Violence/Language: A little of both. Would make my mother blush, but then again, she hasn't ever said anything stronger than "shoot fire" in her whole life.
Sex/Subtext: Yup. Some of that too. Basically of the PG-13/R variety. In fact, between two consenting adults of the female persuasion. So. If that's gonna bother you, don't read this. Of course, if you are offended by two people in love, I would like to know why in the heck you looked up this uber story in the first place.
Special Note: This is my first attempt at writing fanfic. So be gentle. <g> Comments, constructive criticism and questions are welcome at: email@example.com.
Negative flame throwers may please direct their comments to: www.irs.org. They'll get back to you.....unless it's tax season.
*A very special thanks to my soul mate (anam cara), the amazing Lady Adrell, without whom this story would have stopped at chapter 1 - Heartfelt thanks for: images that make the knees weak, jungle gyms, Chinese take-out, chocolate ice cream, and all night cyber-slumber parties.....you are truly a Goddess among women. Comfy? c. 2001
The place looks like a demented Hansel and Gretel house. Camryn Wells grinned at the stray thought that flew through her head and edged her way towards the door through the throng of people clamoring to get inside the quaint pub.
C.J.'s Pub, a fairly new addition to San Diego's North County was all dark wood, exposed beams and white plaster lending it a traditional Irish flavor, with Gingerbread House trim that reminded Camryn of the fairy tales she had read as a child. "Yeah, right...because I'm going to meet Prince Charming or the Wicked Witch right through this door." she snorted.
Hoisting her camera bag further on her shoulder, the photographer finally reached the rather large, intimidating man who was serving as a bouncer. He was dressed in a rented tuxedo, but by the way he kept pulling at the collar, Camryn guessed he was not used to such fancy attire.
"Twenty dollar cover charge tonight ma'am." At the photographer's raised eyebrow the imposing giant actually blushed and had the good sense to look sheepish. "It's for charity" he stammered by way of explanation. "All of the proceeds go to Breast
Camryn patted her camera bag. "Actually I'm one of the volunteers. Have you seen Victoria Ward anywhere?"
The man looked a bit relieved and motioned to another giant in a tuxedo. "Just follow Jake here and he'll take you to her. Have a nice evening ma'am."
She followed the walking mountain into the main bar area and was immediately taken with the authentic pub atmosphere, the sound of Celtic music playing noisily in the background, a familiar tune that she recognized as belonging to the Chieftains, and the heavenly smell of freshly made boxties made her mouth water. A large oak bar ran the length of the room, well-stocked by the looks of the bottles that graced the shelves below the large mirror. Signs advertising Guinness, Harp, Bass, and Newcastle beers dotted the walls, along with Irish road signs so authentic that some enterprising person must have "pinched" them from a quiet Irish road. The room was filled with laughing patrons stuffed into small comfortable tables and a row of booths that lined the opposite wall. The color scheme was mostly earth tones with a slight hint of brass, lending the whole room a homey, comfortable feeling.
Realizing that in the crowd she had lost her giant escort, Cami found an opening at the end of the bar, and leaned on it casually, scanning the crowd. "Now this is what I call a pub." The photographer mused with a smile.
"Thanks. That's what I call it too." Cami looked up, startled at the voice that husked rather close to her ear. With a soft Irish lilt, the voice sounded like whiskey and velvet. She swept puzzled green eyes up from the oak of the bar and found herself
drowning in the most gorgeous blue eyes she had ever seen. The photographer could do nothing but stare for a moment, mesmerized by the mischief she saw twinkling in those amazing eyes, and something else.... Danger? Sorrow? A mixture of both? Whatever it was, it drew Cami until the small blonde shook her head, suddenly aware that she was being rude. But there is something so familiar about those eyes.
"Sorry, I was just . . .I've never been here before."
The woman gave Cami a bemused half smile. "I guessed as much. What'll ya have?" Her rich alto voice rolled over the photographer, as she took in the woman behind the bar: tall, athletic yet stunningly sensual build, high sculpted cheek bones, a lush mouth, and jet black hair which was currently pulled back in a loose ponytail. She was absolutely gorgeous.
"Get lost on the Wild Animal Park Photo Tour then did ya? I've warned them about leaving tourists behind." The music of Ireland was clearly evident in her voice, and the blue eyes now sprarkled with amusement as the tall woman looked pointedly at Cami's camera bag.
The photographer dropped her gaze to the bag in question and took a breath to calm her oddly pounding pulse. "No." She found herself chuckling quietly at the bartender's comments. "Nothing so desperate. I'm actually here to meet Victoria Ward.
She organized this event. Do you know her? Is she around?"
The bartender took pity on the younger woman. "The organizer? Sure. She's over at the other end, next to the office door. Blonde curly hair, ya can't miss her." Cami murmured her thanks, and the blue eyed woman, quirked a lazy grin after the adorable, short-haired blonde, narrowing her eyes in concentration. Where do I know her from? Not from here, that's certain, but there is something about her. . .
The photographer gently forced her way through the throng of people in front of the long bar when finally the crowd mercifully parted and Camryn spotted Vicki at the far end of the establishment. The tall blonde was difficult to miss. To look at her one would never guess that she was a mild mannered English teacher by day - the wild looking, tall blonde in the skimpy black dress belonged on the cover of Vogue. Her long hair was a riot of curls, and her brown eyes smoldered with barely leashed desire and the promise of something more.
Camryn had known Vicki since college and she was the reason the photographer had dragged her camera equipment into a bar in the first place. Vicki, Cami and their third friend Jo were roommates their freshmen year at San Diego State, and had instantly become best friends. Camryn fondly remembered all night study sessions, delivery pizza, and far too many beers, all the while talking about the usual college angst of finding love and romance. Now, many years later, despite their separate careers that often kept them very busy, the three women were more like sisters. So a favor for "crazy Vicki" was not out of the ordinary.
"Cami! Glad you found the place!" She grabbed her smaller friend in a hug.
"Hi Vick - good to see you."
"Let's find somewhere for you to put your stuff. That bag looks heavy." Eyeing the large camera duffel slung over Camryn's shoulder.
"No - actually this is my 'small' bag."
Victoria laughed and nudged them through the crowd - not difficult for her considering her height. Camryn always felt a bit short in crowds, standing only 5'4" herself, but next to her tall friend she always felt exactly like a munchkin.
Vicki lead them into a small, rather hidden office and the noise level from the bar dropped considerably as she shut the door behind them. Camryn put her bag down on the empty desk and began rummaging around, setting up her equipment.
"So, how have you been Cami? You look great of course . . .even if you have that sleepy-eyed, tousled look working for you. Work all night in the dark room again?" Vicki pointedly reached out and smoothed a wrinkle in the button-down oxford her friend was wearing.
"Thanks, I think." Cami remarked dryly, unconsciously shoving an impatient hand through her short blonde hair. "Yes. I worked too late last night, so I fell asleep on the couch this afternoon and woke up rather late." She shuffled through several lenses, and unpacked her film canisters. With a touch of chagrin, she glanced down at her rather rumpled clothes - tight, faded blue jeans and a dark green shirt. Camryn scowled at the wrinkles her impromptu nap had made in the blouse. She had woken up too late to really change, and she figured, what the hell, it's at a dark bar anyway.
"All work and no play makes Ms. Wells a cranky girl." Vicki grinned at her friend.
"Yes, Amazon woman, it does." the photographer playfully responded, smacking the back of her hand lightly against the tall woman's stomach.
"Oooh. Amazon woman? I kinda like that. Didn't they use men for slaves? I think I'll have to head back out into the bar on a 'hunting-party'." The two women shared a laugh. It was no secret that Vicki never lacked for male company, and Cami doubted that her friend would ever have to go "hunting". "Seriously, I do have to get back to the contest. Are you all right in here? Can I get you a drink or something?"
"I'm fine. I'll be right out. But, um . . .what exactly am I taking pictures of, and what for?" Camryn Wells was one of the most sought after photographers in San Diego, and only Vicki could get her to spend her Friday night shooting pictures of a charity function at a bar. When Vicki had called and begged her to do the shoot, Cami hadn't even bothered to find out what she was taking pictures of - but knowing Vicks, it was probably something fun, adventurous, or down right silly.
"Take anything you want - contestants, audience, whatever. The pictures are for the Breast Cancer Foundation's newsletter, and I'm sure that a lot of people will want pictures of the contestants, so bring plenty of your business cards."
"That's fine. What kind of contest-thing is this? Will I bother them if I use my flash unit, otherwise the bar is kind of dark and . . ."
Victoria was at the door and she grinned back over her shoulder. "Didn't I tell you? This is the Southern California Pub Talent Night."
Cami's dark green eyes widened. "Excuse me?"
"That's right my friend. You are in for an evening of raucous, bawdy, Guinness-influenced entertainment."
"What sort of entertainment?"
"Darling, it's an Irish pub - let your imagination go wild!" Vicki winked at her smaller friend. "There is everything from ballads, to juggling, to dart throwing, to whiskey drinking. And the evening will culminate in a strip contest, a direct rip off of
the Full Monty."
Camryn started to laugh. This was exactly the type of adventure that Cami expected out of Vicki. No, scratch that. I never know what to expect out of Vicki. "I see. Well I wished you'd warned me - I'd have brought my waterproof camera."
"That's the spirit!" Vicki grabbed the photographer in a hug, then pulling back and holding her out at arms length. "I'm glad you agreed to do this Cami. I worry about you sometimes."
"Worry about me?" Camryn showed no real surprise at this familiar turn the conversation was taking. Her social life, or lack thereof, was a frequent topic between the two friends.
"Yeah honey, I think you spend far too much time in that darkroom of yours. I think the chemicals are doing something horrible to your brain, turning you into a hermit."
"Thanks Vick. I'm glad someone worries about me, but really, I'm fine. Business has been so good lately that I've just . . ."
"Forgotten all of your friends?" She smiled at the smaller woman to take the sting out of her words.
"Vicki. How could anyone ever forget you?!" Cami smirked before she turned serious. "No, it's just with gramma's funeral and all. . ."
"I know darling. Have I mentioned lately that I think your family is just a bunch of shits for the way they are behaving? Where you came from I don't know... Are you sure your mom didn't have a dalliance with the milkman or something?" Vicki hesitated, waiting to catch a spark of humor in the smaller woman's eyes before she continued. "But remember, Jo and I are here for you."
Camryn let out a deep sigh, blinking back the sudden tears that threatened to fall at the memory of her grandmother's death two months prior. It was still too raw to talk about, but Vicki, and their friend Jo knew some of the family turmoil that had taken place in the aftermath of the funeral.
"Of course you are. Always. Vicks, you and Jo are my family. I just don't want - I can't talk about it yet, ok?"
The tall woman dropped a quick kiss on Cami's soft, blond head, and gave her arm a squeeze. "Yep. But, remember that I've got a very sturdy shoulder for leaning on, and a carton of Ben & Jerry's with your name on it whenever you are ready."
Green eyes swept up into concerned brown, and Camryn nodded her assent.
"Well. Enough of this. We have a party to get to, so gather your stuff and meet me out there!" And with a rush of air and a firm click of the door, Vicki was gone.
Cami took a deep breath and a moment to compose herself, before trudging to the mirror on the far wall. Intelligent green eyes stared back at her, and she raked a hand through her rather disheveled short blonde hair. She had skipped wearing any make-up, a fact that she was now thankful for, since the conversation with Vicki would have left her mascara puddling down her cheeks.
In truth, Cami rarely wore any make-up and was a bit self-conscious about her looks. Despite the fact that her friends were all envious over her tanned, flawless complexion, her deep green eyes, and a nose that Jo termed "pert", Cami still had difficulty seeing herself as anything but average-looking. She gave the outward appearance of a confident successful woman, but inside she was still the awkward teenager that had been devastated when a schoolmate laughed over her picture of her taken with braces on her teeth. Which is one of the reasons she had taken up photography - so she could be behind the lens instead of in front of it. That and she had a natural talent for capturing life through the lens of a camera. She was a gifted photographer, not just snapping random images, but conveying stories with her pictures - stories with strong emotions, that made you laugh or cry depending on the subject and the artist's mood.
Squaring her shoulders and double-checking that she had plenty of film, Camryn headed for the door. After all, she was a professional, and she knew that if she could just put aside her family angst and focus on her work, everything would be fine.
Cami opened the door and stepped into the dimmer light of the main bar area. Craning her neck for a place to take pictures from, she caught Vicki's eye from the other side of the room and her blonde friend gestured to a stool standing near the corner of the stage.
Perfect. A place to get up above the crowd and with a good view of most of the room.
When she arrived in the corner, she stood up on the stool and surveyed the bar patrons. Nice. Straight shot to the stage. The professional in her took over and she began to toy with her light meter, trying in vain to tune out the pounding of the music that caused the whole room to fairly pulse with its own heartbeat.
After several small adjustments to the camera, she raised it up and began taking various candid shots of the eager crowd. The cute couple squished into a booth, sharing a secret glance, the two men at the bar obviously talking politics or some other turbulent topic from the looks of their wild arm gestures, the three women at the table near the stage who were apparently trolling for dates - Cami captured them all, giving the pictures just the right composition to blend the emotions with the atmosphere.
From sorrow to radiant joy, Camryn had seen the range of human emotions from behind the lens of her camera, and her unique perspective on life made her a sought after artist in the world of photography. She had exhibitions currently running in Chicago, Atlanta and even Rio de Janeiro. Not unlike the poets of old, the camera was her quill, and the film her parchment.
She was content to scan the crowd, patiently waiting for the right shots. Without warning, a dark haired woman in a prerequisite black cocktail dress turned from her group in front of Cami and crashed into the stool that the photographer was carefully perched on. With the camera to her eye, Cami didn't see her coming and lost her balance, toppling over backwards. Her camera landed with a crunch on the floor beneath her.
She hit with a rush of air and a solid thud, and for a spilt second her confused mind registered that the ground was closer than she thought. The she realized that she was sprawled across linen clad thighs, which happened to be attached to a silk shirted chest - which she was currently resting her cheek against. She could feel the woman's heartbeat through her shirt and her mind registered the solid mass of muscle on the biceps that Cami's hands were wrapped around.
"Oh damn! I'm so sorry. I didn't see her . . ." Camryn began and promptly lost all ability to speak as she turned her face up to meet the incredible blue eyes of the woman from behind the bar. Cami could feel the low rumble of her laugh echo through her chest.
"Well. Nice of you to drop in," the bartender chuckled. "But if ya wanted to meet me, all ya had to do was ask now, didn't ya?"
Speechless for the first time that she could remember since an embarrassing high school dance incident, Camryn just gaped at the woman. Here she sat in this stranger's lap, and she couldn't shake the feeling that she had been here before. In just this position, with just this person. Impossible.
Taylor Jameson couldn't believe her luck, or her lack of luck as the case may be. Having been relieved of her duties behind the bar, here she was sitting in the corner of the rowdy place and asking herself how in the hell Victoria talked her into this silly contest in the first place. And just as she decided that she was probably the unluckiest Irishwoman on the planet, an adorable woman fell out of the sky, smack on to her lap.
She grinned at the blonde woman's astonished face and was startled by the surge of familiarity she felt when their eyes locked. Eyes that were as green as the Pacific after a storm, were set in a cute, tanned face. Her full mouth was currently standing open to reveal straight, even teeth, and wisps of honey blonde hair framed her face. Now don't get crazy T.J., she scolded herself. I doubt very seriously she even . . . and even if she were, why would she look twice at an old broken down barkeep like me.
"All right lass, since you're using me as a stool don't ya think ya'd best tell me your name?" She smiled but made no move to remove her arms from where they had instinctively wrapped around the smaller woman when she fell.
Like a splash of cold water on the face, Cami jolted from her reverie and tried in vain to regain if not her dignity, at least her manners. She scrambled to her feet, feeling the rush of blood flushing her cheeks. "Yes. Of course. I'm Camryn. And I . . .I am the photographer. I was um . . ." She searched frantically for the word.
"Taking pictures?" the dark haired woman drolly supplied.
"Yes. Taking pictures." Despite her embarrassment, Cami grinned at the stranger.
"Well, Camryn, I'm Taylor, and it's grand to meet ya." She reached for the smaller woman's hand and shook it properly, letting her fingers linger in the grasp slightly longer than necessary. Taylor felt the slight tremor when she touched the smooth skin of the blonde woman's hand, but she managed to keep her face impassive.
Cami sheepishly looked at the woman still seated on the stool. "Nice to meet you too. Umm....sorry about that. Are you all right? I mean did I hurt you?" She absently reached down and picked up her forgotten camera.
With a loud chuckle, Taylor stood, stretching her supple 6' frame, and causing quite a few heads to turn her way with appreciative glances at her generous curves. Looking down at her muscular form, the bartender cocked an eyebrow at the smaller woman's inquiry and deadpanned. "No. But the bruise on your .....ego.....must hurt like hell."
Camryn burst into laughter, a rich sound that made Taylor grin involuntarily. "Lucky for me, my ego is cushioned enough.....I'll be fine." The two women stood awkwardly staring at each other for a moment longer, until Victoria rushed up and grabbed Camryn's arm.
"Are you ok, Cami? I saw you fall but the room is so packed I couldn't get over to you."
"I'm fine Vicks, really. Ms. um . . ."
"Jameson." The stranger quickly supplied.
"Ms. Jameson was kind enough to cushion my fall. But, I'm afraid I probably crushed this poor woman's legs, and I cracked a perfectly good lens." She gestured to the broken camera dangling from her right hand.
Vicki looked from one to the other and smiled a mischievous smile. "Oh, really? Well I owe you a big thank you then T.J. I wouldn't have wanted to fill out the accident report on that one. World famous photographer injured in death defying fall from bar stool." Vicki couldn't help the laughter that crept into her voice. Camryn glanced up at her friend, suddenly feeling very much like she was in the land of the giants.
"If you are really ok Cami, we do need to get started. Which means that I have to steal Ms. Jameson away."
"Oh, are you a volunteer too?" the photographer asked brightly.
"In a way. Vicki volunteered me right enough."
"Our Vicks is really good at that - talking people into....um...things." Cami smirked at the tall blonde woman.
"Thank you both. I'll take that as a compliment." Vicki replied primly. "Come along Ms. Jameson." Vicki winked at Cami as she grabbed T.J. by the arm.
"Well, Camryn, was it?" She continued when the blonde woman nodded. "Well, at least ya can be grateful that Vicki conned you into doing something unobtrusive."
"Why what are you doing?"
"Me? I'm the bloody M.C." She gave the small woman a rueful smile over her
shoulder as Vicki resolutely dragged her towards the stage. "Wish me luck."
"Luck?" Cami called after her. "You don't need my luck, you're Irish!"
The little red numbers mocked her from the night-stand. One sleepy, sea green eye peered into the darkness at the alarm clock that screamed in silence that it was 4:30 a.m. With a heavy sigh, she watched as the clock slipped to 4:31.
She should be asleep. Most normal human beings are sleeping at this ungodly hour. Then with a small snort that was muffled by her pillow, she thought that no one had ever accused her of being "normal."
Flipping onto her back, she opened both eyes and stared at the wooden beams on the ceiling that she could just barely make out in the dim light edging through the vertical blinds covering her window.
Insomnia is a bitch. And she was plagued with it worse than most. She would usually spend these restless hours working in her darkroom, but for some reason that diversion didn't appeal to her tonight. Or was it considered morning? Nope. It can't be morning - I haven't slept yet.
Camryn stretched supple limbs and tossed her feet over the edge of the bed. Raking a hand restlessly through her sleep-tousled hair, she stood and paced to the window. The dawn was still an hour or so away, but she could see a faint tinge of gray to the sky as she looked out at the San Diego skyline and the churning blue of the harbor. Her photography business had been doing so well that six months ago she bought this lovely Victorian house in the Banker's Hill section of the city - so called because back at the turn of the 1900's, only bankers could afford the elegant houses in this neighborhood.
Now in the 21st century, the houses were considered "quaint" and the really wealthy people now lived in "The Ranch". But the gables, window seats and balconies of the restored house suited Camryn and she absolutely loved the view, which was even more spectacular at sunset.
The dark waters of the Pacific were calmly lapping the boats that dotted the harbor, which held everything from small sailboats to giant aircraft carriers. And the skyline was dotted with lights in the office buildings that seemed to have workers in them 24 hours a day.
With a rueful grimace, she decided that a walk on the boardwalk was just was she needed to clear away the cobwebs and restless thoughts. She stripped off her cotton Padres baseball jersey that she always slept in, and pulled on a T-shirt, shorts and
She headed downstairs and flicked on the light in her seldom used kitchen, setting the coffee pot brewing so it would be waiting for her when she returned.
It was mid-June in San Diego, which meant that the coastline was blanketed by heavy morning clouds that would burn off by mid-morning - "June Gloom", the local weathermen liked to grumpily call it.
Opening her sliding glass she stepped out into the morning mist, and began her brisk walk down the hill to the waters below.
T.J. toyed with a loose string on her hand made quilt. Absently rolling it between her fingers, she thought of counting sheep since she couldn't sleep. But she quickly dismissed the idea as absurd and decided that since it was nearly dawn anyway, she might as well get up. Her body grumbled at the lack of rest, having gotten home from the pub only a few hours before. But her brain wouldn't turn off enough to allow her to sleep.
Stalking nude into the bathroom, she grabbed the large t-shirt hanging on the door knob and dragged it over her head before splashing some water in her face.
Padding back across the soft cream colored carpet of her bedroom, T.J. methodically began picking up her clothes that she had worn the night before. She tossed the rumpled slacks and blouse into the nearby hamper. As she picked up her black leather jacket, a business card fell out of the pocket.
Reaching down she snatched it up and smiled as she read "Camryn Wells Photography" neatly printed on a card that was actually a gorgeous picture of the San Diego skyline. Fancy business card - A mini-postcard is more like it. Well, I suppose if you take pictures for a livin' the customer ought to know if you are good at it just by lookin' at your card.
The thought of the petite photographer had her smiling as she hung up her jacket and paced into her office, placing the card on the somewhat disheveled desk. Where on earth have I met her before? It wasn't as though their paths were likely to cross. Taylor had just moved to San Diego a few years before, and had only known Vicki for the past few months, since they
were organizing last night's charity event.
But for some odd reason those green eyes seemed to be so familiar, it was kind of spooky if Taylor really thought about it. Then again old girl, you could just be lustin' after that hot little bod of hers. She gave a quick snort. Naw. Sorry - doubt if she's the type to want some fling with a barkeep.
Taylor Jameson always had plenty of offers for just that very thing. She was, she knew, gorgeous, financially secure, and self-employed. And for some damn reason the women here in the States seemed to be really fascinated with her accent. Hrrmmph. Accent indeed. As if the people here in Southern California didn't sound like machine guns when they talked.
Most of the women she dated seemed formed from the same mold - tall, tan, leggy blondes, with perfect teeth, perfect hair, and perfect...well a lady should never kiss and tell. But there was always something missing, something vacant in their eyes, and they all seemed somehow the same - fake smile, fake nails and fake.....everything else.
Besides, T.J. preferred not to get emotionally involved. Strings and entanglements led to trouble as far as she was concerned. Sex was great, just don't ask for anything else, because the people you cared about ended up becoming targets and getting hurt. No. It was better to get them in and out of her life quickly, no mess, no fuss.
If that's the case Taylor old girl, get the blonde out of your head! She didn't seem to be the one night stand type. Besides, a woman like that . . . likely has a bloody G.Q. stock broker bloke waitin' for her at home.
The thought of Camryn walking into a perfect little house with her perfect husband waiting on the couch made T.J.'s stomach clench, and with a sigh she stalked back into the bathroom.
An ice cold shower went a long way to clearing the mist from her brain. T.J. dressed and went into the kitchen to pour herself some coffee before settling down in front of the computer to get her paperwork done for the pub.
But even as the balance sheets blurred in front of her still somewhat bleary gaze, T.J. still had a pair of familiar green eyes floating in the back of her mind.
Some 45 minutes later, Camryn returned from her walk tired, sweaty and highly annoyed with herself. The morning had shaped up to be a lovely one and the sea gulls she found chasing each other on the boardwalk would have made a gorgeous picture. But for one of the first times that she could remember, Cami had actually set out for her walk without her ever-present camera. A missed opportunity. Where is your head!? But she knew what she had been thinking about: last night.
Taylor had made a charming Mistress of Ceremonies, and the contest was a raucous blend of the sublime and the ridiculous. Everything from the sweet red-haired, freckle-faced young man who had endearingly recited poems by Yeats, to the strip contest whose contestants ranged in age from 14 to 74. Camryn smiled at the quip that Taylor had delivered about needing her sunglasses because of the glare from the pasty white chests of most of the men.
Overall, the contest was a rousing success. Vicki was very pleased with the evening, and mentioned that they had raised well over $30,000 for the Breast Cancer Society. Thanking Camryn profusely for the pictures, Vicki made her promised to call her
soon for lunch and to put the photos onto a CD to be delivered to the Society's office.
The ringing of the phone startled Camryn back to the present and her heart skipped a beat before her logical brain kicked, no sane person would call before 6:00 a.m. Must be Jo. Her best friend was the only person who would dare call her at this hour of the morning. She picked up the cordless phone, just beating the answering machine.
"Hi ya Jo."
"How do you do that?"
Camryn ambled over to the coffee pot and poured some liquid energy into her favorite cartoon character mug.
"Oh, come on Jo. You and I both know that you are the only human being on the face of the earth that would call me at the crack of dawn and live to tell about it."
Her friend chuckled on the other end of the line. It was true. Camryn was not renowned for being a "morning person." Her photo agent never called before noon, since the time he called too early and Camryn had threatened to use her camera on him in ways that the delicate equipment had not been intended for.
"How are you Cami.? I hadn't heard from you in a few days and I just . . . is everything OK?" The two women had been friends for over a decade and each had the uncanny knack for sensing when the other one needed a shoulder to lean on.
Camryn sighed. No. I'm not fine.....I've got this restless feeling I just can't shake... "Yeah, Jo, I'm fine. Just some insomnia. I think I've got the early summer blahs happening." She took her coffee mug out on to her balcony to enjoy the sun that was just now starting to push through the early morning fog.
"Oooh. The Blahs. I know them well, my friend. Sorry to add to the misery, but I
wanted to know what you wanted to do about your birthday?"
Oh crap. Camryn's 29th birthday was only a few weeks away. She had been so busy she hadn't even had time to think about it. Or rather you just refused to think about it. She plopped into a deck chair before answering.
"I don't know Jo." Camryn fought to keep the weary sigh from her voice. "Can't I just skip it this year? I think I'll just be 28 for the next five years or so."
"No, no. You've got it all wrong. You are supposed to stay 29 for the next ten years until you hit 39 and so on. So we will be celebrating the first of your 29th birthdays." Camryn grinned at the laughter in her friend's voice.
"Ok. Ok. You win. How about we just call Vicki and head down to McCafferty's?" The local bar had been a hangout of theirs since college, but they seldom had a chance to visit the old haunt anymore.
"Dinner first, and then the pub." Jo compromised.
"Oh, say - how did that shoot for Vicki go last night. It was at that new bar wasn't it? Some charity thing? What did she have you photographing - and if you say tap dancing midgets I'm going to shoot myself for missing out."
Now Camryn laughed in earnest. "No - no midgets in sight. Just lots of pretty people in formal wear. I'll tell you all about it at dinner, Okay?"
"Sounds great. I'll call Vicki and set it up."
"Thanks - for cheering me up."
"Always. We're family, Cami., you know that. And what are families for if not to laugh at."
"I know. See you soon."
Camryn hung up and dropped the cordless phone into her lap. Extended family, she mused, was often much better than the real thing.
Raised by their grandparents, Camryn and her real sister, Elaine, were never really close. Their parents were living in the South of France and seldom visited. Camryn was used to the prerequisite card at Christmas and long ago stopped being bitter about their absence in her life. In fact, in some ways she was grateful that she had gotten to grow up with her grandparents, both of whom were remarkable people.
After the death of their grandfather, Elaine had taken off, leaving their Grandmother with a broken heart. Camryn had taken care of Grams until two months ago when she died peacefully in her sleep.
Over the past five or six years the only contact she had ever had with Elaine was a rather ugly incident with Elaine's first husband, regarding the custody of Elaine's three children. An incident that left Camryn confident that she would never have children herself.
Now in the early summer dawn, she smiled as she thought of Grams - knowing that her grandmother was very proud of the strong, successful, independent woman Camryn had become.
Camryn shook her head. Enough of the blahs. With a silent thanks to her Grams for helping to shape her positive outlook, the blonde returned to her kitchen, rinsed out the coffee mug and headed for the shower.
T.J. lost herself in the mundane ordering and accounting that went along with running a bar. So she was startled when she heard the shrill of the phone. Growling her "Hello" into the receiver, blue eyes instantly narrowed when she realized who was on the other end.
"Bugger off. What do you want Frank?" Ice dripped from her tone, and mirrored in the instant scowl on her otherwise gorgeous face.
"Now Taylor, is that any way to greet your loving husband?"
"EX - husband, and I've felt more love out of an Irish car bomb."
Frank laughed vilely on the other end, his whiny voice taking on what he thought was a charming tone, but it just served to put Taylor's teeth on edge.
"Well me lassie," he affected an Irish lilt just to play with her. "'Tis time for your payment. Or had you forgotten?"
"I'll send it by messenger this afternoon."
"No. I'll come by the bar and get it in person. I'd like to see you T.J."
"Fine. Tomorrow. 4:00 p.m.", she grimaced at the thought of having to deal with the slime, but she also knew that Frank was a spineless coward when push came to shove, so in person was probably just as well. "And, Francis?"
"Cut out the Irish-mocking or I'll be serving your testicles to ya for lunch."
With that she slammed the phone down and raked a hand through her long black hair. Damn but she despised that man. T.J. had done some despicable things in her shadowy past, but sometimes she thought that marrying that bastard had been the worst of them all.
Temper flaring she kicked back in her desk chair and although sorely tempted to throw her mug across the room, she slammed it on the desk instead and stormed out of her office to her spare bedroom where she had her gym set up.
Rapidly changing into a pair of cut-out grey sweats and a dark blue sports bra, T.J. started her vigorous workout. Thirty minutes of kick-boxing worked wonders on her foul mood, and visualizing Frank's face as she delivered a particularly vicious side kick made her grin evilly.
Dripping with sweat she toweled off before heading back to her computer. Just forget the bastard. He is not worth getting upset over. Although these days forgetting was easier said then done, since it seemed he was hanging around a bit
more than usual.
That's odd. Her instincts perked up and she made a mental note to grill him tomorrow afternoon to find out why he was suddenly spending more time hanging around her bar.
She eased open the windows in her office and was comforted by the breeze that dried the sweat that still clung to the back of her neck. The view from her rented condo was nice - she overlooked Mission Valley, alive with shops and restaurants. She kept meaning to look around for a house, to find a place she could own, but somehow she just hadn't gotten around to it. A house was a symbol of permanence, and nothing in Taylor's life had felt permenant lately.
With a sigh she turned away from the windows and attempted to get back to work. Shuffling restlessly through a stack of papers, she accidentally knocked Camryn's business card off the corner of the desk.
Picking it up, she played idly with the edges as she thought about last night. Thinking about the photographer's smile, Taylor promptly forgot all about her ugly phone call with Frank. She mused for a moment that perhaps she had seen Camryn at the last Cancer Society function. That must be it.
She had hoped to get a chance to talk to the younger woman about some publicity photos that she wanted done for the pub, but T.J.'s job of hostess had kept her far too busy and before she could find her, the blonde was gone. Although she had left a few business cards behind in T.J.'s office. Replaying the scene in her mind of the photographer's plunge from the bar stool, Taylor remembered the younger woman's chagrin at her broken camera lens and those amazing green eyes that kept dancing in T.J.'s brain. Hmmmmmm............that gives me an idea...
The golden summer light of late afternoon burnished the white plaster of the exterior of "C.J.'s Pub", and as she drove past the front of the building Cami was still taken with its fairy book appearance; as though she expected a leprechaun to jump out and show her his pot of gold at any moment. The building was so incongruous with the shiny metal and glass structures that were sprouting up all around it.
San Diego's North County was a boom town for construction companies. Thousands of new homes, shops and the like now dotted the once quiet landscape, and as Camryn pulled her battered Jeep into the parking lot, she wondered how the picky
residents of this particular "planned community" had allowed something like C.J.'s to be built, since it didn't fit in with the architecture of the neighborhood. Since San Diego was so close to Mexico, many of the new housing projects had a distinct "hacienda" look to them. They probably think this is charming. And it is a cool pub after all. Every neighborhood should have a cool pub. Absently she began humming the theme from the t.v. show Cheers before she caught herself and shook her head laughing at the way her sleep addled brain worked. Or didn't work, as the case may be.
Pulling the package from the lock-box of equipment she kept stored in the back of the Jeep, Camryn had an internal battle with herself. Her logical side won and she looked ruefully at the package before taking a deep breath and going inside to face those oddly well-known blue eyes again.
The interior of the pub was a welcome relief from the dry heat of the late afternoon, and the photographer was pleased to see that although the building looked old fashioned, it still had the modern amenities. It was before five o'clock, so there were only a few customers enjoying an early dinner and Guinness. The tall, lanky man behind the bar identified himself as Tommy.
"I'm looking for a bartender named Taylor."
"Taylor?" He looked puzzled for moment before his features cleared. "Oh, you mean Ms. Jameson? The boss lady's in her office."
Boss lady? She owns the place? Interesting.
"I don't want to interrupt her."
"Naw, it's okay, help yourself."
Although Cami nearly choked at the tempting thought of helping herself to the gorgeous barkeep, she merely grinned at Tommy and thanked him before heading to the office at the end of the bar.
She could hear the raised voices before she opened the door - a man and a woman arguing. Hesitating, she rapped her knuckles lightly on the door. The blonde realized that they probably couldn't hear her knocking over the shouting going on, but she was afraid to be rude and just open the door.
Inside the office, Taylor was finding it difficult to keep herself from throttling Frank. It would be fun to just pin him to the wall and make him beg. Her eyes narrowed at the violent thought that flitted through her head. Or better still grab him by that shriveled John Thomas and throw him through the door. That thought made her grin wickedly. No. Bad for business to have a man crash through the door into the dinner salad. But she still liked the fantasy. However, before she really snapped she knew she'd better get him out of the bar.
Cutting him off mid-sentence, Taylor's voice hinted of the barely contained violence underneath. "Enough sniveling Frank. You have your money. Leave."
"Taylor, love. There is just one more thing."
"A deal is a deal. You wouldn't be trying to change the deal now would ya?" T.J's voice was a low growl.
"Now, love. Nothing like that. I have some ....friends that I was hoping to entertain, and it would be great if I could bring them here. You know, to show off that I know the owner and all."
"No." The last thing she wanted was to give him free reign to come and go in her bar.
"Taylor, honey....really, if you could just see your way clear for . . ."
T.J. snapped and she moved so quickly that Frank flinched and stepped backwards, nearly tumbling over the chair. Grabbing him by the upper arm, T.J. dragged him towards the office door and flung it open.
"For fuck sake, Frank, I said . . ."
And she froze. Standing on the other side of the door was a bewildered pair of green eyes.
Camryn blinked in shock, her gaze quickly meeting the swirling fury of the blue eyes in front of her. There it is again. The danger and violence in those eyes she had noticed the first time she saw Taylor behind the bar two nights ago. The tall woman was now dressed in tight, faded blue jeans and a crisp white t-shirt, which did nothing to diminish her intimidating presence.
Camryn nearly took a step back in self defense. "Sorry. I was just......I'm interrupting, I'd better leave." Perplexed, she turned and started to go, her cheeks flushed with a mixture of embarrassment at intruding, and curiosity about what the argument had been about. All she really heard from her side of the door was the man's rather thin, whiny voice.
"No. Wait. Please." Taylor managed to compose herself and keep the desperation out of her voice. Barely. "Frank here was just leavin'."
Camryn's gaze swept past the dark head in front of her to the tall, brown haired man that Taylor was holding on to. His watery blue eyes were pale, his hair a bit on the long side, but his rather patrician nose gave him an arrogant, handsome look.
"Now Taylor love, is that anyway to talk to your husband?" The man was all slick charm as he stuck out a hand for Camryn to shake. "Hello darlin', who're you?"
Breeding and manners had her reaching for his hand before she even thought about it, only to have it grabbed by Taylor instead. Glancing up at the tall barkeep, Cami showed her puzzlement. Taylor's eyes had now lost some of their fire, and she had regained her control, if not her manners.
"Ya don't have to be friendly to this snake Camryn. As I said, he's leavin'." With that she yanked Frank past Camryn, and marched him stiff-armed towards the front door. "Go on in and make yourself at home. I'll just see Mr. Silva out. " She tossed over her shoulder to the gaping blonde.
Camryn stared after them for a moment before hesitantly entering the office and sitting in the guest chair beside the desk.
What was that all about?? Her husband and she man-handles him out of the pub? Calls him a snake?? And that look - those eyes! One second she looks like the devil incarnate and the next her voice fills with that musical charm... Really strange.
The blonde resolutely sighed. First the package and now this, the older woman was a tangle of contradictions.
She glanced around the office, noticing for the first time the expensive furnishings, and the marks of strength and boldness that were clearly Taylor. A black leather desk chair sat behind an antique desk, and placed incongruously on the dark wood surface was a top of the line lap-top computer next to an antique desk set, complete with ink well and quill. The walls held a framed lithograph of Trinity College, and an ancient-looking map of the world.
Just as Camryn began to wonder what the domestic squabble was all about, the dark-haired fury returned. Taylor's scowl was instantly replaced with a veiled, passive look as she took in the lovely blonde woman dressed in neatly pressed khaki shorts and sleeveless teal top.
"Sorry 'bout that. I don't make it a habit ta curse in the face of my visitors." T.J. gave a crooked smile at the guest in question and took the seat behind the desk.
An awkward silence filled the room with questions before Camryn cleared her throat and decided that the polite thing to do would be to .....well.....be polite. "I, um, I'm sorry for bothering you at work." She began.
"No. I'm sorry for shoutin' obscenities practically in your face. I obviously wasn't speakin' to ya, and I'm also sorry ya had ta witness that bit of unpleasantness."
Well. She's direct, isn't she. Camryn twitched an eyebrow to keep her amusement off of her countenance. Unpleasantness? Who talks that way?
"No problem. You weren't expecting me. I was intruding, so it's my fault that I was witness to the umm....unpleasantness. I just came to give you this." Handing the tall woman a package wrapped in brown paper, Camryn stood and reached for her car keys.
"What's this?" The older woman narrowed her gaze before glancing up at her visitor. "Now Camryn, didn't yer Da teach ya that it isn't polite to return gifts?" The dark blue eyes sparkled with something besides danger now. Camryn saw the carefully veiled disappointment, masked in the humorous teasing.
"Da? Gift? No, I . . ." Taking a deep breath, the small photographer composed her thoughts and rambled out the small speech she had been practicing since the package had arrived that afternoon. "Thank you. That was incredibly kind and generous of you, but completely unnecessary."
Long fingers pulled the brown paper off the package and gently lifted out a rather enormous camera lens. "Is it the wrong kind?" T.J. tried to keep her tone light and not show that it bothered her that the blonde was rejecting the gift.
"No. Of course not. It's just - well - far too expensive and. . . what I mean is, you didn't have to go to all of this trouble. You hardly know me and -"
Taylor stopped her. "T'was no trouble. You broke yours at the charity show by fallin' off one of my bar stools. I simply wanted to replace it before ya got the notion of suing me for negligence."
"Sue you for neg -" The blonde's brows knitted in consternation. "For heaven's sake - I don't - I never -"
Taylor began to laugh. She couldn't help herself. The petite photographer's face had gone from confusion to indignation in the span of three seconds, and after the stress of dealing with Frank, Taylor just had to laugh.
It was contagious. Cami realized that Taylor had just been playing with her, and the rich sound of the dark woman's laugh caused her own to bubble up unwittingly inside of her.
"Oh. You didn't really think I was going to sue." As the laughter died down, Cami shook her head "Sorry. I'm an idiot." But then it occurred to her. "But still, I really do have to ask - why? I mean you barely know me, except that I did land in your lap." She grinned at the twinkling blue eyes.
Taylor had been asking herself the very same question for the past 24 hours. On a whim she had found a local camera shop on-line and ordered the blonde the best darned lens that money could buy. She had it delivered to the address on the business card and had hit the send button before she really thought about exactly what she was doing. Camryn was right. It was crazy. She didn't know her, didn't owe her anything.
"I felt bad that ya broke your lens, especially since we were all volunteerin' for charity. And I happened to be shopping on the Internet and saw one like it." Not entirely a lie. "Besides, I do have a reason for contactin' ya. I was hopin' that I could get ya to take some pictures of the pub - You know, web site, brochure, and the like - publicity. And well....I wanted to make sure you had the proper equipment."
There. That explained it.
Didn't it? Taylor managed to not look sheepish as she peered out at the intelligent green eyes that met hers unwaveringly.
Camryn still didn't buy it. It was still too much for a stranger. But in the rambling explanation by the blue eyed barkeep, she managed to find a compromise.
"I see. Well, you not only found the proper equipment, but the most expensive on the market as well." She hesitated for only an instant when Taylor showed signs of retreating.
"Thank you. It was indeed generous of you. But seeing as how you are a businesswoman, I'll make you a deal. I keep the lens, but I don't charge you for the publicity pictures for the pub. Sound fair?"
No. It sounded suspiciously like a compromise to Taylor, but she was ready to grab at anything just to explain her extravagance, and to keep the blonde woman around the place for awhile longer.
"Sounds okay. But I'm warnin' ya, I want lots of pictures. So, maybe I'm gettin' the better part of this deal." She smiled tentatively at the photographer. "When can ya start?"
Camryn smiled back. "I'm booked for the next couple of days, but I could come in later in the week, say Thursday or Friday, if that's all right with you."
"Anytime 'tis fine, but if ya don't mind, I'd like some exterior and interior shots, both with customers and without, so you'll have ta come at different times for those."
"Fine. No problem." The photographer paused, unsure if she should even mention the fight she witnessed. She gamely plunged ahead. "Listen. About earlier. I'm sorry if I interrupted you."
"No, not at all. Just some . . .business that I was takin' care of."
Business? Since when is a husband "business"? But Camryn decided to let that slide "I should have called first, and made an appointment, but - I just thought to return it in person to explain myself-" She broke off as Taylor lifted a hand to stop her rambling.
"Ya don't need an appointment ta see me. In fact, this is a pub, ready made for just droppin' in anytime." Taylor tried to keep her tone light. "The timin' was bad today, but then I don't have visitors very often, so I expect that the next time ya come by things will be much quieter."
Taking that as her cue to leave, the blonde shifted forward in her seat and picked up her car keys from the edge of the desk. "Well, I'd better be going. I have some work to get to, and I'll clear my schedule for Thursday and Friday for those pictures." With that she stood, offering a small, strong hand to the older woman. Taylor rose and shook the proffered hand firmly. "Thanks again, Taylor, it was very sweet of you to think of me."
"My mates call me T.J. For Taylor Jameson. It's an old nickname, but I like it."
"All right - T.J." The blonde felt the warmth of the insecure friendship starting to build and decided to add another brick to the foundation. "My friends call me Cami." She enjoyed the crinkle of the tall woman's blue eyes as she acknowledged the gesture, and felt a strange curl in her stomach as she somehow recognized the wide, beautiful smile.
T.J. reached over and handed her the package. "Well then here ya are, Cami. Best be takin' this with ya so you can get your work done."
With a smile and another thank you, the sparkling green eyes were gone.
T.J. sat back down at her desk, wondering why the room suddenly felt so cold and
Camryn sang to the radio on the drive home. An indulgence she allowed only when she was alone, as her voice although lusty, was seldom on key. Her favorite radio station pumped out a mix of 80's and 90's music, and at the moment, the blonde was lost in the sultry sounds of Sarah MacLachlan.
Her mind drifted back to the bar and the tall, blue eyed woman she had left there. She still couldn't place where they had met before, but she was certain that they had. She also couldn't help wondering how Taylor had ended up with a slick, lounge-lizard type like Frank seemed to be. He just didn't seem her new friend's style.
Friend. That's pushing it isn't Cam? But she rationalized that anyone who would send such an extravagant gift could certainly be considered a friend. And aside from Vicki and Jo, friends were in short supply in her life.
She found herself steering to La Jolla Cove on the drive home, a peaceful place where at the children's pool the seals came right up on the beach and barked at you. And a place of comfort to Camryn, where she could just get lost in the wide expanse of the Pacific.
Climbing out of her car, she noted that the Cove was rather crowded with tourists, as this was a favorite sunset spot to visit. But ignoring the groups of people oohing and aahing over the seals, she made her way South to a more secluded spot to just sit and be.
Her personal life was somewhat of a mess. Her grandmother's funeral, which her parents and sister had left up to her to plan, was only two months past, and almost immediately her family had begun to fight and bicker over grandma's possession, both financial and material. Although the majority of Gramma's estate was to pass to Camryn, her family was pressuring her to give the money to them. She had offered to split everything four ways with them, but her mother felt that she should have all of the money since Gramma was her mother. At this point, Camryn was willing to say "to hell with it", that she didn't want anything from the estate. But there were some sentimental pieces that belonged to Grams that she hoped to hold on to - in a vain hope to hold on to the special woman that had raised her.
And if the fighting over money weren't enough, her parents were suddenly terribly interested in the fact that she was nearing thirty and was still unmarried. They were realizing just how lonely old age could be, and wanted her to pop out some grandchildren.
Camryn took off her sneakers and pushed barefoot through the golden sand, oddly soothed by the ocean mist pounding against the shoreline, and cry of the seagulls overhead. Finding a flat rock, she sat down and drew her knees up to her chin to watch the sky streaked with red and gold.
You see mother and father. It's like this. I'm gay. So don't expect any grandchildren to stare adoringly up at you at Christmas time. The thought of saying just that to her parents had her torn between laughing hysterically and crying her eyes out. Mr. and Mrs. Wells were the most religious, sanctimonious people on the planet, and would NOT understand their eldest daughter being gay. Hell. They still use that word to mean "happy". How about homosexual? Work better?
Camryn had neatly avoided the topic up until now, mostly due to the physical absence of her parents. And since she had not had a girlfriend since college, she really didn't see the need for them to know about her non-existent sex life - female or otherwise. Jo and Vicki knew. They had actually known before Camryn had, so when she eventually worked up the courage to tell them during their Junior year of college, the two women had just smiled and said "Finally! We were wondering when you were going to figure it out!"
And amazingly they were completely fine with the revelation. If they felt weird around Camryn they certainly never showed it, and the testament to the fact was that they were all still friends some ten years later. Her friends worried about her she
knew - worried that she hadn't dated anyone since having her heart broken during her Senior year. But after college Grams had gotten ill, and her photography business had taken off, and well - there just hadn't been room in her life, or her heart, for a relationship.
One of the things Gramma had taught her was how to be independent and strong, and how to make every day an adventure.
Yes. But she also taught you how to love, you big fraud. You're just scared - to be hurt again, to be vulnerable.
As she stared at the water pounding into the shore, her thoughts strayed back to the blue eyed barkeep. Cami was certain that they had met before, but decided that it was just as well that Taylor was married and off limits, since the blonde had little use for relationships. Besides, I could use a few more friends in my life. Yes, friends are a distinct improvement over family.
She shivered a bit in the chill of the evening that comes right after the sun has dipped into the horizon, and stood to make her way back to her Jeep. Resolutely she began planning out her week so she could make room in her schedule for the publicity photos of the pub. And maybe, just maybe she could talk the beautiful owner into posing for a few of herself. With a grin at the thought, Camryn climbed into the Jeep and set off for home with Madonna blaring at her from the radio to "Express Yourself."
T.J. sat her desk and stared at the closed door for a full five minutes after the photographer left.
Not the smartest impulse you ever had, Taylor. She chided herself. Just what were you thinking?
She decided that she hadn't been thinking and that was the problem. Sending the blonde a new lens for her camera just seemed like a nice gesture. Who knew that the damn thing would cost so much and cause the small photographer enough guilt to return it? Taylor hadn't even looked at the price of the thing. Money was not an issue for her, so it often surprised her how much of an issue it was with other people. Especially Frank.
Her eyebrow raised at the thought. Frank. Just what was going on with the little worm? She had paid his "alimony" as usual, but he seemed...Taylor couldn't quite put her finger on it - fidgety? nervous? Was he on drugs? Something told Taylor that whatever it was, she should find out before he brought it into her life. The last possible thing she needed, or wanted, was to be back in the game. She had her fill of danger and violence in her life. And right now all she wanted was to quietly run her pub, and mourn.
Propping her feet on the desk, she tried to keep her thoughts from roaming over the not so long ago memory. Colin. Her baby brother.
She sighed. She knew that she was not responsible for his death. Nor could she have stopped it if she had been there. He had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing. But she still felt the guilt, and still asked "if only" . . . Her heart still grieved his loss.
And it jumped a moment when she heard the knock on the office door, thinking foolishly that it might be the small blonde woman again. But she put on her best no nonsense business tone, and dashed the back of hand across eyes that were threatening to tear up.
"Hi ya boss." Tommy called cheerfully. "Sorry to bother you, but there is some guy on the phone about your Guinness delivery."
Business calls, she thought ruefully. Just in time to take my mind away. She should be grateful.
"I'll take care of it Tommy." And as the door quietly clicked shut behind him, she allowed herself a moment to take a deep breath and banish her inner demons, before picking up the phone and getting back to work.