Chapter 10

    She watched the droplet of water slowly cascade down the side of her pint glass of Guinness, like a glistening tear drop.  But no tears would come for Taylor, despite the fact that she felt like her heart would surely never recover from losing what might have been with Cami.

  Grabbing the glass, she let the cold beer trickle down her throat,  firmly trying to push away images from yesterday.  But all she could see was that red haze of hatred and violence: Frank's face turning purple as she choked him, and those solemn green eyes of Cami's.  Those eyes that had haunted her all day today, that Taylor was certain she would never see again.

  Taylor grimaced and ran her hand through her hair.  Although the blonde woman had said nothing to Taylor when she released Frank from her strangle-hold, the barkeep had felt the shudder ripple down the smaller woman's spine.  She knew without asking that any friendship she might have begun with the photographer was lost. Lost in her inability to control the violence she carried around inside of her - that she had hoped in vain was long ago buried. Camryn was an intelligent, sophisticated woman - not someone who would invest herself in a relationship with a violent, unpredictable person like Taylor.
 Why didn't you just hit her too while you were at it,  she scolded herself. May as well have, for all the terror she must have felt at seeing that darkness inside of you.

Fighting back the waves of misery that clamped in her chest, Taylor mentally punished herself for allowing that sniveling coward Frank to get the better of her.  She knew he had been baiting her, trying to gauge her reaction to his not so subtle threat against Cami.  And she had fallen right for it.  With the finesse of a common street thug she had allowed her primitive nature to react. This time she was sure it would cost her a friendship and her heart told her, the possibility of something even more precious than that.  For some insane reason, her soul kept telling her that Cami was the key;  that somehow the little blonde was connected to her in some inexplicable way. But how and why were the real questions.  And it seemed that neither question would have an answer now that Cami knew what kind of woman Taylor was inside. She hadn't heard a word from the photographer all day, and Taylor figured likely as not, she never would again.  If she's smart, she'll get as far away from a person like me as she can.

  The lively music of the pub swirled around her, and the Friday night crowd was as boisterous as ever.  But for the moment, Taylor was oblivious.  She chugged the remainder of her glass, ordered up another pint of Guinness and ignored Tommy's mildly disapproving look as he served it to her.

  Propping her feet on the barstool next to her to ward off any unwanted advances, Taylor let her mind drift, thinking about Frank, who was nowhere to be seen tonight, and the world of trouble he was likely bringing into her life. She had thought that was all behind her for good, and now….now she was dredging up memories that she had safely locked away to protect herself from the intense pain.  But tonight, with the misery she was feeling, she would allow herself for the first time in two years to recall the last time she had let her dark side take over - the time it had nearly cost her soul.

  When Colin had been falsely imprisoned, Taylor had made it her mission to discover the true felon.  She knew someone must take the fall, but damned if it would be her baby brother.
     A month of single-minded violence to find the man who set the bomb, never slowing down, never stopping, no matter the consequences.  Like an avenging fury she scoured North Ireland, ignoring her better sense which told her to find another way to free Colin.  Carefully packing away her emotions until she became empty inside; everything else was set aside in her brutal and vicious quest to find the bomber. Not to bring him to justice, for she knew the improbability of that. No. She wanted to kill the coward who framed her brother.
     And when she eventually caught up with him, she found herself face to face with a fourteen year old boy.
     In a dirty, old warehouse she threw the boy to his knees in front of her. Taylor's men surrounded her, urging her on:  "Shoot the bastard, Jamie.  For Colin."  Many others murmured "Aye, for Colin."  To this day she could still recall every detail of that warehouse - the musty, dank smell, the dust that coated everything, the broken windows and beams, and rotted  wooden crates that lay shattered on the concrete floor.  One small streak of moonlight penetrated the dirty glass remnants that jaggedly reached across the window frames.  The dim moonlight that had covered everything in a silvery haze, making it seem almost like a dream to her.
     As Jamie put her gun to the boy's trembling temple, she looked down into his terrified brown eyes - and caught her breath. She could feel the cold steel of the gun warming in the sweat of her palm,  see the tears streaking down the boy's face.  Suddenly it wasn't a stranger, not the coward who set the bomb, but her brother's face she was staring at. She struggled between the ruthless need to pull the trigger and the knowledge that this boy was someone else's brother.  And in that internal war,  her soul shattered.
     Later she would scrutinize that moment of clarity, that instant when she felt her world shift, turn her upside down and dump her on her ass.
     She knew it was impossible, yet in the moment she clearly felt her father touch her shoulder and whisper in her ear: "No darlin'.  Please."  The hand holding the gun began to tremble, and she felt the uneasy shift of her men around her, all wondering why she was hesitating. "Shoot the bastard and be done!"
      Again her father's clear, resonant voice: " 'Tis not for me nor Colin ya do this then.  Be assured, 'tis not the way ta honor my memory, nor ta ease your guilt for not protectin' your brother.  Let him go…let it go, T.J."  T.J.  His childhood nickname for the daughter he had adored.
     She reached down and grabbed the boy by his shirt front and lifted him completely off of the ground until his eyes were level with her own blue steel gaze.  She stared into that young face for what seemed like a lifetime.  Long enough for Taylor to remember - remember....something....another memory, from another lifetime...but whose? Hers?
     A dark room lit only by a few torches, a baby's cry, a man with a scarred face drawing a sword . . .  A sword? She held up her hand to him - "You can't hurt this child! We don't murder children!" Men swarmed around her. Shadows, fear. Derisive laughing.  'She's gone soft.' Must protect the baby, no matter what, I won't … The blinding pain, the beating, the incredible torture, I can't let them do this, I won't kill innocents . . .have to go on . . .protect . . .
     The memories like a vague shadow in the farthest corner of her mind, began to torture Taylor's soul, until in self-preservation she shook her head and  the vision had cleared.  But the truth of her heart remained;  she was not a murderer.  Sure she had killed before- soldiers in a war of the streets, to protect her men, but this - this was not a soldier, this was a kid.  This was pure blood vengeance.  Murder . . . The boy's youthful, nearly angelic face swirled before her and blended again with that of her brother's. "He's just a child.  I can't hurt a child!"
     One lone tear cascaded down her high cheekbone, and she dropped the gun.  She heard her men begin to grumble to one another as her Glock clattered to the concrete, but she refused to turn around to look at them.  Instead she held the boy's chin in her powerful hand to force his eyes to her own. In a voice husky with emotion she warned him, "I'm giving ya back your life. But ya must swear that ya'll leave the ranks. Ya'll never set another bomb or take another life.  For if ya do, I'll follow ya into the deepest level of Hell and torment ya there for all eternity."
     The boy blinked at the dark avenging angel before him, his slight body quaking with terror. He had no doubt that the woman before him was a demon who could do just what she warned.  So he hesitated in his answer, unsure if he was making a deal with the devil herself.  But when he didn't respond, she gripped his face harder and shook him with the other hand. "By god! You swear or I will make you wish you were never born…Swear!"
     "I .... I.... swear" his adolescent voice shook and stammered.
     With one final look in his eyes to judge his sincerity, she tossed him to the concrete floor staring blankly ahead until he scrabbled safely away into the night.  Then she turned and walked out of the warehouse, and away from everything she knew.
     She didn't even stop for her gun.
     In the aftermath, she knew a new leader of the F.E.P. would  emerge, so the next day she visited Jimmy Lynman to make the arrangement to free her brother, and banish herself from Ireland. There was nothing more for her here now. Her men would not follow her after what they would deem an act of cowardice on her part. And her brother was set to be executed.  So her choice was simple. Leaving her homeland versus  her brother's life and freedom. There was no more question as to what she would do.  But her sacrifice became a wasted effort in the explosion that  killed her brother just three days after that fateful night in the warehouse. The day after she left Ireland behind.  Forever.

  Now two years later, that violent streak had resurfaced; a reminder of what she had been, what she likely would always be.  Despite her best efforts to reclaim herself, something was still missing. Unbidden, her thoughts jumped to Camryn, as though the soft green eyes held all of her answers.  Perhaps they do hold the answers.  But she is likely lost to me now.

  Taylor was just about at the point when she was feeling the effects of the five pints of Guinness she had consumed, and feeling damn sorry for herself on top of it, when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

  "Evenin', Taylor."  Joe, the talented, regular musician was standing next to her, smiling down through his grizzled three day growth of beard.

  "Evenin', Joe."  She nodded at the portly man.

  The musician looked pointedly at the now empty pint glass in front of Taylor.  "Had enough of those yet for me to persuade you to join me for a song on the next set?"

  Joe had discovered Taylor's amazing singing voice, and was always after her to join in, despite her obvious reluctance.  Although she had once or twice in the past joined him for a song or two, she was not a performer and preferred to do her singing in the privacy of her own shower at home.

  Joe noticed her hesitation, and took it as an opening to pry a bit further.  "It's just that you've been sitting on that stool for that past two hours looking for all the world like you've lost your best friend.  Thought a song might cheer you up some."

Taylor's eyes narrowed as she took in his friendly face, and she nearly snapped at his presumption, before she took a moment to realize that he was right.  She was feeling like she had lost her best friend, and for that reason his request struck her tonight. Musta had one too many beers, old girl. She snorted.  Or it could be the misery that you're lettin' eat ya up inside.  Picking up the new Guinness that Tommy had placed in front of her she took a long pull before answering.

  "Aye.  I think ya can get me do one with ya." She held up a warning finger to stress her point. "But just one, mind ya."

  Joe was delighted and a quick grin split his face. "Great!! What'll it be tonight?"  He rubbed his hands together and nodded at Tommy who brought him his customary whiskey, with a Coca-Cola chaser.

  "I'll think about it, mate."  As he reached for his shot of whiskey she toasted him with her pint, "Slánte."

  "Slán na gath" he automatically responded to the Gaelic toast, raising his glass before downing it in one gulp. "Be ready in a second." Then he turned to chat with some of the regular customers, leaving a miserable Taylor to her own tortured thoughts.

   She was hot, tired and stressed, and what she should have been doing was going home to work all night in her darkroom.  But all she could do was think about T.J. Is she ok?  What the hell really happened last night?  Driving home from a job, she contemplated the vivid images from the fight in the bar the previous night.

  Camryn had spent the day doing the publicity still shots for the local television production company's latest pilot series, and she hadn't had a spare moment to call her friend. Nor had she been certain if she should call T.J. for fear that the woman needed some time alone.  But for the life of her, the photographer could not get those haunted blue eyes out of her mind.

  Cami could not fathom how or why, but in the past few weeks T.J. had become very important to her.  In fact, if truth be told, she thought about the dark-haired woman constantly. Damn Cami, obsessive much?  You have a crush on her, get over it and function here!  But, as she maneuvered the Jeep into her driveway, she glanced at her watch, wondering if she could catch T.J. at home.

  Hmm… 8:00 p.m. on a Friday night…She's probably at the pub… An idea formed in Cami's mind, and she mentally warred between her rational brain that told her T.J. was fine and she should leave her alone for awhile, and that spoiled brat side of her that wanted to see her friend, just to be sure.

She keyed open the door, dropping her large camera bag in the hallway and making her way upstairs.  She's a grown woman, Camryn. She is fully capable of taking care of herself,  her rational side supplied.   Camryn chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip, never stopping in her path to the master bathroom, where she began methodically stripping and starting a shower.  But those eyes. She looked so…hurt? Troubled? In pain. Cami couldn't place just why, but somehow she instinctively knew that the altercation between T.J. and Frank last night had little to do with their erstwhile marriage.

Climbing into a soothing shower, she let the water ease her stress, and her mind flow over the events of last night. She sent a silent thanks to Vicki and Jo who had been wonderful about the whole fiasco.  Frank's parting "dyke" comment to the women had actually amused Cami's two friends, who chuckled over the whole thing on the way home.

"I'm sorry about all of that." Camryn had told them contritely, once they were safely in Vicki's car.

"Ha! What's to be sorry for?" Jo had interrupted the apology. "Frankly, I'm kinda sorry we didn't let your friend Taylor kick the crap out of that jerk." She finished with a grin.

"Yeah. I knew she was a tough customer, but whew!" Vicki faked a wiping of sweat from her forehead. "She is damned strong, you know?"

"I thought it was kinda cool, actually." Jo continued, "I mean, he is not a small man, and she was really letting him have it.  She seems like the kind of friend I'd really want on my side when the going got tough." The redhead turned around and smiled at the still brooding Camryn in the backseat.

"True. I'm just……well, I'm sorry you had to get involved in that…..sorry that Frank called you….um….thought you were…." but the blonde couldn't bring herself to repeat the insult that he had hurled at them.

Vicki began to laugh. "Sorry he thought we were what, Cami? Friends?  Part of the ….what did he call it…..same tribe?  He was right.  We are family." The tall woman glanced quickly at Jo's diminutive form next to her.  "But honey, since you insist that I'm an Amazon, that must make you two…what?… Amazonettes?"

Jo began laughing as well, and reached back to squeeze Camryn's knee.  "Cami. It's no problem -  Honestly." She paused, a mischievous smirk creasing her elfin features.   "If you ask me, I think he was just having some lustful fantasies about getting the three of us in bed……together!"

Vicki nearly ran the Four-Runner off of the road she was laughing so hard. "Yeah! What is it with men and those lesbian fantasies anyway?  Todd, that last guy I was dating…he was seriously turned on by that."

Despite herself, Camryn was smiling a little. "How did you find that out?"

"Remember that time you met him at Jo's BBQ?"

"Yeah."  Then it dawned on Camryn what Vicki was getting at. "You don't mean he wanted us … ……er…oh shit!" She began shaking her head.

"Yup. You got it! As soon as he found out you were gay, he asked if I thought you'd be interested in a threesome."  The car rang with laughter.  "Of course, I told him he wasn't man enough to handle both of us……that shut him up pretty good."

"Ooooh! You are sooo bad Vicks!" Jo supplied. "Although if I were Cami, I'd be flattered."

"Flattered?"  The blonde was clearly puzzled.

"Sure! Damn woman! You are so sexy and attractive you have both men and women alike falling all over themselves to have you!"

Camryn's snort from the back seat echoed through the car. "Yeah. Right.  So that explains why I haven't ever had a long-term dating partner, male or female."

The three women moved on to talking about other topics, and Cami was pathetically grateful that neither of her friends had grilled her about her relationship with T.J.  Because she just didn't know what to say.
    The cool water of the shower forced her thoughts back to the present. She turned the water off and leaned her forehead against the cool tile of the wall.
    I have a crush on her. I can't stop thinking about her.  Her eyes haunt my dreams. All of those things were true, but Cami was scared to give voice to those feelings.  Afraid that if she did, they would shatter like glass under sane, rational scrutiny. Because, in the harsh light of her bathroom, her brain was telling her that a logical person just didn't feel this strongly for someone they had just met a few weeks ago.  It was impossible.  And yet…I feel it…So what in the hell am I going to do about it?

She stepped from the shower and toweled off, running a comb negligently through her short hair so it wouldn't stand up in spikes all over her head.  She made her way into her bedroom, automatically reaching for a pair of boxers to sleep in, when it became clear to her just what she was going to do. She would do for T.J. what she would for any friend in need.  She would be there.  And that meant a trip to the pub tonight to make sure the dark-haired woman was okay. Camryn grabbed a pair of faded jeans instead, and tried to convince herself that she was not totally insane.  Rational people feel this intense craving for another person's company sometimes too, don't they?

  Before she could really think about what she was doing, Taylor found herself standing on the stage next to Joe, wondering again why she had said yes.  There was an undercurrent of murmuring from the crowd, some of the regulars recognizing her and whispering in delight at this rare treat of hearing her perform.

  "So boss, what ya wanna sing?"  Joe grinned in expectation.

   Swallowing another gulp of her Guinness, she set the pint down and perched herself on the tall stool that Joe normally used during his act. "Think with the mood I'm in, we'll go for something a little more melancholy." Taylor's song choices were eclectic and ran from the standards to contemporary pop, but tonight her thoughts were dominated by a certain sparkling pair of green eyes, so she had a sudden inspiration. "Let's try A Pair of Brown Eyes."  The song was an Irish ballad that echoed of lost love and pain, and Taylor felt in tune with the message of the lyrics tonight.

  Joe ran a few riffs on his guitar with her, picking out the correct key and then stepped toward the microphone to make his usual announcement to open the new set. "Alright folks! Welcome back." His baritone voice echoed through the sound system, and the loud chattering of the customers subsided, as most of them turned to listen to the popular singer.  "Tonight we have a special treat! I'm being joined by the Publican herself, Ms. Taylor Jameson!  So, put your hands together and encourage her, 'cause she's gonna kill me later for making such a fuss over this."

   A raucous round of applause and smattering of wolf-whistled accompanied his announcement.  He turned and winked saucily at Taylor, who merely raised an eyebrow and shot him a look that indicated he was indeed in trouble later.  "We'll begin this set with an old favorite, A Pair of Brown Eyes."

  Taylor licked her lips, wondering why she suddenly felt so nervous. It was her own damn pub after all, and it wasn't as though she had never done this before.  She nodded at Joe, who began strumming the intro notes on his beat-up guitar. Before she could chicken out, she picked up the microphone, caught the rhythm of the piece and in a clear, low, sultry voice began to regale the admiring audience.

Summer's evening, drunk to hell.  I sat there nearly lifeless……on the jukebox Johnny sang about a thing called
    love.  He said, 'How ya kid? What's yer name? And what do ya know?'

  For the fiftieth time since she had gotten into her Jeep for the quick trip to the pub, Cami scolded herself for such a spontaneous act.  It was totally out of character for her to just drop in on people unannounced.  And even more out of the ordinary for her thoughts to be so consumed with one person.  The war in her head continued between the notion that T.J. might not be at the pub or even want company, and the idea that her friend might need a friendly shoulder to lean on, someone to talk to after last night's outburst.

  The spoiled brat inside of her won out.  She wanted to see T.J., it was as simple as that.  So as she pulled her Jeep into the parking lot, she took a deep breath and ran a slightly trembling hand through her close-cropped hair before turning off the engine and heading into the bar.  It's what any friend would do under similar circumstances. She reasoned with herself.  The difference was, her heart would not be racing so much at the prospect of seeing a friend.  She felt more than that for T.J., and her heart would not allow her to just stay at home and wait for the prickly, enigmatic woman to contact her.

  As she approached the door, she heard the mournful strains of the guitar picking out a ballad, and smiled to herself as she felt the familiar, home-like atmosphere wash over her. She eased the door open, intent on slipping up to the bar and asking Tommy if T.J. was even there. But before she was even two feet inside of the door she stopped dead in her tracks, her heart pounded into her throat and her jaw dropped at the sight before her.

  Taylor was on the low stage at the other end of the room.  The carefully designed lights were focused on her and brushed off her hair, causing it to nearly give the silky darkness a halo-like quality.  The tall woman had one hip cocked on the stool, one foot planted firmly on the floor, the other khaki-covered leg dangling indolently.

  Her clear, husky voice rang through the bar, causing shivers to course up Cami's spine.  Dear God! I had no idea she could sing like that!   But while T.J.'s voice was intoxicating, it was her eyes that most interested the small photographer.  The amazing blue eyes that she had peered into last night were now sparkling with unshed tears, as T.J. poured her heart into the song.  Unseen, Cami leaned a shoulder against one of the pillars in the back of the room, awash in shadows, and absorbed in the intensity of T.J.'s performance.

So a roving, a roving, a roving I'll go…for a pair of green eyes. For a pair of green eyes.

  At the chorus, a small murmur rushed through the crowd as though something were wrong, and even Joe briefly narrowed his eyes and looked in puzzlement at the woman who seemed to be really putting her soul into her singing tonight.   Camryn tore her focus away from the woman on the stage and glanced around the room.  She was unfamiliar with the tune, but by the audience's reaction, T.J. had apparently gotten some of the words wrong.

  At the table near Cami, she over-heard one of the patrons whisper. "Thought the song was Pair of Brown Eyes?"  His table-mate nodded and then shrugged. "Yup. Sure is. She must be thinking about someone in particular."  Both men were riveted on the stunning figure that T.J. presented.

  Cami's mind did a somersault.  Is she…? But I have green eyes…No, she isn't …she can't be… Her thoughts raced out of control and she swallowed hard, willing herself not to gleefully jump to the conclusion that Taylor was singing a song about her - about her green eyes.  She leaned forward a bit, listening more intently to the lyrics now.

She knew the minute that T.J. figured out she was in the room.  Cami saw the tall woman slightly stiffen, her voice take on a more raspy quality as her eyes swept the rear of the room, looking for those green eyes that she had been so plaintively singing about - so sure she would not see them again.

Taylor was well aware of Cami's presence, long before she caught sight of the blonde in the shadows near the door. It was as if her body sensed the blonde woman, instinctively knew she was there.  Her stomach clenched momentarily and she briefly thought about stopping her ballad right then and there.  But her heart won the day when their gazes locked for a long, poignant moment, and T.J. gave Camryn a lopsided grin and a half shrug, but never missed a beat.

    And I thought about a pair of green eyes that waited once for me, that waited once for me.  So, drunk to hell, I
    left that place. Sometimes walkin' - sometimes crawlin'.......... I heard that sound of long ago, along the old
    canal.  And the birds were whistling in the trees and the wind was gently laughin'. So a roving, a roving,
    a roving I'll go - for a pair of green eyes... ...a pair of green eyes.

    The last note echoed over the crowd, and there was a brief moment of stunned silence before the crowd burst into enthusiastic, wild applause.  Taylor turned and nodded a thank you at the still confused Joe, before stepping off of the stage and heading straight for her office.  She needed a second to compose herself before being faced with Cami's inquisitive eyes.  The decision to change the color of the eyes that she was singing about had been a last moment one.  And had she known that Camryn would be privy to the performance, she never would have done so.  For in that change, she revealed a great deal more about herself, about her feelings for the blonde, than she was comfortable with at the moment.  It made her too damned vulnerable.

  But less than a minute alone in her office gave her the necessary deep breaths to control herself, and to allow herself to admit that despite being caught practically singing a love song about the woman, Taylor was damned glad to see the photographer again. Something she feared would never happen.  But why is she here?

  Before her imagination could fly into hyper-drive, there was a slight knock at the door, and Taylor was certain that when she opened it she would be face to face with Cami.  So, she made her way around the desk and plopped in the chair, propping one booted foot on the desk in what she hoped would convey a casual air.

  "Come in." She called out.

  Camryn opened the door, a small, shy grin gracing her face. "Am I interrupting?" She inquired.

  "No, not at all." T.J. sat forward and gestured to the chair opposite her. "Will ya have a seat?"

  The photographer obliged and a moment of silence ensued as the two women studied each other. Both were too afraid of taking that leap into the unknown, and both were hoping against all odds that the other would be brave and leap first.

  Camryn was the first to break the silence.  "That was…um…wonderful!  I had no idea you could sing like that! Do you…um…do you sing here often?"

  Taylor shook her head before answering, a small grin gracing her features, as her ears reddened at the compliment. "No. I dinna make it a habit, no.  I …er…just sometimes get in the mood to let off some steam, and …well…" She spread her hands in an indefinite gesture.

  "You're terrific!  You should sing more often. Probably be really great for business." She paused before realizing how that might sound. "Not that Joe isn't good, of course, or that business is bad…." She realized that she was stammering now, trying desperately not to show how the song had effected her. "It's just that…well…you should have seen the way some of those men were reacting to you!" She teased.

  Taylor smiled in response. "Aye. Well, perhaps if business drops off I can peddle my er… "talents" then, eh?"

  Camryn burst out laughing. "That's not what I meant!"

The laughter between them subsided and another intense moment of silence passed between them before Taylor remembered her manners. "So. Can I get ya anythin'? Or did ya just drop by ta say 'hello'?"

  Cami looked nervously at her hands for a moment before responding. "Actually, I just came by to see how you were doing. I mean, after last night and all……" Her words drifted off.

  Taylor was absurdly touched and pleased at the photographer's concern, but her pride leapt forward and stopped her from saying something too damning. "Oh, aye?  Well t'was just a misunderstandin' between Frank and I. T'was nothing really. I'm fine as frog's hair, as my gramps used ta say."

  Green eyes narrowed knowingly. But that was as close as Camryn would come to calling her friend a liar.  She knew it wasn't just "nothing" that caused the barkeep to nearly choke Frank to death in her own pub, but Camryn had also established the policy of not prying too deeply were Taylor refused to open up, so she let the comment slide. For the time being, anyway.

  "Oh. Well. Good…..good. Glad to hear that." Camryn trod carefully. "I was just a bit concerned is all."

  "Aye. Thank ya. Actually I am glad ta see ya. I know I left rather, um….suddenly last night. And well…. I wanted ta thank ya for what you did. Stepping in like that, I mean." Taylor swallowed hard, she was finding it difficult to face the temper that had overcome her last night, and the fact that Camryn's presence made rational thought nearly impossible was not helping matters.

  A small smile lit up the blonde's face. "You're welcome. That's what friends are for, right?" The smile broadened a bit. "Besides, Frank may be a horse's ass, but he didn't look good in that particular shade of purple."

  It took Taylor a moment to understand her meaning, and another moment to realize that Camryn was trying to lighten the mood, before Taylor started chuckling. "Aye. True. Purple was never really his color. I think he may look better in pastels, don't you?" She quipped in a clipped, faux fashion designer voice.

  The sweet moment of laughter was interrupted by the phone on Taylor's desk.

"Excuse me then for a moment?" She asked, and at Camryn's nod of assent, Taylor picked up the receiver.

  "Boss?  Sorry to bug you, but some dude is out here looking for you." Tommy's rich baritone voice came from the other end.

  "Aye? Someone I know, Tommy?"

  "No. Don't think so, boss. I've seen him in here a few times in the past few weeks, but…" Tommy trailed off. "He seems like it's urgent, but he could be just an overzealous customer who caught your act, and now thinks he has that pair of green eyes you were looking for."

  Taylor bit her lip to keep from bursting out laughing and telling Tommy that the green eyes in question were right in front of her thank-ya-very-much. "Aye. Well. Give the man a Guinness and tell him I'll be out shortly."

  "Problems?" Camryn quirked her head to the side.

   "No problems. Just some business to take care of. It can wait if ya had a mind to stick around for some dinner, or…?"

  Camryn  was sorely tempted, but her eight a.m. deadline loomed in front of her.  "I…I'd love a rain check. I actually have a ton of work waiting at home."

Taylor hid her disappointment, but even that was tempered by the knowledge that Camryn wasn't entirely lost to her. She came back… "Aye. A rain check it is.  Ya know ya are welcome anytime. No invitation necessary." She gracefully rose from her place behind her desk and joined Camryn as she moved towards the office door.

The man waiting for Taylor at the bar looked up as the two women exited the office and caught the bar keep's eye, but although she had seen him in here before, he was not familiar to her. Her sense of self-preservation kicked into high gear and she instinctively laid a hand on Camryn's shoulder to protect the smaller woman.

When a pair of green eyes drifted up to hers in question of her gesture, Taylor covered her unthinking gesture with a smile and a blithe, "I'll walk ya out then."

Outside the pub, Taylor's hackles rose even further. On the short walk to Camryn's Jeep, the ex-mercenary could feel someone watching them. Without arousing too much suspicion, T.J.'s eyes expertly swept the parking lot. Who the hell is there?

Stopping at Cami's battered Jeep, the blonde turned and smiled at the dark woman beside her and decided that since she had already taken a leap this evening, one more small jump couldn't hurt. "Listen, T.J…"

Taylor's eyes tore themselves away from surveillance to meet Camryn's intense look. "I was um…I'm going to take a road trip to Julian tomorrow... I need some pictures of flowers and various things for a calendar shoot that I'm way behind on. Ummm…and…" Oh for God's sake, Wells. Will you ask her!! The worst that can happen is she'll say "no".

Camryn licked her lips before continuing. "Anyway, it's a pretty drive into the mountains - East of here - and…well… I was wondering if you'd like to go with me."  There. She said it. And it didn't even take her until Christmas to spit it out.

T.J. was momentarily startled. Up until about an hour ago, she had been certain that she was never going to see the petite photographer again. And now, here she was - out of concern for her friend, and offering to spend more time with her. And yet… Taylor warred within her brain that was screaming that even now there was someone watching them very closely. That just by being seen with Camryn, Taylor could be putting her in danger.  I should say no, for Camryn's own safety.
Finally, her heart gave her the best possible answer.  Face it. Frank knows who she is already. She's already in danger, so who better than an ex-terrorist leader to keep her safe. Right?

"Aye. Surely that sounds like a good idea. Shall I pick you up in the morning then?"  Damn. Being rational and right sure felt good.

Camryn shot a meaningful look across the parking lot at T.J.'s low-slung roadster, and then back to her own battered, yet practical Jeep. "Uh. Well. Meet at my house by 8:30, but I think I'll be doing the driving. Your car won't last long on some of those non-paved mountain roads, I'm afraid."

With a quick hug for the taller woman, Camryn slid into her Jeep. "See you in the morning. Oh, and T.J.?"

The dark woman was still vigilantly standing right next to the Jeep. "Aye?"

"You'd better wear some hiking boots, and bring a flannel. It gets cold up there after the sun sets."

T.J. playfully narrowed her eyes. "Aye? Is that cold cold, or Southern California "'tis 65 degrees and we are all freezin' our arses off" cold?"

Camryn laughed. "Well. Julian passed a town ordinance. They allow it to get a bit chilly at night, so they can have snow in the winter time. Good for the tourists."

Taylor chuckled, before her gaze turned serious. "Uh. Cami?  Um…thanks again. For uh…checkin' on me and all. T'was very kind of ya."

"Anytime, Jameson.  Anytime." And with a wink Camryn started the Jeep and left Taylor to glance speculatively around the parking lot before heading back into the bright light of the pub, and the mysterious man waiting for her at the bar.
Chapter 11

    Taylor's eyes narrowed as she re-entered the bar, and approached the man waiting for her.  He was a tall man, muscularly built, with dark curly hair and deep brown eyes.  She recognized his face as someone who had recently frequented the pub, and she mentally cursed herself for not paying more attention to her surroundings.  Back home, she had made it her business to know who was around her at all times. But lately…well, lately her attention to detail had slipped. Helped along, of course, by the fact that her focus was divided between Frank's stupidity, and a certain green-eyed blonde.

"Good evenin' to ya." She reached out her hand, which he automatically took and gave a cordial handshake. "I'm Taylor Jameson, can I help ya with somethin'?"

"Yes. Nice to meet you, Ms. Jameson. I'm Peter Knight. I was hoping to have a few words with you in private."  So that only Taylor could see, with a slight, subtle motion Mr. Knight drew back his leather jacket to reveal a badge clipped to his belt.
Taylor clenched her teeth and quietly damned Frank to hell and back for bringing trouble into her life.  But, she instinctively turned on her charm, offering Knight her best smile and gesturing towards her office door. "Of course, Mr. Knight. My office is right over there."

When they were both safely in the confines of the office, Taylor moved around behind her desk and sat down, quietly indicating to Knight that he should do the same.  He eased himself into the chair opposite her and studied her a moment before he reached into the pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a well-used note pad.

"What can I do for ya?" Taylor asked, managing to keep her voice steady and clear, although her gut had begun to ache - not with fear, but more like irritation. She had dealt with the police for most of her life, but in the past two years since leaving Ireland, she had not had a run-in with the American version. Although by the looks of him, her gaze traveled the length of the ruggedly handsome man before her, the only difference between Ireland and here is that this one doesn't have red hair. A rose by any other name…would still be a cop. She was amused at her analogy, but kept her face impassive.

"As I said, I'm Peter Knight. I'm with the Federal Bureau of Investigation." He flipped open his FBI credentials and set them on the desk for T.J.'s inspection. As she picked up the ID to examine it further, he continued, "I need to speak with you about your pub."

T.J. smiled her best charming smile. "Dinna tell me that the IRS dinna get my last check?" She tossed the ID back onto the desk. FBI, eh? Perfect. Between the drug dealers and the Feds it's no wonder I have so damn many people prowlin' around outside my place.

The agent's sharp, intelligent eyes lit momentarily with humor, but his face remained cool. "Nothing like that. What I'm here for, Ms. Jameson, is to ask your cooperation with on ongoing investigation. As you can imagine, I am not at liberty to discuss the details of the case, but I can tell you a few specific things."

T.J. leaned back in her chair and her mind kicked into overdrive. If he is here talkin' to me, he likely does'na think I'm mixed up in this. So what in the bleedin' hell does he want from me?

Agent Knight continued. "In conjunction with Mexican authorities we are working on an International drug trafficking case. Suspects from this case have been seen frequenting your establishment."

T.J. narrowed her eyes. The Reynoso Brothers, of course.  "Aye. And what do I, or my pub for that matter, have to do with that? I dinna ask my customers for their FBI file before I serve them a beer." I'm gonna bloody well kill Frank for this.

The agent eased his posture slightly to put T.J. at ease. "No, of course you don't. The FBI does not believe you are involved."

T.J. simply nodded and waited for him to continue.

"Actually, I am here to ask your permission to use your establishment in order to gather information."

T.J. nearly choked inwardly, but she gritted her teeth and refused to show her contempt for him asking her to be an informant. Instead she folded her arms and replied, "So. Let me get this straight. What you want is for me to eavesdrop on my clientele and then tell you blokes about it?"

Knight smiled. "Of course not, Ms. Jameson." He picked up his ID and put it back into his jacket. "I'll be the one eavesdropping."

"Excuse me?"

"The FBI needs your cooperation to stop this drug ring. So, I have been asked to go undercover here as your bartender."

"No." She bit off her answer.

"I understand your hesitation, Ms. Jameson."

T.J. stood and shoved her chair back. "No, you dinna understand at all, Agent Knight. I willna allow the government to endanger my customers by placing you here. Not really great for business if my place gets shot up and patrons are killed!" Taylor was fuming but she kept her voice low and dangerous.

Knight stood as well, but slowly, to indicate that he was not angry. "Your point is valid. However, think of this before you give me your final answer:  Your customers are already in danger. The people I am talking about are violent and would not hesitate to shoot up a bar full of innocents. By having me here, I can offer you some measure of protection in case things go bad."

Taylor began pacing. I can take care of myself, dammit. But he has a point. The place is already dangerous. Then an idea struck her. "Now wait just a bloody minute! The FBI does not come inta places and ask permission to send agents undercover! The whole purpose of 'undercover' is that no one is suppose ta know!"

Knight nodded. "Of course you are right. But in some cases, when we feel that we are putting a great number of civilians at risk, we ask key individuals, like yourself, to cooperate with us. We want you to know your options, as well as the fact that you have to hire me to work here. Now if I just came in off the street looking for a job, you likely wouldn't make me a bartender."

T.J. slightly smiled. "You're bleedin' right about that. I have a damn fine bartender." She sized up the man in front of her. "Naw, if you came lookin' for a job I'd likely make you the bouncer."

Knight smiled and reached into his jacket pocket, producing a business card. "Listen, Ms. Jameson. You don't have to help us - you know that already. But. Please consider the fact that with me on the inside, this investigation will be over faster and we can limit the danger to your patrons."

T.J. stopped pacing and folded her arms.

"Take my business card. Think about this for a while. Let me know if you have any questions at all."

T.J. took the card. It was white, non-descript and just had "Peter Knight" printed on it, along with a local phone number. What where ya expectin'? That he'd give ya a card that advertised what he is? He's an undercover agent for bleedin' sake.

Knight reached out his hand and T.J. automatically shook it. "I'll be in touch, Ms. Jameson. But don't hesitate to call me." And with that, he exited the office, leaving a frustrated and furious T.J. in his wake.

Taylor returned to her chair and tapped the business card aimlessly on the top of her desk for a few minutes, deep in thought. Finally she picked up the phone and punched in the numbers by heart.


"Ahyeah? Jameson? Is that you? What's up?"

"Things just got more complicated. Meet me in a half an hour."

The early morning light sparkled off the harbor as Camryn watched the Saturday sailboat enthusiasts zipping around, dodging the larger Navy ships. She was propped up on a deck chair, taking advantage of a few solitary moments.  She took another sip of coffee and mused that she should feel a lot more tired than she did.  The photographer had spent most of the night working in the darkroom, and had just managed about three hours of sleep.

It's inhuman to feel so damn good on such little sleep.  And Camryn knew exactly why she felt so damn good.  Taylor Jameson - who would be arriving any minute for their road trip to Julian.  Camryn found her stomach doing flip-flops at the prospect of getting to spend the whole day with the barkeep.

It occurred to Cami that she had let Taylor off the hook last night.  She hadn't even mentioned the "green eyes' song. Mostly because she feared that she was wrong. Maybe she wasn't singing about you. I mean, how arrogant is that?? Lots of people have green eyes.  So, discretion being the better part of valor, Camryn had prudently kept quiet about the incident.  Although, secretly in the far reaches of her heart, in a place she hardly admitted existed, Camryn hoped and dreamed that the tall blue-eyed woman had been singing about her.  That the friendship that was blooming between them could develop into something more.  But for now…..Cami would settle for spending the day in her company.

Camryn had taken a small gamble last night, just showing up at the bar unannounced.  The way Taylor had left the bar after her fight with Frank had made it clear that she wanted to be alone.  So, Camryn knew that is was a tad presumptuous on her part to just drop in and check on her friend.  After all, Wells, when you want solitude you get very testy at whomever interrupts you.  Luckily though, Taylor couldn't hide her obvious delight to see the photographer, so the risk had been worth it.
    And that voice!  Cami was still in awe at Taylor's singing voice, still could conjure up the chill that it sent down her spine to hear the sultry tones sweep over her.  Whew! Damn. Take a deep breath, Cami. Gonna have to spend all day with her and try not to drool. She chuckled.  Oh well, what's a little drool among friends?

  Her delicate features lit with an inward smile as she heard Taylor's BMW pulling up the street.  Rising from the deck chair she headed for the kitchen to rinse out her mug and face the adventure that lay before them.

  The drive to Julian was lively. Camryn piloted her battered, but practical Jeep along the winding mountain roads that lead them from the flat beach community into the lush evergreens of the Cleveland National Forest.  A name that Taylor was obliged to point out made no sense whatsoever since Cleveland was in Ohio, clear across the country.

"True. But Cleveland is also the name of one of our former U.S. Presidents." Cami felt obliged to defend one of her favorite places to hike.

"Aye, 'tis true." Taylor nodded in agreement. "Still, dinna ya think they might call it somethin' cool like Yellowstone or Yosemite?"

Cami laughed. "Well, those names were taken." T.J. playfully nudged the blonde.  "Besides, with the foliage around here they'd have to name it 'Manzanita' or 'Scrub Pine'. Neither one seem very dignified for a National Park."

  The radio blasted classic rock from one of the local stations, and the two women found themselves loudly singing along to the Rolling Stones and the Eagles. The forty-five minute drive flew by in a flurry of shared companionship and beautiful scenery.  The only mar in an otherwise gorgeous, sunny summer day was the fact that Taylor seemed somewhat distracted from time to time. She continually scanned the surrounding area, and kept her eyes riveted to any cars that appeared in their rearview mirror.  Although she was subtle about her surveillance, Camryn finally noticed her friend's somewhat tense demeanor.

  "Expecting someone?" Cami finally inquired.

  "Aye…er…what?" Taylor hadn't been paying attention to the question.

  "You just seemed very interested in the cars following along behind us."

  Taylor flushed.  "No. Um…I was just looking at how close the bloke was getting to your fender, 'tis all."  A lame excuse, but better than the alternative. Aye, Camryn, I keep checkin' ta see if the Reynoso Brothers are waiting back there to put a couple of bullets in our heads. T.J.'s mind was awash with the new revelation that the FBI was hanging around, and her life seemed to be growing more dangerous by the moment. May as bloody well stayed in Ireland for all the crap goin' on around here.

  Although she didn't push, Camryn did shoot T.J. a look that indicated her disbelief at the tall woman's explanation. With a half-shrug, Taylor turned away and became highly interested in the trees that were wizzing by them.

  Just at the turn-off to State Route 79 that would lead them through the mountains, they began to pass signs that read "delicious Julian apples", "fresh honey", and finally the sign that truly caught their attention:  "ass-kicking beef jerky."  The two women shared a laugh.  "Well, THAT we must try."

  Camryn steered the Jeep into the little dirt parking area next to the make-shift, wooden fruit stand. The women were greeted by the proprietor;  a jolly, grey-haired woman who was absently shooing away the myriad of bees that had gathered around the fragrant, ripe fruit.  A beautiful parrot was perched next to her, chattering away and occasionally fluttering its wings to ward of the buzzing nuisances around him.

T.J. found the place charming, and purchased quite a few apples, and of course, some of the highly touted beef jerky.
Back on the road, the pair contentedly munched on the jerky that did indeed kick their posteriors with its spicy flavor. Then Taylor pulled a dark red apple out of her bag and took a healthy crunch.

   " 'Tis delicious apples as well then." Taylor noted.

  Cami smiled. "Yep. Julian is famous for their Apple festival every Fall. Just wait until we get into town and get some of Mom's Apple Pie."  She waggled her eyebrows.

  Taylor was momentarily puzzled. "Aye?  Your mom lives here then?"

  Cami shot a sideways glance at her companion. "What? No. I …" Her brows knit in consternation for a second before she realized what Taylor had thought. Then she burst into a fit of laughter so hard she nearly drove the car off of the windy, narrow mountain road.

  "No. No." She spluttered out between chuckles. "The name of the famous pie shop in Julian is 'Mom's'". Then she caught sight of the look on Taylor's face and instantly stopped laughing, for fear that she had really embarrassed her friend.

  A second of silence passed before a merry sparkle lit Taylor's eyes, and she too began to chuckle.  "Aye. I see. For a minute there I thought I was driving with the Pie Princess of Julian or something."  With a pair of loud chuckles, Cami continued to zip up the highway towards the hiking trails.

  They made the turn into Green Valley Falls camping area and Cami showed the Ranger her Parks and Recreation permit, so he smiled and waved them through the gate.

  "Does everyone need one of those to come here?" Taylor inquired.

  "No. It's just a yearly parking pass.  Certain areas up here are protected by law, so they try to limit how many people park up near the falls.  But if you just want to go hiking, there are plenty of places along the road to pull over and park."  Cami expertly guided the Jeep along the barely visible fire road, and drove quite aways into the mountains before finding the place she wanted to stop.

  The air was crisp, and clean, and Taylor found herself taking deep breaths of it, trying in vain not to feel like a cliché. " 'Tis beautiful mountain air."

  "Yeah, it's great out here isn't it?" Cami agreed.

  She pulled her camera backpack from the lockbox in the back of the Jeep, and then stuffed the apples and jerky they had purchased into a smaller sack, along with two large bottles of water and few other hiking essentials.

  Before Cami could figure out how to juggle both bags on her back, Taylor calmly reached over and shouldered the heavier camera sack, holding up her hand when Cami tried to protest.  "Ah, ah! No complainin'.  It makes sense for me to carry this one, so you can reach whatever equipment you need without having to take off your pack." When Cami started to frown, Taylor smiled and winked at her.  "Just make sure you bring all of that jerky, though. 'Cause I may need my ass kicked later and that stuff sure did the job."

  Cami grinned and stuffed the second package of jerky into the pack, before zipping it up and starting out on a nearby, rather overgrown trail.

  Camryn stopped periodically along the trail to capture images of flowers, trees, birds, and the occasional deer that they spotted in the distance.  They hiked for about a half an hour before they reached the large waterfall that gave this particular section of the park its name.

  Standing on the huge rock outcropping at the top of the falls, with the water roaring into the crevice below them, was actually rather peaceful.  The two women readily agreed that this was a great spot to stop and rest for awhile.  So Camryn eased her pack off and distributed the jerky, apples, two sandwiches, and water, along with a couple of nutrition bars that she always packed in her camera bag.  The makeshift lunch was delicious, and made even more so by the crackle of energy that snapped between the two women.  The tension was heavy, yet pleasant, and as they sat contentedly shoulder to shoulder and admired the beautiful surroundings, Camryn willed every ounce of her being to keep from just leaning over and laying her head on T.J.'s shoulder.  It just seemed so natural, so right.

  Unbeknownst to Camryn, T.J. was having the same inner debate, and twice stopped herself from leaning over and kissing the adorable blonde woman next to her.  Instead, when she couldn't stop her wandering hands, she reached over and tucked a lock of yellow hair back into Camryn's baseball cap.

  "Thanks. My hair is getting to that unruly, 'should I cut it or let it keep growing out' stage."  Taylor merely smiled in return, unable to trust her voice at the moment.

  A hawk traced across the sky nearby, its call echoing across the canyon over the noise of the waterfall, and Camryn captured the moment with her long lens.

  "So." Taylor finally broke the companionable silence. "What are these pictures for again? A calendar you said?"

  Camryn nodded. "Yup. I work for several calendar companies. Freelance stuff, but the one I'm really short on stock photos for is a nature calendar, so ….here we are….communing with nature."

  The sun was creeping low into the Western sky when the two hikers finally wearily turned their steps back towards the Jeep.  Dirt-streaked and tired, Taylor could not remember a more perfect day.  And she was almost disappointed to see the Jeep as they rounded the final bend in the trail.  Well. Almost.  Her stomach was already growling at the thought of the apple pie that Camryn had promised.

  "We headin' into the town now?" Taylor asked.

  Cami squinted up at her taller companion, somewhat disappointed because those incredible blue eyes were hidden behind her sunglasses.  "You got it. I'd guess we have less than an hour before sunset.  I think we need a good meal at Aunt Mary's Inn and some of Mom's Apple pie. Not necessarily in that order."

  T.J. smiled at the child-like grin that lit up Cami's face. "Do all of the places in this town have the names of relatives?  Is there a Dad's hardware and an Uncle Bob's General Store?"

  "Weeeeelllll… is a small town, after all."  Camryn deadpanned.

They safely stowed the gear in the back of the Jeep and started cautiously back down the dirt road.  Taylor was admiring the gorgeous streaks of orange and red that were just beginning to light the sky. She was lost deep in thought, so she missed seeing the large pot-hole in front of them.  Camryn was too focused on thoughts of the beautiful, dark-haired woman next to her.

But the next thing either woman realized, they had hit a large hole with a sickening crunch.  Normally, the Jeep would have eaten road like that for breakfast, but as Camryn tried to steer, her heart-stopped.  The wheel stopped responding, followed by a horrifying sound of metal scraping metal,  and the last thing she remembered thinking as they careened off the road was Dammit! I didn't even get to kiss her!


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breakfast, but as Camryn tried to steer, her heart-stopped.  The wheel stopped responding, followed by a horrifying sound of metal scraping metal,  and the last thing she remembered thinking as they careened off the road was Dammit! I didn't even get to kiss her!


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