty," he concluded. "And that means money."

"Then they weren't part of the family," Collier, a very gray-haired wiry man well advanced into his 70s, retorted. "Who needs them?"

Doctor Beauregard Collier, a professor emeritus of English, had been with the faculty since before the turn of the century. Having graduated from the undergraduate program at a state college campus in Chapel Hill, he had joined the starting faculty at this new campus further inland in 1893. Bolstered by the presence of several doctors of English and in the other disciplines, Collier had spent his young life, married his wife of 47 years, and raised three boys to study within these halls. North Carolina University was not just a place of learning, but a family to the aging curmudgeon.

"Times change, Beau," Gobal interjected. "Money drives an awful lot of things since we worked so hard to recover from the '29 crash."

Collier and Gobal did not frequently see eye to eye and Melinda waited for the inevitable explosion, but Zeigmacht defused it with a wry turn of wit. "Yes, Harry, but we only narrowly avoided our own crash of '39," she admonished with a quirked smile.

Gobal nodded his head and turned to face her. "Have an idea, Cass?"

"Intangibles are often more valuable than money," she suggested. "Let's institute a faculty member awards dinner, and shuffle the department chairmanships a bit."

"Rewarding those who have kept students, or kept students interested..." Melinda began.

"Or become involved in the campus community. As the other faculty have left that's made more than a few of the remaining ones take on club supervisions, a few have even moved into the houses with the students to support them, or foster study groups," Cassidy confirmed.

"I hadn't thought about that," Melinda acknowledged. "The students would certainly point out faculty they have felt the greatest help from."

"We can begin the selection process and have the final vote go to the student body. Probably be able to have a Christmas assembly to celebrate those awarded," Smith picked up the idea with an enthusiastic smile. "I like it, Cassidy. It's new. Quite original."

"And won't cost much more than a few plaques and a special preparation in the campus kitchens," Gobal acceded.

Melinda smiled. This was definitely the way more meetings should go.

Zeigmacht caught her eye and accepted the smile. "Perhaps you will be able to introduce the new faculty members to the student body then also, Melinda." The older woman raised an eyebrow significantly and Melinda instantly wondered where Cassidy had heard about Janice, not fooling herself for a moment into believing that the news of her houseguest had escaped anyone's notice. "A mistress of ceremonies."

"Certainly someone more experienced?" she protested delicately.

"Dear, the rest of us are too old to gush appropriately, besides, I think you have the right... presence, shall we say, to be most appreciated by our student body."

Melinda blushed at Ziegmacht's words. Cassidy relented and changed the topic, though she reached out and patted the brunette's hand on the tabletop. "Well, that settles what's happening at Christmas. Didn't you have a proposal from the student body for Halloween, Beau?"

Dr. Collier nodded. "I'd rather just decline it. I can't see the benefit of letting hundreds of students crowd our campus for the express purpose of drinking and scaring each other to death with hideous masks." He lifted the proposal, formally submitted by the Student Body president. "When I was in college--" he began.

Cassidy settled back and waved her hand generously. "Oh come now, Beau. Don't tell me you didn't kick up your heels as a young man. I won't believe it." 

"And I think it's inappropriate to have crowds of people in any one place for such a long night. There's bound to be trouble."

"Trouble? And you've never caused any?" Melinda watched in fascination as Cassidy shifted and put a hand down on the table firmly.

"They're children."

"They are adults," she countered. "How can you justify denying them a party? Typically there's a fall dance as well as a spring one."

"So let's tell them they can have a dance, in town. Halloween night is no time to just open up our campus to revelry."

"Poppycock," Cassidy retorted. "So the fall party will coincide with Halloween. What of it? The spring one coincides with Valentine's Day, so it's not like they're trying to subject the campus to heathen ritual."

Melinda looked to Dr. Collier and saw by his reddening face that Cassidy had hit on probably the key reason for his objection. "It's a carnival they're suggesting, Dr. Collier, not the formation of a coven."

Cassidy nodded at her simple statement with approving eyes. "Melinda's right. If we secure the proper amount of assistance beforehand, I'm sure we'll even have sufficient police on hand to quell anything unruly."

Collier looked from face to face and sat back grumbling. "I won't sponsor this outrage."

"According to their proposal, Beau, the students have all the supplies. They were merely inquiring as to the use of place," Smith pointed out, which only made Collier grumble even more.

Melinda quelled the amused smile that threatened to break across her face as she watched the by-play among the board members. Well, maybe things are somewhat interesting after all.

Smith shuffled his paper and looked at the time. "One more quick item and then I have to get Melinda to lunch with my wife."

Everyone shuffled his or her papers to the next item: the qualifications of a new faculty member. Melinda sighed, and tried to moderate her voice into quiet tones without wavering from the facts in her words. "The position is for a doctor of archaeology." Melinda brushed back a strand of her dark hair that had come undone from the bun at her nape. Harold Gobal, the board member who had initially fielded the candidate, narrowed his eyes and returned her regard. "Mister Gobal, the bank won't authorize the fund disbursement unless the trust conditions are met."

Smith spoke to it without preamble. "Lipton's portfolio is impressive. Not as many publications as some, but the insight--" University President Jonathan Ryder Smith challenged her refusal of the candidate.

Of the dozen or so others at the table, Beauregard Collier steepled his fingers. " Miss Pappas, the two more experienced candidates have already withdrawn. The government offered them better."

"And the applicant has what?" She gestured with the scrip sheet. "No teaching experience. It's been less than a year since his doctorate was conferred... in Norwegian antiquities. Less than two years in the field at obscure digs," Melinda countered. Then she sat back. "Has he been extended an interview?" She nailed her gaze on Smith. He nodded. "When will he be here?"

"Thursday. With Cuthridge's departure at the new year, we need the position filled. Otherwise we'll be too far down in numbers."

Melinda's eyes widened at the short timetable as well as at the news that meant Janice might not have a position after all. "Why wasn't I informed of this?"

"You were not available for conference," Collier countered. "A research facility was also interested."

The brunette hid her eyes for a long moment before nodding. She hated turning down eager applicants for any of the endowed chairs. The positions held little more than prestige and certainly the money award was more modest than the lure of working for the government. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "I'll need to see his full file. See what I can do to convince the fund director that the stipulations are still being met."

"We would like to have the position funded for the beginning of the spring semester," Jonathan concluded as he passed the file via Collier. He pushed to his feet and shrugged his shoulders into his overcoat. "We'll meet again next week after the campus Halloween party has had a chance to die down."

"I won't be back in town from visiting my daughter-in-law and new grandson until the 2nd," Rachel Dumont objected. "Could we make it the 4th?"

Smith shrugged. "Any objections?" he asked of the table. No one responded. "All right then, we'll meet 11 a.m. on the 4th." He moved around the table to Melinda who was collecting her papers and purse as well as trying to shrug into her coat. "Come on, Melinda, I'll drive you over to the house."

"I brought my own car, Dr. Smith," she replied. "I have a friend over in the history department who I should check on first."

"All right then. Where were you meeting Maryann?"

"At the Biltmore Room."

He nodded appreciatively then turned to leave, catching up with Cassidy Zeigmacht as Melinda felt a shadow fall across her shoulder. She smiled warmly at the only other truly young member of the board.

Tyler Jameson stepped up to her. Thirty-four years old, his older brother had married Mrs. Dumont's only daughter and as a banker himself, albeit a young one, he had enough position in town to sit on the college board with some measure of respect. "Miss Melinda, it is very good to see that your trip overseas was a successful and safe one."

"Thank you, Tyler," she responded, tugging her hair from beneath her coat collar and smoothing the nap of the fabric as she picked up her papers. She watched his face pinch and his eyes dart aside for a brief moment. "Is there something else?"

"Yes. I'd very much like to have you to dinner this evening," he gushed. "I was thinking that my mother..."

Melinda smiled. "I'm sorry, Tyler, but I have a houseguest. I should arrange things more in advance for a while. Thank you though, for the kind invitation."

"Perhaps later... this weekend perhaps. Sunday dinner? My mother is having a small gathering."

Shaking her head, she squared her shoulders. "I will have to see, Tyler. Please drop a note by the house tomorrow."

"All right." The blond man had very boyish features and an easy smile. "Perhaps your friend can join us." She thought she detected a note in his tone that suggested he was offering more out of form than any real desire that she take him up on that. Clearly he wanted to have dinner with Melinda... alone.

The brunette was not certain how to take that, as flattery or pushiness. He did not seem to be the pushy type, but she admonished herself with her lessons on the trip home from Macedonia. Appearances could be deceiving. "I'll ask her," she replied, turning her back on him and following Smith and Zeigmacht, who were conversing about some other event earlier in the week on the campus.

She looked back over her shoulder to see Jameson collecting his briefcase and coat, draping the latter over his arm. She thought about Janice for a fleeting moment and wondered what the strong-willed blonde would say to the dinner invitation. A dinner party might be just the thing to give Janice her own contacts within the Raleigh community, Melinda thought.

And had to consider the idea.

Chapter 5

Straightening her coat and chattering over her shoulder to her companion, Janice reached the bottom of the stairs and reached out for the door leading out of the history department's imposing building.

"It isn't as simple as it sounds," she said, just as her hand closed over air and she stumbled forward into another body. A pair of arms shifted around her shoulder in startled reaction and she bolted her head up, slamming her crown into someone's chin.

"Ow!" Her hand closed over an arm in a frantic attempt to find her center of balance before they went tumbling onto the concrete steps.

Janice released her grip and threw herself backward as she looked up. She felt big hands -- Basil's most likely since he had been right on her heels -- close over her shoulders.

"Janice!" Blue eyes raked her from head to toe as she steadied and gathered her wits.

"Mel!" She was positively happy to see the brunette; excited about the news she had to share.

"Miss Pappas." Basil's drier, lightly accented voice rumbled just off her right shoulder.

Melinda's eyes left Janice's and fell on Dr. Cuthridge where she noted his steadying grip remained on the blonde's shoulders. The position irritated her sense of protectiveness toward Janice. Only after a pause for a breath could she speak. "Good afternoon, Dr. Cuthridge."

"Dr. Covington and I were just headed out for a bite."

"I left a note with Bea," Janice interjected. "The secretary upstairs."

Melinda shook her head. "I know who Bea is." Her emotions upset by the circumstances, she winced even as she heard the cutting tone in her voice.

"Would you care to join us?" Cuthridge intervened. Almost hypnotically drawn to it, Melinda watched his left hand slide down to Janice's elbow where he then pulled it away to support the door.

Janice answered for her. "Melinda already has plans for lunch with Mrs. Smith." Melinda thought she heard a note of pleasure in Janice's voice and considered canceling her plans. She clamped down on the impulse but acknowledged that the notion Janice would not want Melinda along for lunch hurt terribly.

"The president's wife?" Cuthridge clarified getting a nod from Melinda. "You certainly have connections, Miss Pappas."

She drew her gaze back to Cuthridge's green eyes with barely concealed annoyance. "We're both on the board of the Community kitchen," she responded, feeling oddly detached as she spoke, caught between propriety, her growing annoyance with Janice, and her anxiety of facing this particular man, who always managed to overset her when she was in his classes. "We have to plan the Thanksgiving dinner."

Janice's hand slipped over Mel's and the brunette absolutely felt her brain shut down as she looked down into upturned and smiling green eyes. "I got the job," Janice said, her face alight with excitement and pleasure.

A spurt of jealousy that she had not been responsible for that pleasure caught Melinda full force in the stomach. She pulled her hand away and looked up at Cuthridge again. Trying not to notice, she still caught the movement of him sliding around Janice, his right hand guiding the blonde through the doorway.

"Nothing's official yet," he said. "I just have to take her through Personnel."

Melinda considered several things to say next, but none of them found their way to her tongue. She wondered if Cuthridge had told Janice about the board's candidate coming on Thursday. Cuthridge was obviously trying to have someone of his own choosing in place before that happened.

The uncertainty she always felt around this man, who was like her father in so many ways with his careful speech and his sharp gaze, and his formidable intellect, kept her silent. Then too, she realized, catching sight of a clock down the hall, she did not really have time to go into it now. Melinda turned to Janice and said, "I have to get to my meeting. Will I meet you back here later?"

"Basil's given me some notes. I'll go back to the house after lunch to go through them. Looks like a rainstorm will be coming through."

"Perfect reading weather," Cuthridge commented. "I'll see that she arrives safely."

Melinda felt the words spill forth before she could stop them. "Mother will be happy to see us both for dinner," she looked at Janice briefly. Knowing that was far from the truth, she still hoped Cuthridge would understand he should not linger at the house.

Janice's expression was inscrutable, but she straightened quickly. "All right," she said distantly. "Enjoy your lunch," she added, stepping out onto the building's front steps.

Cuthridge remained in the doorway, allowing Melinda inside to catch a last look at Janice before he stepped away, releasing the door. Melinda's reply was a+ E,'@}Dф}5 )PP>юb` X%d o^_}V8d w:y% c,H8=c-Ytw3[¬+2N/$ #)+5$:\='.iϥiO֟g㨴:CJ=G4dy]ջ`z傑9 ƬR["ܤ bcNJedS5-V\.kuEm=O٭,1%mҦ5=BHR.b ,HUQ,bG,@PA IU)Tn?XZ}4M]M~eKB[D5 < a#`X7g#mZ r#"?4#ntyH TDGAoҵC&-Ԭ[gKvҒeɘ|9bhť#d"Ayig08/AAۙIQJ/rw{y7{-^qܬ`+hrH"" & jޱ4&&jDYjOڨijjH=(fi—4NP(ii)y13z\bP0Zu! @4Q@ QMA4;f% Fh8,NE-!l`/Jv*>EP49i2OӒx'4 r@H 6ONhWpIȦgF}b+pdjͧTWW֕n??9=})A>cJFa'J(洑Oj5)\+&nR@yP犆hN"KOS5#%\✴sOQ@\pi]XW"#=ENVc'֝ra 61_Z0CtCtՁQҨSa&:n 8C1!5|(q&+sJ{AT@3v,~9=źhe meal.

Not going about town constantly did not bother Janice too terribly. Her own preference was to avoid as many parties as possible where she would have to deal with more than a handful of people at a time. But the constant tension had Melinda fairly tied up in knots.

So, that brought Janice back to her quandary: why would Melinda lie? She glanced over to Cuthridge. Melinda had looked askance at him frequently. Perhaps she had hoped to speak with Janice alone? Then again, what was Melinda's relationship to Cuthridge? 

Janice revisited her conversations with Cuthridge that morning. They had ranged through various topics, addressing subject matter as well as students in Cuthridge's two introductory classes. She realized, beyond his first mention of Mel's name that he had not delved into her as one of his students as the discussion progressed.

"What do you think of Melinda?" she asked, hoping her voice sounded casual.

"She is a very busy young woman," he replied noncommittally.

"She seemed distracted." Janice crossed her arms over her chest as she observed the passing street sights. "I wonder what happened." The brunette's pulling her hand from Janice's came to mind. "She seemed a little angry."

"Perhaps there is some conflict on the board," he suggested. "Hopefully she will be relaxed later when you see her."

Taking a deep breath, she realized that Cuthridge was right. She could ask Mel later. "So, where's lunch?" she changed the subject deftly.

"Donovan's. It's a popular locale for the students." She smiled. It certainly sounded like a less than stuffy place. "Do you drink?" he thought to ask.

Janice nodded. "Worrying that I won't fit in?"

"Just thought I'd ask. We could go somewhere else."

"I've tossed back a few," she responded with an easy laugh. "Lead on."

"Darts?" He asked as he parked and Janice noticed the small sign on the front of a wood-frame building.

"I'm pretty good at aiming," she answered.

"You shoot?" He sounded surprised. She nodded, wondering what his reaction would be. "Very few ladies I know can handle one without flinching."

"Well, I've been in too many dicey situations to flinch much anymore," she answered with plain honesty.

He nodded. "It's been a while since I saw the dangers of a dig. Perhaps I've made the best decision anyway to get out of the classroom."

Janice shrugged. Cuthridge already knew how she felt about his trip plans. "I'll play you for our first round while we wait for our sandwiches."

"You're on."

They found a table near the boards, Cuthridge nodding to a few students who glanced up with surprised and pleased expressions.

"Do you come here often?" she thought to ask as they gave their orders and stood up to collect the darts.

"Often enough to keep them on their toes," he replied, not bothering to restrain a broad smile. Then he gestured toward the line, shuffling the darts in his hands as she sighted along hers, judging the shafts' straightness. "Ladies first."

Chapter 6


Mel paused with her iced lemonade in hand as she refocused on her lunch companion.

The liquid accent rolled over her name again. "Melinda?"

"I'm sorry. What were you saying?"

"Melinda dear, what's wrong?"

The brunette shook her head to clear her troubled thoughts. "Nothing," she said as plainly as possible. "We were discussing the menu."

"I have arranged all the cooking volunteers." Maryann Smith, the president's tiny, delicately boned wife flashed a smile that crinkled the corners of her eyes. "So now all we need is recipes." 

"The committee came up with most of them."

"And I have the shopping list from that right here." The older woman passed over a half sheet of paper with a list of items. "Here's half. I'll take care of the other half." She picked up her fork. "I was still hoping for some of Vida's sweet potato pone," she added. "You weren't at the meeting."

"I had... business in Europe," Melinda explained.


Melinda considered the answer quietly as she nibbled on her soup and crackers. Had it been? Her many injuries and Janice's certainly could not be considered a success. They had been shot at, lied to, manipulated, even coerced into committing espionage, and she was still unsure for which side. But through it all... She paused. There had been Janice. The trip, for all its terrible setbacks and disappointments, like the loss of the scrolls, which set Janice's work back several years, had resulted in Melinda gaining a true friend.

A rare thing for the quiet, intellectual brunette more inclined to book reading than bullet dodging. Janice's support, friendship and finally, the love Melinda had come to feel for her had given Melinda a sense of worth unrivaled in her previous relationships. 

"Yes," she revealed, feeling the start of a smile that seemed to spin up from her stomach and wrap around her chest, making her arms ache with a need to catch up someone--Janice--in a tight hug and never let go. She tightened her grip on her spoon instead and met Maryann's eyes, unaware of the exuberant gleam remaining. "Yes, it was... very successful."

Mrs. Smith sat back with an expression of appreciation. "You met someone. I can see that." She leaned forward creating an intimate privacy with her body language. "So tell me?"

Melinda nodded. "She's the daughter of a friend of my father's." Maryann's eyes widened, and Melinda realized that was not what the older woman had expected to hear. She added plainly, "She needed assistance translating a series of tablets, and had asked for Father."

"Oh." Mrs. Smith paused, rubbing her palms with her napkin. "From your face, I was certain you were going to say that you were getting married. An intellectual colleague; I never would have guessed." She returned to her sandwich. "She must be a brilliant young woman."

"She is. In fact, she's investigating the position as Dr. Cuthridge's replacement when he goes on sabbatical."

"I thought Jonathan mentioned they had a candidate to replace him as an endowed chair."

"They were discussing it today," Melinda confirmed, warming to the issue uppermost in her mind. "She met with Cuthridge today. The board didn't seem aware of that. Their candidate arrives Thursday."

Now Maryann looked confused. "So who has final say?"

Melinda shook her head. "I don't know. It sounded as though Cuthridge had decided on Janice."

"Is that your friend's name? Janice?"

"Yes, Doctor Janice Covington."

"Covington... Covington? Why does that name... oh never mind... I'm sorry. You were saying that Cuthridge seems to have decided on your friend. Have you mentioned this to Jonathan?"

"I met with Cuthridge and Janice after I left the board meeting."

Maryann was quiet for a long moment. "I think we need to find out what Dr. Cuthridge is thinking. If Dr. Cuthridge plans to go against the board without any sort of support, your friend could end up with a lot of problems."

"I want to avoid that."

Maryann stood up. A waitress immediately intercepted them. Both women declined dessert and paid their check. Walking together to the front of the restaurant, Maryann offered her final advice, "When you find out anything, call me." She patted Melinda's shoulder.

"Thank you for your help whatever happens."

"I haven't done anything yet. But a friendship that lights up your face like that is worth getting to the bottom of this. Your Janice doesn't deserve to be caught in the middle."

"We've been through a lot together in the short time I've known her. I'd like to just make sure she doesn't get hurt."

"You've been admirable the way you've handled yourself since your father passed on. Stepping forward to pick up so many of his responsibilities. Never be afraid to ask for help, my dear."

Struck speechless by the outpouring of support, Mel could only nod and grasp Maryann Smith's hands briefly, who squeezed hers back. "Thank you, Mrs. Smith. I'll call," she managed finally, turning to walk to her car.

For the longest moment she sat gripping the steering wheel tightly as she figured out where to go next. She wanted to talk to Cuthridge. Checking her wristwatch Melinda realized she might catch both Janice and the professor back at the campus if she hurried.

She took a deep breath resolutely driving away from the Biltmore Room and into the late afternoon downtown traffic.

Janice waved briefly at Basil Cuthridge as the professor wheeled down the plantation's winding drive. The drizzle from the dark clouds opened with a thunderclap, small droplets banding together into a pelting rain as she turned and dashed for the wide front porch of the Pappas home.

She fumbled through her bag and located the key Melinda had given to her two days earlier, when the brunette realized they might have very different schedules in the coming weeks. Finally unlocking the door the lithe blonde pushed the large heavy portal inward and looked around the shadowed entry for signs of anyone else.

Finding no one she proceeded all the way inside and set her bag, a loan from Dr. Cuthridge, on the floor next to the coat closet. She had just opened the small door and shrugged off the borrowed coat when she heard unhurried footsteps resound down the main hall. Hanger in hand she turned to identify who it was. The sound grew louder and Janice centered her sight on the archway leading toward the kitchen, readily recognizing the backlit figure of Melinda's mother, Brenda Pappas. The woman, only just past fifty, still had abundant dark locks though a shade or two lighter than her daughter's. The length was tugged back in a high loose bun accentuating sharply defined cheekbones and cornflower blue eyes that lit in reflection of the lightning outside.

"Mrs. Pappas," Janice greeted politely, looking on this as an opportunity to alter her relationship with the older woman.

Brenda's eyes settled on her with the suddenness of a pair of thrown daggers. Apparently she was surprised. As Janice felt herself under tight scrutiny, her nerves jerked as a sudden thunderclap echoed around them. She didn't have time to recover before she was questioned. "What are you doing here?"

Janice dared hope as she answered quietly, "Melinda had her own appointments, so I asked a colleague to bring me home."

The woman's look chilled several degrees and Janice wondered exactly what she had said wrong. "I see," Brenda said. "When is my daughter expecting to come home?"

The question came at Janice in a derisive tone but she gamely ignored it in favor of a quiet, truthful answer. "Melinda indicated she would probably be home for supper."

It obviously stymied Brenda Pappas that Janice was keeping her voice calm and even. When the older woman spoke next it was with the clearly felt tone of dismissal. "Supper will be served at half past five." She turned on her heel and walked back the way she had come, leaving Janice feeling as if all the air had been sucked out of her chest.

Janice leaned hard against the closet door as she closed it. Staring hard where Mrs. Pappas had been standing, she sank slowly to the floor crossing her hands, which still held the coat, over her knees.

She asked herself, what now? and turned her head to study the pouring rain. Footsteps once again drew her gaze, this time with clear trepidation that it was Melinda's mother back for another exchange. She could not remember ever having this much animosity between her and another person when she had no idea about the cause. Mindful of her manners, she pushed to her feet and squared her shoulders, daring the woman to find fault with her.

But when she looked up, instead of the uninviting expression of Brenda Pappas, Janice now faced the demure smile of Vida Joseph. The black woman was more a friend than a maid, Melinda had told her during their first day when Vida had shown Janice to the guestroom. A blue floral print sleeveless dress hugged her trim body easily.

"Good afternoon, Miss Covington. May I help you take your things upstairs?"

Janice picked up her bag and shook her head. "No, I have it, Mrs. Joseph. Thank you."

"Call me Vida, please. Miss Melinda says you'll be staying a while so let's not stand on formalities." Janice headed for the steps and found Vida remained just off her right shoulder. The woman's dark chocolate eyes looked over her steadily. "Then you have to call me Janice. I do have it... Vida. It's all right."

"Yes, ma'am," the woman responded deferentially though she did not move away from Janice's side. "It looks mighty nasty outside. Would you care for tea to warm up?"

Unassuming eyes met Janice's surprised glance. "Actually, I'm not really in the mood for tea." What she was interested in, she readily admitted, right now, was Melinda's presence, and curling into the brunette's body for a hug... lasting about an hour. Long enough to forget about Brenda Pappas and the inexplicably terrible encounters they kept having. "How about coffee? With a shot of whisky?" She added the last in a low voice.

Vida said nothing, only nodded and retreated back down the stairs just as the blonde reached the second floor landing.

Reaching her room a moment later, Janice set her bag on the bed and surveyed the telephone and papers currently occupying the small desk. Well at least I have a job now, Janice thought, beginning the process of rearranging her guestroom so it could also serve as her office.

She collected a small two-foot bookcase from the far wall, emptying it of the several reading volumes. Placing this next to the desk, she used it for her three primary reference books loaned by Dr. Cuthridge. Atop it, she shifted the phone and settled the student files and the syllabi for Cuthridge's classes in careful piles on the desktop.

As she worked, a small part of her mind kept an ear on the downstairs, as well as the storm outside, wondering when Melinda would get home. She hoped she would not have to dine alone with Brenda.

Chapter 7

Bea Collier set aside the letter she had been typing for Professor Leavitt. Settling her tan leather handbag over her shoulder, she briefly thought of her husband of twenty years and what to prepare for dinner when she arrived home. 

She stepped out onto the stairs and paused. She turned off the light switch by the door and glanced down the deserted hallway. Then she remembered that her in-laws were expected for the evening. Mentally she tossed out half her menu possibilities. Her father-in-law, Beauregard Collier, was very particular.

A figure partly cast in shadow was just coming from a door down the hall. Unable to identify the person, Bea called out, "Hello."

A familiar voice answered, making Bea smile. "Hello, Mrs. Collier."

"Melinda Pappas! My word, it's good to see you!" Then she was caught up in blue eyes that shined through the darkness regarding her from behind small wire rims glasses beneath a navy blue wide brim linen hat set forward on her dark head. The brunette stopped at a polite distance that allowed Bea to remain at eye level with the taller younger woman. Bea sucked in a breath when she had taken in the brunette's entire expression. Pale cornflower blue eyes, usually light with a sparkle of happiness were now dark swirling pools of deep ocean waves. Her usual demure smile, small but there at most times, was gone. Bea had only seen Melinda this obviously upset once before. Dear Lord, what was wrong?

"What's happened, Melinda? Can I help?"

"Where are Doctors Covington and Cuthridge?" Melinda had looked beyond Bea down the darkened hall.

"Neither of them returned after I saw them leaving for lunch." Bea shook her head. So that's what was on her mind? "They were debating something. She easily remembered the sparkling smile of the lithe Covington woman when she handed Bea a torn piece of paper to give to Melinda. "She left a note for you. It's on my desk." She gestured back over her shoulder. "Shall I get it?"

Melinda passed her quickly, then jerked to a stop by the realization of how anxious she was. She gestured for Bea to lead the way. "I called home and she has not arrived. But they aren't here either."

"You could have come up, you know." Bea's heels clicked a staccato as she quickly crossed to the department office and let Melinda inside. Her voice followed Melinda as she flipped on the lights. "You haven't been by in several weeks."

"Where's the note?" Melinda moved to the desk.

"There by the phone," she directed, somewhat surprised by the unusually abrupt tone. "Melinda, what's wrong?" The usually calm woman with quiet, delicate movements was replaced by this vision of edginess that snapped up the note and read it quickly, crumpling it in her left hand after a moment.

"Where does he go for lunch?" Her cobalt eyes narrowed focused on the startled and very worried secretary.

"Donovan's mostly. Says it reminds him of the pubs back home." She stalled Melinda with a hand on the slender forearm. An unmistakable and unfamiliar sense of power flowed through the muscle. She looked up in alarm at Melinda's face. "What did the note say? Melinda!" She tried to distract the younger woman out of her curt silence.

It seemed to work, a little. When Melinda answered, her voice was less sharp, but now a note of worry shaped the words. "They were going to lunch to talk more about the job." Bea was surprised. It wasn't any more than what Bea had already guessed, and told the brunette, though it appeared the young blonde had gotten the job. Trying to distract Melinda a little more, she commented on that. "Such a nice young woman, this Janice. She's a friend of yours? She's not in trouble is she?"

Melinda swallowed, realizing that she was scaring the poor secretary. Forcing a smile on her face, she nodded. "Janice is the reason I've missed classes the last month. I was in Europe. She came back with me. She..." There was so much more to the story, thought Melinda, her lips twitching at the unbidden thoughts of calm fragrant breezes and the warm satiny skin of her lover under her fingertips. She blinked feeling a bit disoriented.

"How lovely," Bea offered. A smile shattered Melinda's diffidence almost shocking to witness it was so full of longing.

"It's been more than four hours," Melinda protested. The real world instantly banished her thoughts away.

Bea shook her head. "If she's with Cuthridge still, that man could talk to himself for days, dear, much less an appreciative, interactive audience. I'm sure they just lost track of time." The secretary was finally beginning to settle down, realizing that Melinda was just overreacting from what was obviously deep concern for her new houseguest.

Melinda considered that. Based on the note and her conversation earlier with Janice and Cuthridge she knew the lithe, beautiful blonde had been very excited and very distracted. It did not make her feel much better. "I don't suppose you would have the number for Donovan's?"

Bea put down her purse. "There's a book of numbers in the desk. Or we can call the exchange."

Realizing the hour and that Bea had likely been leaving for her own home and family, Melinda sat down, pulled out the drawer and found the book. "I'll try it myself. I'm sorry to have kept you."

She could feel Bea study her for a long moment. "Are you certain?"

Melinda picked up the receiver from the cradle and looked up momentarily. "Yes. I'll be fine," she said, never pausing to consider that she had just peremptorily taken over the secretary's own desk. 

However, Bea only smiled. She remembered when she was so young that every little problem seemed terribly oversetting. The secretary set the lock on the door. "Just pull it shut after you leave."

Melinda nodded, removed her hat and powder blue handbag, setting both aside before skimming through the book pages. She was already thinking she would call Donovan's first, then her home. If Janice wasn't in either place, she'd just look up Cuthridge's home. She listened as Mrs. Collier's footsteps moved away and down the stairs, then rotated the dialing wheel.

After a single ring she heard the telephone pick up at the other end. "Yes. Hello. I'm looking for someone. Could you tell me--? Yes, all right. Doctor Janice Covington. Blonde. Just over five feet tall. She's twenty-seven years old. She'd be with a Doctor Basil Cuth-"

"I just dropped her off," a deep voice interrupted her.

Looking up, a startled Melinda quickly set the receiver back on its cradle without politely closing the connection and pushed herself to her feet. The chair loudly scraped the floor in the silence. "Dr. Cuthridge," she addressed the man standing in the doorway. "I was just looking for Jan-- Dr. Covington."

"I heard." The professor removed his hat, a corduroy billet cap, and crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the doorframe. "I left her at Beaufort Oaks safe and sound about thirty minutes ago."

Melinda heard the dismay in his tone and realized she had affronted him. "You spent four hours at lunch."

"She's a very talkative, bright young woman," he replied still watching her closely.

Melinda took a deep breath. She never realized quite how much she could sound like her mother. She asked more calmly, "So, did you give Janice the position?"

"I found Janice very incisive. Even in matters not in her specialty. Early Roman and late Greek period, isn't it?"

Melinda shrugged away the off-topic comment perturbed at Cuthridge's casual use of her friend's first name. "Did you give her the job?"

"Pending approval, yes."

"Whose approval?"

"Department chair. The Dean. President Smith."

"The board has their own candidate arriving Thursday."

"I know."

Melinda felt apprehension seize like two fists on the muscles in her neck and shoulders. "And?" She could not shake the feeling of intimacy she was getting from his behavior.

"And what? I'll tell them that the position has already been filled."

"You can't do that, Doctor. It's called breach of intent and the university could be in serious trouble." She walked toward him. "President Smith didn't know you already had a candidate in mind."

That seemed to shake his composure. "Covington could lose the position?"

"Easily." Melinda shook her head, small wisps of her dark hair coming loose from her bun. "I refuse to believe you didn't know. So the question remains... why?"

"It's my sabbatical, my replacement." Now his voice was curt, aggravated. She realized he felt challenged by the board's decision-making power.

Melinda sighed. "Janice's application has to go through official channels before Thursday or they'll force you to take the candidate who did."

"Did you see his résumé?"

"Yes, I did. I've been told by the board to make sure he meets the endowed chair's requirements in time for the spring term." Melinda moved around the desk and now stood about three feet away from him, effectively herding him out the door. "You have to speak with President Smith. He's the only one who could correct things."

Cuthridge rubbed his chin and took a deep breath. "Will he listen?"

She nodded. "I believe he will. No matter what, you can't avoid this."

"Janice would get hurt," he acceded. "I really like her. Perhaps I should try talking with Smith." He straightened, tugging smooth the lines of his damp overcoat. "First thing tomorrow."

Melinda took a deep breath and let it out slowly no longer quite as angry. "Thank you."

After a moment's quiet, he followed her into the hall. "Where did you find her? I haven't heard of her research before now."

"Europe. Macedonia, more specifically. She telegraphed my father for help with some translations."

"Melvin knew her?"

Melinda shook her head. "I don't think so. I think he just knew her father. I should be getting home. Mother and Janice are expecting me for dinner." She paused at the top of the stairs and looked back at him. "Clear this up, Dr. Cuthridge. Please."

"I don't want to see her hurt either."

Melinda mentally brushed off the contrariness that emerged when she heard the wistful note in his voice. Adjusting her purse strap she walked away. Shocked at herself, Melinda forced her mind off the subject and onto other things. She stepped out of the history building and walked down the shadowed sidewalk toward her car, head down against the steadily falling rain.

Against the backdrop of increasing thunder and rain which was making it hard to see, the rustle of leaves in the bushes that lined the sidewalk went unnoticed. Without warning, thick hands closed around her upper arms and a hard muscled body slammed into her, driving them both to the pavement before she even realized that she was screaming.

"Shut up!" A fist hit her temple. The voice was familiar. A hand clamped down across her mouth, muffling her yells as she was flipped over, blinking into the pouring rain. Melinda tried not to panic, but the dimness of her vision and the shock of the attack terrified her. She swatted blindly at him, some internal instinct forcing her to push off against the rough concrete and try throwing him off.

Everything was a blur while she fought, not exactly certain how, to flip them over so she was on top, raining blows down on his face. Her heart was pounding, her lungs burning. Then the strap of her purse caught around her wrist, tangling her fingers trying to get it off. She had a close glimpse of his face, too close and too blurred to make identification, and felt his breath against her cheek as she tried to slam her bound fists into his face.

Suddenly, she found herself under him again, face down with her knees crouched under her. The purse straps snapped and then without warning, she felt the scrape of concrete against her face and hands. It tore through her stockings and bloodied her knees. He got his legs around hers. Melinda heard the campus clock tower chime once signaling the half-hour. It was her last clear thought before her head was repeatedly banged into the pavement. She fought off wave after wave of dizziness. Grabbing dirt she blindly mashed it into her attacker's bleeding face. He reared back, slapping futilely trying to see. His left hand did not release her and she was dragged to her feet. Resisting his grip, she was pulled across the pavement. The pavement burned along her legs and hands as she kicked and screamed for help.

In a split instant though she gained good footing and without thought, launched herself backward, knocking him over and taking her body into an airborne roll. Dear God, she thought, disoriented for several long terrifying moments.

When she opened her eyes and righted the world around her, she found herself face down in a rain-soaked flowerbed, panting. Her hands rested between her face and the dirt as she coughed. Be more careful, she heard. Cautiously she ventured a peek at her surroundings. She focused on a nearby crumpled figure and realized it was her attacker. She heaved, throwing up.

Staggering to her feet, Melinda had a good look at the man. Instantly she recognized him as the man Janice had shot and wrestled off the train from New York City. Apparently he had survived and tracked them to the university.

She was bent over catching her breath when she heard him groan. Energy she couldn't have identified a source for, shot through her body. Favoring her right knee, twisted, she now realized, when she had been pulled down--So how did I get away?--Melinda quickly located her car and edged behind the wheel. Adrenaline washed over her fear, cloaking it as her body went through several automatic motions and turned on the car, speeding away from the campus. In her rear view mirror she saw the blond man, now filthy and covered in dirt, uneasily rise to his feet.

Vida Brown looked up at the clock over the kitchen entrance. Just a few minutes before 5:30, she realized. Surveying the dinner she and the cook had just finished preparing she wondered if she could keep it warm for a few minutes more. She had sent the cook home once the meal preparations were cleared away, the woman only coming in now to cook the meals each night.

Melinda had called almost an hour ago but had not come home. She had been disturbed when Vida related that Janice had not yet arrived. Then Miss Covington had come in the door not ten minutes afterward. She hoped the blonde was still here. Mrs. Pappas would be very annoyed and talk unceasingly about ungrateful, too busy children for hours.

Frankly Vida was not in the mood. She had watched the elder Pappas repeatedly challenge Janice's presence and seen Melinda's usually sunny nature turn sour. She did not know enough about Janice yet, but easily read the pain in the blonde's sharp green eyes.

She headed for the back stairs which led from the kitchen to the second floor bedrooms to collect Miss Janice. Perhaps the small delay would give Melinda the few minutes necessary to arrive home.

Seated in the recently restored drawing room, Brenda Pappas sat on the Piedmont sofa, working on a crossword puzzle as she awaited the dinner announcement. The drawing room's location put her in direct line of sight to the front door, where she kept glancing when the wind and rain combined to throw something against the house. None of the thumps had been Melinda returning home and Brenda acknowledged a knot of worry forming in her stomach as the minutes passed.

She thought briefly of the blonde upstairs and wondered if the Covington woman was also concerned. During their conversation when the blonde had first arrived home, she had been curt and tossed off the idea Melinda might be late.

Brenda stopped writing on the puzzle, sat back and crossed her arms briefly before uncrossing them and pushing to her feet. Driven by something she did not understand, she walked quickly to the front door and opened it, looking out over the wet drive and wind-blown trees trying to see through the downpour.

Quick footsteps sounded on the second floor landing and Brenda realized the blonde had dashed out of her room to investigate the sounds.

It was clear that the blonde cared for Melinda. It rankled Brenda that she was sharing her daughter with a stranger, especially a Covington.

Brenda closed the door and heard the footsteps retreat as she moved toward the dining room. Harold Covington had stumbled across Brenda's husband Melvin about ten years ago. At first, Melvin only assisted with research, combing dusty tomes and already recorded historical finds, to support Covington's wild contentions that some warrior woman had a major hand in ancient history throughout the Greek and Roman empires.

Brenda had equated it with the Britons hunting for evidence of Robin Hood, or King Arthur. If the Xena woman was supposed to have done have the things reported, she would have lived close to two hundred years.

While involved with Covington, Melvin had passed up two offers of department chair and a position as dean at another university. Then he began going to Covington's digs. The frequency had tested the campus' patience occasionally, especially when time after time the trips yielded nothing, or little, of significance. Then he began spending more and more time away from home, leaving her and Melinda alone for weeks, and frequently months. Until finally, all the activity, which Melvin, a bookworm for most of his life, was unaccustomed to, strained his heart beyond its abilities. The heart attack had been sudden and deadly.

Now, with Melinda, all Brenda could imagine was it happening all over again. She squared her shoulders and resolved to vigilantly prevent it. Something she had not thought to do before. She would not lose more family to a Covington's crazy schemes.

Continued in part 2

Return to Main Page