“Are you sure she didn't bother you?” Jay fretted when Aunt Mimi left. She smoothed Nicole's hair down, settling her hands on two round shoulders as the smaller woman sat in her chair. Nicole groaned when Jay started to massage her neck, closing her eyes.
“No, your Aunt Mimi didn't bother me at all. Right now, with the police keeping quiet about everything, it's a relief to talk about it with someone...”
“Even if that someone is a murder mystery fanatic who has never solved an actual crime in her life?”
Nicole laughed, and Jay felt like silver bells were ringing in her ears. It was a beautiful sound. “Yes, even then. It has been a relief to stay with you, too. I'm surprised you haven't thrown me out on the doorstep and sent me back home yet.”
Still rubbing the tight shoulders, Jay dropped a kiss on the white curve of Nicole's neck. “I would never kick you out of bed, baby,” she teased. Jay did not mind sharing her apartment at all. In fact, she enjoyed having her girlfriend around more. They both shared the big double bed, but so far, no clothes had been removed. Jay still felt like it was too soon to make love with Nicole, and did not want to rush her.
Make love? she thought, repeating the words in her head, since when do you want to make love with someone? What happened to regular sex? She purposely left the question unanswered, probably because she knew that the answer would scare her.
“I'm just glad you don't snore,” Nicole said, leaning back into Jay's firm, probing fingers. “Ow! Yes, that's where it hurts... riiiight there...” She practically purred as Jay loosened a knot beside her shoulder blade, hanging her head so that her hair fell around her face.
“Wow, you're really tense,” Jay said, feeling stupid after she said it. After all the chaos of the past few days, it was obvious why. “I just asked about Aunt Mimi because she seemed to upset you earlier, asking about family secrets...”
“Is that your not-so-subtle way of prying for information, tall, dark, and silly?” Nicole asked.
Jay blushed. “Maybe?”
“It's not really a secret. It was in all the newspapers a few years ago. My younger sister, Victoria, killed herself when her fiancé broke off their engagement. It was a horrible shock for all of us.” Nicole's voice sounded sad and distant. Jay stopped massaging and wrapped her arms around her girlfriend, giving her a warm hug.
“That must have been really hard for you,” she whispered. “Losing your mother and your sister. I couldn't imagine that happening to me.”
“Thank you for being honest,” Nicole said. “I usually just get an awkward ‘I'm sorry', and it drives me up the wall. It's even worse when other people have lost a parent or a sibling, and try to say ‘I understand'. If they really understood, they would know that it hurts to talk about it or compare stories.” There was a long pause. “Suicide really is the ultimate sin, Jay. The people left behind live with the guilt for the rest of their lives... wondering if they could have changed things.”
Jay pressed a kiss to Nicole's hair, inhaling the flowery scent of her shampoo, her hands tracing the warm skin of her back through the material of her sweater. “If Aunt Mimi ever does anything to bother you, I promise to stop her.”
“That's sweet of you, but it isn't a problem. If she says or does anything out of line, I promise to tell you.” The blonde smiled, trying to brighten the mood. “So, let's look at your calendar and figure out what day my parents are going to come for dinner.”
Jay groaned. “Do we have to?”
“Yes, you have to,” Nicole said, still smiling. It eased Jay's worries a little, but she was still unhappy with her nosy Aunt for dragging Nicole in to her scheme. She quickly dismissed the thought that she was just nervous because Nicole's family, with the exception of Harry, had not seemed to like her.
Lieutenant Slack stared at the autopsy report in front of him disbelievingly. “Really? Strychnine?” he muttered to Officer Bellows, who was peering at the same piece of paper over his superior's shoulder. “I expected poison, but not something so... brutal and uncommon.”
“What do you mean, brutal?”
“When you think of poison, what comes to mind, Officer?”
Officer Bellows slicked back his hair. “Home place accidents, kids eating a cleaning product or something... drug overdoses... arsenic, in a murder mystery novel.”
Still looking at the paper, Lieutenant Slack continued. “Yeah, kids eating stuff they aren't supposed to. That's what most strychnine poisoning cases are. It's an ingredient in pesticides, rat poison, and weed killer. It used to be more common. It's definitely not your typical spiked drink poison.”
“So why did our killer use it?” Officer Bellows asked.
There was a pause as Lieutenant Slack thought about his answer. “They wanted the victim to suffer. Strychnine poisoning is a horrible way to die. It starts with uncontrollable convulsions, terrible pain, and finally, your respiratory system is squeezed off. Crushed so you can't breathe. Someone wanted to hurt Mr. Fox, not just kill him.”
“That seems strange, since the motive seems to be inheritance money,” Bellows pointed out. “Most people would want it clean and quick.”
Lieutenant Slack agreed. “Maybe. There might be more to this than just inheritance, although I still think that money is the motive. Maybe one of the family members asked for a loan before, and was denied. They got desperate, so they decided to kill Gramps and get revenge and a nice bundle of money at the same time.”
Sliding the autopsy report back into its manila file, Lieutenant Slack pushed out his chair and stood up. “Bellows, get me a warrant for the financial records of everyone at that party. You can skip Jay Buchanan, she didn't stand to inherit. I'm not crossing her name off yet, but if she was the one who killed him, it wasn't for money.”
“You think Buchanan has something to do with this?”
Lieutenant Slack shook his head. “It seems very unlikely, but we can't make judgment calls like that until we have more information. If I had to make a list, she'd be at the bottom.”
“Some crazy Aunt she has, though, huh? Do you think she's got any more to her story?”
“The Aunt? No. The academy tells you to be suspicious of everyone until you have enough information to point to your perp, but with this lady, I got a feeling... Besides, she wasn't at the party. I looked in to her once we got back to the station after her little visit. No criminal record, no prior connection to the Fox family. Jay was level with us. The Aunt is just trying to play detective out of morbid curiosity.”
“Bet she'd change her mind with the first drive by corpse she saw.”
Slack snorted. “Yeah, I think you're right.” As Bellows left the room, Lieutenant Slack leaned back in his chair, propping his feet up on his desk and loosening his belt. He needed to think.
Nothing about the Fox murder felt right. The motive had to be money. But why did the murder feel so personal? All of the evidence pointed to the fact that the murderer hated Stephen Fox and wanted him to suffer. There was that yellow garter found beside the body, too...
The Lieutenant shook his head, wishing he had a cigarette. Any one of the ladies at the party could have dropped the garter. He would show a picture of it to the Fox ladies when he interviewed them again. He needed to do that anyway – interview everyone at the party again. They would complain, and the brass would warn him about upsetting a financial giant of a family and wasting time, but he didn't have everything he needed.
Some of the guests at that party had to be holding something back. Someone besides the murderer must have seen something. Must know something. Maybe they didn't even know what they knew. That was how it usually went.
Sighing, the Lieutenant picked up his sleek black telephone and punched in the numbers. It was a landline model, a little old fashioned, but he liked it that way. He hated his cell phone, which always seemed to drop calls when he was out in the field, and this one looked like it was from a 1950s detective movie. He had paid a pretty penny for it on eBay.
“Hello?” he said after three rings. “Trace? This is Lieutenant Slack. Did you find anything on that yellow garter?” It was close to impossible to pick up fingerprints from fabric, but he was hopeful that something else might have been left on the garter.
He listened as the high-pitched voice on the other end explained what was in the report. His eyebrows rose several inches on his forehead. “Really? Really... thank you.” Hanging up the phone, Lieutenant Slack shifted his feet on the top of his desk, glancing out the window on his door to make sure that none of his superiors were passing by to see him in that position. He rested his hands on his ample belly, staring thoughtfully at the tops of his brown shoes. Traces of strychnine had been found on the fabric. Only a few milligrams, but it was enough. The killer had kept the garter in his pocket with the strychnine – or her purse, he reminded himself. Maybe he had held them both in the same hand, and that was how the transfer had occurred. Either way, the garter was connected to the murderer.
Waiting for Nicole to finish her shower and pick out some clothes to take back to Jay's apartment, the taller woman sat at her girlfriend's kitchen table and began sorting through a very large pile of mail in the center. She threw bills in one pile, credit card offers in a second pile (unfortunately, there were several of these), and personal letters in a third pile. “Why do you have so much mail, Nicky?” she asked herself out loud.
“What?” a voice drifted in from the kitchen. Jay grinned a little. Apparently, Nicole had supersonic bat hearing. The freckle-faced blonde walked out of her bedroom, her hair wrapped in a towel and piled on top of her head like a turban. She gave Jay a kiss on the cheek, and looked down at the three piles of mail. “Oh, so you decided to help me out?”
“Yeah,” Jay said, a little shyly. She had not expected Nicole to catch her in the act. In fact, she had assumed her girlfriend would not notice until later, and think she had done it herself in a spare moment. Technically, it was a crime to go through someone's mail, even though she had not opened any of the letters, and she did not want to come off as nosy.
“Thank you.” Nicole picked up the pile of business letters and flicked through them with slightly damp fingers, not caring if she left wet fingerprints on the envelope corners. “Electric bill, cable bill, water bill... argh, I hate bills!” She tossed them back onto the table without opening them. The last letter was a manila folder instead of an envelope, addressed from the county. She opened it curiously.
Jay watched Nicole's eyes widen as she pulled out the large packet inside. She stood up to look over Nicole's shoulder and see what it was, but Nicole answered her question out loud. “Oh wow, it's Grandpa's will?”
Confused lines appeared on Jay's forehead. “They send you wills in the mail? I thought you had to go to a reading with a lawyer and stuff.”
“That's only on TV, you goober,” Nicole explained. “In real life, they just send it to you in the mail. Actually, anyone can look up a will in their county, even if they are not related to the will's author...” Her voice drifted off as she continued reading, her face tightening.
“This is about what I expected,” she mumbled to herself, even though Jay was listening. “Monetary assets go to my father, Aunt Martha, and Uncle Tom. Most of the company shares are going to my father. He always had the most business sense...” Nicole turned to the second page.
“The interest from the trust – oh! that's more than I expected – is going to me, Denise, Patrick, and Tom. Of course, Tom and Patrick will just blow it all every month. But if I save mine, I'll be set for a long time.” Jay got the impression that Nicole would have preferred her grandfather back.
“So, you don't have to work anymore?” Jay asked, feeling a little intimidated.
Nicole looked away from the paper and met Jay's blue eyes with her soft green ones. “I would be bored if I didn't work. But I do need to find a job that I enjoy. Working in Grandpa's... it's my father's now, I guess... working in the Fox company is really boring.”
Looking back at the packet, Nicole turned to the third page. “Denise and I get some of Grandpa's jewelry, donation to charity, oh! Oh my God.”
Nicole was so surprised that she sat back down in her chair, stunned into silence. Nervously, Jay took the packet from Nicole's limp hand, reading it for herself. She, too, sank back into her chair, shocked. “He willed you the entire Fox Foundation?”
“Yeah...” Nicole stuttered, still bewildered. “He did... I guess I'll have lobbyists camping outside my door now. I mean, I get a decent wage from it, but the company is mostly non-profit. That's a lot of power. I get to decide where monetary resources are going for research, medicine, homeless shelters...” The blonde felt the burden of responsibility settle over her, but she was also invigorated. Her Grandfather had trusted her with his baby. He knew she would use it to make a difference.
Jay was in shock. Her head spinning, she collapsed onto the couch, her muscles going limp. Nicole was going to inherit all of the Fox Foundation? Suddenly, that made her a much more likely suspect in her grandfather's murder. Horrible thoughts swirled in Jay's head. What if Nicole...? No, she couldn't think like that. But what if?
Feeling sick to her stomach, the dark-haired woman squeezed her eyes shut. She was Nicole's girlfriend. Things were getting serious. Trust was a big part of that. What would it say about their relationship, and her as a person, if she couldn't trust Nicole?
“Oh God,” Jay whispered hoarsely, throwing the paper onto the cushion beside her. Her heart pounded.
Who could she talk to? Normally, when Jay was upset or confused about something and needed advice and sympathy, she went to Nicole. But she couldn't go to Nicole when her girlfriend was part of the problem. She had to ignore it. That was the only way. Maybe if she ignored it long enough, it would go away.
“Jay, are you all right?” Nicole asked, hurrying into the living room and sitting next to Jay on the couch. A worried, small hand stroked her girlfriend's neck and shoulder, trying to offer comfort. Jay jerked away, startled by the touch. The hurt look on Nicole's face tore at her heart.
“I'm sorry,” she said in a low voice. “I guess you startled me... I didn't expect to be dating an heiress,” she lied. Nicole looked unconvinced, but did not push further. Jay felt a knot forming in her throat, and her face started getting hot. She hated herself for thinking such terrible things about Nicole. The sweet young woman had never done anything to make Jay doubt her honesty. But the doubts remained.
“Go call your parents,” Jay said. “I'm just surprised, that's all. Find a time for them to come to dinner, and I'll clear my schedule. I –” Surprised for the second time that afternoon, Jay realized that part of her wanted to say I love you . But she could not give herself over to those feelings until she was sure, absolutely positive, that Nicole had not had anything to do with the murder of Mr. Fox.
“Jay, what's wrong?” Nicole asked from across the table, concern in her eyes.
Hearing her name from those soft lips, Jay flinched, nauseous with guilt and betrayal. She pushed her food around on her plate with her fork, her appetite gone completely. “I'm not hungry. I have a stomachache.” It was the truth, but only part of it. Sometimes, an omission was just as bad as a lie.
“Something's bothering you,” the blonde probed, reaching out to touch Jay's hand. The taller woman dropped her fork onto the plate, letting Nicole stroke her fingers. She wanted to pull her hand away, but it was impossible. Her muscles were frozen as she stared into her girlfriend's soft green eyes.
“I – I can't...” Jay stammered. She suddenly felt afraid. Weak. Vulnerable. She was divided. Part of her was terrified that Nicole was guilty of killing her grandfather, and that she was dating a murderer. The other half hated herself for thinking such terrible things about her girlfriend. Sweet Nicole. The girl had never done anything to deserve Jay's suspicion. That was her first mistake.
As it turned out, Jay did not have to say anything. Nicole's eyes cleared. With stark, painful understanding, she realized what was wrong. “You think I did it,” she said, fumbling the words in her mouth as if she could not believe that she was saying them. “You found out about my inheritance and thought...”
Jay's head swirled. In less than two seconds, her brain had flipped and she was the guilty one, not Nicole. Of course Nicole was innocent. She had been stupid. She had doubted. That was when she made her second mistake. She did not try to defend herself. She did not bother explaining. All that she said, in a broken, hopeless voice, was “yes.”
Nicole pushed her chair back from the table and left the apartment in a flat-out run. Jay slumped in her chair, not going after her or trying to catch her when she heard the front door slam. That was her third mistake.
She sat alone in the kitchen, cradling her face in her hands and crying softly to herself.
Outside in the winter air, Nicole was trying to decide whether she was hurt or angry. Something inside her felt broken. Jay did not trust her. Despite the months they had spent together, Jay thought she was a murderer. The police, she could understand. They did not know her as a person. They had to assume everyone was guilty, even an apparently devoted granddaughter. But her own girlfriend?
“Fuck her,” she gritted out, her breath trailing in silvery puffs like smoke from a train as she practically ran down the sidewalk, passing her car and still walking. Only anger let her say that word without tripping over it – Nicole rarely cursed. But now her heart was broken, and Jay deserved it.
She was frightened. Nicole had come so close to saying those three words that no one can ever take back no matter how hard they try. I love you . She was devastated, and relieved, that she had not said them. But not speaking the words did not make them any less true.
The worst part was that she still loved Jay. She could not take it back or apologize for it, like an insult. For the first time, Nicole knew what it felt like to have her heart broken. It was overwhelming.
Warm tears streaked down her frozen cheeks, leaving cold lines running down to her chin. The biting air made her shiver, and she realized that she had left hr coat at Jay's house. There was no way she could go back and get it now...
Realizing that she had passed her car several minutes earlier, made a 180-degree turn and walked back down the sidewalk, wrapping her arms around herself to try and conserve heat. And because she felt so cold inside. Numbly, she stumbled back to her car and unlocked the door after five frustrated attempts at jabbing the key into the hole. Finally, she managed to wrench the door open and hurried into the seat, starting the ignition and cranking up the heat as high as it would go.
Jay was not sure what to do. Alone in her bedroom, she buried her face in the pillow cover her mother had made for her, fighting back tears. Of course Nicole had nothing to do with her grandfather's murder. She had been beating herself over the head all day, trying to think of a way to apologize to Nicole, and knowing that nothing she said would take back her betrayal. She wondered if, back at her own apartment, Nicole was crying, too. Strangely, that thought comforted her and hurt her at the same time, a strange blend of feelings.
I've never felt like this before, Jay realized. Maybe it was the other side of the strong emotions that had been growing over the past few months? This pain was certainly as powerful as the dizzy happiness and pleasure she felt whenever Nicole was with her. But that was all gone now. She wanted to forget, but that was impossible. It was too late now.
Jay had dumped, and been dumped by, other women before. It was a natural part of dating. Some of them had hurt her pride, some of them had made her think less of herself, but none of them had been completely her fault, and none of them had ever brought so much guilt and pain.
“I hate this,” Jay said into her pillow, her voice muffled by the fabric, her chapped lips rubbing against the soft texture. I hate myself.
She needed to talk to someone. Her mother, a friend, anyone. But Jay did not have many friends. A few acquaintances that she went barhopping with, but no real friends that would accept nighttime phone calls and listen to her stupid problems. They had lost touch over the past few months while she spent more and more time with Nicole and less time partying. If she got married right now, she would not have anyone to stand for her at her wedding.
Weddings? Since when was she thinking about getting married? Especially now, after her monumental act of stupidity. That thought had never crossed her mind until...
Nicole. The little blonde had changed something fundamental in her. Jay groaned, suddenly realizing that she had probably just lost the love of her life. The dark haired woman had never believed in forever, or stupid things like soul mates, but Nicole made her want to try. It thrilled her and scared her.
Now, that chance was gone. Unless...
Unless. Unless she could get Nicole back. She had spent hours feeling sorry for herself when Nicole was the one who really needed comfort and an apology. Even if she didn't take Jay back, it might help heal both of their wounds. And if she did take Jay back... maybe there was still hope for that wedding. Not now, they still had a lot to learn about each other, and a lot of trust to rebuild... but maybe in a few years...
Jay glanced over at the neon red lights of her digital clock. It was 1:00 in the morning. A lonely time of night. She knew what she had to do. It was time to get out of her apartment and go get her girl back. She hopped out of bed, pulling on the same pair of jeans that she had thrown on the floor earlier, and went scrambling around for a shirt. She was still fumbling with the buttons as she tried to squeeze her feet into her tennis shoes by the front door without untying the laces. She was half way out the front door before she remembered her wallet and car keys, and smacked herself on the head for forgetting. Every second she wasted was one more second it would take before she got to Nicole's house.
The knock on the door startled Nicole out of her sleep. Wearily, she climbed off of her couch, adjusting her large white t-shirt to cover her upper thighs. Actually, it was Jay's t-shirt, one of the many she had claimed for her own. She knew it was stupid to be wearing her girlfriend's – ex-girlfriend's? – shirt, but despite everything, Nicole wanted to feel close to Jay. The tee still smelled like her, even though Nicole had washed it since Jay last wore it. Or maybe it was just the blonde's imagination.
Perhaps, subconsciously, she knew who it was, and that was the reason she opened the door at two in the morning. She was not surprised to see Jay standing on her doorstep, wearing faded jeans and an expression of longing.
“Why are you here?” she asked, her voice breaking with sleep.
“I had to come. I should have chased after you the second you left the table and ran out of my apartment. I know you, Nicole. I know you would never kill anyone, especially your grandfather. I'm sorry I was too stupid to tell you that before now.” The tall, dark beauty's eyes burned into hers. Despite everything, Jay was beautiful to her. Nicole realized that she wanted Jay's arms around her more than anything. Her heart ached.
“Nicky... please... forgive me. I love you.” And Jay took Nicole in her arms, her warm, safe arms, and kissed her.
The kiss was soft, but full of emotion. Caring, tenderness, acceptance. Nicole had never been kissed like that before in her life. It shook her to her very core. A wave of pain crashed over her, and she trembled, but could not bear to pull away. There was something else behind the pain, too. Something that threatened to swallow her up.
They parted at the same time. Shy, nervous. It was like a first kiss again. In many ways, it was. “Darling,” Nicole sighed, her breath shaking. Two small hands wound around her lover's neck, holding her close. “I love you, too. I forgive you.”
“I was scared,” Jay whispered against her lips, not meeting her eyes. She was ashamed.
“Don't be afraid.” Two sets of lips found each other, warm and willing. Jay could feel Nicole's heart thumping crazily through the thin material of her nightshirt, and the heat of her skin. “I want to hear it again,” the small blonde said shyly.
“I love you,” Jay groaned, burying her face in her lover's smooth, fair hair. Something burst inside her, and she could not stop saying it. “I love you, I love you,” she murmured, pressing butterfly kisses on Nicole's hair, her cheeks, her forehead, the corner of her mouth.
“Wow,” Nicole breathed, closing her eyes so that Jay could kiss the lids. It felt like Jay had been saving those kisses for a lifetime, to just to give them to her. It was a warm, wonderful feeling.
The two lovers stayed like that for a long time, holding each other close and pressing kisses and soft touches to a cheek, a pale throat, an ear. Neither of them wanted to move until a draft blew in through the open door, startling them both. “We should get that,” Nicole mumbled, interrupted when Jay tugged on her lower lip with gentle teeth.
“Mm. Don't wanna.”
Nicole eased herself out of her tall captor's arms, removing Jay's hands when she tried to pull her close again. Not ready to give her up, Jay grabbed her from behind as Nicole shut the door, two large hands palming her breasts through the fabric of her nightshirt. She gasped, leaning back against Jay's sturdy chest and closing her eyes.
Sighing, she surrendered herself to the gentle touches, her arms falling limp by her sides, leaving herself exposed to the tall woman behind her.
“Nicole,” Jay whispered in the pink shell of her ear, “I don't want to scare you. I really want you right now... I'm worried it's too soon. Please tell me to stop, because I don't think I can stop myself.”
Nicole turned around in her lover's arms, smiling when Jay whimpered at not being able to keep her hands where she wanted them. They wandered to a new home instead, her fingers spreading to squeeze two vulnerable cheeks covered by a high-cut pair of panties. She giggled, burying her face in the crook of Jay's neck. “I don't want you to stop,” she whispered, nipping at her throat with sharp little teeth.
“Shh...” Unable to resist, Nicole stood on tiptoe to taste Jay's lips one more time. And again.And again. “You gotta be gentle with me, sweetie, but I want this. I haven't had sex in about seven years, and both times it was terrible.”
Jay was floored. “Seven years?” she asked, jaw hanging loose. Nicole pushed her chin up to close her mouth.
“I guess I was trying to fit in. I didn't like it at all, so I never tried it again. I have much higher expectations for this time, though,” she purred, inching her way along Jay's collarbone with soft bites and kisses. Jay held her tighter. “I've never made love to a woman before... or someone I was in love with. Someone I wanted to keep forever.”
“Forever?” Jay repeated hopefully, letting the warm glow of the words soothe the last of her worries.
“Mmhmm.” She gasped with surprise when Jay scooped her up in her arms like she weighed nothing and carried her towards the bedroom. Nicole squealed with delight, tilting her head up to kiss Jay's chin, feeling just like a bride on her honeymoon. Jay squeezed her tighter, and Nicole let her head rest against Jay's chest as the taller woman shouldered her way through the door to the bedroom.
Very carefully, Jay deposited her precious cargo on top of the bedspread, delightfully surprised when Nicole grabbed her shoulders and pulled her down to join her. Jay's comfortable weight felt just right on top of Nicole, and she reached down between their bodies to tug Jay's shirt out of her jeans.
“You are amazing,” kiss “and wonderful,” kiss “and...” Nicole tried to say while Jay claimed her mouth over and over again. Nicole wanted to drown in her kisses. Curious hands wound around Jay's shoulders, exploring the muscles of her back and rubbing up and down her arms. Her heart fluttered in her chest.
“I love you,” Nicole whispered, sucking a willing earlobe to accent her declaration. Jay closed her eyes, resting her forehead on the pillow beside Nicole's cheek, panting lightly.
“Are you sure? I'm glad you forgive me, but maybe we should take some time...” Nicole's soft tongue begged for entrance to Jay's mouth, and she granted it, closing her eyes and enjoying the kiss. When it ended, her hands wandered down to Nicole's thighs, exploring gently, playing with the hem of her nightshirt.
“Tell me why we should keep denying this to ourselves.” A brave finger traced along Jay's jaw, trailing down her throat and following the line of her collarbone, finally falling down to the edge of her shirt. Slowly, she started undoing the buttons, her eyes locked with Jay's the whole time. She groaned when she found out that her tall lover had left off her bra.
Desperately wanting to feel their skin touch, she let Jay help her off with her own shirt. Nicole sighed as her hand found Jay's breast, feeling the tip harden in the center of her palm. Her limited experience had never prepared her for how wonderful it could be to touch her lover. Jay sighed too, her hands still occupied with Nicole's smooth legs.
Nicole could feel Jay's dark hair tickling her cheek, falling in a curtain around their faces, as she kissed her lover again. Jay shivered and pressed her breast harder into Nicole's curved hand when the eager blonde began suckling the tip of her tongue. Wanting to feel more skin, she lifted the hem of Nicole's shirt, looking into endless green eyes to make sure it was okay. There was no resistance, only love and excitement.
As Jay helped Nicole with her shirt, she felt small hands working at the buttons and zipper to her jeans, pulling the denim down to her hips. She kicked them off, letting them fall over the side of the bed. Nicole giggled when she saw what Jay was wearing under them, and the sometimes-butch woman blushed bright red.
“Aww... Jay... I'm not laughing at you, dear heart. It's cute that you're wearing panties instead of boxers or boyshorts. I like the tattoo of Tigger, by the way,” she said, gesturing to the cute picture inked into the skin beneath Jay's right hip.
“I have to do laundry,” she mumbled as Nicole brushed back her long, dark hair with one hand. “And I got Tigger while I was very, very drunk.” Giggling, Nicole gave Tigger's nose a butterfly kiss.
“You can still be a stud in panties, baby. And Tigger is adorable. You can be girly sometimes, it's allowed. I love your long hair. I think you look beautiful. Handsome and beautiful at the same time... do you get that?” Encouraged by the glazed look of desire in her little blonde's eyes, Jay relaxed. Nicole's face told her what she needed to know – she was looking at the most wonderful sight she had ever seen. Her eyes and her smile said so.
When those eyes trailed down to Jay's breasts, the taller woman shivered, the skin around her nipples puckering. Nicole moved her head closer, closing her eyes. Jay felt warm breath for just a moment before a wet tongue rolled over her. Slowly, torturously, Nicole wrapped her pink lips around the tight bud, closing her eyes and whimpering in the back of her throat. Jay hissed when sharp teeth grazed the sensitive tip, the small of her back curving as her hips jerked.
Nicole let go of her prize with a soft pop, her eyes widening as she looked down between their bodies. Jay's thigh was pressed right between her legs, rubbing against her through her underwear. Jay looked down, too, her head spinning as she realized that she could feel wetness through the fabric.
“You are so beautiful,” Jay said, not protesting when Nicole moved to take her breast back into her mouth. Jay's fingers sank into her lover's hair while Nicole's wrapped around her back, holding her close. Jay let her right hand drift down Nicole's side, pushing past the elastic of her panties at the back and gripping a firm cheek. Nicole gasped, her mouth only leaving Jay long enough to switch sides and give her other breast loving attention with a soft pink tongue.
Rising higher, Jay started a slow rocking motion between Nicole's legs, using her hands to pull the smaller girl tighter against her thigh. Unable to keep her mouth where it was, Nicole moved her lips up and started kissing the pulse-point in Jay's neck, letting out the softest of cries. Each push of Jay's hips made her moan a little louder, a little sweeter, but she did not stop suckling rhythmically at Jay's neck. Jay squeezed her bottom harder, and was rewarded with renewed squirming.
Desperately, she tugged at Nicole's panties, finally ready to feel all of her. Nicole copied her, and soon, two pairs of underwear landed on the bedpost and the night table respectively. A large, gentle hand combed carefully through golden curls. Jay looked down at her girlfriend's beautiful face when the kisses and bites along her neck finally stopped. Nicole was weeping silently, her pink lips swollen from kisses, her face flushed, tears making her green eyes unnaturally bright.
Concerned, Jay kissed the tears that fell down her cheeks. She had never made a lover cry before. “No, it's okay,” Nicole said, her voice breaking. “It's... wonderful. Please keep touching me...”
Jay was moved. No woman had ever responded to her this passionately, this emotionally. She loved it. Stroking gently, just around the edges of Nicole's lips, Jay moved slowly, getting her lover used to the feeling of being touched. She smiled when warmth and slickness met her fingertips. She suspected that Nicole's horrible past lovers had never taken the time to get her ready or make her feel desired. She was not going to make the same mistake.
Nicole did not want Jay to tease her. Her skin was burning, and her heart was trying to pound its way out of her chest. She breathed in short, shallow gasps, her hips pushing greedily against Jay's hand whenever it moved over a sensitive spot. But Jay was having none of it, purposely staying away from where Nicole needed her most.
“Jay,” she pleaded, catching her lower lip with her teeth. “Jay...” She cupped Jay's chin, kissing her frantically, wanting that connection. She was rising fast, and it frightened and excited her beyond words.
Probing fingers changed direction, rubbing tight circles over the hard little point that made Nicole scream. The little blonde panted, not sure if she would survive. “Jay, I love you,” she gasped, rocking harder against slippery fingertips, trying to push her body as close to her lover's as possible. “Please...”
“Shh... it's okay...” Jay murmured, sensing her lover's nervousness and need. “I'll help you. Tell me what to do.”
“Inside,” Nicole said, not ashamed of begging.
With her thumb making circles above, Jay let two fingers ease inside of Nicole, groaning as the soft muscles squeezed tight around her. “You feel... wonderful...” she whispered, her eyes closing. She was overwhelmed. She almost jumped when she felt a small, curious hand begin exploring between her legs. Jay usually preferred to take her lover over the edge before allowing reciprocation, but this time was different. She wanted them to come at the same time.
The torturous touches seemed to last forever, but forever would never be long enough for either of them. When they finally reached the edge, tipping over together and crashing down, Nicole clung to Jay desperately, afraid that the waves of pleasure would swallow her up and wash her away.
Slowly, Jay eased herself and her lover back down. She allowed herself a moment of self-congratulation. Nicole had the starry-eyed, well-loved look of a satisfied woman. I guess it's true what they say, she thought, not sure whether to be afraid, deliriously happy, or a little of both. It is better when you're in love. She smiled as Nicole tried to snuggle closer to her chest, her eyes closed and her lips forming a smile.
“I'm not asleep yet, you know,” she said, not bothering to open her eyes. “I just need a minute. Then, we're continuing this lesson until I've had lots and lots of practice. Okay?” Jay knew better than to refuse.
Unfortunately, Jay had to work the next morning. It took her fifteen minutes to get out of bed (Nicole kept trying to ‘persuade' her to call in sick), and another twenty to shower (Nicole continued her ‘persuasion' techniques in there, too). By the time she got out the front door, Nicole was up and dressed with her. Not wanting to part from her lover quite so soon, she offered to drive Jay to the book store that she helped manage.
Even though she loved outdoor activities and sports, and had the body to show for it, Jay had a secret passion for reading. That was why, when there had been an opening at the bookstore downtown, she jumped to apply. Now, she helped the owner and dealt with a lot of the paperwork and bills. She still had a lot of time to read, and she could borrow books from the shelves for free.
Nicole's fancy little convertible (stick shift, of course, which Jay teased her about mercilessly) pulled into an empty spot in the bookstore's nearly empty parking lot. As Jay opened her door, she noticed a familiar woman pulling in to the space next to them. Her car was equally sporty, although probably not as expensive as Nicole's.
As soon as she hopped out, she headed for Nicole. Jay's muscles tensed when she noticed the handheld recorder in the woman's hand. “Nicole Fox?” she asked.
“Oh,” the blonde said flatly, obviously not intimidated by the woman who was crowding her space. Jay bristled next to her, but Nicole's soft hand on her arm kept her from pushing the woman away. “You're the maniac reporter who got right up next to my car when I was trying to drive away.”
“That would be me,” the woman said cheerfully. “Cindy Larson, for the Tribune. I don't suppose you would mind answering a few questions for me, hmm? The public really wants to know about what's been happening in your family lately.”
“Nicole doesn't need to answer any questions,” Jay growled, clenching her fists and taking a step forward.
To her credit, the plucky reporter did not allow herself to be intimidated. “And you would be...?”
“The person who is going to make you back off.”
“I can handle this, sweetie,” Nicole murmured next to Jay's ear. Reluctantly, the taller woman backed down. Cindy's eyebrows lifted on her forehead, and Jay knew that she had heard the endearment. “Listen, Miss...”
“Miss Larson. Why don't you tell your paper that my Grandfather's death was a terrible tragedy for us all, and we really hope that he finds peace.”
“Do you think that your grandfather was murdered? There has been a lot of speculation...”
“No comment about that. Listen, I gave you a quote, so if you don't mind...”
As politely as she could, Nicole backed away from the reporter, giving Jay's hand a squeeze. “Have a good day at work. I'll pick you up at six thirty.”
Jay actually got off at five thirty, but she knew Nicole would be there on time. However, if the reporter decided to try and catch them again, she would find herself an hour late.
Jay waved, not wanting to kiss her girlfriend in front of the reporter. She made sure that Nicole got into her car with no further trouble, and watched her drive away. Then, she turned to Larson, who was looking at her with an interested expression on her face.
“So, who might you be?” the reporter asked, looking Jay up and down. She was not sure if she was being checked out, or examined like a specimen.
“Listen,” said Jay, “all you need to know about me is that I won't stand for any trouble where Nicole is involved. She doesn't need members of the press hounding her.”
A beam of morning light angled off the woman's bracelet, flashing in Jay's eyes. “That was one of the politer versions of ‘fuck off' I've heard lately,” said Cindy. “Why did you call Nicole sweetie?”
“I'm not answering any questions.” Without bothering to say anything else, Jay stormed away from the Tribune reporter and into the bookstore, slamming the door behind her with a satisfying thud.
Cindy Larson stared after her for several moments. “This is something I should probably look in to,” she said to herself.
The doorbell startled Jay, who nearly jumped off the couch and slammed her book closed on her fingers. “I'll get it,” she called to Nicole, who was still in the kitchen. She was glad that this dinner was taking place at Nicole's penthouse apartment instead of hers, because she was nervous about being judged. Her perceptive blonde had probably suggested her own apartment for exactly that reason.
My girl is the best, she thought as she went to answer the door. That thought buoyed her as she straightened her hair and the collar of her shirt. She had decided to wear something slightly more feminine today in the hopes of impressing Nicole's parents and brother. She wore tight khaki pants that showed off her hips and a nice blue blouse. Even though it was a little less masculine than her normal wardrobe, she felt comfortable in it. Nicole was quickly showing her that she could wear whatever she wanted without having to worry about labels. To her girlfriend, she was just Jay.
I haven't even told her my full name yet, she realized, peering out of the peephole to make sure that the people on the other side of the door really were Nicole's parents. It was, and Harry was with them. The men were wearing pressed dress pants and matching casual white shirts. Janine, Nicole's stepmonster, was wearing a black dress and pearls, the outfit that could go anywhere. Nicole, Jay decided, could pull off that outfit a lot better than Janine, even though the family of three looked very neat.
Suddenly realizing that she was gawking and not opening the door, she undid the lock and welcomed Nicole's family. “Hello, Buckers!” said Harry, immediately breaking the ice and pulling Jay into a one-armed hug. Jay smiled, a little more relaxed with Nicole's brother.
“You're still determined to call me that?” she asked, shaking her head and smiling a little.
Harry grinned. “Yes!” he declared. “Since Nic is all goo-goo eyed over you, I figure you'll be around for a while.” Forever, I hope, Jay added in her mind.
“Hello, Miss Buchanan – Jay –” said Nicole's father. “Honestly, I am not sure what to call you. Nicole has been no help.” He shook her hand with a firm grip. He did not look as excited as his son, but there was no hostility in his face, either, only a slight curiosity. Maybe, Jay reflected, it was because she was not wearing a tuxedo this time, and looked much more womanly.
“Hello, Mr. Fox,” Jay said, closing the door after he released her hand. “You can call me Jay, it's fine with me. Come in to the kitchen, Nicole's cooking lasagna. Oh! And hello, Mrs. Fox,” she said, giving Nicole's stepmother her best smile and offering her hand. “I'm sorry, you were standing behind your husband when I went to close the door...”
To her surprise, Janine took her hand for a moment, and the expression on her expression was only mildly disgusted. It was an improvement on her attitude at the party, Jay decided.
Hoping to gloss over any awkward pauses, Jay led the party into the kitchen, even though Nicole's apartment had a fully functional dining room, and they already knew the way. “We're eating in the kitchen?” Janine asked, looking surprised.
“Nicole wanted you in here,” Jay explained. She could guess why her lover – she could call Nicole her lover now – had made that choice, too. Jay did not have a dining room, and she wanted to show her parents that there was nothing wrong with eating in a kitchen so that they would be less shocked when they eventually visited Jay's home.
The dark haired woman was impressed by how much thought Nicole put in to all of her choices. I've got me a keeper, she thought, smiling as the blonde in her thoughts turned around from the stove and smiled, opening her arms. Not even thinking about her lover's family watching, Jay wrapped Nicole in a warm hug. She was not quite brave enough to kiss her, but the hug would be good moral support.
When she pulled back, she turned to see the reactions of her guests. Harry looked amused, while Mr. Fox seemed ambivalent toward the exchange. Janine looked surprised, still an improvement on her attitude at the party.
Nicole, who was less distracted than Jay, went over to hug and kiss both of her parents (she was slightly awkward with Janine, but polite) and her brother. Harry surprised her by wrapping her in a bear hug and lifting her off the floor. “Hi, Nic! Slaving away in the kitchen, I see.”
“Jay can cook a little, too,” she said, coming to her warrior's defense. “She makes a mean omelet and pancakes.
Jay blushed blood red. That morning, she had brought Nicole breakfast in bed. She had never done that for a lover before, and said so. Nicole seemed touched. Making love with Nicole had been... there were no words to describe it, and too many. Wonderful. Soul-searing. Beautiful. Something she wanted to experience again and again for the rest of her life.
Coming back to earth, the tall woman realized that Nicole's family was sitting down and staring at her. She blushed even deeper, sure that she was turning purple. Even Nicole was looking at her a little strangely. “Um, I –” she mumbled, almost jumping out of her skin when the doorbell rang again. She glanced at the microwave clock.Of course, Aunt Mimi was early.
“I'll see who it is,” Jay said, making good on her escape and retracing her steps to the front door.
A quick check through the peephole confirmed that it was, indeed, Aunt Mimi outside. Even though the image was slightly blurry and warped, the matching powder blue shoes and purse were a dead giveaway.
Jay opened the door. “Aunt Mimi, what a surprise,” she said, loud enough so that her voice would drift back into the kitchen. “I wasn't expecting you. Why are you here?”
“You are a terrible actor,” said Aunt Mimi, frowning disapprovingly at her niece. “I am glad Nicole has some talent, at least. You picked a good one, dear.”
A little of Jay's embarrassment vanished. “Yeah, I did, didn't I?”
“Stop mooning and take me to the kitchen,” Aunt Mimi ordered.
The four people in the kitchen all looked equally surprised when Jay returned with Aunt Mimi. “Hello, you must be Nicole's family,” said the middle-aged woman, studying all three of the dinner guests over the tops of her thick glasses. All of them had salads in front of them. Nicole's father was munching steadily, a little bit of white dressing hanging on the corner of his mouth. Harry was ignoring his salad completely. Janine ate with delicate, small bites. Nicole was in between. She ate steadily, not worrying about overeating, but not quite as messy as her father. Jay noticed a salad in front of her own place as well.
“You probably have no idea who I am, do you? I'm Jay's Aunt Mimi. My car was having trouble and when I realized my favorite niece was a few blocks away –”
“I'm your only niece,” Jay interrupted.
Aunt Mimi glared at her. “As I was saying – I just thought I'd use the phone and call for a tow.”
“Oh, that's awful!” Nicole said, looking appropriately upset. “Of course you can use the phone. But after that, you should stay and have some dinner.”
“I really don't think –” Jay tried to protest, even though she knew that there was no way to stop her Aunt and her girlfriend's scheme.
“It's the polite thing to do,” Nicole said, giving Jay a warning look, “and I made enough lasagna for everyone. I know you'll enjoy it.”
“Why thank you, dear, I would be delighted to have some dinner with you. If you are sure I'm not intruding, of course.”
“By all means,” said Harry, immediately offering friendship. “The more the merrier! And what an interesting purse, ma'am,” he added as a polite afterthought. Jay noticed that his salad was mostly untouched. Obviously, Harry was more of a carnivore than an herbivore.
Aunt Mimi glowed. Obviously, Harry had impressed her in only a few seconds. He seemed to have that effect on people. “Why thank you, young man,” she said, taking a seat at the table. “And you must be Nicole's brother, Harry. I've got to know your sister very well in the past few weeks. She's always over at Jay's house.”
Jay winced at the startled, uncomfortable looks that both of Nicole's parents gave her. Aunt Mimi, not noticing her blunder, plowed forward. “Of course, I was surprised to hear that she was spending time with a Fox, especially after all the things I've been reading in the news!”
“It's been crazy,” said Harry. He did not seem reluctant to talk about family business, at least in a general way. “Reporters parked outside of Grandpa's house all the time. Some of them have even found our houses, and try to get interviews...”
“Damn reporters,” said Mr. Fox, finally showing some strong emotions for the first time that night. “Can't get a moment's peace.”
“Can you blame them?” asked Janine. Apparently, Nicole's family had been bottling up their feelings, and they were grateful for some form of release. “It is a sensational story. Your poor father.”
“Nicole always spoke very fondly of him,” Aunt Mimi said, sounding sympathetic.
“I'll go and get the lasagna,” said Nicole, moving over to the stove to get out some plates and start serving. Jay took a few hurried bites of her salad, trying to get some of it in her stomach before the heavier lasagna came. “You'll enjoy it, Mimi.”
“Lasagna is one of my favorites,” said the older woman, sitting at an empty spot at the table next to Jay. “Wipe your mouth, dear,” she said, handing her mortified niece a napkin.
“Leave Jay alone,” Nicole called from over her shoulder, making Jay feel slightly better.
“I hope that they wrap up the whole business quickly so that the poor man can rest in peace,” said Aunt Mimi, eager to return to the topic of Mr. Fox's sudden death. “The papers seem to think that he died in such a painful way.”
“The police haven't told us anything yet,” said Janine. “He seemed to be in pain. I suppose it could have been a seizure.”
Harry rolled his eyes at his stepmother over his plate, but was distracted when Nicole slid a plate of lasagna in front of him. He quickly stuffed his fork into the steaming sauce and cheese, and chewed blissfully. Soon, Aunt Mimi, Nicole's parents, and Jay also had a plate. Nicole brushed Jay's hand with hers before she sat down with her own plate.”
“This is wonderful, sis,” said Harry through a mouthful of food. Nicole giggled at him for talking with his mouth full, and Janine glared. Mr. Fox pretended not to notice. Jay wondered if they had done the same thing when they were little.
“Very good, dear,” Mr. Fox added, although he was adult enough to swallow his food before complimenting the chef. Nicole looked pleased.
“Do you really think it was a seizure? The papers seem to think it was some sort of homicide,” Aunt Mimi prodded, determined to keep the conversation on track.
Jay sighed. Aunt Mimi was just not going to give up. She decided to keep her head down and hope that she could avoid most of the shrapnel when the inevitable explosion finally happened.
“The police haven't released any information to us yet. I have no idea if someone killed him or not, but I'm sure Grandpa didn't just have a seizure,” Nicole added.
Deciding to make it clear to Nicole's parents, who were looking more and more uncomfortable, that she wanted nothing to do with this, she said, “Aunt Mimi, I know you're curious, but maybe you should ask questions about this later. Somebody died... his family is still recovering from that loss.”
Janine shot Jay a pathetically grateful look. Jay was pleased. Anything to score points with Nicole's parents. “Exactly,” said Aunt Mimi. “Somebody died. It is very important that the explanation behind that death is discovered.”
“So, you think it's a murder, too?” Harry asked, seeming interested in the conversation.
“I wasn't there,” Aunt Mimi pointed out. “I can only formulate a hypothesis at this point.”
“Of course it wasn't a murder,” Janine insisted. “That would suggest someone in the family...” her voice trailed off, and she realized that everyone else around the table was looking at her. “You all really think that someone in the family murdered – you can't possibly believe...”
“I'm sure the police will sort it out,” Jay pleaded, wanting to calm everyone down. No one seemed to hear her. Noticing that the plates were empty, and wanting any possible excuse to leave the table, she mumbled, “I'll bring out dessert and some wine.” There was a sudden, painful silence. “Or maybe just the dessert...”
“So, you say you know this person, Nicole?” Janine asked as Jay stood up to get the cheesecake.
“Yes, I know Aunt Mimi...”
Don't connect me to her, please, Jay thought desperately, wishing with all her might.
“She and Jay are very close.”
Janine frowned, ignoring the small slice of cheesecake that Jay presented her with. “Then why is she really here, asking questions about our family?”
“Because her car broke down,” Nicole said calmly, not about to let her stepmother get to her.
“I consider that very unlikely.”
“I don't blame her for being curious,” said Harry. “With all the news coverage, what do you expect? Of course she wants to ask questions. We all should be asking a lot more questions about this whole thing. Something's wrong with it.”
“Those damn reporters, that's what's wrong! Can't get my damn car out of the driveway to get to work. Ugh, work! Running this business is a headache. I almost wish he hadn't left it with me, but Tom or Martha can't find their way out of a paper bag, let alone run a company.” Everyone looked surprised. It was the longest speech that Mr. Fox had ever made. Realizing that he was being scrutinized, the businessman tugged at his collar nervously. “Well... it's true...” he said defensively.
“What I want to know about is the yellow garter,” said Aunt Mimi, who did not seem interested in her cheesecake either. Nicole and her father were eating, and Harry's slice was already gone. “Why was it lying next to the body?”
“How do you know about that?” Janine snapped, glaring at Aunt Mimi. “You are asking too many questions. What's your involvement in this?”
“She doesn't have any involvement,” Jay said, annoyed at the horrible turn this dinner had taken. She honestly wanted to impress Nicole's family, and had hoped that, for once, Aunt Mimi would be discreet. She should have known better. “She's just delusional. For some reason, she thinks she can ‘solve the mystery' – God knows why.”
Aunt Mimi, who had a rhinoceros hide around her ego, was not offended at all by Jay's comments. She had heard much worse from her niece, and refused to let it discourage her. She tapped one powder blue shoe on the floor impatiently. “Are you done yet, Jay? Really. Calling your Aunt delusional! I should tell your mother.”
Jay groaned. “Please. Don't bring any more of the family crazies in to this conversation.”
“There are more of you?” Harry asked, looking pleased. “Delightful! Your Aunt is very entertaining, Buckers.”
“I'm glad someone is enjoying themselves,” Jay muttered.
Janine, who had collected herself, gathered her purse from the floor and stood up. “Thank you for dinner, Nicole,” she said icily. “It was certainly a – thoughtful invitation.” Her stepdaughter did not miss the pause.
“You're welcome,” said Nicole. “It's getting late. I expect that you and father want to get home.”
“I want another slice of cheesecake,” said Mr. Fox. Jay, who had not eaten hers, pushed her plate over.
“Here, I can wrap mine up for you, I haven't touched it.”
That pleased Mr. Fox. “Why thank you,” he said, giving Jay a smile. Maybe the evening was not a total disaster after all, Jay thought. At least Mr. Fox did not seem totally scandalized by Aunt Mimi. Janine was another story. She would have to find another way to win over Nicole's stepmother.
Once he had been placated with cheesecake, Mr. Fox was more than willing to let his wife drag him out of Nicole's apartment and into the elevator. Harry, who had remained behind, watched them go. “Well, Stepmonster took that badly, don't you think?” he asked Nicole.
She sighed. “I feel like we didn't learn anything important.”
“You wanted to see if our parents were involved? Do you really suspect them?” Harry asked, looking doubtful.
Aunt Mimi shook her head, even though the question had not been directed at her. “No. At least, I don't think your father has anything to do with this. He seems irritated that his father died and left him with a bunch of responsibility.”
“That sounds like Dad,” Nicole admitted. “He would rather be golfing than slaving away in an office. I know people think that the owners of a company just sit in their plush leather chairs all day and decide how many people to fire, but there is a lot of networking and fundraising and organizing involved.”
“If not Dad, then who?” Harry voiced what all of them were thinking.
Jay, who was still sulking, said, “well, honestly, if your Grandfather didn't trust your Aunt Martha or Uncle Tom with the business, I doubt they would be smart enough to poison him. Not to mention Tom Sr. was out of town at for the party.”
“He's back now,” Nicole said darkly. “Dad mentioned it. Very upset that this whole fiasco pulled him away from his wonderful time in Paris without his wife.”
“Right,” Harry agreed. “Moving on, Denise isn't smart enough to think of poison. Aunt Beatrice is dramatic, but also not very bright.”
“You're dismissing too many suspects at one,” Aunt Mimi advised.
“That leaves Uncle Bill, Mum Janine, and the rest of the grandchildren: Tom, Patrick, me, and you, Nicky. Oh, and Jay, I suppose, but I don't see what good killing Grandpa would have done her.”
“You're including yourself on the list of suspects?” Aunt Mimi asked, looking at Harry with surprise and a little admiration.
Harry shrugged his shoulders. “Well, I was there. So was Nicky. Either of us could have gotten close enough to do it. Anyone could have, really. I just think we should start by looking at the people bright enough to think of poison...”
“We?” Jay asked, a strange foreboding creeping over her. Oh no, not another addition to the Amateur Sleuthing Club.
“Well, I want to find out who knocked him off, too,” said Harry. “I was very fond of Grandpa. Mum Janine is pretty upset with you, by the way, Nicole. I think she knows that you brought Jay's Aunt here on purpose.”
“I can look in to her and Uncle Bill, if you want to try Tom Jr. and Patrick. Split the work up.”
“What do you mean, look in to them?” Nicole asked.
“We have money, you know, sis. Have you ever thought of using it? Maybe hiring a private investigator to find out if they have anything shady in their past?”
“Hiring a private investigator to dig up dirt on our family?” Nicole looked shocked. Jay put a steadying hand on her smooth shoulder, running a hand over the peaches-and-cream skin spattered with freckles. The freckles, she knew from experience, extended all the way down her body and covered almost every inch of her. She had kissed most of them. Thinking about Nicole naked made Jay perk up. She was already blocking out memories of the disastrous party.
“Well, if someone in our family killed Grandpa, someone in our family has something to hide. They won't just tell us.”
“I think Harry has a good idea. But you really don't need to hire an investigator. I can investigate myself. It's time to look into the backgrounds of the suspects more thoroughly!” Aunt Mimi declared.
That brought Jay out of her love-induced daydreams. “What? No, Aunt Mimi. Absolutely not...”
“I did it!” Aunt Mimi crowed triumphantly when Jay sat down across the table from her at the public library. Several annoyed readers shot death glares at her, but she did not seem to notice. Today, the bag and shoes were fire-engine-red, and they burned Jay's corneas.
“What did you do?” Jay asked, not sure if she wanted to hear the answer, but too afraid of what might happen if Aunt Mimi's shenanigans came back to bite her.
“I found out something important about Nicole's Uncle Bill,” she said. She had a gleam in her eye that reminded Jay of a housecat that had just caught a snake and delivered it as a present to its owner.
“Do I want to know?” Jay asked.
“He has a gambling problem, and is very deep in debt.”
“He's rich,” Jay protested. “I'm sure he has money to burn.”
“Yes, but he doesn't want his wife to find out.”
“I seriously doubt Aunt Martha could figure it out. She seems a little too wrapped up in herself to notice. How did you find out?” Jay asked hesitantly.
“I followed him.” Aunt Mimi looked even more proud of herself, if that was possible. Jay was horrified.
“You followed him? What were you thinking? Anyone could have seen you! You could have been arrested or something.”
“Arrested for what? Following someone to a casino and watching a few shady looking men in black suits push him around?”
“I did not want to know that last part,” Jay whined, hitting her forehead with her palm. The loud smack echoed through the bookshelves, and several people looked at her oddly. Jay pretended not to notice. “Were you eavesdropping? Wait, don't answer that, of course you were. What did they say?”
“I just told you,” said Aunt Mimi. “The men in suits wanted payments, he said that he had come in to some more money and would pay them soon, and that he didn't want his wife to find out.”
“So much for boring Uncle Bill,” Jay sighed. “I still can't believe you did that. Don't you watch any TV or read books? Men in black suits asking people for money are generally people you want to avoid , Aunt Mimi. Eavesdropping on their conversations is a very bad idea. Did that occur to you at all? Why am I even asking that? I already know it didn't.”
“How am I supposed to find out anything, then?” Aunt Mimi protested, clearly not affected at all by Jay's warnings of danger. “If I want to solve this mystery, I need to find a motive, and evidence...”
Jay sighed, knowing that her Aunt would never listen to her advice. Lowering her eyes and trying to push back a pounding headache, she made a decision that she hoped she would not regret later. “Next time you want to do any sleuthing, will you call me?” Jay asked. “I want to come with you and help.” Help make sure you don't get yourself killed.
“Yes,” said Aunt Mimi. “I'm glad you're finally taking an interest in the important work that I am trying to do. Nicole understood right away, but you took a while to come around.”
Deciding that it was pointless to argue, Jay took the passive approach and did not say anything to her Aunt. When she stood up and collected her bright red purse, Jay followed her. “So, do you want to grab some dinner?” Jay asked. “Then you can tell mother I'm all right, and I won't have to visit her this weekend.”
“Grab dinner?” Aunt Mimi looked aghast. “When we have investigating to do? You just told me you wanted to help, so I'm putting you to work. Call Nicole, we're going to find out more about her cousin, Tom Jr.”
Jay swallowed nervously, trying to loosen the knot forming in her throat. She had a feeling that Aunt Mimi was going to get them in to trouble.
Jay looked around the packed club, warily taking stock of her surroundings. This was not the kind of place she usually spent time at. Oh, she was familiar with dance clubs, but not straight ones. The atmosphere was totally different. In a gay bar, a woman could feel safe. The men were usually not interested, and the women took it all right if they were turned down. In a straight club, there were no guarantees.
“Are you sure this isn't too risky?” Jay asked, hooking her fingers in the belt loops of her tight jeans. “I don't like this place.”
Nicole laughed, stroking Jay's cheek and staring up at her with sparkling green eyes. “Are you worried about yourself, or about me?” Jay shrugged, not wanting to upset Nicole by implying that she needed protection. “Don't worry about it, Romeo, I know you. You want to make sure no creeps hit on me. I think it's kind of sweet.”
Jay felt a warm blush creeping down her neck. The techno music in the club was too loud, and the smell of cigarette smoke and booze was too strong. Usually, the familiar smells were a comfort to her. Not anymore.
“Look, Jay, I think I see your Aunt Mimi,” said Nicole, standing on tiptoe to try and catch a glimpse of her target over the crowded dance floor. The back of her short skirt lifted up, teasing Jay with a glimpse of her upper thighs, and the darker woman groaned, wishing that the night was already over and she could curl up in bed with Nicole. Or maybe do other things in bed. Anything but waiting for her eccentric, middle-aged Aunt in a straight club listening to awful music. Oh well, at least she got to enjoy the sight of Nicole in a short skirt and heels.
Unfortunately, Nicole was right. There was Aunt Mimi, heading straight through the dance floor and pushing aside several young couples. They glanced at her oddly as she passed. She was definitely not the type of person that this bar catered to. Most of them were in their twenties or early thirties, a few were probably underage. Aunt Mimi was in her late forties, and with her matching leopard-print purse and shoes, she certainly drew attention. Aside from their sexuality, Jay and Nicole could blend in, but Aunt Mimi stood out like a sore thumb.
“Well, darling, there you are!” Aunt Mimi yelled over the booming baseline of the music. “Jay, why aren't you wearing a skirt like Nicole? She looks so pretty.”
“Leave her alone, Mimi,” said Nicole, coming to her lover's defense. “Look at all the girls here in jeans... besides, Jay is wearing a girl blouse. I think she even put some lip color on.” Jay blushed, uncomfortable with being scrutinized and commented upon.
“Are you sure your cousin is here?” Aunt Mimi asked Nicole, straining to be heard over the music.
The blonde nodded her head. “That's why we called you. We followed him here from his apartment. Look, he's over by the bar trying to pick up that redhead.” Nicole gestured to her left. There was Tom Jr., leaning over and flashing a charming smile at a busty redhead, who did not seem to be rejecting his advances. Jay wrinkled her nose. She did not like Tom, and she did not like the thought of any woman being alone with him, even for a second. He was a creep.
“What do you think he is doing here?” Aunt Mimi asked.
Jay looked at her like she was crazy. “Aunt Mimi. He's here to find a girl for the night.”
Aunt Mimi looked surprised, like she had never considered this. “Really?” she asked, peering owlishly at Jay over her thick glasses.
“That's usually why people go to clubs,” Nicole explained gently.
“Well, I doubt we will find any clues here,” Jay said loudly, putting her hand on the small of Nicole's back. Goosebumps erupted along her arms as she felt the warm strip of skin between Nicole's skirt and tank top. “I think we should call it a night.”
“I drove all the way out here,” Aunt Mimi protested, “we should watch him for a little while. If he is drunk, maybe he will reveal something. Nicole, you should go up and talk to him.”
“I don't think that's a good idea,” Jay interjected. Even though Tom was her cousin, she did not want Nicole anywhere near the scumbag.
“You go talk to him, then, Jay. Go get Nicole a drink from the bar. It would be rude of you not to talk to him if you saw him sitting there....”
“Fine, just wait here then,” Jay muttered. She looked pleadingly at Nicole, hoping that the blonde would side with her. Nicole just smiled, showing off her soft pink lip-gloss and even white teeth.
“Go get me a drink, stud, and maybe I'll reward you with a kiss,” she said, bumping her hip against Jay's and pressing their bodies close together. Jay breathed through her nose, enjoying the scent of Nicole's body spray much more than the smell of stale cigarette smoke.
“Fine,” she gave in. “I'll go get a drink. Then, we're going home.” At least, Jay hoped they would go home. Nicole and Aunt Mimi tended to ignore her advice whenever they felt like it. “Nicole, don't you dare leave Aunt Mimi alone. I don't want to think about what kind of trouble she might get in to here.”
Reluctantly, Jay headed over to the bar, glad that she was tall enough to navigate her way through the crowd. Her long legs took her in Tom Jr's direction quickly. Once or twice, a man tried to catch her eye, but she ignored them and kept walking. Tom spotted her before she reached him and watch her come closer, not looking surprised when she took the seat next to him at the bar. The redhead glared at her, obviously not liking competition.
“Who is this?” she asked Tom, understanding immediately that the two knew each other.
“Nobody important,” Tom drawled, brushing back his hair with his hand and looking Jay up and down. “You look much better in girl clothes instead of a Tux, Jay Buchanan. Does my lovely cousin know you're here?”
Jay shrugged, breaking the tense line of her shoulders for a brief moment. “She's here,” she said stiffly. “I'm getting her a drink. I saw you.”
“And you couldn't resist coming over to visit. Well, I'm glad.” Leaning over to the redhead, he whispered something in her ear that made her eyes widen and her cheeks turn red. She grabbed her purse and clicked her way back into the crowd, looking back over her shoulder at Tom several times.
“She'll wait for me,” he said, sounding smug. “So, what are you and Nic doing here? This doesn't seem like your type of place. Although I have to admit that you look a lot better than most of the girls here.” He gave her a wink that made her stomach toss in an unpleasant way.
Jay put off his question long enough to order a drink from the bartender. Guinness for her, something light and fruity for Nicole. “We wanted to see this place,” she said, keeping her voice casual.
“I don't think it's a coincidence that you ran in to me here,” he said. His voice was too smooth, and so was his smile. Jay did not trust him at all. “Why did you track me down?”
“Do you think your Grandfather was murdered?” Jay asked, deciding to be direct. Once she found something to tell Aunt Mimi, she could high tail it out of there and take Nicole back to her apartment for a much more enjoyable activity.
“The reporters seem to think so,” said Tom, his eyes not giving away anything.
“I'm asking because of Nicole,” Jay said. She had not meant to say it, but she realized that it was true. Anyone who had threatened Mr. Fox could also be a threat to Nicole. She did not want anyone to hurt her lover, especially a member of her own family. Suddenly, she had a reason to catch the killer, too. Not for the thrill or the puzzle like Aunt Mimi. Not for justice like Nicole. To protect the one she loved.
“Nicole told you to ask me?”
“No,” Jay lied. “I want to know who you think did it. I'm not taking any chances with Nicole. This whole thing has her pretty shaken up.”
“What makes you think I didn't do it?” he asked, his eyebrows rising on his forehead. Instead of looking offended or surprised, he looked amused. Jay realized that he was enjoying this conversation. He thought it was an amusing game. “You obviously hate me. Pity. Attractive girls usually don't dislike me so intensely... Tell me if you ever change your mind.”
“About your sister, or about disliking you?”
The bartender put Jay's Guinness on the counter in front of her, and she took a sip, closing her eyes and enjoying the taste. But a sip was all she would have tonight. She needed to drive home, and she wanted to be sober and alert in a strange place like this, especially with Tom around. Hard drinking was not her style anymore.
“Fine. Tell me why I should suspect you, then? Besides the fact that I dislike you,” Jay said, turning back to look at him.
“Well, my grandfather and I never saw eye to eye. He never approved of my ‘womanizing ways'. He didn't trust me with too much of the company, either, since his little princess, Nicky, got more shares than I did, and control of the Fox Foundation, according to the will.”
“Anyone at that party could have killed him for money.”
“Even you?” Tom asked, taking a sip of his own drink and uncrossing his legs.
“Even me. But not for money.”
“Maybe. Except I didn't know she was related to Stephen Fox until that night. Would have been kind of hard to run to the drugstore, get poison, and run back before anyone noticed I was gone.” Suddenly, a light came on in Jay's head. She remembered running in to Tom, alone, in the dining room that night. He had claimed to be searching for her, but what if...? Could he have been getting the poison? Checking to see if it was ready, maybe, while no one else was around? Measuring out a dose? It was certainly suspicious that he had not gone with the rest of the Fox family to the sitting room.
“What kind of poison do you think they used?” Tom asked, nudging the subject in another direction. “Do you think he tasted it in his drink before he croaked?”
“How do you know for sure that it was poison?” Jay asked, even though anyone with eyes could have figured it out after watching Mr. Fox's last moments.
“You didn't read the afternoon paper? Someone from the police department leaked it. The autopsy report came back. One of us slipped something into Mr. Fox's drink.”
For the first time since starting the conversation, Jay was not able to cover up her emotions. She was genuinely surprised. “So it really was poison,” she said, half-bewildered. Of course, they had suspected, but now they had proof. It was definitely a homicide.
“If you didn't think it was, why are you talking to me? Do you want to hear who I think did the old bastard in or not?”
“Why not?” Jay said. “Go ahead, make an unpleasant conversation even worse.” But she knew Aunt Mimi would be interested in this.
“I think it was Nicole's stepmother. I know you don't like me, but that woman's a real snake. Did you know that her first husband died unexpectedly? They say he had a heart attack. The life insurance policy was... very generous. It certainly gave her enough money to run in the same social circles as my Uncle.”
That was certainly news to Jay. “I'll keep that in mind. By the way, Tom, just how much did you get from Mr. Fox's will?”
“Enough to live the way I want,” said Tom. “But not all at once. Apparently, the old ass didn't trust me with a large, lump sum. He never liked me. I never liked him. Since he left my parents, brother, and me an nice little nest egg, though, I feel that it's appropriate to... drink to his memory?”
Giving Tom an unpleasant stare, she reluctantly lifted her glass to match his in a toast. “To Stephen Martin Fox. A crusty old bastard, but thankfully, a filthy rich one. Amen.” A buzzing noise came from Tom's pocket, and he pulled out a sleek black cell phone. “Ah, I do believe my lady is wondering where I am.”
“You gave her your number?” Jay asked, surprised.
“I'll just block it tomorrow.” The young man shrugged and stood up, tipping an imaginary hat at Jay. “I suspect I'll see you again, Jay Buchanan. Take care of my lovely cousin for me.” The lecherous look in his eyes told Jay exactly what he was thinking about.
“It wasn't a pleasure,” she said, leaving the rest of her Guinness, but taking Nicole's drink with her as she made her way back across the dance floor.
When she got back to the place where she had left Nicole and Mimi, she found the little blonde staggering under the weight of her very inebriated Aunt. Her glasses were askew on her nose, and she was smiling crookedly. Her leopard print purse threatened to fall off of her shoulder and get lost under somebody's feet.
“Hallo, Jackie,” she slurred, tipping a little as Jay rushed forward to steady her. She winced at the reference to her full name.
“Aunt Mimi! What the hell?” her niece asked, feeling her Aunt's warm face.
“Someone gave her a glass, and she was stupid enough to drink it,” Nicole said, relieved that the older woman's weight had been taken off of her. “I think someone put a few shots of hard liquor in it, because she's totally plastered. No signs of any drugs in her system, though.”
“Nonshense... I'm perflecty... perleft-ly... I'm fineee...” she insisted, wobbling on her high heels.
“Aunt Mimi,” Jay groaned, slapping her forehead. “You should know better than to drink anything someone gives you at a club!”
“Mebbe I'm poishoned,” she said, her eyes getting very big at the thought. “Like the murder – it'sh in all tha booksh. That's it!”
“Wow, I think we should get her back to the car before she causes any more trouble,” said Jay.
“Too late,” came Nicole's voice from somewhere to her right, “trouble's found us...”
Jay followed her lover's gaze, her eyes settling on a tall, well-built man with pale skin and blue eyes. His dark hair was impeccably styled, and he wore very expensive looking clothes. Since dating Nicole, Jay had learned to tell the difference. He obviously recognized Nicole, because the crowd of people surrounding them parted for him like the Red Sea as he headed towards the blonde.
When he reached them, Jay noticed that he was an inch taller than her, and it irritated her for some reason. Her skin crawled when the man kissed Nicole's cheek in that annoying, wealthy-family way. The taller woman's fists clenched at her sides.
“Nicky! I didn't expect to see you here. Have you missed me? Of course you have. I read all about your grandfather in the paper. What a tragedy.”
Nicole's pink lips pressed into a thin line, and her green eyes narrowed. She was obviously uncomfortable. “Hello, Lucas,” she said in a polite, strained voice that could, nevertheless, be heard over the booming techno music. “What are you doing here?”
The tall man – Lucas – laughed, showing off a row of even white teeth. He has to have perfect teeth, too? Jay thought sulkily. “Oh, I thought I'd mingle with the lower classes tonight, find out what it's all about. Do you mind if I smoke?” He did not wait for an answer before pulling a lighter and pack out of his pocket. Jay stared intently at the Rothman's label, trying to control her bad mood.
“Hallo,” Aunt Mimi slurred, deciding that it was time to resume her usual role as the center of the conversation. “You're hanshom...” She leaned forward at a dangerous angle, and Jay had to grab her arm to keep her from collapsing on top of Lucas.
“Why thank you, ma'am!” said Lucas, looking delighted at the compliment. “I happen to be a model.”
“What kind of m-model?” Aunt Mimi hiccupped.
He grinned at Nicole slyly, and Jay wanted to wipe the smug look from his face with a good punch. “An underwear model,” he said in a mock whisper. “Nicole used to be my girlfriend,” he continued, with an unnecessary emphasis on the word my. As Jay glared at him, he noticed her for what seemed to be the first time. “Oh, and who is this? For shame, Nicky, for waiting to introduce me to such a beautiful lady.”
Glancing nervously from Jay to Lucas, Nicole took a deep breath. “Lucas, this is Jay... my girlfriend.”
For a moment, Lucas lost his composure. He looked surprised, and a little hurt. However, like a true child of the bourgeoisie, he recovered in less than a second. “Your girlfriend? You must be joking.”
“No joke, I'm afraid,” said Jay, grudgingly offering the attractive man her hand. He squeezed tighter than necessary when he took it, and Jay squeezed back until Nicole glared at both of them, and they let go with identical sheepish expressions on their faces. Nicole detested all kinds of pseudo-macho behavior. That's probably why she dumped this creep, Jay thought. She had never asked Nicole if she was bisexual, simply assuming that she was a lesbian, too. Now, doubts crept into her mind. What if she wasn't good enough in bed for Nicole? What if she decided to leave so that she could be with a man and please her parents?
“Stop it,” Nicole whispered, instinctively reading Jay's thoughts. “Remember what I told you during our first night together?”
Jay did remember. She remembered two things. First, Nicole's ardent professions of love, and the way she had looked as Jay touched her. Like nothing else in the world had ever made her feel that good. The second thing only added to her comfort. Nicole had only had sex twice – and both times, it was terrible. That meant that Lucas...
Feeling much more confident, Jay put an arm around the petite blonde's shoulders, staking her claim. Nicole was dating her now, and no rich slimeball (even a good looking one) was going to steal her away.
“So, Lucas, what have you been doing with yourself since I broke up with you?” Nicole asked, subtly reminding him that she had chosen to end the relationship.
“The way I remember it, I broke up with you,” Lucas countered, still disgustingly smooth and polite.
“Sho, you don't have a girlfriend now?” Aunt Mimi asked. She had been staring at the disco ball over their heads, hypnotized by the swirling colors. “Handshom man like you? You can date my niece!” she said, pushing Jay forward.
Jay blushed, angry with her Aunt for making an awkward situation even worse. “What? No! Er... excuse her, she's very drunk.” She bent down to whisper sharply in Aunt Mimi's ear. “Aunt Mimi, I'm dating Nicole! Not to mention you don't set up your dyke niece with a guy who is a total stranger!”
“I'm sorry, ma'am, I'm afraid I will have to decline, as lovely as your niece is,” he gave Jay a long, slow up-and-down that made her squirm. Thankfully, he was distracted by a passing brunette in a very skimpy red evening dress, and decided to try his luck elsewhere – at least for tonight.
Before he left, he turned back to Nicole. “It was wonderful to see your beautiful face again, darling,” he said, bending down to press a kiss to her hand. His lips lingered there for a moment longer than Nicole was comfortable with, and she pulled her hand away. Lucas did not seem fazed by the rejection. “My father always says I was a fool for tossing away such a good catch. I'm starting to think he's right. You still live at the same address?” Nicole nodded stiffly, knowing that he would check anyway. She recognized the predatory look in his eye. “I'll have to drop by and pay you a visit, now that I'm back in the city. Good night, Jay. And good night to your charming Aunt, too. I'm afraid I never got her name...”
“Call me Mimi,” Jay's Aunt said cheerfully as Nicole's ex-boyfriend vanished back into the dancing crowd, probably looking for the brunette.
“Well, this turned out great,” Jay said, trying to relax her jaw and unclench her teeth. “Two assholes in one night. I've got more than my fair share of them!”
“Come on, dear heart,” Nicole cooed, stroking Jay's face, “it wasn't so bad.” The little blonde pressed her hips against Jay's teasingly, making her groan. She wanted her girlfriend to stop being jealous and forget what had just happened. She felt a little guilty for not putting Lucas off more strongly, but he had startled her, and she wanted to be polite. “I promise to make it up to you,” she whispered, nipping a sensitive spot beneath Jay's earlobe.
“Huh?” she groaned.
“You're going to drive me back to your apartment, stud, and take me until both of us forget all about my stupid ex-boyfriend, my equally stupid cousin, and your loony, drunk Aunt.”
Jay let out a long, slow breath, feeling heat race out from her spine. Then, the end of Nicole's sentence hit her. “Aunt Mimi, no! Come back!” she called, noticing the middle aged woman wandering towards the bar, probably wanting another drink. Reluctantly pulling away from her seductive girlfriend, she ran after her Aunt just in time to rescue her from running in to a distracted couple making out on the dance floor. “Come on, you, we're getting out of here!” I've got an appointment with a pretty little blonde in my bed.
Continued in Chapter Eleven
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