Disclaimers, or lack of them: See Part 1
My thanks as always to my beta reader, Barbara Davies. Her work can be found on her page, Barbara Davies.
"Joanna, dear. I'm sure killing your brother would only bring you short term satisfaction." Marianna looked over her copy of Horse and Hounds at her squabbling offspring. Her youngest looked about ready to beat her eldest to the point of death.
Jeremy was pointedly not looking at Jo as she carried on her tirade. But he felt the weight of her words, and flinched occasionally when she threw her more colourful language in his direction.
"I have the family's good name and the future of Collingford to consider," said Jeremy, shifting uncomfortably in the plump armchair. His sister's knees touched his own as she stood over him.
"And we are no threat to that," Jo growled.
"You are not the eleventh Lord Collingford yet, Jeremy," said Marianna, folding up her magazine and dropping it onto the plush carpet. "And, until you are, you will leave the reputation of the Holbrook-Sutherland name, and Collingford, out of this conversation. Your father and I are satisfied that Michelle has no ulterior motive." She looked up at Jo, who backed away and slumped down onto another armchair. "Now, Jeremy, I wish to talk to your sister. It's late; I'm sure you're tired."
Jeremy let loose an explosive laugh. "You're sending me to my room?" His eyes found his sister's smirking face.
Marianna said nothing, and merely smiled at her eldest.
Jeremy stood. "Very well. Good night, Mother." He turned to his sister. "Joanna."
Marianna looked across at Jo as the door was shut quietly behind her departing son. "Don’t look so pleased with yourself."
"Well, he was a jackass," Jo grumbled. "I never said a thing when he got that tart pregnant in '95."
"Where is Michelle?" asked Marianna, trying to divert the conversation away from her son.
"She's asleep," said Jo, suddenly finding the crackling fire interesting.
"She's exhausted." Marianna ducked her head, trying to see into Jo's face. "What is it?"
Jo sighed, suddenly feeling very tired. "She wanted to go back to London. To be no-one again." Jo looked up at her mother. "After she fell asleep, I went into the bathroom and threw up. I never thought anyone would have that kind of hold on me."
"You talked her out of it I assume?"
"Yeah, I did." She shook her head gently. "But if he says another word to her, I swear…."
"I don't think he will now. He knows how your father and I view family members insulting our guests." Marianna looked up at the clock. "It's nearly midnight. Do you think it's too late to wake Michelle?"
Jo frowned. "Wake her? What for?"
"I told you back in London. I have something I'd like you to see."
Jo rubbed her forehead with the heel of her hand. "I remember." She cocked her head to the side. "You gonna tell me what it is?"
Marianna smiled and shook her head. "No, I want you to both see it." She chuckled at her daughter's confused look. "It’s nothing spectacular. Just something I thought of the first time I saw Michelle. It's a curious coincidence, nothing more."
"I'll see if I can wake her, but she was really out of it when I left."
"That's fine, dear. If you can't, it will wait." She stood and walked to the door with Jo. "Meet me in the library," she said as Jo left her and started to climb the stairs.
The bedroom was quiet when she re-entered it, save for the soft breathing of the blonde woman on the bed, and the crackling of the dying fire. She walked to the hearth and took a large log, carefully placing it on the glowing embers. Then she made her way to the bed and to the person who had suddenly become the most important thing in her life.
She had come to realise that as she lay holding the blonde after Rocky had fallen asleep. And her anger had grown at her brother's outburst earlier in the evening. So she'd eased out from beneath her sleeping partner, gone in search of Jeremy, and told him exactly where he could stick his opinions.
She climbed onto the bed, brushing blonde hair away from the sleeping face. Green eyes opened and focused on her. "Hi," she said to the groggy woman.
"Hi." Rocky's voice was hoarse, and she cleared her throat. "Is it morning?"
Jo chuckled. "Nope, just about midnight."
"Why are you up?"
"Couldn't sleep." She traced a fair eyebrow, smiling when the blonde's eyes closed dreamily. "I've been talking to mother; she has something to show us."
Green eyes drifted open again. "She does?"
"Yep." Long fingers wound in blonde hair, massaging Rocky's scalp. "But if you're too tired, it can wait."
Rocky smiled, grabbing the hand that was threatening to send her asleep again. "I'd like to see."
"Okay." Jo slid off the bed, and eased the quilt off the blonde, who was still dressed in sweat pants and a tee-shirt. "Let's go see what it is." She stood, and swayed for a moment, the floor appearing to tilt beneath her feet.
"Jo?" The blonde was at her side in an instant, easing her into one of the plump armchairs by the fireplace. "Are you okay?"
"Goodness," said the dark haired woman, holding a hand to her suddenly throbbing head. "Everything phased out there for a moment."
"Hardly surprising. You've got a hole in your head, remember?"
Jo screwed her face up, pulling the willing blonde down onto her lap. "Not exactly a hole."
"It was a nasty cut; if you'd have gone to hospital they probably would have put stitches in." She parted dark silky hair to look at the still angry wound.
"But we didn't, and it's fine now. It hurts, but it's healing." She pulled Rocky's hand away from her own head and kissed the fingers. "I've got a hard head. I'm just tired…. We both are."
Rocky nodded gently and stood, reaching a hand down to Jo. "You okay to go now, or do you want to sit a while?"
Jo took the offered hand, letting the blonde pull her to her feet. "Nope, let's go and see what this mysterious thing is she wants to show us."
They walked hand in hand through the silent old house, Jo leading the way to the library. When they got there, Marianna was sitting at one of the large reading tables.
She gestured to two empty chairs. "Sit down," she said, putting on a pair of spectacles. Noticing Jo's lopsided grin she looked at her over the top of the glasses. "Something wrong, dear?"
Jo shook her head. "Never thought I'd see the day," her daughter said, nodding towards the probably horribly expensive spectacles.
"The light is dreadful in here," she said, by means of explanation, and turned her attention to a large book she had on the table in front of her. "I brought this with me from Greece. It's very old and very delicate." She opened the book and turned it so that the two younger women could see its contents.
Each delicate and faded page held a drawing; each drawing was of the same subject.
Jo looked from the drawings to her mother. "Who drew these?" she asked. She looked at Rocky who was staring at the image looking back at her from the pages of the ancient book. Her own image. The hair was longer, the face a little rounder, but otherwise, it could have been her.
"The likeness is uncanny, isn't it?" Marianna was watching the blonde carefully.
"It looks like me, Jo," whispered Rocky.
"There is some likeness." Jo looked up at her mother. "Who did this belong to?"
"It belonged to an ancestor of yours called Evelyn. Whether or not she drew the portraits I don't know, but each picture is signed at the bottom with an `E`. There was also a bundle of letters with the book, written in broken English." She pushed the bundle, tied with a piece of faded blue ribbon, towards Jo. "Most of the letters were returned unopened. I did open a couple." She smiled across at the confused looking women. "They are love letters."
Jo rubbed her aching forehead. "So let me get this right. This person, Evelyn, wrote love letters." She looked down at the sketches in the book. "To her?"
"I do believe that to be the case. Back then it would have been a terrible scandal. Every effort would have been made to keep them apart." She gestured towards the letters. "One of those letters is in a different hand. It would seem the recipient didn't know they were being sent back without her opening them. She sent a letter to Evelyn, asking her why she hadn't written to her."
"I don't understand this," said Rocky, looking again at the pictures in the book.
"Michelle, it would seem that many years ago, a member of my family fell in love with a beautiful, young blonde woman, the woman in those drawings. It would appear that their love was thwarted at every turn. I also believe that Evelyn may have killed herself. My grandmother and my great grandmother would never talk of her." She looked at Jo. "I didn't ever want to see anyone in my family suffer like that." She reached for both the younger women's hands. "I believe in fate. I was given this book and these letters for a reason, by a very wise old woman. As soon as I saw Michelle, I knew why." She reached across and carefully turned the pages of the book, until she found a particular image. The young woman staring from the pages was a mirror image of the young blonde that had first captivated Jo in the gallery in London.
Jo sucked in a breath. "Have you ever shown me this?" she asked. "When I was a kid or anything?"
"Never, Joanna. You've never seen this." She smiled at Rocky. "But as soon as I saw you, dear, I thought of this book."
Rocky pulled the book closer. The face staring out at her was similar to her own. The sketches were obviously drawn with a certain amount of affection. She turned the page and drew in a quick breath at the image she found there.
Unlike the other sketches, which were just head and shoulders, this showed the subject in full, lying on her back on what appeared to be a bed. A sheet was gathered about her waist, showing her upper body in all its glorious nudity. Her right arm was above her head, her left extended towards the artist, a red rose clasped gently in her hand. This was the only shock of colour in the whole book, the red rose.
Rocky's trembling fingers traced the delicate lines of the picture. "I think they found love," she said quietly. "I don’t think Evelyn drew this from imagination. This is something she saw." She looked up at Jo, who had moved her chair closer and wrapped a long arm around the blonde's shoulders. "I think she drew this after they'd made love."
Marianna smiled across at the pair, wondering at the contrast in them. "You both look tired," she said. "You can look again in the morning."
Rocky carefully closed the book, and slid it back across the table to Marianna. "Thank you for showing us the book; it's beautiful."
"Yes it is," said Marianna, resting her hand on the old leather cover. "I do hope I'm wrong about Evelyn. Maybe we can go back to my family's home in Greece one day. The family histories are well kept there."
Rocky leaned into her lover. "Well, I'm going to believe they found a way to be together." She looked across at Jo's mother. "And I'm going to believe they found happiness." Her gaze turned to the woman next to her. "Like us."
"I do so hope you're right, Michelle." Marianna picked up the book and the bundle of letters. "We'll open these one day," she said, removing her spectacles. "But now, I must go to bed. Too many late nights are catching up with me, and I meet with the estate managers tomorrow."
"Already?" said Jo. "I thought you didn't do that until the New Year."
"It is the New Year, dear."
Marianna chuckled. "Joanna, it's the second of January; it was the first yesterday."
"So New Year's Eve was the night…."
"The night at Joss'," whispered Rocky.
Jo shook her head. "I completely lost track, what with everything going on. My God." She ducked her head and kissed her companion. "Happy New Year, Rocky."
"You two go on to bed. We'll talk more in the morning, after my meeting. I'll be sure to leave instructions that you're not disturbed."
"Okay, Mother, whatever you say," said Jo, getting to her feet and pulling the blonde with her.
The walk to their room, past walls covered with the portraits of her ancestors, was made in companionable silence. Jo pushed the door open, and Rocky wandered into the room, seeing the fire glowing warmly.
She pulled Jo to the bed, and pushed her down on it, crawling onto her lover's body and lowering her head onto the dark-haired woman's chest.
They lay like that for long moments, Rocky listening to the strong heartbeat of her lover and the even rhythm of her breathing.
Rocky raised her head, looking down into the blue eyes glistening in the firelight. "Thank you."
Jo raised her hand, brushing blonde hair out of her lover's eyes. "For what?"
"For saving me."
Rocky's human mattress chuckled. "You were managing pretty well without me." She was quiet for a moment. "Sometimes I wonder if I've brought you more heartache than joy…. Maybe…."
Her musings were cut short by a warm mouth silencing her words. She pulled the blonde closer, her hands tightening on the tee-shirt the smaller woman wore, pulling it from the waistband of the sweatpants and finding the soft warm skin beneath.
When the kiss ended, the blonde rested her forehead on her lover's chest. Her voice was muffled by the shirt that Jo wore. "Jo, please don't ever underestimate what you've done for me." She lifted her head, looking into aroused blue eyes. "What you mean to me."
"So much has happened." Jo pulled Rocky back down, settling the blonde on top of her.
"It has. And for a moment there, I wondered if it was worth it." She closed her eyes, listening to the rapid heartbeat beneath her ear, feeling the trembling hand that was tangled in her hair. "I'd got used to the emptiness, learned to live with nothing." She reached for Jo's free hand, which was still moving in gentle circles against her own back. She pulled the hand to her lips, brushing a kiss across the knuckles. "And it was like an explosion of feeling when you came into my life. That's the only way I can describe it."
Rocky heard the hitch in Jo's throat, and squeezed the woman tighter. "No. Don't be sorry, Jo. You gave me back my life, gave me a purpose." She released Jo's hand and brushed ebony locks back from the bruise that surrounded the cut on Jo's head. "And you came for me." Her eyes filled with tears. "You could have been killed." She felt the arms around her tighten. "And you saved my life."
"Yes, Jo. You did. I couldn't have gone on just existing much longer. My whole aim in life was working out where the next hot meal came from. It was getting harder. All I had was the dreams." She pulled away from Jo slightly, raising herself to look into her lover's face. She smiled, looking into the moist blue eyes, knowing she would never tire of the joy of seeing them. "You’re my life now."
"You wanted to leave," Jo said, her throat closing on the words.
"Wanted is the wrong word, Jo. I thought I should." She lay down again, taking a lock of silky dark hair, winding it around her fingers. "I never want to cause you pain. I won't come between you and your family."
"You never will, because you're a part of me now." Jo rubbed her cheek against the blonde head. "If you’d gone tonight, I would just have followed you."
They were quiet for a while, then Rocky disentangled herself from Jo, and knelt on the bed.
"What will we do?" the blonde asked.
Jo put her arms behind her head, suddenly finding herself without the comfort of Rocky's body to hold. "When?"
"When all this is over, where shall we go?"
"Where do you want to go?"
"Wherever you are." She looked across, into the fire. "It's nice here."
"You want to stay here?"
Rocky shrugged. "I'm not really sure. It’s too much to think about now." She crawled to the bottom of the bed, and sat on the edge, her legs dangling.
Jo watched her for a moment, then followed her. She used the flat of her hand to brush fine blonde hair away from the back of Rocky's neck, and kissed the skin she uncovered. "What's up?" she asked, her lips warm on the blonde's neck.
Rocky let her head fall forward, enjoying the attention Jo was giving to her tense neck. "Nothing, just tired."
Jo settled herself behind Rocky, her longer legs either side of her lover. "We don't have to make any plans yet. We'll just see what the New Year brings."
Rocky felt Jo's arms surround her, and then the taller woman's hands cupped her breasts. She leaned back into Jo, and felt the hands leave her for a moment, only to return immediately, but this time on her bare flesh beneath the tee-shirt.
She tipped her head to the side when she felt soft, warm lips nip at her neck. One of Jo's hands released a breast, smoothing down across a quivering stomach. The hand eased beyond the waistband of the sweatpants Rocky was wearing, pausing there for a moment, before venturing onwards.
The blonde's hips bucked as the hand found its goal. "Easy," Jo whispered into Rocky's ear, her breath warm.
Jo smiled when a smaller hand pressed down on her own, separated by the fabric of Rocky's clothes.
"I never thought I could do this," Rocky whispered, her breathing starting to labour.
"Sssh," Jo's stroking became deeper, her hold on the blonde firmer. "Don't think, just feel. This is me. Us. No-one can take this from us."
"Oh God, Jo." Rocky threw her head back, feeling again Jo's mouth on her, taking her earlobe between her teeth and biting down gently. "Don’t let me fall."
"I won't." Jo felt the body in her arms tense, and held on as Rocky's climax built. Her knowledgeable hands drew out the blonde's pleasure, leaving Rocky limp and sated in her arms. She moved backwards across the bed, pulling her lover with her, until they were lying side by side, their heads on the plump pillows.
"He's gone," Rocky whispered.
"Who's gone?" asked Jo, moving damp hair away from the blonde's eyes.
"Shumacher." Green eyes opened, tired but smiling. "I thought he'd always be there. I didn't think I'd be able to have anyone touch me without feeling him. But he's gone."
Jo smiled. "I'm glad, Rocky."
They lay in silence for a while, Rocky's fingers smoothing across the larger hand she'd captured. "Jo?"
Jo's eyes were closed, but her mouth twitched into a smile. "Yes, Sweetheart?"
"I don't want to be Rocky anymore."
Blue eyes snapped open. "You don't?"
The blonde studied the hand she held closely. "No. Rocky was someone I became. Someone who suffered. Someone I was when I was hiding." She brushed Jo's knuckles against her lips, then raised her eyes to look into concerned blue ones. "I want to be Michelle again."
"Anything you want."
"Shelley. My family called me Shelley," she said, closing her eyes as the memory of her family caused her a sudden moment of pain.
"Do you want me to call you Shelley?"
She sniffed. "I need you to. I want my life back."
Jo gathered her into her arms. "I love you, Shelley." She smiled. "And now I'm going to show you just how much," she said, as she pushed her lover back onto the bed and began to pull her tee-shirt off.
My thanks to:- My beta reader, Barbara Davies. The folks who mailed me throughout the posting of this story, the Cathys and the Kathys and Kays<g> Cathy from Wales, who helped me with the Police stuff, and then I still managed to get it wrong. My good chums, Advocate and Steph, who refused to read it until complete, so ensuring its completion. And Charlie, who came up with some of the best ideas of the story.
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