To T.J.'s ears, the deep male voice on the other end of the phone sounded distinctly triumphant, with a healthy dose of smugness thrown in for good measure. She ignored the pleasantries that politely accompany the end of most telephone conversations and shut her cell phone with an unsatisfying snap.
It's done. Now I just have to hope it's the best thing to do. Although every fiber in her being was screaming at her at the moment, she had done what she grudgingly believed to be her only option. She had called for reinforcements. Not just any reinforcements - the F.B.frikkin-I. She had agreed to Agent Knight's proposal, and called him to let him know that he could start "tending bar" in the pub as soon as he wanted. Agent Knight seemed very happy that she had taken him up on his offer, and now she knew that she had more than just herself and Jake's boys in her corner.
T.J. had spent an extremely restless night, in part pacing the floor of her bedroom, and in part driving aimlessly around San Diego, barely enjoying the gorgeous summer night that blew past her with the top down on the convertible. She had left Camryn in the more than capable hands of Jo, who had assured her that she would call if an emergency arose.
When they arrived home from Julian, the first thing T.J. did when she got into her own car was to call Jake, to arrange immediate 24-hour security for Cami. While T.J. could more than protect herself, the Jeep accident had proven several things to the ex-mercenary - the least of which being that the Reynoso bastards had no problem with dragging her friends into the rapidly escalating situation. Jake's men, she knew, would guard Camryn with their own lives if necessary, and they were discreet enough that Cami would likely never even know they were there.
But shouldn't ya tell her that there is trouble? T.J.'s conscience niggled at her. Aye, yes…that's it. Just call her and say 'Thanks for a lovely time, oh and by the way, some ruthless drug lords are pissed at me, so that accident was likely NOT an accident.' If the situation hadn't been so drastic, T.J. might have laughed at her own sarcasm. No, she decided, that topic of conversation is best left alone for now.
She also arranged for the accident site to be evaluated by Agent Knight and his men. She had clued him in to her suspicions, and asked as a favor in return for her compliance with his plan, that the F.B.I. check out the Jeep for any evidence of tampering. Knight had been reluctant to agree to convey any information to T.J., until the bar owner had pointed out that without her cooperation, his case against the Reynoso's would take him a hell of a lot longer.
She hated like bloody hell to be working with the Feds. Every experience she had ever had with law enforcement had turned out badly. She knew that in America, things were different from the urban wars of Ireland. But. From the time she was a wee girl at her Da's knee, she was taught that the law was only concerned with the black and white of an issue. That the grey areas be damned - you break a law, you pay the penalty. And in the case of her brother, the law sometimes found the convenient answer - a scapegoat to appease the masses.
However, T.J. was strong enough to admit when she was over-matched. She was in a foreign country, dealing with a criminal element that she had no working knowledge of, and without her far-reaching connections that she had at home. No army, no solid information, no way of infiltrating. Whereas this was essentially the Reynoso's home turf - they held all the cards and they knew the unwritten rules.
T.J. absently rubbed her stiff shoulder. And apparently they know much more about me and my movements than they should. But that would soon change.
Someone was beating on solid metal trash cans. With a jack-hammer. And the son-of-a-bitch was inside her head. Cami stretched and winced at the residual aches and pains of her body. She tentatively opened one deep green eye, expecting tortuous pain, but instead gratefully finding that someone had thoughtfully closed the vertical blinds so her bedroom was blissfully dark.
But the pounding in her head continued. As she slowly eased her legs over the side of the bed and tried sitting up, combating the dizziness that ensued, she briefly pondered the fact that she seemed to feel worse today than she had traipsing through the mountains yesterday. Perhaps it was the company you were keeping that kept your mind off of the pain? She mused, glancing slowly around the very empty, very lonely room. She knew that Jo was somewhere around, because her diminutive friend had stayed the night in the guest room to make sure Cami didn't need any help during the night. But somehow Jo's presence was not the same. She's gone for less than 24 hours and already you miss her. A vision of the tall, dark barkeep popped into her brain and for a moment she ignored the pain in her head and smiled. You big sap.
Cami reflected that they had never gotten the chance to really talk after they shared that incredible kiss. There were hundreds of questions dancing about her throbbing brain. But between the public forum of the restaurant, and Jo's presence on the ride home, they never quite got to talk about anything really personal.
What if she didn't want this?….But she kissed me back, I'm sure of that… Cami's shoulders nearly drooped under the myriad of insecurities that rifled through her mind. Logically she knew that she could answer none of her questions until she spoke with T.J. But that didn't stop the questions from bouncing around in her head like a case of rubber balls.
A soft knock interrupted her reverie. "Come in, Jo." She called out and then cringed at the pain that shot through her. Softly, gently…She belatedly reminded herself.
The little redhead eased the door open, bearing a tray with coffee and croissants. "Thought you might want some breakfast." She set the tray down on the night stand. "Well. You're sitting up, that's a good sign." She said cheerfully.
"Can you try not to be so damned perky this early in the morning. Some of us are trying to die over here." Came the grumpy, but quiet response.
Jo smiled, having spent the four years of college dealing with her friend's aversion to waking up before noon. "Hey, come on now. Eat will you. After all, I cooked."
Cami slowly rotated her eyes towards the tray in question, and she would have laughed out loud if she hadn't stopped herself, anticipating the pain it would cause her head. "Um. Hate to break this to you hon, but coffee and croissants is NOT cooking." Jo's lack of culinary skills were legendary. In college, the three women had taken turns cooking the meals, and Jo was famous for either making burnt grilled cheese sandwiches, or for keeping the frozen food and pizza delivery companies in business.
"That's not fair," she protested. "I had to perk that coffee. Did you know you are out of instant??"
Cami slowly raised an eyebrow. "Jo. Since I have never bought instant coffee in my life, I am not surprised that you failed to find any in my cupboard."
Jo scowled - a ridiculous look beneath her short haircut that made her look all the more like a pixie.
Cami unsuccessfully suppressed a smile. "But. Wow. I see you opened that package of croissants all by yourself."
"Ok. Now I KNOW you are feeling better. Sarcastic Cami is back. You really had me worried last night, you were quiet and docile, so I knew you were as sick as a dog." Jo eased herself onto the foot of the bed. "So. Feel up to telling me what happened? Besides crashing your Jeep, I mean."
Cami picked up the steaming cup of coffee, grateful for the smell alone which did wonders for perking up her spirits. "We crashed. We camped. We hiked. We ate dinner. We saw a doctor. We called you. End of story."
"If you weren't feeling so sick, I'd smack you but good with that pillow, woman." Jo teasingly threatened. "Try starting with what you were doing in the forest with tall, dark and gorgeous in the first place."
Cami relayed the journey of the weekend, starting with the pleasant hike and picnic, which seemed like another lifetime ago. That was B.C. - Before the crash. Or is that B.K. Before the kiss?
Despite the fact that Jo was one of dearest friends, she left out some of the important details. Like waking up in T.J.'s arms, or the incredible feel of her lips. Some things were just not meant to be shared - not even with your best friend. Besides, she knew that Jo was shrewd enough to catch on that something was up between she and T.J. No sense giving her more fuel for the fire. Especially not until I figure out myself where we stand.
"So the doc gave me some instructions and some pain medication, and you arrived to pick us up. The End." Cami set down the cup and bit slowly into a plain croissant, not quite sure how her stomach would handle food this morning.
Jo looked at her skeptically. But she allowed Cami to get away with skirting around the real issues. For now anyway.
By late afternoon Jo left for rehearsals and Cami's house suddenly felt very empty. Padding through the house in her usual sleep attire of t-shirt and boxer shorts, Cami was too wired to lay down and rest, which had been Jo's suggestion before she left for work. Cami puttered around, feeling restless. She didn't feel like working in the darkroom, which was practically a first for her. And there was nothing interesting on television. There were no jobs scheduled for the day. When you got right down to it, she was bored and lonely.
Inevitably, her thoughts turned to T.J. and the fact that she still couldn't quite gauge the dark woman's reaction to their weekend together. Without being able to talk to her about anything, Cami felt frustrated, and frankly, scared. So, she decided that a phone call was in order, in fact, she was a bit surprised that she had not heard from T.J. all day. Not a phone call to check on how I'm feeling? She started to let herself really worry that perhaps she had misjudged T.J., that the barkeep had not wanted the kiss.
Before her imagination got really out of control, she punched in the now familiar numbers on the cordless phone and nearly jumped out of her socks when she heard a knock at the door, followed by the sound of a cell phone ringing on the other side of the door.
Thunderstruck she opened the door and gaped at T.J. who was leaning indolently on the front porch, holding up her cell phone and grinning from ear to ear. "Guess great minds think alike, eh?" The tall woman quipped.
Cami laughed and then they both jumped when the phone rang again. "Sorry." Cami punched the disconnect button on the phone. "What are you…um…wow. Hi. I was obviously just thinking about you." Caught. Big time. She waggled the cordless phone in T.J.'s direction. Damn, she's gorgeous. Cami was struck by the casual and simple elegance of her clothes, her hair, her style. Of course she could be running around in an ugly brown dress or something, and she'd still be gorgeous. She briefly pondered where she had conjured up and image of T.J. wearing some ugly, brown thing, but she dismissed it and focused on the stunning, real vision before her.
"Aye. I just finished at work and thought I'd bring ya this." She produced a brown paper bag and handed it to Cami.
The blonde finally remembered her manners. "I'm sorry. Please, come in." She lead the way into the house and T.J. closed the door softly behind them. Cami couldn't get over how nervous she suddenly felt in T.J.'s presence. The tension between them was electric, and all awareness of the pounding headache she had been nursing all day had vanished.
"I probably should have called first. But I was afraid ya might be napping." In truth, she had picked up the phone a hundred times today to call, but had been too nervous. So once she decided to bring Cami some dinner, showing up at her doorstep was the only logical thing to do, right? Couldn't let the food go to waste? You big fraud.
"No. No problem. I'm really glad you came." Heavenly smells wafted from the bag. "So what'd you bring me?"
"I thought ya'd be hungry. But I also remembered that your stomach was botherin' ya, so I had the cook make ya some chicken broth."
"That is so sweet. As a matter of fact, my stomach does still feel like the cast of Riverdance is rehearsing in there." But that just came on suddenly. When you arrived in fact.
"Aye? Well, I never liked that damned show anyway." T.J. said with a chuckle as she followed Cami into the kitchen.
The short woman grabbed an eating utensil from the drawer, and hungrily fished her dinner out of the bag. "What else is in here?" She inquired when she realized that the soup container had company.
T.J. smirked. "Well, just in case you were feeling up to it, I also had them include a slice of today's dessert special - chocolate cream pie." At the blonde's excited expression, T.J. laughed. "But. Only if you are feeling up to it." She finished with a wink.
"T.J. Are you kidding?? A girl would have to be practically dead to turn down chocolate cream pie."
Cami lead the way to the balcony and placed her treasure on the table, before something occurred to her. "Where's yours?"
T.J. sat in the chair next to her, propping her booted feet up on the railing. "I ate earlier. No worries, that dessert is all yours."
That earned her a smack in the shoulder, and she winced before she could catch herself. "That's not why I asked silly." Cami caught the pained expression. "Oh damn! T.J., did I hurt you?"
T.J. dismissed her fussing with a little wave. "No, ya didn't. 'Tis just a little sore from the other day."
"Aye. I think I landed on my shoulder when I got tossed from the Jeep." She flexed the limb in question. "But. It just feels a bit bruised is all."
She glanced at Cami who had paused mid slurp of the soup. "I'm so sorry about the accident, T.J. I really never meant for you to get hurt."
"Now don't start that up again. 'Twas not your fault." T.J.'s conscience was pricking her now. "And, if I recall, I owe you an explanation." May as well take the first baby step.
Cami tucked into the soup, surprised at how famished she was. "Hmm. Yes, actually you do. You carried me up that ravine??"
The barkeep took a deep breath before beginning. "Aye. Well. After the crash, I think I was passed out for just a few minutes. When I woke up, you were gone and so was the Jeep." The sun was beginning its slow descent into the Pacific and the reddish-gold quality of the light danced across the balcony. T.J. stared at the harbor below them, not really looking, just remembering the agonizing feeling of not knowing where Cami had been.
"Anyway," she continued. "I called out for ya, but there was no response. It was a minute or two before it occurred to me that the Jeep was over the side of the ravine. I ran down into the canyon and found you still in the driver's seat." When Cami looked vaguely confused T.J. explained. "You were smart enough to fasten your safety belt."
"Ah. Yeah. Childhood habit." There was a pause before she added. "And a law in the state of California, little missy. So next time…" She waved a cautionary spoon in T.J's direction.
"Yes, ma'am." With a mock salute, T.J. continued on. "Anyway, I pulled you from the Jeep and carried ya across my shoulders up to the top of the ravine. That is when you woke up."
"In your arms." Cami couldn't help but adding, thoroughly enjoying the red flush that now covered the taller woman's face.
"Aye. And was that a complaint then?" Came the teasing reply.
"No. Definitely not. Just adding what little I remember of the story." Then something else occurred to her. "Hey! Wait a minute! As I recall, the Jeep was laying on its side. How in the holy hell did you get me out of there?"
T.J. offered a non-committal shrug. "I unbuckled your belt and hoisted you out."
Cami just stared at her a moment in astonishment. When no further explanation was forthcoming, the blonde responded softly. "Remind me never to piss you off, ok? You are certainly a damn sight stronger than you look, woman." She placed a gentle hand on T.J.'s arm and enjoyed the tingle that the touch brought to her fingertips.
T.J. just smiled her enigmatic smile.
Cami pushed away her food with a satisfied smile. "Well. Thanks again for the food. I was apparently starving to death and didn't know it. And thanks for filling me in on the story. Why didn't you just tell me the whole thing when we were up there?"
"You assumed you had been thrown clear as well, and the fear in your eyes when you saw that Jeep over the edge? Well, I dinna want to scare ya even more."
Cami nodded. "I see. Well, I know it is insufficient for all that you did for me, but thank you. For everything."
Embarrassed, T.J stood up and leaned on the railing, enjoying the sunset. " 'Twas nothing, really. You'da done the same."
"Nothing?! T.J., you saved my life." Cami rose and followed her to the rail, so that their bare arms were touching.
T.J. was silent for a long while, and Cami studied her profile, enjoying the golden light on the older woman's skin. The twilight was quiet, with just a faint sound of the traffic rushing by on the interstate. The air held a slight tang of the ocean, but all Cami noticed was the distinctive cologne that T.J. wore. It was mysterious and seductive, like the woman herself.
Mere moments passed, but it could have been a lifetime and neither woman would have taken notice. Finally, the barkeep turned and brought her hand to Cami's face, cupping her cheek. In a voice husky with emotion, T.J. finally answered. "Dinna ya ever stop ta consider, that maybe it is you who saved my life?"
Before Cami could respond, T.J.'s soft lips had descended to her own. The blood coursed through Cami's body and she shivered in response to the touch of T.J.'s arms as they curled around her and deepened the kiss.
It was the same blissful sense of coming home that they had experienced on the mountain. But with the passion of many lifetimes behind it that urged them further into a feverish embrace. As the sun drew its daily portrait in the Western sky, neither woman noticed the masterpiece - lost in a universe that existed no farther than each other.
T.J. blazed a trail of hot, hungry kisses down Cami's neck and the smaller woman shuddered in response, her arms reaching up and enjoying the feeling of T.J.'s taught muscular back. When the kiss broke for a moment, each could read volumes in the other's eyes. T.J. traced her fingers across the smooth tanned cheek, and Cami rubbed her hands slowly across the taller woman's stomach.
No words were spoken. None were necessary. Cami simply took T.J.'s hand and led her into the bedroom. The room was dark, with only the remnants of twilight to dance and writhe in shadows on the wall. A hint of vanilla wafted on the air, from the candle that Cami had restlessly lit earlier in the day.
T.J. allowed herself to be led to the bed and followed Cami as though she were a siren - seductively easing them both onto the bed. The dance as old as time continued, this time with a passion so gentle and tender that it nearly hurt. With tempting little kisses, T.J. made her way to Cami's stomach and eased off the smaller woman's t-shirt. The barkeep gave a soft gasp as she realized that nothing stood between her and Cami's full, ripe breasts. The feel of T.J.'s lips on her bare skin nearly sent Cami to the ceiling. She grasped tightly at the dark hair that was now spilling across her chest. T.J. left a damp trail on her quest to reach her prize - and she lavished attention on both nipples, leaving Cami panting and grasping at the tormentor that so teasingly controlled her.
When the smaller woman let out a moan, T.J. paused in her tasting. "Are you feeling up to this? I mean, if your head is hurting…….."
Cami's initial response was to grab T.J. and pull her into a long, deep kiss. When she finally released her, she simply reiterated her earlier statement. "Are you kidding? A girl would have to be practically dead to turn this down. Don't you dare stop."
T.J. laughed - a low, sexy growl that had Cami shuddering and reaching for the buttons on the dark woman's blouse. T.J. partially sat up to make the blonde's task easier, and Cami teasingly eased each button open and kissed the creamy skin beneath as she bared it.
At last the silk blouse ended up next to the t-shirt in a heap on the floor. Next came the bra, which Cami slid from the beautiful, strong shoulders and tossed aside quickly so that she could enjoy the sight of T.J.'s incredible, lush breasts. "Damn, you are so beautiful." Cami gasped as she bent to taste the bounty that she had discovered. T.J. smiled and ran long fingers through the soft blonde hair that tickled her chin as Cami delighted in tasting each of her breasts.
When the dark woman couldn't stand any more of the exquisite torture, she deftly rolled Cami onto her back and reached for the waistband of the small woman's boxers. With a grin at just how damned sexy Cami was, no matter what she wearing, T.J. again was stunned into inaction when she realized that like the t-shirt, Cami was bare beneath the shorts. "Bloody hell." She whispered. "You are full of surprises tonight."
With a soft, delicate touch, T.J. swept her hands over Cami's body, followed closely by lips that reveled in the little shivers they left in their wake. When she reached the treasure that she had so recently uncovered, T.J. paused. With soft nips and light kisses, she tormented Cami's inner thighs, while sure, poetic fingers began to softly stroke the golden hair at Cami's apex.
The small woman was in exquisite agony. She writhed and moaned under T.J.'s adept touch. When she could not longer take the sweet torment, her hands reached out blindly for something, she wasn't sure what - some relief from the pleasurable pain that she felt under T.J.'s ministrations. "Please. I…T.J……oh please….."
A primitive smile of satisfaction began to light up T.J.'s dark countenance. "Please what, Cami?" She purred. Without stopping in her seductive touch, T.J. played Cami's body like a beautiful instrument.
Cami could not form the words. The thoughts ricocheted through her head and out again as fast as they were formed. But nothing was coherent. The only thing that existed, all that mattered was T.J.'s touch. Her hands, her mouth, her body…
"Please, enough torture…..I want….I need….you…"
"You have me, baby…" She leaned up and growled into Cami's ear. With another slow, deep kiss that seemed to last an eternity, she decided that Cami had suffered enough.
Again tracing her way down the luscious body that was spread out for her, T.J. found what they had both been waiting for. With a hot mouth and a greedy tongue, she began to revel in the exquisite taste of Cami's essence. The moment that T.J.'s mouth touched her, Cami nearly came undone. She laced her fingers through T.J.'s silky hair and watched as the dark woman feasted on her.
Cami was helpless in the face of the rising passion that swirled about them like a dervish. T.J.'s tongue danced across her with an abandon that Cami had never before experienced - darting, sucking, swirling. Cami had been claimed - body, soul and heart. And from that moment on nothing in her life would be the same. In a thunderous crash, she plummeted over the abyss into the unknown.
And yet, when she returned to earth, she felt a pair of strong arms wrap tightly around her, and Cami knew she had come home. And even if her life had changed irrevocably, she never wanted to go back. This is where she belonged. Always.
T.J. held her and stroked her hair, whispering quiet words in Gaelic. Cami had no idea what she was saying, but the words were unimportant - it was the tenderness behind that that Cami reveled in. T.J. leaned in and placed soft kisses on Cami's lips and the blonde woman was nearly surprised that she could taste herself on those soft lips.
Words seemed to float on the air around them. Love…Mine…Forever….At last…. None were spoken, but they drifted there all the same, lingering like the fading twilight. And in the last few wisps of that amazing summer day, two soul mates curled together and finally fell asleep in each other's arms.
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