Safe Harbor

by Radclyffe

Safe Harbor by Radclyffe

 

Chapter One

 

Provincetown’s newest, and only, deputy sheriff pulled her cruiser to a stop in the parking lot overlooking Herring Cove. It was 6 a.m. on a clear, crisp morning in May. Other than a Winnebago parked at the far end of the lot, she was alone. To her right stretched the curve of sand leading to Race Point, and in the distance she could make out the figures of a few early morning walkers. Seagulls swayed low over the water, searching for their breakfast, their shrill calls echoing on the wind. The water reflected the color of the nearly cloudless sky, iridescent blues and greens slashed through by the frothy white of the churning waves. The air carried the damp mist that hovered over the dunes, chilling her skin. Despite the chill, she rolled the windows down, allowing the scent and sounds of the sea to rustle through the vehicle. A coffee cup sat on the dash, tendrils of steam drifting off on the breeze. Unconsciously she shifted her equipment belt, settling the revolver more comfortably against her right hip.

She reached for her coffee, her gaze idly following a trawler far out on the bay. Her mind held no clear thoughts, only the impressions of the timeless forces of nature that surrounded her. She felt totally insignificant and yet completely at peace. She felt more at home than she ever had. That fact should have been surprising, considering that she had only called this tiny town on the curving finger of land thrust arrogantly out into the Atlantic home for a few weeks. She had moved across the country to a place she had never even visited before, leaving behind a life that had shaped her since she was a child. Nevertheless it felt right to be here, and she accepted it with equanimity, as she had been trained to face all the circumstances life presented her.

Her attention was caught by a flash of color closer to shore. A red kayak with a bright yellow racing stripe streaked into view, the powerful rhythmic strokes of the kayaker propelling the craft swiftly through the water. Rather than disrupting the quietude, the image of churning arms and slicing paddle seemed to blend with the motion of the waves, joining in the harmony of swirling tides. She watched until the craft was just a dot on the horizon before she started her engine and pulled slowly away from the waters’ edge.

~

Sheriff Nelson Parker glanced up as the door to the station opened, admitting a gust of wind that rustled the papers on his desk. The Sheriff’s department was one large room with several desks that was separated from the waiting area by a low railing and a latched gate that squeaked when opened. In an adjoining room, at the rear of the building, were two holding cells that rarely saw any use. His deputy entered with the last of the breeze, and he was surprised once again by the slight disquiet he felt whenever he saw her. Maybe it was her height, she was damn near as tall as he was, or maybe it was the way she carried herself, ramrod straight even at parade rest. She had slightly broader shoulders and narrower hips than most women did, and she was in better physical shape than any of his men. The trim fit of her khaki uniform reminded him once again that he needed to work off those extra twenty pounds that seemed to have settled all too solidly around his waist. Maybe it was only that she seemed totally unaware of how imposingly good looking she was in that androgynous way that so many of the Provincetown women had. He thought ruefully that he might be just a little jealous.

"Morning, Chief!" she said, as she headed for the coffee machine. A frown creased the sculpted features of her angular face as she tilted the pot to survey the two inches of dark liquid in the bottom. "Last night’s?"

"‘Fraid so, Reese," he answered apologetically. "I just nuked mine and chewed it."

"Jesus," she muttered, dumping the remains in the sink. "That looks worse than barracks coffee. And I wouldn’t even drink that unless I was half dead." She started a fresh pot and settled behind the other desk. There were a few reports from the night shift stacked in the bin, and she picked them up to review.

"Anything I should know?" she asked.

"Nothing out of the ordinary. A few traffic stops for speeding, one DUI, and a couple of bar brawls down at the General Bradford. Not much happening until this weekend, I expect."

She glanced at the calendar displayed in one corner of the bulletin board. It was two days before Memorial Day Weekend. She had not yet experienced the transformation that befell the tiny fishing village with the onset of the summer season. Beginning in the end of May until after Labor Day, a flood of tourists would swell the normal population of several thousand to many times that number. The townspeople depended on the influx of visitors to support their economy, despite the constant complaints by the year-rounders of the hectic crowds and unmanageable traffic.

"Yep," the sheriff continued, "expect a lot of traffic - vehicular and foot, more accidents, more nightlife, and more drunk and disorderlies. Six months of nonstop pandemonium, and then six months of deadly quiet."

Reese filed the reports silently, envisioning the weeks of work ahead of her.

"Think you’ll be able to stand the winters?" Parker asked. "By December you’ll be able to see the length of Commercial Street without a car blocking your view. You’ll walk down the street and the only footprints in the snow will be yours."

Reese looked up in surprise, her blue eyes questioning. "Why wouldn’t I?"

He shrugged, curiosity warring with his sense of diplomacy. She’d been working for him for almost two months and he didn’t know word one about her personal life. She never mentioned her past, or talked of any family. He found it hard to believe that someone who looked like her wasn’t attached someway. Still, she never left any room for those kinds of questions, and he often found himself fishing for some clue as to who she was. "It’s probably not the kind of life you’ve been used to."

Reese fiercely guarded her privacy. It was not only instinctual, it was learned. She fought the urge to leave his unspoken question unanswered. This man was not only her boss, but the person she was likely to spend most of her time with in the coming months. In his own way he was trying to be friendly. She reminded herself she had nothing to hide. "The life I was used to was military life, Sheriff. It can be very boring in its own way. It hasn’t changed much in two hundred years."

"You’re way over qualified for this job," he continued. "I knew that when I hired you. I just couldn’t not hire you, not with your military police experience and a law degree thrown in."

She contemplated how much she wanted to share. Her social interactions were molded by a lifetime in the military, a rigid hierarchical world where relationships were defined and shaped by rank and politics. There were rules determining where you ate, where you slept, and whom you could and could not sleep with. There were ways around those rules if you were careful, and so inclined. Reese had never found the need to challenge them, but she was far from naive about the consequences. Revealing ones thoughts, and certainly ones feelings, could be dangerous and in some instances, deadly. As a young recruit she had been taught there were only three acceptable answers to any question or request put to her by a superior - "Yes sir", "No sir," and "No excuse sir".

She took a breath. "After fifteen years I found I was getting a little cramped in the military. I had to make a decision to stay for the rest of my life or make a move. I didn’t like military law, but I still wanted to work the law, just differently. This job gives me the chance to do that." She didn’t even try to explain the unrelenting restlessness she had felt the last few years; she didn't understand it herself. She had looked at her life and couldn’t fault it, yet still she had left. She was here; she was happy with her decision; and she looked forward to her new life.

He looked at his deputy, wondering what she wasn’t saying. She returned his look impassively, and he knew he had all the answers he was going to get.

"Well, I’m glad to have you," he said gruffly. "And for Christ’s sake, call me Nelson."

She brushed the lock of jet-black hair from her face with one long fingered hand, a tiny smile deepening a single dimple to the right of her mouth. Her clear blue eyes were laser-like in their focus.

"Sure thing, Chief," she responded, suppressing the grin. "You want to take the first circuit through town or you want me to?"

He shook his head, trying not to laugh. "You go ahead. I’m waiting for a call about next year's budget from the County Office. God, I hate the paperwork. I should never have run for Sheriff. I was much happier as the Deputy Sheriff."

"Too late now," Reese rejoined. "The job’s taken." She settled her hat over her thick, trim hair, snapping the brim to secure it over her deep-set eyes. For a second Nelson had the urge to salute her. Grabbing her keys, she headed happily for the door. She loved to be out on patrol, simply observing the day to day activities of the community she had made her own.

She had nearly completed her slow tour through the still sleeping village when the Sheriff radioed her.

"Reese?"

"Here," she answered, thumbing on her mike.

"They need you out at the clinic on Holland Road. A break-in."

She wheeled her cruiser up one of the narrow side streets that criss-crossed the main part of town, flipping her lights on with one hand.

"Two minutes," she replied tersely. "Is there a suspect on the scene?"

"Negative. But keep an eye out on your way. The doc just got there, so we don’t know how long the suspect’s been gone. And Reese - the doctor is inside the building."

"Roger that," Reese replied curtly. A civilian in an unsecured building could easily turn into a hostage situation. At the very least it made her reconnaissance more difficult because she had to be on guard for both innocent bystanders as well as the possible perpetrator. She did not use her siren. If anyone was still there, it was best not to alert them. For the same reason, she did not want an army of police cars barreling into the scene. Not that there were an army of patrol cars in the small Provincetown force.

"I’ll call in when I’ve checked the area. Hold the back-up for now."

She saw no one suspicious as she traveled the short distance to the East End Health Clinic. The small parking lot was empty except for a Jeep Cherokee with a kayak roped to the top. She recognized the red craft she had seen an hour earlier on the bay. She left her cruiser angled across the drive, blocking the exit. She quickly circled the building on foot, noting the shattered window at the rear of the small one story structure.

As she moved around to the front, the door was opened by an auburn-haired woman in a white lab coat. Her hazel eyes were wide with concern. She leaned slightly on a burnished mahogany cane. The lower end of a leg brace was apparent below the cuff of her creased blue jeans.

"I’m Deputy Sheriff Conlon, ma’am. I’ll need you to step outside." Reese had slipped her revolver from its holster and held it down by her side. As she spoke she took the woman firmly by the elbow and maneuvered her out through the door onto the small porch. "Please wait in the patrol car while I check the building."

"There’s no one here," the women replied. "I looked."

Reese nodded, her eyes already scanning the interior of the clinic. "Just the same, you need to wait outside."

"Of course," the doctor replied. She stepped down off the porch, then turned back. "Patients will be arriving in a few minutes."

"Just keep them in the parking lot," Reese instructed as she moved cautiously into the waiting area. After she checked the offices and examining rooms, she returned to her cruiser and called Nelson.

"Chief?"

"Go ahead, Reese."

"No one on the premises. I’ll be here for a while getting the details."

"Let me know what you get."

"Will do." She turned in the seat to face the women beside her. "Why don’t we go inside and you can fill me in."

"I’m Victoria King, by the way. I’m the clinic director," the women informed her as they entered the building, extending her hand as she spoke.

Reese took the offered hand, returning the firm grasp. "Reese Conlon, doctor. Can you tell me what you found when you arrived?"

"I opened up at my usual time - 7 a.m.," the doctor began once they entered her office. "I didn’t notice anything unusual until I opened exam room one. You saw the mess for yourself," she added in disgust. She leaned her cane against her desk and sat behind it, her folded hands resting on the scratched surface. They were steady, Reese noted.

"I called the Sheriff immediately, then I looked around."

A brave but dangerous thing to do, Reese thought to herself. "Did you see anyone walking on the road before you got here, or a car that seemed out of place?"

"No. But then I wasn’t looking for anything. I came straight here from Herring Cove."

Reese studied the woman carefully, noting the strong forearms exposed by the rolled sleeves of her white coat. She wore a simple deep blue polo shirt and pressed blue jeans underneath. She looked to be about thirty-five, lightly tanned with a smattering of freckles on her cheeks that only added to her attractiveness. She had the well-toned look of an athlete, despite the cane at her side. "Your kayak?"

Victoria ran a hand absently through the short layers of her shoulder length hair, shrugging slightly as she did so.

"Yes." She waited for the expression of disbelief that usually followed. Most people looked at her leg and assumed she couldn’t manage anything physical. She had come to expect it, but it still angered her.

"Do you do that everyday?" Reese asked pointedly.

"Yes, why?" Victoria replied defensively.

"Because in a town this small any local would know that," Reese responded evenly, giving no sign that she had heard the edge in the doctor's tone. "And they would also know when the clinic was empty."

"Oh, I see," Victoria murmured, feeling a little foolish at her own reaction. She wasn’t usually so sensitive. Maybe it was just the stress of the situation or the fact that this rigidly professional officer unsettled her. The cool, controlled manner of the woman across from her was disconcerting. She was so remote as to be unreadable. Victoria was used to establishing rapport quickly with people, and now she felt a little off balance. The sheriff’s precise, impersonal approach reminded her of some surgeons she had known - excellent technicians but no feel for people.

"Are you all right, Doctor?" Reese asked quietly. The woman’s tension was obvious.

Victoria was more affected by the violation of her clinic than she had realized, a fact that apparently had not escaped the notice of the observant sheriff. She was embarrassed to appear less than capable in front of her, and then quickly wondered why she should care. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Yes, I’m fine, thank you. I’m usually much better in a crisis."

Reese smiled. "I don’t imagine you deal with this sort of thing very often."

Victoria breath caught at the sudden transformation that accompanied that brilliant smile. Suddenly, the sculpted features were suffused with compassionate warmth, and a stunning beauty. It was like watching a work of art unexpectedly come to life. She blushed at her visceral reaction, hoping she wasn’t as transparent as she felt. She was grateful to see that the dark head was bent over a small note pad Reese had balanced on her crossed knee. Taking herself firmly in hand, Victoria replied calmly, "You’re right. What can I tell you that will help?"

"What’s missing?"

Victoria raised her hands helplessly. "I have no idea. I’ll have to inventory all the examining rooms and the pharmacy."

"What drugs do you have here?"

"The usual - antibiotics, a lot of pharmaceutical samples, AIDS meds—"

"What about narcotics?"

"Not much. I don’t dispense drugs here, but I need a small quantity of a variety of medications in the event of emergency. I’m the only doctor for thirty-five miles. I have a limited supply of codeine, percocet, methadone."

"Injectibles?"

"About a dozen ampoules of morphine. All of the narcotics are locked in the drug closet."

"Was it broken into?"

"I didn’t have time to check."

"Let’s do that."

Reese followed the doctor into a small room at the rear of the building that was little more than a walk-in closet. Shelves held linens, sealed surgical packs, IV solutions, and other supplies. A cabinet with a built in lock was tucked into the corner of the room.

Victoria sighed with relief when she saw that the door to the drug locker appeared sound. Inserting a key, she opened the front and scanned the interior.

"It looks okay."

"Good," Reese replied. "I’ll need a list of all the employees, the cleaning service, and anyone else who has access to this building. Who owns the building?"

"I do." Victoria grasped Reese’s arm as Reese turned to leave the storeroom. "There’s no way anyone who works here would do this."

Reese faced her, her expression carefully neutral. "I’m sure you’re right. It’s just routine."

After Victoria prepared a preliminary list, Reese folded it into her note pad. She studied the doctor for a moment, not missing the slightly distracted look in her eyes.

"Are you sure you’re all right?"

Victoria extended her hand, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin. She was very aware of being appraised by the cool blue eyes that searched her face. "I am. Thank you, Sheriff."

Reese shook the offered hand.

"Ma’am." She touched a hand to her cap and left.

 

Chapter Two

"Tory! Tory! Where are you?"

"In here," Tory called, "in the procedure room." She looked up from where she was kneeling, sorting and cataloging supplies, to greet the clinic’s head nurse. "Hey, Sal - glad to see you."

"What is going on? Are you okay?" Sally Price asked anxiously, surveying the mess on the floor.

"Yeah, I’m fine - somebody broke in last night."

"I saw the cop out front. She’s a new one, isn’t she?" Sally retrieved several unopened boxes of surgical gauze from the floor and stacked them on the counter. "What a hunk! Did you catch the body? Jesus!"

"God, you never miss a thing do you?

"Not when it comes to women," Sally laughed. "So are we seeing patients or what?"

Tory rose slowly to her feet, trying to ignore the cramp in her leg. "I think we’d better reschedule the morning ones. We need to clean this place up and figure out what’s missing.

Sally sighed. "I’ll start calling. Come out when you can and tell me about this morning."

"You mean tell you all about the Deputy Sheriff, don’t you?" Tory questioned sharply. She wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t want to talk about the remote, albeit attractive sheriff. She would rather forget about her all together. Tory knew that the sheriff had simply been doing her job - calmly, coolly, and entirely professionally. But there had been something about her attitude of command that had taken Tory by surprise. No one had ever managed to set her emotions so on edge from a single encounter. And no woman had captured her attention so immediately in more years than she could count.

Sally couldn’t miss the strain in Tory’s voice. She had never known anything to upset her usually implacable demeanor. In fact, sometimes Sally wondered if her reclusive friend wouldn’t benefit from a little disruption in her life. From her point of view, Tory’s life was all together too safe and predictable. In the four years they'd worked together, she had never known her to date anyone, or even show interest in doing so. Tory worked longer and longer hours, refused to consider taking on an associate, and even when she could be coaxed out to a party, she usually made an excuse to leave early. Sally had made any number of attempts to set her up with friends, but Tory always smiled and firmly declined.

"You don’t like her, do you?" Sally stated. "She’s so gorgeous she should be illegal - so tell me what she did to piss you off."

Tory looked startled, her cheeks coloring. "I don’t have any opinion of her, one way or the other. I hardly know her!"

"So, okay!" Sally cried, raising her hands in mock surrender. "So don’t tell me what she did to make you so touchy!!!"

Tory stared at her in total exasperation. "Just go, already! Call patients!" She turned resolutely back to her checklist, determined to put the tall, handsome officer from her thoughts.

~

"So, what have you got?" Nelson asked before Reese even reached her desk.

She pulled a blank report form from a stack in the file cabinet and settled into her chair.

"Amateur break in. Rear window smashed, cabinets rifled, stuff thrown around. They didn’t get to the drug cabinet, which either means they weren’t locals or the doctor surprised them before they had finished."

Reese reflected on the clear strong features of the clinic director -- her rich auburn hair and porcelain skin, and the way her green eyes sparked fire when she was provoked. The thought of Victoria King walking in unexpectedly in the midst of a bungled robbery made her uncomfortable. She had a feeling the doctor might have tried to handle things herself. Reese dismissed the disconcerting image and unfamiliar disquiet and methodically began to fill out her report.

"What?" Nelson asked when he saw her frown. He could tell something was on her mind; she had that distant look in her eyes again.

"If she had walked into the middle of that, it might have been a disaster," Reese said quietly. "She doesn’t look like the type to back away from trouble, and she could have gotten herself hurt."

Nelson snorted. "Don’t bet on it. The doc has some kind of black belt in one of those martial arts. Plus she’s strong as a horse. I’ve seen her lift a grown man onto a stretcher without blinking. That leg slows her down some, but it sure doesn’t stop her."

"I’m glad to hear she can take care of herself," Reese said, bending her head to her paper work, ignoring the strange lingering unease. There was no point thinking about something that hadn’t happened. She had work to do.

Nelson stared at her, aware that he had been dismissed, but at a loss to know why. Damn, she was a hard one to figure!

When Gladys Martin, the sole department secretary, dispatcher, and general all around manager showed up for her nine to five shift, she found them both silently typing. She wondered, not for the first time, how well the chief was going to adjust to his new deputy. It wasn’t so much that she was a woman, as the fact that she wasn’t so much like a woman. Gladys had a feeling that he hadn’t had much close experience with this type. The girl was so private it made you all the more curious. And God knows, Nelson Parker was too curious as it was! But anyone with a smile like that young one had - the kind that breaks your heart whether you were "that way" or not - was worth getting to know, even if it did take some work!

"Good morning you two!" she said, settling behind the reception desk and general message center. "Why is it you both look busy? The president coming?"

Nelson snorted and Reese smiled as she tilted back in her swivel chair.

"I thought he only went as far as Nantucket," Reese joked. "Not civilized enough out here."

"Then it must be the excitement out at the clinic."

"How do you know about that?" Nelson asked in surprise. Was there nothing Gladys didn’t know about?

"You forgot about my scanner, Chief," Gladys replied smugly.

"Don’t call me Chief," Nelson replied automatically.

Reese stood up and stretched, grinning at the friendly banter. "I’m going to make another tour, Chief," she called, already anxious to be out of the cramped office.

Gladys waited until the door swung closed before turning to the Sheriff.

"How’s she doing?"

"About what you’d expect, considering her resume. She’s the best officer I’ve ever had!"

"Quiet, isn’t she."

Nelson eyed his old friend speculatively. "Just what is it you want to know, you old busybody?"

"Ha! Like you aren’t nosey! I worry about a young girl like that in this town out on the end of nowhere. Could get mighty lonely."

"She doesn’t seem lonely to me," Nelson mused. "Just solitary - like she’s used to being alone."

"That can get awfully close to lonely," Gladys observed.

"Maybe. But I wouldn’t worry about her too much. Looks to me like she’d have no trouble finding company, no matter what kind she chose."

"As if it ain’t plain what kind of company that would be!" Gladys commented dryly.

"Now don’t go making assumptions, just because this is Provincetown," Nelson remarked, irked that Gladys always seemed to know more than he did.

"Oh, Nelson. You could put that girl anywhere in the country and she’d be turning women’s heads!"

"Yours too, Gladys?" he joked.

"If I weren’t so old and twenty years married to George, she just might at that."

Nelson stared at her, finally at a loss for words.

~

Reese left the engine running outside the deli while she ran inside for a sandwich. The two women who ran the tiny gourmet market in the center of town greeted her warmly. After only a short time she seemed like one of their regulars.

"Tuna, lettuce, and tomato?" Carol called as the tall, trim officer entered.

Reese laughed. "I’m obviously getting too predictable. Make it corn beef today."

"Sure. How’s the new house?"

Reese hid her surprise. She hadn’t yet gotten used to the easy intimacy of the year round residents. This was definitely not the place to come if you didn’t want to know your neighbors.

"Fine. I’m living in it - and the renovations will be done in a few weeks. Sarah’s crew is really good."

Carol nodded in agreement as she wrapped Reese’s order. "I envy you that view. There aren’t many places left with a clear line to the bay."

"I was lucky to find it," Reese agreed.

"Here you go. Take care now."

"Thanks."

Reese opened the sandwich on the seat beside her, eating as she slowly cruised through town. They’re weren’t many people in the streets yet, but in two days there would be. She was looking forward to it even though she knew her work would be tripled. She liked the sense of being part of the community, and taking care of it in her own way. Without conscious thought, she found herself headed back to the clinic. The parking lot was crowded as she pulled in.

The young man behind the counter in the reception area looked harried. Reese waited while he finished making a chart up, standing quietly beside a mother with two small children in tow. He looked up at her expectantly, flipping his hair out of his eyes distractedly. His astonishingly beautiful face was set in an anxious frown.

"Any chance I could see Doctor King?"

"Oh please! I’d sooner get you an audience with the Pope," he sighed dramatically. He had the longest eyelashes she had ever seen. If he were a woman, she'd call him pretty, but there was still something decidedly masculine about him that belied that description. "Let me see where she is, okay? We’re way behind, but I guess you know why."

Reese nodded, shrugging apologetically.

He returned a moment later.

"Follow me - she’ll meet you in her office when she gets a break. She said she'd just be a couple of minutes."

He led her to the office Reese had left just a few hours previously. As she waited, she perused the walls. There was just the one diploma, announcing that Victoria Claire King had received her medical degree from McGill University in Canada. Of much more interest were the many framed and mounted photographs of women rowers, some in squads of four or eight, many in single sculls. Reese bent closer to look at the faces. In several photos the woman pulling the oars was unmistakably Victoria King.

The sound of the door closing behind her interrupted her study, and she turned to find the doctor watching her.

"Surprised, Sheriff?" Victoria questioned edgily.

Reese raised an eyebrow at the defensive tone in the woman’s voice. Her blue eyes met the flashing hazel ones calmly. "Why should I be?"

Victoria tapped the leg brace with her cane. The metal rang sharply.

"Ah - to be honest, I didn’t think about that," Reese replied, her gaze still surveying Victoria’s face.

Victoria returned the look steadily and finally shook her head ruefully. "You may be the only person who ever has forgotten about it."

"I didn't say I forgot," Reese said softly. "It just never occurred to me that it would inhibit you on the water. I saw you this morning - out on the bay. You seemed so much a part of the sea, you didn’t even disturb the rhythm of the waves."

Victoria’s lips parted as a small gasp escaped her. There had been many descriptions of her rowing, but none quite so genuine, nor so eloquent. She averted her gaze, swallowing hard.

"Thank you," she said at last into the silence around them. She walked to the desk, finally looking at Reese, who stood ramrod straight in the middle of the room, her hat tucked under one arm. Victoria wondered if she had any idea how imposing she was, or how attractive.

"Sit down, Sheriff. You’re making me nervous," Victoria said lightly.

Reese laughed, a deep full laugh, as she strode to the chair facing Victoria’s desk. "Now that I doubt."

Victoria was irrationally pleased at the response, and aware of her disappointment as a serious look eclipsed Reese's smile as quickly as it had come.

"I know you’re busy," Reese said. "Have you had a chance to find out what’s missing?"

Victoria sighed wearily. "It would figure today would be the day half the town has the flu. I’ve been going nonstop since you left. I did get together a list for you though. A damn strange one."

Reese sat up a little straighter, her eyes flashing. "How so?"

"We are missing needles, but not syringes. Some surgical instruments, but not scalpels. Boxes of gauze and alcohol, and of all things - a portable sterilizer."

"No drugs?"

"The narcotics are all accounted for. I can’t be sure, because I don’t inventory pharmaceutical samples, but I think there is an assortment of antibiotics missing."

"That’s it?"

"As near as I can tell. If I find anything else, I’ll let you know."

Reese nodded. "Mean anything to you?"

"Not a thing. Addicts would want the syringes. I guess the sterilizer would make sense if someone wanted to reuse the needles, but what good are they without the syringes?"

"I don’t know," Reese mused. "How late are you open?"

"Until six, except Wednesdays, when I see patients until ten o’clock."

"Is there someone here with you the whole time?"

"Well, Randy, the receptionist, leaves when the clinic closes, and my nurse, Sally, stays until we clean up. I usually stay an hour or so later to finish the paper work."

"Don’t," Reese stated flatly, "at least not for the next few days. Leave when Sally does, and make sure you’re both in your cars with the engines running before either of you drives away."

Victoria looked at her in amazement, her shoulders stiffening. "Is that really necessary? I’ve got work that needs to be done - and I’m sure this was just some kids—"

"I’m not sure of that," Reese rejoined firmly. "You’re fairly isolated here. There might be something else they wanted and couldn’t find this morning. I don’t want you here alone if they decide to come back."

Victoria heard the unmistakable tone of command in her voice, a tone that came easily and suggested that she was used to being obeyed. What she was saying made sense, but Tory resented being told how to conduct her business.

"Is there any room for negotiation here, Sheriff Conlon?"

Again that hint of a smile. "None, Doctor."

Victoria tapped her pen on the desk, trying to decide if she felt so resistant because the request was unreasonable or because she resented the authority behind the demand. Whatever the reason, this woman had an amazing effect on her. She was so certain, so sure, it made Tory want to argue with her, even when she knew what she said made sense. Reese waited.

"All right," Victoria conceded reluctantly. "I can manage that for a few days."

"A week."

Victoria’s eyes flashed fire as she prepared to protest.

"Please," Reese added.

It was Victoria’s turn to laugh, despite her annoyance. "You are very hard to resist Sheriff," she stated, then immediately regretted her words. Not only did it sound flirtatious, she realized with chagrin that it was true. The sheriff's combination of pristine control and subtle humor was powerfully appealing.

Reese responded dispassionately. "I understand that it’s difficult, Dr. King, and I appreciate your cooperation." She stood and tapped a finger to the brim of her hat. "Thanks for making time in your busy day. I’ll let you know when I have a lead on this."

"Thank you!" Victoria called as Reese left. She sat for a moment trying to gather her thoughts. Again she had the disconcerting sense of being slightly off balance, when she was so used to having everything in her life firmly in hand. Exasperated with herself, she pushed the memory of that fleeting smile and rich laughter from her mind. There was plenty of work still to do, and she could count on that to put the new Sheriff out of her mind.

~

At the end of her shift Reese sat in her Bronco in front of the station house fiddling with her keys. She had been avoiding this moment ever since she arrived in Provincetown, and she knew she couldn’t delay any longer. The place was just too small. Already most of the storeowners knew her name. She pushed the car into gear and headed for the east end of the three-mile long street that ran the length of town along the harbor’s edge. She pulled to the curb in front of one of the myriad galleries tucked into every available niche. After a minute of hesitation, she headed resolutely to the tiny adjoining cottage. She rang the bell, her pulse racing.

A fiftyish woman in baggy jeans and a tattered sweatshirt opened the door, looking questioningly at the tall officer on her steps.

"Yes?" she queried. Then her eyes widened as she focused on the steel blue eyes and chiseled features. The resemblance was unmistakable. "Oh my God," she gasped. "Reese?"

"Hello Jean," Reese said softly.

"Kate!" the woman squeaked. Then finding her voice she called loudly, "Honey, you’d better come here!"

"What is it?" called the tall woman who entered from the rear of the house. She halted behind her lover, at a loss for words.

"Hello mother," Reese said quietly. She looked at her mother, at the sun burnished skin, the blond hair laced with grey now, and the blue eyes so like her own. Despite her anxiety, she felt strangely peaceful. "I thought it was time I visited."

"I’d giving up hoping you ever would," her mother murmured in a choked voice.

"I’m sorry - I -" Reese faltered, not knowing how to explain the years between them.

"Don’t be sorry. Just come in and tell me - well, tell me whatever you want." Kate touched her daughter’s cheek gently as she spoke, then reached for her hand to pull her inside. She led Reese through the few rooms to a small kitchen that looked out on the bay.

"Sit," Kate said, pointing to the table in front of the windows. "There’s tea?"

"Yes, thanks," Reese said, laying her hat on the table.

"How long have you been here?" her mother asked, unable to take her eyes off the strikingly handsome woman at her table. If she hadn't been practically cloistered preparing for an upcoming show, she would have known. A newcomer always attracted attention.

"Just eight weeks," Reese said, gesturing to her uniform. "I’m the Deputy Sheriff."

"Just can’t give up a uniform, huh?"

Reese laughed and the tension in the room dissipated. "I never thought of it that way, but I think you’re right."

"And you live here now," her mother stated in wonder.

Reese nodded, uncharacteristically uncertain. "Is that all right?"

Tears shimmered in her mother’s eyes and a small sob escaped her lips. Jean, her mother's partner, placed her hand protectively on her shoulder, knowing how often she had dreamed of this moment.

"All right is an understatement, Reese," her mother said at last. "I thought when I met Jean all my dreams had come true. I never even dared hope for this."

Reese looked away as the pain of old memories washed through her.

"If it could have been different Reese, if there was something I could have done—" Her mother stopped, knowing there were no words to explain the past. Or to undo it.

Reese met her mother’s gaze evenly, her voice steady. "I didn’t come here for an explanation."

Kate twisted the gold band on her ring finger, the one that matched Jean’s, and said sadly, "I tried to tell myself that you would be well cared for, and loved—"

"And I was," Reese said. "But it was time for me to see you - long past time."

Kate searched her daughter’s face in alarm. "Are you all right, are you sick, or--?"

"No, I’m fine," Reese smiled, taking her mother’s hand.

"So you’re here to stay?"

"Yes," Reese said, feeling the rightness of her words. "I am."

Jean set a large tureen of chowder in the center of the table, saying firmly, "I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night."

And they began to talk.
 
 

Chapter Three

It was close to midnight when Reese left them. It had taken that long to sketch in the outline of the last twenty years of her life. They hadn’t touched on deeply personal things; neither of them had been ready for that. But it was a beginning, and it felt right. She was too excited to sleep, so she decided to drive.

She turned off Commercial Street, following the meandering turn of narrow streets to the clinic. It wasn’t exactly on her way home, but nothing in the two by three-mile town was out of the way. She frowned when she saw the Jeep Cherokee still parked in the lot. The clinic was dark. Reese left her truck on the shoulder of the highway and circled through the scrub and sand to the rear of the clinic. When she gently tried the handle, the rear door swung open. Gun in hand, she made her way slowly down the hall, carefully opening each door she passed.

Rounding a corner into the shadowy reception area, she sensed movement to her right. Swinging her outstretched arms in that direction, gun double-fisted, she shouted, "Police!"

Her movement deflected the already descending blow, but pain seared along her forearm where she was struck. She propelled herself forward, catching her forehead against the edge of a metal file cabinet as she dove. She came up into a crouch, poised to fire on the shape backlit in the moonlight when a voice called out, "Sheriff, no! It’s Tory King!"

The lights came on and Reese found herself face-to-face with the doctor, whose cane was still raised for a second sweeping strike.

"Stand down, Doctor," Reese muttered, wiping her face with one hand. Her hand came away bloody, and she swayed, suddenly dizzy.

"Sit down, Sheriff," Tory commanded, moving forward quickly. She grasped Reese around the waist, directing her into a chair. "You’re injured."

"I need to secure this place," Reese protested, shaking her head, trying to clear her vision. "The back door was unlocked."

"Never mind that. Sally is always forgetting to lock it." Tory scrutinized Reese’s face carefully.
"You’re going to need stitches."

"I need to call for backup—"

"Why—am I under arrest? I didn’t know it was you until you spoke. I heard a noise in the hall—"

"Terrific," Reese grimaced, doubly embarrassed. "First I announce my presence, then I let you take me out. Maybe you should be wearing the badge!"

Tory smiled grimly. "This cane is nearly as deadly as that gun of yours, at least at close range. I’m thankful I didn’t break your arm." She looked at Reese with mounting concern. "I didn’t, did I?"

Kneeling with some difficulty in front of Reese, she grasped Reese’s right hand in hers. "Squeeze my fingers," she said.

"Can’t," Reese mumbled, battling a sudden wave of nausea.

"I must have hit the median nerve," she noted clinically. "It may be a couple of hours before you can flex your fingers, but nothing seems broken."

She continued to probe along Reese’s forearm, aware of the well-developed muscles under her fingers. "You’re lucky you’re in such good shape—your muscle mass protected you. Still, we’ll need to watch for compression injuries. You’re going to get a lot of swelling." She rocked back and studied Reese’s face, brushing a lock of hair off Reese’s forehead. The sheriff was pale, but her gaze was clear. "You’ve got a laceration through your eyebrow. We need to go back to the procedure room so I can take care of it. Can you walk?"

Reese nodded, holstering her gun as she carefully pushed herself to a standing position. She extended her left hand to assist Tory to her feet.

"I can’t tell you how sorry I am, Sheriff," Tory began as they moved to the rear of the clinic.

"It was a lesson well learned, Doctor," Reese said grimly. "Having a gun sometimes make you overconfident. A well-trained martial artist is a real threat in close quarters. That’s what you are, isn’t it?"

"Sit here," Tory indicated, motioning to the operating table in the center of the room. She was silent as she opened gloves and a suture tray. "Are you allergic to any drugs?"

"No."

"Lie back. I just need to clean this up a bit." As she set about her work, she continued, "Hapkido. Do you know it?"

"Some - I’m trained in jujitsu," Reese replied, wincing slightly at the sting of the novocaine injection. "Hapkido. That’s Korean, isn’t it?"

"Uh huh," Tory responded as she began placing the sutures. "It’s a combination of Aikido and Tae Kwon Do. Fortunately for me, it also teaches the art of the cane."

"Well, it’s certainly effective," Reese said flatly. "You’ll have to show me sometime."

"If you like. There, that’s it. I’ll need to take these stitches out in five days." She pulled the stool over and sat down facing Reese. "What are you doing here?"

"I happened to be driving by and I saw your Jeep. The place was dark. I was worried. You’re not supposed to be here alone, remember?"

Tory sighed, "I know. We ran so late I sent everyone home an hour ago. I had literally just finished and was heading out the door when I heard you. I am so sorry—"

"Please," Reese said, pushing herself up to a sitting position. Thankfully her head felt clear. "I’m glad to know you can take care of yourself so well. Let’s just leave it at that, okay?"

Tory stood, reaching for an alcohol swab. When she cupped Reese’s chin in one hand, Reese tensed.

"You’ve got blood on your neck," Tory said quietly, wiping the skin gently.

"Thank you," Reese murmured, her eyes meeting Tory’s deep hazel ones. She was acutely aware of the warmth in Tory’s touch.

Tory stepped back quickly, averting her gaze as she quickly broke their contact. The withdrawal was so abrupt, Reese shivered involuntarily. Tory frowned. "You need to be in bed. Come on, I’ll drive you home."

"I’m okay," Reese muttered, jumping down from the table. She swayed with a sudden wave of dizziness, and would have fallen if Tory hadn’t slipped her arm quickly around her waist.

"Not quite, you’re not. You may be strong, but you’re not made of steel. You’ve had a nasty blow to your head and with that arm, you’re not fit to drive. I mean it."

"I can’t leave my truck on the road," Reese protested.

"I’ll drive it. Come on."

~

"Go get into bed," Tory said when Reese led them into the living room of her new home. "I’ll get some ice for your arm - kitchen through there?" she indicated with a nod of her head.

"Yes, but I can get it—"

Tory rounded on Reese, her eyes flashing. "Look Sheriff, you can save the butch routine for the bad guys. I know you can get it. The point is that I want you to lie down, so I’m going to get it."

Reese stared at her, an uncomprehending look on her face. "I’m not trying to be butch! I’m just used to doing things for myself."

Tory’s features softened, and a smile curved her full lips. "Yes, I’ll bet you are. But tonight you don’t have to. Now go on—please."

Tory found her a few minutes later awkwardly trying to hang her gun belt and uniform in the closet. Her right arm was still uncoordinated and visibly swollen. She had managed to pull on a faded cotton T-shirt, USMC stenciled over her left chest. Her legs were bare below the hem of the shirt. Tory tried not to stare at the expanse of smooth skin and tightly muscled limbs, finally deciding she couldn’t avoid looking at her unless she suddenly went blind. Taking the hanger from Reese’s fumbling grasp, she said firmly, "Bed."

Tory folded the trousers carefully and hung them up in the precisely ordered closet. Shirts and pants were neatly segregated—dress clothes to the left, casual clothes to the right. She stared thoughtfully at the crisp Judo gis and the carefully folded hakamas on the top shelf. The mysterious sheriff was more than a casual martial artist.

Turning, Tory found Reese propped up in bed, her hands folded on the sheets that covered her to the waist. She was watching Tory carefully, her face inscrutable. Tory stared back at her, thinking that this woman spoke volumes with her silence.

"What?" Tory asked softly.

"I was watching you study my closet with such interest. Are you always so observant?"

"Occupational hazard. Being a doctor is a little like being a detective—you have to learn not to overlook the subtle details. How about you? Always so neat, ordered, and controlled?"

Reese laughed. "Yes. Fifteen years of the Marine Corp will do that for you. Although it might be hereditary. My father is career military."

"And your mother is an organizational systems manager?" Tory joked.

Reese grew suddenly still, her expression thoughtful. "No, my mother is an artist. I’m afraid I didn’t inherit anything from her."

Tory saw the subject was clearly off limits and once again a vast distance settled between them. "Here," she said, approaching the bed with the plastic bag of ice in her hand, "hold out your arm." She wrapped a towel loosely around Reese’s forearm, then applied the ice pack, securing it with another towel. "Keep this on as long as you can. If you have more pain during the night or the numbness worsens, call me. It’s unlikely you’ll have a problem, but I don’t want to take any chances."

"What’s your phone number?" Reese asked politely. She had no intention of taking up any more of this woman’s time. The whole ridiculous situation was her fault to begin with. No one had ever taken her by surprise like that before.

"Just yell - I’ll be on your couch."

Reese shot straight up in bed. "You are not staying here!"

"My Jeep is at the clinic, and I’m tired, and I’m starting to get cranky. I intend to go to sleep - immediately. Don’t worry, you won’t even know I’m here."

"That’s not the point!" Reese exclaimed. "You’ve already done too much for me!"

Tory raised an eyebrow. "And just how would you define "too much", Sheriff? Is any help at all too much? Just tell me where the sheets are—I’m beat."

Reese pointed to a military footlocker pushed under the windows. "Bedding’s in there, Doctor. Military issue I’m afraid. I’ve only been a civilian a short time, and shopping has not been high on my list of priorities."

"It’ll do for a night. Thanks," Tory said as she headed for the door. "Now lights out, please."

"Yes, ma’am," Reese sighed, realizing she had been out maneuvered in more ways than one that evening.

~

At five a.m. in May, sunrise was still a long way off. Reese stood in the dim light reflected from the kitchen, looking down at Tory King. She slept on her side, her arms wrapped around the pillow. Her tousled hair framed a face soft and youthful in sleep. Her clothes were tossed over a nearby chair, her leg brace and cane leaning within arms reach. Reese was captivated by how peaceful she appeared. Before Reese could move away, Tory rolled onto her back and opened her eyes, moving from sleep to full wakefulness almost instantaneously. She saw the curiosity in Reese’s face before all expression fled.

"What?" Tory asked. "Is there something strange about the way I sleep?"

Reese contemplated her for a moment, aware that she was naked under the light covering. The curve of hip and the slight swell of breasts were outlined in light and shadow. Reese knew she was staring, and forced her eyes to Tory’s face.

"You don’t just sleep - you seem to embrace it, as if it were nourishing you." Her voice trailed off. She had no words to express how beautiful the woman had been. "I didn’t mean to disturb you," she finished awkwardly.

Tory sat up, holding the sheet to her chest with one arm. With the other she brushed her hair back from her face. "I think I felt you in my sleep, but it didn’t disturb me." She looked at Reese uncertainly. She knew Reese hadn’t touched her, but her skin tingled with the sense of a lingering caress. Abruptly she swung her legs to the floor. This was getting ridiculous. Too much turmoil in the last twenty-four hours had her imagining things.

"I need to be up anyhow," Tory said more sharply than she intended.

"Right. I’ll let you get dressed," Reese said, turning away, nonplussed by the abrupt change. "Coffee?" She asked as she retreated quickly to the kitchen.

"Please," Tory called after her. She joined Reese in the kitchen a few moments later, looking around her in surprise. The room, newly renovated, was modern and equipped with professional appliances. "What a great kitchen! You must cook!"

Reese grinned, ducking her head shyly. "A secret vice." She handed Tory a steaming cup of freshly ground French Roast.

"However did that happen? Weren’t you forced to eat in the mess hall or something?"

Reese laughed, warming Tory with the rich timber of her voice. Tory relaxed, leaning against the large center cook-island that dominated the space. She sipped her coffee as she examined Reese in the bright morning light. She was in uniform again, the creases in her sleeves and trousers razor sharp, her tie knotted square under a crisp collar. The surface of her shoes sparkled with a flawless shine. She seemed flawless, too. Her black hair was trimmed precisely around her ears, and above her collar. The full front fell rather dashingly over clear blue eyes, a straight nose, and full strong chin. She was handsome and beautiful at the same time, and warning bells began clashing in Tory’s brain. Women this good-looking generally knew it, and that always spelled trouble. The years had not quite erased the pain left behind by someone nearly as heartstopping as this. She forced herself to concentrate on what Reese was saying, reminding herself she would never make that mistake again.

"I lived mostly off base. Learning to cook gave me something to do, since I’ve always lived alone."

"Always?" Tory asked. It was hard to believe that a woman with her appeal wasn’t attached.

"Yes, always," Reese replied quietly.

Once again Tory sensed a door closing as a distant look settled in Reese’s eyes.

"How is your arm?" Tory asked, retreating to neutral ground.

"Stiff, but the sensation has returned."

"Can you handle your weapon?"

Reese looked surprised. "I think so."

Tory shook her head. "You have to be able to or you can’t work. Seriously, Sheriff—"

Reese held up a hand. "Please, call me Reese. You can’t keep calling me ‘Sheriff’ in my own kitchen."

Tory laughed. "And I’m Tory. Now, draw your weapon."

Reese studied her for a second, recognizing the solemn set to her features. She reached behind her with her right hand to set the coffee cup on the counter. In the next instant, she had pivoted away from Tory, her revolver in both hands, crouched in a shooting stance. The tailored uniform stretched taut against coiled muscles, the gun unwavering.

Tory’s caught her breath, surprised by Reese's speed and grace. "You pass," Tory said lightly, aware that her throat was dry and her pulse racing. She had to admit the combination of physical beauty and controlled power was a compelling image.

Reese straightened, holstering her revolver. She smiled faintly and saluted Tory casually. "Thank you, ma’am."

Reese wasn’t sure why Tory was staring at her so curiously, but she liked the way she laughed. For some reason, the laughter made her happy.
 
 

Chapter Four

After returning Tory to the clinic, Reese circled through town to the station house. Nelson was at his desk, frowning over yet another voluminous report he had to complete.

"Jesus, Conlon—what happened to you?" Nelson asked when he saw the bruise on his deputy’s face and the fresh stitches on her forehead.

Reese shook her head ruefully, tossing her hat on her desk. "If I told you the truth, you’d fire me."

"Try me," he ordered. He was laughing by the time she finished the story. "I told you the doc could look after herself! Just be glad she’s only got one good leg, or she really might have hurt you!"

They stared at one another as he grimaced in disgust. "Oh hell, I didn’t mean that. It’s a damn tragedy, and here I am joking." He shook his head in discomfort.

"What do you mean?" Reese asked quietly.

"I guess it’s not a secret - as if anyone in this town has secrets. She was a rower. Did you know that?"

"I know she rows," Reese remarked, recalling the photographs in Tory King’s office.

"She did row. She rowed for the Canadian Olympic team. She was their big hope for a gold medal in the ‘88 Olympics. Another rower hit her scull in a trial heat just before the games. Cut her boat in half and nearly took her leg off with it. She never rowed again."

Reese turned away, her chest tight. "Is this stuff last nights’ dregs again?" she said gruffly, snatching the coffeepot from the burner.

Nelson gaped at her in surprise. He was never going to understand this woman. She closed up faster than anyone he had ever known, men included. But he respected her moods, so he just grunted as he returned to the endless paperwork on his desk.

Reese focused on making coffee, forcing the painful image of Tory lying injured in a shattered boat from her mind. Unexpectedly, she flashed on the way Tory had looked asleep that morning, remembering the still beauty of her form beneath the light covering. The image was inexplicably calming. Reese took a deep breath, her emotions under control once again, and turned back to the Chief.

"I’m going to start my tour."

"Sure. Hey, grab me some donuts, will you?"

Instead of turning right into town, Reese went the opposite direction to Route 6 and Herring Cove. The fishermen and women were out in numbers, casting in the offshore depths for the plentiful sea bass. Reese parked at the waters’ edge, searching the horizon. Sunlight shimmered on the cold blue-grey morning water, two forces of nature meeting. There, off to the right, cutting swiftly and surely toward Race Point, was the red kayak. The tension in her chest eased as Reese watched Tory fly across the surface, unfettered and free. Calm once again, she wheeled out of the lot to start her day.

After her second pass through town, she headed east on Route 6, the main highway that ran the length of Cape Cod. A roller blader a hundred yards ahead of her caught a wheel on something in the road, flying off onto the shoulder. The skater didn’t get up.

Reese pulled up nearby, lights flashing. She ran to the prone figure.

"Take it easy, son," she said as she bent down next to the wiry youth with short cropped dark hair. "Oops, sorry," she amended as she looked closer, realizing the skater was female. "Are you hurt?"

"Jammed my knee pretty good," the young woman muttered, grimacing as she tried to get to her feet. She had been skating in tight shorts without gear, and the length of her thigh was badly scraped and bleeding.

"Don’t try to stand up," Reese cautioned, slipping an arm around her waist. She bent slightly, getting her other arm behind the youths’ legs and stood, lifting her easily. "Come on. I’ll take you to the clinic," she said as she walked the few feet to her cruiser.

"I’m okay," the pale young woman protested.

"That may be, but we’d better make sure." Reese pulled the rear door open, sliding the girl gently onto the back seat. "What’s your name?"

"Brianna Parker," came the quiet reply.

Reese looked at her carefully. Her hair was very short and spiked; she wore no makeup. She had a small silver ring through the corner of her left eyebrow, a tattoo encircling her right upper arm, and a wide silver band on the middle finger of her left hand. At first glance she appeared like a typical teenager, but on closer examination, the girl had a haunted look.

"Are you related to Sheriff Parker?"

"My dad."

"I’ll radio him," Reese said as she slipped behind the wheel.

"Do you have to?"

Reese swung around in the seat to face her young passenger.

"How old are you?"

"Seventeen."

"You’ll need your dad’s permission to be treated—"

"Can’t we wait to see if I need to be treated? He’s going to be mad. He doesn’t want me skating out here. Besides, I’m supposed to be in school."

Reese considered the request. Nelson was likely to be angry if she didn’t call him right away, but there was something in the girl's face that swayed her. She could wait a bit.

"I’ll have to call him, Brianna - but let’s check the damage first okay?"

"Yeah," the young woman sighed. "And you can call me Bri. Everybody does."

Tory pulled into the clinic lot just behind Reese’s cruiser. She looked at Reese questioningly as the officer approached.

"Hi!" Tory called, pleased to see her again so soon.

"Good morning," Reese replied, her voice warm. "I’m afraid I brought you some early business. The Chief’s daughter took a header out on Route 6 on her roller blades. Banged her knee up."

"Damn," Tory muttered, mentally already planning what needed to be done. "Neither Sally or Randy is here yet. I guess you can handle a stretcher, can’t you?"

Reese didn’t reply as she opened the door of her patrol car and leaned inside. To Tory’s surprise, Reese straightened up with the young woman in her arms. Bri threw one arm around the tall officer’s shoulder for support.

"Lead the way, Doctor," Reese announced.

Tory merely nodded, deciding that she should get used to being surprised by the seemingly totally self-sufficient sheriff. Reese followed her through the building to the treatment room, depositing Brianna gently on the treatment table.

"I’ll wait," Reese said. "I’m going to need to call her father."

Tory nodded distractedly as she bent over her patient, then as an after thought asked, "Think you can make some coffee?"

"Absolutely," Reese replied with a grin. She found the tiny kitchenette and soon had a pot brewing. She was just pouring two cups when Tory reappeared.

"She’s fine," Tory answered to Reese’s questioning look. "A pretty bad sprain, but I put her in a knee immobilizer. She’ll be skating again in a week or two."

"Thanks," Reese said. "I’m sorry to have bothered you, but I thought—"

"Nonsense," Tory said, stilling Reese with a touch on her arm. "You were right to bring her in. She’s more worried about her father than her knee. Nelson keeps a pretty tight rein on her. She got into some kind of trouble a year or so ago. Teenager stuff."

Reese nodded. "It’s hard being that age. I’ll call him, then I’ll run her home."

"You’re good at this small town policing, Sheriff."

Reese smiled, pleased. "Thanks. I don’t have much experience with community life. I was a military brat, then active duty right after school." She halted self-consciously. "I’d better go call Nelson."

It took her a few minutes to calm her boss down, but she finally convinced him that he did not have to personally come to the clinic. She thanked Tory once again, then settled Bri back into the cruiser.

"Is it true you have a black belt in karate?" Bri asked as Reese pulled out onto the highway.

"Not exactly," Reese answered. "I have a black belt in jujitsu. They’re quite a bit different. How did you know?"

"My dad told me."

Reese knew it was on her resume, and assumed the Sheriff had noticed. It was certainly true that there were no secrets in Provincetown.

"Could you teach me?" the young woman continued.

Reese turned her head to study the teenager. Her hopeful look touched a distant memory. Reese had been a solitary teenager in a world of adults. Her martial arts training had helped focus her aimless adolescent energy. It centered her still.

"It’s a very serious commitment, Bri - and it takes a long time to learn. Why do you want to do it?"

Bri knew she was being asked a serious question, and it felt like Reese really cared about her answer. She struggled to find the right words.

"Because I want something that’s my own - something I chose, something I earned. And because I’m bored, and I feel restless all the time."

Reese nodded. She had been about Brianna’s age when she began her training, and she remembered that difficult time in her life. She didn’t want to refuse, but it meant a commitment for her as well. Taking on a student was a deep responsibility.

"You’d need to train three times a week. And your dad has to approve."

Bri’s face set in determination. "All right. When can I start?"

"Not until your knee is healed, and Doctor King gives you the go ahead. But you can come to my house on Saturday and I’ll explain some things that you need to know. Seven a.m."

"I’ll be there."
 
 

Chapter Five

"What’s this about my daughter and jujitsu?" Nelson asked the minute Reese walked into the station house at the end of her shift.

"She talked to you already, huh?" Reese said with a faint smile. Bri was eager, and that was encouraging.

Nelson nodded. "I stopped home at lunch to see how she was, and that’s all she talked about. You really want to do this?"

Reese settled one hip on the corner of her desk, regarding him intently. "She seems serious, Chief. It’s a great way for a kid - for anyone, really - to learn self-confidence and self-control. And it never hurts for a woman to know how to protect herself. I’m willing to teach her if she’s willing to put out the effort. It’s not easy, and it requires a real commitment over a long time."

Nelson walked to the front windows and stood staring out. Reese recognized this as a habit of his when he was working something out. She waited silently. He didn’t look at her when he spoke.

"I found her out under one of the piers about six months ago with some kids from a couple of towns over - kids we’d had trouble with before. They were fooling around with drugs. Bri swore to me that she hadn’t done anything, but it scared me pretty good. She’s smart, and she always did real well in school, but this past year - something’s changed. She doesn’t get along with any of her old friends, she’s skipped school some. Nothing real bad yet, but the signs don’t look so good. She doesn’t talk about anything; in fact, she hardly talks to me at all. This is the first thing she’s shown any interest in in a long time. I can’t pay you much, but it’ll be worth it if you think it might help her."

Reese chose her words carefully, not wanting to offend him. "Nelson, teaching your daughter something I love is not a hardship for me. It helped me when I was her age. Sometimes I think it kept me from going a little crazy. I don’t need you to pay me, but I will expect Bri to help me out in the dojo. There’s still a lot of work to be done."

"The dojo?"

Reese grinned. "Well, right now it’s my garage."

"I’ll see that she understands that’s part of the arrangement."

"Fair enough."

~

Once home, Reese changed into sweats and a tee shirt and went in search of Sarah James, the crew boss of the women she had hired to finish the renovations on her house. The previous owner had left many things uncompleted, or in some cases, had done the work improperly.

"How’s it going," she asked the small blond when she finally located her in the basement.

Sarah grimaced. "Save me from do-it-yourselfers! The plumbing to the master bath is a nightmare. No shut off valves anywhere you could use them, of course. And don’t get me started on the wiring!"

Reese smiled at Sarah’s exuberant display of distress, then asked seriously, "Can you fix it?

"Oh, sure. I might need a week more than I originally thought though. Is that okay?"

"Fine - just tell me where you’ll be working and I’ll try to stay out of your way. If you need me to, I could move out for a while?"

Sarah shook her head. "Not necessary, but there will be some additional costs. I’m sorry - I underestimated the state of things here. No one's lived here for quite a while, and there was some water damage and other -"

Reese interrupted her. "Don’t worry about it. Just do whatever needs to be done. If you need another advance for materials, just let me know."

Sarah looked at the other woman appreciatively. God it was nice to work for someone who didn’t think you were trying to rip them off all the time. And such a good looking woman at that. Sarah had been considering asking her out, but she couldn’t get a clear read on her. As friendly as Reese was, she was personally unapproachable. She never discussed any thing other than business, and never gave a hint of sexual innuendo. Sarah wasn’t a hundred percent sure the sheriff was gay. Just because she had a rock hard body that looked impossibly good in a uniform and a face so androgenous it belonged on a Greek statue, didn’t necessarily make her a lesbian. But Reese Conlon was turning women’s heads all over town, and they couldn’t all be wrong!

Sarah realized with a start that Reese was waiting for her reply. She blushed and assured Reese that she would keep her appraised of the work schedule.

"Great. I’ll get out of your way then," Reese said.

Sarah watched her take the stairs up to the kitchen two at a time, uncomfortably aware that just talking to her had turned her on. She shook her head, deciding that the gorgeous cop was too dangerous to fool with. If a simple conversation could do that to her, who knew what might happen if they actually touched. She wasn’t ready for anything that serious, and something told her everything about that one was serious.

Oblivious to Sarah’s lingering glance, Reese grabbed her gear and walked the mile into town to the gym. Three or four times a week she worked out at the woman-owned facility in the center of town. Usually she had the place to herself. Most of the tourists were sunning or shopping in the late afternoon, and the regulars tended to work out in the morning. Reese nodded hello to the owner and headed for the free weights. She placed her gym bag against the wall within easy reach. The Chief had informed her that he expected her to carry her weapon with her at all times. Their force was small, and though serious trouble rare, they did have recurring problems with drug use and the violence that accompanied it. Nelson said he wanted her to be available at short notice, especially since she was second in command. Reese didn’t mind - she was used to readiness as a way of life. Her gun and her beeper were as much a part of her life as her car keys. That she was essentially always on call didn’t bother her either - she didn’t really have a personal life beyond her job and her training. She worked, she worked out, and she trained in the dojo. That was the life she knew, the one she had built since the time she was a teenager, and one she was content with. She lifted the barbell over her head and began to count.

Marge Price, who owned the gym, leaned against the counter leafing through a magazine and watching the quiet one work out. That’s how she thought of her - "the quiet one". She knew who Reese was of course. Something as exciting as a new deputy sheriff, especially a good-looking female one, didn’t go unnoticed in a place this small. Marge’d been watching her for a couple of weeks now. Moderate weights, high reps - an occasional heavy set thrown in. The sheriff was obviously working for strength, not mass, though from the stretch of her tee shirt across her broad chest and the muscular tone of her thighs it was obvious she could have done heavy lifting if she’d wanted. Bulk clearly wasn’t her goal, and the ease with which she stretched after every work out revealed how flexible she was. Marge admired her as an athlete, and was intrigued by her as an individual. She was always polite, considerate, focused, and completely remote. Marge wondered if she was so calm because she wasn’t easily disturbed, or if there simply wasn’t anything in her life to disturb her. If you avoided involvements, you usually avoided much of life’s turmoil, and Marge had never seen the quiet one with anyone. In fact Marge hadn’t seen her anywhere around town unless she was in uniform working, or in the gym working out.

What does she do for enjoyment? Marge mused. If she were younger herself, she might be tempted to try unsettling that one a little bit. Something told Marge that if you got her started she might surprise you. That rare flicker of a smile of hers hinted at the heat of a fire long banked and ready to flare.

At that moment, Reese approached, asking, "Can I get a bottle of water?"

"Sure," Marge replied, reaching into the small refrigerator under the counter. She wiped the condensation off the plastic container with a towel before she handed it to Reese.

Reese took it gratefully, asking as she twisted off the top, "How much do I owe you?"

"On the house," Marge answered.

"Thanks just the same, but I’d rather pay," Reese said, no hint of censure in her voice.

"A dollar then," Marge said. She regarded the other woman seriously. "We’re not looking for any favors you know, with the little handouts people are probably offering you. You do a job we all appreciate. Our businesses are our lives, and if the community isn’t safe, tourists won’t come. Without them, we starve. In two days this place will go crazy, and your life will get complicated."

Reese drained the bottle dry. "I know that, and I’m grateful for your appreciation. But it’s my job to keep order and see that the streets are safe. I don’t need any extra thanks for doing what I’m getting paid for."

Marge stared at her. Reese looked back at her with a steady, unwavering gaze. "The boy scouts really lost out when you turned out to be a girl," Marge stated without a hint of a smile.

"What makes you think I wasn’t a boy scout?" Reese rejoined just as seriously.

Marge laughed in surprise, and Reese joined her. As they were both catching their breath, Marge asked impetuously, "How would you like to have dinner with me one of these nights after you finish your workout?"

Reese was momentarily uncertain. She wasn’t used to casual social encounters, especially with people she didn’t know well. But there was something so comfortable about this woman that Reese didn’t fear the intrusiveness she experienced so often with strangers.

"Okay."

"So how about tomorrow," Marge persisted. She had a feeling this one was shy, and she didn’t want to give her a chance to change her mind. She couldn’t say exactly what there was about the younger woman that appealed to her, but she simply liked her.

Reese nodded after a moments thought. "I’ll be here."
 
 

Chapter Six

Tory glanced toward shore as she stroked rhythmically through the water at six a.m. in the morning. There were a few anglers out, hoping for a jump on the other fishermen, and there on the drive off, the police cruiser. It had been there every morning for a week, and she felt sure she knew who it was. She almost waved, then stopped, chiding herself for her foolishness. There was no reason to think that Reese Conlon was there to see her. She hadn’t heard from the sheriff in over a week, since the day she had showed up with Brianna Parker in her patrol car. Tory had to admit she had hoped Reese might call with news of her investigation. Tory found herself looking for the police car each day when she kayaked, her pulse racing a little when she saw it.

A wave took her by surprise, rocking the small craft and reminding her to stop daydreaming. She glanced once more toward shore, trying to make out the profile of the driver, then turned her mind to the sea and the soothing cadence of her strokes.

Reese drained her coffee cup as she watched the red dot disappear around the corner at Race Point. She sat a bit longer before she started the engine. Those few minutes each morning watching Tory glide across the horizon were the most peaceful moments of her day. She couldn’t have said exactly why, but she knew what she felt, and had no reason to question it. She pulled the cruiser around toward Route six, settled and ready to work.

She drove east to the town limits, then turned right toward the harbor to complete the circuit back down Commercial Street. At this hour, there was almost no traffic except for the delivery trucks double-parked along the narrow one-way street, their drivers servicing the many businesses densely crowding the thoroughfare. Bikers and roller bladers claimed the road that would be filled with tour buses and tourists on foot by eleven am. By the first day of Memorial Day weekend there would be a steady stream of cars crawling slowly through town until well after midnight. She looked forward to it despite the Chief’s gloomy predictions of chaos. Chances were she’d be working twelve hour shifts, but that didn’t bother her. She’d have to make adjustments in her workout schedule but that was her only concern. Most nights after the gym she spent completing the renovations to the garage, getting her dojo ready. By nine o’clock she was usually in bed with a book. Up at four, she ran five to ten miles on the beach, then showered and was ready to leave the house at six for work. She kept military hours, the same hours she had kept since she was fourteen years old. Her life was orderly, routine, and predictable. Her work as a peacekeeper, first in the military, and now here, provided her with a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Her martial arts training challenged her body and calmed her mind. The absence of close personal ties was not something she questioned or gave any thought to. This was the life she had always lived, and on the whole, she was content.

She waved to Paul Smith as she pulled into the small lot behind the Municipal Building. Paul was one of the young officers who worked the night shift, and they knew each other only well enough to say hello.

"Quiet night?" Reese called.

"Yeah," he said as he unlocked the door to his Dodge truck. "Couple of drunks needed an escort home. I swung by the clinic a few times like you asked. The doc left at midnight - after that it was like a tomb. It’s not warm enough for much action in the dunes yet."

The Park Rangers patrolled the dunes during the day, but at night they left it to the Sheriff’s department. Soon the three miles of sand along Herring Cove would be packed with bathers and would-be lovers. The dunes above the beach and along Route Six were favorite areas for rendezvous. The police kept people out of the dunes to protect the habitat as much as to deter the sex and drugs. Reese didn’t particularly like the duty, but it was part of the job.

No one was in the office, so she took advantage of the quiet to finish time schedules, make up duty rosters, and to peruse recent crime reports from nearby townships. Sooner or later whatever trouble the other towns had would filter down to her community. She was about to brew another pot of coffee and was starting to contemplate lunch when the scanner picked up a 911 call to the EMT station in Wellfleet.

"A guy fell out on the Long Point jetty," an anxious male voice reported. "It looks like his leg is twisted in some rocks and he’s bleeding all over the place-"

Reese was up and through the door before the passerby finished giving the information to the dispatcher in the town fifteen miles away. She was two minutes from the scene. Long Point jetty was a long finger of rocks that formed a protective arch between Provincetown harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. It stretched a good two miles and was a favorite tourist attraction. Unfortunately, people often underestimated how treacherous the huge slabs of rock could be, especially when still wet from high tide. A crowd was visible as she swung around Bradford Street, angling her cruiser across the road to prevent access to more curious onlookers. People parted for her rather reluctantly as they pushed out onto the jetty, jostling for a better look. All Reese could see was another crowd milling about several hundred yards further out on the rocky causeway, presumably the site of the accident. She started toward them as quickly as she could, her progress hampered by the poor footing on rocks which were slippery with the debris left by the receding tides. The jetty was comprised of angled blocks of stone piled adjacent to one another, forming a discontinuos walkway. There were large gaps between some slabs, requiring her to jump from one uneven surface to the other. She had gone about a hundred yards, moving as rapidly as she could, when she overtook Victoria King, who was cautiously making her way toward the gathered crowd.

Reese was having trouble keeping her own balance; navigating this surface with a cane and a leg brace was suicide! Reese slipped her hand under the doctor’s elbow to guide her down the steep surface she was descending, saying as she did, "You shouldn’t be out here, Doctor."

Tory’s temper flared as she looked up at the taller woman. The angry reply died on her lips when all she found in the blue eyes that met her gaze was a quiet concern. There was no condescension, and thankfully, no trace of pity.

"You’re absolutely right, Sheriff - but here I am."

"Why don’t you let me go up ahead and see what the situation is. The EMTs should be here in five or ten minutes," Reese suggested.

Tory put her hand on Reese’s shoulder to steady herself as she pushed up onto the next rock face. "Why don’t you go up ahead and get that crowd under control so I’ll have room to work when I get there," she rejoined. "I need to be sure that whoever’s trapped down there isn’t bleeding to death. I made it this far - I’ll be fine."

Reese knew the plan made sense. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t want to leave the doctor alone, but some instinctive desire to safeguard her made Reese want to protest. Stomach tight with tension, she yielded to reason. Her training was too ingrained to allow individual concerns to interfere with logic.

"Right. Just be careful, will you?"

"Yes - now go."

By the time Tory reached the scene, Reese had enlisted a few of the onlookers to keep the others back away from where a man lay twisted among the boulders. His leg seemed to disappear into a crevice between two angled sheets of stone. Reese was kneeling, her back to Tory as Tory inched her way down the rockface toward them. Tory gasped when Reese glanced up at her. The sheriff’s face and shirt were streaked with blood.

"Are you hurt?" she questioned anxiously as she slid the last two feet.

"No, it’s his," Reese grunted with effort as she inclined her head toward the man who lay wedged in the rocks. Blood welled up from the wound in his leg, a gaping tear which Reese was attempting to hold closed with both hands.

"Open tibia fracture," Tory assessed as she searched for the pulse in his neck. It was faint and thready. "He’s pretty shocky. We need to get this bleeding stopped." She pressed two fingers into his groin over the femoral artery and the steady stream of blood from the open wound slowed to a trickle. "Reese, there’s a towel in my knapsack. Tear it in half and wrap the wound closed as tight as you can."

Reese let go of her hold on the injured man’s leg. "EMTs are here," she said as she finished the compression bandage. A siren signaled the rescue vehicles approach.

"Good," Tory gasped. "My arm is fatiguing."

"Want me to take it?" Reese offered.

"No, you’d better go give them a hand. We need their equipment out here. And tell them we need the hydraulic jaws to shift these stones."

"I’ll be right back," Reese said, unable to keep the concern from her voice.

"I’m fine," Tory assured her.

The few minutes it took for Reese to return carrying one of the equipment cases seemed like hours as Tory crouched awkwardly in the cramped space, afraid to move lest she lose her tenuous hold on the artery beneath her fingers. She was starting to develop spasms in her own injured leg from the bent position she was kneeling in. She gritted her teeth and cleared her mind, focusing only on the next thing she needed to do.

"I need to start an IV," she said as Reese dropped down beside her. "Can you get the line and the bag ready, then take over the compression?"

"One minute," Reese said as she tore the plastic wrapper off the tubing and saline bag with her teeth. Behind her the two EMTs were trying to find a place to wedge the hydraulic jack between the rocks. "Okay," she said, placing her hands on Victoria’s, following her fingers down to the artery. She pressed inward so Tory could let go.

Tory reached behind her for the emergency kit, pulling out a length of soft rubber tubing and wrapping it around the man’s upper arm. She found a large bore IV needle and expertly slid it into the antecubital vein in the bend of his elbow. She attached the tubing Reese had readied and allowed the saline to run in at top speed.

"How much longer?" Tory called to the techs, a worried frown on her face. "This guy’s in trouble. He needs blood, and if I don’t get the fracture at least partially reduced he could lose his foot."

"These rocks are going to shift all over the place when we activate the jack," the taller of the two female paramedics warned. "It’s not safe where you are. You’re going to have to get out of there."

Tory looked at the steady trickle of blood from the compound fracture in her patient’s leg and shook her head. "We’ve only got this partially controlled as it is. If we reduce the compression, he may bleed out. Let me get back in there, Sheriff. I’ll keep the artery tamponaded."

Reese looked up over her shoulder at Tory. Her face showed no trace of strain. "He’s going to need you a lot more than me when they get him out of here. You’d better climb back out of the way. I’m staying with him."

The fear took Tory by surprise. She had a sudden image of Reese pinned under tons of rock, and something close to panic clutched at her throat. She didn’t want Reese to be the one in danger when that jack started.

"No!" she started to argue.

"This is my call to make, doctor. You worry about keeping him alive. Now climb up out of here."
The tone of unrelenting command was unwavering. Reese turned her attention back to the injured man, the conversation clearly at an end.

Tory knew there was no other way, and no more time to argue. "For god’s sake, be careful," she murmured as she carefully pulled herself up the steep rockface to safety.

"Are your legs clear?" one of the EMTs called.

"All clear," Reese responded.

When they activated the power jack, bits of stone chips and sand filled the air, clouding Tory’s view of the chasm where Reese and the victim were wedged. As the grating noise from the shifting rocks subsided, she peered anxiously downward. She could just make out Reese’s tall form hunched over the injured man.

"Are you okay?" she cried.

"Yeah," Reese gasped. "But he’s slipping down into the crevice. I need a harness of some kind - fast!" Her arms were straining to hold up his dead weight, and she was afraid she might lose him.

One of the EMTs threw her a harness and a guide line, and moments later they had the victim up. They secured him to a backboard while Tory adjusted an inflatable splint over the mass trousers they applied to improve his blood flow.

"Take him to the heliport in Dennis," she said. "He needs to be air-vaced to Boston. Run two IVs wide open, and give him whatever plasma substitutes you have. Give him a loading dose of Ancef, too."

As soon as they left she turned worriedly to Reese, who was bent over trying to catch her breath.

"Let me check you out," Tory said.

"I’m okay," Reese panted. "Just a little winded. I almost lost him there at the end."

"Well, you didn’t," Tory replied as she ignored the sheriff's protests and quickly examined her. "You’ve got a lot of small cuts on your hands, but I think we can forego stitches today."

Reese held up her hands tiredly, looking at them as if she were seeing them for the first time. "Just little nicks from the stone chips," she noted with a shrug.

Tory nodded. "Are you ready for the hike back?"

Reese got to her feet, her strength returning. "I’m ready when you are," she said.

Tory took one step and grimaced. She wasn’t going to make it without help. The muscles in her injured leg were strained from the arduous and unaccustomed climbing, and beginning to cramp. She didn’t think she could trust her balance.

"I’m in a little trouble here," she admitted.

Reese searched her face in concern. "What can I do?"

"If I lean on you, I should be able to make it."

Reese slipped one strong arm around Tory’s waist, holding her securely. "Let’s just take it slow," she said, guiding them over the treacherous rocks.

When they finally reached the end of the causeway, they both sank gratefully onto a stone bench provided for sightseers.

"Thank you," Tory said quietly. She hadn’t needed nor sought assistance from anyone in a long time. She was surprised it didn’t bother her more. There was something about the implacable deputy sheriff that made accepting her help easy. Reese radiated strength and self-assuredness, but there was also a simplicity about her that was captivating. She saw a problem, she dealt with it, she made no judgements. Despite her competence and air of command, there was never a hint of superiority or condescension. Tory couldn’t remember ever having met anyone quite like her. Certainly no one had ever made her feel so safe without making her feel diminished.

"You’re getting to be indispensable around this town, Sheriff," Tory added sincerely.

Reese shrugged. "I’d like to think I’m earning my pay." She looked at Tory thoughtfully. "That took real courage for you to make it out there today. That guy doesn’t know how lucky he is that you were there. How’d you know?"

Tory blushed at the compliment and spoke hurriedly to cover her embarrassment. "You forget that this is Provincetown! Probably everyone in town knows that I swim at the Inn on my lunch hour! It’s just across the street, so when someone ran in to make the 911 call, the manager came to get me. I would have gotten to him a lot sooner if it hadn’t been for this damn leg!"

"You did a great job," Reese remarked. She sighed, stretching her stiff muscles. "Can I buy you some lunch?"

Tory’s tried to ignore the racing of her heart. She was certain Reese was just being friendly. "Thanks, but I’m already late for the clinic. I’m going to be backed up all evening at this rate."

Reese nodded. "It was good working with you, Dr. King. I’m going to head on home to change into a uniform that isn’t filled with sand."

"You’ve still got sutures that need to come out," Tory reminded her.

Reese fingered the row of nylon stitches in her brow. "How about if I come by the clinic later?" she offered.

Tory smiled ruefully. "I’m sure I’ll be there. Tonight’s my late night anyhow."

Reese stood looking down at her, her face partially shaded by the brim of her hat. She was an imposing figure outlined against the clear blue of the sky. Tory had to work not to stare at her taut, sleek body.

"I’ll be by," Reese informed her.

"Good," Tory said as Reese strode away. Tory couldn't resist watching her go. She moved with a fluid self-assuredness that suited her vigorous personality. There wasn’t a single thing about her that wasn’t attractive, and that was enough to warn Tory to be on her guard. Every unattached woman in Provincetown, and not a few of the married ones, would be taking a second look at this new addition to the scenery. That was exactly the kind of woman Tory needed to stay far away from!
 
 

Chapter Seven

Marge greeted Reese with a grin when she walked into the gym that afternoon after work. "I thought you might not make it," she said.

Reese glanced up at the clock behind Marge’s head. It read five-thirty, exactly the same time she arrived for her workout every evening.

"How come?" she asked in surprise. "I said I’d be here."

Marge shrugged elaborately. "Silly me! I should have known that was as good as a guarantee!!"

Reese just shrugged at the gentle chiding and set about her routine. She finished three sets of leg and back exercises in ninety minutes, then went to the locker room to shower. She put on pressed tan chinos, a navy blue denim shirt, and a light beige blazer that covered the holster she secured under her left arm in a shoulder rig. She checked the mirror - the gun didn’t show - and went out to meet Marge.

They walked down Commercial Street toward town and turned in at the Cactus Flower. It was still too early in the season to worry about reservations, but that would change within the next few days. They got a good table at the front windows overlooking the street, so they could watch the slow stroll of passersby as they dined. They both ordered margaritas while they looked over the menu.

"This isn’t a date, you know," Marge announced after they had given their orders to the waitress.

Reese sipped her drink - it was strong and tart, and gazed at the woman across from her calmly. "It hadn’t occurred to me that it might be."

Marge laughed. "This is Provincetown, Sheriff! When one woman asks another woman out to dinner, it’s usually a date."

Reese nodded solemnly. "Then why isn’t this a date?"

Marge stared back, totally nonplussed. The startling handsome woman across from her was impossible to figure out. She gave nothing away in her expression, or her voice. Nothing seemed to surprise her, or throw her off stride. Marge wondered what, if anything, could shake her calm control. She also wondered what price that kind of control exacted.

Reese seemed completely without pretense, and Marge answered in kind. "It’s not a date for two reasons - my expectations, and my intentions."

"How so?" Reese inquired. She voiced no challenge, only honest interest.

"I’d be a fool to think you’d be interested in me. For one thing, I’m twenty years older than you-"

Reese smiled at that, shaking her head. "Hardly," she said, studying Marge’s tanned, well-developed form.

"Close enough," Marge grunted.

Reese waited while the silence grew. "And the other reason?" she asked quietly.

Marge blushed as she said, "You’re too damn butch to go for an old jock like me. I figure your tastes run more to the femme type."

Reese leaned back while the waitress slid their plates in front of them, contemplating Marge’s words. Marge was the second person in as many weeks to say that to her. She had never thought of herself as butch, and tried to imagine how she appeared to others. It was something with which she had no experience. Up until this point in her life, her rank had determined how others related to her, and how she related to them. The rules of conduct, including who you could "fraternize" with, were clear. They were frequently circumvented, but not by Reese. It wasn’t that she agreed with the rules so much as she had no reason to challenge them. She had spent her life either preparing to be, or being, an officer. Her professional and personal life was one and the same.

"I’m not so sure about the butch thing, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have any particular "type" of anything," she said after a moment.

Marge snorted as she busied herself with her food. "Trust me on this, Sheriff - if you go in for the politically incorrect terminology, you are as butch as it gets. Don’t let it bother you."

Reese smiled. "Well, whatever you call it, it comes naturally to me. So - this is just a friendly dinner then?"

"Yes."

"Fair enough."

"Since we’re being all revealing here," Marge continued, "how’d you end up in our little town?"

"I needed a job, and this was the right one for me," Reese remarked.

"So you didn’t come here looking for love?" Marge asked half-seriously.

Reese smiled a little ruefully. "Not precisely."

"And you didn’t leave anybody behind? No attachments?"

"No," Reese replied. "I don’t have any attachments."

Marge shook her head. "You are definitely something of an oddity around here. Most people come here to find someone, or to escape something."

"I’m not all that different. It’s just not what you’re thinking."

"And I don’t suppose you’re going to fill me in?" Marge prodded gently.

Just as gently, Reese replied. "Not tonight."

They finished their dinner in easy conversation. When Marge saw Reese glance at her watch for the second time, she asked, "You have to be somewhere?"

"The clinic," Reese replied. "I’m supposed to stop by there and have some stitches removed. The doctor said she’d be there until ten."

"Don’t rush. She’s always there late. I live just down the road. She doesn’t seem to do much except work!

"It must get pretty busy, especially when you’re the only doctor in town," Reese commented, remembering Victoria King’s resolute determination to make that dangerous journey over the rocks to aid the injured man. Her dedication was clear, and admirable.

"Sure it’s tough, especially if you use it as an excuse to avoid a social life! Don’t you think there are plenty of doctors who would just love to live up here during the season and work for her?"

Reese regarded her silently. She felt a strong desire to come to Victoria’s defense, and a strange surge of anger at Marge’s criticism. Both responses confused her.

Marge didn’t miss Reese’s sudden withdrawal. "Hey, I like her," she said seriously. "I always have. She’s a great friend to the people of this town, and there are more than a few who would like to know her better, if she’d let them." She shrugged as she reached for their check. "She doesn’t seem to trust anyone to get too close, and that’s a damn shame."

"I’m sure she has her reasons," was all Reese said.

~

Randy was on his way out the front door when Reese walked up.

"All through?" she asked the receptionist.

"I am," he said petulantly. "The last patients are in rooms, but at the rate she’s going it could take her another hour. She can barely walk, and it serves her right - traipsing out on that jetty like some macho superhero! I wouldn’t be surprised if she isn’t on crutches tomorrow! And it wouldn’t be the first time either!!"

His obvious distress belied the criticism in his voice. He was clearly worried about Tory, and Reese immediately liked him. He continued to fuss while he unlocked the door for Reese.

"Do you think she’d let me cancel patients just because she needs to be in bed? Of course not!" He held the door open as he spoke. "You might as well go back to her office and wait. It’s more comfortable there, and she’ll find you when she’s finished. She insisted that I go home on time! Could do without me, she said. Ha! Wait until she sees that appointment book - good luck! Then we’ll see who doesn’t need me!"

Reese had to smile at the slender, attractive young man’s tirade, but her thoughts were of the woman who had made a selfless gesture despite the cost. She was suddenly very anxious to see her.

"I’ll go on back. Thank you."

Reese settled into the chair before Victoria’s desk, rested her hat on her knee, and let her eyes wander over the photos of the previous Olympian. Eventually she heard the approach of slow footsteps, and turned to greet the doctor. Victoria looked pale and drawn, but her eyes held a smile.

"Have you been waiting long?" Tory inquired as she eased herself into the leather chair behind her desk. She tried to hide a grimace as another spasm clamped onto her calf, forcing her to gasp.

"Not very," Reese said quietly. "Is there anything I can do?" Victoria’s pain was obvious, and watching her struggle with it made Reese feel helpless and uneasy.

Tory looked at her in surprise. "God, you get to the point, don’t you? Why is it that my "handicap" doesn’t seem to put you off the way that it does most people?" She was too tired and in too much pain to hide her bitterness.

"You have an injury, Doctor. "Handicapped" is not a word I would use to describe you," Reese remarked as she moved boldly around the side of Victoria’s desk. "Now, what needs to be done here?" she finished softly.

"I need to get this damn brace off," Tory said through gritted teeth, "but if I do I’m not going to be able to get to my car."

"We’ll worry about that later," Reese said as she knelt down. She pushed up the leg of Tory’s jeans and studied the hinged metal device that extended from just below her knee to the arch of her foot. Her face was expressionless as she took in the criss-crossing of surgical scars and skin grafts over the damaged atrophied muscles. "Doesn’t look too complicated," she said evenly. "May I?"

Reese’s actions had taken Tory completely by surprise. She stared into the deep blue eyes that searched her face, suddenly terrified that she might cry. She was so used to fighting the endless discomfort and awkwardness alone, that the straightforward offer of help almost overwhelmed her.

"Please," she whispered, her throat tight.

Reese released the velcro bindings and gently eased the brace off. Victoria’s leg was swollen from the calf down, and her ankle was beginning to discolor. Tory gasped with pain as Reese softly massaged the injured tissues, bringing a sudden rush of blood to the area.

"I’m sorry," Reese murmured. "We need to do something about this swelling. Ice?"

"There’s a cold pack above the sink in the treatment room," Tory managed, struggling with the physical pain and the unexpected emotional turmoil Reese had unwittingly provoked.

Reese retrieved the pack, snapped it open, and wrapped it around Victoria’s ankle with an ace bandage she had found. "I think that’s the best I can do," she said apologetically.

"It’s more than enough," Tory replied gratefully once she caught her breath. "Were you a medic in the Marines?"

Reese laughed as she leaned against the edge of Tory’s desk. "Military police - before law school. We had our share of minor injury calls."

"Just give me a minute, then I’ll see if I can get the damn thing back on again."

"Why?"

Tory regarded Reese solemnly. Reese was so damn easy to talk to, and the scary part was that she wanted to. She wanted to admit just once that she couldn’t take it any more, that she was just too damned tired. Realizing just how much she wanted to trust those blue eyes holding her own so steadily made her wary. Something this compelling could get out of hand.

"I can’t walk that far without it," Tory replied, trying to laugh.

"How much do you weigh?" Reese asked.

Tory did laugh at that. "My god! Have you no sense at all? Don’t you know that’s a dangerous question to ask of a woman who’s not entirely in control of her faculties?"

Reese buried her hands in her pockets, and answered with a straight face, "I must have missed that in basic training."

Tory could tell by the determined glint in Reese’s eyes that this would be an up-hill battle. Graciously she acquiesced. "A hundred and thirty pounds."

Reese nodded. "Not a problem. Grab your brace." As she spoke she slipped one arm behind Tory’s shoulders and the other under her knees. "Hold on," Reese said as she straightened, cradling Tory securely against her chest. Tory’s arms came around her neck.

"Okay?" Reese asked.

For the first time all day, Tory wasn’t aware of the pain in her leg. What she was aware of was even more disconcerting. A cascade of sensations assaulted her - hard muscles, a slow steady heartbeat, the light sweet smell of perspiration. Reese was an intoxicating combination of tenderness and strength, and Tory’s response was automatic. She flushed at the surge of arousal, and drew a shaky breath, hoping that the woman who held her could not feel her tremble.

"Yes, I’m fine," she murmured, allowing herself the luxury of resting her head against Reese’s shoulder.

Reese made her way easily to her patrol car and settled Tory into the front seat. "Where to?" she asked as she started the engine.

"Straight out six A toward Truro. I’m just a mile outside town."

Within minutes Reese pulled into the drive of a single family home that overlooked the expanse of Provincetown harbor. As she stepped from the car a dark shape came hurtling through the night toward her.

"Whoa!" she cried as a huge dog planted its front feet on her chest.

"Jed! Get down!" Tory yelled as she tried to extricate herself from the car. At the sound of her voice the dog immediately dropped to the ground and raced to her.

"Is it safe to come around?" Reese called as she eased toward the passenger side of her vehicle.

"He’s perfectly safe," Tory called as she thumped the dog’s massive chest in greeting. "He’s just excitable."

"What is it?" Reese asked as she leaned down and lifted Tory from the seat.

"Mastiff. That’s Jedi - Jed for short."

"That must make you Princess Leia then," Reese remarked as she walked up the sidewalk toward the wide deck that encompassed the rear of the house.

"What makes you think I’m not Luke Skywalker?"

"Just a hunch."

Tory laughed and settled herself more comfortably within the circle of Reese’s arms. Reese held her while Tory slipped her key into the door, suddenly conscious of the soft swell of Tory’s breasts pressed against her chest, and the subtle fragrance of her perfume. In the dim light of the moon, Tory’s face in profile was timelessly beautiful. From out of nowhere, Reese began to tremble, and an unfamiliar warmth suffused her.

"Let me down," Tory said firmly, "you’re shaking."

Reese lowered her gently, keeping one arm around her waist for support.

"I guess I’m not in as good shape as I thought," Reese said a little uncertainly. She couldn’t remember feeling this light-headed after a twenty mile forced march in full packs. She wasn’t sure what was wrong with her, but she was acutely embarrassed.

"Nonsense," Tory replied as she pushed the door open. "You’re in superb shape, but enough is enough." She reached for the light switch by the door, illuminating a large living room facing the water.

"Just steer me over there," she said, indicating a large sectional sofa fronting the wall of windows and sliding glass doors that opened onto the deck. "Half the time I fall asleep down here anyway. One more night on the couch won’t kill me."

"More ice?" Reese asked as Tory propped her leg up on several pillows.

"Not just yet. But I’d love a drink, and you’ve certainly earned one. If you wouldn’t mind pouring me a scotch, I’d be grateful forever."

Reese brought her the drink, and a light beer for herself. "Gratitude is not necessary. You more than deserve this after the day you’ve had."

Reese sat on the sofa, stretching her legs out to accommodate Jed, who had pushed himself against the entire length of the front of the couch. When he raised his massive head and rested it on her thigh, she began to stroke him absently. She still felt oddly agitated.

"Brianna Parker came by the clinic today," Tory remarked. "She said that you insisted I clear her before she could start training with you."

"Is she okay?" Reese asked, grateful for something to take her mind off her own sense of disquiet.

"She’s fine. It’s a good thing you’re doing for that girl," Tory added, watching Reese closely. The sheriff seemed distracted, and even more remote than usual.

Reese turned to her in surprise. "How so?"

Tory sighed. "I guess you probably know that Brianna’s mother died three years ago. That’s awful enough at any age, but it’s especially hard for a teenager. I gather from what Nelson’s said that Bri has been getting a little wild. It sounds like working with you may be just what she needs."

"I hope it helps," Reese said at length. "I know what it’s like when your whole world seems to change overnight. It can be a dangerous time."

"Was it for you?" Tory asked softly, wanting a glimpse of what lay beneath this formidable woman’s steely exterior.

Reese gazed out over the moonlit water, thinking of herself at that age. She remembered how she felt when her mother left - the uncertainty and the anger. Her father loved her, and he taught her the things he knew - he taught her about responsibility, and discipline, and honor. He taught her the way he had been taught, the Marine way. He expected the best from her, and he got it. In return he provided her with a life that was orderly, dependable, and predictable.

"It might have turned out differently for me," she mused half to herself. "My parents divorced when I was fourteen. My father is career Marine, and he raised me to follow in his footsteps. I’ve spent my entire life in the Marines, one way or the other. It’s true what they say- it’s made me what I am, but those first few years until I was old enough for ROTC and college were hard."

"I imagine all of it was hard," Tory ventured, beginning to understand why Reese seemed so controlled. The Marine Corp undoubtedly produced fine soldiers, but at what cost?

"Don’t misunderstand. I loved the Marines, I still do. I’m still in the reserves. But when I was Bri’s age it wasn’t easy. Sometimes it got pretty lonely -" Reese stopped, suddenly self-conscious. She never talked about herself, and she had no idea why she was now.

"What about your mother?" Tory probed gently.

Reese unconsciously squared her shoulders in that military gesture that was becoming familiar to Tory as she replied flatly, "She wasn’t in the picture."

"I’m sorry," Tory said, "I’m prying."

Reese smiled, that fleeting breathtaking smile. "I didn’t notice."

Tory laughed. "I doubt there’s anything that escapes your notice!" Suddenly serious, Tory added, "You’ve been more help than I can say today, Reese. I’m not sure how I would have managed without you - this morning on the jetty, or tonight." Even though she meant every word, she didn’t want to think too hard about why she was admitting her need now, when she had refused to for so long. She didn’t want to think too hard about how different Reese seemed than anyone she had ever met, or about how easy it had been to accept her help. She didn’t want to think about how deeply she had been touched by Reese’s calm, unwavering presence. "I - I just wanted to thank you -"

Reese shook her head, halting Tory’s words. "Doctor King-"

"Please! It’s Tory!"

"All right," Reese amended almost shyly, "Tory- it was an honor, and my pleasure. So please don’t thank me for something I was glad to do."

Tory looked into Reese’s intense, penetrating eyes and something visceral stirred in her. She caught her breath, moved by the simple honesty of Reese’s words. Her voice was thick with emotion as she replied, "It’s more than a job to you, isn’t it?"

Reese flushed, but she held Tory’s gaze. "You may not believe this, but I took an oath to serve and protect, and every day I’m glad I did."

"I do believe you. I’ve seen you in action," she said quietly. She thought that Reese had to be the most straightforward person she had ever met, and at the same time the most complicated.

"Good," Reese said as she stood. "Then you won’t object to me coming by to take you to the clinic tomorrow. Remember, you don’t have a car."

"You don’t leave much room for argument, do you?" Tory remarked ruefully, realizing that Reese had once again made help impossible to refuse.

"That is a skill I learned in officer’s training school!" Reese rejoined, her eyes laughing.

"Then I accept, Sheriff," Tory teased lightly.

Tory watched her as she strode gracefully to the door, smiling at the quick salute Reese tossed her as she left. She settled back against the couch, blaming the effects of the scotch for the sudden rush of heat that stole through her.
 
 

Chapter Eight

"It’s open," Tory called, glancing at the clock. She smiled when she saw it was exactly six a.m.

Reese entered, carrying two paper cups of espresso.

"Thought you might need this," she said, sliding onto one of the black and chrome stools in front of the kitchen bar counter. "It’s a double."

"It’s a start," Tory groaned, leaning on her cane as she reached with her free hand for the coffee.

"I could make some more," Reese suggested, pointing to an elaborate espresso machine nearby.

"Sit," Tory commanded. "I’m up already, and I’ll be functional in just a minute." She sipped the rich brew, noting that Reese looked fresh in her crisply pressed uniform shirt and pants. "I suppose you’ve already run ten miles or something else equally obnoxious."

"Haven’t you noticed it’s raining outside?" Reese asked mildly. "I only ran five."

Tory stared at her, beginning to smile when she caught the barest flicker of a grin on Reese’s handsome face. "I could learn to hate you," she replied.

Reese laughed. "God, I hope not!" She paused, then asked, "How’s the leg?"

Tory looked away for a second, then met Reese’s questioning gaze. "Hurt’s like hell, but it’s been worse."

"I guess staying home is not an option?"

"You do like to live dangerously, don’t you?" Tory asked softly, amazed that Reese’s concern did not rankle her the way it did coming from others. For some reason Reese’s attention did not make her feel less than whole.

"It wouldn’t do for you to be out of commission," Reese said seriously. "The town needs you too much. So if it’s a question of one day off to prevent a bigger problem, I’ll risk suggesting it."

"Thanks," Tory said. "But I’m used to these episodes, and I can tell if there’s a real problem."

"Good enough," Reese said.

"It’s really just my ankle. The nerve is severed, so I can’t flex it. It’s either the brace or an ankle fusion."

"Wouldn’t the fusion be less painful?" Reese ventured carefully, appreciating that this was a sensitive issue for the independent physician.

"Probably," Tory admitted. "But I’d also be less mobile. I’m still good in the water without the brace, and I can work out with an air cast if I’m careful. Besides, I’ve always hoped-" Her voice trailed off as she looked away.

"Hoped what?" Reese urged gently.

"That I’d row again. I’d never be able to get into the cleats if my ankle were fused."

"How long has it been since you’ve rowed?" Reese asked quietly.

"Since the day of the accident - almost ten years. I guess it’s pretty ridiculous to keep hoping, isn’t it?"

Reese shrugged. "If it’s something you want that much, it makes sense not to close any doors. You know how much pain you can take - and if it’s worth it."

Tory looked at her gratefully. "Thanks. My friends and family might not agree with you. They think I should have let them do it when I was in the hospital the first time."

"The first time?"

Again Tory dropped her gaze. "There were problems - infection, some muscle necrosis. It took the surgeons a few tries to get it cleared up."

Reese regarded her steadily, revealing none of her churning disquiet. Her training had taught her not to personalize pain, nor to be distracted by another soldiers’ injury, because even a split seconds’ loss of focus could mean the loss of more lives. But the knowledge of Tory’s suffering penetrated that shield and Reese had to consciously dispel the vision of Tory in a hospital bed, fighting to keep her leg. Tory would not have wanted her pity then, or her sympathy now.

"Does the kayaking help?"

"Some - I’m on the water, the rhythm is good. The damn shell is so heavy, and of course, my body is restrained. It’s nothing like the feeling of being alone in a scull," she cried, her frustration evident.

Reese remembered the needle thin sculls from the pictures in Tory’s office, no more than a sliver between the rowers and the water. She also remembered the long, clean line of Tory’s legs as she pulled through her stroke. "I’m sorry," she said softly.

Tory laid her hand on Reese’s forearm, squeezing gently. "Hey, it’s okay - really. I only get morose when the damn thing’s acting up. Believe me, most days I’m just glad it’s there. But thanks for not saying I’m being a fool."

"You said you still work out?" Reese asked.

"Yes, Hapkido, remember?"

"I don’t usually forget when someone humiliates me!"

"I can’t imagine anyone getting the best of you!" Tory laughed. "As you saw, I do mostly weapons work, with the cane - which fortunately for me is a traditional Asian weapon."

At Reese’s nod of understanding, she continued, "With a light air cast I can stand long enough for self-defense drills, and mat work is not a problem. The only things I really can’t do anymore are forms. The katas are too much of a strain."

"So, would you be willing to teach me the cane?" Reese asked.

"If you’d be willing to work on the mat with me," Tory countered immediately.

Reese smiled happily. "Absolutely. I haven’t had a training partner in a long time. Just let me know when your leg is better."

"Give me a week," Tory replied just as enthusiastically. "Now we’d better get out of here before we’re both late for work!"

Reese looked at the clock over the stove, amazed to find it was close to seven. She couldn’t remember the last time she had lost track of the time.

Randy was just unlocking the front door when Reese pulled into the lot. He watched with raised eyebrows as Reese walked Tory to the door.

"Well! Good morning," he crowed with exaggerated emphasis, looking pointedly from Tory to Reese.

"Sheriff Conlon needs her stitches out, Randy, if you could manage to let us in?" Tory said, frowning at his innuendo.

"Oh, of course, Doctor! Right away Doctor!" he continued with a grin, his tone lightly mocking.

"Cut it out, Randy," Tory muttered as she passed him.

He managed to follow them down the hall on the pretense of opening the exam room doors. He leaned against the door of the treatment room while Tory removed the sutures from Reese’s brow.

"Just keep it clean. It should be fine," she said as Reese stood to leave.

"Sure thing. Thanks, Doctor," Reese said. She nodded to Randy as she brushed past him into the hall.

Randy craned his neck to follow her progress toward the door.

"Oh my, what a butch thing she is!" he announced once she had gone.

"Randy!" Tory said in exasperation.

"Oh, come on now, Doctor King, what would you call her?"

Tory grinned at him. "An incredibly stunning butch thing!"

Randy’s eyes widened in surprise. He couldn’t ever remember his solitary employer commenting on a woman before. He had given up nagging her to get a date when he saw the pain in her eyes whenever he teased her about it.

"And just what was Sheriff Heartthrob doing driving you to work?" he persisted, curious and hopeful that someone had finally managed to capture Tory’s attention.

Tory looked suddenly serious. "She drove me home last night - I couldn’t."

"Damn it Tory! I would have stayed! Why didn’t you ask?"

She sighed. "I know. I’m just not used to asking."

"Then how come you asked her?"

"I didn’t. She didn’t give me any choice."

Good for her! Randy thought, but had the good sense not to say. It was about time someone refused to be intimidated by Victoria King’s staunch reserve. Then again, remembering the commanding air of the woman who just left, he didn’t imagine anyone intimidated her.

"So-o-o..?" he questioned suggestively.

"So nothing!" she replied curtly. "She would have done the same for anyone. That’s just the way she is."

Right, Randy muttered as he watched Tory move stiffly away down the hall.

~

Reese entered the office whistling, much to Nelson Parker’s amazement.

"Do you mind telling me what’s so wonderful about the first day of Memorial Day weekend?" he asked grumpily.

"Excuse me?" Reese asked, perplexed.

"Never mind!" he snapped. "You’re on seven to seven today, okay?"

"Sure," Reese responded. "No problem."

"And you’ve got traffic detail at the pier from one to five."

"Yep."

He looked at her closely—she was relaxed, smiling faintly, and, if he didn’t know better, not totally present. In the two months he had known her, he had never seen her the slightest bit distracted. His curiosity was more than piqued.

"So what gives, Conlon?"

"What do you mean?" she asked, genuinely confused. "Not a thing." She glanced at him as if he were acting strangely.

"Never mind," he muttered. "Anything new on the clinic break-in?"

Reese shook her head. "No. The things that were missing are impossible to trace. Unless we’re lucky, we’ll never know. There’s too much traffic in and out of there to making finger printing valuable. Not much to do but keep an eye on the place."

"Well, you’d better swing by there a couple of times a shift for the next few weeks. I hope that will discourage any repeat break-ins By the way, nice job out on the jetty yesterday. I heard the guy was a mess."

"I didn’t do much. If Tory hadn’t been there, I think the guy would have bled to death before the EMTs got him out. She deserves the credit."

"Chances are you’ll have plenty of work for the doc before this summer’s over. We spend half our time dealing with accidents, overdoses, and minor brawls - and all of them end up at her place."

"That’s a heavy load for one doctor," Reese commented, remembering how exhausted Tory had seemed the night before.

"Don’t remember her ever taking a vacation in the three years she’s been here," Parker noted.

Something about discussing Victoria made Reese uncomfortable-she had no idea why. She shook off the sudden urge to drive by the clinic. Impatiently, she grabbed her keys.

"I’m going out for a tour before I start the traffic detail," she announced. Maybe that would dispel the odd anxiety.

"Sure," the Sheriff called to her departing back.

Reese traveled out Route six to Truro, then circled back to town along 6A, purposefully avoiding the turn onto Bradford that would take her past the clinic. She stopped instead across the street from her mother’s gallery. She sat with the engine idling for a few moments, wondering why she had come. For the first time in her life, she didn’t feel entirely sure of herself. Impulses were not something she had ever been prey to, and yet here she was. She cut the engine and climbed from the car before she had any more time to think.

"Reese!" her mother exclaimed when she opened the door.

"Bad time?" Reese asked uncertainly.

"Not at all. It’s wonderful to see you. Come on back and have some coffee."

"Sure," Reese replied, following the other woman through the house to the kitchen.

"How are you?" her mother inquired.

"I’m fine. I was just passing by, and-" Reese faltered, not able to explain.

"Reese," Kate said softly, "you don’t need a reason to come by. Being able to see you is a miracle."

Reese looked away, then faced her mother directly. "It was part of the agreement, wasn’t it? That you not see me?"

Her mother’s distress was palpable. "Yes. I wouldn’t have agreed, but twenty years ago, a lesbian mother had no rights at all. And I couldn’t fight it. Your father had pictures."

Reese grew very still. "He had you followed?"

"Yes. We weren’t very discreet. Jean and I were young and terribly innocent. It didn’t occur to either of us that loving each other could be wrong. I’m so sorry, Reese! I was selfish, I know, but I was so unhappy for so long! Not with you! You were the best part of my life! And then I met Jean, and I felt alive for the first time!" Her eyes were wet with tears as she looked at the woman her daughter had become. "I am so terribly sorry!"

Reese shook her head. "You chose life. If you had stayed, I can only imagine it would have been worse for all of us eventually. I don’t blame you—if I ever felt what you felt for Jean, I’d do the same."

Kate studied the tightly controlled, perfectly contained features of her daughter’s face and asked boldly, "And have you ever? Felt that way for someone?"

"No." Reese looked past her mother to the smooth water of the harbor, looking inward to a life she never examined. "I’m like him, you know. I was happy in the military, and I’m happy now. I love the order, and the duty, and the responsibility. I don’t need anything else."

"You have your father’s best qualities, Reese. I can see that. You remind me of why I married him - seeing you in that uniform - not a wrinkle, not a fold out of place. It reminds me that he represented something decent and honest and admirable. Or so I thought. Your father never made room in his life for love, Reese. I hope that won’t be true for you. If it finds you, don’t turn your back."

Reese smiled ruefully. "I’m not sure I would recognize it."

Her mother laughed, squeezing Reese’s hand gently. "Trust me - you’ll know."

~

Reese spent the next four hours directing slowly moving cars and hordes of weekend arrivals through the congested, narrow streets in the center of town. Tour buses crowded the pier, disgorging packs of mostly elderly people who milled about uncertainly, seemingly oblivious to the cars passing within inches of them. Lesbian and gay couples of all ages and description poured into town for the first gathering of the summer season. Commercial Street was wall to wall pedestrians, interspersed with vehicles attempting to navigate around them. Reese greeted Paul Smith, her relief, with a grin.

"Welcome to bedlam, but I guess you expected it!"

Paul looked up and down the street, shaking his head. "Yep, looks about like I thought. Once the sun goes down, most of the out-of-towners will leave. Then all we’ll have are the gays - until two or so."

He looked harried, and Reese remembered that his young wife was pregnant. "When’s your baby due?"

"Any second. Cheryl’s so big now she can hardly sleep, and she’s getting really spooked about being home alone at night," he said worriedly.

Reese looked at her watch, then said, "Listen - how about I relieve you at midnight? I can duck home now and sleep for a while."

He looked at her hopefully. "You’d do that?"

"Sure - it’s only for a few days. Just let the Sheriff know, okay? I’ll be home if you need me."

She waved away his attempts to thank her, walking off to retrieve her cruiser. The enthusiasm and holiday spirit of the people surrounding her was contagious, and she doubted that she’d be able to sleep much. She might as well work. Besides, she was anxious to see the Provincetown that only came to life at night.

At ten minutes to midnight, Reese pulled her squad car into the small lot behind city hall, across the street from the Pilgrim’s Monument, and one short block from the center of town. She found Paul and sent him home. Standing with her back to the pier, she looked up and down Commercial Street. It was nearly as crowded as it had been at noon, but the entire atmosphere had changed. There was a Mardi Gras energy in the air, as same sex couples of all ages, styles, and garb strolled the sidewalks and spilled out into the street. Men in impossibly revealing shorts, leathers, and spandex passed singly or in groups, openly appraising each other. Women, mostly in couples, and occasional knots of youths were very much a presence as well. They held hands or draped their arms about each other, delighting in their visibility. Reese had never seen so many gay people in one place before. It was clear that Provincetown was every inch the mecca it claimed to be.

She started west along Commercial, toward the Coast Guard station that marked the end of the most populated walk in Provincetown. For the most part, the crowds were congenial and controlled, parting like the sea for the bicyclists and rollerbladers who dared navigate the packed one way street. Reese took her time, glancing in the shops she passed, most of which were still open and would remain open eighteen hours a day until after Labor Day. The merchants of Provincetown had a very short season, and worked nonstop during the three months of summer. The restaurants and many bed-and-breakfasts were also dependent on a heavy tourist trade during the summer migration of gays and lesbians in order to survive the near desolation of the empty winter months.

Reese walked down to the entrance to the Provincetown Gym and stuck her head inside. Marge was behind the counter, piling tee shirts and sweats onto the shelves behind her. Marge smiled a greeting. "Hey, handsome! I thought this was Paulie’s shift!"

"It is, but he’s home with his wife, waiting on the baby. I’m filling in for a few days."

"Ain’t it beautiful out there?" Marge remarked with a grin.

"Everything I’ve been told is true. It’s changed overnight," Reese agreed.

"And it isn’t even busy yet!"

It was hard not to catch the enthusiasm that pervaded the small fishing village. Reese nodded, knowing that the hardest three months of her year were in front of her, and not minding a bit. This was the reason she was here - to make sure that the town and its people were safe and prosperous through another cycle.

"I’ve got to get going. I just wanted to say ‘Hi.’"

Marge waved her on, saying, "How about dinner again soon?"

"Sure," Reese agreed. "How does September sound?"

"Oh, come now, Sheriff," Marge teased, "you’ve got to find some time to enjoy the goings on around here. I’ll take you to the tea dance!"

"Deal," Reese acquiesced, "as soon as I get a day off."

"It’s a date!"

Reese raised one eyebrow. "Oh really?"

Marge laughed, "Get out of here. Go make our streets safe for the young’uns!"

Reese smiled to herself as she rejoined the throngs in front of Spiritus Pizza, the central gathering place for the dozens of men and women who sat on the curb, occupied the benches, or leaned against the light poles to watch the spectacle of life passing by. There wasn’t much in the way of public drunkenness, or obvious drug use. Generally someone in the gathering managed to keep the heavy partyers under control or off the streets. Reese was glad of that. She didn’t want to spend her shift hassling people over fairly harmless substance use, but she’d have to if it became too publicly blatant. She was paid to enforce the law, and she would, but she reserved the right to use her own judgement as to what constituted a real violation.

She glanced down the alley next to Spiritus and noticed movement in the shadows at the far end. It was dark enough that she pulled out her flashlight, playing over the ground ahead. Two people, wrapped in an embrace, pulled apart as she approached. Her light flickered over the face of a pretty blond teenager. The girl looked like any of the leather-clad youth who crowded the streets. She had the requisite multiple piercings along the edge of her ears, a small silver ring through the rim of her left nostril, and a tattoo showing along the inner aspect of her left breast. The lace up vest she wore with nothing under it was still open to the waist from what no doubt had been an interrupted caress. A typical teenage rendezvous, except this girl was holding tight to Brianna Parker’s hand, trying to look defiant. Brianna stepped forward, her shoulders braced, obscuring the girl from Reese’s view.

Reese spoke before Brianna could. "It’s not safe down these alleys. You two head on back to the street."

Neither of them said a word as they sidled past her, hurrying toward the end of the alley. Reese took her time, giving them the opportunity to disappear into the crowd. She glanced at her watch. It was one-twenty in the morning. She was willing to bet that Nelson Parker did not know that his seventeen -year-old daughter was out on the streets, or what she was doing there. She was glad it wasn’t her daughter. She was positive she would make a mess of handling what didn’t have to be a problem. As she walked east back to city hall, she thought about herself at seventeen. She had never had the desire to sneak out to be with anyone, male or female, and for the first time in her life, she wondered why not.
 
 

Chapter Nine

Reese pulled up the short driveway to the rear of her house at six-fifteen a.m. The night had passed uneventfully. By two-thirty the streets of Provincetown had been deserted. The bars had closed at one, and for the next hour the street in front of Spiritus Pizza was a mob scene. Predominantly men, the crowd swelled as those who had yet to find partners for the night cruised each other. There were also a fair number of men and women who just wanted to partake vicariously of the sexual energy that literally filled the air. The party-like atmosphere would be sustained for the next twelve weeks, as new vacationers and week-end visitors flooded into town, carrying the excitement of being openly gay and unafraid, perhaps for the only time all year, with them. Periodically Reese walked down one of the narrow alleys between the crowded establishments to the harbor beach, checking that no one decided to sleep off too much alcohol on the sand. High tide was at five-forty, and by then the waves, still vigorous even in the secluded harbor, would be up to the pilings of many of the buildings. Already the decks behind the Pied and the Boatslip, two of the most popular lesbian and gay bars, were surrounded by water. Reese didn’t intend to have any drownings on her watch. She knew that the shadowed areas under the piers were favorite spots for quick sexual encounters, but she wasn’t interested in busting two adults for a fast grope in the dark. She was on the lookout, however, for groups of teenagers hanging out on the beach. Nelson Parker had warned her that drug use, and distribution, was becoming more of a problem with the youth of the small community, and that many of the suppliers seemed to be teenagers from neighboring townships on the Cape.

Reese hated drugs, and especially those who provided it. Too often, the kids who tried it were simply acting out of the normal rebellious, unfocused discontent that seemed inherent in the nebulous world between childhood and adulthood. Unfortunately, they became trapped by the very real physical and psychological seductiveness of the drugs, and the drug culture, without meaning to. That they were victims, she had no doubt, and the perpetrators of the crime were the suppliers, not the addicts. She was determined that Provincetown would become a very unpopular place to commit that particular crime.

Reese pulled to a stop, cut the engine, and sat for a moment looking at the person huddled on her back steps. Brianna Parker stared back at her, her gaze steady and defiant.

"You’re early," Reese commented as she approached. "Class doesn’t start for forty-five minutes." Reese could tell by the look of surprise on Brianna’s face, a flicker of expression quickly masked, that Brianna had not been thinking of their seven o’clock appointment for her first jujitsu class. "Come in the kitchen and wait while I shower and change," Reese said as she passed the teenager, fitting her key into the back door as she spoke.

"If you haven’t eaten, there’s bread for toast and juice in the fridge," Reese said as she tossed her keys on the table. She continued through to her bedroom, leaving the youth to sort things out for herself. When she returned in a clean white tee shirt and crisply ironed gi pants, she was pleased to smell coffee brewing. There was a plate of toast sitting in the middle of the breakfast bar. Reese gabbed a piece to munch on as she poured a cup of the welcome coffee.

"Thanks," she said as she leaned against the counter facing Brianna, who was perched on one of the high stools that flanked the counter dividing the cooking area from an eating area large enough to accommodate eight at the glass and chrome table.

Bri stared at the woman facing her, impressed by the taut muscles outlined under the tight tee shirt as well as her piercingly direct gaze. Reese presented an awesome figure. Bri took a deep breath.

"I came to talk to you about last night," she managed to say without a hint of the unsteadiness she felt.

"I thought you came to train," Reese responded.

"Maybe you won’t want me to now," Bri said, a slight quiver in her voice.

Reese raised an eyebrow, her eyes never leaving the troubled teen’s face. "How so?"

Bri shrugged. "I…I came to ask you not to tell my dad."

"I wasn’t planning to. But you should."

"Yeah, right," Bri snorted. "Like he wouldn’t kill me."

"He’s got to know sometime. Maybe you should give him a chance," Reese suggested mildly as she refilled her coffee cup. "I don’t know him real well, but he seems to be okay about the gay thing."

"Oh, sure - it’s okay with him, maybe, for some other kids - but not for me!"

Reese looked at Brianna, then nodded. "You’re right. There’s no way to tell how he’s going to react. But he for sure is going to be a lot better about it if he hears it first from you."

"I will tell him! Just not now!" Her fear broke through and her eyes filled with tears. "I’m only seventeen, he can keep me from seeing Caroline if he wants to. And if her father finds out, he’ll kill her!"

The girl’s anguish was palpable, and Reese suddenly realized how many additional terrors being gay added to the already tumultuous world of adolescence. It was something she didn’t know much about, and in a town like Provincetown, she needed to. She decided that, for the moment at least, she didn’t know enough to make a good decision, or to offer meaningful advice.

"I’m not going to say anything to your father, and if I decide it’s necessary at some point, I’ll tell you first. You can decide then whom he hears it from. In the meantime, I want your word that you and your girlfriend will stop meeting in dark alleys, or under the pier."

Bri tried to cover her surprise. How did she know about the pier?

"It’s dangerous, Brianna, especially for two women." Reese raised her hand against Brianna’s protest. "There’s no point in pretending that you and Caroline could stand up to a bunch of guys. That’s not sexist - that’s reality. One way a woman defeats a man is to use her brains - first to avoid the fight, and then if she must fight, to win the fight. Don’t stack the odds against yourself."

"There’s no where for us to go," Bri muttered, knowing the truth of Reese’s words. "That’s why I need to learn to fight."

Reese crossed the kitchen into the hallway beyond and returned with a folded bundle which she handed to Brianna.

"This is your uniform, your gi. It is only to be worn in the dojo, when we train. I leave for work at seven. If you are here at five forty-five, any morning, we will train for an hour. It will take time, and patience, and work, but I will teach you to defend yourself. Is that still what you want?"

Bri reached for the uniform. For her it represented her first steps toward self-determination. "Yes."

"Then let’s get started."

After Bri changed into the uniform Reese had provided her, she followed Reese through the breezeway to the garage. She copied Reese’s actions, bowing at the threshold before entering the thirty by forty-foot space, then removing her shoes and placing them beside the expanse of mat covered floor. She waited uncertainly as Reese crossed to the center of the mat and knelt, her hands resting gently on her thighs.

"Kneel and face me," Reese said. When Bri complied, Reese continued, "It is customary for the student to bow to the teacher, or sensei, at the beginning and end of each class. This is not to show obeisance, but to convey respect and to offer thanks for the opportunity to train. I will also bow to you, to honor your commitment to learn."

After the initial ceremony was completed, Reese stood and motioned Bri to her feet. "Basics first. You need to learn how to fall before I can teach you to throw; you need to learn how to block before I can teach you to punch and kick; you need to learn to move out of the line of attack before I can teach you how to counter an attack. These are the foundation for all that you will learn in the months, and hopefully the years, to come."

Bri nodded her understanding, eager to begin, and anxious to prove her serious desire to learn. In the hour that followed, Reese introduced her to the fundamentals of jujitsu, demonstrating forward and backward rolls, proper fighting stances, blocking drills, and the first joint locking technique. Bri was young, supple, and athletic. She made good progress. She concentrated on Reese’s every move, trying to imitate the way her teacher stood, turned, and rolled. It seemed impossible to her that she would ever be able to attain the grace and power that Reese manifest with every move, but she was determined to try.

"Grab my lapel," Reese instructed. As Bri complied, Reese said, "Kata dori," indicating the Japanese term for the attack. Reaching up, she trapped Bri’s hand against her shoulder, turned her wrist, and with both hands applied a wristlock. Bri gasped slightly at the pain in her stretched wrist, but held on wordlessly. As Reese leaned slowly toward her, the pressure in her wrist forced Brianna to her knees.

"Kata dori—nikkyo," Reese named the defensive maneuver.

When Bri stood, Reese grasped her jacket. "Now you."

Bri repeated the movements exactly as she remembered Reese had done, and was awestruck as Reese went to her knees before her.

"Very nice," Reese commented. Bri flushed with pride. "These techniques are powerful, and potentially devastating. They are only to be used here, in the dojo, or on the street when you have no other choice but to use them."

"Yes, sensei," Bri answered quietly.

Reese turned away with a smile. She sensed that Brianna would be a good student, and she had enjoyed the chance to teach her.

After they had bowed to each other, and Reese had knelt to carefully fold her hakama, the black skirt-like garment worn by experienced practitioners, Bri lingered uncertainly at the door. Reese looked over to her, a question in her eyes.

"Can I come tomorrow?" Bri asked softly.

"I am here every morning at quarter to six. If you come, we will train."

Bri smiled and bowed slightly, naturally. "Thank you."

Reese smiled and bowed back, watching as Bri walked away down the drive. She remembered how she had felt, when she first began nearly twenty years before, and how her life had been enriched by her training. She hoped she could provide that, in some small way, to this young woman. At the moment, however, there were more pressing things to consider. And more that she herself needed to learn.
 
 

Chapter Ten

"Morning Chief," Reese said when she entered the station an hour later.

"What are you doing here?" Parker asked abruptly.

"Sir?" Reese questioned in surprise, halting halfway to her desk.

"Didn’t you just finish the night shift two hours ago?"

"Yes, sir, but I’m scheduled to work today -"

"Conlon," the Sheriff said with a sigh, "you’re a civilian now. I know I told you that you needed to be available twenty-four hours a day if I needed you, but I didn’t mean that you actually had to work twenty-four hours a day!"

"I know that, Chief—but I offered to take Smith’s shift without asking you, and I fully expected to work today. I’m fine—I slept last night between shifts. I’m used to sleeping at odd hours."

He looked at her in exasperation, but he wasn’t angry. She didn’t have any idea how unusual she was—any other officer, no matter how good they might be, would have jumped at the chance to be relieved of a shift. She seemed to actually want to take hers. He knew she didn’t have a family, and probably hadn’t had much of an opportunity to make friends, but at the rate she was going, she never would. That she seemed perfectly content with her solitary life, and her work, perplexed him. It would have been odd, even in a man, but in a young woman like her—he was at a loss to figure it.

"Okay, okay—but no more doubles unless I approve it." He caught the flicker of unease in her usually impenetrable gaze. "What?"

She faced him, squaring her shoulders, unconsciously coming to attention. "I told Smith I would take the last half of the night shift until his baby is born. It shouldn’t be more than a few days. I didn’t clear it with you because you told me that as Deputy Sheriff I had clearance to reorganize the shifts as needed."

"I was thinking more along the lines of an emergency when I told you that, Conlon —although having a baby certainly feels like an emergency at the time. With any luck his won’t be two weeks late like mine was."

He shrugged in defeat, leaning back in his swivel chair to gaze up at his tall second-in-command. "Go ahead, Reese—but take time off during the day if you need it. I’m depending on you to keep things organized around here this summer. We’ve got a small force, compared to the crowds we’ll have to deal with, and Smith probably won’t be worth a fart in a wind storm once his kid is born."

"Yes, sir. Thank you," Reese replied.

"Speaking of kids—did mine show up at your place for her class this morning?"

"Yes, she did."

"On time?"

"She was early."

"Good. I thought she must either have been up and out early, or that she slept through it. She didn’t answer when I knocked on her door this morning."

Reese was pretty sure that Brianna hadn’t been home at all the night before, and she was uncomfortable keeping that from her boss, a man she was coming to like. On the other hand, Brianna wasn’t exactly a child, and Reese felt she owed her the chance to work things out with her father in her own way. At least for the time being she had given her word to keep silent. Besides, she was fairly certain she could keep an eye on Brianna’s nighttime excursions, now that she was aware of them. She said nothing.

"She do okay?" he asked gruffly. He felt like he knew less and less about his daughter with each passing day. They didn’t talk as they used to when she was small, when he seemed to have all the answers to her endless questions. Now he didn’t have a clue as to what motivated his only child, or what might make her happy. He couldn’t help but think that if his wife were still alive, she would know what to do with his headstrong offspring.

"She did very well."

"Yeah?" he said with a smile of pride. "Good."

"Who’s out on traffic?" Reese asked, not wanting to linger on the topic of Brianna. "Jeff?"

"Yeah. Things won’t get busy until eleven or so when the tour buses start arriving."

"I’m going to catch up on some paper work then, and go out around noon. That okay?"

"Sure. I have to be at the town meeting at ten. There’s likely to be some heat over the move to build that condo unit out at the end of six. The mayor wants me to talk about the manpower shortage, and more tourist influx. Same old story."

"Gladys coming in for the phones?"

"Eleven till five."

"Right," Reese said, pulling a stack of evaluation forms, payroll vouchers, and other employee paperwork in front of her. "I’ll catch up with you at town hall then."

Nelson Parker nodded and tossed a wave as he headed out the door.

Reese left several hours later, leaving her patrol car at Town Hall and walking west along Commercial to get lunch at the deli. She carried her sandwich to a small sitting area behind the Galleria, a collection of shops catering to the tastes of quick stop tourists who wanted a piece of "authentic" Cape Cod memorabilia. The deck in the rear was equipped with picnic tables and a great view of the harbor. Reese sat on the bench with her back to the table so she could watch the tide on its way out. The site and smell of the water settled her in some deep way that she had no words for. She only knew she would never live far from the ocean again.

She glanced east along the shore, trying to pick out her mother's studio. An image of her mother and father and her on one of their rare family outings to the beach came to her. It hadn't been too long before her mother left. She had never asked him about her mother, had never tried to find her—before now. She wondered why that had been. Her father and she were as close as a stern, reserved man and a solitary, private daughter could be. She respected him, even if she did not always agree with him, and he was proud of her accomplishments. He was deeply disappointed when she left active duty, even though she remained in the reserves, and they had not spoken since her move to Provincetown. He did not know she had contacted her mother; she wasn’t even sure he knew that his ex-wife lived here. Reese knew she needed to call him soon, but she wasn’t sure quite what to say.

That thought brought Brianna Parker to mind, and the rift that seemed to be growing between her and Nelson. Maybe part of it was the inherent differences between fathers and daughters, like men and women, but Reese knew that for Brianna it was much more than that—there was the complication of her sexuality to be dealt with. If she were to help Brianna in any real way, she needed to know more about that.

She stood, adjusted her cap against the sun’s glare, and moved quickly through the crowded aisle back to the street. A few minutes later she was at the gym.

Marge greeted her with a grin. "Hey you—anything new?"

"Nope," Reese replied, grinning back. "But I would like to talk to you. Can you get away sometime this afternoon?"

"How about now? Annie’s here—she can watch the place. Is this business or pleasure?"

"Let’s say it’s personal," Reese responded.

"Damn! You’re a tough woman to get information out of!"

Reese nodded toward the door. "Come on. Let’s take a walk."

They joined the crowds, and started toward the far west end of Commercial Street. There the narrow one-way road joined the confluence of six A and Route six at the jetty that led to Long Point. They didn’t say much until they had settled on the same bench where Reese and Victoria King had sat the previous day. Reese scanned the narrow, treacherous walkway, amazed once again that Tory had braved it.

"So, what’s up?" Marge asked, startling Reese for a second.

Reese pushed the image of Victoria King’s face from her mind.

"Did you know that you were a lesbian when you were a teenager?"

"I had a pretty good idea," Marge answered.

"How did you handle it?"

"I tried to kill myself," Marge said after a moment.

Reese stared at her intently, her chest tight, sorrow for Marge’s pain mixed with rage at a world that would drive a young person to such desperation. Her jaw clenched while she searched for words. "Can you tell me about it?" she asked at last.

Marge gazed out to the ocean, lost in memory.

"It wasn’t quite as dramatic as you might imagine. I grew up in a little town in the middle of nowhere. My parents were good, hardworking people without much imagination. I was a surprise, you might say. From the time I was small I preferred boys’ clothes, boys’ games, boys’ toys. All I wanted for my birthday was a six-shooter and a pair of jeans. My parents thought if they bought me dolls, I would forget about the guns. It didn’t work. By the time I was ten, I was in love with the rec director at the playground down the street. She was tough and taught the girls to play baseball, and if I got there before everyone else, she would play catch with me. I got there early every day for an entire summer. By twelve I had a special girlfriend I would gladly have died for. We went everywhere together, spent every night in one another’s houses, and slept over with each other frequently. We never touched—not in a sexual way, but there was no doubt that I loved her in the way boys and girls do. Our friendship lasted into highschool. One day, when we were sixteen, she told me she had been to bed with her boyfriend. Up until then, we had both dated, but no one had ever come between us. At that moment, my life changed forever. I knew then that she didn’t feel what I felt, and never would. She was no longer mine, in the deepest part of herself, the way she had been. It broke my heart, and there was no one to tell."

Marge paused, and Reese could see the pain of memory etched in the lines around her mouth.

"I’m sorry," Reese began, knowing there were no words to heal this particular sorrow.

Marge shook her head. "It was a long time ago, but it was probably the greatest pain of my life. I had no idea what was to become of me. It felt like everything beautiful in my life disappeared. My innocence certainly died. I couldn’t stand the pain, and I knew I felt the way I did because I was somehow very different from my girlfriends. I had no name for it, except "Queer," and I knew that was not a good thing to be. So, I started to drink, and managed to stay drunk through my last year in highschool. That’s what I meant when I said I tried to kill myself. It wasn’t pretty, but it was very nearly effective."

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, shaking off the vestiges of the past. Turning questioning eyes to Reese, she asked, "What made you ask?"

"A girl," Reese said. "A girl who can’t tell her father she’s in love with another girl. She acts pretty tough, but I get the feeling she’s scared. Mostly scared that someone will keep them apart, I think. I’m trying to understand what that’s like."

"Why?" Marge asked, not with censure, but with true curiosity. "What makes you care?"

Reese shrugged. "I have a feeling she’s not the only kid in town in this situation, Provincetown being what it is. She says she has no where to go to be with her girlfriend. I need to understand what life is like for these kids if I’m going to interact with them fairly."

"They’re not like other kids, Reese. They have to fight hard to survive. Most of the time the whole world tells them they shouldn’t be the way they are. They shouldn’t dress the way they do, they shouldn’t enjoy the things they do, and God knows, they shouldn’t love the way they do. The boys get beat up, or they act out sexually all over the place in unsafe ways, and more often than not, the girls who admit to themselves what they feel end up leaving school or underachieving. If they’re not being self-destructive with drugs or alcohol, they’re getting into trouble some other way. You’ll do them more harm than good if you try to prevent them from being who they are. That’s about all they have."

"I can’t let them have sex in dark alleys or under the pier!"

"Why not?"

"Because it’s not safe! If I can’t see them, I can’t protect them! If a group of redneck toughs stumbles across two boys, or two girls for that matter, making out in some dark corner, they could do them real damage!"

Marge nodded in reluctant agreement. "You’ve got a point, but there isn’t much you can do about it. They have to be together somewhere, and most likely it won’t be at parties, or dances, or at each other’s homes the way it is for straight kids. These kids feel like outcasts, and just about everything they see and hear reinforces that. They don’t have much alternative to the dunes or the piers if they want privacy."

"A coffee house?"

"Good idea, but you have to remember that although Provincetown looks like the center of the gay world, most of these lesbians and gay boys don’t live here. After the season ends, this town is about as prejudiced as any other. And the few gay kids aren’t going to want to make any public announcements, I wouldn’t imagine."

"But at least for the four or five months of the season they can blend in a little," Reese observed, beginning to see the dilemma Brianna and her girlfriend faced. "Isn’t there some place these kids can go?"

Marge nodded. "There’s a little hole in the wall out on Shank Painter Road that caters to the kids. The music is god-awful, and the food’s even worse, but at least they’re welcome there. A couple of old queens own the place. They don’t sell alcohol until ten o’clock at night, which is how they get around having under age kids in the bar."

"That’s just up the road from the station," Reese remarked, wondering if Nelson Parker gave the place any thought. He certainly hadn’t mentioned it to her as place she ought to keep an eye on.

"Yeah. I think they’re calling it The Lavender Lounge this year."

"Thanks, Marge. The information helps. I didn’t know about this place. I’ll have to drop by."

"Reese," Marge warned, "if you go in there looking like a cop, you’re going to scare some kids away. They don’t have much as it is."

"Point taken," Reese remarked. "I’ll go in disguise."

"Yeah, right. With that build, and that walk, she just about screams "cop." Marge chuckled. "Try to blend in. Better yet, take a date."

"Are you volunteering?"

"Hell no. Then you’d just be more obvious," she laughed. She grew thoughtful, then suggested, "Why don’t you ask the doc! She can interpret for you."

"I hardly think I need a guide," Reese said, uncomfortable with the conversation suddenly.

"I just meant, she’s a lesbian, and she’s good with the kids," Marge said, not missing her friend’s discomfort. "Hey, Reese! Did you ever have a crush on one of your girlfriends?"

Reese stood abruptly, her face expressionless. "I didn’t have any girlfriends. All my friends were Marines."

As Marge joined her for the walk back to town, she wondered about the strange life her new friend had lived.
 
 

Chapter Eleven

"Reese—you there?"

Reese fingered the button on the microphone clipped to her shirt.

"I copy, Gladys."

"See the couple at the Lobster Pot—there’s a child missing."

"Ten-four," Reese said curtly as she began to hurry the few blocks to the restaurant. It was not unusual for children to wander away from their parents, but it was always cause for concern. Traffic was heavy and unpredictable, and with the miles of beachfront, the water posed a very real danger as well. She found anxious parents and a boy who looked to be about ten waiting for her.

"I’m Deputy Sheriff Conlon," she said. "What happened?"

"Our daughter," the father began, "she’s lost. We were just walking, looking in the windows. When we stopped for ice cream for the kids, Sandy was gone. We thought—"

"Bill - " his wife interrupted in a cautionary tone.

"It’s my fault," the young boy said tremulously. "I was supposed to be holding her hand, but then a couple of guys on rollerblades came between us and we got separated. She was still right beside me—" he choked back sobs and hung his head.

His mother pulled him close. "It’s all right, Greg, we’ll find her. It’s not your fault."

"How long ago did you last see her?" Reese asked gently, trying to keep them calm.

The husband and wife looked at each other in confusion. "Maybe a half hour?" he said uncertainly.

"And her full name?"

"Sandra Lynn James. She’s six."

"What is she wearing?" Reese continued, jotting notes on her small pad.

"Blue jeans, a yellow tee shirt and red sneakers," her mother informed Reese.

"Sheriff," the father said softly, "our daughter is handicapped."

Reese looked up quickly. "How?"

"She can’t communicate very well. She’s not very verbal; she’s easily distracted. She won’t react the way a child usually does if they’re lost."

"What will she do?"

He shrugged. "It’s hard to say. She might sit for hours watching something that catches her attention, or she may just wander."

"Can she swim?"

The mother stifled a cry and grasped her husband’s hand.

"No," he said desperately.

"Tell me what she likes—what does she like to do?"

For a moment both parents appeared confused.

"She likes the color red," her brother said into the silence, "and she loves birds, any kind of birds." He took a step toward Reese, his face determined "I want to go with you—to look for her."

Reese knelt down until her face was level with his. "Your parents are pretty upset. I need you to stay with them, to make sure they’re okay. And I need you to think of anything else about your sister that will help us find her. I’m going to give you a special number that you can call to reach me anytime. Okay?"

He searched her face, then nodded. "All right."

"Good," she said as she straightened. "Gladys," she signaled into her mike.

"Go ahead, Reese," a staticy voice replied.

"Wake up Smith, and have both him and Jeff Lyons call me. Inform the Chief, and the doctor, of what we have. If someone finds a little girl, they may take her to the clinic."

"Right away."

Reese turned to the family. "I want you to wait at the police station. I’ll have an officer take you there in a minute. I want to start a store-by-store search back along the way you came. Do you have a picture I can take?"

"Yes," the child’s mother replied, fumbling through her handbag for her wallet. "Here’s her school picture." She smoothed the picture tenderly with the tips of her fingers before handing it to Reese.

"Please find her, Sheriff."

Reese tucked the photo into her front shirt pocket. "Yes, ma’am, I will."

Reese radiod headquarters as she walked to the nearest shop. "Gladys—have Smith pick up this family and transport them to the station, and have Lyons start a car check at the town line."

"You don’t think someone took her?" Gladys gasped in alarm.

"It’s routine, Gladys," Reese replied grimly. "And call me with any information you get, okay?"

"Absolutely."

Reese spent the next two hours personally talking to every shopkeeper west of the place where the Joneses could last be sure their daughter had been with them. She scanned the crowds constantly, checking the benches and doorways along the route where the child might have stopped. There was no sign of the child. Finally, she phoned the station to speak with Nelson Parker.

"It’s no good, Chief—we need help. It’s going to be dark in an hour and a half, and it will be twice as hard to sort through the crowds. She’s either injured somewhere, someone has her, or she’s hiding somehow. Can you get volunteers, with a copy of her picture, to start a street-by-street search?"

"There’s a women’s health group that’s pretty organized. They can pull people together faster than I can at random. Where do you want them?"

"Have them meet me at the Town Hall in half an hour."

On her way there, she stopped to have photocopies of Sandy’s picture made. She was gratified to find fifteen people waiting for instructions when she arrived. As she handed out the child’s picture and organized the volunteers into pairs with specific assignments, she saw Victoria King and her office staff arrive. She motioned for the doctor to join her.

"Is there anything special I should tell them about the child?" Reese asked. "You spoke with her parents?"

"I did, and aside from what sounds like some form of autism, she’s perfectly healthy. My biggest concern is that it’s getting colder, and if she’s out all night, hypothermia is a real danger."

"I know. I want her found before dark." Reese turned back to the volunteers, directing them off to their search. "I’ve called the Coast Guard to begin scanning the shore, and the water. Where will you be if I need you?"

"Randy and Sally are both out searching, so I closed the office. I might as well wait there. You can page me. I’ve got the Jeep, so I’m mobile. Here’s my card—" she answered, scribbling her beeper number on the back. "Will you call me when you have something?" She searched Reese’s face, knowing that she must be feeling the stress. Her dark blue eyes were more intense than usual, if that was possible, and her voice a little brusque, but her face betrayed nothing of her emotions. God, was she always this controlled? Tory couldn’t help but wonder at what cost the stoic sheriff maintained her calm. As a physician she knew how high that price could be. "Reese?"

Reese was staring out over the harbor, her concentration barely penetrated by Tory’s voice. "Do you see that?" Reese asked softly.

Tory followed her line of sight, perplexed. "What? The kites?"

Reese nodded, her gaze captured by a particularly decorative red wide-winged kite. "She likes birds, her brother said—and the color red."

Tory stared at her, and then up at the sky. "Where would she go to get closer to them?"

"Toward the water—out onto one of the piers," Reese said grimly. "Will you call the sheriff and have him send one of the men out to check the piers at the west end? I’ll start closer to where she was last seen."

"Yes, of course."

Reese looked down at her, fixing her eyes on Victoria’s as she gently took her hand. She pressed Tory's fingers lightly. "Thanks."

Tory felt the brief touch to the bone. The sounds of the crowd receded as her gaze locked with Reese’s. She was riveted in place, scarcely drawing a breath. In that moment, she realized that Reese Conlon was the most intriguing woman she had ever met. And she was beautiful. "And I’m in big trouble," Tory thought. She swallowed, wondering if she would ever be able to look away. Thankfully, someone demanded Reese’s attention at that moment, and Reese released her hand, turning aside.

Tory took a shaky breath. Right, find a phone, Tory girl, you can do that. Just walk away from her. She has no idea what she’s doing—she hasn’t a clue to the effect she has on any lesbian with a heartbeat.

And Tory realized with a shock that that was probably true—Reese didn’t know. And if she didn’t know, what did that say about her? Tory considered what little she knew of Reese’s past. Some part of her had always assumed that Reese was a lesbian, because she seemed like one, and because Tory found her attractive. But perhaps she wasn’t—or perhaps she didn’t know that she was! Tory shook her head—either way, it lets me out. There’s no way I’m getting involved with someone who’s just coming out, or God forbid, straight!

She watched Reese stride down the sidewalk toward the center of town and willed her heart to stop pounding. It didn’t work, but she tried to tell herself it was only her worry over the little girl.

~

It was close to eight o’clock when Tory tossed the last chart onto the cart beside her desk. It had been dark for two hours. She couldn’t imagine how the parents must feel, or how frightened the child must be. She hated it when children were sick. It was often impossible to explain to them what was happening, or why she had to do things that hurt them. Too often, she simply had to do what needed to be done, accepting that sometimes she caused pain in the name of healing. But it never got easier. She thought about Katherine, the woman she had loved for ten years—through med school and K.T’s surgical residency, until it had ended four years ago. Katherine had the surgeon’s wonderful, and irritating, ability to detach herself at will from emotions that threatened her equilibrium. A necessary skill for the operating room, but a deadly one for a relationship. Katherine had been so damn hard to resist, though, that Tory had forgiven her for every hurt but the last. Even her disarming grin and her pledge of undying love could not sway Tory then. That was part of the reason Tory needed to avoid any fantasies about the enigmatic Deputy Sheriff—she had that same irresistible quality of bravado and rakish appeal that Katherine had had. Once was enough! Reese Conlon might be charming, and gallant, and brave—but she was dangerous, too.

Tory jerked in her seat when the phone rang. "Yes?" she said abruptly.

"I have her, Doctor. We’ll be there in five minutes. The parents are on their way," Reese stated over her car phone.

"What’s her status?" Tory asked as she rose from behind her desk.

"She’s not talking. She’s not even crying. But I don’t see any obvious injuries. We’re just up the street—"

"Bring her back to the procedure room."

"Roger that."

~

Tory looked up a moment later to find Reese standing in the door of her examining room with a bundle in her arms. A tousled blond head poked out of a green flak jacket emblazoned with the Marine Corp insignia.

"Put her up on the table," Tory indicated brusquely as she reached for a stethoscope. Reese settled the child carefully on the paper-covered surface as Tory turned to the little girl with a smile on her face.

"Hi, sweetie," she said. "I’m Dr. King. Can you tell me your name?" She laid her hand gently on the child’s knee as she spoke. The little girl's skin was cool to her touch.

"Reese, there’s a blanket in the warmer behind you. Get it for me, will you?"

Reese wrapped the soft flannel around the young patient’s shoulders as Tory placed a plastic thermometer sleeve against the child’s earlobe. The little girl watched her in silence, but she didn’t seem to be afraid.

"Her temperature is a little low, but not dangerously so," Tory commented as she placed the bell of her stethoscope against the small chest. She noted the strong steady beat with satisfaction. Looking down, she realized the girl’s shoes and socks were missing.

"What happened to her shoes?" she asked as she slipped the stethoscope into her pocket.

"I took them off," Reese replied. "They were wet."

Now that she was satisfied that the child was in no danger, Tory really looked at Reese for the first time.

"You’re soaked, Reese! What happened?"

Reese shrugged. "She climbed out to the edge of a tide pool, following the kites, I think. The tide had come in quite a ways before I found her."

Tory shuddered inwardly at the image of a small child trapped by the swirling waters, unable to climb out and unlikely to be able to swim. She knew that rescue had come barely in time, and only then because of the intelligence and tireless dedication of the woman beside her. A woman, she noted now, who was shivering slightly while she waited to help further.

"You need to get out of those clothes, Reese," she said gently.

"I’ll stay if you need me," Reese responded quietly.

Tory shook her head. "She’s fine. Her parents should be here soon. Go on."

"I’ve got clothes in the squad car. I’ll just be a minute," Reese said, reluctant to leave. She had known instinctively that the little girl was in no danger, but she was captivated by watching Tory King work. Tory took charge with a degree of command that Reese was used to, but with a gentleness and empathy that had been absent in the world of men Reese had inhabited. Reese was moved in a way she didn’t understand, stirred by the interplay of fierce concentration and compassionate warmth that suffused Tory’s elegant features.

Tory gave her a stern but fond look. "Go!"

Reese smiled, snapping a crisp salute. "Yes, ma’am!"

She slipped out as Sheriff Parker entered with the little girl’s parents rushing before him. The satisfying sounds of relieved cries and a happy reunion followed her retreat.

It took a few moments for Tory to convince the child’s parents that she was absolutely fine, but finally they began to relax after the hours of frantic worry. At length she glanced toward the hall, stunned to silence by what she saw. Reese stood quietly at the door, watching. She had pulled on a pair of faded grey sweat pants and a tee shirt, well-worn clothes that accentuated the shear physicality of her form, stretching tight across her broad shoulders, exposing the highly defined muscles in her arms, clinging to her narrow hips and strong thighs. Tory’s throat tightened as her heart began to race. She wanted to look away; she wanted to deny the unmistakable wave of desire; she wanted not to find this unusual woman more beautiful than anything she had ever seen. Mercifully, the parents spied Reese standing there and descended upon her, releasing Tory from the gaze that unwittingly held her captive.

Reese was clearly uncomfortable with the attention as Mr. James gripped her hand, shaking it furiously as he exclaimed, "Thank you so much, Sheriff. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate what you’ve done!"

"You’re welcome - really," Reese responded, while trying to extricate her hand from his vice-like grasp. At last he stepped aside, only to be replaced in an instant by his wife. She gazed up at Reese for a moment, her tear-reddened eyes fixed on Reese’s. Then, unexpectedly, she laid her palm against Reese’s cheek in a gentle caress.

"I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t found her," she whispered softly.

Tory watched, transfixed, as Reese tenderly placed her hand over the woman’s trembling fingers and clasped them softly.

"I would never let you lose your daughter," Reese murmured.

Reese’s blue eyes lifted above the woman’s head and found Tory’s gaze. The depth of Reese’s compassion lay open before her, and Tory was amazed that she ever could have questioned Reese’s feelings. Reese’s caring, exposed for an instant, had the intensity of a mortal wound. Tory comprehended in that moment that what Reese hid so well with her strict professionalism and rigid discipline was a degree of empathy that clearly verged on painful. That she hid it unconsciously, probably even from herself, came from years of habit. Tory had no doubt of that. She wondered what hurt had necessitated those barricades, and found herself even more intrigued by the impossibly handsome, impossibly compelling sheriff. Reese blushed under Tory’s intense scrutiny, finally looking away. The parents continued their thanks as they gathered their children and followed Sheriff Parker out, leaving Tory and Reese alone in the sudden silence.

"Well, I -" Reese began.

"Have you -" Tory said simultaneously.

They laughed, each relaxing as the hours of tension finally dissipated. Reese leaned against the doorjamb and regarded Tory with a smile.

"You were saying?"

"I’m starving. How about you?"

"I didn’t have dinner, and I don’t remember lunch." Reesse glanced at her watch, frowning. "Unfortunately, it’s eight o’clock on a Saturday night. We’ll never get in anywhere."

Tory held up one finger, motioning her to silence as she lifted the phone from the wall behind her. She dialed a number from memory. "Claire? Tory King. Can you fit me in? Yes, right away would be great." She paused for a second, glancing up at Reese. "No - for two."

She laughed, coloring slightly. "Don’t jump to conclusions. We’ll be right over."

"The Flagstaff," she said as she replaced the receiver, "let’s go."

"Wait a second," Reese protested, gesturing to her attire. "Look at me. I can’t go like this!"

Any further looking at Reese Conlon was exactly what Tory did not want to do. "You look great," she said, meaning it. "Besides, this is Provincetown. There is no dress code. No arguing!"

For once, Reese accepted the order, sensing there was no room for negotiation. In truth, the crowd was casual as the hostess led them to a corner table with a beautiful view of the harbor. When chilled champagne in a bucket appeared at their side, she raised an eyebrow in question.

Tory shrugged, embarrassed. "Old friends. I knew both the owners in Boston years ago." And now they’re trying to match-make!

She busied herself pouring the champagne, disconcerted by Reese’s silence. She looked across the table into Reese’s searching eyes. "What?" she asked.

"Tell me about Boston," Reese replied. The look on Tory’s face when she mentioned it told Reese whatever happened there haunted Tory still. She wanted to know what caused that fleeting glimmer of pain.

Tory could pretend she didn’t understand, but decided in an unguarded moment not to. She rarely spoke of her personal life, but she wanted to now. Reese was looking at her as if her next words were the only things that mattered, and Tory wanted her to know. She wasn’t ready to ask herself why.

"I lived there for ten years, during my residency, and a few years after. My lover trained there also, and we both went into practice at Boston General when we finished. Claire and Sheila, the women who own this place, were good friends of ours. They moved here to follow their dream of owning a restaurant, and when Katherine left me, they convinced me to move here. At first I thought it would just be temporary, until I got my life in order. But now I know that this is my life."

"Had you been together long, you and Katherine?" Reese asked, her eyes never leaving Tory’s face.

"Since medical school - almost twelve years." Without being asked, she continued. "I was an ER attending. She was a trauma surgeon, and dashing as hell. All the women were after her, and finally she strayed. I found her with one of the nurses in an on call room in the middle of the day. She said it was the first time, but I’ll never know, will I? She left me a short time after that." She couldn’t keep the pain from her voice, and she was shocked to find tears in her eyes. Tears that she knew were not so much for Katherine, but for her own disappointment in love.

"I’m sorry," Reese murmured, hearing the tremulousness in Tory’s voice. "That was stupid of me. I didn’t mean to stir up old wounds."

Tory smiled grimly. "Don’t be sorry. I thought what we had was forever. I was mistaken. I won’t make that mistake again."

Reese understood the subject was closed. "My dojo is about finished. Still interested in training?" she asked, searching for safer ground.

"Absolutely," Tory responded enthusiastically, grateful to turn the conversation away from herself, and genuinely eager to discuss their mutual attraction to the martial arts. "When?"

Reese laughed. "You remind me of Brianna. Always ready to go."

"Thanks, I think. How’s she doing?"

"Really well. She’s got natural ability, and if she stays with it, she’ll be good."

"I’m glad to hear it. She’s needed some direction."

Reese debated discussing her concerns about Brianna with Tory, but decided she shouldn’t betray the girl’s confidence. She sensed Tory would know what to do if things got out of hand, and resolved to talk to her if and when the need arose.

"So how about tomorrow morning? Six thirty?" Reese asked.

Tory laughed ruefully, realizing that for Reese, Sunday was no different than any other day of the week. She obviously had no concept of sleeping in.

"I’ll be there. Now let’s order. I have to go home and go to bed."

Reese looked at her in surprise before Tory’s gentle laughter informed her of the joke.

The meal passed quickly as they spoke of the tourist season and exchanged light gossip about the small town inhabitants. The food was excellent and the effect of the shared champagne relaxing. They had just ordered coffee when Tory realized that Reese’s eyes were riveted on someone across the room.

"Excuse me a moment," Reese said, as she stood and moved resolutely away.

Tory glanced after her as she approached two women seated across the room. The loneliness she felt at Reese’s sudden absence surprised her. For a time, she had forgotten where she was, or what she needed to do the next day. She had been totally immersed in the moment, and enjoying Reese’s company tremendously. Reese was unexpectedly insightful, humorous, and entirely focused on Tory. It was a heady mixture, considering how physically attractive she was as well. In that way she reminded Tory of Katherine, and for the briefest of instants, Tory panicked. Then she took a breath and reminded herself that they were just having dinner, not getting engaged. When Reese returned a few moments later, she was strangely quiet.

"Are you all right?" Tory asked at length.

Reese looked up in surprise. "Yes, of course."

"Do you know them well? Jean and Kate?" Tory asked, indicating the couple across the room.

"No, not really," Reese responded quietly. "Kate is my mother."

Tory was momentarily at a loss. God, this woman was full of surprises! She remembered how vague Reese had been about her past, and knew it was a painful subject. "Did you know that she was here in Provincetown?" she asked carefully.

"I knew," Reese said, as she slowly stirred her coffee.

"And - ?"

"And—I’m not sure what, really," Reese continued. "I know she was part of the reason I came here, but I’m not sure what I hope to accomplish. I haven’t told my father she’s here, and that must mean something."

"Will he be angry?"

"I’m not sure. I think so. He still hasn’t accepted my leaving the Marine Corp, and I’m certain he would think she was part of the reason."

"Was she?"

Reese was silent for a moment, staring across the moon lit harbor, trying to find the words to explain what she felt six months ago when her life changed so drastically. She had given herself many reasons why the Marine Corp, the only family she had ever known, no longer suited her. She had given herself just as many reasons why Provincetown was the place she should be, but she had never admitted what part her mother’s presence played in these decisions. She turned her gaze to Tory, hoping the uncertainly she felt didn’t show in her face. Tory regarded her calmly, waiting without judgement. Reese felt her acceptance and the tension ebbed from her body. She stretched her long frame and gave Tory a wan smile.

"Yes, I suppose she was," Reese began slowly. "I’ve known for awhile she was here, but it’s been years since we had contact. I grew up trying not to think about her. Most of the time I succeeded. My father made it impossible for us to see one another when I was young, and we never spoke of her." She looked at Tory quickly. "Don’t misunderstand. I love my father, even though he was wrong. He probably acted out of wounded pride, but I never doubted that he loved me. For most of my life, I loved the Marines, too."

Tory laughed. "Oh, I don’t doubt that. In uniform or out, you will always be a Marine!" Suddenly serious, wanting very much to know, she asked, "So why did you leave?"

It finally felt like time, Reese thought to herself.

Reese gazed past Tory to the moonlit water as she chose her words carefully. It seemed important for Tory to understand. "I was born and raised a Marine. I had never left home. It was time to leave - time to build my own life. I think I wanted my mother to be part of it."

"I hope it works out," Tory said softly.

Reese nodded, pushing her empty cup to the side. "Thanks." She glanced at her watch and said apologetically, "I’m afraid I have to go. I have to get back to work - "

Tory was becoming accustomed to Reese’s devotion to her job, recognizing that working was what made her comfortable. She wished their evening wasn’t at an end, and wished even more that she hadn’t enjoyed it quite so much.
 
 

Chapter Twelve

At six-twenty the next morning, Tory passed Brianna Parker in the driveway of Reese’s house. The split-level cedar shingled dwelling stood on a hill overlooking the wetlands at the end of Bradford Street. Tory turned to greet the teenager as she took a moment to appreciate the view. Brianna followed her gaze out over the marshes and dunes. They were alive with the flutter of gulls and other birds searching for breakfast.

"Hey, Brianna," Tory said, "pretty spectacular morning!"

"Yeah, I guess," the teen responded unenthusiastically.

"Tough class?"

Brianna’s face brightened. "No, it was great. Sensei’s teaching me to breakfall!"

"All ready! Hey, that’s terrific!"

Brianna looked away, her smile fading. "Yeah."

Tory had the feeling the youth was about to say more when she abruptly mumbled a goodbye and retreated hastily. Tory wished she knew how to make a connection with her. Each time Tory saw Brianna, she seemed a little more withdrawn, and a little more unhappy.

Tory hastened up the drive, wanting to be on time. The side door to the attached garage was open, and she stepped over the sill into a large square space that was almost completely covered with tatami mats, a traditional shock absorbent material found on the floors of most dojos in Japan. Along the near wall were a bench and a rack for shoes. On the wall opposite the bench was a small hand-carved shelf with a vase of flowers, several ornamental statues, and a picture of a formidable appearing Japanese man. Tory bowed in the direction of the kamiza, or traditional altar, to show her respect for the training hall and Reese’s teacher, then slipped her shoes onto the rack provided. Reese had been kneeling on the mat with her eyes closed when Tory entered, and she looked up now with a smile.

"Welcome. I’m glad you could make it."

"Thanks. I’ve been looking forward to it." As she spoke, Tory sat down, leaning over to remove the metal brace from her right leg. She replaced it with a much lighter short plastic air cast that prevented her ankle from dropping into its paralyzed position.

"Tell me about that," Reese said, indicating the support.

Tory’s hands tightened and her shoulders grew tense with the automatic resistance to any inquiry about her condition. Invariably it was accompanied by thinly disguised pity, discomfort, or misconception of her abilities. It didn’t matter that Reese had never seemed the least bit judgmental or dismissive. Tory’s response was fostered by years of anger and disappointment. She couldn’t find the words to answer.

After a moment, Reese asked, "How long has it been since you’ve trained with anyone?"

Tory met her eyes defiantly. "Since before my accident."

"Well, then, I guess we’ll just have to find out together what you can handle. Can you stand with that?"

Reese was so direct, and so matter of fact, that Tory began to relax.

"Yes, but I can’t really walk well with it. My balance is affected."

"So we start from stationary positions. Can you take a fall?"

"No problem."

"Leg sweep? Shoulder throw?"

"Either," Tory stated with assurance. She decided not to add that no one had thrown her since her injury, but she had practiced her drills and cane defenses diligently since her rehab was finished. She would be fine. She hoped.

"I thought we might alternate," Reese continued. "We can work on grappling one day, and you can teach me the cane the next. Sound okay?"

"Yes - fine."

They bowed to one another, and for the next hour Reese reviewed with Tory the fundamentals of jujitsu grappling techniques. Since Tory already held an advanced belt in a style that employed joint locks and takedowns, much of what they practiced was familiar to her with only slight variations. They were evenly matched in terms of stamina thanks to Tory’s rigorous conditioning from kayaking. Her mobility was hindered, but most of the techniques were designed to be performed in very close quarters, and she was able to adjust.

When they bowed to one another at the end of their session, she felt invigorated in a way she hadn’t for years. She felt strong and capable. She didn’t want to stop, even though she knew she would be sore the next day.

"Thanks. That was excellent," she exclaimed.

"So - same time tomorrow?" Reese responded.

Tory was momentarily caught off guard. It hadn’t occurred to her that Reese would want to train quite so seriously. Once again she was aware of the other woman’s persuasiveness and compelling intensity. She felt herself pleasantly challenged by the offer, and nodded her assent. Reese rewarded her with that dazzling smile which burst from nowhere and seemed to flicker away all too quickly.

"If I have an emergency, I’ll call -" Tory began.

"No need," Reese interrupted. "If you aren’t here, I’ll know it is for some very good reason. I know you’ll be here when you can."

"Are you always so immune to uncertainty?" Tory asked unexpectedly.

Reese regarded her seriously. "Is that what you think? I’m uncertain sometimes- just not about what I believe-" She looked at Tory pointedly, "or about those I trust."

Tory blushed, pleased. Reese had a way of making things seem simple, and she knew she never wanted to disappoint her. That thought was enough to disturb her for the rest of the day.

~

As June unfolded and summer approached, they managed to get together five or six mornings a week. Tory found that she had to rise an hour earlier so she could row and still reach the dojo by six-thirty. Usually she saw Brianna leaving as she arrived, and she knew with certainty that Reese had been up for several hours. She was impressed with Brianna’s determination and Reese’s tirelessness. She found her own endurance increasing, and noted with cautious optimism that her ankle and leg seemed a little stronger, and that she was moving better with the lighter air cast. She wasn’t deluding herself with the hope that her leg would ever be normal, but each small improvement cheered her.

In addition to the physical benefits of her new training regimen, she had to admit she was enjoying Reese’s company. Reese was single-minded in her pursuit of any endeavor, whether it was training, policing, or simply talking. When she was with you, she was intensely present. Tory tried not to think about just how much she looked forward to her time with Reese, or how much she liked Reese's slow, easy smile and her deep, resonant voice.

On the last Saturday in June, Tory found Reese in her customary position, kneeling in the dojo with her eyes closed, meditating while she waited. When she smiled a greeting, Tory remarked, "Was that Brianna’s girlfriend with her this morning? I saw them out front as I was leaving."

"How did you know?" Reese asked in surprise. "Caroline came to watch a class."

Tory laughed. "I think it was the way she was hanging onto Brianna - or maybe that she looked like she wanted to lick the sweat off Brianna’s neck."

"Not too subtle, are they," Reese remarked grimly. When they had arrived Bri had one arm flung possessively around the young blonde’s shoulders, and Caroline had her hand tucked in Bri’s back pocket. It hadn’t escaped her notice that Caroline’s eyes never left Bri the entire time they were in the dojo, and the look in them was positively hungry. Reese had hoped they would be a little more restrained on the street.

"Why should you expect them to be any different? It’s young love. They don’t have any awareness of anything but each other. They probably wouldn’t notice a ten car pile-up across the street most of the time." She smiled to herself as she removed her shoes and changed leg braces. "Does Nelson know about this?"

"No," Reese said with concern. "Bri is afraid to tell him. She’s afraid he’ll try to keep them apart."

Tory nodded. "She might be right, but there’s no way they’ll be able to keep it quiet for long. Especially if they go anywhere together in the light of day. Anyone who’s ever been in love, or lust for that matter, could tell with just one glance."

Reese wondered briefly if she would have known if she hadn’t found them locked in one another’s arms that night. Would she recognize what she’d never experienced? Was there really something so consuming that she could lose herself, and her eternal vigilance, even for a minute?

"Maybe I should say something to her," Reese mused aloud.

Tory answered carefully, fighting her own defensiveness. "Reese, those girls are acting like any two teenagers in love. They’re high school seniors, nearly adults. If you ask them to hide what they feel, you’re telling them there’s something wrong with what they’re doing. It’s bad enough that most of the world thinks so, it would be devastating for them if someone they obviously trust said so too. You must realize Bri trusts you, or she never would have brought her girlfriend here! She’s asking you for your acceptance."

"I’m worried about them," Reese countered. "A young gay boy was beaten up outside a bar in Truro two weeks ago, and I saw a report from Easton yesterday about a suspicious robbery of two gay men that looked like gay-bashing. We haven’t had any problems here- yet."

Tory frowned. "I’ll certainly keep an eye out at the clinic for anything that looks like it was gay-motivated. But the best thing you can do for those two girls is exactly what you are doing. Keep the streets safe, and offer them a supportive adult presence."

"I’m not too comfortable in that role," Reese admitted. "I know so little of what they’re experiencing."

Tory regarded her with more than a tinge of disappointment. It was pretty clear from that admission that Reese wasn’t gay. She hated to admit she had been hoping otherwise. "It’s no different from what straight teenagers experience, Reese - just more difficult for some of them who are afraid, or sadly, ashamed. Just remember your first time."

Reese looked at her oddly. "That’s my point, Tory. I never had a first time."

The statement was delivered so matter of factly, Tory wasn’t sure how to respond. Was it possible that a thirty- something woman, especially such an interesting, attractive one, had never been in love? Or was she simply saying she had never been a crazy teenager in the throws of hormonal insanity?

Thankfully, Reese saved her from her own confusion by saying, "Marge says there’s a bar where a lot of the kids go. I thought I’d check it out but Marge insists I look too much like a cop. Would you like to go undercover with me and take a look?"

"Reese," Tory said, trying to keep a straight face, "there is nothing on this earth that could make you look like anything but a cop - but, sure, I’ll go with you. When?"

"How about tonight? After dinner - my treat."

"Tonight is fine - and your treat only if it’s on me next time."

Reese smiled, "Deal."

As Tory knelt to bow in for the start of their workout, she wondered just what she had let herself in for. She didn’t have time to think about anything further. By its nature, their workouts were intimate in the sense that of all the styles of martial arts, jujitsu was the one that required the most bodily contact. Usually, such contact is automatic and completely devoid of any sensual connotation, as the mind and body are engaged in a different realm of endeavor - that of self-defense. Reese and she were working on finishing pins, which required them to literally lie across each other, applying pressure to the opponent’s elbow until they were immobilized. Tory wasn’t thinking of anything except how to dislodge the person who had her flat on her back, with her arm locked out and a forearm pressed against her trachea. It was not a position she wanted to be in, and she responded automatically.

Reese felt her struggling, attempting to reverse the pin. She let up on the pressure she was exerting against Tory’s wrist joint. "Tory, wait," she said.

Tory immediately relaxed. This was not a contest, it was a training session, and as the most experienced stylist, Reese was in charge.

Reese pushed herself up on her arms, looking down at Tory with a smile. The weight of her body rested lightly along the length of Tory’s body. "You’ll wear yourself out if you thrash about, especially if your opponent is much heavier."

Tory looked up into the blue eyes just inches above her own, and suddenly the dojo receded. She was instantly aware of the pressure of Reese’s thigh between her legs, the firmness of her body, the subtle swell of her breasts beneath the cotton gi, and the faint blush of perspiration on her tanned chest. Tory’s heart beat a little faster, her skin tingled where Reese’s fingers had held her, and she had the insane desire to press her lips against the moist skin of Reese’s neck. She gasped at the onslaught of sensations, shocked at the sudden wetness between her thighs.

Reese immediately rolled off of her, exclaiming, "What is it? Did I hurt you?"

"No," Tory replied, acutely embarrassed. In all the years she had been training, nothing like this had ever happened. She had to drag her senses away from impact of the woman beside her. Trouble, trouble, trouble she chided herself as her body trembled. Fool, fool, fool echoed back to her.

"Tory?" Reese continued, worried. Tory was shaking, she could see it. The very thought that Tory was hurt made her stomach clench. "Is it your leg?" They were lying side by side, inches apart. She reached out instinctively, brushing her fingers against Tory's cheek.

"No, Reese, it’s not my leg!" Tory said, sitting up, struggling to keep her voice calm. "Just a cramp. It’s gone now." She looked into Reese’s troubled face, knowing she didn’t have a clue about what just happened. Tory fought to ignore the increasing pressure throbbing through her pelvis. God! Did she have to be so damned attractive?! "Really, I’m okay. Let’s just switch techniques for a while."

"You’re sure?"

"Absolutely."

They finished their workout, both unusually subdued. Tory was trying to keep her mind off what had been an unmistakable rush of potent physical desire. Reese was trying to understand why the mere thought of Tory in pain moved her in a way nothing ever had.

"Do you want to take a day or two off?" Reese asked after they finished.

Tory glanced at her, seeing the concern in her face. It’s not fair to make her worry just because you can’t control yourself!

"Are you tired?" Tory teased lightly.

"No, I just thought-" Reese stopped, blushing slightly. "I guess you’ll tell me if you need a break, huh?"

Tory smiled gently, finding Reese even more attractive in her slight uncertainty. "You can trust me to take care of myself. But thanks for asking."

Reese grinned. "Marge would say I’m doing ‘my butch’ thing. Right?"

It was Tory’s turn to blush. And exactly how would Marge know? She busied herself with her gear, rejoining, "Actually, yes. But on you it just seems natural. Don’t worry about it.

"So, I’ll see you tonight?"

"Yes, of course.

~

They met outside Front Street, a favorite restaurant of the locals and tourists alike. Reese wore a white open collared shirt and well-worn blue jeans with highly polished black boots. Tory was equally casual in black jeans and a scoop neck black singlet that molded to her well-developed shoulders and arms. Reese had called ahead for reservations, and they were seated immediately. The waitress, who knew Tory by name and Reese by the usual town gossip network, was attentive in a nonobtrusive way. Tory was aware that they turned more than a few heads as the restaurant filled up. Reese seemed totally unaware of the notoriety, sipping a glass of red wine as she leaned back in her chair, recounting for Tory the four years she had been stationed in Japan.

"The part I loved best of course was the opportunity to train with the Japanese at one of their own schools. My teacher in the states had written ahead with an introduction, which helped pave the way. The Japanese are much more receptive to American students than they used to be, including women, but it certainly helps to have a personal connection. I had been training for close to ten years by the time I got there, which didn’t hurt either." Reese grinned a little ruefully as she emptied her glass. "I’m boring you, aren’t I?"

"On the contrary," Tory remarked, reaching to fill both their glasses. "I was just thinking how I envied you. My own training took a back seat to my rowing for many years. About the time you were in Japan, I was getting ready for Barcelona."

Reese caught the flicker of pain that clouded Tory’s expressive features for an instant before the other woman visibly drew herself out of the past. Reese reached spontaneously for her hand and held it gently.

"I’m sorry for the pain, Tory," she said softly. "You don’t have to talk about it -"

Tory shook her head. "I’m pretty well over it. It’s just so damn frustrating! I had come close to winning the gold in the previous Olympics, and I was in the best shape of my life. It was just a warm-up run, not even the preliminary heats. One minute I was flying. The sun was on my back, the surface was perfect - like glass, and I knew it was my time. The next thing I knew they were fishing me off the bottom, with my leg in pieces. I looked down at my foot hanging there - I couldn’t feel it, and I knew it as all over." She took a deep breath, dispelling the memory. "Then I spent the next year just hoping I would walk again." She looked at Reese apologetically. "Now this is really awful dinner conversation!"

As she talked, she had unconsciously entwined her fingers with Reese’s. Tory studied their interlaced fingers as they lay against the white tablecloth. Reese’s compassion and unspoken sympathy seemed to flow into her through those long, strong fingers. It was comforting, and not the least bit pitying.

"Reese," she said softly, her throat suddenly dry. "If people see us like this, they’re going to assume this is a date." She kept her voice light, but she couldn’t control the slight quiver in it. She felt raw and uncomfortably vulnerable.

"Are you telling me it isn’t," Reese asked quietly, no hint of banter in her voice.

Tory jerked in surprise, her pulse racing. She searched Reese’s face for the suggestion of a joke, and found only Reese’s serious blue eyes gazing back.

"Reese, I am a thirty-eight year old woman. I have finally recovered from losing a lover I thought I would grow old with. I’m not sure "date" is a word in my current vocabulary. Most importantly, I have no idea what the word means to you."

"I’m afraid my answer may not make sense," Reese began. "I am thirty-seven years old and I’ve never been on a date. I think what it means to me is spending time with someone I find interesting, someone I want to know better – someone- special."

"And eventually?" Tory asked gently.

Reese flushed but she didn’t look away. "Uncharted territory."

"Oh, Reese," Tory sighed, giving her hand a little shake. "You’re putting me in an impossible position! Dates are not about friendship - not in the ordinary sense - dates are about the possibility of something more, something deeper." She hesitated briefly. "And dates usually occur when two people are sexually attracted to one another. I can’t afford anymore heartbreak, Reese - and you, my beautiful friend, are heartbreak material."

"Are you trying to let me down gently?" Reese asked with a hint of levity. She didn’t want to make Tory uneasy, and she understood Tory’s reluctance to become involved again. She couldn’t clearly describe what she felt, it was too new. She only knew that sitting there with Tory’s hand in hers felt completely natural, and completely right. And she also knew she didn’t want to let go.

Tory appreciated Reese’s attempt to lessen the pressure on her. But for her own preservation, and in fairness to Reese, she needed to be clear. "I’m not ready to take a chance on someone who may not even be a lesbian. I’m not sure I want to risk anything anymore. I’m sorry." As she spoke she gently disengaged her hand from Reese’s.

Reese shook her head, smiling softly. "Don’t be. Until now the only words that ever applied to me for certain were "recruit" and "soldier". I never gave anything else a thought."

Tory laughed. She congratulated herself on steering their relationship onto safer ground. She steadfastly ignored the way her pulse raced everytime she looked up to find Reese’s disconcertingly appraising eyes upon her.
 
 

Chapter Thirteen

"So, tell me what’s going on with you and our good doctor," Marge said as she lined up her shot. She stroked lightly through the cue ball and slid the nine ball into the side pocket.

"Nice shot," Reese commented as she balanced two fresh beers on the thin shelf that ran along the wall. "What do you mean, what’s going on?"

Marge glanced at her briefly as she slowly circled the table, planning her next salvo. The slightly perplexed look on her young friend’s face told her the Deputy Sheriff really didn’t know what the rumor mill had been churning out. "Word has it that the two of you are an item."

"Because we had dinner together?" Reese inquired as she carefully chalked the end of her custom cue.

"Romantic dinners. More than once, I’m told," Marge added as she banked in her next shot. "And because she seems to spend a lot of time at your place. And because the two of you have been seen together at the Lavender Lounge the last two Saturday nights."

Reese was impressed with the accuracy of the local reporting.

"Sounds like you’re information central," she commented dryly.

"It’s the tea dance. Everybody trades news there. I keep trying to tell you what you’re missing. And don’t avoid the issue!"

Reese approached the table as Marge narrowly missed a tricky combination. Stretching her long form low to get the proper sight along her stick, she neatly deposited the three ball in the corner pocket.

"We’re not an item. We’re friends."

Marge waited. When nothing further seemed to be forthcoming, she sighed with exaggerated impatience.

"And? Do you have any intentions?" she asked as she watched Reese move gracefully around the table. It was looking like they’d need to go four out of seven for a fair match.

"She isn’t interested," Reese said flatly. She gently tapped the cue ball the length of the table, angling the seven into the corner.

Marge raised a questioning eyebrow at the vague answer. "I was asking after your plans."

Reese leaned her stick against the edge of the pooltable, regarding her companion seriously as she reached for her beer.

"I can’t answer that."

Marge looked peeved. "Well, if you don’t want to tell me-"

"That’s not what I meant. I don’t know how to answer your question."

"You like her, right?"

"Of course, she’s terrific."

"And she’s great looking, right?"

"She’s beautiful."

"So, at the risk of sounding like the crude old dyke that I am, have you given any thought to taking her to bed?"

Reese studied the foam on her beer. "Aren’t there a few steps you left out? Like - well, like courting?"

Marge coughed on the mouthful of beer she was swallowing. "God, you are priceless! Courting! If the girls in this town only knew what you were really like, you’d have to beat them off with a stick!"

Reese asked cautiously, "What do they think I’m like?"

"I think Carol from the Cheese Shop put it best. She said you were an impossibly good-looking, unapproachable butch who probably does the asking. And there's a fair number of women waiting for you to ask. Only I know that you’re an old-fashioned romantic."

Reese smiled ruefully. "No, Marge -I’m not that either. What I am is someone who’s always been happy with my life just the way it is. I never thought to look for anything more. It never occurred to me there was anything more."

Marge started to protest, then grew quiet. At length she voiced what she initially had found inconceivable. "You’ve never been with a woman, have you?"

"No."

"Oh, boy," Marge whistled. She looked at her suspiciously. "You’re not straight are you? There’ll be hearts breaking all over town."

Reese looked away with a shrug.

"Tell me you don’t know," Marge said in disbelief.

"It’s not that simple," Reese stated. "I’ve spent my life with men, many of whom I commanded. The rules are very clear, and very strict. I never had that kind of relationship with anyone. It never seemed to matter to me."

"What about- you know, sex -" Marge persisted.

"I’ve had feelings -" Reese said, remembering with absolute clarity the way Tory had felt in her arms when she had innocently carried Tory into her house. She remembered the warmth of Tory’s fingers in hers at dinner, and the rightness of it. "The opportunity just never arose."

Marge simply shook her head. "Unbelievable. But you still haven’t answered my question about the doc. Do you have feelings, as you so delicately put it, for her?"

Reese picked up her stick and focused her attention back on her game. "It doesn’t matter. She’s been hurt, she shouldn’t be hurt again. I’m the last thing she needs."

"Why?"

"Because she doesn’t trust me not to hurt her."

Marge was well aware that Reese had avoided discussing her own feelings, and respected the unspoken barrier. But she still wasn’t ready to let her completely off the hook. Left to her own devices, Reese’d never figure out what she was about - or that sometimes women just needed you to keep trying. She didn’t doubt that Tory King was cautious. Marge hadn’t known her to date anyone the entire three years she’d lived there. She also knew that sometimes rumors started because those on the outside looking in saw more than the people who were in the thick of it.

"So how about coming to the tea dance tomorrow? It’s the fourth of July weekend. You’ve never seen anything like it," she pressed.

Reese sighed. "You know I’m working -"

"Right - and I know damn well you’re still working splits with Smith. You can come to the tea and have plenty of time to sleep before the late shift.

Reese had refused thus far to accompany Marge to the popular afternoon event, somehow worried that it would conflict with her official position. To go dancing amidst the people she was supposed to be protecting seemed like the taboo of an officer fraternizing with the enlisted troops. She had to admit that excuse was getting a little thin. She lived in Provincetown - attending the dance wasn’t likely to cause any greater stir than simply going out to dinner seemed to. And she did want to be personally familiar with as much of the unique community’s life as possible.

"Okay," she finally relented, "for a little while."

"Excellent," Marge enthused. "And Reese? Lose the uniform or you’ll have every woman in the place hanging on you."

~

Marge looked her over with satisfaction when Reese met her at the gym at four-thirty the next afternoon. The white tank top displayed her impressive shoulders nicely; the tight faded jeans hung low on her slim hips. Not for the first time she felt the stirring of desire. Her new friend was all the more attractive because she obviously didn’t know it. Marge was certain that Reese never noticed the open stares she received - in uniform or out. For her part, Marge simply enjoyed looking at her, knowing she would never act on it.

Reese regarded her quizzically. "What? Am I late?"

"You’re never late," Marge asserted dryly. "Come on, Sheriff. Let’s go to the dance."

They could hear the music from two blocks away, and already the small dance floor was crowded. For two hours at the end of the day, after the beach and before the night’s activities began, most of the town’s inhabitants would make the pilgrimage to the Boatslip for the tea dance. There was a huge outdoor deck with tables overlooking the harbor, several bars, and a dance floor that never seemed big enough but somehow always managed to accommodate the crowds. The ratio was probably four to one men to women, and unlike in many other bars, everyone got along. The atmosphere was usually one of unrestrained enthusiasm.

"What’re you drinking?" Marge asked as they threaded their way through the throngs to the outside bar.

"Just a diet coke," Reese said, heading toward the end of the deck that overlooked the beach while Marge joined the long line at the bar. She leaned against the rail, one booted foot up on the lower rung. She watched the couples strolling along the water's edge, some of them running playfully in and out of the froth. Two women stopped to share a kiss. The sight stirred her unexpectedly, and she had to look away. She was unsettled enough that she wasn’t aware of the woman beside her until she spoke.

"I thought I saw you come in," Tory said, one hand shielding her eyes in the sun. Reese had a strangely distant look in her eyes. "You all right?"

Reese shook her head, smiling. "Just daydreaming."

Tory smiled back. "Glad to hear it. Listen - there’s someone here I want you to meet. Have you got a second?"

Reese looked around and saw Marge deep in conversation with someone in the bar line. "Sure."

"Great - Catherine just got here and _"

Reese recoiled with an involuntary gasp, stepping back a pace in surprise. "No, I - I don’t want to intrude," she managed to say as an unfamiliar tightening in her throat threatened her voice. Whatever was causing the icy ache in her chest was enough to force her to turn away, searching frantically for Marge’s familiar back and the offer of escape.

Tory reached for the tanned forearm, shocked at Reese’s reaction. She had never before seen Reese lose her composure. Her entire body was stiff with tension.

"Reese!" Tory cried in alarm. "What’s the matter?"

Reese couldn’t explain to Tory what she didn’t have words for herself. She only knew that if Tory was here with her former lover, she didn’t want to see them together. She struggled for an excuse. "It’s late - I should go-"

Tory continued to study her intently. There was no mistaking the turmoil in those deep blue eyes. What she didn’t understand was the fleeting look of something close to pain that had marred Reese’s usually implacable features. And she wasn’t about to let her away before she did understand it.

"Reese! Damn it! Tell me what’s wrong!"

"Nothing -really," Reese responded evenly, her feelings now firmly in hand. "I’m sorry - it isn’t you. I really can’t stay."

Tory didn’t believe her, but she knew by now how stubborn Reese was. She wouldn’t talk until she was ready. "At least stop and meet my sister?" Tory asked.

"Your sister?!" Reese couldn’t keep the confusion from her voice. "But I thought-"

"Yes," Tory replied, just as surprised. "Who did you -" She stopped in midsentence, staring, trying not to blush. "You thought I meant Kathrine - my lover, Kathrine."

It was Reese’s turn to blush. "Yes," was finally all that she said.

They stared at each other as the air around them grew dense with feelings neither of them dared put words to. Tory finally broke the silence, her hand still grasping Reese’s arm.

"It wouldn’t be her," she said softly, "for a number of reasons. We haven’t kept in touch, and I don’t want to see her. There is nothing between us now." As she spoke, her fingers slid slowly down to lightly clasp Reese’s. It was important that Reese understand that Kathrine held no claim on her.

"You don’t need to explain," Reese responded quietly.

"No?" Tory queried just as gently, feeling Reese’s fingers intertwine with hers, trying to ignore the quick thrill of excitement that small closeness produced. "Perhaps not, but I wanted to."

Reese smiled slowly, giving Tory’s hand a tug, breaking the tension. "Come on then. Introduce me to your sister!"

Marge joined them eventually at the small table they had commandeered. Tory’s younger sister was as extroverted and gregarious as Tory was solitary, and in no time she had talked Marge into taking her off to the dance floor.

"That’s the last we’ll see of them for a while," Tory remarked as she glanced after her sister fondly. "Cath loves to party."

Reese stretched her long legs out to the side of the table and settled back with a sigh. "At least she’s in good company. Marge has enough energy for two or three people!"

"Besides that, Marge is a great dancer, and Cath could dance all night," Tory added. "It’s so great to have her here. She’s got two kids, a demanding job - even with a husband who’s willing to help, it’s hard for her to take time away. She’s between jobs now, so I’ve finally got her to myself. I was worried about showing her a good time."

Reese saw Tory glance down at the brace protruding below the cuff of her white cotton slacks. In some part of her mind, Reese was always aware of it, too. When she and Tory worked out without it, Reese was careful to temper the force of her throws and takedowns. She would never risk further injury to someone who had already suffered so much. Even when they walked through town in the evenings after a dinner out, Reese was aware of their pace, the surface of the pavement, the surge of the crowds around them. Although she never thought of Tory as disabled, or less than totally capable in any way, she felt an instinctive protectiveness she would never admit to her. Knowing that Tory felt inhibited by her injury made her long to change it.

"You know something," Reese said. "I’ve never learned to dance. I always managed to avoid those insufferable military affairs by volunteering to take the duty."

Tory stared at her. How could it be that someone so accomplished could have missed so many of the simple pleasures of life? And why did it not seem to bother her? Could she really be so self-sufficient that she didn’t need what most people spent their lives seeking - some connection with another human being? That thought saddened Tory unaccountably.

"Well that has to change." Tory stated emphatically. "As soon as Cath gets back I’m assigning her the task of teaching you."

"If I have to learn, I’d rather it be with you."

Reese’s tone was so gentle, Tory found herself struggling with tears. "I’d love to," she managed finally. "But I don’t think I can."

Reese pushed back her chair and held out her hand. "Let’s find out."

There was something about the compassionate insistence in her voice, and the comfort of that outstretched hand, that Tory couldn’t resist. Without wanting to think what it might mean, she stood, grasping the strong fingers.

"All right - but we have to at least wait for a slow song."

Reese nodded and led the way through the crowd to the edge of the dance floor. When the pulsing music slowed, they stepped to a corner of the small space and faced one another.

Tory looked up into Reese’s smile and stepped into her arms. "You lead," she said quietly.

"As long as you keep me on track," Reese rejoined as she slipped one arm around Tory’s waist. Tory fit effortlessly against her, and despite the frequent physical contact they had on nearly a daily basis in the dojo, this felt vastly different. Reese was aware of the press of Tory's breasts against her chest, and the length of firm thigh just touching her own. Tory’s head rested lightly on her shoulder, her hair rich with the scent of sunshine and sea. For a second Reese was breathless from the assault of sensation.

"You’re shaking," Tory whispered, hoping that Reese couldn’t feel the trembling in her own body.

"Nervous," Reese murmured, closing her eyes, unconsciously tightening her hold as they moved together, tentatively at first, then with a growing confidence as each sensed the other’s rhythm.

Tory couldn’t remember the last time anyone had held her, and she could no more control her response than she could stop her heartbeat. It was as if her skin was opening, allowing the heat from Reese’s body to penetrate to her core, and the fire that flared within had a life all its own. Unconsciously she pressed closer, cleaving to the strong frame, her fingers on Reese’s back tightening as waves of heat threatened to eclipse her senses. When Reese’s hips shifted naturally forward into her, she couldn’t prevent a soft moan.

"Okay?" Reese questioned softly, her breath warm against Tory’s cheek.

Tory tried to steady her voice as she replied, "Just out of practice. Don’t let go, I may topple over." She fervently hoped Reese couldn’t feel just how true her words were.

"Don’t worry about that," Reese answered. She scarcely recognized her own body. It seemed to have developed new senses in just a few scant moments. Her skin was tingling, her pulse pounded in her ears, and she swore she could feel Tory’s heart beat in time with her own. Whatever was happening, she had no desire for it to stop. In fact, when the music changed to a faster beat she didn’t even notice. The heady mixture of physical stimulation and emotional confusion muted her awareness of anything beyond Tory and herself.

"I have to sit this one out, Reese - it’s going to get very fast in a minute," Tory said as she leaned back to look up into her taller partners’ face. Reese was staring at her in the strangest way, her grip about Tory’s waist tightening instinctively as the contact between them lessened. Tory tilted her head questioningly as she relaxed against Reese’s body. "What is it?" she asked. She had to raise her voice as the music pounded and more people crowded onto the floor.

Reese looked around, fully cognizant of her surroundings for the first time in what seemed like hours. Her loss of connection with external events was enough to frighten her; that coupled with the apparent mutiny of her senses left her totally baffled. She leaned close, her lips against Tory’s ear.

"I’m ready to sit down, too, but my legs seem to have acquired a mind of their own. And they’re saying stay."

Tory laughed, slipping her hand down Reese’s arm and grasping her hand.

"Come on! I’ll lead the way."

As she turned to guide them through the crowd, she was acutely aware of Reese pressed against her. She told herself it was because of the throng of people close around them, and not due to any intent on Reese’s part. Regardless of the reason, she couldn’t deny the surge of pleasure the contact provoked.

Marge and Catherine, sandwiched against the narrow rail enclosing the dance floor watched them go. Marge had just replenished their drinks and they were catching their breath before the next round on the dance floor.

"I can’t believe my eyes," Catherine muttered. "I haven’t seen her on a dance floor in ten years. That friend of yours must be a magician."

Marge grunted. "The likes of her I’ve not seen before."

Catherine looked alarmed. "Don’t tell me she’s some kind of playboy - playgirl rather, - or something worse! My sister had her heart broken once already by someone like that!"

"That’s not what I meant," Marge soothed. "She’s about as honorable as they come - maybe too honorable. She’ll protect your sister to the point of holding back what the doc might like offered."

"She’s not straight is she?"

"Haven’t seen any signs of it," Marge said with a grin. "But then you don’t exactly shriek married mother of two."

"Yes, well, I don’t look like a combination of k.d.Lang and Gregory Peck either!"

"True enough -" Marge conceded. "I’ve known Doc King for three years, and I know damn well she can take of herself. Reese Conlon is a tough one to figure, but I get nothing but good feelings from her. And I can tell she thinks a lot of your sister. And I’d bet my last dime that she’s gay. I know you’re going to worry, but it won’t change anything."

"I know. It’s just that Tory's had so many lousy breaks. She deserves so much more."

Marge nodded. "Whatever happens between them, you don’t have to worry about Reese Conlon. She believes that Marine Corp stuff - including the semper fi."

God, I hope so, Cath thought. She had seen the way her sister looked at the woman.

"I can’t believe how crowded this place has gotten!" Reese exclaimed as she maneuvered the Cape Codder in its tall frosted glass onto the small table in front of Tory. She slid into the seat beside her, nearly draining her own seltzer and lime in one deep draft. "Dancing is quite the experience," she commented. "Thank you for the lesson."

Tory searched for a hint of sarcasm, but found none. "My pleasure," she said, knowing only too well how dangerously true those words were. "You’re a natural. I didn’t do anything except follow your lead. You’ll have to ask my sister to fast dance with you - she’s great."

"No thanks," Reese said emphatically. "You’re more than enough for me. Let her wear Marge out if she can."

Tory couldn’t help but blush, even though she knew perfectly well that Reese wasn’t flirting. She wouldn’t know how to flirt if she wanted to, Tory thought to herself with disgust. You have got to get over yourself with this woman!

"How would you like to have an early dinner?" Reese asked.

Tory hesitated, still searching for calm after the way she had felt dancing. Reese looked so damn handsome with the sun highlighting her blue-black hair and her tanned, golden skin. The fact that she was watching Tory intently didn’t help. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear the woman was asking her out. Her body refused to behave. Her pulse skipped, her stomach fluttered, and there was no denying the wet warmth that pounded insistently between her thighs. Reese excited her, and that was impossible. That way lay disaster. She saw Marge and her sister approaching with relief.

"I can’t," she said, beckoning her head toward the women. "I need to spend some time with my sister."

Reese felt a quick stab of rejection, which made no sense at all! Of course Tory needed to see her sister. Her acute disappointment was embarrassing. She stood abruptly, needing suddenly the comfortable familiarity of her work.

"Of course - I should be going anyway." She looked about to say more, but she simply turned and disappeared into the crowd.

Marge looked after her retreating back in surprise. "Where’s she off to?"

Tory sighed. "To work, would be my guess. Where else?"

Now Marge stared at her in astonishment. What was it with these two? They both looked as if they had lost their last friend.

"Your sister and I were just discussing dinner. You ready for that?"

Tory pushed herself up, reaching for her cane from the back of the chair. "I’m not really hungry. Why don’t you two go? I’ll be at the clinic. You can pick me up later."

She didn’t wait for their reply. She was too preoccupied with the memory of Reese Conlon’s face when she walked away. Despite an attempt to hide it, Reese had looked hurt, and that upset Tory more than she wanted to admit.
 
 

Chapter Fourteen

It was close to two a.m. Reese was parked on the pier, facing Commercial Street, watching the last of the visitors straggle out of town. She was looking for anyone who wasn’t fit to drive.

"Reese? You copy?" the disembodied voice of the night dispatcher called over the car radio.

"I’m here," Reese responded. "Go ahead."

"We just got a request for you to call the East End Health Clinic..."

Reese gunned the engine, flipping on her lights with one hand as she wheeled out into the street. "What’s the situation?" she questioned, her voice tight. "Is it another break-in?" She was two minutes away, and it seemed like an eternity.

"Unknown. Handle as routine."

A call from the clinic at this hour could hardly be routine, and Reese knew it. No one should even be there. It had to be Tory. Reese slammed into the lot, half-way out the door before she even had the car in park. Tory’s Jeep was the only vehicle in sight. She scanned the entire area as she raced toward the door, looking for signs of an intruder. The front door swung open just as she reached the porch. Suddenly Tory was there.

"Reese -" she began.

Reese grasped her shoulders, searching her face intently. "Are you all right?" she questioned hoarsely. She pulled Tory out of the backlit doorway as she peered into the interior of the building, automatically shielding her with her own body.

Tory was momentarily off balance and pressed both hands against Reese’s chest to steady herself. Reese’s body was tightly coiled, shimmering with tension.  "Whoa! Slow down," Tory gasped. "I’m fine." There was a fierceness in Reese’s eyes she had never seen before - a feral intensity that should have been frightening, it looked so dangerous. What Tory felt instead was closer to excitement. The powerful force of Reese’s emotional fervor was stirring.

"Reese," Tory began again, "I’m fine." As she spoke, she grasped Reese’s arms, shaking her lightly to get her attention. "I called you about a patient. Everything is all right."

Reese looked at her then, not yet accepting that she was safe. What she had felt in those few minutes when she thought Tory was in danger was completely foreign to her. Her entire life had been spent preparing for defense - in the military, in the police force, in the dojo. She was trained to confront any threat with the cold calm of a soldier. The gut wrenching near-panic she had just experienced rocked her to the core. For the first time in her life she had felt the iron grip of fear. Without conscious thought she pulled Tory to her. "Jesus," she whispered, "I thought something had happened to you."

The intensity of her embrace was more than Tory could resist, and she yielded to it. She pressed into Reese, her arms slipping around Reese’s waist.

"I’m sorry," Tory murmured, holding Reese tightly. "I only asked that they have you call me." She couldn’t seem to manage any other explanation. It was all she could do to control her own trembling. And it wasn’t from fear, but from shear overwhelming desire. With a soft moan she pressed her lips against Reese’s neck, aching with need. She clung to her while her senses raged, her mind clouded with the escalating physical arousal she couldn't contain. Oh, god, I want you so much. Her nipples stiffened, aching to be touched, and her clit expanded, screaming for contact. Her hips rocked against Reese's hard thigh, desperatelyseeking release.

"Hey, hey," Reese soothed, stroking her back gently. "I didn’t mean to scare you - ." Her own sense of relief was so intense she was shaking.

God almighty, Tory, you can't do this now!! Tory struggled for composure. With more restraint than she thought possible, she pushed away from Reese, breaking the exquisitely agonizing contact .

"Let me catch my breath," Tory said as lightly as she could manage, turning away with effort. She was on fire, and she was seconds away from touching Reese in a way that could leave no doubt about her desire. She was going to make a fool of herself.

"Tory?" Reese questioned, confused by Tory's abrupt withdrawal. She stared after her as Tory moved resolutely down the hall, putting distance between them. Reese felt the separation as more than physical. As close as they had been an instant before, a chasm stretched between them now. The pain of an old wound flickered to the surface for a searing instant, the deeply buried agony of loss. Reese automatically pushed it away. That stoicism had protected her for years and it was second nature to her now. Whatever vulnerable place Tory had unwittingly touched was safely defended once again. By the time Reese followed Tory into her office she felt nothing.

"What happened?" Reese asked.

Tory sat behind her desk, needing to get as far away as possible. She prayed she would be able to look at Reese without revealing her turmoil. Even now she was trembling with the urge to touch her. She took a deep, slightly shaky breath and pulled forth her own defenses. She had called Reese as a doctor, and that’s how she would deal with her. On that level she was safe.

"I just finished suturing a young boy’s forehead," she began, her voice sounding flat to her own ears. "He and his boyfriend were walking back to town along Route six, out near Herring Cove. Apparently they had been up in the dunes -"

"Damn," Reese muttered, intent on Tory’s story. She gave no sign of her own lingering agitation.

"They said a group of men in a truck tried to run them off the road. Someone threw a bottle at them. It struck one boy in the head. He had a nasty scalp laceration. I didn’t think I should wait until morning to tell you, in case the men in the truck are still cruising around looking for trouble." She was finally calm enough to look at Reese, and she caught her breath at the undisguised fury in Reese’s face.

"Where are the boys now?" Reese questioned in a voice taut with anger.

Tory shook her head apologetically. "I couldn’t get them to wait, Reese. I tried. They’re local kids, and they’re scared. They don’t want their parents to know about them."

"God damn it! How am I supposed to protect these kids? They won’t let me!"

Tory had a feeling that some of Reese’s frustration was motivated by her increasing concern for Brianna Parker. She knew that Reese was fond of her, and that their bond was growing as a result of their nearly daily contact in the dojo. And she also had a feeling that the outwardly tough, inwardly sensitive young girl reminded Reese of herself at that age.

"Reese, I know how hard it is for you. I’m sorry. It’s not that they don’t trust you -"

"I know you tried, Tory. You did exactly right in calling me now. Did they give you any details?" She knew better than to ask for their names. She knew Tory couldn’t breach her bond of confidentiality, and she wouldn’t put her in that position. But she felt so powerless!

"It was a pickup truck - dark blue or black. They didn’t get the make. There were at least a couple of men inside. One boy thought the truck had Massachusetts plates. It’s not much to go on."

Reese smiled thinly. "It’s a start. At least I can keep an eye out for similar vehicles, drive through that area a little more often. Maybe my presence will be a deterrent." She sighed. "It’s more than I knew an hour ago. I just hope this isn’t related to the other incidents up the Cape."

Reese studied Tory’s face in the dim light of the desktop reading light. The doctor looked drawn in a way that seemed more than simply fatigue. There was stress lines etched into the fine skin around her mouth and eyes. Her hands were shaking. Reese was aware of the long clinic hours Tory had been keeping since the summer began, but she had never seen her look quite so strained.

"What were you doing here at two o’clock in the morning?" Reese asked.

"I wasn’t here. They called the number I leave posted on the door for emergencies."

Reese stood. "You look worn out. Let me drive you home."

"I’ve got my Jeep. I’m fine."

"I’d feel better if you’d let me drive you - please," Reese said softly. She couldn’t explain it any better to herself. She simply wanted the peace of mind of knowing that Tory was safe at home.

Tory inclined her head in agreement, too exhausted emotionally and physically to argue. "Catherine can drive me to work in the morning," she conceded.

They were silent on the short ride to Tory’s home. Reese pulled up the drive beside the darkened house, flicking off her lights and killing the engine. She turned to face Tory where she sat framed in moonlight. Reese found her both beautiful and unusually vulnerable. Something instinctual stirred in her, a response at once protective and possessive.

"Something happened to me tonight when I thought you were in danger. I was—afraid," Reese confessed quietly. "All I could think was that I had to get to you. Nothing ever mattered so much-" She reached a hand tentatively to touch Tory’s hair.

Tory flinched. "Don’t Reese," she choked. "Don’t touch me right now."

Reese moved closer, her voice husky with concern. "Why? What is it?"

Tory tried unsuccessfully to contain a sob, her own conflicting feelings overpowering her defenses. "Because I want you so much it hurts, and I won’t be able to stand it if you touch me," she said in a strangled whisper. She tried to focus out the window into the darkness, searching for the familiar, anything to keep her from coming apart.

"And you think I don’t want you?" Reese rasped, her breath constricting in her chest. She was leaning so close her words ruffled Tory’s hair. Her stomach churned with emotions so powerful she ached.

"God, Reese, don’t play games with me!" Tory cried, turning to face her at last.

Reese cupped her face gently with both hands, her eyes burning into Tory’s. "I have never been more serious in my life," she breathed softly as her lips found Tory’s.

It was a kiss like none Tory had ever experienced. Questioning at first, tentatively seeking, then bolder as Reese pulled her deep into a swirling vortex of sensation, finally ending in something as tender as a prayer. Tory didn’t feel as if she had been simply kissed; she felt as if she had been worshipped. When Reese lifted her lips away, Tory cried out at the loss. Her hands were twisted in Reese’s shirtfront, and Tory clung to her, gasping.

"Where’d you learn to kiss like that?" Tory said unevenly when she could draw breath again.

Reese laughed shakily, pulling Tory against her chest, burying her face in her hair. "I have no idea where that came from. But I can tell you this. I want to do it again, and I don’t ever want to stop."

"God, you’re beautiful," Tory whispered. "And you’re scaring me to death."

"Why?" Reese questioned gently, pressing her lips to Tory’s forehead. She wrapped her arms around her, wanting to feel all of her near. Reese groaned softly, closing her eyes.

Tory trembled. "I want you to make love to me, Reese - so much I feel as if I’ll come apart if you don’t. And I’m terrified of wanting you so much. You don’t know how you make me feel-"

"I know how you make me feel," Reese said hoarsely, her hands stroking Tory's neck, her collar bones, moving closer to the full curve of her breasts with each caress. "And I know with absolute certainty that I want you."

Tory pushed away from her, although it took every ounce of her will power to do it.  She was shaking with the effort of not touching her. Her lips felt bruised, and she was swollen to the point of pain with desire. But for the sake of what little sanity she had left, she needed time. She knew instinctively that if this woman made love to her, her life would never be the same. "Reese Conlon," she whispered softly, "I do not intend to sleep with you in your patrol car."

Reese laughed unsteadily, grasping Tory’s hands to keep her near, but accepting her unspoken request for time. Every instinct in her body urged her to kiss her again, every cell cried out to touch her, but she would not unless welcomed. She brushed a kiss against Tory’s palm.

"Tell me when I can see you again," she asked frantically.

Tory tenderly brushed the dark locks back off Reese's brow, loath to let her go. "I’ll see you in the dojo, just like always," she said softly as she slipped from the car. "Now go back to work."

She watched until the red taillights disappeared around the bend toward town, fearing that Reese had just left with a piece of her heart.
 
 

Chapter Fifteen

"Are you just getting up, or haven’t you been to bed yet?" Catherine asked as she walked out onto the rear deck. Tory was hunched over in a canvas deck chair, her feet curled up under her. Jed lay beside her, asleep. The dawn was moments old; the tentative shafts of sunlight had yet to dispel the clouds that hung over the harbor. Catherine placed a cup of coffee in her sister’s hand and pulled a chair up beside her. She stretched her legs up to the rail and waited.

Tory sipped the hot brew gratefully, shifting from her cramped position. She must have been there for hours, but she couldn’t recall now what she had been thinking. "What time is it?" Tory asked at length.

"A little after five."

Tory groaned. "So soon?"

"I take it you’ve been out here all night?"

"Not all of it. I had a call about one."

Catherine studied her in silence. The dark circles under her eyes weren’t just from a few hours lost sleep. She had sensed something amiss with her sister since the moment she arrived.

"What’s going on, Tor?" she asked gently.

Tory’s instinctive reaction was to deny any problem. She was horrified to feel her eyes brim with tears. She was just so damn tired - of sleeping alone, of waking alone, of being alone! She passed a trembling hand across her face, desperately searching for composure.

"Talk to me, Tory. Please!" Catherine implored.

"I don’t know where to start," Tory managed.

"Is it work? You know you could use some help here -"

Tory shook her head. "No. I wish it were. That I know how to handle."

"You’re starting to scare me, Sis," Catherine said softly. "You’re not sick, are you?"

"No! No, I’m fine." She laughed a little shakily. "Actually, I’m a mess, but I’m not sick. It’s -oh, God- how can I explain this? It’s a woman. I mean, I’ve met this woman, and -and I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do!"

Catherine regarded her intently. "How long has it been, Tor? Since there’s been someone?"

Tory fought back tears again. She fixed her gaze on the harbor, willing away the memories. "Four years - since K.T. left me."

"I still want to kill her!" Catherine muttered.

"God, I don’t want to do this again!" Tory cried.

"How serious is it?"

"I don’t know! I don’t know anything! I’m not even positive she’s gay!"

Catherine blew out a breath. "That tall, gorgeous cop."

Tory looked at her in surprise. "How did you know?"

Her sister shrugged. "Because for a minute there she made me wish I were gay. She’s charming, and sexy as hell. And because I saw the two of you dancing. She held you like you meant something to her. She held you like she cared."

"Oh, Jesus," Tory sobbed, "now you have made me cry!"

Catherine got up to search for tissues, and returned with the entire pot of coffee. "Here," she said, handing Tory the box of Kleenex. She poured them both more coffee, letting Tory shed the tears she needed to.

"Have you slept with her?" Catherine asked when Tory regained her composure.

"No," Tory admitted softly.

"Want to?"

"I hurt, I want her so badly."

"Jesus, god, Tor - does she know?"

Tory shrugged. "Not exactly. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, and then last night -" Her voice faltered as the memory of Reese’s touch stirred her like a caress.

"What!? Last night what?"

"She kissed me. I mean, we kissed - "

Catherine expelled another long sigh. "That ought to be some indication’s she’s gay, don’t you think?" she queried with just a hint of laughter in her voice. Her laughter died as a haunted look flickered across her sister’s face.

"Tory," she said gently, "tell me what’s really happening here."

Tory’s hands clenched around the clay mug while she struggled for words. Haltingly she gave voice to her fears.

"I haven’t wanted anyone in so long. I don’t mean sex." She looked away, blushing. "Although come to think of it, I haven’t wanted that either. I’ve made a good life for myself here. I’ve been happy. Now all I can think about is her. I can’t look at her without wanting to touch her. It’s like I’m another person. I don’t even recognize myself! Then, when she kissed me! It’s as if I was suddenly living someone else’s life! All I’ve been able to think about was how she made me feel, how her breath brushed against my neck, how her hands seemed to reach inside of me. I’m losing my mind!"

She stared at her sister, her expression agonized. "What if it doesn’t mean anything to her, Cath? What if it’s all a mistake? How will I bury all these feelings again?"

Catherine slid her chair closer, removing the cup from her sister’s unconscious grasp. She took Tory’s hands in hers.

"Tory - honey, you’ve been sleep walking the last four years. You think you’ve been happy, but it’s more like you’ve been numb. Those of us who love you know that. I don’t know a thing about this woman, but for her to move you like this - there has got to be something there. I don’t know if she deserves someone as wonderful as you, or even if she has the good sense to know how lucky she is that you want her. But I could kiss her myself for making you feel this way. God knows, I never want to see you hurt again, but Tory! You’re not in someone else’s life. You’ve just come back to your own!"

"I don’t know if I want these feelings, Cath," Tory whispered. "I’m afraid to trust her, afraid that I’ll be wrong again. I trusted K.T. completely, and I was so wrong!"

Catherine smiled sadly. "Some things we can’t chose,Tory. Sometimes our life just finds us."

Tory was silent a long time. At last she gave her sister a tremulous smile. "I sound like a lunatic, don’t I?"

Catherine laughed. "You sound like a woman mad with lust! What are you going to do?"

Tory grimaced. "I wish I knew. I’m almost afraid to see her again. I’m afraid I might have imagined last night. And I’m just as terrified that I didn’t!"

Catherine chose her next words carefully. "Are you in love with her?"

"I can’t think about that, Cath, I really can’t."

"You might want to before you sleep with her."

"I know," Tory whispered softly.

~

"Brianna! Wait a minute after class, will you," Reese asked when she and the teenager finished their training.

Brianna looked uneasy, but nodded her assent. She followed Reese through the breeze way to the house.

"Sit down," Reese said, gesturing to the stool by the counter. She poured them both orange juice and took a seat next to her student.

"Bri," she began, "has anyone been hassling you, or any of your friends?"

"What do you mean?" Bri mumbled, uncertain of the conversation, still uncertain of any adult. And as fair as Reese had been, she still worked with her father!

"Is anybody giving you a hard time about being gay?"

Bri snorted in disgust. "Shouldn’t you be asking who hasn’t hassled us?"

"How? What are they doing?"

She wasn’t yet ready to believe that Reese was really on her side, as much as she wanted her to be. She tried so hard to be strong, especially when Caroline was with her. She had to be able to stand up for them, didn’t she? Deep inside she feared that if Caroline saw her uncertainty, and her vulnerability, she would leave her. Bri looked at Reese directly for the first time. Reese just looked back at her with eyes filled with concern. Bri took a deep breath, and took a chance. Sometimes it was just too hard to be alone.

"Most of the kids at school who know about us just avoid us. All of a sudden we don’t get invited any where any more. Some of them make noises when we walk by, or call us names under their breath. Nothing you can really call them on. They just make it real clear that we don’t belong. There’s not that many of us - at least not that I know about. Some of the guys are pretty obvious. You know, kind of faggoty. A couple of them have been beat up."

"Who beat them up?" Reese asked, her voice like flint.

Bri shrugged. "Some of the jocks. They were mostly showing off, I think."

"Has anyone bothered you?"

Bri looked away, shaking her head noncommittally.

"Bri?" Reese persisted gently.

"Not exactly. There’s a guy who had the hots for my girlfriend. He tried to push me around once."

Reese forced down the surge of anger. "What happened?"

"I kicked him in the balls."

Reese would have smiled if the situation weren’t so serious, and so intolerable.

"And that was that?"

Bri shrugged again, her expression nonchalant. "So far."

"Have you heard of anyone being followed, or threatened by a bunch of guys in a truck?"

"No." Bri stared at her suspiciously. "What’s going on?"

"I’m not sure anything is going on," Reese admitted. "Two boys were bothered last night by some men in a drive by thing. I’m not sure it was because the kids were gay. But it worries me. Ask around among your friends. If there’s gay bashing going on, I want to know."

"Why?" Bri asked bitterly.

"Because I won’t have it in my town," Reese said darkly.

"Yeah, wells, you’re the only one then."

"I don’t think so, Bri. There are plenty of people who wouldn’t tolerate it, your father included."

"He’s said the only reason the gays and lesbians are welcome here is because it’s so good for business!" Brianna exclaimed.

"Maybe he did say that, Bri, but that doesn’t mean he feels that way himself!"

Reese could tell the young woman remained unconvinced, but she needed to get her message across. "Bri, I want you and your friends to be careful. And I need you all to help me out. If you see or hear of anything happening, please tell me. And you’ve all got to stay out of the dunes at night."

Brianna’s face set in defiance. "Right."

"Bri -"

The teenager stood suddenly, her dark eyes flashing. "You don’t get it, do you? You act like you do, but you don’t. I want to be able to kiss my girlfriend, okay? That’s what it’s about -out there in the dunes - it’s about making love with the person you love. Do you think my father would understand that? What I want to do with my girlfriend? Do you understand?" She turned away, a cry escaping. "If I can’t make a place for us, I don’t deserve to have her!"

Reese laid her hand on the young woman’s shoulder, meaning only to offer some comfort. She was shocked when Brianna turned to her, burying her face against Reese’s chest. Bri was sobbing like a child, but Reese knew she wasn’t. She didn’t need to have experienced it herself to believe that Bri and Caroline were in love. And she had an idea what that meant for a girl like Bri. Bri would need to feel that she deserved Caroline’s devotion, and she would need to feel that she could protect her. Reese hesitated for only a second, then she gently folded the trembling youth in her arms.

"I do understand, Bri," she whispered, rocking her softly. "I understand exactly how you feel." She had only to think of Tory to know how true her words were. Would she do anything differently were she in Bri’s place? "Just give me a chance to keep you safe - please. Just give me a little time."

Bri drew a shaky breath, then stepped away self-consciously. "I’ll talk to my friends. Tell them what you said. Okay?"

Reese nodded, "It’s a start. I appreciate it, Bri. Thanks."

Bri studied her shyly. "I guess you won’t tell me if you’re gay, huh? Some kind of teacher thing."

Reese recalled Marge asking her the same thing, and her inability to give an honest answer. She thought she had a clearer answer now.

"Think of it as a cop thing," she responded lightly. "But you can believe me when I tell you I know what you’re feeling about Caroline, okay?"

Bri grinned. "I guess that’s answer enough."

Reese grinned back. "Get out of here. I’ve got to go to work."

Bri glanced at the clock as she headed for the door. "I guess Tory’s not coming today, huh?"

Reese knew without looking that it was well past the time for Tory to have arrived. She had known for some time now, she just didn’t know what it meant.
 
 

Chapter Sixteen

Tory came fully awake at the first ring of her bedside phone.

"Tory King," she said tersely, her pulse racing. No matter how many hundreds of times she had received these middle of the night calls, she never became immune to the sudden surge of adrenalin, wondering what challenge awaited her.

"Tory, it’s Nelson Parker. I’ve got a situation out here at Race Point, and I need you."

She was already strapping the velcro binders on her leg brace, the phone tucked between her shoulder and her ear.

"What is it?" she asked, reaching for the pair of sweats she had dropped near the bed earlier.

"Can’t say on this line," he replied in a voice taut with strain. "Just get here fast."

The line went dead as Tory tossed the receiver down.

In the middle of the night it took her less than five minutes to reach a barricade of cars crowding the parking lot below the ranger’s station at Race Point. It took her a few minutes longer to convince an unfamiliar officer that she belonged there. Officers, many of them from neighboring townships, were milling about, walkie talkies blaring. There was also an impressive array of weapons on display. The air crackled with tension. Someone finally directed her toward a clump of people crouched behind a large dune at the crest of a hill. The roar of the Atlantic just beyond was unmuted by the noises of the crowd.

She found Nelson peering down toward the beach below with night binoculars.

"Nelson!" she called, shouldering her way toward him. "What’s going on?"

He turned to her, handing the glasses to the man next to him. His face was grim.

"A Coast Guard cutter tried to board a craft running without lights a mile off shore. They were fired upon, and ended up in pursuit. They radiod us for back-up on the beach. Before we knew what was happening, the suspect ship ran aground and began firing on my people. I’ve got an officer down out there on the beach."

Tory fought to draw a breath against the crushing fear that gripped her.

"Is it Reese?" she asked in a voice that sounded foreign to her own ears. The shouts, the crowds, the occasional crack of what must be gunfire receded from her consciousness. All of her awareness fixed on his face, awaiting the words that would change her life.

"It’s Smith," he answered tightly. "Conlon’s right over there."

She looked where he pointed, almost afraid to believe him. When she recognized Reese’s unmistakable form, the rush of relief was so intense her legs threatened to desert her. Thank you God, she thought as she struggled for calm. Reese turned abruptly from the men she had been talking with, crossing the sand toward them with powerful strides.

"Nelson," Reese snapped, her face rigid with anger, "you’re going to have to back me on this. You have jurisdiction here, not the Coast Guard. We’re wasting time Smith may not have." As she spoke she pulled her jacket off and began unbuckling her gunbelt.

Tory looked from one to the other in confusion. Nelson’s face was set as he watched Reese, clearly unhappy. As if she sensed his uncertainty, Reese locked eyes with him.

In a surprisingly gentle voice, she said, "You know it’s the right thing to do. Even by helicopter, the SWAT team is twenty minutes away. I am a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corp. This is what I’m trained for. There’s no one here more fit for this action than me."

He stared at her, then nodded his assent. "At least get a vest," he rasped.

"Right," she said as she stripped off her uniform shirt. The tee shirt she was wearing underneath was stretched taut across her chest as she restrapped her revolver into a shoulder holster.

"What the hell is going on?" Tory demanded. She was staring at Reese with the sinking feeling that she wasn’t going to like the answer. Nelson looked at her as if he had forgotten he had requested her.

"We need to get Smith off the beach," Reese answered in his stead.

"And you’re going to go?" Tory asked, deathly cold gripping her.

"Yes."

Tory looked into the face of a stranger. What she saw there was something ferocious, something dangerous - an invincible conviction she knew men would follow into battle. Everything about Reese, from the set of her shoulders to the piercing focus in her eyes, radiated a sense of certainty and purpose. Tory’s words of protest died on her lips. As much as her mind recoiled from the fear of seeing Reese lying bloodied on that beach, she could not deny the rightness of her going.

"Do not die out there, Conlon," she whispered fiercely to her, stepping close enough that she could have touched her. She didn’t; she was too afraid she might not let go. "Don’t you dare let that happen."

Reese’s face softened for the briefest moment. "I won’t." Looking at Nelson then, her eyes were like ice, her tone unrelenting. "Give me five minutes to circle around behind that line of scrubbrush, then have the Coast Guard lay down a steady barrage of fire on that boat - and don’t quit ‘til I have him under cover of the dunes."

As Nelson brought the radio to his lips, Reese melted into the night. Tory watched her shape fade into shadow while a part of her prepared for the pain she feared was coming. The simple fact that life as she knew it hung in the balance was as clear to her as any truth she had ever known.

"Give me those glasses, Nelson," she demanded.

Wordlessly he handed them to her, motioning to a man next to him to relinquish his. Together they cautiously crept to the top of the last dune and looked down into a nightmare. A large vessel wallowed in the wake just off shore, illuminated by the lights of half a dozen Coast Guard ships ringing the grounded craft. A body lay in the sand twenty yards from the board stairs that led up from the beach. With the night glasses Tory could make out Smith’s features, but she couldn’t tell if he was alive. She could also see the officers crouched in the scant shelter of the stairs. Suddenly the night was ablaze with flashes of light as gunfire erupted across the water. Tory flinched involuntarily, but her eyes never stopped scanning the eerie tableau below. From out of the darkness a shadow raced along the sand, crouched low but clearly vulnerable in the merciless light of the moon. Reese dove and rolled, coming to rest beside the body in the sand. In the next instant she was up, Smith balanced across her shoulders as she sprinted toward the protection of the dunes. Tory saw the flickers of fire from the guns on the outlaw ship, she saw Reese falling, she heard Nelson’s groan beside her.

A scream of protest at the unthinkable exploded from her. Something deep inside of her was shattering, bleeding her soul into the darkness. She hadn’t realized she had started to rise until a firm hand pulled her down. "Let me go!" she raged, blindly clawing at his arm. "Goddamn it, let me go!"

"Tory!" Nelson shouted, shaking her hard. "Tory! She’s up!"

Tory stared back down the slope, unbelieving. Reese crawled toward the cover of the scrubs, dragging Smith with an arm around his waist. Suddenly shapes emerged from the night, surrounding them, shepherding them to safety.

Tory sank to her knees, sobbing softly. The hand on her shoulder shook her again, softly this time. "We need you now, Doctor King."

"Yes," Tory gasped, struggling to stand. "Yes." Squaring her shoulders, she pointed to the emergency vehicles pulled up beside the patrol cars. "Have them brought to me there. I’ll need their equipment."

Smith was the first to arrive, carried on a stretcher by three men and a woman, all in body armor, bristling with weapons Tory scarcely recognized.

"Put him down gently," she cautioned. Looking past them for the other stretcher, she saw no one. "Where’s Conlon?" she asked, her throat painfully tight, her stomach clenching.

"Debriefing the Chief," one of the men grunted.

"Get her over here - no excuses," Tory ordered as she knelt by Smith’s side. She didn’t look up again until she had two IV’s inserted in the large veins just under his collar bones, blood running through both of them, and a compression bandage on the sucking wound in his chest.

"Somebody hand me a number thirty chest tube, on the double," she called. An EMT opened a sterile cut down tray so that Tory could make a one inch incision between Smith's ribs, passing the firm plastic tube into the space around his deflated lung. "Hook this up to a suction pump now," she instructed the woman assisting her. She continued to monitor his pulse and blood pressure as the blood was evacuated through the chest tube. Finally she was satisfied that he was as stable as she could get him.

"Okay, let’s transport. Advise them that they have a GSW to the chest, hemopneumothorax, probable lung injury. He’ll need an open thoracotomy ASAP!"

"Right, Doc," the male EMT replied. "We’re rolling. You want us to send a second squad back for the other one?"

"What’s her condition?"

"Looks like just a flesh wound. She was walking and talking."

"Have her transported to my clinic. I’ll handle her there."

"I’m not sure she’ll leave," he called as he climbed into his vehicle. "It was a struggle just to get a look at her."

"Get going," Tory shouted, fire in her eyes. "I’ll deal with her."

She found them hunkered down behind the dune where she had left Nelson what seemed like another lifetime ago. They were sketching out some kind of map in the sand. The left side of Reese’s shirt was stained dark with blood. Her face was beaded with sweat.

Tory forced herself between them, taking them both by surprise. "You’re done here, Reese. You need medical attention, and you need it now."

As Reese started to protest Tory calmly turned her back.

"Nelson, I’ll have your job for reckless endangerment if you don’t order her to come with me," she informed her good friend.

Nelson’s eyes widened in shock, then he nodded. "Of course, you’re right. Conlon- get your butt out of here."

"Yes, sir," she conceded. She turned to accompany Tory, wincing involuntarily as she became aware of the pain in her side for the first time. She found she couldn’t straighten up, and her legs were a little rubbery. Tory steadied her with an arm around her waist, carefully avoiding the wounded area.

"Thanks," Reese managed.

"Don’t thank me," Tory informed her remotely. She steeled herself against the awareness of Reese’s pain. For now she was only a doctor, and Reese just a patient in need.

~

"Can you get up on the examining table?" Tory asked as she led Reese slowly into the procedure room.

"Yes."

"Get your shirt off then. I need to get the instruments out of the sterilizer."

When she returned Reese was trying hard to sit up straight, but she was obviously in pain. An eight inch gash just below her ribs leaked a steady ribbon of blood down her left side. Tory had never seen her without clothes before, and she noted with clinical detachment the prominent pectoral muscles and etched abdominals of a superbly developed body. Despite her tone and muscle mass, Reese's breasts retained a soft fullness. She embodied the image of a female warrior. Unfortunately, at the moment, she was a wounded warrior.

"Lie down, Reese," Tory murmured as she set up the instrument tray and pulled on sterile gloves. At a glance she could tell the bullet track was tangential to the abdominal cavity, and she automatically relaxed. Although the wound was deep, Reese was not in any serious danger as long as the wound was treated properly and she didn’t get infected.

"How did the bullet get through that vest?" Tory questioned as she began to inject the area around the wound with lidocaine.

"I wasn’t wearing it," Reese replied, breathing deeply as the burning pain began to subside.

"You took it off?" Tory asked, trying to keep the anger from her voice.

"It was slowing me down."

"And the bullet didn’t?" Tory responded acerbically.

"It was a judgement call," Reese answered calmly.

"I see," Tory said, not wanting to admit to herself just how frightened she was by Reese’s willingness to risk her life. She irrigated the wound with Betadiene and saline, cleansing it of clots and debris from Reese’s shirt. The tissues had been separated down into the muscles of her flank, but thankfully there was no deeper penetration. She began to approximate the subcutaneous layers and fascia with absorbable sutures. She concentrated on her work to keep the terrible knowledge of how close Reese had come to death from her mind. If she let that realization sink in, it would incapacitate her.

"Are you angry?" Reese asked quietly into the expressionless green eyes that stared down at her.

"I can’t talk about that now, Reese. Just let me do this."

"Tory-" Reese began, disturbed by Tory’s distant manner. The last time they were together she had held Tory breathless in her arms. Now Tory wouldn’t even meet her eyes. Reese was afraid for the first time that evening.

Silently, ignoring the urgency in Reese’s voice, Tory started on the skin sutures, placing them far enough apart so that the inevitable swelling would not tear them through.

"Please tell me why you’re angry," Reese asked again.

Tory gently taped a compression bandage in place and stripped off her gloves. She threw them at the wastebasket, not caring that she missed. She spun back toward Reese so quickly that Reese jumped. Leaning down, Tory grasped Reese’s shoulders, just managing not to shake her. Her eyes burned into Reese’s, inches away.

"I am angry because you nearly got yourself killed, and willingly at that! I’m angry because it doesn’t seem to occur to you that that would have ruined my life. I’m angry, Reese, because -because-" Her fury evaporated as she saw the confusion in Reese’s face. She was so damn beautiful! "Oh, hell," Tory muttered, doing what she had been wanting to do forever. She kissed her, hard, not caring what it meant, because she had to. Because she wanted to more than anything else in the world.

Reese stiffened in shock, then she was lost. She yielded to the pressure against her mouth, closing her eyes, surrendering to the waves of heat that coursed through her. She felt no pain, except an ache that tore at her more than any bullet ever could. She tried to pull Tory closer, knowing that only her touch could satisfy the longing.

"Ah, Jesus -" she gasped as Tory wrenched away. "Tory, please don’t stop. I need you to- "

Tory pressed trembling fingers to Reese’s lips, drawing a tremulous breath. "This is insane! God, I want you so much!" She took a step back, groping for Reese’s shirt. "Put this on before I totally lose my mind!"

Reese groaned in frustration. "This is killing me! I’d rather be shot!"

Tory laughed grimly. "Don’t tempt me, Conlon! I swear to God I’m not responsible for my actions! Now get dressed. We’re going to my place. You need to rest."

Reese slowly rose to a sitting position, fixing Tory with an icy glare. "What I need, Doctor King, is for you not to run from me every time we kiss!"

Tory slumped against the wall, struggling for words as she watched Reese fumble into her bloody shirt. "I don’t want to. It’s just - I’ve never felt quite like this! And now is certainly not the time for sex! You may not think anything of it, but you’ve just been shot!"

Reese grinned despite herself. "Actually I think quite a lot about it. It hurts like hell. But just now, when you kissed me, all I felt was you." She tried standing, then crossed the distance between them, resting her hands lightly on Tory’s waist. "I’ve missed you. You haven’t been to the dojo all week. I wanted to call, but I didn’t know if you wanted me to. When you touch me - I- it rips holes in my soul."

Tory couldn’t look at her any longer. There was too much wanting in Reese's face. She sidestepped out of her grasp, catching her hand as she did. "Come on. Let me get you out of here. You’re going to crash any minute."

Reese relented, allowing Tory to lead her to the Jeep. As they drove through the night exhaustion finally claimed her. She was asleep by the time Tory pulled into her drive.

~

"Is she asleep?"

"Closer to unconscious," Tory sighed as she leaned against the deck rail. "Let me have one of your cigarettes."

Catherine raised an eyebrow but handed the pack to her sister while they both waited for another imminent sunrise.

"Is she going to be alright?"

"Yes," Tory murmured as she blew out a soft stream of smoke.

"Are you?"

Tory laughed shakily. "I don’t think so."

She took another deep drag on her cigarette, enjoying the acrid bite of the harsh fumes. It suited her disquieting unrest. "I don’t know what I’m going to do about her."

"You know, Tor, there’s something really spooky about her."

Tory looked at her sister in surprise. "What do you mean?"

Catherine stared out over the harbor, her voice pensive. "I had the strangest experience just now - when I was helping you put her to bed. I have never seen anyone quite so beautiful. I mean, it was like looking at a painting of some ancient goddess-warrior queen or something. I was standing there, staring at this naked woman like an idiot, when she opens her eyes and looks right at me. ‘Thank you" was all she said, and I thought my heart would break. She seemed so innocent. She reminded me of my children. Not their helplessness, but their untarnished goodness. But that can’t be, can it? There aren’t any adults like that! Tell me, Tor, what do you see?"

Tory smiled softly as she reflected on the woman asleep upstairs in her bed. "She is the most infuriatingly noble person I have ever met. She believes in doing the right thing," her voice caught and she brushed impatiently at the tears clinging to her lashes, "even if it kills her."

She stubbed the cigarette out carefully, continuing in a quiet tone, "And that is as near to innocence as you can get."

"It would be hell to be in love with her," Catherine ventured.

"Yes."

"It’s hard not to fall in love with her," Catherine laughed.

"Impossible."

"This place can’t always be so dangerous, can it? I mean, what’s the chance she’ll ever get shot again?"

Tory shuddered at the thought. "Cath, she is going to ride out on her white charger every day of her life, and if it isn’t her body in danger, it will be her heart. She has layers of armor, but one kid in trouble tears her apart."

"Anybody with half a brain would stay away from her," Catherine concluded.

"Yes."

"You know what the real problem is with people like her? The heroes - well, heroines, I guess."

"What?" Tory asked.

"They’re so single-minded. Everything is either black or white. Like with love - it has to be this grand passion, you know? Nothing halfway. Mate for life, die in the name of it..."

"Don’t, Cath," Tory warned.

"Why not, big sister? Are you scared that you might love her?"

"Yes," Tory shouted, the terror and strain of the last six hours finally erupting. "Yes I’m scared! Because I’ve known her three months, and I’ve kissed her exactly twice, and she’s claimed some essential place in me. I cannot imagine what life would be like without her. The last four years - even the time with K.T.- seem like pale imitations compared to what she stirs in me! Now tell me I haven’t lost my mind!!"

Catherine slipped an arm around Tory’s shoulders, hugging her in the chill morning air. "You have lost your mind. That’s what happens when you fall in love."

"I’ve been in love - I loved K.T. with all my heart. But this! This is too much. She is too goddamned much! This isn’t my heart we’re talking about, this is my soul! I could lose myself here, Cath. When I saw her go down tonight, I thought she was dead. I felt something inside of me begin to die, too. That terrifies me, Cath. I can’t let this happen."

"Yes, I know," Catherine rejoined softly. "But what’s your alternative?"

"I don’t know."

As a brilliant sun broke through the cloud cover, the two sisters stood in silence, wearily awaiting the new day.
 
 

Chapter Seventeen

Reese lay with her eyes closed, listening to Tory breathe. She took cautious stock of her body. Her side throbbed, but when she carefully stretched, it didn’t feel any worse. She continued to ease her long limbs out until she turned onto her side. She opened her eyes, and studied the woman beside her. Tory was wearing a light tee shirt and loose green scrub pants. The tanned flesh of her smooth abdomen was exposed where the shirt had rolled up. One hand rested on her thigh, the other on the bed between them. Her breasts stretched the front of the thin cotton, rising gently with each breath. Her wavy hair was spread out over the pillow, a few wisps clinging to her cheek. Reese caught the loose strands with one finger, lightly brushing Tory’s cheek as she did. Tory smiled slightly in her sleep. Reese couldn’t remember ever being this close to another human being. She laid her hand against the bare skin of Tory’s abdomen, rewarded by a flicker of muscle and a soft sigh from the sleeping woman. Warmth spread up her arm, and she tightened deep within. Leaning on her uninjured side, she watched Tory’s face in wonder as she gently stroked the curve of her rib. Tory’s lips parted as Reese reached the swell of her breast, and when Reese’s hand closed around the sensitive mound, Tory gasped. Her delicate lids fluttered, then opened as insistent fingers caught her nipple in a teasing caress.

"Oh!" Tory moaned, searching the face so near hers. Hazy blue eyes swallowed her whole. "Reese," she murmured brokenly as the hand slid to her other breast. Her back arched in response to this new sensation. "Oh god, wait -"

"No," Reese stated, her breath quickening with Tory’s, "I won’t." She lowered her lips to the taut nipple her exploring hand exposed, catching it lightly in her teeth. Tory’s hands came into Reese's hair, holding her there, as the breath fled from Tory’s chest.

Reese’s fingers stroked the quivering flesh of Tory’s abdomen as her mouth moved from one breast to the other. Blood rushed in her head, and the inner tension coiled tighter with each groan from Tory’s throat.

"Oh please, Reese - stop," Tory moaned, knowing she could no more push her away than she could stop breathing. Her control was shattered, and her need so powerful! Her legs twisted against the sheets, wetness soaking through the light cotton of her scrub pants.

"Never," Reese rasped, raising her head, capturing Tory’s emerald gaze with her own. "Not this time. Not ever."

Tory stared back into eyes full of fire and promise, unable to look away as her body became not hers, but something Reese commanded with the slightest of caresses. Her vision grew cloudy as a long-fingered hand stole beneath the ties of her pants. She whimpered, aching, when fingers brushed over the fine hair at the base of her belly. For a second she couldn’t breathe at all. She clenched her jaws to keep from crying out. Her hips rose of their own accord, seeking that elusive stroke.

Gasping, she turned her face away. "Reese, if you touch me I’ll explode-" oh god, you're going to make me come

"Look at me, Tory," Reese demanded softly, her fingers caressing the velvet inner thighs, allowing her fingertips to stray into the heat. She parted the soft folds, teasing the delicate moist lips surrounding the distended clit.

"Oh, god," Tory sobbed, surrendering to those eyes. Her pelvis lifted, the muscles in her thighs tightening. When finally Reese stroked the length of her clitoris, pressing the stiff shaft, she came instantly. She could no more stop the scream than she could halt the eruption that rocketed through her. Her last conscious sensation was of Reese’s mouth claiming hers as her body convulsed.

~

An insistent tapping at the door roused her. Tory reached for a sheet to cover Reese’s nakedness. She was still in her clothes, although the scrub pants pushed down on her hips reminded her guiltily of her earlier abandon. Reese slept soundly beside her, one arm encircling her waist possessively. Tory quickly scanned the gauze taped to Reese’s side, noting with relief that there was no sign of fresh bleeding

"Tory?" Catherine called softly.

"Come in, Cath," Tory answered, straightening her clothes hastily.

If Catherine was surprised by the sight of her sister holding the woman she had only hours before claimed was "too much" for her, she didn’t show it. She simply crossed the room to stand by the bed, whispering urgently, "There’s a horde of people downstairs threatening to come up here if they don’t get a progress report on your, uh, ‘patient'." She couldn’t hide her grin. "This might strike them as unorthodox treatment."

"It strikes me that way, too," Tory said with real concern.

"Well, ease your conscience, Doctor," Reese said, opening her eyes. "It wasn’t your idea." She flashed Catherine a smile, who grinned back. "Who are they?"

"Your boss, two kids who look like punk rockers, and your family."

"My family?" Reese repeated uncertainly.

"Your mother and her lover."

Reese started to rise. "I better get down there."

"Not so fast," Tory ordered, swinging out from under the sheets. "I need to check you over first." She tossed her sister a stern look. "Tell them I’ll be with them in a minute."

Reese started to protest, then thought better of it when she saw the look on Tory’s face. She lay back quietly with a sigh. Catherine decided her sister was not in the mood for levity and made a hasty retreat.

"This looks fine," Tory said as she inspected the wound. "How do you feel?"

"Like a million bucks," Reese responded, unable to contain a grin. Tory glared at her. "Okay, it stings like hell, but I don’t feel too bad." She grasped Tory’s hand, suddenly serious, "Tory-"

Tory extracted her hand to reach for new bandages, determinedly avoiding eye contact. "You ambushed me this morning, Conlon." She bent her head to work on the dressings.

Reese slipped a hand into Tory’s hair, stroking it back from her face, running her palm along the edge of her jaw. "I didn’t mean to," Reese whispered, tracing one finger down the side of Tory’s neck. "You are so beautiful. I had to touch you, and then nothing could have stopped me."

"You’re doing it again," Tory choked, finally looking at Reese. Her eyes were hazy, almost wounded with desire.

"Can’t help myself," Reese murmured, her hand behind Tory’s neck, pulling her near for a kiss.

Tory placed both arms straight against the bed on either side of Reese, stopping her forward descent. "Neither can I, it seems," she groaned, "but one of us has to. Please stop."

"I can’t look at you without wanting you," Reese confessed, not loosening her hold. Every fiber of her body was taut with nearly unbearable tension.

Tory laughed shakily, "God, I’m glad. But if you don’t take your hands off me this minute I will not be responsible for my actions, and you’re in no condition for what I want to do to you. Besides that, we’re likely to have an audience if we’re not downstairs soon."

"Tory," Reese implored, her breath constricting in her chest, "just kiss me—please."

Tory couldn’t have resisted the plea in her eyes if twenty men trooped into the room. She took Reese's mouth with bruising authority, shocked by her own possessiveness. Reese opened to her, her whole body pressing urgently upward. When Tory’s hand claimed her breast, fingers squeezing hard on the erect nipple, Reese groaned, shuddering convulsively. Unbelievingly, Tory felt a rolling tide of tremors rage through the woman in her arms. She raised her head, stunned, as Reese clung to her, shaking.

"Ah, god-" Reese gasped, collapsing against the pillows. "One kiss and I’m wasted."

"Did what I think just happened really happen?" Tory asked in wonder.

Reese smiled shyly. "It seems to be happening every time we touch."

Tory’s mouth was dry, her head pounding. "Every time?"

"This morning, with you- "

"Oh my god," Tory said, shocked. "You’re incredible - in fact, you’re dangerous. You are definitely not safe on the streets of Provincetown." She brushed her fingertips over Reese’s face in awe, amazed by the feelings just looking at her inspired. "I’m getting up, because if I don’t I’m going to make love to you for the rest of the day."

"Don’t think I’m going to let you forget that!" Reese warned.

~

Conversation stopped, every eye in the room on Reese when she walked out onto the deck. She was wearing a pair of Tory’s jeans and a frayed cotton shirt, both of which were a little snug. Tory hoped no one was looking her way, because she was afraid what she was feeling might show on her face. Reese had to be the most captivating woman she had ever seen, and the most desirable. The urge to touch her was physically painful. To her great consternation, when Reese smiled at her, she blushed.

"Are you all right, darling?" Kate asked anxiously.

"I am, Mother. Just fine."

Kate looked to Tory, uncertain whether to believe her daughter. She was in time to catch the look that passed between the two of them. She was first surprised, then immensely pleased. She relaxed perceptibly, as she added, "Jean and I just had to be sure."

"Doctor King is taking very good care of me."

Tory blushed a deeper crimson as Reese grinned rakishly at her. I’m going to kill her for this! Tory thought.

Mercifully, Nelson spoke, dispelling the silence and drawing Reese’s eyes from her. "The doctors say Smith is going to be okay, too. Thanks to the both of you. You sure you’re okay?"

"Yes, sir. I’m fine."

"There’s been a lot of calls from reporters. This is big news. They’re camping out over at your place. I‘d stay clear of there for a few days."

"She can stay here," Tory responded.

"Good," Nelson rejoined. "So I’ll see you in five or six days."

"Excuse me?" Reese asked in confusion.

"The Doc said you’d be okay for desk duty next week."

"Desk duty?" She turned to Tory in astonishment. "Desk duty!!"

"What I actually said was that you might be ready for desk duty next week," Tory replied stonily. Her expression suggested any further discussion from either of them would be extremely unwise.

"Right," Reese conceded, deciding to fight this particular battle another day. Nelson seemed satisfied that his irreplaceable second in command was in good hands. "You coming, Bri?" he asked as he turned to leave.

"I want to talk to Reese. I’ve got my motorbike."

"Well, be careful with that damn thing if you’re carrying a passenger," he admonished with a nod toward Caroline.

Bri gave her father a look which suggested he had just insulted her. The stiffening of her shoulders and the tilt of her chin reminded Tory of Reese. Oh Lord, not another bull-headed baby butch!

"I’m always careful, especially when I’m carrying Caroline," Bri replied as if her father should know better than to suggest otherwise.

It was his turn to look confused. He was rescued by Tory’s suggestion that they all go inside and have some lunch. Nelson declined, but Reese’s mother and Jean offered to lend a hand. They followed Tory inside.

"I’ll be right there," Reese said. Turning to the two young women she asked, "What’s up?"

The instant her father started down the path to his car, Bri clasped Caroline’s hand. Her eyes were smoldering with anger. "Someone’s been bothering Caroline," she seethed.

Reese nodded seriously. "Sit down. Start at the beginning."

"At first I didn’t pay much attention," Caroline informed her. "There were some notes pushed into my locker - the usual stupid stuff."

"What did they say?" Reese asked.

Caroline glanced at Bri, uncomfortable. Reese waited. With a sigh, Caroline recounted, "They just called me names. You know, like dyke and queer. Then last week—" She hesitated again, and Bri stared at her suspiciously.

"What? Is there something you didn’t tell me?" Bri asked.

Caroline nodded, looking miserable. "Someone wrote if I knew what was good for me I’d get rid of Brianna and find a man. Otherwise they’d show me what I was missing. And now I think someone is following me."

"Motherfuckers," Bri swore, dropping Caroline’s hand as she stormed across the deck. She grasped the railing with all her strength to hide the trembling. Caroline started to follow, close to tears. Reese motioned for her to wait.

"Your anger is just," Reese said when she joined Bri at the rail. "But if you let it, it will make you weak. If you don't control it, it will strike anyone in its path. You will hurt those who love you."

"I want to kill them!" Bri choked, struggling for air.

"I know," Reese said.

"When I think about someone hurting her," Bri said, "I can’t stand it! I think I’ll go crazy!"

"Yes," Reese agreed. "But you can’t. You cannot afford to be defeated by words, or threats, or your own undisciplined emotions. You are being tested, Brianna. It’s not fair, and it’s not just, but that is beside the point. I’m going to need your help, but more importantly, Caroline needs you."

Bri glanced over at her girlfriend, who was watching them anxiously. Just the sight of her made her heart catch, the joy almost like pain. She wanted so much to deserve Caroline's love. Bri straightened her shoulders, drew a deep breath, and crossed the deck to her.

"I’m sorry," Bri whispered, as she sat beside Caroline, slipping an arm about her waist. Caroline kissed her neck, murmuring reassurances against her skin.

"Okay, let’s have the rest of it," Reese directed.

As Caroline was finishing her story, Tory reappeared from the house. She looked at the two young women, both of whom were looking scared. At first glance they looked tough enough in their leather pants, silver arm bracelets, ear cuffs, and punk hair cuts. She thought that Bri had a tattoo on her upper arm that hadn’t been there before as well. But she could tell from the way Caroline pressed against Bri’s side and the cold set to Reese’s features that something was wrong.

"What’s going on?" Tory asked.

Reese said a few more words that Tory couldn’t hear as Bri and Caroline rose to leave. Tory waited until they were out of ear shot before she asked again, "Trouble?"

Reese nodded as she joined Tory. "I think so. I’ll tell you when we’re alone."

Tory noted Reese’s uncharacteristically slow approach. "You’re in pain, aren’t you?"

"Some," Reese admitted reluctantly. "Is my mother still here?"

"They’re in the kitchen. I really think she just wanted to see that you were all right, but come have something to eat. Then you’re going back to bed."

Reese followed her, wondering how she was going to tell her that she needed to go to work. Just as they entered the dining area, Catherine turned to them with the phone in her outstretched hand.

"Somebody wants to talk to Colonel Conlon --- won’t take ‘no’ for an answer," she announced with an edge to her voice.

Reese took the phone. "This is Colonel Conlon." She straightened unconsciously as she listened, her face unreadable. "Yes, sir - that’s correct sir. ... In my opinion it was the best course of action, yes sir.... He’s going to live, sir. ... I’m fine, sir, just a scratch."

She looked over at her mother, who was watching her intently. "She’s here, yes sir. ... No sir, I’m staying at the doctor’s.... Victoria King, yes sir."

Her fingers tightened on the phone, her blue eyes darkening. "Are you sure you want me to answer that, General? It seems to me it’s specifically against regulations to ask questions of that nature." Her eyes met Tory’s, and held them fiercely. "I won’t deny it. I won’t deny her, sir."

After a moment, she slowly replaced the receiver. Every face looked at her questionly. She spoke into the silent room.

"That was my father. Apparently he has very good intelligence sources." She looked at her mother sympathetically. "I appreciate what you must have gone through. He just threatened to have me court-martialled if I admitted to a relationship with Victoria."

"Can he do that?" Catherine exclaimed, clearly shocked.

Reese shrugged. "If he wants a very messy, very public trial. I’m an attorney, and he knows me well enough to know I would never give up my commission without a fight. I think he was just testing."

Despite her calm tone, Tory could see the conversation had taken a toll. Reese was pale and her forehead was dotted with perspiration. There was a fine tremor visible in her hands. Tory went to her, taking Reese's hand. "You need to be in bed. I never should have let you up as it is. Come upstairs."

"I’m afraid Tory is going to have her work cut out for her," Kate observed as she watched her daughter reluctantly follow Tory upstairs. "Reese has very few of her father’s bad qualities, but she does get her stubbornness from him." She pointedly ignored the snort of disbelief from her lover.

"My sister can handle her, I’m sure," Catherine stated as she accompanied Reese’s mother and her lover out to their car. "I’m glad I’m going to be here to see it. My kids will be with their grandparents until school starts, and my husband is on retreat at Kripalu."

"It should help that Reese appears to be in love with her. Is Tory aware of that?" Kate asked.

Catherine hesitated, not sure just how to discuss this with Reese’s mother.

"Oh, I don’t want you to betray any confidences," Kate assured her. "I couldn’t be happier."

"I think cautious would be the word to describe my sister at the moment," Catherine responded, hoping fervently that Kate was right about Reese’s feelings. Because it was painfully clear that Tory was hopelessly in love with the handsome, hardheaded cop, regardless of how she tried to deny it.

"I have no doubt that given time Reese will prove herself to her."

"Will her father really make trouble for Reese?" Catherine asked in concern.

"I doubt it, not after Reese made it clear she would fight it. Roger was always too ready to use his power for personal gain, unlike Reese, who is inherently valiant. She does what she does because she believes service is the highest form of honor. He would not want his own reputation tarnished. He could pass off a lesbian wife as some acquired perversion on my part, but a daughter?" She laughed, "How fate has conspired against the man!"

"Obviously, Reese got her good parts from you."

For a moment Kate looked pained. "I wish I could take the credit, but I believe Reese has simply taken what was once commendable about the military to heart. She is proud to be a soldier." She looked away for a moment, then smiled faintly. "And I’m proud she is, too."

"Call me if you need us for anything," Kate called as she pulled away.

Catherine hoped that they had had all the excitement they were going to see for one summer, but a nagging voice told her that August was going to be a long month.
 
 

Chapter Eighteen

"Are they all gone?" Tory asked cautiously as she ventured out onto the deck. She found Catherine stirring a pitcher of margaritas and nearly wept at the sight. "God, am I ready for one of those!"

"We are alone at last," Cath informed her, handing her a drink. "And how is the famous patient?"

Tory blushed. "Out like a light. I can’t get her to take any narcotics, and I think the pain is wearing her out." She sank into the canvas deck chair with a sigh. "I’m wondering if I shouldn’t send her to Boston for follow-up."

Catherine looked at her in surprise. "I thought you said she was going to be fine?"

"She is - but I’m sleeping with her for God’s sake!"

"I was meaning to ask you about that," Catherine said teasingly. "Just how did that come about? I got the sense this morning - or was it last night - that you weren’t quite ready for that."

"Who says I’m ready? It just happened. Well, actually she seduced me. Oh, hell. I’ve been wanting her for weeks."

"Is she as good as she looks like she’d be?"

"Jesus, Cath!"

"Well, you said she’d never been with a woman. Naturally I’m curious!"

"Naturally." Tory remarked sarcastically. "She is far better than she looks, if you can imagine that! It’s got nothing to do with how she makes love-" She stopped, blushing as she remembered their brief interlude just an hour before. "Well, of course, there’s that-"

"Of course."

"I just meant there’s so much more to it than that. Oh, I can’t explain it! She just has to look at me and I’m ready. So you can obviously see my judgement is impaired. Now you can see why I shouldn’t be treating her."

Catherine laughed. "Tor, your brain is still functioning, even if the rest of your circuitry is shorted out. Don’t worry about it - you’re not doing anything wrong. If you two had been together for years and this had happened, you’d feel perfectly comfortable looking after her."

"It’s not the medical issue I’m worried about," Tory confessed. "I’m afraid to send her back to work. I’m afraid of her work. Last night I saw her get shot. I thought I had seen her killed. I didn’t realize until that moment how much she means to me. Now we’ve made love, Cath. She’s opened the door to places I’m not even sure I wanted to know about. God, I don’t even know if she loves me, and I’m terrified of losing her!"

"Tor," Catherine said gently, "I can’t imagine how horrible last night was for you. The woman you’re crazy over almost got herself killed. Everything must seem shaky right now. You’re exhausted. Go upstairs, lie down beside her, and try to sleep. I just want to remind you of one thing. Ten years ago when you were lying in a hospital bed, none of us ever wanted to see you in a scull again - because we had almost lost you. Now every day I pray that you will someday row again, because you love it and you need it. If Reese weren’t the woman she is- the cop, the soldier - you wouldn’t love her. I don’t imagine loving her will be easy, but I can see that you do. You can’t change that, any more than you can change her."

Tory brushed tears of fatigue and fear from her face, offering her sister a tremulous smile. "I’ll admit she’s captivated my attention, but I’m going to try to look at this as a momentary loss of reason. I’m not ready for love, especially with someone as dangerous as Reese Conlon! If she doesn’t get herself killed, she’s bound to have every woman on the Cape chasing her after this!" she proclaimed.

"Go!" Catherine ordered, thinking that the woman upstairs was just what her sister needed. She knew instinctively what her sister fought to accept. They were already inextricably involved.

~

"I’m awake," Reese said as she lay watching Tory undress in the late afternoon sunlight. A cool ocean breeze wafted through the thin blinds on the open window, streaming across her own nakedness.

"You’re not supposed to be," Tory commented as she reached for a tee shirt, her back to the bed.

"You don’t need that," Reese called softly. Her voice was husky, and unmistakably seductive.

Tory hesitated for a second as heat rushed into her belly, making her legs weak. Then, resolutely, she pulled the thin cotton over her head as she crossed to the bed. This was ridiculous! Reese needed to rest, not get twenty years of sexual experience in a single day!

"I’m beat, and I have no idea why you’re still able to form sentences. So, please, just - meditate or something, but for God’s sake get some sleep."

She lay down and purposefully faced away from Reese.

"I will," Reese assured her, turning so the length of her body pressed against Tory’s back. She slipped her hand under the tee shirt to clasp the soft swell of breast. She slowly pressed her lips along the bare skin from Tory’s shoulder up the side of her neck. "In just a minute," she whispered into Tory’s ear. With one hand she raised Tory’s head enough to catch the corner of her mouth with an exploring tongue. Tory hadn’t moved but she couldn’t resist opening her lips to admit Reese’s tongue. Reese groaned, cleaving harder to Tory as she tried to get even deeper into the woman whose very presence kindled a twisting fire in her.

Tory felt Reese surge against her, even as her own body began to pound in response. She didn’t have the strength to resist her, but this time she would set the tempo. Reese was already moving on the razor’s edge of excitement. Oh, no - you're not coming yet. You need to learn a little patience. She pushed away, turning until she was facing Reese, who stared at her in innocent confusion.

"What’s wrong?" Reese managed. She had been soaring, her entire body sensitized by Tory's nearness.

"Don’t think you’re getting off that easy this time, Conlon," Tory warned. She pushed Reese gently but commandingly onto her back. "Don’t move, don’t talk, don’t do anything. This time I’m in charge."

As she spoke she rose to her knees, pulling the tee shirt over her head, tossing it into the corner. Reese’s eyes widened as she surveyed the woman above her, following the soft curves fusing into firm muscle, the sweeping planes and angles, the interplay of strength and grace that she had sensed these many weeks. Seeing Tory now, Reese could not have imagined the beauty.

"Oh, god, Tory- let me touch you," she whispered, her throat dry.

"Quiet," Tory said softly, smiling at Reese’s response. She had never felt so powerful, or quite so sensual. Reese’s obvious desire fueled her own. She wanted to take her time, she wanted to explore every fiber of Reese’s being. She wanted Reese to feel her in every inch of her body. Tory leaned to touch her, her breasts just out of reach of Reese’s lips. Her fingers lingered on the full brows, tracing each bold arch. She followed the sharp ridge of cheekbone and strong angle of jaw with her hands. She lowered herself until her hardened nipples, achingly taut, brushed across Reese’s lips, then pulled back just as Reese touched them with her tongue. She gasped at the swift shiver of arousal, smiling as Reese groaned in frustration at her withdrawal.

"You’re killing me," Reese pleaded.

"You’ll live," she answered throatily.

Bending once again, Tory licked the sweet sheen of sweat in the hollow of Reese’s throat, and tasted the mist of moisture that ran down the center of her elegantly muscled chest. With the flat of her hand she stroked the hard planes of Reese’s abdomen, exulting in the quivering response to her touch. She brought her face close to the damp hair between Reese's thighs, breathing her scent, feeling the heat rising from her. As Tory indulged her senses, Reese moaned, lifting her pelvis, her leg muscles straining, urging Tory wordlessly to touch her. Tory held her there, feeling her tremble with urgency, as she breathed a kiss across her clitoris, barely touching the reddened tip. Reese whimpered at the fleeting contact. Tory kissed it again – then drew away.

"Oh, lick me, please - oh god, please Tory," Reese begged.

Her own answering surge of excitement nearly pushed her to orgasm. She had to fight to keep from pressing her aching clit against Reese’s tight thigh. "Not yet, baby, not yet," she whispered, ignoring the warning twitches from her distended clit, running her tongue over the soft skin of Reese’s inner thigh.

Only when Reese sobbed her name again, almost incoherent, did she take Reese into her mouth. She sucked her lips, her stiff clit. Tory expected it to be fast, but she wasn’t prepared for the force of the contractions that exploded under her tongue. She grasped Reese’s hips, clinging to her as she accepted each forceful thrust like a gift, absorbing the essence of Reese's passion with all of her senses. For long moments she knew nothing but the strangled cries, the taste of love, the quivering flesh. Only when she felt the tension ebb did the awareness of anything other than the pounding of her own heart penetrate her consciousness. She hadn't even been aware of her own orgasm until she felt the lingering spasms in her clit.

"Reese?" she questioned gently as she moved along side her. Reese was so still, one arm flung over her face, that Tory was frightened. "What is it?"

The breath caught in her throat when Reese turned to her, her expression so wounded Tory thought she had hurt her. She gathered her into her arms, cradling Reese's face against her breasts. "Oh god, sweetheart, what’s wrong?"

"I never imagined this," Reese murmured, her voice breaking. "I never imagined anyone touching me this way. Now I can’t imagine you not touching me." She turned away, afraid of what need might show in her face. For the first time in her life, she felt exposed and uncertain.

Tory pressed her face against Reese’s hair, holding her firmly. She could feel her tremble and it nearly broke her heart. This warrior woman who would face death without a qualm was suddenly so vulnerable that Tory was overwhelmed with the terrible power of their passion. It frightened her more than anything she had ever known. "It’s all right, Reese," she whispered, stroking her softly. "I won’t hurt you."

Reese lay silent, knowing that Tory was the one person on earth with the power to destroy her. All she need do was send Reese away, and she would be lost. Tory had given life to needs that could never be met by another. As clearly as she knew this, Reese knew that she wanted her, regardless of the cost. Placing her fate in Tory’s hands, she slept.
 
 

Chapter Nineteen

Two nights later, Tory returned from the clinic close to eleven p.m. Reese’s Bronco was parked in the drive. Tory stared at it, a mixture of fury and fear warring in her mind. She knew Reese had been fretting with boredom for days, but she still had sutures in, and Tory had told her specifically that she was not ready to drive.

Cath heard the front door slam and steeled herself.

"Where’s Reese?" Tory asked by way of greeting, her voice like flint.

"Uh, upstairs I think," Cath uttered. This is going to be worse than I thought

"Did you get her truck for her?"

"No, Marge did," Reese replied as she walked into the kitchen. She had her badge pinned to the pocket of her denim workshirt, and wore a pair of blue jeans. She was easing into the shoulder strap of her holster as she spoke. She smiled softly at Tory in welcome. "Hi."

Tory ignored the greeting, too angry to acknowledge how much she had missed Reese during the day. "Are you seeing a physician I don’t know about?"

"Of course not!" Reese responded in surprise.

"Then who cleared you to work?"

"I’m not working. I’m just going to drive around the dunes for a few hours, unofficially."

"With a gun, in the middle of the night?" Tory’s hands were clenched, and she fought down the urge to throw things. Reese just stared at her, clearly astounded by her reaction.

"Did Nelson approve this?" Tory asked harshly.

"No, I’m doing it on my time."

"The hell you are," Tory responded curtly, walking toward the phone. "If you won’t follow my orders as your physician, I’ll have Nelson suspend you. You can see another doctor tomorrow."

"Tory," Reese said gently, halting her with a hand on her arm. "Just hear me out, and then if you don’t want me to, I won’t go out."

Tory turned from the phone reluctantly, her jaw clenched. She nodded her head sharply for Reese to go ahead.

"Someone is after kids, Tory - our kids. Bri told me there have been other incidents of gay boys and lesbians being verbally hassled on their way to or from the dunes. Caroline has seen a black pick-up cruising out there, and she thinks once or twice it’s followed her home after she’s been with Bri. The kids are in danger, Tory. I just want to be seen out there, and let whoever’s doing this know that I know. Maybe that will be enough to put an end to this before someone gets hurt."

"It doesn’t have to be you, Reese," Tory argued, "not now, not when you’re not even healed. Call Nelson. Tell him what’s going on. He can have someone else patrol the dunes."

"I can’t, not for a few more days. Bri promised me she would tell Nelson about her and Caroline. I told her I’d give her a week. Even if Nelson knows, without me and Smith, he doesn’t have enough personnel to cover the town and step up patrol in the dunes. Since we don’t even have an official complaint, there’s no way he’s going to pull someone off the streets now. Neither would I. There’s no one else to do it. I’ll only be out a few hours." It was so clear to Reese what needed to be done. Surely Tory would see that.

"Damn it, Reese," Tory cried, "you’re not fit for duty. If you’re out there, anything could happen!" She turned away abruptly, not wanting Reese to see the fear in her face. Wordlessly, she walked out onto the deck, leaving Reese staring after her.

Catherine spoke quietly from the corner of the room. "My sister isn’t used to talking about her fears. She’s gotten used to dealing with her terror and her pain alone. First she lost her Olympic career, and she nearly lost her leg. Then she lost the woman she had believed she would spend her life with. She can’t take any more loss in her life, Reese. She was watching you through the night glasses the other night. She saw you get shot, she thought you had been killed. She’s terrified. She’s terrified of loving you, and she’s terrified of losing you."

"I don’t want to hurt her - she doesn’t just matter to me, she means more to me than I thought possible." Reese swallowed, forcing herself to say the next words. "I’ll leave her alone if you think I should." Catherine could never know what anguish those words cost her.

Catherine shook her head, laughing softly. "You don’t know much about women, do you, Reese?

"I don’t know anything about any of this," Reese responded quite seriously. "I only know what I feel for her. And it’s everything that I have."

"I can see how much you care. She needs you, Reese. Just go to her. Follow your instincts. They’ve been right so far."

Reese smiled her thanks, turning toward the woman highlighted in moonlight on the deck. "Tory," she said, slipping her arms around the still figure from behind, cradling Tory’s body gently against her. "I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you first. I need a little practice at this. Forgive me?"

Tory grasped the hands that circled her waist, stroking the tender flesh of Reese’s palms. "This is so damn typical of you. I know you believe you have to do this. I keep trying to tell myself you’re right -"

"But?" Reese questioned, pressing her cheek to Tory’s hair, sliding a kiss against the soft skin at her temple.

Tory shivered at the touch. "But my heart keeps saying it doesn’t have to be you. Let someone else do it. Let someone else’s lover be the one in danger. Let someone else get hurt." Her voice trailed off in a nearly inaudible sob.

Reese tightened her hold until there was nothing between them but the night. "It has to be me because that’s what I do - that’s who I am," she whispered with absolute certainty.

Tory nodded imperceptibly, not wanting to disturb their union. "I know that - it’s one of the reasons I -" She stopped before she gave voice to feelings whose consequences she wasn’t ready to accept. "I don’t think I’m strong enough for this, Reese," she finished miserably, starting to move away. Reese tightened her hold.

"I can’t promise you I won’t get hurt, Tory," Reese continued, unwilling to let Tory withdraw from her. "But I can promise you that I will never put myself in a situation I’m not trained for, and I can promise you that every day of my life, I’ll be here for you, if you let me."

Tory turned in Reese’s arms, reaching behind her to clasp her close. She pressed her forehead into Reese’s hard chest, clamping down on the desire that flooded her as she felt Reese along the length of her.

"God, I could get used to that idea," she admitted reluctantly.

"Good," Reese said, lifting Tory’s face to kiss her.

~

"Can’t sleep?" Cath asked when she joined Tory on the deck. It was two in the morning.

"Not while she’s out there," Tory responded, tipping the glass to finish her drink.

"You’ll have to learn to, you know," Cath said, lighting a cigarette, offering the pack to Tory.

Tory accepted wordlessly, smoking in silence as the stars revolved overhead. "I know I’m overreacting," she said at length.

"Probably," Cath agreed. "But it’s been a hellacious few days, and you’ve been through as much as she has, maybe more. Give yourself some time."

"I’m not used to being so emotional," Tory confided. "I’m not proud of myself."

"Oh, god, Tor!" Cath exclaimed. "If it were me, there’d be more screaming than you can imagine. Sometimes I think I might scream for you! I’ve never met anyone quite like her - she’s so goddamned logical, and right, that it’s hard to argue with her. If I didn’t know her I wouldn’t believe it. But she loves you, Tor - I can see it when she looks at you."

"God, I hope so," Tory whispered fervently. "Because she’s inside of me now."

Reese found them both dozing in deck chairs when she returned a little after three a.m. She bent to kiss Tory softly on the cheek, murmuring her name. Tory reached for her sleepily, circling her arms around Reese’s neck.

"Anything?" Tory asked.

"No," Reese replied, lifting Tory up into an embrace. She kissed her again, more thoroughly, until she had her gasping, then held her wordlessly, simply enjoying the feel of her. Tory rested against her, relishing the slow swell of desire.

"I think I’ll just toddle off to bed," Cath remarked, casting a glance at the two figures outlined in the dim light of the stars. She brushed her hand fondly across her sister’s back as she passed.

"She’s a good woman," Reese remarked.

"Yes," Tory agreed dreamily. "Are you ready to take me to bed?"

Reese laughed. "More than ready, although I had something in mind other than sleep."

"That’s what I was hoping."

~

Reese led her upstairs, urging her gently toward the bed. With infinite care she removed each article of clothing, stopping to explore the enticing landscape of Tory’s body with her lips and hands, captivated by her delicate strength.

Tory quivered as insistent fingers traced her skin from her breasts down her legs and back up. Reese's teasing lips pressed fleeting kisses everywhere, coaxing Tory's body to ever higher peaks of sensation. As her muscles clenched with the effort of containing her desire, she moaned Reese’s name. She grasped Reese’s shoulders, her legs tightening around Reese’s thigh.

"I’m close," Tory whispered raggedly. "Touch me, Reese, please. I need to come so much."

Reese groaned, inflamed by the wet heat of Tory’s need against her skin. She wanted her so much she didn’t think. When she found Tory, swollen with urgency, open and ready, she was driven by some deeply primal instinct to claim her. As if she had been born knowing how, she pushed into her – hard. In a single motion Reese's fingers entered her fully, igniting a chain reaction. Immediately the velvet muscles spasmed around her hand. Reese's thumb rode against Tory's clit at the same time.

"Oh, god!" Tory screamed, her body heaving, her mind melting with the instant orgasm.

Reese pressed deeper as the cataclysmic spasms gave way to small internal contractions. Reese was so consumed by the wonder of it, she was barely breathing. Slowly she became aware of sobs.

"Tory!" Reese gasped in panic, slipping from her, her withdrawal eliciting another sob. "Oh Jesus, did I hurt you?"

"No," Tory whispered, her face pressed against Reese’s shoulder, her body still shuddering.

"Are you sure?" Reese persisted fearfully. "I didn’t mean to be so rough - god, I don’t know what happened! I just wanted you so much!"

She tilted Tory’s chin, searching her face anxiously. Tory shook her head no, but her cheeks were streaked with tears. Something twisted in Reese’s chest, catching at her heart.

"Tory," she choked. "Tory - I swear to you I never meant to hurt you -"

"You didn't hurt me, Reese," Tory managed, drawing a shaky breath. She had never been possessed like that before. She felt like she had been devoured. But what frightened her was not Reese’s passion, but how much she had wanted Reese to take her. If Reese hadn’t claimed her when she did, Tory knew she would have begged her. What Reese was capable of stirring in her made her a stranger to herself. "You make me so damn helpless, I want you so bad. What you do to me - " What it will do to me now if you leave me -

Reese held her as Tory gentled in her arms, hearing in the silence what Tory had not said. She remembered Catherine speaking of what Tory had lost, understanding the enormity of that pain as she contemplated a life without Tory.

"Tory," she said, her voice soft but crystal clear.

"Yes," Tory questioned as she lay listening to the strong, steady heartbeat beneath her cheek.

"I love you."

Tory was silent a long moment, hearing the words, wondering if she dared allow them inside her. Reese had never held another woman, never made love to another woman - how could she be sure now?

Reese had not expected an answer. Instinctively she knew that it wouldn’t be her words, but her constancy, that would eventually convince Tory of the truth of her love. She had spoken because she needed to, and as she said the words, something shifted inside of her. She felt peaceful in a way she never had before. She settled Tory even closer into the curves of her body, her hands gliding the length of Tory’s back to her buttocks.

"Reese, you’re not going to get any sleep tonight if you keep touching me like that," Tory murmured, wanting nothing more at that moment than their closeness.

"That’s okay," Reese laughed contentedly, continuing her caresses. "I don’t have to work tomorrow."
 
 

Chapter Twenty

Tory reconciled herself to Reese’s nightly sojourns through the dunes. She even managed some restless sleep waiting for her to slip into bed beside her in the dark. Reese wasn’t due to return to work for a few more days, so she had simply stayed on at Tory’s. Neither of them discussed exactly what that meant.

Reese had only been back an hour one night when they were awakened by the phone. Tory reached for it with a sigh, thinking how much harder it was going to be to leave her bed with Reese asleep beside her. She didn’t want to think about what it would be like when Reese returned to her own home. Reese had fast become a part of her life.

"Dr. King," she answered.

"Doctor," an unfamiliar male voice said apologetically, "this is Officer Jeff Lyons. Sorry to bother you, ma’am, but I’m trying to locate Sheriff Conlon. I’ve got a girl on the other line - she’s hysterical, and she says she won’t talk to anyone except Reese."

"Of course," Tory replied with concern, "she’s right here."

"Conlon," Reese said tersely. As she listened to the call patched through to her, her body tensed. "Where are you now? .....Where were you supposed to meet?.....Go home. I’ll call you as soon as I find her. I will - I promise you."

Reese replaced the receiver as she climbed out of bed. It was two in the morning.

"What is it?" Tory asked anxiously as Reese began to pull on her uniform, her face tight.

"Brianna’s missing," Reese said as she checked her revolver. "She and Caroline had a date to meet in the dunes. Brianna didn’t show. That was two hours ago. ...What are you doing?"

As Reese spoke, Tory had started hastily dressing. "I’m going with you. We’ll find her faster with two of us looking. And if she’s hurt, you’re going to need me."

"Right," Reese replied, formulating plans. "Get your Jeep, your medical equipment, and your portable phone. We’ll keep in touch that way. If we haven’t found her in an hour, I’m going to have to call Nelson. I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that."

"Where should I look?"

"I’m going out to Herring Cove where they were supposed to meet. Why don’t you drive down Commercial, then out 6A and circle back to the beach on 6. Look for her motorbike. Maybe she was just late, missed Caroline, and she’s hanging out somewhere in town."

Tory could tell by the set of her jaw that Reese did not believe that. "Reese, promise me if there’s trouble that you’ll call for back-up. Your wound isn’t healed yet. Your reaction time will be slowed. I can’t worry about both of you."

To Tory’s relief, Reese nodded agreement. "I will. Call me every five minutes with your location." Then, unexpectedly, Reese grasped her shoulders and kissed her with bruising intensity. "Be careful. I don’t want you hurt."

As Tory followed Reese downstairs, she knew from the rigid set of her lover's back and the tight expression on her face that Reese was more than a little worried. Reese's attention was already elsewhere as she focused completely on her mission. Tory knew with utter certainty that this single-minded determination was the essence of the woman she loved. To love Reese Conlon meant she must accept what that dedication demanded of Reese, emotionally and physically. Tory doubted she would ever grow accustomed to the danger, but she knew she would have to live with it - because she knew it was no longer possible to stop loving Reese.

Tory drove the length of Commercial Street, slowly canvassing the narrow lanes and alleys intersecting it. Several times she stopped to glance into the few bars and late night hangouts still open. Bri was no where to be found. She circled around past the jetty to Long Point, remembering her own perilous journey out onto the rocks, and the way Reese had suddenly appeared at her side- offering assistance and security as only Reese could. She remembered how great her pain was that night, and the sight of Reese bending over her, administering to her bruised and swollen leg. That was the night she had fallen in love with Reese Conlon.

She was nearing the Provincetown limits when her portable phone rang. "King," she responded tersely.

"It’s Reese. Take six west toward Herring Cove. Look for my cruiser on the side of the road. I’m about a hundred yards in along the dune trail."

"Have you got her?" Tory asked, thinking that Reese’s voice seemed strangely hollow.

"Yes - on the double, Tory."

Reese was waiting at the roadside, hastily stringing yellow tape across the mouth of a narrow path in the sand. Brianna’s motorbike lay on its side in the scrub by the side of the road. The front was twisted and dented. Tory’s stomach clenched when she saw it, and what Reese was doing.

"My god, Reese - is she alive?" Tory called as she approached.

"Yes, for now," Reese replied grimly, as she helped Tory slide the portable stretcher from the back of her Jeep. "Follow me - keep to the trail. I don’t want to contaminate the scene any more than we have to."

Tory stared at her in astonishment. This is Bri for God’s sake! Doesn’t she have any feelings!

Reese saw the question in her eyes, and read the silent criticism. It hurt, but she didn’t have the time or the inclination to explain. "You tend to her body, Doctor, that’s your job. Mine is to catch the bastard that did this to her," Reese stated flatly, a dangerous fire in her eyes.

Tory nodded, "Of course - lead the way."

Brianna was lying unconscious in a shallow cleft between two brush covered dunes. When Tory lifted the blanket Reese had laid over her, she recoiled from the sight of the torn shirt and the jeans yanked down around Bri's ankles. For an agonizing moment, all she could imagine was Bri's terror. A soft touch on Tory's shoulder jerked her back to the present, and her responsibility.

"Tory - we need to move her. Is her spine secure?" Reese asked evenly.

Tory knelt, making a quick assessment of Bri's vital signs. Her airway was clear, and her pulse strong and steady. Her face was badly battered, both eyes discolored. There was a stream of blood from her left nostril, and a hematoma forming over the right side of her jaw. Even in the dim light from Reese’s flashlight she could make out bruises on her throat. Blood crusted in patches over her neck and chest.

"She fought hard," Tory murmured, barely aware of speaking aloud as she continued her assessment of the battered girl.

"Yes. She would."

Tory glanced up at Reese, who stood staring down at Brianna’s violated body, her eyes so cold that Tory shivered. Tory slipped a soft restraining collar behind Bri's neck, immobilizing her cervical spine. She ran her hands over Bri’s extremities, noting no obvious deformities. The rest of the exam would have to wait until they moved her.

"She’s okay to transport. Just get your forearms behind her neck and under her shoulders when we lift. Keep her head midline and don’t flex it," Tory ordered, her mind already busy planning what else needed to be done.

"Have you notified Nelson?" Tory asked as they maneuvered slowly through the sand.

"Lyons is on his way here to secure the scene," Reese replied. "I’ll radio the Chief on route to your place. I didn’t want him to see her like this."

Tory nodded, wondering how she could have questioned Reese’s sensitivity, regretting her initial reaction. Reese was only doing what she was trained and sworn to do. "Reese, I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t think about what you needed to do out there-"

"It’s okay - why should you," Reese responded evenly.

"No, it’s not okay." Because I know you better than that, and because I love you

Tory needed to tell her that, but now was not the time. Instead, she followed the flashing lights of Reese’s patrol car as they led her through the dark.

~

"What the hell is going on, Conlon?" Nelson Parker demanded as he shoved through the door of Tory’s clinic. "I heard on the scanner that you ordered Lyons and Jameson to block off a section of six. You’re not even on duty!" He got a good look at his Deputy Chief’s face and he stopped short, his stomach churning. There was something deadly in her eyes, and something so gentle in her hand on his arm that he was suddenly afraid. He’d seen that look in cops’ eyes before, when it was something bad. He steeled himself to hear it.

"Tell me," he said softly.

"It’s Bri - she’s alive, but she’s seriously hurt. Tory is with her now."

Nelson steadied himself with a hand against the wall. There seemed to be something wrong with his vision - he could hardly see her face. He heard his words, but didn't feel himself speak. "Did she crash her motorbike?"

"Someone beat her, Nelson."

He felt like he was gut shot. "I don’t understand - why? How did you find her?"

"Caroline Clark called me. She told me Bri was missing and I went to look for her. I found her in the dunes."

Nelson looked at her in confusion. "Caroline? Why did she call you? What’s going on?"

Reese returned his questioning gaze steadily. "Bri and Caroline are lovers. They’ve been trysting in the dunes. My guess is that someone followed Bri, forced her off the road, and dragged her up into the scrub."

Nelson rocked back as if she had struck him. Then he leveled angry eyes on her. "You knew about them? That’s why Caroline called you?"

"Yes. Bri told me she was going to tell -"

 All of his terror was transformed into anger. This was Reese’s fault! If she had told him, he would have put a stop to this nonsense before Brianna got hurt! Nelson moved so unexpectedly Reese didn’t have time to counter, had she been inclined to. He grabbed her with both hands and slammed her into the wall. "You son of a bitch! You knew my daughter was fooling around with some girl and you didn’t tell me?!!" he roared. He punctuated his fury by pounding his forearm into her body. "You let it go on?!!"

Fire tore through her side. Reese never lifted a hand, though she was well equipped to defend herself. "Nelson--" she gasped.

When Tory came around the corner, she saw the pain in Reese’s face. Nelson stood, one fist poised to strike, the other hand twisted in Reese’s shirt front, pinning her to the wall. He was momentarily stunned as Tory’s cane cracked down on his forearm, the curved handle catching around his wrist, preventing him from swinging into Reese’s unprotected face.

"Let go of her, Nelson," Tory said in a deadly tone. "Now."

Reese sagged slightly in Nelson's grasp as he turned to Tory in confusion. Reese coughed, one hand pressed to her side, trying to catch her breath. Every inhalation felt like a knife stab.

Tory’s eyes never left Nelson’s face as she shifted her weight, ready for the next strike. "Do it Nelson, or I’ll break your arm."

"It’s okay, Tory," Reese gasped.

"He’d better pray to God he didn’t hurt you," was all Tory said. When Nelson finally dropped his hands to his sides, Tory relaxed slightly, but she kept her eyes on him. "The evac team is on their way. She’s stable, and intermittently conscious. She’s asking for you, Reese."

"You stay away from her," Nelson seethed. "If you weren’t queer yourself this never would have happened."

"I need a statement from her," Reese stated. And I need to see that she’s all right

"Forget about a statement - you’re fired."

Reese shrugged. "You can fire me tomorrow. Tonight I’m going to catch whoever has been terrorizing the kids in this town. Tory - call Caroline, will you? I promised her -"

"Go ahead, Reese, I’ll take care of it. Then I need to look at you." Tory said these last words with a glare toward the Chief.

Reese, smiling gently, brushed her fingers over the hand Tory clenched around the head of her cane. She drew as deep a breath as she could, determined not to reveal how much it hurt.

"I’m really okay."

~

Reese pushed open the door to the procedure room. Nelson followed, halting just inside the door. He was paralyzed by the sight of his daughter. She lay naked under a thin sheet, nearly unrecognizable from her bruises, hooked up to two iv bags. He saw a clear plastic evidence bag filled with bloodied clothes on the counter, with an open rape kit beside it. He fought the sudden urge to vomit. He looked again at the stretcher, expecting to see his little girl, and he saw a battered woman, someone he didn’t know. He was afraid to go near her.

Reese pulled up a stool, taking Brianna’s hand in hers. She pressed the torn and bloodied fingers to her cheek. She was aware of Nelson coming to stand behind her.

"It’s Reese, Bri," she said gently. "You’re all right now. You’re safe."

Bri’s eyelids fluttered, then opened. She tried to focus on Reese’s face. Her throat was so dry, it was hard to form words. She found the blue eyes, and let herself be held by the tenderness in them. "Caroline?" she managed at last. "Is she -?"

"She’s fine, Bri. She’s on her way."

"Don’t let her see me like this -please," Bri said with a struggle.

Reese smiled in understanding, brushing a lock of hair out of Bri’s eyes. "She’ll need to see you, Bri. She’ll be more scared if she doesn’t." She waited for a second, then continued with what she knew must be done. "Can you tell me who did this, Bri?"

Bri tried to turn away as tears leaked from the corner of her eyes. Reese caught them on the backs of her fingers.

"Did he rape me?" Bri asked.

Nelson choked back a groan.

Tory moved from where she had been standing in the doorway. "I don’t think so, honey," she said softly. "I still have a few tests to run."

Bri closed her eyes with a sigh. Reese waited patiently, her entire being focused on the young woman before her. She gently stroked her hair. Tory watched her lover, knowing that at this moment, Bri was the most important thing in Reese’s life. How had she ever been na´ve enough to think this was just a job for Reese?

"Help me, Bri," Reese whispered.

"It was the black truck that’s been following us. I don’t know him, but I - I think I broke his nose. I punched him, when he was on top of me -" Bri lapsed into silence, shaking, overcome by the events too fresh yet to be memories.

"Oh, Jesus -" Nelson moaned.

"Give me something more, Bri -" Reese pushed. Bri gasped for breath as she tried to put words to her terror.

"Reese," Tory warned.

Reese ignored her. "Tell me, Bri. Help me get him."

Tory bit her lip, vowing she would stop this if Reese didn’t.

"He hit my bike - I think it smashed his headlight," Bri said with a struggle.

"Good girl," Reese said.

Bri, fighting to remain conscious, looked up at her father. "I’m sorry, dad. I wanted to tell you. I was scared. " Her voice trailed off as exhaustion claimed her.

Reese moved aside so Nelson could sit with her. She needed to get back to the field. She needed to check the motorbike for evidence, and start looking for the perpetrator. Very likely he would be seeking medical attention himself if Bri had really broken his nose. As she pulled the door closed, she saw Tory forcefully interrupt Caroline’s headlong dash down the hall.

"Wait a minute," Tory soothed, holding the struggling young woman. "It might be better if you see her tomorrow, Caroline. It’ll be hard to see her like this -"

Caroline fixed Tory with a contemptuous glare. "You’re just like all the rest. You think just because we’re young that our feelings don’t matter. Last night right about now she was making love to me. Do you think that doesn’t matter either?"

"That’s not what I meant, Caroline. I know you care about her."

"_Care_ about her?" she said coldly. "What if it were Reese in there, Tory? Just how long would you wait out here?"

Tory stared at her, knowing that it could easily be Reese under other circumstances. Just the thought made her ill.

"You’re right. I’m sorry," Tory said softly. "Nothing on earth would keep me away."

She watched the pretty young blond, who now seemed so much older than her years, resolutely push through the doors to her lover. She turned to her own lover, who was issuing orders into the phone.

"Call me with anything," Reese said. "I’m heading out now."

"Not until I take a look at you," Tory said as Reese hung up the phone.

"Five minutes," Reese conceded.

"In here," Tory said, motioning to an empty exam room. "And I’ll take as long as I need. Take off your shirt."

Reese complied with a sigh, trying to hide the pain that pierced her side as she shrugged out of her clothes. Tory bent to examine the stitches.

"Why didn’t you stop him?" Tory asked as she cleaned the healing incision with peroxide. "You could have."

"He didn’t know what he was doing," Reese grunted as Tory probed a tender spot along her rib cage. "Besides, he’s my commanding officer."

"I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that, Reese. Because as much as I respect and admire your pigheaded dedication to your job, I cannot believe you would let him do that to you." There was a faint sensation of movement under her fingertips, and she felt Reese withdraw from the pressure.

"He would have come to his senses in a minute. If he had really endangered me, I would have stopped him."

Tory stepped back, her face furious. "Well, he broke your rib. Now give me your goddamned gun. You’re not working tonight."

Reese took Tory by surprise when she caught both her hands, pulling Tory against her body. I’m going to frighten her again, Reese thought. How many times can I do this to her before it’s too much?

"Tory, I love you with everything in me! But I can’t do what you want. Please don’t ask me to."

Reese’s embrace was so tight it was almost painful. Tory pushed back in her grasp, searching the blue eyes that searched her own. There was honesty there, and shockingly, fear. She’s afraid I’ll leave her!

"You’ll need them taped," Tory stated, feeling the tension in Reese’s body ease. "And I want your word of honor that you won’t take any chances. Not one. If you love me, you owe me that, Reese."

Reese kissed her softly, "I promise - and thank you."
 
 

Chapter Twentyone

Nelson stood back against the wall watching Caroline Clark tenderly stroke his daughter’s swollen cheek. With her free hand Caroline brushed tears from her own face. The look she had given him when she entered the room had warned him he would have to forcibly keep her away. The steel in her gaze rendered him speechless.

"It’s me, Bri. I love you," she whispered over and over. At first Nelson was embarrassed to hear her say such things to his daughter, but after a while he found himself praying that the love of this slight blond girl would be enough to keep his only child holding on. God knows, he hadn’t offered her much reason.

Finally Bri opened her eyes as much as she could, trying to smile when she heard Caroline whisper her name.

"Hi, babe," she said through cracked lips.

"Hi, sweetheart," Caroline replied softly. "Tory says you’ll be okay."

"You?" Bri croaked.

"Don’t worry about me," she said tremulously "Just get well."

Bri squeezed her hand weakly. "I knew he was following me. That’s why I didn’t meet you. I went the other way so he wouldn’t find you-"

Caroline was crying in earnest now. "I love you so much, Bri. I just want us to be together."

"Soon, I promise," Bri whispered as her strength began to fade. "Be careful. I love you..."

Nelson cleared his throat.

"I’ll look after her, Bri," he said, thinking he had finally found something he could do for his daughter. Tentatively, he placed a hand on Caroline’s shoulder. As Bri’s eyes closed, Caroline turned unexpectedly into Nelson’s arms.

"I’m so scared," she cried, clinging to him like the child she would never be again. "I don’t know what I’ll do if something happens to her!"

"She’ll be okay, girl. She’s got her mother’s grit." He led her around the table to a stool. "You sit here with her in case she wakes up. She’ll need you then."

He looked back from the door at the stranger who was his daughter, thinking what a fine, brave thing she had done. He didn’t know her, but he swore that that would change.

Tory was standing in the hall, giving a report to the team of paramedics who were there to transport Bri to the trauma center. When she finished, she looked at him coldly.

"Where’s Conlon?" he asked, his voice gruffer than he intended.

"Out looking for the man who assaulted your daughter."

He nodded, intending to step past her. She moved purposely into his path.

"I have several messages for you, Nelson. The first one is from Reese. She wants you to stay with Brianna. She said, and I quote - ‘That’s where you’re needed. You’ll taint the case if you’re involved in any way.’ She promises she won’t rest until she gets him. I have no doubt she means that." She paused until she was satisfied that he agreed. "The next message is from me, and you can be sure I mean it. You broke her ribs tonight, Nelson. If you ever lay a hand on her again, you’ll never wear a badge in this or any other place as long as you live. Now get out of my clinic - and stay out of my sight."

"I’ll resign tomorrow," Nelson said, his face gray.

"Reese wouldn’t want you to do that," Tory said as she turned away. "I’d rather you face her every day knowing that."

He stared at her retreating back, feeling smaller than he ever had. In the last hour he had seen what love between women was made of, and he knew that he would never discount it again. He only hoped it was in him to love so well. He walked out to the ambulance holding his daughter's hand, praying she would forgive him.

~

What happened that night was the thing legends were made of, and as this story was told and retold by every cop on the Cape, and every person in Provincetown, the story grew. Only the two young officers who answered Reese’s call for back-up could really say for sure, and even they couldn’t agree on what really transpired.

Certain facts were indisputable. Reese waited in the dark, in her patrol car, on the edge of Route six, watching the few vehicles leaving Provincetown in the middle of the night. When a black pickup truck with a single headlight passed her, going five miles over the speed limit, she flicked on her lights and siren and chased him to the outskirts of Truro. He finally pulled over and Reese pulled her car in front of him, angling onto the shoulder so that he could not drive off. She sat in her car, looking at the fresh dent in the right front fender of his truck. She remembered her promise to Tory, and she radiod her position and requested back up. They were five minutes away. She did everything by the book, as she believed they should be done. Then she made a mistake.

She thought about Brianna - of her brave young spirit and her beautiful face, unrecognizable now. She thought about the finger marks on Bri's neck and her breasts, the gouges on her inner thighs. She thought about Bri's terror with him battering for entrance to the places only her lover had ever touched. She thought about Bri out there alone, bleeding into the sand, because some man did not like whom she chose to love.

She stepped from the car and unsnapped the strap that secured her gun.
 
 

Chapter Twentytwo

Hospitals in the dark hours of the night were places like no other. Hushed with unnatural silence, punctuated by the moans and murmurs of the ill and dying, they were places to pass through, not to linger. Lives were changed forever here, for the dead as well as the living. Tory walked down the dim hallway toward the ICU carrying her third cup of coffee of a long night that promised to be a longer day. It was just after five a.m., and she welcomed the activity she knew the morning shift would bring. She’d had too much time to think the last few hours, sitting with Caroline, waiting for word from Reese.

At the end of the hall, Caroline stared at the closed doors of the intensive care unit, automatically wiping the tears that overflowed her eyes, waiting until seven AM when she could see Bri. Watching her, Tory reflected on the clear and simple passion between the young women. Untainted by disappointments, untarnished by the accumulated experiences of loves gone wrong, their devotion was unrestricted, their commitment complete. They were brave and fearless and so pure in their loving. They trusted in tomorrow, believing nothing could come between them. They were glorious in their innocence.

Sadly, Tory knew there had been a time when she had loved like that. She knew too, as did all those whose first loves withered with change, that she could never love that way again. Some part of her would always be afraid. She wondered if she could ever truly give herself to love again. She wasn’t sure she could, or even that she wanted to.

She glanced into a small dark waiting room just down the hall from the harshly lit main sitting area. Reese was standing at the window, her back to the room. She was still in her uniform. The sky beyond was just beginning to lighten with the dawn. The tense stillness in Reese's figure signaled to Tory that something was wrong. She went to her, slipping her arms around Reese's waist from behind, laying her cheek against Reese’s strong back.

"I’m glad you’re here," Tory murmured against her.

"How is she?" Reese asked, folding her arms over Tory’s.

"They’re still running tests. Her head CT was clear, thank god, so she’s just got a bad concussion. We should know the rest of the results within the hour."

Reese nodded, not turning.

"Did you get him?" Tory asked quietly.

"Yes."

"Are you all right?"

"I don’t know," Reese answered hollowly. She took a shaky breath. "I kept thinking about her- lying alone out there in the night, what he had done to her for no other reason than she loved another woman. Jesus! She’s just a girl!"

Reese pulled away abruptly, sinking into a nearby chair. She stared at her hands, dangling between her knees. Tory went to her, standing between her legs, placing her hands lightly on Reese's shoulders. Reese was trembling.

"Tell me," Tory said gently.

"I got out of my car intending to kill him," Reese admitted in a low voice. "I knew it when I walked up to the vehicle. If it was him, I was going to kill him."

Tory’s chest constricted in fear, but her voice was steady. "What happened?"

"It was him," Reese laughed grimly. "His nose was halfway over to his ear, and he had cuts from pulling her through the brush on his face and hands. I asked him to step out of the truck. I could hear my backup coming, and so could he. He didn’t put up a fight. As soon as he was out, I spun him down onto the hood. When the other patrol car pulled in I had my gun against the back of his head."

Tory nearly stopped breathing, but she tightened her grip on Reese’s shoulders. She would not leave her alone with this. "Keep talking, sweetheart," she whispered. "It’s all right."

"They just watched me. I knew they’d never say what happened. This was the Chief’s daughter. I thought about him ripping at her clothes, on top of her - oh, Jesus -" she gasped, her voice breaking. "I could hardly see him any longer. My arm ached from not pulling the trigger. Finally I holstered my weapon, and as I reached for the cuffs, he made his move. He came at me fast, but this wasn’t Nelson. I broke his arm. But God, all I wanted was to kill him! I came so close, Tory, so close! What does that say about me?!!"

Without thinking, she reached out in her pain for Tory, wrapping her arms around Tory’s waist, burying her face against her. Clutching her, she wept.

"Oh, my darling," Tory whispered, pierced by Reese’s pain. She stroked her hair, ran her hands tenderly over her quivering shoulders, held her fast. Reese’s need was so clear, her emotions so raw. In her own way, Reese was as innocent and vulnerable as those two girls down the hall. If ever there had been a barrier to Tory loving this woman, it was gone now. This was Tory’s chance at love again, the simple, fresh, untarnished love of the young. She had likened her frighteningly valiant, frustratingly honorable lover to an innocent, and in the uncompromising way she loved, she was.

"Oh, Reese," she murmured, her throat aching with emotion. "I love you. I love you so much."

She looked over Reese’s bowed head to see Nelson standing in the shadows of the door, watching them. She wondered how much he had heard. She motioned him away, not caring what he thought. Reese would not have wanted him to see her this way.

He turned away from the image of Tory cradling the sobbing woman. He had foolishly thought once that Reese had no more needs than a man. Now he understood what bravery it took to let the woman who loved you offer comfort. He walked back to join the young woman who loved his daughter, wondering if he had the guts to love like that.

"I’m sorry," Reese mumbled at last, her cheek against Tory’s breast.

Tory laughed shakily, lifting Reese’s face, gently brushing away the tears. "Don’t you dare say that. I so needed for you to need me."

Reese looked perplexed. "Didn’t you know that I do?"

Tory softly kissed her forehead, shaking her head. "You do give the impression of self-sufficiency, my love."

"Tory," Reese said, anxiously, "I seem like I don’t need any help because I never had anyone to ask! How I feel about you - what I feel since we’ve been together-" She stood, pulling Tory close. "God, how I need you. You mean everything to me!"

Tory ached with feeling. "I love you, Reese. I love your strength, and your integrity, and your beautiful sense of certainty. I need that - it scares me how much I need that. But you don’t have to be strong all the time - especially not for me. When you share yourself with me, I only love you more, although god knows how that’s possible." She kissed her soundly, then stepped back, running her hands down Reese’s arms. "I want to get you home. I’m not even going to ask about your ribs."

Reese smiled, slipping an arm around her. "They hurt like hell, and I’m beat. I just want to check on the kids."

"I know. Me, too."

~

After a few hours sleep, Tory got up to go the clinic. Reese stirred as Tory slipped from the bed. Reese grabbed her hand, pulling Tory down beside her.

"I’ll miss you," Reese said softly.

"I don’t want to go, but there are a few patients who can’t wait. I won’t be long." She kissed Reese, all too aware of her nakedness. "Besides, since you always seem to be recovering from some injury or another, it’s just as well I stay away from you. I can’t trust myself to have any restraint."

Reese guided Tory’s hand down over her taut stomach to the spot that ached to be touched. "Too late," Reese whispered unevenly as Tory's fingers brushed over her clit.

Tory groaned, ambushed by the wet warmth of Reese’s desire. "You can’t know what you do to me or you wouldn’t torture me this way- " Helpless to stop, Tory caressed her, gently sliding her fingers up and down the distended shaft.

Reese rose against her hand, gasping. "Just for a minute-" she pleaded, feeling the pressure mushrooming in her belly.

Tory stared into Reese’s eyes as she milked the length of her rhythmically, watching the eclipse of color reflect her touch. Reese’s blue gaze grew hazy, her lips parting with a groan, as she blossomed into ripe fruition under Tory’s fingers.

"Tory," Reese sighed as release rippled through her. Eyelids fluttering, then closing, her neck arched with the final spasm. She smiled softly as the tension slowly subsided. "Ahh – god. Thank you."

Tory buried her face in Reese’s neck, still holding her fast. "You break my heart, you’re so beautiful," Tory murmured brokenly.

Reese languidly slipped her fingers into Tory’s hair, turning her face to breath a kiss against her cheek.

"May you always think so," she said drowsily.

Tory laughed shakily with the aftermath of passion still gripping her. "Don’t worry about that. Now unhand me or I’ll never leave."

Reese smiled contentedly. "Hurry home."

~

When next Reese awoke most of the day had passed. Tory was moving quietly around the room as she undressed. Reese watched her in silence, her pleasure so acute it was almost pain.

"I always want to wake up and see you," Reese said into the still room.

Tory halted, catching her breath. "And I always want to be there when you do."

"Come here," Reese commanded gently, sitting up against the pillows, reaching out to her. When Tory neared, Reese placed both hands on her waist, guiding Tory up over her, one leg on either side of her body. With Tory gazing down at her, lips parted in anticipation, Reese lifted her head to lick her. She held Tory firmly to her mouth, dimly aware of the soft whimpers that grew to a crescendo of throaty cries. She took her time, despite the insistent rhythm of Tory’s pulsing hips. She lifted her lips away far enough to alternate light kisses on the tip of Tory's clit with circling caresses of her tongue under it. As Tory's movements became more frantic, Reese pushed her tongue into her, fucking her, until Tory dug her fingers into Reese’s forearms with a cry.

"Oh god! Reese - make me come, please, please do it now!"

With a knowing brush of her lips, sucking the length of Tory's clit into her mouth, Reese ended the sweet torture. Even as Tory bucked against her, Reese held fast, slowing her strokes until Tory curled down around her, exhausted. Reese settled Tory beside her, then pressed her face to Tory’s breasts. She rested surrounded by the softness of her, listening to her soft murmurs of satisfaction.

After long moments, Tory said brokenly, "If you ever leave me, I’ll be lost."

Reese lifted her head, still faintly flushed from their passion. "Not as long as I live." She wrapped her arms tighter around her love, and they slept.
 
 

Chapter Twentythree

It was a clear Provincetown morning in August, a bright blue sky punctuated by scattered wisps of clouds. The waves on the bay broke gently against the sands at Herring Cove. Reese sat in her patrol car sipping her coffee, waiting. She smiled as a flicker of color far off to her left caught her eye. Her heart stirred as she followed the course of the red kayak, cutting swiftly through the early morning sea. Tory’s rhythm was so steady the craft seemed barely to touch the water as she paddled toward the lighthouse at Race Point. When she could no longer imagine she saw her, Reese drove away, filled with peace.

Nelson glanced up when Reese entered the station, then shied his glance away uncomfortably.

"Morning Chief," Reese said, tossing her cap on her desk and heading for the coffeepot. She grimaced in disgust, emptying the contents into the sink.

"Good to have you back," Parker said gruffly. "Did the Doc clear you for duty?"

"You think I’d be here if she didn’t?" Reese laughed.

Just a few hours ago, Tory had inspected Reese's side, and poked and probed her rib cage before reluctantly approving Reese’s return to work. Tory watched her get dressed, loving her precision and the care with which she assembled each part of her uniform. Standing in front of Reese, Tory had straightened a tie that was already perfectly knotted. Running her hands over the razor-edge creases in Reese’s shirtsleeves, she smoothed down the collar of her shirt. With her hands pressed lightly against Reese’s chest, she had whispered, "I love the way you look in this uniform. You won’t do anything to get any holes in it, will you?" Reese had pulled her close, promising her that she wouldn’t.

Nelson Parker watched Reese’s face turn inward to some thought he couldn’t fathom, but he knew it held her powerfully. Something about her had changed in the two weeks she had been gone, and he figured he knew who had been the cause of it. Remembering the night he wished with all his being he could have to do over, he remembered too the look on Tory King’s face as she stared him down. He knew damn well that if he had struck Reese, Tory would have taken him apart. He cleared his throat, ready to say what he had been preparing himself to say since that night.

"Election’s are coming up in the fall, Conlon. I think you should run for Sheriff."

Reese poured two cups of fresh coffee, placing one on his desk as she passed.

"We already have a Sheriff," she said with finality, reaching for the stacks of paperwork that had accumulated during her absence.

"You’re qualified, the people of this town already think you’re a hero, and every law man in the state respects you for how you handled Brianna’s - assault. You’re a shoe-in."

He swiveled in his chair to stare out the front window, but he forced himself to look at her when he spoke again. "You handled the police part of it as well as anybody could, and you handled the personal part better than I could. If it hadn’t been for Bri and Caroline trusting you, Brianna would have died out there. I failed her, and I repaid you by busting you up. I don’t deserve my own daughter’s trust and I certainly don’t deserve to be Sheriff. Take the damn job, Conlon, you deserve it."

"I’m not interested," Reese stated again. "There’s too much paperwork and too much politics. I like patrol, I like being out on the streets, I like community interaction. I plan on teaching more martial arts classes in the fall. I’m too busy."

When she had stopped to check on Brianna the previous night, she had found her polishing the new dirtbike Nelson had gotten her to replace the one destroyed in the accident. Caroline, who had barely left Bri's side since her release from the hospital, was there with several of their friends. Bri was chaffing at the bit to resume her martial arts classes, but her doctors had declared no contact sports for six weeks due to her concussion. Two other young women and a boy had expressed interest in taking self-defense classes. She knew it was a reaction to Bri’s assault, and after talking with them, she had agreed to teach several evening classes a week. Tory endorsed the idea, and planned to teach as well. This was the kind of cop Reese wanted to be - one who was part of the community, responding to the needs of the community in a personal way.

"You didn’t fail Bri either," Reese continued. "Sure, she was afraid to talk to you, but some of that fear came from what others had done to her or her friends. As it turns out, her fear was unwarranted. Jesus, Caroline is practically living at your place since her father threatened her."

Nelson looked pained as he remembered Caroline calling Bri in tears when her father swore he would beat this ‘queer bullshit' out of her. "Yeah, well that might have been me saying something as stupid as that if Bri hadn’t almost been killed. It took almost losing her to put things into perspective. I’m don’t know that I’d be trying as hard as I am to understand it. Still, I look at those two girls and all I see is a hard road ahead."

Reese nodded. "That may be, but having you on their side will go a long way toward making their life easier. And believe me, Nelson, you couldn’t keep them apart without hurting them more than any prejudice ever could."

He grinned self-consciously. "The reason Caroline spends most of her time with us is because that hard-headed kid of mine tried to get up out of her sickbed to go after Caroline’s old man. Jesus, she’s tough to handle. Kinda reminds me of you."

"Thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment," Reese grinned back.

"You and Tory give them something to look up to," he said to Reese’s surprise.

"We both care about them, Nelson, but it’s you they need."

"I don’t know how to ask you to forgive me for that night. What I said about it being your fault, that was bad enough. But what I did, there’s no way to make that right," he said quietly.

"There’s nothing to forgive, Chief. If anything ever happened to Tory, I’d—" her voice cracked and she looked away for a second. "I’d be no different than you. Forget it."

He shook his head, disbelieving. "I appreciate your saying that, but I know better. I know Tory King won’t forget it."

"She was worried about Bri, and scared for me-"

"She was protecting you, Conlon. I can see what you mean to her. You’re a lucky woman to have that."

"Yes, I know."

"Well, I guess I’ll just have to prove to her that I know what you’re worth, too." He cleared his throat, busying himself with the papers on his desk. "So why don’t you get out of here. Tonight’s Carnival night, so expect it to be crazy."

Reese sighed with relief, more than ready to get back out on the streets. "Yes, sir! You want anything while I’m out?"

"Donuts."

Reese smiled happily. "Roger that."

~

An hour later she pulled into the crowded parking lot of the East End Health Clinic. Randy as usual looked on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

"Please, please don’t tell me you want to see her!!" he exclaimed.

Reese smiled. "No good, huh?"

"If she agrees to see one more walk-in without an appointment, I’ll have to cancel the hottest date of my life," he wailed.

"Tell her I stopped by," Reese laughed. Then, she lowered her voice, "and Randy - try to get her to take a break once in a while."

Randy’s face softened for an instant, then he said in a martyred tone, "Like she wouldn’t kill me if I sent you away! Go on back!!"

As Reese passed he inquired seriously, "Are you all mended?"

"Good as new," Reese responded.

"That’s good, Captain Marvel - a lot of people around here need you." He touched her shoulder lightly, then fixed her with a frown. "If it takes more than five minutes I can’t guarantee your safety."

Reese waited as she always did, studying the pictures of Tory’s Olympic days, warmed by the images. Tory stood in the doorway, chart in hand, watching Reese. The very sight of her stirred her, causing her breath to catch for an instant.

"Hello, darling," Tory said, her voice husky, as she pulled her office door closed behind her.

Reese turned with a smile, "Hi, love." She went to her, sweeping off her cap as she leaned to pull Tory close. "I just stopped for a second. I missed you. Randy says it’s a rough day."

Tory slipped her arms around Reese’s waist, loving her solid strength. "Not any more," she sighed. "You’re just the kind of interruption I needed." Tory indulged herself with the feel of her for an instant longer, then stepped back to straighten Reese’s tie and brush a stray lock of dark hair from her forehead. "Happy to be back at work?"

"Just happy," Reese said softly, smiling tenderly. She settled her hat low over her brows, kissed her swiftly on the lips, and stepped toward the door. "See you at home, Doctor King."

Tory called after her, the kiss still tingling on her lips. "You can count on it, Sheriff!"

The End

Comments please to radclyffe@radfic.com

This story is a work of fiction and is not intended to represent any particular individual, alive or dead. This work may not be printed or distributed for profit without the express written permission of the author.

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