Chapter 25

The elegant spires of the Hotel Del Coronado loomed in front of them before T.J. realized just what hotel Cami was taking them to. "You call this quiet and out of the way?" The dark woman chuckled.

"Actually, I call this a childhood dream." Cami mentioned softly.


"Yeah. I’ve driven past this place a hundred times since I was a kid, and every year at Christmas, Grams and I would come here and look at the amazing tree they put up in the lobby, but I’ve never gotten to be a guest here, and I always dreamed about it." T.J. smiled at the wistful look on Camryn’s face and didn’t have the heart to say no.

The venerable hotel was built in the 1800’s in the Victorian style. Since then, it played host to Kings and Queens, Presidents and movie stars, and was even one of the star settings for the classic comedy "Some Like it Hot" with Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. Thousands flocked to the Del every year, just to walk through the lobby and take pictures of the incredible architecture. It was lush and opulent, with the charm of a bygone era - truly one of San Diego’s gems, and arguably the city’s finest hotel.

Cami piloted the Miata up to the valet and started into the lobby with T.J., before she realized that they had a problem. "Oh damn. I guess I should have taken us to a cheap motel or something where they don’t ask for any ID. We can’t register under our own names…"

T.J. was two steps ahead of her. "I’ll take care of it."

They entered the elegant lobby and approached the dark wood front desk. "Do ya have any suites available?" The barkeep asked charmingly.

The man behind the counter barely blinked at the two bedraggled women in front of him. They had no luggage, were dirty - covered in soot from the fire and scratches from the tree they had climbed - and neither of them looked particularly like they could afford a room at the Del. "Yes, ma’am." He politely replied. "And how long will you be staying?"

T.J. smiled. "A week or so."

"Indeed, well if you would fill out this form and provide me with identification and a credit card…"

Before he could finish, T.J. reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a wad of cash that would choke a horse. Camryn gaped, trying hard not to do her impression of a deer in the headlights. "How much would it take to secure a suite for a week? Will $5,000 do?" T.J. continued endearingly.

The man blinked at the amount of cash and cleared his throat. "Uh…certainly ma’am. That would be fine…um…" He looked down at his computer screen. "And what name shall I put this under?"

"Ya can call me Maggie, Ms. Maggie O’Shea." She was really laying on the accent as she extended a hand to the man, who was rapidly losing his austere composure. T.J. proceeded to fill in a fake address for the name she had made up and handed the form back to the man.

"Well, then Ms. O’Shea, welcome to the Hotel Del. Do you have any luggage?"

"No, this was a spur of the moment trip, if ya know what I mean." She winked cheekily at the man. "Do ya have a place for us ta buy some necessaries?"

"Of course, Ms. O’Shea. The gift shop here is well stocked, and we also have complimentary toiletries available, such as toothpaste and the like. Just call down to the desk here if you don’t find what you need in your room."

"Thank ya kindly. Does our suite have a view?"

"Indeed. You are in suite 210 - it overlooks the beach."

T.J. took the key from the man, thanked him again, and turned to guide Camryn towards the antique elevator before the small blonde burst into peals of laughter right there on the spot.

They quietly chuckled as they rode the elevator, and although Cami’s brain was whirling with questions about what had happened tonight, and just why T.J.walked around with more than $5,000 in cash, she prudently kept quiet — saving the hard questions for when they were alone in their room.

Stepping out onto the second floor, they followed the elegant signs that pointed them in the correct direction and made their way towards their suite. Once T.J. shut the door behind them and secured the lock, she took Camryn in her arms and held her so tight it felt like she was crushing her. For the moment, words were unnecessary — they were just so grateful to be alive and to be together.

The women stayed silently locked in each other’s arms for a full five minutes before T.J. pressed her lips to the top of Cami’s head and then tilted her chin up for a tender kiss.

"I’m so sorry, Cami. I missed ya so." T.J whispered into the blonde head that smelled of the acrid smoke from the firebomb.

"I…missed you too, T.J." Cami sighed into the leather of her jacket. The blonde was confused, but right now she was just happy to be home in T.J.’s arms.

Although each of the women was aching to talk, they realized that a few necessities were in order. So they ordered room service first, and while Cami showered off the soot from the fire, T.J. had the front desk send up various toiletries. She even called one of the several boutiques and had a variety of clothing brought to the room for both of them.

When the blonde emerged from the steamy, refreshing shower, she was delighted to find a toothbrush, hairbrush and several other essentials waiting for her, as well as a pair of khaki pants and a comfy navy blue sweatshirt that was emblazoned with "San Diego."

In the sitting room of their spacious suite, she found the table set for a candle lit dinner and T.J. standing on the balcony just beyond the sliding glass door. T.J. had been sorely tempted to join the gorgeous little blonde in the shower. But she knew that they both needed to talk and discuss their relationship much more than they needed to climb into bed and confuse matters even more. So to calm her raging libido, she had opened the sliding glass door and allowed the cool sea breeze to wash over her.

While Camryn had been in the shower, T.J. used her cell phone to place a brief call to Jake to let him know she and Cami were safe. She didn’t tell her cousin where she was; it was safer for both of them that way. But the big man was obviously relieved to hear from her, since his guard had called him with the news that T.J.’s house had been firebombed. She promised to call him with updates and then tossed the phone on the bed before retiring once again to the balcony.

Camryn eased up behind the tall woman and wrapped her arms around her from behind. The moonlight lit up the beach beneath them, giving everything a silver, ethereal glow. They stood in peace and silence for a few moments, until Cami’s growling stomach interrupted the reverie. T.J. laughed, "Guess we’d better eat, eh?"

They sat down to their candlelight dinner while T.J. began her tale of what had transpired just before she tackled Cami in front of her condo. "I had hoped that the sting would take down Reynoso. But…" T.J. shrugged. "Sometimes I wonder if I was wise ta involve the Feds."

"Of course you were, T.J. It sounds to me like they were just doing their job tonight — they were protecting you. You made your plan based on the fact that Miguel promised to be at the delivery. How could you know he wouldn’t be there?"

"I should have known dammit!" T.J. tossed her napkin onto the table and pushed her plate aside. Ever since the debacle this evening she had been beating herself up for not sensing that Reynoso was setting her up.

"Don’t be so hard on yourself, T.J. The last time I checked you were far from being a psychic." Cami reached across and took her hand, reveling in the feel of the soft skin of T.J.’s hand and carefully avoiding the couple of scrapes that she found there.

T.J. gave her a thin smile. "Hmmm…Well…I guess I just have ta hope that Knight takes care of him." She shrugged, knowing in the back of her mind that the FBI would have a hell of a time finding the bastard.

"Exactly. The Feds will get Reynoso. They have enough information to put him away and then you’ll be safe." She ached inside for the pain she read on T.J.’s face and reached out to touch T.J.’s cheek. "After seeing you in action tonight, Reynoso doesn’t stand a chance…my own James Bond…or more rightly, Lara Croft?" She grinned wickedly at the dark-haired woman.

They locked gazes for an intense moment and T.J. finally broke the silence. "Cami…there are some things…things I need ta tell ya. Things I’m not proud of, but they are a part of my past and therefore a part of who I am today. I’m no Lara Croft, no knight in shining armor. I…I’ve been afraid ta tell ya, because I dinna think I could stand ta see the disappointment on your face." T.J. took a deep breath. "But now…now I…"

Camryn interrupted her. "Sweetheart, don’t you know by now that there is nothing you can tell me that will stop me from loving you." Tears were welling in Cami’s expressive green eyes.

T.J. gaped at her in surprise. "You…you love me?" She whispered, her voice husky with emotion.

"Of course, woman! Don’t you know that’s why I was coming to look for you tonight? I was sitting in my hotel room in Philly last night, crying my eyes out after opening your birthday gift, and I realized I was being a ridiculous fool. So, I told myself that since I admitted to myself that I loved you, it was probably time for me to let you in on the secret too." She smiled endearingly at T.J. and wiped away the single tear that coursed down the tall woman’s cheek.

"You liked the necklace then?" T.J. managed a small smile.

Cami reached into the neckline of her sweatshirt and pulled out the piece of jewelry in question. "It is stunning T.J. And it also told me volumes about you…about us. For one, you left me that box even though you were walking out. Which told me that you wanted me to see it, to read the inscription, to know how you felt about me." She searched T.J’s face for confirmation and read her answer in the deep blue eyes before her. "Still feel about me?"

"Cami…I… I love you. You must know that I do. But I left to protect you. Without me in your life, Reynoso would have no reason ta mess with you. It is my fault that man hurt you that night, and I couldna live with knowing I caused ya anymore harm."

"But, T.J…"

The barkeep stood and began to pace. "Shh…hear me out. I know my logic was right, but I was rather late in actin’ on it. If I really wanted ta protect you I had two options: ta not get involved in the first place, or ta protect ya myself. But by the time I really thought this out, it was too late…I had already lost my heart ta you."

Cami’s eyes sparkled with tears. "Then I guess that leaves us just the one choice -for you to protect me until the Feds bring down Reynoso. Guess that means you’ll have to stay near me and be my personal body guard, right?" She had a mischievous grin on her face, and winked saucily at T.J.

T.J. sat down heavily on the bed across from Camryn and just stared at the blonde for a minute before she responded. "Darlin’ let me get this out. It is a long, ugly story, but ya need to know it…No. That’s not right. I need ta tell ya the story. Ya need ta know who ya are giving your heart ta, trusting your safety ta…"

Cami nodded and leaned forward in her chair to listen to the long awaited tale. "Ok…honey. I’m here. I’m listening."

T.J. began at the beginning, telling Cami of her childhood in Belfast — how her father had been IRA and how T.J. was raised to be a fighter and a champion for the cause. "But somewhere along the way…I …I got lost, Cami. They made me a leader at a very young age. And because I was good at what I did, and I was good-looking and charming, I soon had men that followed me, who would do anything for me."

She told of her father’s death, about how her group splintered away from the IRA and formed their own coalition. She gave Camryn all of the grim details — the bombs, the death, the gunrunning, and the murder — all of it. T.J. paused only a few times, to take a couple of sips of water, or to take a few deep breaths to regain her composure. During the course of her tale, she tried not to look at Camryn, deathly afraid of the horror she would read on that loving face. Instead she paced the room, a woman on a mission.

"Ya must understand, Cami, that Irish history is full of bloody causes — wars, politics, riots. We grew up with it, t’was a battle we learned from our ancestors. I learned ta defend myself proper before I could hardly read or write. T’was our way of life. Like here in America the children are raised on fast food and Disney cartoons. Back home, t’was bread lines and bombs. But we dinna feel sorry for ourselves…never laid around moanin’ and complainin’ about our lot in life. No. Instead we did somethin’ about it. We fought back. Damned if we were going ta let the bastards drive us down — enslave us."

"Oh god, Cami…I was so idealistic when I was young. I believed in people. I believed in our cause. And most of all, I believed that good always triumphed over evil. When that belief was shattered, t’was a hard lesson indeed. Because of my upbringin’ I had lost my youthful innocence at a very young age, but that sense of idealism…damned if I didn’t try hard ta hold on ta that. It was futile though."

"We were family, the boys and I. They blindly followed where I lead, especially since where I led them was lucrative for all of us…gunrunning. We were young, rich and powerful — it was quite a rush. A sense of being immortal almost…or at the very least, untouchable. We could do whatever we damn well pleased. And for a bunch of punks raised on the dirty streets of Belfast, that power and money was intoxicating. ‘Tis where a good deal of the money I have now comes from — I had set up a Swiss bank account for easier transactions. I used that…dirty money ta build the pub, ta get set up. But now I try not ta live beyond my means — mostly I live off the profit of my business." She paused and raked a hand through her jet black, already disheveled hair.

"I’m not excusing what we did. I knew right from wrong, and I willna cop out like some people today and say that I became what I did because of my environment. That’s a load of horseshit. I knew what I was, and for a while…I loved it. I loved paying back the bastards that made my life miserable, that brutally killed men, women and children in the streets…" T.J. sat on the corner of the bed and stared blankly out the window at the waves crashing on the shore below them.

"But it all caught up ta me. My brother was falsely imprisoned for setting off a bomb, and when I found the bastard that really did it — he was a kid…just a child, no more than 15 or so. My men wanted me ta kill him…and I couldna do it. I froze. Killing people in a ‘street war’ is one thing. But killin’ that kid…that would have been cold-blooded pre-meditated murder. So because I couldna kill him, I knew my men would consider me a traitor - especially since I was supposed ta be seekin’ revenge for my own brother. After that night I gave it all up…I went ta the police and traded my exile for my brother’s life. I left everything I had ever known behind in Ireland — disgraced among my friends and expatriated…I boarded a plane bound ta San Diego because I have a distant cousin here — ya know, Jake — and the next day my brother was killed in an explosion. So it was all for nothin’. I gave up my homeland, the chance ta see my ma again, ta free my brother...for nothin’."

"When I came here, I needed ta take the fast track towards citizenship, so I made my deal with Frank. But that part ya already know." T.J. took a deep breath to finish. "So, here I am. An ex-patriot, ex-terrorist, murdering gun-runner." Crossing the room, she knelt before Camryn. T.J. gently took the smaller woman’s chin and raised those amazing green eyes so that they were practically nose-to-nose. "So take a good look, Cami. I’m no hero, not even close. This…this is who ya have pledged yer heart ta. And if ya want ta leave now, I willna blame ya a bit."

The two women sat and just stared intently at each other for a few moments. Cami knew her response to what she had just heard would be critical to the future of their relationship. In all honesty, what T.J. had told her did not make one bit of difference — Cami was deeply, hopelessly in love with the woman who knelt before her — the past be damned. But now she just had to convince T.J. of that.

Before she even spoke a word, Cami leaned forward and kissed T.J. — a deep, passionate and yet tender kiss that nearly shattered T.J.’s soul. When she leaned back, eyes shining with unshed tears, she looked T.J. right in the eyes and took both of her hands. "Now. If that wasn’t enough of an answer, it is my turn to talk, and for you to hear me out." T.J. nodded, not trusting her voice at the moment.

"I love you, Taylor Jameson. Somehow, someway…I think I always have. There is a connection between us that is far greater and deeper than anything I have ever felt in my life — stronger than it logically ought to be, considering we have known each other just a few months. And I don’t care if you dug ditches, built nuclear weapons, or were the bloody Queen of England in your past…all that matters to me…to us is who you are now." She paused long enough to lean forward and kiss T.J.’s forehead. The dark-haired woman, who had remained so stoic while telling her story, was now crying — strong, silent tears of happiness.

"All of those things you told me, your past, your experiences…I’ve told you before that our past makes us who we are — it shapes us. And I love the woman you are today. I would not have you change one thing about your past, because it has led you here — to this place — to become the loving, amazing, incredible, intoxicating woman that kneels here before me. You supplicate yourself to me as though you are asking for my forgiveness. But sweetheart, in this case forgiveness is not mine to give. It’s yours. You must learn to forgive yourself. Forgive the things you have done that you are ashamed of. If it helps, think of all the good things you have done — and will do - and balance them out. And I think that giving your heart to me is a definite plus on the ‘good side’." Cami grinned down at T.J., pausing to wipe away the tears with a gentle hand.

"Cami, I could never do enough ‘good’ to make up for all that I have done." She whispered.

"It’s not a contest T.J. You don’t have to match the good and the bad point for point. What matters is not the quantity, but the quality. Think of it like this— when you love someone, it is not the length of time that you love them that really counts. For instance, I’ve seen couples that have been together for 20 years and they are miserable — they barely spend time together, barely know each other really. And then there is you and I…we’ve known each other for just a short while, but love each other so deeply that the short time is irrelevant." She reached a small, soft hand to T.J.’s cheek and cupped it lovingly. "T.J. it is not the number of ‘bad’ things that you have done, but the fact that now you only want to do ‘good’. You have changed your perspective…give yourself a break and forgive yourself."

T.J. rose and paced back to the window without a word. In fact, she was silent for a very long time. After a giving her friend a minute alone, Camryn rose and joined her on the balcony, wrapping her arm around T.J’s waist to stand silently beside her.

Finally, T.J. quietly whispered into the dark. "That’s a tall order, darlin’. Ta forgive the things I’ve done…ta forget the things I’ve seen. I dinna know if I am capable of that." She paused and looked down at the incredible woman beside her. "But I love ya for trying ta help me see…and I love ya even more that ya are still standing here, strong beside me. I was so afraid, Cami…afraid ya would see the blood on my hands and run the opposite direction as fast as ya could." She gazed into Cami’s trusting, adorable face, and swallowed hard before asking: "Are ya sure, darlin’? Sure that you want to be here, with me?"

Cami smiled up at the dark woman. " ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.’"

T.J. quirked an eyebrow in response, so Cami elaborated. "It’s Shakespeare. It means that love is not truly love if it changes when you find out something different about your lover that you didn’t expect. It means that just because I learned something new about you today, that doesn’t mean I love you any less, or any differently than I did yesterday, or even a few hours ago. If anything, I love you more for trusting me enough to tell me about your past."

T.J. chuckled and kissed the top of Cami’s head. "I know what it means, darlin’. I was just surprised ta hear ya quote Shakespeare. But thank you, t’was a lovely sentiment…from one of the sonnets if I’m not mistaken."

"Bravo, milady." Cami reached up and kissed T.J., sensing the lightening of the mood, and shifting gears. "Now, to steal another phrase from the bard… ‘wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?’" She asked cheekily, running her hands up T.J.’s chest and kissing her exquisite neck.

T.J. immediately picked up the rhythm of the dialogue from Romeo and Juliet. " ‘What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?" She purred as she bent her head to nibble on a delectable ear.

But the ear nibbles were enough to throw Cami off of the game. "You know damn well what satisfaction." She growled as she grabbed T.J.’s hand and pulled her towards the bed.

Much later, as T.J. stared at the beauty lying beside her in the enormous bed, she couldn’t resist stroking the luscious, smooth skin of Cami’s back, and whispering to the sleeping form, " ‘Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till’ …well…until I met you darlin’." And with a kiss on Cami’s creamy bare shoulder, T.J. wrapped an arm around Cami’s waist and pulled her soul mate closer, feeling strangely safer and more whole than she had ever remembered feeling in her life.

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