Book One


Mistress of Dreams

by Sam Ruskin


Chapter 1

I hovered in that quiet place between wakefulness and sleep. My eyes fluttered open as I felt her approach. We had known one another for a long time, a very, very long time. The Mistress Of Dreams stood over me, smiling. Most people think of her as The Sandman. SandMAN. That still pissed her off! Like a man could do her job, even an immortal man. NOT!

Just for the record: She is never responsible for what we find in the land of dreams. Her job is to gently lead us on our journey. Once in a while she is given the added task of hurrying someone’s return from the foggy, mystical realm. I’ve been on that list a few times myself. She is expressly forbidden to interfere in even the smallest way. The Mistress is not permitted even to answer questions regarding the dreams themselves. The content of said dreams, that is. Hey! I said she is not responsible for what is in the dreams, not that she was unaware of what was in them. Mysti (her name) always knows both the dreamer and the dream(s). Relax. She never tells. I think it must be part of the job description. I have been assured, this is a rule she never breaks. Now you see just one of the reasons why a man would not be a good candidate for this job. Imagine some of the stuff she sees and never tells. Not even in locker rooms, car garages, or bars. Nor does she ever use the secrets she is privy to for her own purposes.

Anyway. There she was, floating at my bedside. I’d known it would be her even before I opened my eyes. Much as I liked Mysti, and I liked her a lot, she was not a welcome sight. Not tonight.

I shook my head and moaned softly. "Please. Not tonight. Not again. No more. I can’t take it. That dream is making me crazy, Mysti."

Hers was a gentle smile. She looked at the edge of the bed, as if in question. I nodded and sighed. Slowly she floated onto the bed and sat next to where I lay. The light in her eyes was so...well...kind. It was as though she knew I needed to say something more. She waited.

Again, I shook my head. This time it was to ward off the hot tears springing into my tired eyes.

"Please, Mysti. I’m begging you. This dream has been with me for so long and this time I’ve had it every night for two weeks. I really can’t bear it another night. Just leave me tonight, please. No dreams. Yeah. No dreams at all would be a welcome change." I paused as an old thought returned. "Unless you’d care to explain the dream to me?"

The quick chuckle lit the room like the sweet sounds from a babbling brook in springtime. "Devious as ever, I see."

"Can’t blame a girl for trying." I laughed right back. Exhausted as I was from fighting sleep for two days, the laugh felt good.

She shook her head, causing her golden hair to shimmy. "Gillian, you know very well I cannot explain your dreams to you. I am forbidden to discuss the content of dreams."

Looking into her soft, brown eyes, I thought I saw something there. Something hidden. But what could it be? Wait a minute. What was that emphasis on the word "content" all about? My eyes narrowed as I tried to think with an exhausted brain.

Mysti slowly lifted her left hand toward my face. "You know, you really do look tired. Why don’t you close your eyes? Just for a moment." she soothed.

My eyelids felt too heavy to lift. My breathing started to go deeper, slower. Whoa! I bolted upright. "No you don’t, Mistress of Dreams! What did you mean, you can’t discuss the CONTENT of my dreams? Is there something you can discuss? Have you been holding out on me, Mr. Sandman?"

Ooooo. I’d never seen brown eyes flash quite that color before.

"Don’t call me that! I hate that!!"

Even with the way I felt, eyes burning and stinging, I couldn’t help grinning. "Sorry. Didn’t mean it. You know that. C’mere." I gave her a quick hug. She giggled. "Now. What exactly is it you are NOT saying? That you CAN say, that is."

She closed her eyes, smiled and shook her head. "Somewhere in there is a cohesive thought I bet." She grinned. "Maybe even a question that makes sense?"

"Oh shut up."

She stood. "OK".

I grabbed her arm. "You know what I mean. Spill it."

Sitting back down, she took my hand. I was sitting against the headboard now. "Gillian, you know I am quite limited in what I am permitted to say about your dreams. Already, you know more than most humans. Do you realize how few even believe I exist? You are very special. More so than you would ever believe, I suspect."

"I know you can’t actually tell me about my dreams. What’s in them, I mean. Or anyone else’s," I added. "What do you mean, special? And I have always believed you existed. You probably have my Dad to thank for that. All those bedtime stories when I was a kid, you know?"

"Your father was a very wonderful man. I am very sorry you lost him a few months ago. With your mother dying when you were three, you must feel very alone these days."

New tears. Not hot ones this time, though. These were the heavy, silent tears that come unbidden but with less pain each time. "Yes. I do." I started to wipe the dampness away but she took both hands in hers and I just let the tears slide down my cheeks.

"I’m sorry, Gillian."

"I know." I squeezed her immortal hands. "But the dream I keep having isn’t helping, you know? Can’t you just help me stay awake a while?"

She chuckled softly and let her head first bob up and down, then from side to side. She rolled her eyes slightly. "A while, huh? Help you stay awake a while? Gillian, my sweet bard, you have been fighting sleep for days now. This is not good for you. The dream won’t hurt you. You know that, don’t you?"

"What’s a bard?" The tears had stopped. She had managed to distract me from myself.

"Um. A...a what?"

"Don’t pull that with me. You called me a bard. What is it?"

She wouldn’t look me in the eye. That was very unusual for Mysti and I knew it. "Gillian, I..." she seemed to be searching her mental thesaurus.

"Gotcha, didn’t I?" I grinned.

The grin was returned, with just a hint of pink climbing up her neck. Funny. In all the years I had known Mysti, Mistress of Dreams, I had never before noticed that she blushed. Wonder what that was all about, I thought.

"You did, in fact." She paused. "For all the good it will do you." The blush gone, she raised her head in silent triumph. "Rules are rules, after all."

"Oh no you don’t, my inhuman friend."

"Hey! That is NON-human, not IN-human!" We both laughed.

I was holding my sides and shaking the bed with my laughter. Damn, that felt good. She’d always had that effect on me, even when I was a young child. Thinking back, I couldn’t remember a time when Mysti had not been part of my life. I had always believed in her, thanks to my father and all the wonderful tales he told. I remember, as a little girl, some of my friends would ask me where he learned all those fairy tales. I would tell them, with no small degree of indignity, that those were not fairy tales. They were stories. I told my friends that, while I had no real knowledge of their origin, I had no doubt as to their truth. The laughter that always followed was never appreciated.

Now, here I was all these years later and, at twenty-five, they were still laughing. Not that I hung out with any of my old friends anymore. I didn’t. We spoke if we ran into one another in town or at a mall or something. That was about the extent of my social life since my father died. I always felt something missing from my life. Most people just said it was because I had never really known my mother. Somewhere deep within me, I’d always known it was more than that. Daddy seemed to know it too, though I never quite knew how. Once, when I was around 17, I had asked him.


"Mmmm?" He looked up from the newspaper. [My Dad always gave me his full attention. I missed him so much.]

"Daddy, why do I always feel like there is a whole inside me?"

"Missing yer Mom, honey?"

"Yeah. But I always miss Mom. This is more than that- and it’s always here. It’s been there as far back as I can remember. And I’ve been having that dream again, too."

"The Mistress is at it again, eh? Honey, the dream won’t hurt you. Someday it might even help you understand how to fill that hole. It did me."

"Huh?" [Daddy had a hole in his life? But he always seemed so together to me.]

"Once upon a time, I had a hole in my life too, honey. A big hole. A hole I thought would keep getting bigger until it ate me up."

"What happened?" I had asked him.

"Your mother." He smiled.

"Oh." [There didn’t seem anything else to say to his answer.]

"You don’t remember much about your mother, do you?" Mysti asked gently.

"No. I don’t have many memories of my own; but she was kept alive for me through his memories. Even at the very end, you could see the love burning in his eyes when he thought of her."

The Mistress nodded. "That must have been some hole she filled."

"Mmm. And, you know, he told me that even after all those years without her physical presence, the hole remained filled. I wonder if that’s what the emptiness I feel is all ab..... Hey! You really are a sneak, my friend. What about my dream? And no changing the subject again!"

Waving her immortal finger in the air, the dream mistress toyed with me. "You know very well, I can’t...".

"Ah ah ah now. I did not ask you to divulge anything about the dream. Any dream, in fact. You called me ‘bard’. Why does just hearing the word make the hair on my arm stand up?"

Clearly, she was thinking. "All right. A bard is a storyteller, a writer."

"Like Daddy. He was a great storyteller. I must get it from him then, right?"

"Not exactly. But you really do need to go to sleep now, Gillian. I have a job to do here. You know?"

I knew she was only half kidding. She had already spent more time with me than with most people and I knew it. "Please Mysti. Sometimes, that dream really makes me hurt inside. I have been having it almost as long as I can remember. When will I ever find the answers? Will it ever stop hurting? That hole in my soul, I mean?" I could see she was trying to decide how much she dared say. I also knew she was easing me back onto the bed and humming that hypnotic melody of hers. The little sneak was putting me to sleep and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. As my two-ton eyelids dropped to a close, I felt her pull the hunter green comforter around my shoulders.

The dream mistress leaned in very close and whispered into my left ear. "Sometimes, Gillian, the question is the answer." She softly kissed my cheek and was gone.

Like a laughing child on a hill of snow, I was tumbling. Whether I wanted it or not, sleep was on its way. Soon I would be in Mysti’s realm once again. Not far behind would be the dream. Why was I not afraid this time? What was it she had whispered; my dozing mind asked?

"Sometimes, Gillian, the question is the answer."

Now, what was that supposed to mean?

Chapter 2

I could feel myself slowly sinking into Mysti’s kingdom, the land of dreams. This time I was tumbling more than falling. Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my brain, I wondered why. It had been at least two days this time. Two long days and nights of struggling against sleep, refusing to close my eyes. It wasn’t even that the dream was a bad one, necessarily. It was more...haunting. Yes, that was it. The dream haunted me. It had been a part of me as far back as I could remember and it never quite left me. Over the years, there had been times when the dream seemed to fade and I would almost forget it had ever been there. Almost, that is, but not quite. Then, after my father’s funeral, I realized the dream had never really been absent at all. My mind had merely played a trick on me, blurring conscious memory of the dream upon waking. Smiling, I wondered if my immortal, sneaky friend had anything to do with that. Probably. My eyelids began to flutter as I felt the deep softness that was her realm overtake me.

...The soft, murmur and chanting of voices mingled with a stronger voice somewhere behind me. An oddly smiling woman wearing a flowing crimson gown bent over what appeared to be a large, badly beaten man. He lay upon the rocky ground - bound, gagged and trembling. She held a decorative long, thin blade of some sort to his throat. Something was said about paying the ultimate price for his "evil deeds", it was almost pronounced – like a sentence. Then it happened. The woman wearing my face reached out to stop the blade as it moved in a deadly arc. Almost instantly, she was covered in the blood of the woman who, only an instant before had yielded the blade. Suddenly and swiftly, things changed. The man who had, at first, seemed to be the victim began to laugh maniacally. He glowed an eerie combination of blues and greens as he rose up from the ground, bathed in what seemed, at least to him, certain victory. The piercing scream tore at my throat and shook me from my sleep.


Scenes shifted, as they always did at this stage of the dream. The rocky ground morphed into hot desert sands only to be replaced by vast oceans with waves lifting far above my head. This was replaced by an enveloping darkness that allowed no light into its depths. It was a vast, all encompassing aloneness that reached some hidden place deep inside, as if it were the very core of my very being. The blackness was suddenly burst open by a wall of flames that seemed to surround me. With no words spoken there was only the terrifying echo of silence. Just beyond the fire that ripped at my very soul, I heard a voice. Within that angry voice lay my hopes, my dreams, my very world. It was a woman. Her hand reached out for me more than once but, in the darkness, I could not find her hand. Tears stung my eyes as I cried out to her. But the dreamscape had been muted yet again and I could not hear the name, even as it rushed from my lips.

Just when despair was about to overtake me, the scene shifted once again. The darkness had been vanquished and a tall warrior stood in the muted gray mists of lifting fog. I felt strong arms surround me and pull me close. So close. The sound restored, I heard that wonderful voice again.

"I’ve gotcha now. You’re all right. Everything is gonna be okay."

Over and over I heard those words and felt her breath upon my neck. It was then I realized I was clinging to this strong woman, my savior, and my hero. With all that had just happened, all the fears the dream elicited, I had never felt so safe, so loved.

Gently, she lifted my face to hers. Like always, things got very fuzzy at this point. Never had I felt such a pull toward anyone as at that moment. Then it happened. Peeking out from the fuzzy, dream-like vision, were the bluest eyes I had ever seen.

Something had changed. In all the years I had been having this same dream, I had never been permitted to see her eyes before. The look I glimpsed in those eyes captured my very soul.

"Would I ever know that kind of love while I was awake?" I sobbed the same question I had been asking myself nearly all my adult life. The wracking cries, as much as the dampness of the tears, woke me.

"Same time. Same channel. But with a new ending. I think I like this one better." I smiled into the still dark room. "All right, Mistress of Dreams, those baby blues get you off the hook this time." I sighed. "Hell. Who am I kidding? I’d forgive you anything to get another look into those gorgeous orbs!" Laughter filled the room.

Hours later, the rising sun bathed the eastern sky in muted shades of orange, pink and gold. Truthfully, this was NOT my favorite time of day. But today was different. Something had changed and the dream was only the beginning. At the time, I had no idea just how great that change would every sense of the word.


The Women’s Support Group was something I joined shortly after my father’s death. A girl I worked with had shyly suggested it when I kept losing weight that I really couldn’t afford to lose. She had also noted, with reddened cheeks, that I wasn’t sleeping and it showed.

It was no secret that my father and I had been very close or that my mother had died many years before. Most of the people I worked with had seen him on more than one occasion. Everyone who knew him adored him. For me at least, his death had been sudden. To say that it had jerked my world from beneath my feet would have been a gross understatement. But, a support group? I really didn’t think so. Not my style, not at all. Or so I thought.

Annie, from advertising, had all but begged me to accompany her that week. My first instinct was to just say no. However, being an incredibly soft touch, I hadn’t a clue how to get out of attending at least one meeting.

"Oh well," I wondered aloud, "What harm could it do?"

"Actually, Gilly, it could do a lot of good." Annie gently touched my nearest arm. I smiled, wishing she would drop the shortened version of my name. She continued. "When my brother died last month, I was completely lost. He was all the family I had left." She wiped a fresh supply of tears with her lilac sleeve.

"I’m so sorry, Annie. I didn’t know...I mean, I knew about Archie but I guess I thought your folks just lived out of town." Shit. Did I have my nose that far into my books? Unacceptable, I chastised myself.

"It’s okay, really, Gilly. I don’t think anyone knows. But the group helps. I promise. Just try it once. Tonight. Okay?" That silk sleeve was getting quite a workout. Guilt alone would have assured her my company. As it was, there was a healthy dose of curiosity thrown in for good measure.

That had been about three months earlier and I hadn’t missed a meeting since. I had dreaded it, to be honest, fearing it would be one of those touchy-feely things where everyone cried in their beer all night. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It wasn’t like that at all. It wasn’t even a "grief" group, per se. It was, well, it was exactly what Annie said it was: a Women’s Support Group. There were six women, including Annie and the moderator; I made seven. Each of the women was dealing with issues that had left them stumbling, groping for an anchor. Any anchor. The one thing they had in common (which did not include me) was that they had been in private counseling prior to the forming of the group. I later learned that Annie had made prior arrangements with Bev, the moderator, to bring me that Wednesday. It proved to be a very interesting evening.

After everyone had acquired their choice of beverage and a handful of pretzels, Bev suggested they introduce themselves to me. She promised Annie would introduce me afterward. I remember flashing my co-worker an embarrassed smile and she responded by squeezing my cold, clammy hand.

These were not the women I had expected at all. There was nothing wrong with these women. Nothing a better world or good friend and a rich supply of time wouldn’t cure. Mentally, I smacked myself for even thinking such rubbish. Wrong indeed! What century was I living in?

"I’ll start us off," announced Bev. "Obviously, I’m the moderator of our group. Most of you have been in private therapy with me at one time or another. I’m single, have no children and get at least as much from this group as I give." She nodded to the woman on her immediate right. "Joannie, why don’t you go next? Just tell us your name and whatever you’re comfortable with." Bev patted Joannie’s leg and smiled.

The tall redhead shifted in her upholstered chair. "Well…um...I’m Joannie Crenshaw. I’m divorced, have a ten year old son, Timmy.... and...Um...the ex from hell. with" She looked to Bev who gently closed her eyes for a moment, then nodded.

An older woman, with salt and pepper hair, spoke next. "Hi. I’m Pat Thomas. I have three grown children, two boys and a girl. They are 17, 19, and 22, John, James and Linda, respectively. I’m married, last I checked. Trouble is, my husband seems to have forgotten that little fact. He’s been living with his 24-year-old lover for eight months now. I found out seven months ago. That makes me either incredibly stupid or too fucking trusting. Or both." She too, looked to Bev and waited for the nod. A pattern was becoming clear.

Next to speak was Tammy, a painfully shy young woman with dirty blonde hair and chestnut eyes. "Mmmy nname is Tttammy. I’m 22." She swallowed so hard, I just knew it hurt. "I ggguess I’m here...." another gulp and a slow intake of air. "...on account of" Her eyes pleaded with Bev, who made big point with me by rising and moving to the young woman’s side. Bev put her freckled arm around Tammy’s shoulders and nodded to the next woman.

There was only one woman remaining between my turn and me. Now, I gulped. A bit less audibly than it sounded in my own ear, I hoped.

I shifted in my seat to turn toward the obviously tall woman in the chair next to me. She had arrived only moments before we started. Much to my surprise the other women had rendered me nearly spellbound with their brief autobiographies. Now that I had turned however, I noticed the swinging midnight hair as she looked toward Bev, showing me her profile.

"All right. My name is Maxine but I strongly advise calling me Max." A full round of chuckles took me by surprise. " I’m 29. Gonna hit the big 3-0 in about a month. Cracks about that belong with the name Maxine." Another round of chuckles burst forth from the previously quiet group. "Why am I here? Hey, Bev, why the hell am I here?" Max laughed out loud. The sound was almost musical. Bev shook her finger and her head as she grinned at the stunning beauty. "Yeah, yeah. All right. I have a bit of a problem with anger management." She did something with her face that earned another chuckle but, from where I sat, I couldn’t tell what it had been. "All right. More than a bit. And my family has a problem with my being gay. That about cover it, Bev?"

Max turned to more fully face the moderator, which put us face to face for the first time. As our eyes met, I gasped and shuddered. I was unaware, at first, that Max had done the same.

The words were out of my mouth before I could edit them. "Holy shit!"

At least a million miles away, a husky voice whispered: "Oh my friggin God!".

Annie touched my leg, then squeezed, and then squeezed again. I knew it was there but I simply could not respond. I was caught in a snare. I dared not move a muscle for fear I would wake and the vision would be gone. There they were. The most incredible blue eyes I had ever not seen before. And they were locked on me.

I felt Bev touch my arm. "Gillian? Max? Do you know each other?" There was more than a hint of concern in that trembling voice.

Having never met before, we none-the-less answered in unison.

"No...Yes....No." Baby blues refused to stray from deep green. "It....It’s.... complicated."

Over the fascinated hush that filled the room, I heard Annie’s small voice: "I’ll just bet." How did I know she was smiling?


.........Hovering silently in the corner near the blinds, was Mysti. The Dream Mistress few believed existed floated over the two women.

What seemed little more than a gentle breeze whispered, but only two souls could hear the words.

"Still want that dream to go away? Eh, Gillian? Huh, Max? Now, what was that question again?"

Chapter 3

Have you ever been driving in the Smoky Mountains very early in the morning? Maybe during early May or even June. You will be driving along when suddenly a fog so thick the entire world just disappears surrounds you. Oh, you know it is all still there. It is just out of sight for the moment. Sometimes the fog is so pervasive that it’s all you can do to make out the white line down the center of the highway. So you do the only thing you can do. You slow down, way down, almost to a crawl. You slow down because the world as you knew it only moments before simply doesn’t exist. All logic, reason and experience tells you that this current situation is temporary, but your hands still grip the wheel tighter as your palms begin to sweat.

That is the nearest I can come to telling you what it felt like when Max turned and I got caught in those incredible eyes of hers for the first time. Only this was a fog that went well beyond my visual sense. In fact, that seemed to be the only sense that was not only functioning, but at peak performance. Never before had my eyes beheld anything so clearly, so completely. My brain was clicking away taking mental photographs, making certain never to lose this vision before me. The loving blue eyes from my dream had stepped into my reality and taken residence in the woman sitting barely 18 inches away. There was a strange sort of hum in my ears that included several voices, the sound of distant breathing, the slight buzz of fluorescent lighting, and a rhythmic beat that made my ears tingle. I could smell the coffee from the pot in the corner as it blended with the sweetness of the half-consumed Pepsi’s and the chosen scents of seven different women. There was a gentle pressure and soft warmth on my right thigh and forearm that my clouded mind identified as human hands. Anxious, worried human hands. Inside my mouth I tasted an odd mixture of salt, sugar and something else. What was that, I vaguely wondered. Yet, I simply could not budge from those eyes that seemed to hold my very being within their depths. It wasn’t until later that I became fully aware that, in all those long minutes, those blue orbs had been completely caught in mossy green.

"Please, Gillian, you’re scaring me. It’s Annie. Look at me!"

Slowly, I felt someone moving my face. No! My brain screamed inside my head. Don’t take me from them. I need them. I need those eyes. But the moment was lost and someone was tugging on my hands. Both hands were being gently but firmly pulled but by different people. That is when I began to identify the taste in my mouth. Blood. I must have bitten the inside of my cheek without realizing it and the hot, salty ooze was making it’s way out the corners of my mouth and down my chin.

"Gillian! You’re bleeding!" It was Annie and she was typically over-reacting.

"Gillian? It’s Bev. You okay, honey? Here," she dabbed at my mouth and chin with a soft tissue. I felt my right hand being released only to have the warmth find it’s way to my shoulder.

"Max? Max, sweetie. It’s Bev. You in there, angry warrior?"

I shook my head to break free of the fog that had surrounded me for what seemed like ages but must have been only moments. It did not escape my attention that Max was doing several quick shakes of her head as well. I glanced around the room and found all eyes were on us. Max and me. Feeling like I had just shown up at work stark naked, I gulped and felt the heat of the blush as it crawled up my neck and shoulders.

"What happened?" The phrase leaped from my mouth in a knee-jerk response.

Bev looked from Max to me, and then back to Max again. "You tell us." There was a snicker making its way around the room. "Do you and Max know one another or something?" The moderator again looked from Max to me, and back again. "Well?"

Annie’s hand, which seemed to have molded itself to my right thigh, squeezed. I turned to look at her. She lifted both eyebrows and tilted her head, waiting for some sort of reply to Bev’s question. I swallowed. Hard. My eyes made their way around the room and found the other women also patiently waiting for my answer. Our answer. Without thinking about it, I turned toward Max as if she would know what to say. Strangely, she had just made the same visual sweep of the room and was turning toward me. That is when a chuckling therapist stepped between us.

"Oh no you don’t. Not that deer caught in headlights thing again."

Everyone laughed. Well, almost everyone. Neither Max nor I found this the least bit funny.

Max’s hand reached up and took Bev’s forearm, moving her just enough to allow us to see one another again. She smiled slightly, breathed deeply, closed her eyes for only a moment, and then smiled again. At me. Max had smiled directly and only at me. I returned the smile and took a deep, cleansing breath of my own. Then we both looked at Bev, knowing we had to say something, but what? What could I possibly say to this group of near strangers? Thankfully, I didn’t have to answer that.

"Sorry to scare everyone. No. I’ve never met..."

"Gillian," I supplied.

"Gillian...before. At least not in this life."

There were a few chuckles but I noted that Bev, Annie and Tammy had not cracked a grin.

Max continued. "It’ll sound wack-o but I have been having this one dream nearly all my life. I never knew who the woman in the dream with me was. Actually, I had never even gotten a good look until recently when, for some reason I can’t explain, I was allowed to see her eyes. They were the most wonderful deep green eyes I have ever seen. They were so beautiful and they held so much within their depths. Of course I knew it was only a dream. Right? When I turned around and saw Gillian’s eyes I just.... I.... well, I guess I just kinda got lost for a minute. I know. Bring on the straight jacket. But, I swear to you, those are the eyes from my dream."

Bev nodded. Annie and Tammy exchanged fascinated glances. I gasped.

"Dear mother of god. You have been having the same dream all your life too?" Damn. I had so not meant to say that out loud. But it was too late now.

Judging from the looks that passed from chair to chair, Bev would be ordering two of those white coats. Many things went through my mind in those moments. Among the thoughts most forward in my struggling brain were the ones concerning my next conversation with the Dream Mistress. Mysti, girl. You better grab that fur coat of yours and head for the hills because you are in deep shit here, my friend.

Bev had returned to her seat and all chairs seemed to have scooted a bit closer, like covered wagons closing formation.

"Too?" Max reached long fingers toward my small hand. When her fingertips brushed the back of my hand we both drew in a quick breath. Neither of us dared to say anything aloud and only hoped that the jolt had not made a visible arc.

"Wow." We whispered in unison. Nervously, we both made a quick survey of the room to see if what had just happened had been noticed. It had not. Breathing resumed.

I cleared my throat. "Yeah. Well, I ..uh...that is to say...I’ve had a recurring dream since as far back as I can remember. It’s strange because I was always a woman in it though, even when I was just a little girl. I never knew who the other woman was. Until recently I didn’t even know what she looked like. Not really. Not long ago, I was allowed to see just the eyes. eyes." I looked at Annie, Bev, the others and then back to Max. "I am not nuts."

At that, we laughed. All of us. Even Max and I had to admit the situation was funny. Strange, but also funny.

"Hmmm. Well, this is certainly the most interesting group session we have had so far. But Gillian, I think it was your turn?" I must have looked confused. "To tell us your name and a bit about yourself?"

"Oh. Oh, sure." I verbally stumbled. "My name is Gillian Montgomery. I’m an illustrator for a local publishing company. Annie and I work together. She talked me into joining her tonight because she’s been a little concerned about me lately." I patted Annie’s knee. "Okay, maybe more than a little. I lost my mother when I was only three so my father and I were very close, very, very close. He was my world, really." Tears filled my eyes and threatened to fall. "He died a few months ago and...I guess I’m not handling it so well as I thought." The tears were making paths down my face. "I just feel so lost, so... so damned alone. Shit. I’m sorry. I..."

I felt a strong hand on my left knee and looked over to find Max, with tears pooling in those crystal blues that I just knew I would never quite get used to seeing close up.

"Well, you’re not alone anymore."

Chapter 4

The group continued for nearly another hour and a half after my cheek had quit bleeding and I’d introduced myself. Bev was very good at her job and managed to redirect everyone’s attention away from Max and I. Several times I could feel the quick, and not so quick, glances in our direction. Still, all in all, the focus was primarily shifted back to the entire group, as we learned more about one another.

Joannie Crenshaw had only been divorced from her bully of a husband for a few months and remained terrified he would return. Her ten-year-old son, Timmy, was so angry all the time that he was having problems in school. The well-meaning teacher had suggested that, perhaps, he needed to spend more time with his father. This brought on a lively conversation as nearly everyone in the circle guessed correctly -without Joannie saying a word- that said teacher was of the male persuasion.

Pat Thomas was mentally beating herself black and blue for being, in her words, " a complete and total fool". She blamed herself entirely for not knowing sooner that her husband was being unfaithful. What was worse, she blamed herself for the infidelity. Pat was doing what lots of women in her position do. She was taking full responsibility for everything. The trouble was, she was also taking the blame for everything...and every one.

"I’m sorry," I hesitated. "I know I’m only visiting and I don’t know you but this is not your fault." I looked over at Bev, almost asking permission to continue.

"No, that’s fine, Gillian. Go on. Tell us what you’re thinking or feeling. That’s what we do in this room. As long as it’s intended to support, encourage or uplift someone, it will be welcome here. As for you only visiting, I think I speak for everyone when I tell you that we hope that will change." Bev reached over, patted my right knee and smiled.

Looking around the room, I was amazed to discover the others were extending smiles as well. That was when my brain and senses collided and I became aware of the warm hand still resting on my left knee. Almost afraid to let my eyes wander to its owner’s face, I swallowed. Closing my eyes for only a moment, I ran my tongue across the still tender inner cheek and commanded myself not to faint. Drawing in a breath of courage, I slowly raised my eyes to find Max looking right at me. She smiled. Damn. How does she do that? I asked myself. My heart rate had nearly tripled and only milliseconds had passed.

"As I was saying," Bev smoothly saved the day. "Gillian, we welcome both you and your comments. Did you have something else you wanted to say to Pat?"

I made a mental note to send this woman a dozen, no, make that two dozen roses, first thing tomorrow.

"Yes. Well, I just think there were two people in that marriage and only one of them unzipped his fly and broke his vows."

Pat, Annie, Bev and Tammy burst into laughter. Max and Tammy applauded. Applauded! Criminy! Had I managed to say something right? I guessed so because the worried brow on Pat’s face actually relaxed right before all our eyes.

"Oh my, that felt good. Thank you, Gillian." Pat said as she wiped the laughing tears from a face that seemed years younger than it had only an hour before. "I’ve always blamed myself for things whether it was really my fault or not. You certainly put things in perspective. For more than twenty years I have been a faithful partner in this marriage. Now the marriage is over and I don’t know where to go from here. I guess the truth is, I just plain feel lost."

Annie spoke up. "I know what you mean, Pat. I’ve never been married but I know all about feeling lost."

The silent tears that slipped from Annie’s face made my heart ache. I squeezed her hand and hoped my eyes would be enough encouragement for her to continue. They were.

"My brother was the only family I had left. We were twins and.." Annie stopped to look in the direction of my gasp.

A truck had just knocked me on my metaphoric ass. Blinking, I tried to catch my breath. "Annie. I had no idea. Archie and you were twins? My gods. That must be awful. I’ve heard what a tremendous bond twins have. I am so sorry."

A pale hand wiped at the stray tears. "Hey", Annie said, "don’t worry about it. No one at work knew. Archie and I… yeah, we were close all right. When we were kids, Mom used to say we were so close she could swat both our behinds with only one hand. And she had small hands."

That garnered a snicker around the room.

"Well...when Archie was killed by that drunk driver, I knew it before the hospital even called. I felt him slip away. It was as if a warm wave washed over my soul and I could feel him standing next to me. When the phone rang and the nurse told me who she was, well, I knew he was gone. It was the oddest feeling. My mind knew he was gone but my heart still felt him standing there next to me. Sometimes I still feel that way. So, why do I feel so.... so horribly alone?"

We all knew she neither expected nor wanted an answer. It was a good thing too, because no one in the room had one.

"Annie? I...I nnnnever had a bbbrother but.." Tammy was so shy that saying anything at all was a struggle for her. Still, she battled on as she searched for words. " I d d do know wwwhat it’s lllike to bbbe alllone."

My heart leaped into my chest and did a little dance when I saw Max’s free arm reach out and grasp the seat of Tammy’s chair, dragging it alongside her own. Tammy looked like a stunned child. Emotions darted across the young face, one making way for the next, in rapid succession. Surprise made way for fear, which was followed by wonder, which was replaced by question, which seemed to settle into child-like awe. I found my own left hand placing itself onto the one Max still had warming my thigh. Tammy only smiled.

"Mmy fffamily hhhates mme. Ttthey wwish I wwould jjust go away."

I honestly thought Bev would say something to Tammy at that point. She didn’t. I realized why later.

"C’mon there Tam. I’m sure they don’t hate you. And I’d bet my Lowden Dreadnaught they don’t wish you would go away." Max had put her arm around the trembling woman’s shoulders and was leaning toward her as she spoke.

"Yyes they ddo. They ssay I mmake them sick."

Max lit the room with a wide grin. "Been there, done that," she chuckled.

"YYou have?"

"Sure. You didn’t think you were the only gay woman in the room didja? C’mon now. I’ve made that no secret in this group. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that my family is none too happy about what they call my lifestyle."

"Wwell sure, but I ddidn’t think they hated yyou."

"They don’t hate me, Tammy. Just as I’m certain your parents don’t hate you."

"Bbut... "

Max hugged her. I shuddered. "No. They don’t hate you, Tammy. They might hate what they see as a choice you’ve made. Parents have a problem with that, sometimes. But to hate you they must be able to hate a part of themselves. Even the parents who go there...well, most don’t stay there long. It’s not that easy to hate your own child. In a weird kinda way, it might even be their way of showing they love you."

Chestnut eyes softened and glistened with unshed tears. "Yyou think they llove me?"

"I sure do."

Bev chose this as her opportunity to say something. "I do too, Tammy. And, Max? You might want to run rapid replay on what you just said and apply it to your own family."

"Huh?" Max looked at Bev, almost stunned.

The low watt bulb of understanding flicked on in my brain. Bev wasn’t overlooking Tammy’s pain earlier at all. She just knew there was someone else in the room who was better qualified to reach the timid young woman. And, if in the reaching out some of her own demons came into the light, all the better. My respect for the patient moderator went up about five notches.

"Well, Max, you think about it. We need to clear out and let the next group have the room now. Gillian, I hope you will join us again next week."

"Sure. I mean, yeah, I guess I could do that." I verbally stumbled.

Bev looked around the room at all the heads nodding in agreement and chuckled. "It seems unanimous." The smiling leader looked directly at Max and then returned her gaze to me. "And I know Max wants you to come back. Right, Max?"

The hand on my thigh tightened slightly. I looked to my left and was caught once again by those deep blues.

Max spoke. "Yeah. Um, sure. You are coming back, right?"

I could feel the warmth slowly crawling in both directions, outward from that strong hand, gripping my thigh like it would never let go. I swallowed. Hard. I could hear chairs being put back along the sides of the wall and good-byes being exchanged. Still, neither Max nor I had moved a hair. I knew I needed to say something but, for the life of me, I couldn’t recall the question. Finally, I found my voice.

"I’m sorry, Max. What was the question?"

We both heard it at the same time, that musical, tinkling sound of immortal giggling.

"Did you hear that?" Max asked, leaning toward me.

"That giggling, you mean?" I was not about to admit to this walking vision that I talked to the Mistress of Dreams.

Max leaned in so close I could feel her breath on my neck. It was a sensation I could definitely get used to, even encourage.

"Yeah. Sounds like Mysti, to me."

I jerked my head, green staring into blue. "Holy Mother of God!!!"

Bev laughed and put a slender arm around each of us. "Ladies, we don’t have time to run this scene again. Might I suggest you spend the rest of the evening sharing a cup of coffee or a late dinner or...whatever."

"Huh?" I was still trying to figure out if I had heard what I thought I heard.

Max slid a muscular arm around my waist, making me shudder again. She smiled, noticing the effect her innocent action had on me.

"I’d like to learn more about your dream. And I am free. Would you like to have dinner and talk some more?" Max waited for my answer with all the patience of a child on Christmas morning.

Annie chose that moment to hand me my purse. "Gilly," she used that name I despised again. "I’m gonna catch a ride with Tammy. I think we’re gonna have dinner and gab a while. You don’t mind, do ya?"

I shook my head gently. "No, Annie. You go ahead. And thanks for bringing me. You were right about it doing some good." I gave her a quick hug and she left.

"That mean you’re free to have dinner with me?"

"Patient, aren’t we?" I teased.

"Ha-ha. I bite my Tootsie Roll Pops too. You going to dinner with me or not?" she raised her left eyebrow and cocked her head slightly to the side.

"You know? That’s real sexy. That eyebrow thing."

"Did it work?"

I laughed. "Guess so. Where do we eat?"


As we walked to the cars, the Dream Mistress floated nearby. Mysti covered her mouth tightly and giggled again. "Well, I guess letting them see the eyes was a good idea, after all."

Chapter 5

"This is my car, here." I informed Max, as we reached the slot I had parked in.

"The blue Jeep?" She questioned.

"You got a problem with a woman driving a Jeep, Maxine?" I teased.

She raised both eyebrows and laughed deeply. "I guess not. See that green one three spaces over?" Still laughing, she pointed to our left.

I couldn’t help it. I cracked up. "You’re joking?"

Holding her sides and leaning against my car, she shook her head. "Nope. That’s mine. This is strange, even for me."

Once our laughter subsided, we looked from first one car to the other and back again. I quickly shook my head once more before speaking.

"Max. This is strange, no question about it. And it is funny. But I’m not sure it’s that funny. You think maybe this is one of those cases where we’re both just so nervous we over-reacted?"

She was standing up again, next to my Jeep and reached skyward in a long stretch. "Maybe. Sure. Yeah, I think you’re right. That’s exactly what it was. Laughing hard is great medicine for terror. Right?"

Unlocking the door on the driver’s side, I looked up. Would I ever not feel that catch in my chest when I looked into those eyes? I wondered, silently. "Terror? God, Max. I said I was nervous, not terrified." I chuckled softly.

Our hands reached the door handle at the same time. She smiled. "Who said I was talking about you? Maybe I’m the one who’s terrified." Her eyes left mine and found something on the pavement to look at.

If I wanted to have dinner with this gorgeous woman, who seemed to have just walked out of my dream, (and I definitely did want to have dinner with her) I was going to have to take the lead. It was not my style but I was not about to miss what I was convinced would be the chance of a lifetime.


"Yeah?" She looked up, in my direction.

"Is your car locked?"

"Sure. Why?"

I cleared my throat. "Well, I was just thinking we could just take my car. I mean, I’d bring you back to yours after dinner. If you don’t mind, that is. I mean, it would give us more time to talk is all." I just knew I was rambling and sounding like an idiot.

"Sure. Okay. That makes sense. Just let me put this in my car and we can go." My tall companion indicated her briefcase and started toward the green Jeep.

I reached out, taking her hand in mine. "Why don’t you just put it in the back, with mine? I mean, what if you need it later? I’m hardly ever without mine."

"But I didn’t see a...oh, you left it in the car. Well, I do feel naked without it."

Uh-oh. Where did that come from? No. No. No. Max, don’t paint images like that in my head. The eyes and the shivers were already more than enough to handle in one day. I vigorously shook my head, trying to clear the unbidden image that was rapidly altering my body chemistry.

"Gillian? You okay?"

Max reached over and touched my face, which did nothing to dull the sound of my racing heart. Completely without conscious thought, I moved my hand to cover hers as it caressed my cheek. Green met blue and the music I heard morphed into a voice.

"Gillian? Gillian, you okay?"

"Hmmm? Oh. Oh, sorry." I blushed and felt the heat rise to my face. "I...I was distracted. Sorry. Where were we? Oh, yes. Your briefcase."

"Yeah. I feel naked without it."

No, Gillian, I scolded myself. You will not go there again. What is wrong with you, girl? Snap out of it.

"Right. Here. Just toss it back there while I unlock the other door."

Once we were both inside and buckling our seat belts, I looked over. Starting the engine, I asked: "So. Where you wanna eat?"

"Actually, I’m not sure a restaurant is the best idea." She seemed to have something on her mind, so I just listened. "What I mean is I really want to be able to talk with you."

"Me too," I assured her we both wanted the same thing.

"Good. Well, it’s just that in a restaurant someone will always be interrupting us. Not to mention the lack of privacy." She adjusted her shoulder harness. "Gillian, I ...what I mean is...I know it sounds strange but I feel like I have always known you. And yet, we’re strangers. For one thing, I would really like to know more about this dream you’ve been having. I’m not sure we can say all we need or want to say in a crowded restaurant."

I had been listening to everything she said and she had a point, a very good point. "I think you’re right, Max. I really hadn’t thought about that. Why don’t we just go to my house and I’ll fix us some dinner while we talk. I’m a pretty good cook so Ptomaine shouldn’t be a factor."

Chuckling, "I hadn’t considered poisoning much of a risk when I left the apartment earlier. You’re a good cook, huh?"

"I believe I said a pretty good cook. I’m no Wolfgang Puck, but if you don’t mind every day, real people food, I’m your gal."

"My gal, eh? I like...I didn’t mean that. Gillian. I.."

"Hey." I took her trembling, damp hand. "Relax, Max. I knew what you meant. I don’t live far from here. How about we just go to my house and figure something out from there?"

She tried to take her hand back; but having seen her other hand reaching for the door handle, I held on tightly.

"Listen," she almost whispered. "This was a bad idea. I better just let you go on home."

I outright gripped her hand. "No way, Max. Let go of that handle right now and listen to me."

Her head snapped up and she looked at me in child-like surprise.

"Does this have anything to do with your being gay?" Blue eyes got bluer, and bigger. "Because I can only guess at the shit you’ve had to endure from some women. But know this, Max. I am not one of them."

Tears were starting to pool in those incredible eyes. It made my heart ache just imagining the ignorance and cruelty that could make this strong woman feel such pain.

Gingerly, she eased her hand from my grasp and cleared her throat. "I just don’t ever want you to be uncomfortable around me. That’s all. I didn’t mean anything sexual by what I said. Honest."

I leaned forward till I was almost breathing in her ear. "That’s too bad, Max. Your loss, though." I playfully smacked her shoulder. "See there? I’m not made of blown glass. I won’t break and I won’t bolt, so chill out. I’m starving. My house then?"

The flush that crawled up her face and down into the flesh that peeked from her slightly open silk blouse did not escape my attention.

She gulped. I smiled.

"Um. Okay. Your house it is. Only let’s pick up something on the way. No sense you having to cook. This way there’s no dishes either. Whadda you think?"

I chuckled. "How did you know I hate to do dishes?"

"Didn’t. Just know it’s not on my list of favorite things to do. Especially when I would much rather be getting to know the person who’s been in my dreams for nearly 30 years."

"Well. There ya go. We’re already making progress."


"Well, we know I live in a house and you live in an apartment. We know we both carry briefcases that…would really rather not be without. And now we know neither of us likes to wash dishes. Question is: can we decide what to get for dinner?"

Musical laughter filled the Jeep. "We’re both intelligent, rational women. I bet we can come up with something. How about Chinese?"

A thought came to mind. "Actually there is a terrific little Chinese place on the way home. It’s not far from here. They make great Chicken Curry."

"Oh. I love Chicken Curry. Extra chicken, steamed rice - not fried - and lots of it. What do you know? We even like some of the same foods. So where is this little place?"

"Not far. About ten minutes east, near the mall. Friend of mine owns the place."

"Jack? You know Jack? Where do you know Jack from?"

She seemed so surprised, I couldn’t help smiling. "He was my ex-husband’s best friend in college."

"John? Johnny Dalton was your husband? I had no idea. You didn’t say you were divorced when you introduced yourself. At group, I mean."

She was so adorable when she was taken by surprise, I almost forgot to answer.

"Weeeellll?" Up went those dark brows again. Damn, I loved that.

"I didn’t. Oh. Well, I’m divorced."

"Very funny, short stuff."

Slapping her hand, I laughed. "Don’t call me short."

"Oh. Okay. But I can call you stuff, right?"

Pulling into one of the five spaces in from of Jack’s Oriental Eats, I mock glared. "What kinda stuff you gonna call me?"

Max reached one long arm over and turned off the engine. Then she looked me right in the eye and grinned. "Oh, I think I might call you all kinda stuff before we’re through."

"Mmmm" I couldn’t find words to answer that and, at the very core of my being, I winced at the "we’re through" part of what she had said.

"So. You were married to sexy Johnny Dalton. Damn. I honestly had no idea he’d ever been married. That must have been very hard for you. I mean..."

"Oh, I think I know what you mean, Max. It’s all right. I know all about John. Well, I know now. I sure as hell didn’t know then. Sorry. It was a long time ago anyway. I was only 20 and the marriage was over and done with in less than a year. Old news. Jack was John’s roommate in college. That’s how I met him. We’ve been buds ever since."

Max nodded but I could see she was thinking about something. Probably wondering what it was like to wake up one day and find out your very shy husband was a homosexual.

"Max? You wanna go in and order some Chicken Curry or you want me to just go ahead and order for both of us?"

She waggled those sexy brows of hers. "Oh no, don’t even think about it, Emmy. I’m going right in there with you. I happen to know this is Jack’s night to close. He has some ‘splaining to do."

"Emmy? Who’s Emmy? An old lover, no doubt." I fought the hurt that had leaped into my throat.

"Don’t be ridiculous. I’m turning 30 soon. Not 90. I would never call you by the name of an old lover. It’s your eyes, sweet stuff. They remind me of emeralds."


"Yeah. Bright, clear, luscious green. And priceless. Now, let’s go harass Jack."

Jack’s Oriental Eats was one of my favorite places to eat. He not only owned the small restaurant but was the primary cook as well. I knew how he prepared the food and, truth be told, had even learned to do it at home. Still, it was great to be able to just go and pick it up, or eat there, and chat with my old college pal sometimes. Jack never used MSG in his food or took shortcuts with the preparations. His prices did not reflect the extra time and care he took and we had been round and round about that, on more than one occasion. The vegetables were always cut into bite size pieces. Bite size for humans, not Cyclops’, a pet peeve of mine at some oriental places. To save time some cooks left the veggies in huge chunks that ruined the blend on the taste buds. Jack was careful not to overdo the fat content of the food either and I appreciated that on many levels.

The smiling man, small only in stature, nearly leaped from behind the counter when he saw me come through the door.

"Gillian! You cute little pervert, you! Where the hell have you been?"

I started to protest his verbal assault, but quickly found myself practically airborne. How a man only three inches taller than I am could do this is still a mystery to me. I was suddenly grateful I nearly never wore dresses anymore, as he lifted me like a damned barbell and spun me clockwise over his red head.

"Jack Jenkins you put me down this instant or I’m gonna tell all these nice people what really goes into that Moo Goo Gai Pan!!"

The man has never moved past adolescence, I mumbled to myself. One sharp swat to my ass and he lowered me back to the floor, giggling like a schoolboy.

"She’s only kidding folks. Eat up." No one had even missed a beat. The regulars had gotten used to Jack and the crazy antics.

"Yeowch, Jack!" I scolded, as my hand rubbed the offended area.

Still being playful, and more than a little ornery, he reached toward said ass. "Here sexy, let me do that."

I started to swat at his hand and tease him with a good one-liner when I saw the strong hand appear and grab his wrist. It had entered my field of vision so quickly it was almost a blur.

Jack and I both spun toward the voice. His hazel eyes grew round in surprise as he met the icy blue gaze of his long-time friend.

"I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Jack old boy."

I swallowed. It was hard to tell if Max was serious or not. Boy, she sure looked serious. At that moment, I wondered if Max were in the local theater group because if she wasn’t, Jack was in deep doo.

That’s when the red light started flashing in my mind. He was reaching for my ass. My innocent friend had been reaching for my rear end just as Max had come through the door, after stopping to get a newspaper. Uh-oh. But wait, what was going on here? Was she just being protective of another woman? Over-reacting to what must have looked like a bit of groping on Jack’s part? And why did just the thought of those icy eyes excite me?

"Max! Hey, woman. This is Gillian Montgomery. Gillian is an old friend of mine from college. Gillian, this is...."

The ice began a slow thaw but the rigid jaw told me she was not a happy camper.

"It’s okay, Jack. Max and I know each other." I interrupted him.

Bushy red eyebrows reached into the hairline. "Oh, reaaallly? You and Max.."

"Shut up, Jack." Max actually growled at the man.

I reached over and softly took the clenched fist in my small hand. My tall, would-be protector looked at me, puzzled. Without thinking, I brought the fist to my face and brushed the knuckles with my lips. My eyes sought hers and held them, assuring my new friend of my safety was my only conscious intent. Slowly, and very gently, I opened the fist and kissed the palm of her hand. Never once did my gaze stray from the crystal blue eyes of my dinner companion. The eyes softened and I felt her remaining hand join the other in my embrace. It felt cool to the touch. I pressed the palm into my warm cheek. Somewhere in the distance, I heard two moans, so soft they were almost inaudible as they blended and became one.

Jack looked at the two friends he had always thought least likely to even know one another. Then he smiled and shook his head.

"Well... Shut my mouth."

Chapter 6

"I still can’t believe you did that," Max whispered as she buckled back into her seat belt.

"Did what?" I questioned, carefully putting our dinners into the back of my Jeep before getting in myself.

Her eyes watched me climb in and reach for the buckle. Then she chuckled. "You’re quite the tease, Gillian Montgomery. You know perfectly well what I’m talking about. Jack’s probably on the flippin’ phone, even as we speak."

"Because I stopped you from decking him? That won’t make very good gossip." I started the engine and headed for home.

"Don’t be coy, oh, innocent one. You kissed me. Right there in the damned restaurant."

"Excuse me, tall, dark and ferocious; but when I kiss you, you’ll damn well know it." I was momentarily distracted by the slight gasp to my right.

Returning my eyes to the task at hand, I continued. "And Max? I’m 27 years old. Married and divorced. What in the world makes you think I’m innocent?" I glanced her way just long enough to waggle my blonde eyebrows at her.

She blushed. Mother of God, she actually blushed. What could she be thinking about? Don’t be an ass, Gillian, I mentally scolded myself. I knew almost precisely what she was thinking. I had all but jammed the thoughts in place, hadn’t I? And what was that about? I wondered.

Turning into the long drive, I announced: "We’re here."

"Huh?" She’d been caught daydreaming. "Oh. We’re here. Okay." Her eyes did a quick scan of her surroundings. "I thought we were going to your house?"

Now, I was confused. "We are. This is it. We’re here." Punching the garage door opener, I waited, then pulled in and shut off the engine. "Something wrong with where I live, Max?"

Giving her dark tresses a quick shake, she answered. "No. Nothing wrong with where you live. You just failed to mention you were wealthy. That’s all."

"Wealthy?" It took a second for it to register. "No, Max. I’m not. My father is, but..." the tears came at the same instant as the realization. "Shit. I guess I am. Sorry. I..."

Long arms pulled me into a warm, comforting embrace. "Shhh, it’s okay. I’m right here. I’ve gotcha now." Gentle fingers stroked my hair. "I gotcha. It’s okay now."


Unseen to human eyes, Mysti: the Mistress of Dreams, glimmered beside the Metallic Blue Jeep. She raised a shimmering arm and started to flick her hand when something stopped her. Rolling frustrated, eternal eyes she answered the invisible entity.

"Fine. All right! I said, fine, didn’t I? It won’t matter anyway. It’s only a matter of time before one of them recognizes...See. I told you. Hrmph!"

She pulled the old fur coat around her nude form and was gone in an instant, leaving a trail of ghostly glitter. Naturally, no one noticed.


I pulled back and looked deeply into those warm, concerned eyes. "Max. What did you just say?"

Giving strong shoulders a tiny shrug, she thought for only a moment. "Nothing. I just said I gotcha." Suddenly, her eyes grew large and that wonderful left brow lifted. "Oh my god."

"Exactly." I echoed her sentiment. "For at least twenty five years I’ve been hearing someone say those words. I could no more forget that voice than my own name."

Max spoke so quietly it was almost difficult to hear her. "Oddly, the voice never meant anything to me before. But the way it felt to hold the woman, the one in my dreams...that love and concern came to me almost nightly, through those words. The fierce desire to protect her and make the pain I sensed within her go away...that, I could never forget."

"I know this must sound crazy to you, Max. But, I’ve never felt more safe or loved than in that dream. With all the horror that comes before the dream, I mean... nothing has even come close to the way it felt to be in those arms and to hear that voice. Your voice."

"I..." my tall companion started to respond.

My stomach, which had basically been ignored since breakfast, chose that moment to make itself known. Up went both dark brows as she looked in the direction of the loud rumbling and laughed.

"Swallow the loch ness monster, did ja?"

I smacked her curious hand, playfully. "Very funny. The lock ness monster doesn’t make that kind of noise."

"Really?" She looked at me in mock surprise. "You know it personally, do ya?"

I had opened the door and was retrieving our dinner. "No. I do not. I skipped lunch is all. Let’s continue this discussion inside. I’m starving."

She chuckled as we moved inside. "Actually, I skipped lunch too. Wow. Nice digs." Her eyes took in everything around her, as we moved toward the kitchen.

My father designed the house long before I was born. He and my mother had always wanted a huge, old farmhouse; but, with a more central location. So, they put their dreams together, hired an architect, signed the dotted line, and watched it become a reality. Much of the cabinetry and woodwork inside is my father’s craftsmanship. He was a carpenter of high renown, in his day. Daddy spent years with each room, getting it just like he and my mother had wanted it to be. Over the years, more modern touches had been added too. I could always tell he still saw my mother everywhere he looked because every small addition was carefully planned to blend with the original creation. Nothing was ever permitted to replace or detract from what the two of them had created. Strangely enough, I realized that, since his death, I had taken on the pleasant task of maintaining the dream myself.

I set the food down on the wooden table, in the corner of the sunshine yellow and bright white kitchen. Reaching to grab two tall, cobalt blue glasses, I smiled. No special reason. I just smiled. She had that effect on me. Also, I remembered at that moment that she was the first person I’d had here since the funeral.

"I don’t really drink, so I don’t have any wine. How about Pepsi? Diet or non? I also have Orange Juice, Ice Tea, Milk, Dr. Pepper and YooHoo. Anything sound good to you?" I asked, glancing up.

"YooHoo? You drink that, too? I love that stuff. The chocolate, right? I mean, I think the Strawberry tastes like medicine or something. No offense. Oh, and I don’t drink either. So, no problem there."

I grabbed two ice-cold bottles and moved us in the direction of the table. "None taken. I hate that pink stuff. Reminds me of Pepto. Uck. You don’t drink either. Nowadays that’s kind of unusual. Religious thing?"

She snorted and laughed. "I don’t think so. An ungodly abomination like me? Religious? Hrmph. My mother would love that. No. I’m afraid it’s nothing so noble as that. Just a control thing." She looked up from the chair she was moving out for me. "What?"

I touched her hand briefly, then sat down. Max could tell I had something on my mind and sat down, scooting our chairs alongside one another. Those eyes put the blue of my favorite glasses to shame. I searched them for a moment before speaking.


"Hmmm?" She toyed with the lid to one of the rice containers.

"Max, look at me, please." I waited.

"Gillian, if I said something wrong, I’m sorry. I just..." she stopped when I touched her face.

"No, Max. You didn’t say anything wrong. But, whoever made you feel like you were ungodly or an abomination sure as hell did." Her eyes rounded in surprise. "I feel pretty confident in my belief that, if there is a god, he – or she - considers you one of his – or her - finest creations."

"You do?"

"I’m not done yet." I grinned. "This abomination shit pisses me off though, so let’s make a deal. Okay?"

"What kind of deal?" She asked, leaning into the hand still caressing her face.

"This bullshit started long before we met, so I probably can’t take it out of your head. Much as I hate it, I accept that. But, Max? Don’t ever call yourself that in my presence again. Please?"

She nodded slowly, like a chastised child.

"No, Max. I’m not angry with you. I..I just don’t want to hear you or anyone else call you that. Not ever."

She nodded again and blinked away the pooling tears.

I continued. "If someone else is ever stupid enough to say it in my presence, they’ll find out that short women can pack a punch, too. Since I could never bring myself to hit you, I’ll have to come up with some other way" I waggled my eyebrows, hoping to lighten what had become an uncomfortably heavy conversation.

"Deal." She rose up and kissed my cheek before I even had time to move my hand. Then she was right back in her chair, opening containers. "Let’s eat. I’m starved."

Dinner had lasted nearly two hours, as we munched and chattered away. I had never enjoyed a meal so much in all my life. Max told me all about her brother and sister, Mark and Maureen, who were both older than her. I had learned a little bit about her parents, Bonnie and Carl, as well. They were a strict Mormon family and she was, in their eyes, very much the prodigal child. We’d talked about how upset they were when, after all those years and dollars spent in search of her law degree, she had decided not to practice law. I was impressed at the way she’d ignored all the bitching and moaning and created the job she loved to go to every day. LOST AND FOUND, she called it. Max had merged what she knew about computers, much of her legal training, and her desire to help people find whatever happiness they could, into a wonderful business that helped people find "lost" loved ones. She wasn’t getting rich, she had pointed out, but she was finally in the black.

Naturally, her parents considered this a "waste of a good education and hard-earned money". My friend thought that last part almost funny, since she had put her own self through school; while the family funds supported her brother during his two-year "mission" in Brazil. When he returned, it was his turn to go to school. Men, after all, "needed a career". We had both laughed over that asinine, but typical, statement.

For my part, I told Max more about my father as well as what I knew of my mother. We’d talked a little bit about my ill-conceived marriage to John Dalton. That had been a horrible mistake for both John and I. Truthfully, I still felt badly knowing it had meant the end of our friendship. That loss had been more painful than the divorce, I’d explained. John and I had been friends for a very long time before we married. I think one reason I will always feel regret is that, somewhere inside, I always knew I didn’t love John the way I should have. Not like a wife should love her husband. I also felt like an idiot about his sexuality. If I hadn’t been so afraid of that kind of intimacy I might have noticed his reluctance. As it was, I had just been grateful not to have every date turn into a wrestling match, with my virginity being the sought after prize.

Max had been very understanding about my feelings. She also seemed more than a little surprised to learn that his orientation did not bother me in the least.

We had gradually moved into the family room and stretched out on the huge couch my father called "the pit group". He’d said that was what the salesman had called it. I always laughed thinking it an appropriate name for the large, albeit comfortable, monstrosity.

"C’mon, Gillian. You’re just saying that because I’m here and you know I’m gay." Max finally said.

Shaking my head and rolling my eyes, I pulled my legs up under me until I could rise up onto my knees. She crinkled her brow, obviously watching my movements and waiting for a reply. Rising up on my knees, only to sink down further into the overly soft cushions, I groaned. Max giggled and repositioned herself into the corner so that we were fully facing one another. I held onto the couch with my right hand, to steady myself, and looked right at my tall friend.

"Now, Max. That would be pretty hypocritical of me, don’t you think?" Leaning in slightly, I whispered: "Hmmmm?"

She swallowed loudly, took a deep breath, and used her strong hands on the back of the sofa to press herself more upright and deeper into the corner. "Uh...what...what do you mean?"

A tiny voice somewhere in the back of my mind asked: Gillian, what the hell do you think you’re doing? Every other fiber of my being said: shut the fuck up!


She looked into my eyes, showing some surprise at what she thought she saw there. I watched as she vigorously shook her head. "Yeah?"

"I’m nearly thirty years old and..." I looked at her as she interrupted me.

"No-No. I’m nearly thirty. You’re only twenty-seven. No need to rush things. Time will do that all by itself, my young friend."

Using the interruption to edge myself even closer, I grinned. "Very well. Twenty-seven, then. Anyway, as I was saying..." I chuckled at her attempt to crawl into the furniture. "I’ve been dreaming about a tall, beautiful woman coming to my rescue, with love in her eyes, for as long as I can remember. I may be slow on the uptake Gorgeous, but I’m not a total dunce."

"Um...Gorgeous?" In the soft light, I couldn’t be sure whether she was flushed or not. It certainly looked like she was. I rose up further onto my knees and looked down at her legs, which she had drawn up against her. She half smiled. I leaned my head to one side and raised an eyebrow in question. Seeing her confusion, I gently took one foot and tugged. "Gillian, I don’t.." she started.

"Shhh," I whispered. "This won’t hurt a bit," I giggled as I pulled the foot toward the space between my knees. Then I took a slow, deep breath before doing the same with the other foot. Her knees were only close to her body now. Not drawn up into it, like before. "Max, I would be a terrible hypocrite if I judged John harshly for loving a man. Especially given the fact that the person of my dreams has always been another woman. Don’t you think?"

While she considered my question, I closed my eyes for an instant, to gather courage. I took a breath deeper and slower than I had ever taken before. Then, I pressed her knees onto the couch and climbed up, placing my knees astride her strong thighs. I heard her breath catch in her throat.

"Listen, sweetie...Um, I mean, Gillian."

I leaned in so I could whisper directly into her left ear. "I like sweetie. When you say it, that is." Unable to resist, now that I was this close, I slowly kissed her lobe. The shudder was unmistakable.

"Oh god. I mean, ah, Gillian...Sweetie. Lots of women have dreams involving other women. It doesn’t have to mean anything. Maybe it’s just a dream."

"Mmmm." I ran the tip of my tongue all around her ear, following her head as she let it fall slightly backward. "I thought of that. Even convinced myself too. For a while." My tongue reached deep into her ear as my left hand found the back of her head, pressing her closer. I opened my mouth, covering the entire ear and breathed hot air, slowly into the orifice and across her neck. I felt a trembling hand on my shoulders. Unwilling to move from the spot, I took her lobe into my mouth and gently sucked.

"Dear God, Gillian. What do you think you’re doing here?"

There was a sound of desperation in the voice but I couldn’t help noticing that the hands on my shoulders hadn’t moved. I stopped sucking and released the ear, moving to look into her beautiful face. The involuntary groan of disappointment made me smile.

"Max, I’m willing to admit to being less experienced at this than I’m sure you are. Still, I thought what I was doing rather spoke for itself. But, seeing that I was mistaken, let me try to make myself a bit more clear."

"And how were you going to..."

My face stilled, so near to hers my eyes could barely focus. I could feel her heart pounding as my breasts pressed in close, against hers. Her breath smelled sweet and her eyes were a much deeper shade of blue than I’d seen earlier. Her hands began to tremble against my shoulder blades, as I moved in to capture the lips I had only dreamed about before. My lips were hot as I covered her deliciously soft mouth with mine. My hidden fear was released when I felt her mouth open slightly and press into mine. Very slowly, the tips of our tongues reached for one another. As they met, I felt something akin to an mild electric shock travel from the tip of my tongue to the growing ache between my legs. Strong fingers traveled slowly upward from my shoulders to the back of my head and tangled into my short, but thick hair.

As only the tips of our tongues began to make slow, then faster circles around each other, I let my hand leave the couch and rest alongside her firm breast. She arched gently toward me, almost putting her breast into my yearning hand.

"MMM. Oh Max. You ...oh...Jesus. You can kiss."

Strong hands at the back of my head, pulled my lips back to hers, as her entire tongue fully entered my now very hot mouth. I felt her warm, strong muscle dancing with mine as we pressed closer and closer. It was as though our hearts were racing together. I would have sworn I could feel her pulse in my own chest. My right hand could no longer restrain from caressing the full, firm breast against it. I gently, lovingly squeezed the round, perfect globe as I pressed my palm into the hardening nipple.

Slowly, pressing into each movement, I felt her long fingers leave my hair and make their way past my neck, across my shoulder and on down to the small of my back. Moaning into my hungry mouth, she pulled my body forward until I was against her strong abs. The sensation was more than I could bear. Beyond anything I had even dreamed. My hips began moving against her as I thrust my tongue deep into her mouth.

"Oh, God." Max moaned against my lips, pulling me harder into her and reaching out to drag her swollen tongue across my collarbone.

"Yes. God, yes, Max." I pressed my hips as close as I could get and began to move faster. Never had anything felt like this. I knew I was about to lose all control when she jerked her head up and stilled her hands. I groaned and ground myself into her, feeling her hands flex twice from the mixed signals she was sending them. "Please," I begged. "Don’t stop."

She kissed my neck, too briefly. "Gillian. Sweetie. Oh shit that feels good. No, wait. We can’t do this."

Grinding harder and faster, I licked her neck and ear. "Sure we can. We’ve been doing fine up to now." I half chuckled as my hands moved behind her back and pulled her into me again.

"It’s too fast. We can’t.."

"Wrong, lover. It’s not nearly fast enough."

Max had to laugh at that one. She moved my face to look into my eyes. "Want more do you? Gillian? Are you sure?"

"Why? Don’t I ...ungh.." I pressed the point home. "Don’t I feel sure?"

Her hands clenched and opened two or three more times. "Christ, Gillian. You feel…" The hands clenched again, then, with a long sigh, pressed hard into my lower back. "You feel incredible."

She leaned forward and dipped her tongue into my cleavage as far as the opened buttons would allow. Crystal blue eyes caught my gaze and, twinkling, clouded over with desire. Max pressed her tongue deeply into the flesh beneath my third button, then let the fully extended flat side pull upward along my neck until she reached my waiting mouth. Surprising me, and disappointing my hungry mouth, she then dragged said tongue across my jaw to my ear. I shivered as her hot breath caressed my flesh.

"Except..." she murmured into my auditory canal.

My pulse rate was headed for the Guinness Book, but I had to know.

"Except what?" My arousal was so intense I had almost forgotten I’d never been with a woman before. ‘God, what if I wasn’t doing it right?’, that nagging inner voice taunted.

"Except this," she said, tugging at my shirt. "And this," she looped her long fingers into the belt on my jeans. She lit my world with a smile. "Off, my love. If you’re sure you want this..." Her eyes waited for me to answer.

"Max, my jeans must be soaked at this point. Believe me, I want I want YOU, love. You."

"Thank God. Oh, my.... your jeans are soaked?" Her eyes nearly glowed with the intensity of her desire as she tugged at my still buttoned jeans. "C’mon, Gillian. Get em off. I want to feel you next to me. Hurry up. I’m on fire here, woman."

I nearly snapped the buttons off my favorite jeans getting out of them. Then my head popped up as I widened my eyes in her direction.

"What?" She asked, a bit impatiently.

"I am not going to be the only one naked here, sweetie." Waggling my eyebrows and licking my lips, I commanded: "Strip."

"Huh?" She feigned ignorance.

Down to my sports bra and underwear, I laughed. "You heard me, sexy. Strip. Unless you want me to put these back on." I pretended to reach for the hastily discarded jeans and shirt. She stilled my hand.

"No no. Keep going. You look," she licked her lips and took a breath. "You look good enough to eat."

Chapter 7

"Holy Mother of God!" I gasped.

Max stopped, stone still. She sat before me wearing only red, tartan cotton boxers. Her tanned skin was flush with arousal but, in that moment, her eyes wore the shyness of a timid child.

"What? Oh, the good enough to eat thing." She swallowed slowly as her eyes struggled to find an acceptable place to rest. "Gillian, we won’t do anything you don’t want to do. Okay? I mean, if that disgusts you..." she mumbled.

My mind had difficulty registering her words. So overwhelmed was I at the sight before me, it was a wonder I’d heard her at all. Never had I seen anything so beautiful, so thought numbing. Her skin was so smooth, so perfect. The tanned neck met strong, equally tanned shoulders that gave anchor to strong, gentle arms. I let my eyes travel along those arms; out to the tender fingertips I had already had the privilege of feeling on my face and hands. Then I brought my now deepening green eyes back to where that graceful neck led toward the most incredible breasts I had, or have, ever seen. Without thought, I reached out and touched a tiny, white scar resting in the creamy flesh at the very top of her right breast. Leaning in, I pressed warm lips to the spot. I opened my mouth just enough to allow my tongue to circle the small scar several times, eliciting the sexiest of moans.

"Mmmm", I sighed. Lifting my eyes to her, partially closed crystal blues, I asked. "What happened here?" Then, without delay, I moved my hungry tongue back for more.

Two strong hands found the back of my head and pressed me nearer to what my mouth wanted. Before I knew what was happening, I was pushed slightly southward and I felt her entire breast my hot, hungry mouth. Feeling her nipple harden against my tongue sent a wonderful, if surprising, sensation directly to my clitoris. Quickly I scooted up against her body, searching for something to press my need against. Our positions had shifted just enough during the disrobing that I soon found myself pressing into her mound. The intensity of the desire that rushed through me caused me to suckle harder on the full, round breast.

"Oh yes. God, that feels.... um." Her body bucked against mine as she shoved her breast deeper into my happy mouth.

"Good?" I asked as I rubbed the rough, flat part of my tongue all around the large globe, still inside my mouth.

"Ummm.." was all she seemed able to manage. Her hips rose up against mine firmly, twice, maybe three times. "Oh, God."

I pulled my lips back slightly and flicked my tongue across the now glistening nipple, watching it stiffen again as another jolt rushed southward. Dragging my smiling, wet muscle across her cleavage, I found the lonely, still dry breast and began to lick it, heartily. My tongue explored every curve as it made its way round and round, each circle moving slowly inward toward the darkened nipple. Taking my time, I relished the salty taste of the firm flesh as well as the intoxicating sounds coming from the woman beneath me.

"Christ, you’re good. Gillian, that.... oh..." she moaned in a deep, throaty voice that edged me onward.

Gradually, I licked my way to the impatiently waiting nipple. It stood erect, as if to say: "me now. Me. Take me." I did. Hungrily. Like a starving child, I sucked the hard, tempting point into my fevered mouth.

"Ungh. Oh God." It was almost a cry of pain...only not. I felt her hips thrust forward over and over as I tried to meet them with my own.

Suddenly, the hands in my hair were on my ass, digging beneath my thin panties for flesh. Her breast slipped from my mouth as I threw my head back, crying out.

"Oh. Dear God. Gillian, are you okay?" Max asked, almost as surprised by my cry as I was.

"No. Not okay. Jesus, Max. Don’t stop like that." I pressed hard into her mound.

She chuckled softly and took a firm hold of my rear end. "Don’t stop, huh?"

Digging my knees into the cushions beneath us, I pressed deeply into her. A hot, rush flooded my being as her mound met mine at exactly the same moment and intensity.

"Shit. God, Max." I blurted breathlessly. "Do that again. Please?"

Her strong fingers spread out, taking all of my butt into her muscular hands. With a force I had never felt before she pulled me forward against her at the same instant she thrust herself into me. She grunted and did it again. My mouth sucked her delicious breast to the hard, slow rhythm of the thrusts. I felt her did her heels into the couch, allowing the thrust to be firmer still. Small, trembling hands found the waist of her boxers and clutched tightly.

"Harder, Max, harder." I groaned.

My heart was hammering in my chest, the blood boiling in my veins and arteries. The only thought remaining in my brain was: more, dear lord, more.

"Gillian," she rasped between quick breaths.

Pounding my now aching mound against hers, I clutched tighter to the boxers. "Please, Max. Please. Harder. Faster, baby."

I may never completely know what happened next. Her hands dug into my round behind, her knees came up beside mine, she mumbled something about my holding on and lights started flashing inside my brain. She slid and pounded against my need so hard, so fast, so relentlessly. I felt her steaming mouth take purchase in the spot just above my right breast and suck, hard. I lost all conscious control as my body sought hers - faster, harder and closer than anything I had ever known before.

"Oh God. Oh God, Gillian. Stay with me, honey. So close now."

"M..Max. Don’t stop. God, Max. Don’t stop, baby. I..."

Lightening and thunder rolled into the room. Four hips froze, mid-air. I clenched and unclenched her boxers and she squeezed my ass so hard I just knew there would be bruising. Cries like nothing I had even dreamed about filled my senses.

"Don’t move, honey. Don’t pull away yet. I love you, Gillian. God help me. I love you."

"Oh, Max. I’m not going anywhere. God’s already helped you. Helped us both. I love you, too. I love you, Max. Hear me, sweetheart? I love you."

"Ummmm. Oh shit, that was...mother of God, Gillian. Do I even want to know where you learned to do that?"

Our sweat-drenched bodies had fallen back onto the cushions, still pressed tightly against one another. I could feel her pulse thumping against my breast, as, I suspected, she could fell mine against hers. Hearing her question, I had to smile, then laugh.

Looking up into sated, blue eyes, I leaned my head back and shook my damp hair.

"And if someone taught me, would that bother you?" I teased.

"Yes," came her answer without hesitation. Then the cautious woman who lived there most of the time, took over. "I mean, no, of course not. What right do I have...".

Seeing her struggle, I stopped her with a gentle kiss. She moaned into my still warm mouth. I deepened the kiss and soon felt my passion kicking in again. Gaining control for a moment, I needed to make myself clear.

"Max. No one taught me. I’ve just dreamed of...well, I’ve wanted this for a long time. I just didn’t know who you were before."

She sat up a bit, searching my face for something.

Finally, starting to catch her breath better, she spoke. "You...I mean, you’ve never been with a woman before. Right?"

I opened my green eyes wider and lifted my brows, yet said nothing.

Nervously, Max leaned into me, pressing her lips to my ear. "I’m sorry, sweetheart. Don’t be mad. It’s just. I thought you major league straight and... shit. Never mind." She kissed my ear and started to get up.

"Wait," burst forth from my lips as I pressed her back into the couch. "I.." my tongue reached out and dragged itself across full mouth. "I’m just a little overwhelmed, Max. Don’t read anything into it."

I didn’t mean to. I really didn’t, but I found myself slowly grinding into her again. Christ, she felt good.

"Gilli...oh god." Gulp. "Oh, honey, you are soooo good. It’s just...oh...oh, yes. Keep doing that. Yes, like that. Shit, that feels good."

"Yeah?" I pulled her back down, slightly for a better thrusting angle.

"Gillian!" Hands found their place beneath my underwear again. "You can the best lover I’ve ever had be a straight woman? I must be losing my...oh, Jesus. Harder. Yes, there."



I slowed my grinding, then stopped entirely, pressing our mounds as tightly together as I could get them.

"Gillian, baby, please don’t stop," she pleaded.

"Max, baby. It’s been clear to me for a long time now. I’m not straight."

"Oh," she moaned, trying to pump again.

"I want you, Max."

Digging long fingers into a firm derriere, she began a slow grind that nearly set my panties aflame. Her tongue found my breast and began making hot, tight circles, nearly driving me to the brink of insanity. Desire raging within me, I took her face in my hands.

"Please, Max. Make love to me?"

Those blue eyes of hers looked into my very soul. She lifted her hips up off the pit group and thrust into me as strong hands pulled me toward her passion.

"I love you, Gillian. I love you so much. Make love with me, sweetheart."

Swallowing, I tried to still my desire for a moment. Trembling fingers found the edge of her tartan plaids.

"Off." I rasped through a cloud of need.

"What are" she started. Her eyes caught the movement as I rose up onto my knees. Balancing carefully, I gingerly slid my underwear down past her hands, still holding me firmly. She leaned her beautiful face slightly to one side, then smiled. Lying back onto the couch, she gently lifted my body onto her own. Then, with unbelievably soft hands, she pressed my panties past my knees and ankles and onto the floor.

Sparks seemed to erupt within me at every touch. Max tenderly settled me back onto my knees as she raised up onto her own. Her smile made me feel warm and safe, as she reached long arms around me, holding my weight against her own body. I wondered at the love in her eyes as she lowered me backward onto the other end of the sofa. Looking up at her in mild surprise I saw that eyebrow lift and her eyes sparkle in the candlelight. My heart beat loudly in my ears as I watched her slip her boxers off and onto the floor beside us. I swallowed loudly. She chuckled softly.

Max’s eye twinkled with mischief as she slid her hand behind my calves and slowly lifted my knees to a bent position. I nearly cried out when her long tongue snaked out and licked my left kneecap. That smile again. Then more with that long, thick tongue of hers. She swirled it around the kneecap again and again before letting it slide to the inside and press outward, gently. I swallowed again as I felt my legs tenderly spread apart. The conditioned air against the exposed, wet heat of my crotch did nothing to soothe the growing fire within. Max’s tongue began making tiny circles along the inside of my left thigh, with each full circle moving, ever so slowly northward. The movement changed from the torturing circles as the tongue began to drag the full, flat part of itself up the inside of my thigh just to the inner joint, where it tickled the curly hair and then quickly shifted to move down the other thigh. I would feel my own wetness growing and wondered if the pit group could ever be the same.

After about four of five heart rate soaring journeys, the slick muscle seemed to still, just at the edge of where I ached for it to be.

"Lift." Max’s soft voice commanded.

"Huh?" I was nearly dumbstruck when I saw her holding a large cushion we had knocked off earlier.

"Lift." Waggling eyebrows beseeched me. I lifted.

Max slid the well-stuffed cushion directly beneath my ass. I looked at her, questioningly.

"Just setting the table," she grinned.

"Oh god," I whimpered. Meanwhile, the nagging ache between my legs screamed: ‘Yes!’

Chapter 8

...After about four or five heart-rate soaring journeys, the slick muscle seemed to still, just at the edge of where I ached for it to be.

"Lift." Max’s soft voice commanded.

"Huh?" I was nearly dumbstruck when I saw her holding a large cushion we had knocked off earlier.

"Lift." Waggling eyebrows beseeched me. I lifted.

Max slid the well-stuffed cushion directly beneath my ass. I looked at her, questioningly.

"Just setting the table," she grinned.

"Oh god," I whimpered. Meanwhile, the nagging ache between my legs screamed: ‘Yes!’

Max leaned forward, smiled and kissed my knees. First one and then the other, she caressed them with her full, warm lips, swirling her tongue against them as she went. The most incredible blue eyes I had ever seen, looked up at me, with so much love it nearly took my breath away. I reached up to touch her beautiful long, dark hair, as I looked into her gentle face. there was so much passion, lying there, just beneath the surface.

"Lie back, Gillian." Max motioned me backward with just a nod. Part of me wanted to reach up once more and take her in my arms, but I did as she asked. Flashing nearly perfect white teeth, she smiled.

"I love you, Max." I whispered, as I lay back into the oversized couch.

The kisses had spread outward and upward from my knees, as her strong hands tenderly pressed my knees apart. My lover’s firm tongue played on the inside of my thighs, first one and then the other, until my knees began to tremble. Max looked up at me and warmed the room with her smile.

"Gillian. Honey, I need you to spread those sexy legs for me. Okay?" Max looked at me with controlled desire flashing in her eyes.

I was way beyond nervous. I swallowed and nodded as I moved my knees farther apart. She nodded with understanding as she placed her muscular hands beneath my thighs and slowly pulled them apart. Before the cool air could settle into the space she had made, or I could feel too terribly awkward, she moved her gorgeous body to fill the space.

With my heart pounding a fast rhythm in my ears, I watched Max move herself forward. Still on her knees, she edged her waist and hips between my slightly shaky thighs. Her strong hands slid up the back of my legs until they found my rear end. Squeezing gently, she looked into my eyes and smiled. I melted and my legs fell even farther apart. As my tall, sexy companion moved to embrace me, our mounds met and we both moaned at the damp heat.

"Oh Baby. You feel so good, Gillian. You have no idea how much I want you." Her words rushed into my ear as the heated air sent goose bumps across my flesh.

Pressing my legs tight around her waist, I locked my ankles behind her well-muscled ass. "Wanna bet?" I looked into fiery blue orbs and took her face in my hands. "Max. You’re making me crazy here. You know that. Right?" I punctuated my sentence by thrusting hard into her and clenching my legs at the same time.

"Ungh. OH...Room in that rubber room for two?" She grunted her humorous reply. The firmness and quickness of the return thrusts did not escape my notice either. "Oh God. That feels good, honey."

"Mmmmm. Ve...very good." My tongue snaked out and licked her ear as I sucked the perfect, soft lobe into my hot mouth.

Frowning, I reached again for the delicious flesh moving away from me. Quickly, I grabbed for her head and pulled her mouth to mine. Sliding my hungry tongue into her mouth, even before I covered it fully with my own, I kissed her passionately. The kiss deepened as I felt soft hands caress and knead my breasts. Never, before Max, had my breasts been so sensitive to touch or so much a part of my arousal. This woman had some special power over my body, as well as my heart and mind. I decided, right then and there, I liked it. I liked it a lot.

"Uhm. You feel so good, Gillian, so soft. Such a beautiful body." Her tongue had left my mouth and joined her hands. "I love the way your breasts fit into my mouth." She drew my right breast fully into the warm heat of her waiting mouth. I felt a gentle sucking began as my hips began moving against hers again, as if they had a mind of their own.

"Aah...oh, Max."

"Yes, Baby. Move against me." She had lifted only as long as it took her mouth to move from one erect nipple to the other.

The sensation of the tender caresses from those strong hands and her suckling was driving me insane. I was grinding against her and squeezing her into me with my legs as hard as I could. Max’s gentle thrusts were cranking up the heat and the sounds she was making with her mouth were sending vibrations directly to my center. Just about the time I thought I would cry out from the pure pleasure of her at my breasts, she abandoned them to the attention of only her fingers, thumbs and palms.

"oohhh..." I moaned at the loss.

Sky blue eyes glanced up from my abdomen and smiled as she tickled me with the tip of her tongue. "Patience, my love."

"But that felt... oh..." words escaped me as her teasing tongue dropped into damp curls and strong hands left my breasts and found the firm, round cheeks of my ass.

Somehow, Max had slid downward in such a way that my legs were across her broad shoulders now. Bowing at the knee, my legs were fully spread where they met my body. Skillfully, she moved herself into place. Unbelievably soft lips reached between my thighs and kissed me, taking me by surprise. I jerked my head up and looked down toward my hungry lover.

"Max? What are you... oh god." Her swollen tongue had made a fast trip the full length of me, pressing its passion into the tender flesh as it traveled.

"Ssshhh. Lie back now. I want to taste you. Please you. Let me make love to you with my mouth, sweetheart."

"Oh God." I moaned as she did two more quick trips, pressing in a pulse this time.

She flicked only her eyes toward me and smiled. I could feel it against me as much as I could see it. ‘How could I be so deeply in love with her so quickly,’ I wondered.



"I love you, Gillian. I love you so much." She kissed my inner thigh and the love I felt brought tears to my eyes.

"I love you, too, so very much. Make love to me, Max."

I moved against her mouth, without thinking. She groaned and her tongue began to circle my engorged clitoris.

"God!" I cried out at the overwhelming pleasure she was giving me. My hips bucked of their own accord. "Max! Oh God, Max."

My lover said nothing I could understand but somehow I knew she was speaking words of love to me. My heart was so full; tears slipped past my cheeks. Still my tall dream circled her hot tongue against my clit in firm, tight circles. Then the tip of her tongue began to flick the fully erect clitoris with a speed I would not have thought possible. My hips bucked harder against her mouth. I felt strong, determined hands clench the muscles of my butt, holding me in place. After what seemed like minutes of the rapid-fire pleasure, I was breathing hard and moaning loudly. Suddenly, I felt myself sucked into her mouth, as she began to suck me like a Popsicle. Max was swirling her enflamed tongue round and round while sucking hard and fast on my screaming clit. My hips were thrusting into her face and rising clear up, off the cushion every time.

"Jesus, Max." I panted. "Harder... Harder, Baby."

"Mmmmmm," was all I could understand of whatever she said; but the sucking picked up and she grazed me with the edge of her teeth a few times.

My body was screaming with pleasure and I pounded into her mouth over and over. Her hands squeezed my ass in time with the sucking rhythm and I felt like I was going crazy. Yet I couldn’t get a release. Everything she was doing felt so incredible. I prayed it would never stop. At the same time, I pleaded for the final ecstasy I knew was coming. Finally, I couldn’t stand any more.

"Max. Honey," I almost whimpered, between breaths.

She slowed and looked up. Concern filled her awesome eyes. "Did I hurt you?" she asked.

Putting my hands against the back of her head, I urged her not to stop. My hips pressed the point home against the mouth I knew I would want forever.

"No. Didn’t hurt me, not at all. So good." I paused to breathe and noticed she was sucking with a passion again and swirling and teasing me with her teeth, as well. "Something’s wrong, Max. I want you..." I panted between rapid, hard thrusts.

"Good," she quickly said and returned to what she had been doing.

"No. Want you.... don’t know... everywhere..." I managed through ragged breaths.

I felt the tickling sensation of her lips spreading into a grin against my most tender flesh and hope it was a sign she understood what to do. I prayed she did. I was moaning, grunting and pleading for more with no idea what more was. My hands tangled into her thick, dark hair and pressed her into me with the same pulse that enveloped my entire world at that moment. That’s when I felt her right hand leave my behind and slide across my thigh. As I sensed something poised near my opening, I felt her head lift against my trembling hands. I eased my grip so she could find my eyes with her own. There was a question in those crystal visions. At that same moment I felt her fingers circle my dripping core. I loved her so much, even then. All I could think of was how much I loved her, how wonderful it felt to be loved by her. I closed my eyes and nodded.

Max clamped her lips around my clitoris and pulled hard into one powerful suction, which she held as two long fingers eased inside me.

"Yes!" I screamed into the air-conditioned room.

She slid the fingers in again, slowly, and sucked against the imprisoned clit. Then she did it again. And again.

"Faster. God, Max. Faster."

Two slim fingers pumped in and out of me with a quickening pace as my swollen clitoris was once again sucked and swirled in time. The slurping sound her pumping created was driving me nearer and nearer to the edge. Then I felt something change and my blood deprived brain tried to sort it out. Before my mind could change gears her mouth had left my clit, which was now being stroked and rubbed vigorously by the hand that had abandoned my thrusting, sweating derriere. I had only moments to mentally search for the missing mouth as a long, very firm tongue joined two and then three fingers rapidly moving in and out of me. My heart rate nearly tripled as the sensation nearly robbed me of consciousness.

"Mother of God, Max!" I rammed myself into the air over and over. "Deeper my love. Yes!" I was pleading now. "More...ugh...ungh....oh....oh Max....harder....hard......faster.......oh.....oh god....." I was so close, so very close.

"Gillian," she moaned between ragged breaths, pumping into the edge of the large cushion. "I love you, Gillian."

"Max! I’m....gonna....explode here....god, don’t stop! I.... I love you, Max."

I felt her fingers and tongue sliding in and out of me, moving against my inner walls. Her other hand had stopped being gentle long ago and was rubbing fiercely against a very engorged, hard clitoris. Her body moving to the same beat so near mine was fanning my flames.

"Gilli.... Baby...come for me. Please, sweetheart. Come in my mouth." She struggled to catch her breath. "Come all over my fingers, baby. Come for me. I love you so much." Then she stiffened her tongue again and thrust it deep into me. Over and over and over, I felt her enter me with incredible passion.

For some bizarre reason, at that moment I heard myself from so many other times in my life. ‘Why do I always feel like there is a hole in my life?’

My hips pumped wildly against the sofa as Max made love to me with her mouth, her fingers, her tongue, and her all.

The familiar scenes from my dreams skittered across my mind. ‘Will I ever know love like that while I’m awake?’

Max’s tongue slid out of me and latched onto my throbbing clitoris. She began sucking fiercely, her hand reaching up and taking mine. The fingers inside me began to twist as they slid. Upon entry the wrist twisted to the right and thrust deeply and quickly. On exit the entire wrist twisted to the left and pulled out to the very edge of my entrance. No pausing between movement, the thrusting took on a frenzied pace with the fingertips sliding along my inner walls each time. Max drove her strong digits deeper, harder and faster with each stroke and licked and sucked at the same pace. We were both covered in perspiration as she bucked feverishly against the couch, near release herself. I took my other hand from behind her head and twisted my upper body until I could reach between her legs with my fingers. What I found there sent me into the stratosphere.

"Max! Honey, you’re so wet. So swollen. Shit. Don’t stop. Damn, you good." I bucked against her and drove my fingers inside her at the same time. Nothing in my wildest fantasies had even come close to feeling this good.

"Gillian!" She had not expected that. "Don’t stop. So close. Love you, Gillian. I...oh god..." she focused everything into that unbelievable tongue of hers.

My insides were on fire. Nothing was ever suppose to feel THIS good. That was what I had always believed. But it did. She did. I felt her muscles begin to tighten around my fingers and realized my lover was giving up all control. Max was completely giving herself to me, as I was giving myself to her. It wasn’t like it had ever been with anyone before. I was making love to someone who loved me back.

"Gill.... coming... love you so much.... please, please come with me...please..." she whimpered and pleaded and rode my fingers. She pumped fluid all over my hand as her walls began to clench against me.

Feeling Max-approaching climax, while hearing her tell me she loved me, as she begged me to come with her, shoved me over the cliff. Fingers pumped wildly in and out of me as her teeth gently scraped my hardened bundle of nerves. The jerking and trembling came as a surprise to me, a big surprise.

"Mmaaaaxxxxxx!" I shouted as my hips froze mid-air and my legs clenched into one hard muscle. I felt her fingers stop and her mouth stilled.

"OH! Oh, Giilllllliiiiaaaannnn!" Max’s vaginal muscles grabbed my fingers and held them tightly.

We lay there, panting in one another’s love for a long time. When our pounding hearts allowed our breathing to return to near normal, she looked up at me.

"You can take your fingers out now, my love." Max grinned. "Slowly. Please?"

A little embarrassed at not knowing that, I blushed. "Sorry," I whispered. Then I very carefully slid my fingers from the love of my life’s center; silently praying they would be there again, very soon.

"Don’t be. I like them there." She blinked. "No. I love them there. You were...incredible, love. And, you might notice mine are still inside you."

"Oh," I blushed again.

"Mmm. I like pink on you, sweetheart. Ready?"

"Can I keep them?" I teased.

Blue eyes winked at green. "Gillian, they’re yours for as long as you want them. They come with my heart, honey."

"Really?" I wondered aloud, amazed at the possibility.

"Really." She answered without missing a beat.

I smiled at this drop-dead gorgeous woman who had stepped out of a dream and into my heart.

"How does forever sound?" I mentally held my breath.

"Too brief, my love, too brief."

Green eyes looked deeply into blue, and smiled.

It would be months before we told each other about the silent prayer of thanks offered at that moment. When the secret was finally shared, we had to laugh. The prayers were identical:

"Mysti, wherever you are, thank you. Thank you for never taking the dream away, no matter how I pleaded, whined and begged. Thank you so much, Mistress of Dreams. No matter what the rest of the world chooses to believe: you will always be real to me. Good night, Mysti, blessed Mistress of Dreams."

Chapter 9

I seemed to be floating on a sea of pure joy as the soft strains of my favorite song infiltrated my thoughts.

...Maybe it’s intuition

But some things you just don’t question

Like in your eyes

I see my future in an instant

And there it goes

I think I’ve found my best friend

I know that it might sound more than a little crazy

But I believe

I knew I loved you before I met you

I think I dreamed you into life

I knew I loved you before I met you

I have been waiting all my life

There’s just no rhyme or reason

Only this sense of completion

And in your eyes

I see the missing pieces

I’m searching for

I think I’ve found my best friend

I know that it might sound more than a little crazy

But I believe

I knew I loved you before I met you

I think I dreamed you into life

I knew I loved you before I met you

I have been waiting all my life

A thousand angels dance around you

I am complete now that I’ve found you

I knew I loved you before I met you

I think I dreamed you into life

I knew I loved you before I met you

I have been waiting all my life…

As I focused on the last half of the beautiful song, I became aware, slowly, that it was the clock radio I was hearing. The next thing I noticed was the additional voice Savage Garden seemed to have added to the popular recording.

"Oh my God!" I sat bolt upright, just as the song ended.

Looking around, I realized, not only was I still lying on the couch, but I was deliciously wrapped in a cocoon of warm arms and legs. Large, firm breasts were snuggled into mine, and the gentle heartbeat against me drew a smile. Soft lips brushed against my neck, making me smile yet again.

"Morning, Gillian." Max tickled my ear with the tip of her tongue and chuckled. "My singing that bad? Couldn’t help myself. Always loved that song. Now I know why." Another quick tickle and an, all-too-brief, kiss.

Turning to see the azure eyes I so adored, I pulled her fully into my arms. "Max. You sing...well, you’re incredible. You could do this for a living!"

She chuckled and lifted that sexy eyebrow of hers. "You suggesting I become a hooker, sweetheart?"

Wrinkling my brow at first, I quickly caught the joke and playfully smacked her shoulder. "You! Only if you commit to having only one ‘john’ for the rest of your life." Uh-oh. It had leaped past my lips before I could edit. " I mean..."

Pressing our bodies together, she kissed me softly. "I, I HOPE, I know what you meant. And, Honey? Count on it! I love you. Does that music I hear mean it’s time to get up?" Her lips delayed any immediate reply.

"Mmmm. I love you, too, Max, more than anything. And, yes. Well, sort of. I mean, what time do you have to be at work?"

My heart began to race as she slid her long leg between my thighs and kissed me again, more deeply than before. Our hips started a slow, sensual grind to our own inner rhythm, which was quickening rapidly. My heated tongue pushed it’s way into her opening mouth, where her own greedily met it. The slick muscles pressed into and circled each other over and over again. Just as things were starting to get truly ‘interesting’, the radio caught our attention.

"All right, people. Stop what you’re doing right now and get out of that bed! It’s 6 a.m., the radio is on and it’s time to meet and greet another day. C’mon people! Rise and shine!! Now, for a ‘Majic’ oldie by Olivia Newton-John. Let’s Get Physical...."

Together, as if on cue from an unseen director, we burst into laughter. Holding our sides and roaring with unchecked mirth, we sat up.

"I can’t believe he said that. And at that precise moment." Max had barely caught her breath. "You don’t have some strange, secret powers you failed to tell me about, do you?" She waggled her dark eyebrows for emphasis.

Chuckling and waggling mine right back at her, I flashed a wicked smile. "I’ll never tell."

"Oh yeah?" She presented her long fingers and made a show of limbering them up in front of my face.

"Yep." I took her hands in mine. "Seriously, Max. What time do you have to be at work?"

"Well, sure as bloody hell not this early. He said 6. Six! Gillian, why so early? This is an ungodly time of day, baby. Six. Shit, the sun ain’t even up yet, darlin’."

I snorted at the fake accent and sincere complaints in regard to the hour. "Max. Sweetie. You’re so funny. The sun isn’t up because it’s fall. It’s funny though, because I am so not a morning person. I only get up this early to keep from becoming the porker I was in junior high."

Pulling her head back so she could give my body her full scrutiny, she lifted that eyebrow and grinned wickedly. Flicking sculpted brows, she licked her lips and ran her tongue across her teeth. It was at that moment my brain awakened fully, reminding me I was still quite naked. Never before had I experienced a full body blush. I’m not at all sure I recommend it.

"Max!" I protested, looking around for the discarded afghan.

"Ah. Ah. Ah." She grabbed and clutched said afghan, keeping it just beyond my grasp.

"Max!" I protested again. "C’mon, now. I’m naked here."

Leaning in to touch my nose with hers, she husked: "I know."

"...Let me hear you body talk..."

"Oooo. Good idea, Livvy, ol’ pal." My tall lover wisecracked to the radio.

Taking advantage of the moment, I snatched the afghan and quickly covered my very wide-awake body. "Good as that sounds... And, my incredible lover, it sounds very, very good. I really have to get downstairs and work out. I’m already behind schedule."

Pressing me back into the pit group, clutched afghan and all, she covered my mouth with a searing, passionate kiss. When we came up for air, I felt her hands slide beneath the knitted material until they found what they were after.

"Speaking of behinds..." she chuckled and squeezed the point home. "How rigorous a workout you want, baby?"

"Oh lord," I gulped.

"... Well, all right. That was Anne Murray with Could I Have This Dance and at the toll the time will be Seven Toowenty Five and do you know where your socks are?!..."

"Oh, Maaaxx! I love you so much." I mumbled, climbing back up my lover’s body, toward the lips I sought.

"Gill... Oh my God, Gillian." She rasped, struggling for air. Meeting me halfway, she pulled me up the remaining distance to her waiting mouth. The kiss was deep and soft and so loving it made itself felt all the way into my soul.

"I was... I mean, I was... okay, then?" I managed to get the words out between kisses.

Lips jerked back and blues eyes widened. "Jesus, baby! OK? OK! Where were you when my entire body went into orbit, love?" She took my right hand and pressed it into her cleavage. "My heart is still pounding like an Amazon war drum. No. You were not okay. You were...and are...the most wonderful, intense and beautiful lover I have ever had." She kissed my nose and looked into my pooling green eyes, deeply. "Gillian. I love you with all that I am. I never expected to find anyone like you; love like this. But I can tell you I have no intention of ever letting it, or you, go. So I hope you feel the same way. Otherwise, can you say ‘broken heart’?", she half snickered.

Placing her face, tenderly, between my palms, I gazed into the eyes of my soulmate. "Can you say ‘fast’?" I smiled.

Dark locks brushed my fingers as she nodded.

"This is gonna seem really fast to most people, Max. But, for me, it seems like forever I have been searching for you."

"I know what you mean. It feels that way to me, too." She whispered.

"...Sunshine with a hint of an Autumn chill today folks. Weatherman says it’s gonna be a high of 53 and a bit windy this afternoon. We’re coming up on eight o’clock and I’m outa here...."

"Shit." I groaned. "Max, I have to be in the office by 9. Damn it. Do you have any idea how much I wish I could just stay here with you all day?"

Teasing my full lips with a quick lick, she kissed me. "If it’s anywhere near as much as I would like to make love with you all day, we’re in deep trouble, Sweetheart. Here," she extended her hand to help me up. "I’ll help and we can grab something on the way."

"But your car is still..."

"No problem. I’ll ride in with you and hop a cab to my car. Where do you work? Where’s the office, I mean?"

"Townsend Towers. Downtown."

"You’re kidding? My office is in the Blayne Building down the block. Wanna do lunch?"

Taking her hand, I moved us toward the bathroom and the shower. "You better believe it. Max?"

"Hmmm?" She paused just inside the blue tiled room.

"Any chance you’d come home with me again tonight?" Green eyes nervously searched brilliant blue for the answer my heart longed to hear.

Warm lips brushed trembling ones. "Hey. What’s with the trembling, Gillian? You act as scared as I feel."

"You’re scared? Of what, Max?" I turned on the water and waited for the temperature to adjust.

"It’s the morning after, love. I just spent the most incredible night of my life in the arms of a dream. I feel like one wrong move, one misspoken word, and I’ll wake up. Alone, again." Her eyes had filled and tears threatened to grace tanned cheeks.

I reached up and pulled her into my arms. "Guess we both fear the same thing. Well, I’m here to stay, Max. May I assume from what you just said that you are, too?"

Crushing our bodies together, she nodded. "Always, Gillian. Always. I’ll let you shower and change. I can go in later after I run home and change. I own the place, after all."

I smiled.

"OK, then. I’ll meet you in the kitchen in ten minutes. We’ll decide on a time for lunch on the way and you can tell me what time you get off then, too."

"So, you’ll..." my words were interrupted by her tongue. "Mmmm."

Strong arms pushed my naked form into the shower and I watched the sexiest ass in the world move toward the door. Turning, she grinned at having caught me watching.

"Shower. Now. Then work. Tonight we can talk about what happens after one finds the love of their life, their soulmate, at a goddamn Women’s Support Group, of all places."

I could hardly wait.

Chapter 10

It had been a long morning for me. The cover I had spent weeks getting "just so" was summarily dismissed as "not right". No one had any suggestions for something else; or even an explanation as to what was "wrong" with the ‘reject’. Empty words of praise bounced around the well-kept conference room. There was "no question" as to my talent. I was "one of the best".

"Somehow", the author whined, "this just wasn’t what I had in mind." He shifted in the leather chair, making a slight squeaking noise. "Don’t you think it’s a little… um... tame?" He shifted again.

"Excuse me?" I lifted both brows and opened my green eyes wide, for emphasis.

More squeaking and moving about in the pretentious chair. Oh, I was gonna enjoy this. I was a reputable, well-known artist at one of the largest publishing houses in the area and I was nobody’s fool. I knew exactly what this slime meant. Unfortunately for him, I also was not a porn artist. Not at this salary! I grinned to myself, making the author even more uncomfortable. Oh, yeah. I planned to enjoy hell out of this.

"Well, Ms. Montgomery." He passed his hand roughly across my artwork, making me cringe. "This IS a murder story about a serial killer who, shall we say, specializes in younger women? Women who are left nude and in suggestive poses and such."

Rolling my eyes toward the humming ceiling fan, I shook my head quickly and harshly before daring to speak. "Younger women? Why don’t we call a spade a spade Mr. Dimwit.."


"Whatever. These ‘younger women’, as you call them are all under thirteen. That makes them CHILDREN. I don’t have any say in what this House chooses to publish. Nor do I care to. But I will not do artwork glorifying the perverted rubbish you pass off as literature."

"Gillian!" My Senior Editor nearly came out of her chair. "Dennis, I’m quite sure Ms. Montgomery didn’t mean that the way it sounded. Did you, Gillian?" Janice leaned her head to the side, pleading with her brown eyes.

"Sorry, Janice. No can do. Meant it precisely the way it sounded."

Clearing her throat and struggling for some diplomatic way out of the escalating confrontation, Janice tried for a smile. It came out somewhere between a grimace and a wince.

"Gillian, Mr. Di...Kinworth has a contract with us and part of that includes cover art. Can’t we come to a meeting of the minds on this?"

Running frustrated fingertips rapidly and noisily on the conference table, I sighed, loudly.

"Janice, I’ve tried. I read this crap, I mean book, and came up with a cover that I thought would attract readers. But, I also have to live with myself here. If Mr. Kinworth has a suggestion that does NOT include suggestive ‘artwork’ with children, I will try again. Otherwise, just fire me and be done with it."

My Senior Editor and friend leaped to her feet and came around the table, nearly tossing herself into the chair beside me.

"No one said anything about firing the best goddamn artist in the House, Gillian. This is my fault. I had no idea you felt so strongly about the subject matter of this… uh… book." Turning to the author, she took a deep breath. "Dennis, why don’t we assign this to another artist? That would solve all our problems. Right?"

The beer-bellied, soft porn peddler was reluctant, but finally relented and the meeting was over. All in all, it was a really long, exhausting morning. I had almost forgotten I had anything to look forward to and definitely had no clue as to the time.

"Ms. Montgomery?" The intercom in my office came alive.

"Yes?" I answered, still rattled over the events of the month-long morning.

"There’s someone here to see you."

I crinkled my forehead trying to get a mental grip on things. The memory came with a large smile.

Bypassing the speaker on the desk, I opened the door to see the most beautiful woman on the planet smile back at me. She was breath taking, to say the least. Viv, my secretary, had been rendered near speechless. I silently chuckled, knowing exactly how she felt.

Max seemed oblivious to the affect she was having. "Am I early?" She asked innocently, starting to reach for my hand. I saw a shadow pass her blue eyes, and she put slender hands in her pockets.

Surprising my gorgeous lover, I calmly took her hand out of her pocket and reached on tiptoes to kiss her soft cheeks. "Not at all. Your timing, as always, is impeccable."

She widened her blue eyes in my direction and blushed the most beautiful shade of pink I have ever seen.

"Here," I tugged gently in the direction of my open office door. "Wanna see where I work?"

"Absolutely," she assured me. Then she waggled her brows in the direction of my secretary, who was wide-eyed and clearing her throat. I snorted a chuckle.

"Vivian. This is Max. Max Murray. Max is.." Another clearing throat made me grin. "Max is my best friend in all the world. You’ll be seeing a lot of her." I felt my soulmate breathe again.

My secretary rose to extend her small, aged hand. "I don’t get to meet many of Gillian’s friends, Max. In fact, in nearly a decade, you are the first. I’m very pleased to meet you."

"I assure you, Vivian, the pleasure is all mine."

Now it was my turn to discover varying shades of pink. Flashing an "oh, you are wicked" look at my friend, I nodded toward my office.

"Well, I am sure we will see one another again. Right now, I think I will let Emmy here show me her work station." Max charmed the older woman.

"Emmy?" Vivian wondered aloud.

"Yeah," Max started, "Don’t you think her eyes...".

Tugging the long arm, I smiled at my secretary. "It’s nothing Viv. Max likes to tease me about my eyes." Oh, she is in so much trouble, I silently noted.

"Oh," was all Vivian could say.

Later, after a quick tour of the parts of the Publishing House where I spent most of my workday, we made our way into the street. As promised much earlier, the sun was shining and the air was only slightly cool. Max reached over to help me put on the dark green Blazer I had slung over my arm.

"Thanks," I smiled up at her. The tug at my heart told me I wanted, very much, to be alone with my tall friend.

She slid her hands around to help me with the buttons, never leaving my eyes. I gently covered her hands with mine.



I leaned in to whisper in her ear. "If you keep looking at me like that, we’re never going to get any lunch." I felt the low rumble of her laughter.

"Well," the alto voice near my ear, breathed. "We could go to MY office and YOU could be lunch." A hot tongue probed my ear to drive the message home.

My knees buckled, as her strong arms slid under my elbows to catch my weight. I swallowed deeply, as I felt my face lean into her hungry mouth.

"Oh god," I heard myself say as we moved toward the Blayne Building and the best lunch I’d ever had. Or been.

Chapter 11

Opening the door to her office, Max motioned me inside The Blayne Building was not nearly as impressive or, I thought, as pretentious as the Townsend Towers. Rather than the thirty plus floors, this one had only fourteen. The building did not scream "money", which, in this artist’s view, probably meant the clients got more for their dollars. The office furniture was simple but nicely done. No plush leather chairs were in sight but there were no broken wooden ones, either. Thick, forest green carpet met creamy walls with matching Forest trim at top and bottom. The receptionist/secretary’s desk was a sleek computer model with all the necessary adornments. In the corner of the room was a large printer atop a tall filing cabinet that sat next to its siblings, an entire wall of them, in fact. The magazines on the table were no more than a few months old and the lights on the phone system seems to be flashing almost constantly. I smiled to myself, thinking this was a good sign. This was, of course, correct.

Jumping nearly across the room, I was startled at the touch of Max’s hand on my ass.

Poor Max didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Sky blue eyes flickered with mixed feelings and quickly decided to study the desktop. "Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. Would you like to see my office? We don’t have to. Maybe we could grab a burger or something next door."

"Hey," I sat on the desktop she was so busily studying, forcing myself into her line of view. "It’s fine, honey. I just wasn’t expecting it. You surprised me is all. Max?"

"Mmmm?" Blue eyes still wouldn’t really look at me.

Glancing quickly around the room, I wondered: "Max, where is your secretary?" I took her tanned face in both hands and brought it near my own. "What I need to know is, are we alone?"

She smiled. Dear God I loved it when she did that.

"Peg is at lunch. She’s taking a long one today. I... um... I suggested she might like to do that. I kind of wanted..." her words were stopped when my lips covered her soft mouth.

Nothing in the whole world felt like Max’s lips. Nothing in the known universe could come close to the simple wonder and beauty of even one kiss from this beautiful woman. Kissing Maxine Murray was a pleasure, no, an ecstasy, all it’s own. She was so soft, so sensual in her touch. Even after a few minutes when the heat cranked up and the kiss grew deeper, more demanding. My tall lover somehow managed to combined gentle eroticism with flaming lust. It drove me to distraction. There were times, I would have sworn, this incredible woman could bring me to orgasm with only a kiss.

I felt her strong hands reach behind me and pull me to the edge of the desk, as her mouth found purchase just beneath my ear. I slid my own hands beneath her jacket, against the gray silk blouse and up her back to her powerful shoulders. When my rear end came to the edge of the secretary’s desk, Max stopped pulling and slid her hands to my thighs. I felt her press them gently apart so she could step between them. The sensation made me drop my hands to the small of her back and pull strongly. Grateful I had opted for a nice pant’s suit that day, I circled my legs around her slim hips and crossed my ankles above her derriere. That was when my rump left the desk as she lifted me into her arms and pressed our bodies tightly against one another.

"Oh God, Gillian. Hold on, Baby."

Doing as she asked, I whispered into the ear my tongue had found. "Mmmm. No problem. Always glad to hold you, Max. But, what are we doing?"

My tongue was absolutely indignant at the removal of its new toy. Max pulled her face back just far enough for me to see the raised brow and broad smile. In a few long strides, we were inside her private office and she swept the door closed with one long leg.

"Lock it," I mumbled into the neck my tongue was adoring.

"You sure?" Her strong hands chose that moment to squeeze the muscles of my rear, again.

Pulling her blouse loose, I slid small hands beneath it to the firm mounds hiding there. Then I did a bit of squeezing of my own. "Very."

One hand released my ass long enough to turn the heavy bolt and reach out to sweep things off the large, oak desk.

"Huh-uh. The couch. Over there. Please? I wanna feel you on top of me." Feeling her hesitate, I dipped my head down to take her breast my hungry mouth, blouse and all. "Please?"

"Dear God in heaven. And to think I usually skip lunch altogether."

Chapter 12

My heart was pounding so harshly in my ear, I was certain that was what had awakened me. I reached out, instinctively, for my lover, only to find an empty space in the bed, beside me. The room began to spin and I had trouble breathing deeply enough to fill my burning lungs. Untangling the damp sheets from around my naked, trembling form, I looked for my robe.

"Damn," I cursed the darkness. "The hell with it," I swore again, wrapping myself back into the recently discarded sheet.

Moving toward the open door, I looked for light. Thinking Max may have headed down to the kitchen, I started for the stairs. That was when the sound of soft sobbing reached my ears. She was in the bathroom, only a few feet down the hall from where I stood. There was only the light from the moon coming through the small skylight, above the stairwell, and the door was nearly closed, but it was Max. I felt my stomach clench into a tight fist as I neared the half-closed door.

"Max, how could you be so stupid? She isn’t even gay! Damn, woman, even your unconscious mind is screaming at you. You did it again you dumbass. You must LIKE being someone’s sexual experiment. Come on, Maxi, ol’ girl. You didn’t really think someone as incredible as Gillian could love you, did you? Oh god. Oh god."

I froze in my tracks, just outside the door. Her heaving sobs nearly shook the walls.

"Get a grip, Max," she continued to berate herself. "The woman is drop dead gorgeous and straight as a solid iron cro-bar. So what if you’re so in love with her you can’t draw breath without thinking of her? Okay, so she’s the most awesome lover you’ve ever had. So what? She’ll dump you the first time a decent man comes along..."

Now, I was pissed.

"A decent man? Isn’t that an oxymoron, Max?"

Startled blue met angry green. "Huh?"

"Don’t huh, me, Max Murray! And a cro-bar has a pronounced bend in it, for your information."

"Huh?" She seemed almost dazed.

"Max, what the hell is wrong with you? Please tell me you don’t really believe that shit about me dumping you. Or you being a, what did you call yourself, a sexual experiment?"

Kneeling in front of her, I took her hands in mine. "You listen to me, Maxine Deborah Murray."

Tear-soaked, swollen, crystal blue eyes looked up from the floor, hesitant to meet my gaze. Leaning in closely, I touched my lips gently to her eyelids, still puffy from crying. "I love you, Max." A soft kiss graced her nose. "I loved you even before I knew you were real." Just the very tip of my tongue reached out and tapped her upper lip. She smiled. "I may not have had the good sense to know I was gay as quickly as you did, my love. But," my tongue dragged back and forth across her full lips, "I am every bit as much a lesbian as you are."

"You?... But..." Max was having a hard time verbalizing and my tongue slipping in and out of her mouth wasn’t helping the cause.

I chuckled, softly. "Let me make this real simple for ya, hon."

"OooooKaaayyy." My tall lover had pulled me in so close I could feel her curls against my tummy, the sheet having long since hit the floor.

"I am not straight." Kiss. "I am not involved in a sexual experiment." Kiss. "And this," smack, "is for thinking I would be."

"Ow. Gillian, honey.."

"I’m not done yet." Tongue play in right ear. "I am not going to dump you." Tongue play in left ear. "You are not stupid." Lips and tongue introduce themselves to pulse point near collarbone. "You are the love of my life. Maybe many lives, if that weird dream just now means anything." Tongue finds right breast. "Mmmm."

"Oh god."

"Oh yeah," I mumbled into the full breast. "I am never, ever, gonna let you go." Hungry mouth pulls swollen nipple in and suckles.

"Jesus, Gillian. God, that feels good."

"Mmmm. Tastes good too."

"I love you, Gill."

"I love you, Max. With all my heart and soul." Hot lips kissed their way back, toward the mouth of my dreams. "Can I persuade you to come back to bed with me?"

"Oh, yeah." Max’s open mouth met mine and our swollen tongues began the familiar dance of love.

After several minutes of heated, passionately dancing and sliding tongues, we came up for air.


"Yes, sweetheart?"

"Don’t go back home."

"I’m right here, honey. I’m not going anywhere." She scooted nearer the edge of her throne and pulled me tightly against her moist body.

"Mmm. Oh god, that feels nice." Shaking my head as if to clear my thoughts, I spoke again. "No, baby. I mean ... DON’T go back home... ever.." I held my breath, praying I wasn’t rushing things too much, too soon.

Max’s strong hands found my face and pulled me back just enough to look closely into my deep green eyes. She held me there for a moment, searching as if the secrets of the universe lay within. I watched as the most beautiful, sky blue eyes I had ever seen, filled with unshed tears.

"Did you just ask me..."

"To live with me? Yes, I did."

"You’re sure?" A tear slipped down tanned cheeks.

My lips brushed hers. "Never been more sure of anything in my life. Will you?"

Silver glimmered across her cheeks in the moonlight. Her smile lit the room and my entire being caught fire.

"Yes," she whispered. "Oh yes. I love you, Gillian."

"I love you, Max. This is forever, then. You’re not going home again, right?"

The most beautiful woman in the world stood, lifting me into her strong arms, and walked steadily toward the bedroom.

"Gillian, my love?"


"So long as you are here in my arms, I AM home."



"Finally," came the hushed, almost magical voice from the darkness.

"Huh?" We wondered in unison. "Mysti?"

Only the fading sound of tinkling laughter answered our query.

Chapter 13

Max turns thirty in a few hours. How can that be? How can the calendar be right? Is it possible we only met a few short weeks ago? Why do I feel as though I have known her forever? Is it because of the dream? A dream we now know we have always shared. Like watching a movie shot from two different cameras, each of us being permitted but a single perspective. And Mysti. It still amazes me that her grandmother told her that same story, the one my father always told me. No one else I’ve ever known, even knew who the Mistress of Dreams was; certainly, she is the only one who believes in her as much as I do. Before Max came into my life, I thought this kind of love belonged in storybooks. Storybooks and memories. My parents had that kind of love. I know that now. I’ve known it since that day so long ago.

.... I had always felt something missing from my life. Most people just said it was because I had never really known my mother. Somewhere deep within me, I had always known it was more than that. Daddy seemed to know it too, though I never quite knew how. Once, when I was around 17, I had asked him.


"Mmmm?" He had looked up from the newspaper. My Dad always gave me his full attention. I missed him so much.

"Daddy, why do I always feel like there is a whole inside me?"

"Missing yer Mom, honey?"

"Yeah. But I always miss Mom. This is more than that and it is always there. It’s been there as far back as I can remember. And I’ve been having that dream again, too."

"The Mistress is at it again, eh? Honey, the dream won’t hurt you. Someday it might even help you understand how to fill that hole. It did me."

"Huh?" Daddy had a hole in his life? But he always seemed so together to me.

"Once upon a time, I had a hole in my life too, honey. A big hole. A hole I thought would keep getting bigger until it ate me up."

"What happened?" I had asked him.

"Your mother." He smiled.

"Oh." There didn’t seem anything else to say to his answer.

Thinking about that now, I had to smile. "That’s it," I whispered to my sleeping lover. "The hole is gone. My soul is complete now. The other half is finally here. Oh, Max. How I do love you."

She stirred softly and reached out in her sleep. I lay down, quickly, nestling into her arms. It would be another hour or so before 4:25, the time of her birth. I would let her sleep until then. When my snoozing soulmate released her sleeping grip on me, I reached for my pad and pen. Watching her dark brow rise and her lips curl slightly, I had some idea as to the nature of the dream Mysti had gifted her with this night. Not all of my beautiful lover’s dreams were so peaceful. My hand began to move across the page...

Do you know how much I love you?

Can you feel it in your veins?

Do you know that just the thought of you

Helps to keep this woman sane?

I know you know what lonely is,

That you understand its pain.

But you are my oasis,

My cool, September rain.

I used to love, for balance,

To be loved in return;

Careful not to light a flame

That might not warm, but burn.

Now I love with full abandon,

Knowing that this limb might break;

And I find the joy in giving

Far outweighs the "take".

So, now I ask you once again

Do you know how much, my dear?

No? Well, I really didn't think so.

How can I make it clear?

No matter what lines in the sand you draw,

Regardless of rank or place,

I'll be the one here by your side

Through eternity's time and space.

And just in case I've forgotten

To tell you, oh, my soul,

The day you came into my life,

Is the day love made me whole.

I looked at the clock and smiled. Leaning in close, I gently flicked her earlobe with the tip of my tongue. She stirred, reaching to pull our bodies close. I slid into place and was rewarded with the sweetest of kisses.

"Mmmmm. Very nice. You really ARE a morning person, love." I mumbled into Max’s full lips.

A tongue snaked out and caressed my lips before inviting it’s friend to come out and play.

"Ummm. Actually, I’m just a pushover for a sexy blonde."

Giggling, "It’s 4:25 my sweet love."

"Hmm? Oh, so early. Well, now that we’re up..." she waggled her brows at me but we both knew what she meant already.

"Happy Birthday, Max." I handed her the poem I had just written and she sat up, turned on the bedside lamp and smiled.

"You wrote me a poem? I love poems." Kiss. "And I love you. As it happens, I wrote you one for just this occasion."

My heart shot upward, startling my adenoids. "You what?"

Handing me a wooden plaque from beneath her pillow, she smiled. I had a friend fix it up special. After you’ve read it, there’s something I want to say to you."

We exchanged heated glances and I tried to read what she had written, through rapidly raining eyes.

One day you’re standing, alone in the rain;

A feeling you’ve learned to accept.

Then you hear somebody whisper your name:

A stranger you’re heart swears you’ve met.

It’s not in your date book.

You know it’s not wise.

But you feel yourself falling,

Right into those eyes.

Before your heart

Can tuck and roll,

You’re face to face -

With the rest of your soul.

"Where in the world do we go from here?"

The brain kicks in again.

But, soulmates together know wherever it is,

It’s better than where they have been.

So, next time you’re standing out there in the rain,

It will be in the arms of your love.

Enjoying the warmth, two halves of a soul,

Eternal, like heavens above.

My face was streaked with love and joy. I looked over to find my lover looking back, through tears of her own.

"Quite the pair, aren’t we?" she teased.

I tried to put all the love I could into my eyes, "Oh, I think so. I really do."

Max slid out of bed and onto the floor at my knees. Taking my small hands in her larger, strong ones, she spoke. "I’m glad to hear that, My Love. It makes what I want to say easier."

"What is it, sweetheart?" I asked hesitantly. She looked so small and nervous for some reason.

"Gillian, I have never done this before and I may not get it right but..." Max paused to take a deep, shaky breath. For my part, I couldn’t move. "Honey, I feel as though I have known you forever and yet spent my lifetime searching for you."

"I feel the same way, Max."

"Shhh, baby. I’m petrified here." She smiled and those blue eyes won my heart all over again. "Gillian, I don’t know how or why we were led to one another. What I do know is I don’t want to spend another moment of my life without you in it, completely in it. Gillian Rebecca Montgomery, will you marry me? I mean in every way the world will allow? And every way it won’t as well?"

The light caught a single tear as it slipped down her cheek and onto my fingers. I could barely manage a whisper, so filled was I with emotion.

"Oh yes. Oh yes, my love. In every way. I will marry you. Max?"


"In my heart and soul, I married you that first night."

"Me too, Gill, me too."

I pulled her up and into my arms for the most passionate, sweet kiss ever. That was when we heard it, a gentle, tinkling above the bed.

"Mysti?" We managed at the same time.

"Sometimes, dearest Max and Gillian, the question is the answer." And just as silently as she had come, she was gone.

Max looked at me with the same stunned expression I knew she was seeing in my green eyes. Then, ever so gently, the smile crawled across her face. She chuckled. "You know, I always wondered what she meant by that."

Me too, I thought. Me too.

And this concludes Mysti: Mistress of Dreams. But fear not, we have not seen the last of Max and Gillian. This, as one might suppose, is but the beginning.

Book Two

Mysti’s Girls

Gillian and the Bigot

Max smiled as she stepped into the elevator that would take her to Gillian’s office. It had only been a few hours since they left the house for work but already she missed the sound of her lover’s sweet voice. Sheesh, was she kidding? She missed it the moment the blonde had exited the car that morning. Bless the wonderful invention of the cell phone, the tall woman grinned in silence.

"Haven’t seen you here before. You new?" the man with the sandy hair asked.

"Brian, get a grip," the gum chewing redhead snapped. "She doesn’t work here at all. She’s here to see Gillian. They live together."

"Really? I didn’t know Gillian had taken a room mate."

The skinny redhead rolled her eyes but said nothing.

Max wondered if she had suddenly become invisible. Did no one have manners anymore? For crying out loud, couldn’t they see she was standing right next to them? Surely they must know she heard every word of the dimwitted conversation. About the time she decided to speak up and say something the elevator’s humming stopped and the doors opened onto her floor. Still, she couldn’t resist answering the cute executive’s earlier question.

"I haven’t seen you before either and NO, not nearly as new as you might think." The gorgeous brunette winked one blue eye at the clearly admiring young man and quickly turned, walking toward the door that would take her to paradise, or, at least, an angel.

Her heavy harness boots made a distinctive sound and secretly Max liked the way it always seemed to announce her arrival to Gillian’s secretary.

Without so much as lifting her head from the monitor, Jo Ann spoke. "Hiya Max. She’s waiting for ya. Go on in."

"Now, there you go again, Jo Ann, making assumptions. I could have been almost anyone. Maybe even an angry author ticked off about a cover or something." The tall beauty couldn’t help but laugh at the image she had just created.

Jo Ann lifted her chestnut eyes and chuckled. "No wonder she loves you. You’re a real laugh a minute, you are. Bet you are lots of fun in the..."

"Hey!" Max leaned closer to the secretary. "Watch it, Red." The rumbling laugh took the edge off the verbal caution and both snickered as one sexy blonde peeked out of her office.

Gillian made a quick survey of the outer office before speaking. "Hiya gorgeous. You’re early. Just can’t stay away from me, can ya?"

Max closed the distance between them and leaned down to whisper in the tiny ear. "You, sexy lady, have no idea."

Then, out of pure orneriness, she drove the words home with a quick lick. The blue-eyed goddess glowed with satisfaction when the artist shuddered and nearly fell into her strong arms.

"That," the petite blonde smacked her lover’s tight rear, "was not nice."

"Mmmm, but you are so wrong. That," Max returned the soft smack and followed it with a caressing squeeze, "was very nice. Very nice indeed."

Green eyes darted about the room and shot open in mock alarm. "You! The closet door may be slightly ajar but let’s not take it off its hinges, sweetheart."

"You are so right. Never know when we might need a quick moment of privacy."

"Um," Jo Ann hesitated to interrupt the cute conversation but heard footsteps rapidly approaching.

Max immediately stood to her full height and glided alongside Gillian, giving the alert secretary a wink of thanks. "Heard em. Thanks."

"Good Lord," muttered the illustrator. "Don’t turn into a column of ice, Max. It’s not as though I were...."

Just then three men in dark pin striped suits entered the room. Gillian looked at Jo Ann with the unspoken question clearly on her fair face. The secretary shrugged in reply, then turned to the gentleman.

"Excuse me? Did you have an appointment? Because Ms. Montgomery was just leaving for a luncheon engagement."

The short, stocky man with the graying hair laughed. It was one of those empty, insincere laughs that set your teeth on edge. "Is that what they’re calling it nowadays?" He began to undress Gillian with his cold eyes, and was none too discreet about it either.

Gillian reached out and took Max’s hand. Well, actually what she took was a clenched fist, and none too soon either.

"I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Talbot. What is more to the point, I don’t want to know."

Having regained control, Max gently stepped just enough in front of her beautiful partner to interrupt Talbot’s rude stare. It was a move that did not go unnoticed.

Now, a wiser man would have gotten the message and just shut his mouth. But then, no one had ever accused Mr. Thomas Talbot of being a wise man. Or even a smart man, for that matter. The two men with him began to shift weight from first one foot to the other, clearly longing to be someplace else. Anyplace else.

"Oh I don’t know, sweet thing, I’d bet you know exactly what I mean. Can’t say as I approve of your menu selection, though."

Uh oh. Jo Ann moved backward, inching in the direction of her desk. Max’s eyes narrowed to a thin slit of blue fire as the muscles in her jaw made themselves known. Gillian released the fist only long enough to get a firm grip on the upper arm. That was when it happened. One of the shifting sidekicks did the near impossible. He proved himself a bigger jackass than the one already speaking.

It was the sandy haired man from the elevator. Max made a mental note of the previously flirtatious young man’s face as he stepped closer to Talbot.

"C’mon Talbot. That kind of filthy inference is completely uncalled for. Just drop off the manuscript, set an appointment and let’s go. It really is none of our business who the young ladies are meeting for lunch."

Talbot laughed that hollow, irritating laugh again and Gillian had to hold on tightly to her tall lover’s arm.

"Jeffries, you are as blind as you are stupid. They aren’t MEETING anyone for lunch. They ARE lunch. What we have here, Jeffries, is a couple of dykes. Gorgeous dykes, to be sure; but dykes none the less."

Before Max or Gillian could do or say anything Jeffries decked the stocky executive with the big mouth. Jo Ann rushed to be certain the fallen jerk was still breathing. He was. Releasing her partner’s powerful arm, the blonde pushed the young fighter aside.

"Do you really think that was necessary, Tod?" Gillian all but bit him with the question.

"Hey! The old fart called you a dyke, for God’s sake. What was I supposed to do? Just stand here while he said you are an affront to God? A pervert? A freaking LESBIAN!?"

"Excuse me?" Came the quietly enraged question from beside the artist.

Straightening his tie, Tod Jeffries flashed his best, polished and capped, smile. "We didn’t get a chance to meet earlier. I’m an accountant here. Name is Jeffries. Tod Jeffries. And you are?"

Never missing a beat, Max silently prayed for Gillian’s forgiveness. "A freaking LESBIAN!"

"Oh boy." Gillian winced slightly, then stepped back to take her tall warrior’s hand and give it a gentle, reassuring squeeze.

"What? That’s not possible," Jeffries sputtered.

"What’s not possible about it, Tod?" Gillian asked as Talbot slowly stood and was helped out the door by the last of the group, who apparently had been stunned into total silence.

"Well," the executive at least had enough sense to be embarrassed, "she’s gorgeous!"

Smiling as she waggled her eyebrows, Gillian giggled. "Oh yeah. She sure is. And you’ve only seen her with her clothes ON." Thoroughly enjoying the bigot’s reaction, the sexy blonde leaned her full body length against Max and pulled her into a passionate kiss.

Max, for her part, was torn between allowing herself to enjoy the kiss, smacking tar out of dear Mr. Jeffries or raising that infamous brow at her partner’s public display. She settled for one and three. When she felt Gillian’s tongue enter her mouth, she lost it and laughed out loud.

"Sorry babe, but what were you saying about that closet door?"

"Gillian Montgomery! Get away from that dyke! What would your father say?" Jeffries was dressed in zealous outrage.

Jo Ann took the large envelope from the pompous idiot’s hand where he had retrieved it from the floor. "I’ll call Talbot later with an appointment. I think you best just go now, Tod."

Shoving her out of the way, the well-built accountant reached for Gillian. Big mistake. Max put one large hand around his right shoulder, bodily turned him to face the secretary, and spoke in a low rumble: "apologize. NOW."

"Don’t touch me you bitch!"

"Oh, don’t worry. Touching you is far more distasteful to me than it is to you. Just think how many times I’ll have to scrub my hands now."

Gillian couldn’t help the snicker that escaped. Then she remembered what this jerk had said and her green emerald eyes turned to hot coals.

"Let him go, sweetheart." Max did as the blonde asked. "Tod. You asked me a question. What would my father think? My father, Tod, would be very happy because he loved me without question or condition. He would know I have found the other half of my soul, that the hole in my very being is no more. My father, Tod? My father would have put you in traction by now. He was a quiet, peaceful man and there was precious little in this world he could not abide. Do you know what the one thing that could make him snap was, Tod? A BIGOT! And before you start with the threats of exposure let me remind you that your threat to reveal my ‘secret’ only has power if I insist my ‘secret’ remain just that: A SECRET. Can you feel your knees, Bigot? I just chopped you off at them."

"Huh?" It was one syllable uttered by three people for three entirely different reasons.

"Jo Ann. Take a memo, post it immediately to all inboxes."

Max reached for her partner. Gillian sidestepped her. "Jo Ann? You ready?"

Looking up, the secretary gave a concerned nod. Gillian kissed Max’s cheek.

"OK. Jo Ann, this is what I want you to say:

Rubies are red, Charcoal is gray

Yes, you bigots, Gillian’s gay.

It’s nobody’s business with whom I sleep

And if you don’t like it, I don’t give a bleep."

Max had to hold her stomach, she was laughing so hard. Jo Ann was struggling to avoid typos and poor Tod was listening for the thunder he was certain was on its way.

"Tod before you go spouting off again I suggest you memorize the words of Abraham Lincoln. I think even you CHRISTIANS like him."

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.




and Sofas

Gillian was so excited she could scarcely wait to drop Max off at work that morning. It was all planned. The men were coming today. She told a little white lie about having a business lunch scheduled, but she knew Max would understand once she knew about the surprise. Gillian smiled as she carefully watched her lover enter the building before turning the car to go back the way they came.

On the short drive back to the home they shared, Gillian found herself thinking about her big surprise. It was indeed a hard decision. She admitted to herself how attached she was to the worn, old sofa. Funny but she could still recall the day her Father purchased it. How she teased him about his cumbersome choice of furniture. He was not to be moved. The salesman saw him coming, she grinned. All these years later, she admitted, many sweet memories of cuddling next to him while he read Dr Seuss or even vocabulary words flooded her with smiles. Yes, the "pit group" was a keeper of a kind of scrapbook, and it would be hard to say goodbye. Still, she reminded herself, it was old and the nice new sleeper sofa and matching Loungers made far more sense. The added features of heat and massage were especially for Max, who often overdid it and had trouble unwinding at times. No, she chastised herself. No sadness over a piece of furniture. This was a gift for Max. A gift of love. And she was absolutely fine with it, too. Right up until she walked into the living room.

"Don’t look at me like that. You’re just a sofa, a piece of furniture, for crying out loud. Gods, Gillian! You’re so in trouble, girl. Now you’re talking to the damn thing." The giggling blonde shook her head and sank into the soft warmth of the couch.

Closing her green eyes, she sighed as the lingering magic of Max’s cologne drifted toward her nostrils. A smile lifted the edges of her lips as she recalled the first time she and the love of her life sat together there. Tears threatened. Her resolve to bid the couch adieu wavered as memories of Max’s first "I love you" tipped the scales.


"Hello?" Gillian was somewhat startled by the telephone.

"Um. Ms. Montgomery?"


"This is the delivery from Aurhaus Furniture. We were asked to call when we got close. We are about five minutes away. What would you like us to do?"

The voice was deep with a very young quality to it. She wondered if her image of a college kid would turn out to be accurate.

"Yes, please. I would like to get this done and it is about lunch time already."

The man nodded, wondering what lunch had to do with delivering furniture. "Sure thing, Miss. Be right there."

Emotionally charged emerald eyes swept over the beloved sofa once more.

"Well, goodbye old friend. I wish I thought this through better and found a place to put you instead of sending you away. You hold so many pieces of my life, large chunks of my heart and soul. Well, no time for that now. They will be here any minute."

Gillian knelt and buried her face into the sweet, spicy scent of her best friend...and kissed the sofa goodbye. Then she went to open the door as she could already hear the heavy slamming of truck doors.

Max hurried into her office so she could open the blinds and wave to Gillian before she pulled away. Watching the sexy blonde’s car turn and go in the WRONG direction, Max lifted her brow and wrinkled her forehead.

"Now what do you think you’re doing there, Emmy? Keeper of my soul, I knew you were up to something. Now just who is it you are having this secret lunch with, my love? Should I be worried?"

The secretary peeked around the corner. "Excuse me. Max?"

Turning from the window overlooking the busy street, the tall brunette grinned. "It’s all right. I was just talking to myself. No need to call the nut squad just yet."

"The nut squad? Me? No way. They might grab the wrong nut."

Both women laughed. "Oh really?" Max finally interjected. "And which nut would that be?" Up went that well sculpted brow.

"Not a chance boss. I’m not about to answer that one. I may be a nut but I DO know who signs my paycheck." The secretary snickered slightly and blushed.

"Good answer," came the quick-witted reply. "Now, I’m assuming you have another reason for wanting my attention. Not that I’m complaining, mind you," she winked.

"Oh. You are such a tease. Like I stood a chance. I just might have to tell small, blonde and sexy just to see you squirm," the redhead snickered.

"Um. About that paycheck." Both eyebrows lifted on that one.

"Paycheck. Right. Well, I will file it away for a later date then. Max, you have a client waiting. He doesn’t have an appointment but you’re not booked and I think you’ll like this one."

"Mmmmm. Okay. Just give me a minute and then bring him in, Peg."

The man was in his early fifties but his eyes looked older, somehow. His salt and pepper hair look distinguished against the gray pinstriped suit with the navy shirt. Max found his color choice interestingly conservative and then laughed out loud when she spotted the Mickey Mouse tie.

Her newest client chuckled softly. "Yeah, the tie. It’s a gift from my cardiologist. She said I needed to laugh more; that I took things too seriously and the stress would kill me if I didn’t learn to lighten up. She was nearly prophetic."

"I’m sorry," Max said.

"Don’t be," smiled Dan Haulderman. "I said nearly. I beat the heart attack. Now I have lots of stress buster ties. It keeps me, and others, from taking life too seriously. Too often, my bank balance seems to preceded me into a room."

Putting on her most professional, but not overly serious, face, Max spoke. "Now that you mention it, Mr. Haulderman..."

"Dan, please," he interrupted.

Nodding, she acknowledged the request. "Very well. Dan it is. Dan," she paused for a moment to study his expression. "Dan, it occurs to me that a man with your money and influence could have easily hired a regular and far more well know detective agency. Why me? Why my firm?"

"Well, Ms. Murray, as you have probably surmised this is personal business, not company business. Besides, you did some fine work for my personal assistant a few years back. You might say you come highly recommended."

"Oh? Who is your assistant, if I may ask?"

The man’s countenance lit as he spoke her name. Whoever she was, reasoned Max, she was way more than an assistant.

"Her name is Gwen Worth. That is her name was Gwen Worth. Now it is Gwen Haulderman."

"Ahhh," a lot of understanding rested in the brunette’s smile.

"You helped her find her brother a few years ago. They were separated as toddlers when their parents were killed in a train wreck?"

"Yes. Gwen. I do remember her and her brother. Gary, wasn’t it?"

"Why yes, it was. It is. I must say, I am impressed. With all the people you help locate I did not expect you would remember my wife and her brother. You are exactly the way she said you were."

"What was is that, if I may ask?" Max queried.

"One in a million," came the brief but clear reply.

The meeting took all morning but it promised to be a most intriguing case, Max thought as she drove toward home. Her afternoon client rescheduled at the last minute and lunch at home seemed far better than stewing in the office. She knew, at least she TOLD herself she knew, there was no reason to feel so jealous just because Gillian was having lunch with someone else. After all, she said it was business. Still, Max never totally managed to exorcise her demons and niggling self doubt continued to taunt her almost daily. It had been over a month since Gillian agreed to marry her and the joining was planned for a special date, only weeks away. The thought of the joining ceremony brought a smile to worried lips.

"Max, what are you so worried about? You know Gill would never cheat on you. For Zeus’ sake, the woman loves you. Hell, she might even love you as much as you love her. Who’d a thought that could happen? To ME, that is."

Adjusting the radio once more, the tall worrier grinned to herself. "Tonight, my love. Dinner and dancing for you. I love you too much to cook for you, so it is chicken curry from Jack’s. I have something very special in mind for us to dance to... in the living room. And when the music stops on the stereo we’ll make some of our own on that wonderful sofa. What was it your father called it? Ah yes, the pit group. Couch, sofa, pit group. None describe it so well as "heaven". I found heaven on that oversized, well-worn, faded, wonderful sofa. Gods willing, tonight we will go there again."

Turning the corner of their street, Max crinkled her brow when she saw the Aurhaus truck in the drive BEHIND her lover’s vehicle. Before she could even begin to run terrifying scenarios through her jealous brain, two young men stepped out the front door wearing Colorado State University tee shirts and carrying THE SOFA!

"What the hell!!?!" Max burst from the car before the engine even stopped rumbling.

Gillian was looking at the new furniture and trying not to cry. Already she missed the pit group. She felt the hot tears build in her eyes as she blinked hard, struggling for control. This was for Max. It was just a piece of furniture. Wasn’t it?

"Um, Ms. Montgomery?" the confused student/mover called into the open door.

Max pushed past him, "Gillian? Gill? Honey what is going on with the...?" Her lover’s tear streaked face stole her words. She practically leaped the remaining distance between them, taking the love of her life into her arms.

"Max! Why aren’t you at work? Nevermind. Just hold me." Gillian crumpled into Max’s strong embrace.

By this time the other mover came to the entrance. Both young men stood, spellbound.

"Gillian, honey? What happened? And what are they doing with the pit group?" Max softly stroked the blonde’s face, awaiting an answer.

Sniffling hard, the shorter woman glanced about the room. It was at that moment Max noticed, for the first time, the new furniture. A light of comprehension clicked inside her head. She closed her blue eyes briefly, nodded and smiled.

"Let me guess," Max began. "You bought new furniture." Her sexy lover nodded against her breast. "It’s a gift, a surprise." Another nod. "You made up the thing about the business lunch to keep the secret." Yet another gentle nod. She was batting a thousand. "And big bad Max comes home yelling and makes you cry?" The soft nod became a vigorous shaking. "No? Then why are you crying sweetheart?"

The carrot topped ‘tee shirt’ leaned toward the other one. "Sweetheart?"

The sandy haired ‘tee shirt’ scowled and shook his head at his companion. "They’re a couple. Get a life."

Max lifted the chin belonging to the other half of her soul. "Gillian, honey? What’s wrong? Why are you crying?" Blue eyes flared larger. "They didn’t..."

"No. Max, honey. No. They’re fine."

A low growl, "Lucky for them. And their kinfolk, too."

Gillian couldn’t help it. Tears still sneaking down her cheeks she laughed. "Max, you are priceless. You know that?"


"Yes, you. Look at them. They’re just kids. And they’re still standing. Do you really think I would let anyone else touch me and live?"

Now it was Max’s turn to laugh. "Gods, baby. You are so good for my ego."

Green eyes danced with mischief. "Oh? That’s what I’m good for, eh?"


"I thought that might be your response. Oh Max, I wanted to surprise you with the new furniture but it’s not just a piece of furniture. Not to me. Not at all." Gillian only just managed to get it all out before the crying started in earnest again.

"Sweetheart, of course it isn’t. It’s more than a sofa, a couch: a pit group. It’s where we first made love. It is a piece of heaven right here in our living room. Now let’s bring it back in here where it belongs. OK?’

Sniffling, the artist kissed the silk blouse she just soaked with salty tears. "But what about the new stuff?"

Moving her lips into a pucker and off to the side, the tall investigator wrinkled her brow and thought a moment. "How about if we put the pit group in the old family room we just cleared out?"

"But I thought we were going to turn that into a work out room so we didn’t always have to go downstairs to the gym?"

"Oh we are, my love. We are." Up went that brow. Then a quick waggle of both brows and crystal blue eyes melted into emerald green.

"Mmmmmmmmm", was all the illustrator got out before her lips were captured and the room was filled with stereo moans.

The college kids/movers, to their credit, didn’t wait to be told. They found the room in question, moved the pit group into it and were gone before Max or Gillian noticed anything outside their own embrace. When they realized what happened, Gillian blushed, and Max called Aurhaus and authorized a tip that matched a full week’s salary for each of the young men.

"Honey. Don’t you think that was a bit much for a tip?" Gillian questioned.

"Are you kidding? I would have emptied my account to save that sofa."

"I love you, Max Murray."

"I love you, Gillian Montgomery."


"Hmmm?" asked the tall one who was, even then, lifting the artist into her arms and moving toward the ‘work out room’.

"How do you feel about the name Gillian Montgomery Murray?"

Max very nearly dropped her smiling lover. "You serious?"

"Yes. You mind?" Gillian licked a lobe.

"Depends. How do you feel about Maxine Murray Montgomery?"

Gillian, who was standing in the doorway now, on her own feet, absolutely beamed. Reaching out, she took Max’s hand in her own and pulled them toward the sofa. Not knowing where to put it the tee shirts left it in the middle of the otherwise empty room. Crystal blue and emerald green looked at the piece of furniture that became so much more to both of them. It was Gillian who spoke first.

"It sounds like the perfect blending of two souls who, perhaps, are meant to be together, always."

"I like the way you think, my soul. I truly do." Max pulled Gillian atop her on the sofa and they snickered as the timer started the stereo.

Well, here we are again

I guess it must be fate

We've tried it on our own

But deep inside we've known

We'd be back to set things straight

I still remember when

Your kiss was so brand new

Every memory repeats

Every step I take retreats

Every journey always brings me back to you

After all the stops and starts

We keep coming back to these two hearts

Two angels who've been rescued from

the fall

And after all that we've been through

It all comes down to me and you

I guess it's meant to be

Forever you and me

After all

When love is truly right

This time it's truly right

It lives from year to year

It changes as it grows

And oh the way it grows

But it never disappear

After all the stops and starts

We keep coming back to these two hearts

Two angels who've been rescued from

the fall

And after all that we've been through

It all comes down to me and you

I guess it's meant to be

Forever you and me

After all

Always just beyond my touch

Though I needed you so much

After all what else is living for

After all the stops and starts

We keep coming back to these two hearts

Two angels who've been rescued from

the fall

And after all that we've been through

It all comes down to me and you

I guess it's meant to be

Forever you and me

After all


"I love you Gillian. I always have. I always will. Can we make a deal?"

"I love you too, Max. What kind of deal?"

"I like surprises, honey and your surprises. I really do. I’m even learning to appreciate your little secrets."


"Well, I was just thinking. No more secrets, surprises and sofas, OK?"

"By which you mean, No getting rid of our first love nest, right?" Asked the smirking and completely grateful bejeweled blonde.

"Exactly," grinned blue eyes.

As the stereo did what it was trained and carefully programmed to do, it replayed the couple’s favorite song and the dance of love began anew. Lucky Max. Lucky Gillian. Lucky sofa.

Happy Anniversary

Maxine Murray Montgomery was getting precious little accomplished and she knew it. All she could think about was her wife of six months. It was exactly six months today and she wondered if Gillian remembered. Of course she remembered, the tall beauty chastised herself. It has been a rough week and she has been swamped with the deadline for the new cover but she remembered their six-month anniversary. Yes, Max told herself for the bazillionth time that week, she remembered. It wasn't Gillian's fault she was forced to work through lunch every day for the last three weeks. She was a popular artist and a hard worker. Max knew that. It wasn't as though she didn't have more than enough going on to keep her busy at the office too. With the business going so well, she had even been forced to hire a new assistant. Still, all she could think of was the wonderful "lunches" she and her gorgeous wife were sorely missing. So, there she stood, looking out the window and thinking about the very special arrangements she had made for the evening.

'No more secrets, surprises or sofas,' Max silently grinned at the memory. Well, maybe just a *little* surprise...for our anniversary. It is, after all, no secret I adore you, thought Max. As for sofas, well our favorite model will be at center stage tonight if I am lucky and please gods, let me be lucky snickered the tall beauty.

Gillian Montgomery Murray smiled at no one as she hung up the phone. "I wonder if you remember this is our six month anniversary, love."

"You call me, Gillian?" asked Jo Ann, the artist's long-time secretary.

Looking up, the blonde laughed. "No, Jo Ann. Just talking to myself again. I was wondering out loud if my wife remembered what today is." Gillian thought quietly how nice it felt to call Max that....her wife. It no longer mattered who got their nose out of whack about it. She changed her name on the office door and all her stationery too. It felt good.

Jo Ann closed the office door and whispered, "Did you get it?"

Green eyes lit up with pure delight. "Yes! I thought I would never make those idiots at the Honda Dealer understand what I wanted; but once your brother sent me to the cycle shop he goes to, I was all set. That salesman still thinks I should have bought the 800 model but I don't care. This is the one she drooled over and I can hardly wait to see the look on her face when I give it to her."

"Jimmy said the stuff you had 'em do to it really cut a lot of the weight off and she sounds like a big ol' mountain lion when she's revved up."

"So he says," smiled the happy blonde. "I just hope it's like Max wanted. I had a hell of a time getting her to tell me again what she would do it she had one. I needed it on tape to play for the shop. I think my sweet wife thinks I'm nuts."

"More like she's nuts about you," smiled the secretary. "When do they deliver it?"

"Lunchtime," waggled golden brows. "I've had to work right through lunch for the past few weeks and she thinks today is more of the same. If they come up with anything that needs my attention during lunch today, so help me, you will be looking for a new boss."

Jo Ann started to laugh and stopped when she noted the strong set in her friend's jaw. This was no joke to the woman perched on the corner of her large oak desk. She patted the strong thigh and winked. "Well, in that case I will protect my job and make absolutely certain you are unreachable for the rest of the day. My, my, would you look at the time? Why it is nearly lunchtime already. And you had that meeting across town with that new agent who wanted to pitch the cover idea to you."

"Huh?" asked the startled beauty.

"Oh yeah, I think you might be late already. You best be going now. And don't worry about this afternoon. I'll clear your appointments. No way you will be able to make it back what with that meeting and all."

Gillian laughed out loud. "Oh you are so deliciously wicked. Your job is definitely safe." She kissed Jo Ann on a blushing cheek. "I'm off then. See you tomorrow."

Max moved her chair over for the sixth time in twenty minutes. It must be almost Lunchtime, she thought. Training the new assistant was turning into a bigger job than she intended and it didn't help that the girl seemed to be smitten. Max glanced at her watch again, grateful it was almost late enough she could call a lunch break.

"Max, you're a very good teacher," RaeLeen gushed. "I've already learned more from you than I did in two years of school or three years on the force."

Scooting her chair away again, the dark beauty wondered how those chairs kept doing that. "RaeLeen, you already know all this stuff. We just need to make sure you understand how I handle things here. I'm not sneaking around for sleazy divorce court shots. I try to help people find something, usually someONE they've lost. It's a whole different approach." Looking at the young woman pulling her chair closer, Max lifted a brow.

"God, that's sexy. You do that a lot, you know? Did you know how really sexy that is? And you are such a babe. You know you're a total babe, right?" The long legged woman laid her right hand on her boss's knee.

"Yeah, well, um... back to business, RaeLeen. Let's see your lock picking technique. I mean we rarely use it here but I need to see it anyway," Max explained.

"No problemo, boss lady. I'd love to show you my technique any time you say," the woman flirted.

"Right, well. I'll remember that if I ever need a lock picked." A dark brow lifted as the hand began to move. Putting her own hand over the roaming explorer, Max smiled with as much patience as she could muster. "RaeLeen, I think we need to talk."

Peg tapped lightly on the office door and entered just as the new assistant surprised her boss by pushing her into the large chair and straddling the long legged lap. Blue eyes shot wide open and Max tried to breathe, think and speak all at the same time. Before anyone could decide what to say a familiar voice was heard over Peg's shoulder.

Green eyes narrowed to thin slits of jade. "I think I can handle this, Peg."

"Gillian," Max breathed as blue eyes pleaded for mercy.

"I see you remember my name. I'll take that as a good sign," Gillian spoke way too slowly and clearly for Max's comfort and Peg wisely pulled the door closed as she retreated to the relative safety of her own desk.

"Remember your...Oh, Gillian... honey. Come on now. You can't be serious. She's just a kid." Max was starting to get the full impact of the situation as RaeLeen merely scooted more firmly onto her lap.

"MmmmHmmm," purred the oncoming tiger.

"RaeLeen here and I were just going over some techniques..."

"Yes, I see the techniques she is going over." Green daggers laced in flame shot across the room. "RaeLeen is it?" A quiet nod, "You wanna get your bony ass off my wife's lap before I personally test the safety glass in that window with your head?"

Standing quickly, Max unceremoniously deposited the shameless flirt in the floor. Reaching for the love of her life, Max nearly whimpered when Gillian jerked away.

"Honey, you have GOT to be kidding!! Look at her. She's cute but come on, baby. Aphrodite herself wouldn't stand a chance with me. Don't you know that?" Max pleaded. "For heaven's sake Gill, it's our anniversary. Honey, don't be mad. I've missed you so much, I..."

Soft, warm lips covered Max's mouth before the rest of the sentence could be spoken. "You remembered?"

"Mmmmmmmmm," Max savored the feel of her wife's tongue. "You better believe I remember."

The door opened, causing both women to look at Peg who glared at RaeLeen. "You," she spat, "go to lunch and when you get back you and I will have a LONG talk." The secretary stepped aside for the woman to exit before turning to her boss. "Max, I hate to interrupt but there are some delivery men downstairs insisting you come down and personally sign for something or other." Peg couldn't help noticing the tiny giggle from the blonde.

"Well, I didn't order anything to be delivered today but I'll go take care of it. I thought you had to work through lunch again today?" Max questioned her wife.

"Jo Ann thought I should have a meeting across town that would take all day," Gillian grinned.

"Oh I like the way that woman thinks. I really do," Max kissed tender lips before heading out the door. "I'll be right back."

Watching the retreating form, Gillian turned to Peg. "No, she won't. She's not gonna be back till Monday. That okay?"

Peg nodded. Gillian followed Max downstairs and arrived just in time to see her wife's expression when they wheeled in the cherry red VFR 750, redone to her own dream specs. Across the seat was stretched a banner that read: "Happy Anniversary".

"Well," smiled the artist, "you gonna take me for a ride or what?"

Max blinked back the water pooling in her blue eyes as she looked around for helmets. The two guys who wheeled the bike in only moments earlier stepped forward with matching helmets and leather jackets.

"Wow," was all the taller woman could say.

Gillian thanked them, tipped them and sent them on their way. She pulled the helmet on and slipped into the chestnut leather jacket. Removing the banner, she patted the seat. "Well?"

Flashing pearly whites, Max put on her own jacket and helmet. "You serious? You'll ride with me?"

"Well I sure as hell ain't letting Miss Lap Straddler do it," Gillian chuckled.

The bike handled great. Wind rushed past them and Gillian scooted closer, pressing her body into her lover's rear and back. Max moaned softly at the feel of her wife's warmth at her back and relished the thighs pressing against her hips. They rode clear out of the city and toward the foothills and home. The sun was high in the sky and the traffic had all but disappeared when Max felt the small hand slide inside her coat and beneath her shirt. Soft fingers stroked and caressed the tender flesh it found there, finally settling on the tiny barbell near the rising nipple.

"Ohhhhhhhhhhhh," Max moaned as she rounded the curve.

"Mmmmmmmmmmm," grinned Gillian as her tongue found the sexy earlobe.

Gillian licked and sucked the tasty flesh while loving the hardening nipple with experienced fingers. All the while her other hand pulled at the belt buckle until it succeeded and loving fingers slid inside the jeans.

"Jesus, baby." Max protested even as her body pressed into the tender digits.

"Pull over," demanded the blonde.

"What?" asked the brunette.

"Pull over," repeated Gillian as her fingers reached their goal and began circling the swollen target.

"Oh gods," moaned Max. "You're killing me here."

"Well, I'm not stopping so I suggest you pull over before the headlines announcing our death embarrasses even our gay friends." The small blonde continued to caress and fondle the breast jewelry and surrounding flesh while applying circular pressure to her lover's engorging clit. "Or... I... could always... stop."

"I'm pulling over," grunted Max. "Don't stop."

Gillian smiled against the leather clad back. Her southern hand pressed harder and faster as Max moved against it. The bike was at a complete stop behind a stand of trees and the tall biker groaned as her lover refused to slow the pace or change position.

"Gillian, please." Max whimpered softly as she struggled to press her breast into a loving hand while moving hard and fast against passionate fingers. All the while she tried to lean into the body pressed against her back.

"I love you, Max. Let go for me baby."

"Gillian!" Max cried out as the first waves of orgasm shook her strong body.

When her wife's trembling slowed, Gillian spoke softly into the ear. "Now, very slowly, turn around but don't get off the bike."

"What?" asked Max.

"Just do it," Gillian instructed and reminded her wife where her fingers still were. Max moaned and complied, turning around to face a smiling beauty that quickly straddled her. "I'm counting on you holding this thing up, you know?"

Max could barely breathe so speech was out of the question. She nodded and pressed her boots deeply into the earth on either side of the large motorcycle.

"Now," cooed the blonde, "you are mine and I will have you. Right?" she asked as she opened the jacket and popped all the buttons off Max's shirt.

Again the blue-eyed babe nodded, more than a little surprised but unwilling to stop he wife's delicious attentions.

"Good," Gillian grinned, "because I plan to have my way with you until you can't hold this bike up anymore.

"Oh gods," was all Max could say and she said it over and over for hours.

"I can't believe you did that," Max whispered into Gillian's ear as she carried her to the sofa.

"Why? I've thought of that ever since you told me about the bike." A long tongue reached out for a tempting lobe.

"Do you have any idea how much I love you, Gillian Montgomery Murray?" asked Max.

"Mmmmmmmmm, yeah. I think I do actually," smiled the artist.

"Good. Because now I get to give you MY anniversary gift." Max flicked the switch and the room lit up with hundreds of soft lights, allowing the smaller woman to see for the first time that the entire room was filled with a rainbow of roses. As their favorite song began to play in the background Max handed Gillian an envelope.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Open it," came the answer from blue eyes.

Gillian opened an envelope containing tickets to a thirty-day cruise in the South Pacific. She looked at Max wondering when they would ever be able to use them.

"We leave in the morning, honey. I already arranged it with your boss and it is why I needed to hire an assistant. Now don't even think about arguing with me. I want you all to myself for the rest of my life... but we'll start with a whole month. OK?"

Gillian wept. "I love you, Max. How did I ever get along without you?"

Max pulled her wife's body firmly and lovingly against her own. "Doesn't matter. We're together now. I just wanted you to know I would marry you all over again, and again, and again. May I show you how much I love you?"

"Oh yeah," mumbled the beautiful blonde with the smoky green eyes. "Again and again and again."

Being the over achiever Max was, she added a few extras of her own.


Happy Valentine’s Day

Gillian was still wondering what had gotten into her beloved. That must have been the oddest phone call in the history of the device. Leaning forward in her chair she rested her elbows on the drawing table, pausing to reflect.

"Gillian? Max is on line four," the secretary from the temp agency announced.

"Thanks, Maggie. Hi Sweetie, what's up?" the blonde recalled the beginning of the unusual conversation. Well, unusual for Max.

"What's your favorite fragrance?" Max inquired.

Giggling, "Max, you know that. It's the Gravity you wear." The artist began scribbling notes, absent-mindedly, on the sketchpad before her.

"No. I mean scent as in candles," Max laughed. "Glad to know you still like the way I smell, though."

"Oh, I do. I do," smirked Gillian. "Um, Cinnamon I guess. Or Vanilla. Or both. Yeah, both. I like cinnamon and vanilla candles together with maybe a hint of peppermint. What are you up to, Maxine Murray Montgomery?"

"Oh nothing," smiled the brunette as she ticked off items on a list. "Blue still your favorite color?"

A blonde brow descended. "Why? You gonna buy brown contacts? Yes, honey. Blue is still my favorite color. What *are* you up to?"

"Bout six feet," chuckled Max. "If you were on a desert island and the only edible fruit was strawberries, which ONE thing would you want to go with them? Chocolate or whipped cream?"

"What," laughed Gillian, "No Cool Whip?"

"Oh, right. Forgot about the Cool Whip. So you prefer Cool Whip to chocolate? Even white chocolate?" asked the tall beauty, seriously.

"Depends," snickered the blonde. "Do I get dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate or all three? This could definitely tip the scales against the Cool Whip, you know?"

One dark brow lifted over crystal blue eyes. "Never mind," Max said. "Gotta go. Love you."

Before Gillian could respond, the line was humming. She shook her head and smiled. "That woman is up to something. I don't know what yet, but she is definitely up to something."

The artist's thoughts were interrupted by a knock on her office door. The secretary of the day slowly pushed the door open, even before Gillian told her to come in.

"Excuse me, but there is a limousine driver here who says you are to go with him?" The heavy-set woman announced half- heartedly.

Gillian stared. "A limousine driver? Here? Why am I supposed to go with him? Who does he work for and where is he?" The artist quickly skimmed her appointment book to be sure she hadn't overlooked something or someone. "I have no appointments at all this afternoon and it's not time for lunch so it isn't Max and..." she stopped mid-sentence and grinned.

"Gillian?" Came the timid voice. "Do you want me to send him away?"

"NNnnnooooooo," smiled the blonde who knew her wife perhaps a little better than either thought. "Let me talk to him."

"Very well." Returning to the gentleman in the gray pants and jacket, the rented secretary introduced her boss. "This is Gillian Montgomery."

Clearing her throat, "Actually, it's Gillian Montgomery Murray, but you couldn't have known that." She turned to the chauffeur. "Who sent you and where is it I am supposed to be going?"

The huge man reached into his inside breast pocket and pulled out a sheet of royal blue stationery. Gillian smiled. Brown eyes searched green, "Something funny, ma'am?"

"Oh no. I just like that blue stationery is all. I bought some for my wife not long ago. Sprayed it good with her.." The artist sniffed and smiled again. "Those your instructions?"

The man fidgeted as he tried to remember if he was allowed to answer that one. Serious eyes flitted back and forth across the neatly creased page. "Yes, ma'am. Um, you are to get your briefcase, tell your secretary goodnight, lock your office door and come with me."

"Oh, I am, am I? And just why should I do this? Why should I go off with a man I don't even know, limousine driver or not?" Gillian tapped her foot and looked up with bright emerald green eyes that nearly stole the poor man's voice. "Well?" she asked again.

Large hands began to sweat as he opened the paper again and again. Ah, there it was. "Says here, because it's Valentine's Day and because without you there would still be a hole in someone's heart that all the valentines in the world couldn't fill." Brown eyes looked up and a smile crept across the round face. "You know ma'am, I might have to borrow that one with my Mrs. tonight. You coming or do I have to go to plan b?"

Gillian snickered. "Borrow away and what is plan B?"

"This," he said as he stepped forward and bent until his shoulder snatched her by the waist. Gently taking her hand, he hefted her small body atop his broad shoulders and headed for the door just as the startled secretary fumbled for the phone.

Laughing her butt off, Gillian hollered back, "don't call the cops. It's my wife's idea of a joke. I'll be back tomorrow. Can you hand me my briefcase please? We wouldn't want Atlas here to get a hernia."

Max grinned from one car door to the other when her sexy wife came tumbling into the long midnight blue limo. "Thanks, James. You know where to go. Let me know just before we get there, please?"

"Yes Ma'am," was all that was said before the privacy shield went up and the car pulled away.

Gillian pulled herself upright only to be tugged into strong arms and soundly kissed. "Gods, but I love you, Max. What in the world are you up to?" The artist found the last of her words caught on her lover's tongue as it entered her mouth yet again. "Mmm. Nevermind. I don't care as long as you keep doing that."

"Good," husked Max. "Because it's a long drive and I thought I really should kiss you a bit before I have my way with you in the back of this here limo."

"You're kidding!?" Gillian mock protested as she was pulled atop her wife. Pleasantly surprised by the familiar mound pressing into her own, she moaned softly and decided to just enjoy the ride.

Slim fingers slipped smoothly beneath material of the ice blue satin blouse and began to lift it off the wriggling blonde.

"God, Max! We can't," moaned Gillian as she tried to keep her blouse from being discarded.

Sucking an earlobe into her mouth, Max grinned. "Sure we can, Honey. We already did...several times."

Green eyes burst open as the artist looked down at her snickering wife. "Not with my shirt off we didn't!" Playfully smacking strong hands away and reaching for Max's shirt, Gillian waggled her brows. "But you are absolutely right. We... <kiss>... certainly ...<kiss kiss> ...can." Popping three buttons quickly, Gillian watched her lover become slowly aware that the stripPER had become the stripPEE. "Mmmmm," she moaned into the cleavage before her, "let's go for five. My favorite number..."

"Excuse me, Ms Max. We're about five minutes from our destination. You asked me to let you know."

The voice startled both women into silence, then laughter. Gillian licked her lips and lifted her brows while emerald orbs danced in the darkness. Max caught the small hands in her own and blue eyes darted from the now unbutton-able shirt to a smirking blonde.

"Five huh? I'll remember that later when I decide how many minutes to let you sleep tonight." Max leaned into the kiss Gillian offered.

"Promises. Promises," whispered the blonde as she moved in for another kiss.

Placing two fingers against her favorite lips, Max smiled. "Thank you, James. You can turn the intercom off now. I'll assume, when the car stops, next we have arrived."

Gillian rolled her green eyes. "You could have told me he could hear us."

Max snickered again. "He could only hear us just now. Nothing else, my love. Nothing else."

"Yes Ma'am," came the masculine voice followed by a hollow click that Gillian was absolutely certain was preceded by baritone laughter.

"Mmmmhmmmm, nothing else, huh?" She teased her wife.

"C'mere you," was all the brunette said or needed to say. By the time the car stopped only minutes later both women groaned at the interruption.

James, being the consummate gentleman, rapped on the window before opening the limousine door. Max led with a long leg as the driver smiled and offered his hand to the tall beauty.

"Thank you, James."

"Ma'am," came the courteous reply before he turned to the blonde whose jacket had mysteriously found it's way onto her wife's body...backwards.

Giggling at Max and glancing around at her surroundings, Gillian smiled at the driver. "Thank you, James. Where are we?"

The artist had half way expected some airport or exotic locale. This was... well... this was the goddamned wilderness motel. No. Actually, this wasn't even a motel, Gillian looked around in mild surprise. There was nothing here but this... this... cabin. Glancing skyward she wrinkled her brow.

Max winked at James and grinned at her wife. "Um, Sweetheart, they're not there. You won't find any wires going to the cabin my love. No phone lines. No power lines. If you could scan the ground you would note there is no cable access either.

"But..." the blonde looked around as the smiling driver removed only the bags Max indicated and locked everything else into the large trunk...including her... gulp... briefcase.

"Relax, Honey. Mine is going in there too. See?" Max tossed her own briefcase in after its mate.

"But..." sputtered Gillian.

Max pulled her wife close to her and moved toward the door and put the key in the lock before turning back to James. "Thank you, James. We'll see you in two days, just after sunrise."

"What!?" gasped Gillian.

"Only teasing," chuckled Max. "Make it just past noon, James. See you then."

Green eyes darted from the driver who had gotten into the car and was pulling away to her gorgeous, if insane, wife. "Max, you can't be serious. We can't stay out here for two days. There's nothing here!"

Scooping her all too serious wife into her arms, Max kicked the door open. "Sure there is, Sweetheart. We're here. Just you, me, and all the things I had brought in earlier. No one and nothing to interrupt us. My sweet love...two days won't be nearly enough."

Emerald eyes looked around and soon began filling with silent tears. There was a fire in the fireplace with a King Sized Mattress on the floor about two feet away. The 'bed' was literally covered in roses of every color the blonde had ever seen, and then some. There were two small tables at opposite ends of the room, each holding about six tall scented candles. Gillian breathed in the aroma and smiled. It was unmistakably the delicate blend of Vanilla, Cinnamon and Peppermint.

Max stroked the tear kissed cheek of her beautiful wife. "I love you, Gillian. I always have. Here…" she whispered as she led her by the hand into the next room.

"Oh my God," gasped Gillian as she peeked into the huge bathroom with steam rising from the double sized tub surrounded by a similar assortment of candles. Just beneath the rising layer of steam the blonde could make out the floating rose petals. "Max! How on earth did you.." but her words were lost in the kiss.

Max pulled back gently and tugged the small hand. "One more room to go, Babe." Grinning in anticipation the dark haired lovely introduced her wife to the best-stocked kitchen imaginable...and all without a bit of electricity. Max had an old-fashioned Ice Box and a wood burning stove and cupboards filled to overflowing. The butcher-block table held a crystal vase with a dozen perfect red roses. Standing against the vase was a small card...

I will hold you close tonight

And romance you with candlelight

I will love you for all time

"Will you be my Valentine?"

Love, your Max

"Oh, Max. I love you so much. I swear, you are the most romantic soul. How long have you had this planned? It's so incredible. And you just sent part of my gift to you away in the damn Limo." Gillian was talking so fast she barely took time to breathe, so overwhelmed was she at her wife's loving gift.

"Well," Max sighed in Gillian's left ear. "Guess you'll have to be my gift, then."

"Um..." Gillian felt herself being lifted as Max's kiss sent everything else into a glorious haze.

Kneeling beside the makeshift bed, Max lay Gillian in front of the flickering fireplace. "Works for me, you know? You are the greatest gift of a billion lifetimes, Gillian. When I bought this place six years ago, I never dreamed I would use it for anything other than an escape from the world. Tonight, it's become my own personal Shangri-La."

"I love you Max," whispered Gillian.

"To answer your question, I began planning this the day we met. It just took me a while to find the right time to do it. You didn't answer MY question," smiled the blue-eyed lover.

"I didn't?" asked Gillian. Then she giggled a little. "Well, Max, with the roses and the candles and the fireplace and the.." The blonde found herself wrapped in the arms of the love of her life as she was kissed nearly senseless. "The...the kisses. God, the kisses! How can I be expected to remember anything when you keep kissing me like that?" Gillian stroked the soft face. "What was the question again?"

Crystal blue eyes peered into emerald green and it seemed so like a dream, but it wasn't..not anymore.

"I asked: Will you be my Valentine?" Long legs stretched out as Max awaited her answer.

Small hands gently removed the coat still on the larger body, backwards. Dancing green eyes caught the glow of the candles and gleamed wickedly as all remaining buttons burst from the shirt and two perfect breasts were exposed. Glancing up just once before kissing the warm flesh before her, Gillian smiled.

"I've always been your Valentine, my love. It just took me a long time to find my dream. Now that I have, I may never sleep again." Blonde brows waggled to be certain she was clearly understood.

"Oh yeah," Max moaned as she pulled Gillian on top of her. "We won't be needing Mysti tonight."

In a quiet bedroom, unattended, Mysti: Mistress of Dreams lifted the cloth draped so lovingly over the painting. Somehow, the artist had managed to capture a moment in time and seal it forever upon the canvas. Amid swirling images of two women's dreams were two sets of eyes: Crystal Blue and Emerald Green. They were locked together as if in eternal embrace. Across the bottom of the painting were the words: "For My Valentine". The artist's signature was tucked neatly in the corner, GMM.

Mysti wept.


Mad Max

and the


Chapter One

Max smiled into the warm green eyes and waggled her dark brows. No words needed to be spoken as clear blue eyes darted to the shower and back, suggestively.

"Oh, you are so bad, Max. I love that about you," grinned the blonde as she pushed her lover backward into the streaming water.

"And you," husked the taller woman as she licked the offered breast, "are soooooooooo good."

Moans filled the steamy bathroom as the lovers celebrated their anniversary, once again. Never mind that a full two weeks had passed since the six-month anniversary of their intimate wedding.

It had been a casual joining, held in the room where they'd met nearly two years before, with only the women from the support group present. No one officiated, really. Max and Gillian chose, rather, to share something with one another that spoke of how they felt.

Clinging to her trembling partner, each of the women recalled the very special day.

Max swallowed. "Gillian and I want to thank each of you for being here to share this very special time with us. We wanted to do this here, with you, because it's where we met. Although it is our belief we have always known each other, we treasure the first moment our eyes met...right here, in this room, with each of you.... laughing and curious, as I recall."

Gillian spoke. "We have elected not to involve a minister since the short-sighted and narrow-minded laws of this land choose to acknowledge only heterosexual unions. Instead, each of us has prepared something to share with the other. After that, we have created our own vows, which we ask you - our most beloved friends - to witness, acknowledge and support."

Max draped a long arm across the slightly shaking shoulders. Gillian looked up with such love several of the women sighed aloud. Both Max and Gillian blushed.

"OK," winked the artist. "I'll start."

"Love wears so many faces
But my favorite one is yours.
It comes to me in dead of night
When shadows cross the floors.

I see your face in moonlight
Or the waters of the sea;
Even the sky at midday
Can smile and wink at me.

But lest you think me shallow,
I feel you in the snow.
The ice and rain and thunder
Is a part of life, you know?

In case you haven’t noticed,
I see you everywhere.
There’s not a single moment
I do not feel your care.

Whatever lies before us now,
Whatever paths we find,
I’ll never be alone again
You're in my heart and mind.

And so we stand together
Joining heart and soul.
We will not be alone again.
Our love has made us whole."

Sniffles mixed with all the appropriate ooo's and aahhh's as Max bent down to lightly kiss the blonde brow. "My turn now," she smiled and wiped her palms on her silky gray slacks. Gillian brushed the hand away with a grin and Max smiled at how much she enjoyed the small gesture.

"I've never been a poet
It just isn't who I am
But I know I've always loved you
It's part of some great plan.

However many lives I have,
Where e're my soul may go,
I want you there beside me..
It's the one thing I DO know.

Long before I met you
I dreamed of emerald eyes,
So, when I offer you forever,
It's destiny - not surprise."

Max extended her strong arms and Gillian stepped into the embrace as though she were born to be there. [Mysti, the mysterious Mistress of Dreams wondered if either woman knew yet that was exactly what happened. They were both – finally - in precisely the right place, with the right person, at the right time. Gods in heaven, it had taken so many lifetimes but the dream mistress was determined. She never gave up.]

Feeling the gentle pressure of her love's lips on her head, Gillian smiled knowingly.

"Max and I have shared with you the beautiful tale of the Mistress of Dreams. Whether you believe her to be real or not, it is to her we dedicate this Joining. Without her, there would have been no dreams - and without a dream there can be no dream come true. Thank you, Mysti, beloved friend of dreamers everywhere."

The only sound in the room was the hum of the overhead lights and the occasional sounds from traffic in the hall.

"Gillian, I offer you my heart, my life, my solemn vow to be faithful with my every breath. From this day forward, in everything I say or do, I will consider you first, last, always. You are truly the other half of my soul. Before God, our friends, your parents -who I know in my heart are watching-, and Mysti...I proclaim my love and dedicate my eternity to you."

"Max, I accept your heart, your life, and your vow to be faithful. I tuck it into my soul and join it with my and I, together forever. I promise you will never be alone or know a single moment without love again, in this or any lifetime. I knew you were my soulmate, my dearest love, long before I even met you. Believe me when I tell you, I thank every god who can hear my voice for the day you were born. Before God, our friends, my parents - I too, know they are watching, and Mysti...I proclaim my everlasting love and dedicate my eternity to you."

Icy cold water tore the lovers from their memories as green and blue eyes twinkled at the knowledge that, once again, they were taking the same, sentimental journey.

"Today's the day you have to go to Boulder, isn't it?" Gillian asked later, as they dressed and munched on toast.

"Yeah. I really should. I want to check this one out myself, sweetheart. I'll be back in time to pick you up this evening though. No way am I making this job more important than my time with you. Not now. Not ever." Max bent down and punctuated her promise with a deep kiss.

"Mmmmmmmmm." Gillian felt her knees start to give way as Max slid her hands to Gillian's rear and pulled her close, solving the balance problem in the process. "God, woman. I love the way you do that. I really do, Max. But we were in the shower a looooong time and I don't want you speeding to get to Boulder on that thing."

"That *thing*, as you call it, was a gift from my sexy wife." Max waggled dark brows and brightened her eyes.

Playfully smacking her wife on the rump, Gillian said: "Oh, you are so bad."

Max snickered and licked an ear lobe. "Sweetie. I think that's how the shower screams began."

"Oh! You are so...ah, I see what you mean." The blonde shuddered as the hot tongue entered her ear. "Um, okay. So you'll drop me off and then pick me up tonight. That's doable. Just no hot-shotting, OK?"

Tilting her face to one side, Max pointed to her own chest with a crooked thumb. "Moi?"

"Yes, you! And don't try to look innocent with me. I was in the shower, remember?" giggled the artist.

Max kissed the palm that caressed her cheek as they sped along toward the tall office building where Gillian spent most days. It was a short trip and soon the tall biker was watching the retreating form and licking her lips. Gillian swayed a little more, on purpose, feeling her beautiful wife's eyes upon her. It was a teasing game they played nearly every day and the blonde smiled knowing tomorrow would be her turn to catch the 'show'.


The early morning air was cool and after riding all the way to the outskirts of Boulder, Max needed some hot coffee. She tugged the leather gloves from her fingers and slipped them off her large hands so she could warm her face with her palms. Locking the bike, she strode into the small diner.

"Coffee?" asked the young waitress.

"Please," the tall beauty replied sliding the helmet into the booth before her. "And keep it coming."

"Sure thing, stretch." The woman smiled as she turned the cup right side up and filled it with the steaming brown liquid. "Get ya anything to eat today?"

"Hmmm," thought Max. "Sure. Why not? Bring me a short stack and link sausage. I'll just run back to Denver later," she joked.

The sandy haired woman laughed out loud. "Right. That looks like it's a real problem with you, stretch. What are you, one of those model types? Always worryin' about puttin' on a pound or two?"

Max thought about that for a second or three. "Nope. Not at all but I gotta stay in shape so I can keep up with my wife." Then, the dark haired woman watched for a reaction. She was being wicked and Gillian would have already kicked her under the table, but what the heck. Might as well have some fun. Right?

"Right," snickered the waitress as she finished scribbling the order and started to walk away. Two steps out she stopped and turned back around. "Did you say you had to stay in shape to keep up with your WIFE?"

Cool blue eyes never blinked. "Yes."

"Oh. That's what I thought you said." The waitress neither smiled nor frowned but merely put in the order and went to greet the older couple that'd just come in.

Watching the younger woman deliver the pancakes and refill her coffee cup several times while carefully avoiding any possibility of contact, Max nearly laughed out loud.

The waitress winced. "Something funny, ma'am?"

Snickering, Max shook her head. "No. Not really. I was just thinking what a good influence my gorgeous wife has been on me. See? A couple years ago I'd have reamed you out by now and informed you it's not contagious. Worse, I would have done this at the very top of my lungs. Trust me, it's a scary sight."

Brown eyes opened wide as Max wiped her mouth with a napkin and put a ten-dollar bill down.

"Like I said," the biker continued. "That was a long time ago, a sad and lonely lifetime ago. You are very Jessica," Max looked at the nametag. "You wouldn't have liked me before Gillian. You wouldn't have liked me at all."

Moving aside so Max could exit the booth, the waitress made no effort whatever to apologize. It was just the sort of attitude that would have set the beauty off not so very long ago. Today, she found it amusing and smiled as she pulled the midnight blue helmet on over her dark, flowing tresses. It would make a nice tale to tell Gillian on the way home this evening. Ignoring the curious and rude stares, Max left the small diner, which served barely adequate pancakes, and went on about her day.

It didn't take long to track down the information she needed and locate the client's "friend". It was as she suspected though, and the information would not be relayed. The retainer, on the other hand would be returned immediately, minus expenses. She was not in the business of helping would-be stalkers. This guy could do his own dirty work.

On the bright side, it was barely lunchtime and she was right around the corner from the little shop her assistant told her about. She'd mentioned at work wanting to get a very special jacket for Gillian, something in leather but highly personalized and this was the shop her new assistant recommended. Max rode over to the Boulder Buddies Biker Shop and parked outside, locking up. She smiled when instead of the typical "ding", the opening door launched a sound not unlike the scream of a large jungle cat.

"Oh, I like that." Max smiled and began to look around the dimly lit shop.

The burly man looked up from his work. "Help you find something or you just wanna have a look-see?"

"I'll just look around a bit. Thanks," Max replied.

"No problem. Just let me know if I can help you with anything." He went back to the stubborn carburetor.

Max browsed aimlessly for a while, until her eyes fell upon beautiful, soft brown leather jacket on display. Unable to catch herself in time, she gasped aloud.

"Yeah, that's a popular one. Can't keep em in stock, hardly. Sorry but all I have left are those three and they're all smalls. I remember because earlier a guy got pissed about it." The owner replied to the gasp from the far right.

Max quickly narrowed her ice blue eyes in the direction of the jackets. Clenching her strong jaw, she mentally counted to ten, twice. "They're breath-taking. I think I'd like to buy them all. Can you get more of them? I want to outfit my new club with these beauties," Max smiled around nearly grinding teeth. She was thinking fast and hoping it sounded believable.

The owner’s mental calculator was clicking away. "Sure thing, honey. Day after tomorrow, I think. How many you want?"

"All they have," Max ran the tip of her tongue across her pearly teeth. "I mean I want to buy all that exist. I kind of want to be sure no one else has one so they’re exclusive to the club. Ya know?"

"Oh. Well, I only got them in a few days ago and have sold only the other three. I guess I could call them and see if they would sell em to ya? If you want me to, I mean." He watched to see if he could add more zeros in his head.

Max grinned. "Can't keep em in stock, eh? Well, business is business and sure. I’ll pay double what they paid and give you fifty bucks for each one you manage to secure. Plus another fifty if you can get all three. How’s that?" Without missing a beat, Max pulled a business card from her inside jacket pocket. "Here’s my card. Just leave a message and I’ll come and pick up the others. I'm in a bit of a hurry. Can you put these on my credit card and bag em up for me?" Max could hardly wait to show the goddamned things to her wife.

Somewhere there was a publisher whose ass just turned to grass.











Chapter Two

With every mile marker Max tried to breathe away the growing fury. Several times she reached behind her and patted the bag holding the soft leather jackets as if to reassure herself she had not imagined the whole thing. Conversely, the biker hoped she would find it empty. No such luck. Frowning into the wind, Max cursed again.

"Goddamn that bitch! How dare she steal Gillian’s work like that! Fucking thief! Well, let the little pip-squeak try to get around this one. Honda Heaven my ass." Gearing down to cope with the slower traffic clogging up the ‘Cloverleaf", Max tried the deep breathing technique again. "Forget it! That bitch is fucking toast!!"

"Hey Lady," the man in the rusted-out pickup yelled. "You wanna move that thing outa my way or shall I just PUSH you?"

The brunette scowled and looked around to see what the bearded, yellow-toothed man might be talking about. All but laughing out loud, the tall beauty noted the whole two feet that had opened up in front of her while she cursed at the small-time publisher. Boy, had this guy picked the wrong woman to bully, and his timing left something to be desired too. Well, it suited Max just fine.

Lifting one dark brow she gave him and his vehicle the once-over. "Maybe if you’re so hell bent on pushing something you should consider that piece of shit you’re sitting in. Gods know you can’t be drivin’ it. No wait," she lifted up and made like she was gonna look into the cab. "You got feet holes in that thing?"

Noting the confused look on the man’s face, she continued. "Yeah, you know, like Fred and Barney. That’s the only way I can figure a rusted out ol' Junker like that’d move. Oh but wait, we aren’t moving. Are we?" Then she reared her head back and laughed out loud.

Before the prototype for a Deliverance character could respond, the woman behind him laid on her horn. Ooops, looked like they were moving after all, Max chuckled to herself.


Noting the time, a very pissed off investigator decided another diet soda was not a good idea and another coffee was definitely NOT A GOOD IDEA. Still, it was too early to show up at her wife’s office. Wasn’t it? Well, she could go back to HER office until it was closing time. Not! Narrowing shards of blue to slits, a thought emerged. Maybe a certain publisher would be lurking in the hallways of Gillian’s office building. Max knew the woman used to be a secretary there and they still let her make copies for a penny a page. Idiots. They were losing money on that deal and their artists were being robbed, to boot. All right! One artist was being robbed, ripped-off, stolen from, deceived and betrayed.

"Another Diet Coke, Miss?" asked the skinny kid who Max thought was probably still in high school.

"Nope." The beauty grinned wickedly. "Think I’ll just go murdalize me a publisher instead. All this caffeine makes me jumpy, ya know?"

"Um," shaky hands removed the empty glass as chestnut eyes lowered to study something on the orange linoleum. "Ya, it’ll do that. Um, have a nice day then and come back soo... I mean..."

"It’s all right, kid." Blue eyes smiled. "I’m not really gonna kill her. Just mess her up a bit and I promise not to tell anyone I got my caffeine fix from you. How’s that?"

Realizing he had not, in fact, just spent the better part of an hour serving a deranged killer, the lanky youth laughed at himself. "Works fer me, lady. See ya round then?"

"Could be," she winked. "My beautiful wife works in the building across the street so I’m around here a lot."

Never missing a beat, the lad replied: "Yeah? She ain’t a publisher I hope."

Deep, throaty laughter filled the tiny luncheonette. "Gods, I needed that. Thanks kid. What’s your name anyhow?" Standing to leave, Max slid two dollars under the saltshaker and picked up the ticket to pay at the cashier on her way out.

"Thanks! That’s the biggest tip I ever got in this place. Name’s Paul. I work here after school on weekdays and all day most Saturdays and Sundays."

Turning from the cashier, Max rewarded the boy with another smile. "Well Paul, I’m Max and I didn’t even know this place was open on Sundays. Maybe Gillian and I will drop by next time we’re out for a drive and no, she’s not a publisher - so you can relax."

"Gillian! Your wife ain’t an artist with sexy green eyes is she?" Paul winced as he heard his words leave his mouth.

The investigator was laughing again. "That would be her and she sure does. Have sexy green eyes, I mean. Breathe, kid. It isn’t a crime to notice beauty around you. So, you know my wife do you?"

"Kinda. She used to eat lunch her sometimes with her dad but I haven’t seen her in a coon’s age." The boy answered honestly.

Blue eyes softened and a strong hand touched his shoulder. "Paul, Gillian’s father died some time ago. I’ll tell her you miss her. I bet she will be real happy to know you remember her. I gotta run now but I’ll come back tomorrow for a late lunch. How would that be? I just work up the street a ways myself."

Paul nodded as he took another customer’s order.

"Kid, you were a real life-saver today. Helped me calm down and probably saved one sorry ass publisher who stole from my wife. See ya tomorrow.

Max never saw the fury that came into those young eyes but she would. She would.

Chapter Three

"Pardon the interruption, Gillian." The speaker on the artist’s desk called out.

"Yes?" Gillian called out from across the room where she worked on a new sketch.

The secretary grinned as she lowered her voice just a tad. "Tall, dark and sexy is early. Shall I let her in or send her down to the cafeteria for a while?"

One sleek, dark brow lifted above crystal blue eyes.

Gillian put down her pencil and laughed. "No, that’s okay. Don’t send her down there. It’s coffee break time in the steno pool and I can’t take the competition."

Before the door could open fully, Max snorted and chuckled deeply. "My ass, she can’t take the competition." Standing as the blonde pulled the heavy door back, the tall brunette smoothed her slacks and licked her lips. "Baby, when it comes to you, there ain’t no competition."

Taking her wife’s strong hand, Gillian winked at her secretary. "See why I keep her? She’s very good for my ego and really has a way with words, too."

Returning to her typing, "Oh yeah. Definitely a keeper, that one. Shall I save these till tomorrow? Nothing pressing and you don’t have any more appointments. It’s only forty minutes, after all." Nancy had only just been moved into the artist’s office but already she liked the hard working perfectionist.

Max leaned down to kiss a tender lobe and whisper in her wife’s ear. "Oh, she is gonna work out just fine. I think I like the way she thinks."

"Maxine! Anyone could walk in that door." Emerald eyes pretended to be both surprised and serious.

"Right you are," agreed waggling brows. "We better get into your office with that nice leather sofa, huh?"

"Good Lord!" Gillian snatched the wandering hand. "I guess we better get you home before..."

The outer door swung open and in walked trouble, carrying a fake leather brief case and wearing a ten-cent smile.

The investigator stood to her full height as every muscle in her body flexed unconsciously. The artist winced as her small hand was caught in the effects of the rising rage within her lover.

Setting herself down on the corner of the secretary’s desk the bubbly publisher began chattering away. "Afternoon, Gillian. How are you dear? How is Max? You must be new," she looked briefly at the secretary before continuing. "Just a few little things to copy and thought I would do it in here. You don’t mind. It is always so crowded down the hall. Can I peek in at the new sketches when I’m done, dear? Oh, I knew you wouldn’t mind. I do so love to see your work. You are so gifted, Gillian. If I ever get things going I would love to have you do another cover for me. How is the investigating business, Max?"

The blonde could almost see steam coming off the brunette and silently prayed no real damage was being done to her now throbbing hand. She knew that whatever Max was upset about would be much worse if she learned she had somehow harmed her soulmate. It would make no difference to the tall protector that it had been an accident. None whatever.

Gillian did the only thing she could think to do at the moment. She stepped right into Max, startling her enough to catch the attention of perfect blue eyes. Max released the small hand immediately.

"Gillian! Did I hurt you? I’m so sorry." Then she turned to the visiting publisher with a look in her eyes that made Nancy’s blood run cold. "This is your fault, you two faced, lying, using, Judas Iscariot."

Martha froze in her tracks. Dark brown eyes opened wide with shock and confusion. At least, that is the way it looked to Gillian and Nancy. To Max, it looked like a cat burglar when the floodlights come on just as the alarm sounds.

"Max!" The small artist pleaded. "What in the world are you talking about?"

Blue chips pinned Martha to the piece of expensive East Indian rug she stood upon. "Yes, Max. Whatever are you talking about? Have I upset you in some way, honey? Because it surely was not my intention, sweetie."

Nearly six feet of pure, unadulterated rage stepped into the publisher’s personal space. "I am most certainly NOT your Honey or your Sweetie so unless you have a death wish, don’t ever talk to me that way again." Max thought a moment. "*Or* my wife either, you bitch!"

Stumbling for words that would not make things worse, the older woman tried again. "I apologize Max. I meant no disrespect. Whatever it is you think I have done, I..."

"Think! Whatever I think you have done? Not a chance, lady. I fucking know what you have done and as soon as I have some time alone with Gillian she’ll know too."

Gillian was scared now. She had never seen her wife quite this angry before - with anyone. "Max, honey, that’s a good idea. Why don’t we go on home now and you can tell me what it is you are so furious about? I’m sure whatever Martha did was unintentional, Sweetheart." The artist was gently stroking the tall beauty’s arm as she spoke in a calm, deliberate fashion.

Max turned her glare from Martha and looked at the woman who held her very soul. The visible and almost immediate softening in the baby blues touched even Nancy. Drawing in a slow, deep breath Max felt love pull her lips into a smile as she gazed into emerald pools.

"OK. She gets to live. This time. But only because I love you far more than I hate her." Max gently lifted the small hand to her lips and kissed it. "Sorry I hurt you, Gillian. It will never happen again. Never."

Gillian looked up with a look in her eyes Martha and Nancy both would have killed to experience in any lifetime at all. "I love you, Max. Can we just go home for now? I’ll cook us some dinner, put a tape in the VCR and I bet I can take your mind off whatever is upsetting you. Maybe?"

"Oh gods," moaned the brunette. "No maybes about it. I’m all yours, my love. You," She sneered at Martha one last time, "might wanna up your life insurance tonight."

As Gillian and Max walked toward the door, Martha just had to yammer some more. She shook her graying head and mumbled to Nancy: "What in heaven’s name was that all about?"

That did it! Max stopped, swallowed and took another deep breath. Without even turning around, she answered the publisher. "Yes, what in heaven’s name indeed. Honda Heaven."

Gillian looked up questioningly. Max kissed the blonde tresses and they boarded the elevator.

Martha looked at Nancy and thought what she dared not say aloud. ‘Oh my god.’ But it was going to take a little more than a silent prayer to get her out of this one. She could not remember ever seeing Max that mad before. There was very good reason for that. Max had never BEEN this mad before. The publisher trembled inside hoping she was wrong, all the while knowing she was right. Max was mad and she knew why. God save her, she knew why.

Nancy shivered. "Martha, are you all right? Jesus, woman! You look like you just saw a ghost or something."

"Worse," whispered the publisher. "Much worse."

Chapter Four

Max handed Gillian the helmet to put on, before donning and strapping into her own matching gear. No words were spoken during the routine procedure. Before straddling the Honda she had given her wife as a gift, the blonde noted the very full saddlebags. Golden brows lifted into matching hair as the almost wicked grin crawled across the smaller woman’s face.

"Maxine Murray Montgomery! I knew you hated shopping but could it really have been THAT bad? And why take it out on poor Martha? And, come to think of it, what were you doing shopping when I thought you went to Boulder to check out that lead you had on the missing niece or something. Max? Max?" Gillian passed her hand in front of vacant eyes and began to grow concerned. "Max!"

"Huh?" Long, dark lashes lowered and lifted in rapid sequence more times than the artist could count as blue eyes struggled to refocus on the present. "Honey, I’m sorry. What did you say? Shopping? Um, not exactly. I did plan to check on something special today. It was something I wanted to get for you but I found something else entirely. We won’t even THINK about ‘Poor’ Martha right now."

Gillian seated herself as Max leaned in for a soft kiss. Loving eyes captured the vision of Max pulling on her black gloves before turning and mounting the bike. No further conversation was needed as the two bodies seemed to become one, unique form that swayed and leaned in perfect tune with the machine they rode. It was as if some unheard music urged the well-choreographed movements and the Denver highway system was little more than an elaborate dance floor.


"Hello." Martha snapped open the cell phone abruptly as she stepped into the parking garage. Squinting her eyes against the glare of the late afternoon sun flashing against automobile windshields, she tried to remember where her Yellow VW was. Just her luck, she thought, it all but disappeared in the damned glare.

"This Martha Isaacs? The lady with them leather jackets?" Ruben asked, still tinkering with the stubborn carburetor.

"This is Martha Isaacs. Who may I ask...? Oh wait. You’re that Motorcycle Shop Owner who said you could sell some...Do you still have the jackets? Mr. Ribaldi, wasn’t it?" Never one to do much praying, the older woman offered one up anyway. She was less than thrilled with the answer.

"Ruben Ribaldi. That’s right, but Ruben’ll do jest fine. Nope. Don’t have a one of em left. That’s how come me to call. I need some more. All you got in fact. Got me a real anxious customer who wants to outfit their whole damn club with em. How many more ya got? Ya never said so I just let on I could get some more but ain’t said how many jest yet. So.... how many more ya got?" Dark, greasy fingers laid the motorcycle part aside and reached for the lukewarm can of Coors.

"Describe the buyer to me, please." Martha prayed again. This time she longed to be wrong.

"Oh well that’d be real easy cause she’s a looker, this’n."

"Shit," came the answer. The reply was certainly surprising to the man on the other end of the conversation.

"Gee lady, I didn’t think you were interested in a dumb ol’ grease monkey like me. I wouldn’t worry none though on account of this one is way over yonder outa ma league." Popping another Coors open, he smiled.

"You idiot! I’m not flirting with you. I’m trying to get some information about the customer. Just so I am absolutely certain we are both talking about the same woman, what did she look like? Don’t drool all over the telephone, Mr. Ribaldi, just describe her please." Martha started the car and waited for the answer, all the while dreading it.

Ruben scowled, took another swallow and shrugged. "What did she look like, ya say. Tall. Damn near six foot, I’d guess. Long dark hair and a great big pearly white smile that she seemed more’n glad to gimme. Oh and blue eyes. Real blue eyes. Won’t be forgettin’ them eyes no time soon, I kin tell ya."

"Shit." The publisher turned the engine off and leaned back into the vinyl seat. "Thank you, Mr. Ribaldi. I’ll get back to you."

"Well, about them jackets. How many more ya got? I mean we could make us some real money here lady." Ruben held the phone out and stared at it for a moment. "Lady? Lady, you still there?"

No, Martha Isaacs wasn’t on the telephone anymore. She was somewhere else entirely. She was in a world of hurt... and she knew it.


"What are you doing? I thought we were gonna go home and I was gonna cook dinner." Gillian was a little confused when Max pulled the bike to a stop at their favorite take-out restaurant.

Removing the helmet and shaking her hair free, Max turned slightly before answering. The pain in crystal blues did not go unnoticed. "I thought I would treat you instead of making you go home and cook, especially after behaving like an ass and hurting your hand back there. I’m so sorry, Sweetheart. I have very good reason for being so mad but it could never excuse hurting you. I love you so much, Gill."

Two small hands cupped the face, now filled with the ache of regret. "I love you too, Max. More than I ever dreamed possible and you didn’t really hurt me honey. I’m fine. Stop beating yourself up about a simple accident." Green eyes twinkled with mischief. "However, far be it from me to discourage you from your path of redemption...especially if it involves Chicken Curry with steamed brown rice and vegetable egg rolls."

Blue eyes finally smiled. "Oh it does. It does. Egg drop soup too if you play your cards right."

"Well, big spender, what do I get to drink with this little feast?" the blonde asked.

"Hey! I know how to treat my lady. I’m going next door for a whole six pack of ice cold Yoo-Hoo." Max waggled her brows and helped her wife stand.

"Oh boy," snickered the artist. Looking down at the bulging saddlebags, Gillian cocked her head to the side and grinned. "I don’t know what you’re up to Max, but it must be a real doozie." Hearing a rumbling sound from beneath her tailored jacket, she laughed again. "The beast is awake."

Max leaned in close and whispered into one of her two favorite ears in the entire world: "Oh I plan to wake up ALL the beasts before this night is out."

"Oh gods," moaned Gillian as her wife’s tongue darted across a sensitive lobe. "Food. We were gonna get food."

Max smiled against the tanned cheek. "Got mine right here in my arms. Maybe we better feed you though. I have a feeling you’re gonna need your strength."

"Oh gods," moaned the blonde again. Green peered into blue and found all she ever wanted. "Thought you were mad."

"First things first," came the serious reply. "First food. Then YOU. Then... You again."


"Hey! I seem to recall you offering to distract me," giggled the brunette as they stepped into the restaurant.

She’s up to something, thought Gillian. Still, she smiled from the inside outward: a promise is a promise.

Chapter Five

Max grinned as Gillian scraped the last bits of rice from the paper container. Leaning her strong chin into the cup made by her hand leaning backward, she rested an elbow on the corner of the table.

"Hungry tonight, huh?" Dark brows waggled suggestively.

Gulp. Green eyes looked up as golden curry sauce found its way to the corners of the near perfect mouth. "Um, why do I think we are not talking about my rice?"

"Well," sparkled the crystal orbs, "I suppose that could be because YOUR rice disappeared nearly thirty minutes ago."

Laughter filled the large kitchen. It was a sound that was at once musical and healing.

"I love you, Gillian. Do you know that?" Max touched the small hand reaching for hers.

"Yes, my love, I do know that. Just as I also know something is very wrong. You wanna talk about it?" Asked the blonde.

Max leaned over to touch their foreheads together. "I do. I really do want to talk about it, Gillian. Only I don’t want to do it just yet, okay? If I start talking about it I’ll get mad all over again and that is not what I want to feel right now."

"Oh?" Smirked the artist. "What exactly DID you want to feel? Right now, I mean?"

One hand slipped beneath the table and found the firm thigh of a deceptively small but very well built woman while the fingertips of the other hand brushed the swell of her left breast. "Oh, I can think of a few things." Max winked as her wife leaned into both touches.

"Max?" Gillian slowly stood, causing both hands to feel lonely and abandoned. The momentary loss in blue eyes did not escape the blonde’s notice. She hurried to the other side of the table and stood pressing her knees into Max’s. "Isn’t this better, love? That table was about to seriously get in my way."

"Actually my love, this is better." The brunette pulled her soul mate onto her lap and took her mouth in a hungry, passionate kiss, which the artist enthusiastically returned while pressing deeper into the lap of her lover.

Several deep kisses and much fondling later Max mumbled into the neck she was busily devouring: "Gillian. Baby if you keep pushing against me like that this chair is going to…………."


Stunned at being so rudely dumped onto the floor, Max nonetheless kept her wits about her. Still holding her amorous wife in her arms she lifted her bruised hips and slid what remained of the chair from beneath her.

"I hate it when that happens. Don’t you?" she grinned into shining eyes.

Resettling herself astride the dark beauty, Gillian waggled blonde brows. "Nope." She leaned down and kissed Max softly while using her hands to unbutton the blouse that held what she sought. "No," she smiled as she pressed open the silky material and slid her body down slightly, making every movement count. "Never liked that chair much and I seem to be right…" she licked the curve of one breast while moving her hips into place. "I seem to be right where I most want to be at the moment."

The investigator swallowed as her hips returned the pressure of their own accord. "And that would be where exactly?"

Gillian slid the remaining debris from the chair aside and released the final hook from the center of Max’s bra; smiling with such love it actually made Max’s breath catch in her throat.

"In your arms, of course."

Good answer. Oh very good answer, thought the detective right before she decided she was hungry after all.


Chapter 6

"Max, baby, are you sure you don’t want me to...Oh God."

Gillian worried at what the remaining bits of chair were doing to her sweet lover’s back, but every time she tried to exercise caution Max exercised a muscle.

"Max. Sweetheart, please. I don’t think you should take anything else off here. Doesn’t your back hurt?" Gillian mumbled across the tongue darting in and out of

her mouth.

Strong hands pulled at her hips as her mind nearly spun out of control again.

The blonde slid her fingertips across the smooth shoulders, then back toward generous breasts. At the last moment Gillian changed direction and pressed her hands beneath Max, lifting the powerful body into and against her own. The warm, sticky sensation stopped her cold.

"Jesus, Max! You’re bleeding. Sit up. No, I mean it Baby. Stop. You’re hurt!"

The artist was nearly frantic and it wasn’t from her throbbing need either.

"Gillian, please." Max was not cooperating at all. In fact, she seemed to her worried lover to be pulling out all the stops as she pressed a hot tongue into a delicate ear. "I need you, Gillian. Please make love with me. Please baby."


Max was paying attention now.

The hurt look in the startled blue eyes tore at Gillian’s heart but the warm blood on her hands gave reason the winning edge.

"I love you Max. I love you so much. And I want you, Baby. Honest I do. Trust me, I have every intention of making love with you. In fact, you may very well have to call in sick tomorrow when I’m done with you."

The brunette wiped a tear from her grinning face.

Gillian kissed Max softly and gently turned her wife’s body until the strong back was in full view. Green eyes squinted and the small nose scrunched up uncomfortably. The grimace was practically audible.

"What?" Max tried to look backward over her shoulder.

"Be still. You can’t see it that way and you’re going to hurt yourself," Gillian scolded.

"Um, Sweetheart, I think I may have already done that." Max meant to sound flip but caught a look at the blood on her wife’s hands about half way through the sentence.

The color began to fall like a curtain down the beautiful face, leaving behind a creamy beige-gray that was, at once, both frightening and fascinating. Gillian reached up to caress Max’s face just in time to catch it as the tall beauty slipped into unconsciousness.

"Well," sighed Gillian, "I love it that you keep falling for me over and over but this will never do."

Chapter 7

Long, dark lashes flitted open and closed several times. The color had returned to tanned cheeks and the trademark grin edged its way onto the gorgeous face.

Timid, almost child-like, Max looked up into the very serious emerald eyes she adored.

"Um, I might have failed to mention that I have this little problem with the sight of blood…especially my own." Max blushed slightly and waited somewhat nervously for her wife’s reaction. She knew it was irrational and that Gillian would never laugh at her but there it was, a conditioned response.

"Reaaaaaalllllllllllllly?" smiled Gillian. "You don’t have a glass jaw too, do ya?" Not waiting for an answer the blonde gently turned to look at Max’s back again. "Max, sweetheart, it isn’t that much blood really. I over reacted I guess. I don’t like seeing you hurt and I might have panicked a bit. See, it’s not so bad really. Ooooooooooo." Scrunching up her nose, she continued. "Well, there isn’t much blood baby but we do need to clean this out and you have some serious splinters back here. How long have you had a problem with the sight of blood? I had a friend in college like that but she’d been in a bad car wreck as a kid and her brother was killed. She never quite got over it. Here, Baby, Let’s get you in the bathroom so I can clean this up." Gillian stood and extended her hand to the unusually silent brunette.

When Gillian flipped on the lights in the downstairs bathroom Max caught a look at her in the full-length mirror and grimaced. She maneuvered her torso into position so the mirrored doors to the shower would reflect her back. Dark brows lifted and a low whistle filled the small room.

"You stop that. It won’t look so bad once it’s cleaned up and I put some Neosporin on it," Gillian tried to reassure herself every bit as much as her wife. "Here, sit down so I can get the splinters outta there."

Putting the seat on the toilet down, Gillian kissed Max’s forehead as she moved her into the best position for the task at hand. The strong back was already showing bruises and it was clear that it was the movement after the crash that had done the worst damage, at least with the abrasions and embedded bits of wood. Carefully and slowly the woman skilled with detailed work removed each splinter, some so small she used a magnifying glass to be certain she got it all. During the entire procedure Max remained silent and it was only when she was nearly done that Gillian became fully aware. She had been so occupied with cleaning the wound she had actually forgotten to talk. Realizing this made her chuckle softly.

"Mind if I ask what’s so funny about my back?"

There was something tucked nearly between the words that made Gillian stop and look into her lover’s face. What prompted that dark cloud, wondered the artist?

Was she in that much pain? What had she missed here?

"Max, what is it? Sweetheart I was laughing because I just realized I’d been so busy I actually forgot to talk. Imagine that. Me not talking." Gillian winked at Max and reached for the Hydrogen Peroxide.

Max tilted her head, watching her wife remove the brown bottle from the medicine cabinet. One brow arched, "Do I get a kiss with that or do I have to take it …you should excuse the expression…straight? And Gill?"

Waving the dark bottle playfully in front of the wounded woman Gillian grinned.


"Never make fun of the way you talk. I love the sound of your voice. I even save your voice mail messages on my cell phone so I can hear your voice any time without having to disturb you at work. Now, what exactly do you plan to do with that?" She asked, giving the peroxide the evil eye.

"You stop that this instant. That will not work on inanimate objects. You cannot intimidate the antiseptic so cool it, Smartass."

"Oh but I can intimidate the woman HOLDING the antiseptic and you like my smart ass," winked Max.

"Not this time," Gillian refused to look into the crystal blue orbs as she saturated several layers of cotton gauze with the cleanser. "We have to make sure it doesn’t get infected." Gently pressing the soaked cloths to the abrasions she blew across the naked back, knowing it would burn like the dickens once it began to do its thing. "Does this help?"

"Oh yeah, that feels grea… damn, baby. That burns. No wait. Blow again. Oh yeah. Pain then pleasure. I think you might have something here." Max snickered at her little joke.

A quick, playful swat of the small hand told Max her humor hit its target.

"You, " Gillian laughed, "are enjoying this way too much."

She cleaned the foam off and reapplied the peroxide until it no longer foamed up and then removed the tube of Neosporin from the cabinet, after putting the dark bottle back onto the shelf. Smoothing the thick salve onto the wounds, Gillian savored the feel of the muscles and flesh beneath her fingertips. Interestingly enough, Max was doing the same thing.

After a while, the soft mmmmm’s were silenced and the investigator spoke.

"Gillian, am I pronounced healthy yet?"

"Oh yeah, very healthy." Gillian leaned down and kissed a spot low on her lover’s back, allowing only the very tip of her tongue to make contact.

"Healthy, strong and absolutely beautiful. In fact, I hereby pronounce you damn near perfect."

"Damn near?" Up went the left brow, unseen by the blonde.

"Well, you did faint at the sight of…"

"Oh, you!" Max turned, grabbed her very surprised wife, lifter her into strong arms and carried her out of the bathroom and toward the den and their favorite make-out spot in the entire world: the couch.

Chapter Eight

There are those who believe the "Pit Groups" got their name largely thanks to architects of the day. At the time of their introduction/creation it had become popular for homes to be built with a family or recreation room on a lower level. This effect was made even more pronounced by the step or two one had to take DOWN into the room. The rooms tended to be large and somewhat boxy or square.

Someone got the bright idea to build a huge couch or sofa that would form a kind of "U" shape, thus filling the room and providing comfortable seating for an entire family at the same time. It was a real selling point, the artist recalled, and many a home had one. The couches were almost always covered with soft material in earth tones, another fad of the day. The item itself was well constructed and over stuffed, making it a favorite with Gillian’s father - who refused to let his go the way of the yard sale, even when everyone they knew all but begged him to do so.

Gillian savored the feeling as her beloved lowered her, once again, into the soft brown lushness that was The Couch. The blonde both smiled and shivered at the sensation.

"You all right? Cold? Here, I’ll grab the afghan." Max stretched her long arms toward the hand-made brown and gold afghan that had been a gift from Bev. Both she and Gillian loved it as much for the fact that the leader of the women’s group (where they met) had spent months making it as the soft warmth it provided. Knowing Bev chose the colors specifically hoping it would have a place of honor atop the couch had been the third vote in favor of keeping the same color when reupholstering had become necessary.

"No, I’m not cold Sweetheart. It wasn’t that kind of shiver." Gillian reached her hand out along the tanned arm and felt it stop its motion, and then reverse until her own hand was softly enfolded in a larger one. "I was just enjoying the way it feels when you lay me on the couch. You are the gentlest person I’ve ever known Max. I love you so much."

"It’s easy to be gentle with you, my love. You inspire great tenderness in me. Oh my god. Did I say that?" Max feigned surprise.

"Yes, you most certainly did," replied the blonde. "And don’t think I won’t recall every delicious syllable either." Gillian teased her wife while waggling her brows and caressing the flesh along the sides of Max’s breasts. Slowly, Gillian’s fingertips traced the full curves, never losing eye contact.

The brunette, who had carefully laid her beloved in a half-sitting position, now moved to cautiously straddle her, blue eyes locked in green. First one knee and then the other found its place alongside the muscular thighs of the resting woman. Long fingers smoothed back the golden hair, returning to stroke the creamy cheeks that led so conveniently to the soft throat, which made a path to the warm flesh just above firm, rounds breasts that seem to lift to meet the touch. Using only the pads of three fingers on each hand, Max barely touched the skin of Gillian’s breasts. She made teasing, slow circles moving ever toward the hardening nipples rising to meet the torturously slow hands. The grin started in the blue eyes and gradually crawled along the perfect lips.

"You wanted something?" Max stopped her hands completely and lowered herself until her butt rested across Gillian’s knees.

"What do you think?" Gillian lifted one brow, reminding her lover she had learned a few tricks since they met.

Before Max could reply however she felt her wife’s hands change position, fixing themselves firmly on her backside. In what could have been a choreographed movement, Gillian pulled Max up her legs and across her hips while in the same instant lifting her pelvis. The result was twin gasps, soft moans and closing hands as Max squeezed what lay beneath her fingers.

It didn’t matter that neither woman had remembered to turn on the radio or CD player. They made their own kind of music long into the night. In fact, when the sun began to sneak in through the windows in the other room Max and Gillian had only just slipped into slumber, wrapped in one another’s arms on The Couch.

"Good Morning Denver! It’s a beautiful day in the Mile High City…"

Crystal blue eyes shot open even as the body behind them wrapped itself around the sexy blonde who groaned and responded by securing her hold on said body.

"Damn. I can’t believe we have to get up and get ready for work already." Max’s voice was rough with the sleep she had yet to get.

"Um," Gillian made a really adorable, almost squeaking sound as she stretched out, pressing her body against the one alongside her. "I seem to remember giving you fair warning Love that you might have to call in sick today." Green eyes gave a look as near innocent as the situation and hour allowed.

"Very funny," groaned Max. "You know perfectly well I never call in sick."

Emerald eyes blinked twice followed by the puffing out of a coral lip.

"Aw, come on Gillian. I don’t. You know I don’t." Max kissed the pouting lower lip.

"You did the Monday after our wedding," Gillian argued as her hands began caressing warm flesh. "And you did the day after our Anniversary."

"That was different, Sweetheart. We were newlyweds for crying out loud. Is it my fault this country keeps it brains in the same vault it hides its moral courage? And as to the Anniversary…" Max felt the roaming fingertips and smiled. "I would have needed to be wheeled in that day and we both know it."

Grinning, Gillian knew victory was within reach. "My point exactly. You are not able to go to work today. You injured your back in a terrible fall last night."

Rolling her wife onto her back, the artist slowly crawled on top so that she could peer into smiling eyes. "No one needs to know how you fell or that you are the most incredible lover in any city, Mile High or otherwise. In fact, I think it best we keep that bit of data very much to ourselves. The competition might..."

"Never. Ain’t gonna happen, Love. I am yours and yours alone, now and forever."

Max promised.

"Including all day today?" asked the blonde.

Sighing happily in delicious defeat, Max reached for the phone. "Including all day today. You are soooooooooo bad for my reputation," she grinned.

"Oh, I can fix that. Would you like me to leave the message this time?" Gillian smirked.

"Um, no thanks. I’m not at all sure Peg can take that so early in the morning."

As Max considered her secretary listening to her wife explain why she would not be at work today, the dark brow lifted slightly.

"Probably not," both women laughed as they snuggled into the couch and fell fast asleep.

Chapter 9

Max looked so sweet, all wrapped up in the afghan and draped across the pillows of the couch. The investigator had reminded her sweet wife over and over again how much she loved her, refusing to just roll over and go back to sleep after calling in "sick". It had only been afterwards, when the energy surges left her, that the full impact of the chair incident began to show. Pain crept into those clear blue eyes. Gillian insisted Max swallow the strong pain medication, eat some breakfast and close her eyes for a while. Disentangling their bodies later so she could relieve herself had been quite the adventure, of course, and very nearly led to an "accident" of an entirely different kind. Gillian smiled as she gently tucked in the edges of the soft cover and kissed the forehead of her sleeping lover.

It was just past nine when Gillian remembered it was trash day. Luckily the garbage people in her neighborhood were on a schedule she often referred to as "enlightened". Naturally, the timing had nothing to do with waking the dead with their noise but having the large trucks and louder men show up closer to noon suited her just fine. Granted, she was usually not at home but she liked it anyway. Today it was especially nice since she had been too busy to remember to set out the trash the night before.

After emptying all the cans in the house into the large plastic bag, Gillian tied it in a large knot and removed the plastic bag from the kitchen garbage receptacle as well. She paused to take a quick glance around and do her mental checklist. Yep, she thought, that’s all of them. With a large black bag in each hand she turned the door handle with her strong fingers and pushed the door from the kitchen into the garage open with her right foot. Quickly and quietly she turned to grab the door with her foot before it could slam shut.

"No you don’t," she whispered. "She needs to sleep so don’t even think about slamming and waking her."

Gillian carefully took the trash out the back door to the garage to avoid the loud clanking whir of the garage door opener. As she walked the length of the long drive to the curb with the rolling cart behind her she grinned at her neighbor who was walking back from the same errand.

"Morning, Legs," Marge teased.

"Huh?" The blonde looked down, only just then realizing why she felt chilled.

"Oh God. Thank the Lord it’s you and not Charles or Max would kill me for sure."

Marge giggled. "Well, lucky for him too cutie. I’m not at all sure his ol ticker could take those legs and I KNOW he doesn’t wanna tangle with Max."

Both women chuckled and went about their tasks, waving a good morning before Marge slipped inside and Gillian returned to the garage. Securing the door with the dead bolt, Gillian shook her head at her foolish error.

"Well, it could have been worse. Eeyore does cover a bit more than Yosemite Sam." Tugging at the curved edge of the long nightshirt and smiling, Gillian almost didn’t see the motorcycle until it was too late.

Grabbing at the cherry red Honda VFR 750 she had given Max, not so long ago, she tried to steady it and keep it from falling, after bumping into the front wheel.

Thanks to Max’s clever stripping and re-building plans, the bike was light enough Gillian was easily able to hold it up. Once the blonde resettled the motorcycle she noticed the bulging saddlebags her sweet wife had tried to pass off as nothing unusual the day before. Shopping was to Max what bamboo shoots under fingernails were to prisoners of war. Gillian tried to recall the last time she had seen Max’s saddlebags this full. Well, there was the time they went camping. Or maybe they were this full when they took a ride up into the mountains and found the roadside honey stand on the way back, she thought. Nope.

There was no question about it. These were very, very full saddlebags. It was entirely possible there was something in them that needed refrigerating or hanging up. Maybe there was even something breakable in there. Oh now what if something had been broken when she jolted the bike a moment ago? Gillian reasoned it all out in her mind. It would be just plain irresponsible not to

check it out and make certain nothing was damaged. Max would understand. Why, she would almost certainly appreciate the importance of caution. How many times

had the tall beauty told the artist it was "better to be on the safe side"?

Unhooking the straps and releasing the large leather pouches, Gillian smiled when she felt the bundles give gently to the pressure of her squeezing hands.

Whatever was in there, it didn’t seem to be broken. Slowly she opened the first bag only to find darkness within.

"What in the world has she got in here?" asked the blonde to no one in particular.

Opening the bag as far as possible, a patch of color caught her eye. The texture against her fingertips told her she was touching leather, probably a leather coat. Oh, maybe it was those leather pants she had been begging Max to buy. The thought drew a large smile as Gillian tugged gently on the article until it came entirely free and unfolded itself in her hands.

Green eyes widened first in surprise, then curiosity, followed by understanding and then RAGE.

"What the fuck!?" Grabbing both saddlebags, Gillian moved toward the kitchen and better light. "This better goddamn well not be what I fucking think it is!"

Bolts of bright green lightening filled the kitchen when the back of the leather jackets could be fully viewed.

"That fucking bitch! This is what made Max so mad at Martha yesterday. She stole from me. I can’t believe she fucking STOLE from me!!!"

Max lifted her eyebrows and shook off the drug-induced sleep. "Gill? Baby, what’s wrong?" The brunette clumsily made her way into the dining room so that she could see her fuming wife.

"Look at this, Max. She stole from me. Martha fucking stole from me! Look at this, goddamn it! Honda Heaven, my ass!! My artwork! My sonofabitching cover!!

"Max, stop smiling this instant. That fucking bitch fucking stole from me!! What the fuck are you smiling at?!" Gillian raged.

Max simply couldn’t help herself. She leaned in and kissed the trash-talking mouth of her soul mate. "And they think I’m scary."

Pulling back to shoot another round of lightening, Gillian glared at Max. "Yeah? Well she better be scared. She better be very scared! Fucking bitch! That fucking bitch STOLE from me, Max!"

"Yep," Max smiled a wicked, wicked little smile. "And the beauty of it is, she has no idea you know… yet."

Lightening paused. Thunder ceased. Green eyes twinkled and the grin reached every pore of the compact body. "I like the way you think." Gillian reached up on her toes and kissed Max’s forehead. "I really do. I like the way you think."

"Imagine that," smirked the still slightly groggy woman. "After so much time, I find you’ve really been after my mind all along."

Chapter 10

"Max why didn’t you just kick her ass? Stop laughing, damn it. I mean it. That fucking bitch stole from me! Stop laughing I tell you." Gillian was finding it hard to maintain her fury with her sexy wife laughing her naked butt off and trying to keep the afghan around her at the same time. "Max, I mean it. Stop laughing. There is nothing funny about this. I mean it, Max. What exactly are you laughing at if I may be so bold as to ask?" In spite of all her best efforts, the lips curled upward and the giggle escaped.

Wiping at the tears slipping from the laughing blue eyes, Max struggled to catch her breath. "Oh Jesus, you crack me up Baby. I wish I had a tape recorder catching all this. No one would ever believe me if I told them what you just said." Max held her sides tightly as the laughter began anew.

"Believe what? That mother fucking bitch fucking stole my work, Maxine!" Gillian spat out the words in between the bursts of laughter she could not suppress.

"Don’t make me laugh. This is not funny."

Blue eyes startled a bit and the woman in the afghan sucked in breath after breath until the laughter subsided. "OK. I’m stopping Sweetheart. When you commence to calling me Maxine I know I’ve crossed the line. Sorry, Baby. I know it really isn’t funny and believe me we’ll get the bitch but you with a potty mouth are just too funny for words. No wait. Don’t look at me like that. Gods, don’t make me laugh again. Please, Gillian. I need to go to the bathroom here."

Now the blonde laughed full throttle. Martha or no Martha this was just too funny for words. There was her lover, wrapped in an afghan, naked, trembling with laughter, legs crossed tightly and trying desperately to get to the bathroom before her bladder burst. "You’re so right, Max. This IS funny."

"Oh great, NOW you laugh." The tall beauty groaned through the toothy grin.

A Little Later…

"That was incredible, Gill. No one can make pancakes taste like you do." Max gushed appreciatively as she carried their plates to the sink and rinsed them.

"They could," Gillian supplied, "If they knew my secret." She grinned wickedly and Max lifted her brow in anticipation, wondering what was coming next.

"Actually, I have a new recipe I’m anxious to try."


"Yeah. It involves pulverized Publisher and lots of barbeque sauce."

"Oh God…" Max snorted and the laugh-fest was on again.

Chapter 11

Max had promised Gillian the entire day and from the looks of the exhausted and adorably snoozing artist they would not be leaving the house anytime soon. After

a delicious breakfast and some teasing banter, one thing had led to another until they found themselves nestled into the soft warmth of the couch, once again.

"Not that I’m complaining, of course. Truth be told, my love, I sometimes wish we could spend every day like this." Max mumbled into the quiet early afternoon.

"Like what?" Gillian asked, slowly stretching her body out against the muscles beneath her.

"Mmm. Like this," came the purring reply as Max pulled her wife even closer to her and gently kissed the top of her head.

"Works for me," Gillian smiled. Rolling to slightly to the inside of the couch so that she was only partially resting on the brunette, Gillian looked up at Max.

"I know that look," Max noted. "What is going through that head of yours? Your forehead is doing that I’m thinking thingie again."

Gillian chuckled. "Oh really? Well, it must do it a lot then because I do tend to think from time to time, you know?"

Pulling them both upright as she came to a sitting position, Max enjoyed Gillian’s sense of humor. Still, before many minutes passed the crease was back.

"Gillian, sweetheart. What are you thinking about?" Max asked.

Sighing a little, the blonde squeezed one side of her mouth back and slightly upward. It was not really a smile but not quite a grimace either. She shook her head lightly and allowed her green eyes to close nearly all the way before answering.

"Max. What are we going to do about Martha? Am I supposed to just sit back and be the sweet little artist-type here while she steals my work, my creation? Max,

I know it is just a painting but that’s not the point. Why did she steal from me, Max? I don’t understand."

All the cursing fury from earlier seemed to have leaked out of the beautiful woman in her arms and Max knew that what she saw now was the dominant part of her lover. This was the Gillian most knew. The rage had subsided leaving in its wake the pain of betrayal and the questions Max, gods help her, didn’t have the answers to; but she would damn well get them.

"Gill, honey. First, I love you. I honestly have no idea what would make anyone hurt you in any way but I promise you we most certainly are NOT going to sit back and be sweet anything while that bitch steals from you. And I do mean WE, my love. Anyone who hurts you hurts me and earns my wrath. As to exactly what we are going to do about Martha, I think we have to think this thing through, my love. Much as I want to just catch her alone and pummel her, I think this calls for a better-orchestrated approach. If I know you, and I kind of think I just might…"Max paused to kiss her wife softly. "I would pretty much bet you will want to not only get back what she stole but make certain she doesn’t repeat it on someone else. To do that, we need to be more than just pissed off victims."

Gillian took Max’s face in both hands and looked deeply into the blue eyes she had longed for all her life. "I love you Max. And you’re right. We need to think like investigators and aren’t I the lucky one? I know just the lady to teach me how to do that?"

"Do you now?" Max teased. "Am I gonna hafta kick my associate’s skinny ass, again?"

"You just stay away from her skinny ass and just how come you know it is skinny anyway, hmmm?" Green eyes flashed pseudo flames.

"Um. Gill. Oh very funny. Don’t do that. You had me going there for a minute. And if I recall it was you who first made note of the skinny... no, wait, I do believe bony was your observation." Max sat them both completely upright, pulling the afghan around the smaller shoulders of her lover. "Well, you really want to do this? Get her, I mean?"

"Yes," came the quiet reply. "Hell yes." Gillian spoke more certainly as she considered the possibility of just letting it go. "Yes."

"OK then. We better get dressed, love. We have work to do." Max was already halfway across the room before Gillian could stand up. "You coming?" The investigator asked.

"On my way," said the artist.

Pulling a pair of Dockers from their closet, the artist wondered aloud: "What in the world is she up to?"

"Pert near six feet. Now you gonna shower and dress or shall we meet the lawyers in the buff?"

"Lawyers? In the bu…oh shit."

"Yes," Max said with a wink. "And guess who’s in it up to her beady little eyeballs?"



Chapter 12

The sign on the door read:

Payne Sisters, Attorneys at Law

"Looks like we’ve come to the right place," Gillian said with a smirk.

"Yeah, I like them already." Max winked.

"Seriously Max. How did you find them? I mean, lawyers make me nervous under the best of circumstances. This is anything but that." Max nodded in affirmation. "Still, I guess seeing an attorney is the next step. Right?"

"I think so." Max opened the heavy wooden door with the smokey topaz-looking glass in it. It reminded her of something out of Mickey Spillane and she had to smile, remembering her old classmate’s fondness for the old paperbacks.

"Max, what are you grinning about? Oh wait," the blonde cocked her head and gave her partner the squinted eye look. It was a look that told the investigator the artist was onto her…as usual. "You didn’t get this address from the yellow pages, did you?"


"And you didn’t get it by calling on your office assistant’s research skills, either. Did you?"


"I’m sensing a theme here, Max. You know these women? The Payne Sisters, Attorneys at Law?" Gillian asked, lowering her brows.

"Um. Well. Kinda. Yes," she finally answered. "Well, I know one of them. The older one. Her name is Brynn. We were room mates in college."

"What?" Gillian asked in genuine surprise. "You studied law?"

"No," came the answer from the doorway. "She did not. Much to her father’s chagrin, as I recall."

The two women had not even noticed the door being opened. Neither was prepared for the reality that stood before them, each for entirely different reasons.

"Brynn?" Max questioned the woman whose well-defined muscles nearly filled the doorway.

"Yeah, it’s me. Look a little different than you remember, I bet." The platinum blonde, with what looked to Gillian to be what her father used to call a crew cut, let go with a deep, rumbling laugh.

"Well, I…"

Gillian looked over at her wife who stood, staring as if she had just seen an alien emerge from the torso of a childhood friend. It would have been more amusing if the spectacle before them wasn’t wearing a skin tight leather mini-skirt, five inch high heels and a sleeveless blouse with better than half the buttons undone. Fortunately, just about the time she was about to interrupt Max’s trip down memory lane, another voice was heard.

"Brynn, do you plan to conduct the entire interview with our new clients standing in the hallway or are we going to be using these expensive chairs, after all?" A tall, reed-thin, brunette peeked around the woman in the doorway and extended her hand. The long freckled arm weaved its way around a sculpted waist and beneath arms, which seemed to believe they were holding up the doorframe. "My name is Roberta Suzanne Payne, but most people just call me Bobbie. If my sister will move her well muscled ass, you can come inside and we’ll sit down."

Brynn rolled her eyes. Max laughed out loud and the women moved into the large office.

Forty-five minutes later, Bobbie stood up and walked to the tall filing cabinet in the far corner.

"Gillian, I think you made the right decision. You and Max, I mean, of course." She amended her phrasing before continuing. "Too often artists’ rights are abused and ignored not because they are not protected under the law but because the artists are just too nice to say anything. Or maybe they think people will think ill of them. Let me tell you what I think about this?"

Gillian nodded.

"As an attorney I have learned to view things a little differently than a lot of people. Sometimes it’s hell on my private life, or it would be if I had one; but in my line of work, it is essential." She smiled and it was a warm, friendly, honest smile. "You see Gillian, from my point of view, your art is your property. Plain and simple. You create it. You own it. In this case, you even hold a registered copyright on it. That makes it your property just the same as if it were a car, a boat or a piece of land. If someone drove off with your car, you would almost certainly call the authorities and have the individual sought and prosecuted. Am I correct?"

"Of course." Both Max and Gillian replied.

"This is the same principal. Only we are fortunate in this case in as much as we won’t need to determine who stole your property. We already know that. I think it will be a fairly simple matter to get this …what was his name again?" She flipped through her notes, having removed some papers from the files and returned to the chair behind the large mahogany desk. "Ah yes, Mr. Ribaldi. Well, I think Mr. Ribaldi will be more than happy to give us a statement when we take a deposition from him. I think we will suggest that he remember that the laws against selling stolen property in this state apply without regard to knowledge that said property was stolen."

"You don’t really think Ruben had anything to do with this, do you?" asked Max.

"No. Actually, I don’t. But I think a strong deposition from him along with a copy of all his records pertaining to the jackets and anything else he may have purchased from this.." Roberta scanned her notes again. "This Martha Isaacs" she continued, "will go a long way to a fast, efficient and just conclusion. Which brings me to something I would like you to think about, Gillian."

"You think she has more things with my work on them?" Gillian asked, clenching her jaw and lowering her browns halfway to her nose.

"I think it is a possibility we need to explore. I am certainly not accusing anyone but I think it would be unwise not to at least investigate that possibility."

Brynn interrupted. "Unless Max has already done that. After all," she winked at Gillian. "That is what Max does, isn’t it?"

Max shifted in her chair. Gillian replied for her. "Yes, she does, as a matter of fact. Max is an excellent investigator. In fact, she was on a case when she discovered this. Though I doubt she will be personally making any more trips to Boulder on the bike any time soon."

"Oh?" Brynn lifted her brows in curiosity. "Is there a problem, Max?"


Max’s vocabulary skills seemed to have flown out the window as her clever wife gently tapped the base of her spine with a fingertip. The reminder of the recent injury to the area was not nearly so distracting as the memory of how it occurred.

"Max?" Roberta asked.

"Oh nothing," she mumbled. "I just kinda hurt my back recently so, um, another long bike ride is probably not a good idea for a while."

"Really?" Brynn teased.

Bobbie cleared her throat and leaned forward across the desk, gently sliding some papers toward the others. "I don’t really think we will need to pursue this one very far anyway. I suspect Mr. Ribaldi will be a very cooperative witness. It is, after all, in his own best interest. If you will both look this over I think we can go ahead and get started on this. I do think though, Gillian, that it is important for you to sit down and think about what you really would like to see done with this publisher."

Gillian scrunched her blonde brows.

"What I mean is, you need to decide whether you want her prosecuted for copyright infringement. Do you want her to be punished by the courts? Do you just want her to pay damages as well as make restitution for what she, effectively, stole from you? Would you like us to explore ways to assure she doesn’t do this again? There are many possible approaches here and one does not eliminate the other, in this case. However, before we can attempt to get what you want, we must all know what it is and agree to it."

"I see what you mean." Gillian replied. "Well, I think I know what I want to do. Can I call you tomorrow on that? I do know that I absolutely want her to stop using my work immediately. I want her to return everything to me that she had created with my work. I want her to be forced to show me exactly how much she has earned from MY work and I want her to admit she stole from me."

"I think that is a good starting place." Bobbie said.

"This is our standard retainer," Brynn explained as they looked over the paperwork. "It basically says you have hired us to represent you in a legal matter involving copyright infringement. It details our prices and allows us to file legal papers, as needed. I think it’s all pretty straight forward."

The Payne sisters sat quietly and waited while Max and Gillian carefully read the paperwork then signed.

Chapter 13

Gillian had been unusually quiet on the way home and Max was pretty sure it meant she had a lot on her mind.

They had been asked to leave the jackets with the attorneys, which Max had expected. It was important that the evidence be in safe hands, Brynn had explained. Gillian seemed surprised by the comment but Bobbie has assured her it was a fairly routine procedure, at least in their office. Since the property that had been stolen was what the law referred to as "Intellectual Property" there was no actual requirement to phone the police. Rather, the Payne sisters would handle that end of things. Gillian had seemed both relieved and disappointed by that little detail.

"You okay?" Max asked.

Gillian looked away from the window she had been absently staring out of, and smiled. "Yeah, I’m fine. Just thinking."

"Penny for your thoughts?"

"I think we just spent enough of your pennies, thank you very much." Gillian attempted to joke but Max wasn’t buying any.

"Oh? You think a $1500 was too high? You don’t think the painting is worth that much? What about the reputation you have spent decades building? Besides, we’ll get the money back when we win the case. Personally, I was prepared to give them double that, at least and would have considered it a bargain."

"You would?" Gillian asked.

Pulling into the long drive to their house, Max stopped the car and turned to her wife. "Yes, I would. And before you even say it, the answer is no. It is not just because I love you and am mad at Martha."

Gillian closed her eyes softly and then opened them again.

"Oh, I do love you and I am mad at Martha. But this is about a lot more than that, ya know?" Max turned completely in the seat so she could face Gillian. "This is one of those rare times in our life when we get a chance to stand up for something just because it is right. That painting is yours. It belongs to you. You created it. You allowed this woman to use it with the understanding that it would be one time only and strictly as a book cover. You did not give her the copyright. You even registered that yourself and you are the sole owner of the work and all the rights to it. It makes me angry that you had even discussed this with the bitch beforehand and she did this anyway."

"I know. That really hurts the most, I think. I did this as a favor to her, to help her out. I wanted to help her get the company started so I did the painting and gave her use of it without payment. All I asked was that she use it only the one time, credit me with the work and sign the paper to that effect. I knew it wasn’t notarized or witnessed. It was supposed to be just for our records, an agreement between friends. I guess that’s part of what’s bugging me, Max. I feel really stupid."

The investigator pulled her partner close and held her tenderly. "You are anything but stupid, Love. You didn’t tell me you had a signed paper."

"I guess I forgot. Is it important?"

"It might be. We’ll call Bobbie later and tell her, just in case. I think the main thing to do now is think about what you would most like to see happen. What would be the best possible outcome, your best case scenario?"

"I suppose the death penalty is too much to hope for," Gillian snickered.

Max shook slightly from the chuckle that moved both their bodies. It was infectious. She laughed. "Well, I don’t know for sure of course but I don’t seem to recall the state of Colorado putting anyone to death recently for being a lying, stealing, deceitful BITCH. Still," she reasoned. "You never know."

Much later that night, Gillian turned in the large bed and laid her head on Max’s back.



"I know what I want now."


"Yeah, I…. Max! You are such a brat. I mean from Martha. I know what I want to come out of all this."

"Oh. Good." She turned over and looked into the warm eyes she had seen in her dreams long before she knew they were real. "Tell me. Please?"

Sitting up in bed, the artist began. "First, I want someone to do a full investigation and an audit or whatever it takes to determine exactly what has been produced using my artwork. Then I want all the items to be either given to me or all the proceeds from their sale deposited into an account set up for this very purpose. As part of that I also want her to be forced to publish a statement admitting that she knowingly used my artwork without my permission and in direct violation of our agreement."

"Honey, you must know she will fight you on that. I mean, I agree with you completely but it would make it very hard for her to get any other artists to work for her. Not that that’s a bad thing." Noting the determined look on the face next to her, she nodded. "Okay. Go on. What else?"

"I want her to give the book a new book cover because I want my work back."


"No. I mean it. I want it back."

"Okay. What else?"

"I want someone to make sure that she hasn’t done the same thing to other people, too. I want her to have to give me back my work, admit she stole it, be completely audited, and investigated or whatever. I want her to have to pay me what she earned by the illegal use of my work. I want her to have to admit publicly that she is a thief. A good for nothing, sneak around in the dark, lie to your face, stab you in the back, fucking thief."

"Okay Baby. I’m sure Bobbie and Brynn can find a way to write that all down in a nice legal way."

"Shut up, Max."

"Okay. I love you."

"I love you, too."

"Night, Gillian."

"Night, Max."


Ruben Ribaldi stepped out from the back room when he heard the door open to the bike shop. It was early yet and most of his regular customers didn’t come around until at least ten or so. He took another drink from his lager breakfast and looked around to see who had come inside.

"Mr. Ribaldi?"

The tall woman with muscles for days came from the other side of the aisle. The large man wondered what lucky star he had slept under that gorgeous women seemed to have discovered his little shop, all of a sudden.

"That’s me," he grinned, not noticing the woman hide a cringe. "What can I do you for?"

"Nothing. I mean, I’d like to ask you a few questions about someone you do business with, Mr. Ribaldi. Is there some place we could talk?" Brynn tried not to get too close to the man who seemed unacquainted with soap and water as a combination.

"What kinda questions? Someone I do business with? Like who? You from the FBI or something? Yeah, we can talk in the back room if you like." He motioned back the way he had come.

Thinking better of her suggestion, Brynn adjusted her approach. "No. That’s okay. Right over here by the counter is fine. My name is Brynn Payne, Mr. Ribaldi. I represent someone who believes one of your suppliers may have misrepresented some of the items she sold you. Do you keep records on all your suppliers, Mr. Ribaldi?" Brynn was doing her utmost to keep the large fan behind her and not behind the man who carried his breakfast in a tall metal can.

"Name’s Ruben. Yeah, I keep records. I write down everything since the damn audit a couple years back. Damn tax people anyway. You trying to say I done bought something what weren’t exactly for sale?"

"Not exactly, Mr…Ruben. My client is not saying the items were not presented to you as if they were genuinely for sale. Rather, we maintain that you have been an unwilling party to the fraud. In other words, you have been duped." The lawyer waited to see if she got the response she expected. She was not disappointed. Men could be so easy, she sighed.

"Duped, you say. So someone done stole from your client and used me to do it? That what yer saying?"

Brynn smiled. Easy, she thought, but not stupid. "Yes, Ruben. That is essentially what we suspect. Might you be willing to speak with us about this matter, perhaps allow us to view the files?"

"Us?" He asked, looking around. "You got someone hid in your briefcase, cause you sure as hell cain’t have nothing up yer sleeve…ner nothing else as far as I can tell." He winked.

Brynn did her silent mantra. Do not puke. Do not puke. You can do this. Do not puke.

"Well?" Ruben wondered aloud.

"Oh. No," she assured him, trying to smile. "I didn’t bring anyone with me today. I was referring to my law firm. We would like to question you in our office, on the record, of course. Naturally," she continued. "We will pay any expenses you incur to make the trip and take the time away from work. Would this afternoon be convenient?"

"Well, now. I s’pect I first need to know who it is you’re asking about before I know if I even have the …er…records. What exactly is it I’m s'posed to have sold?"

"Leather jackets."

"Honda Heaven leather jackets?" He asked. "I knowed there was something fishy about that whole deal. That Miss Isaacs dame, she ain’t right, is she?"

"Isaacs dame?" asked Brynn.

"Yeah, some publisher I think. Sells me these jackets and shit and then calls me up wanting to buy them all back. Got real nasty about it too when I told her I had sold them all to one person. A real looker, that one."

Brynn smiled. She would have bet the farm she knew who that was. "Did you keep records of all your dealings with Ms. Isaacs?"

"Hell yeah, I got records. Where I gotta go for this?" he asked.

Carefully laying a business card onto the counter, Brynn answered. Here is our address. I don’t think you will have any problem finding us but if you do, just call. How about if we make it 4:30 this afternoon? Just bring all your paperwork and a receipt for you gas and parking and you will be reimbursed for the cost of the trip, Mr. Ribaldi."

Before he could say anything more she had turned and was gone.

"I knew that woman was gonna be trouble from the look in them purdy blue eyes. I wonder what I done got myself into this time."


The special delivery had arrived by courier only minutes earlier. Martha Isaacs was accustomed to delivery people but this was only an envelope and she had been asked to sign for it. Experience had taught her this was not a good thing. Trying not to be too obvious, Martha glanced at the return address: Payne Sisters, Attorneys at Law, Denver Office. After zipping open the large cardboard, serving primarily as a protection for the contents, she reached for her letter opener and slid it across the top of the brown envelope, exposing the papers inside. The first touch of her fingers to the pages told her the sender meant business.

There was no mistaking the texture of fine linen stationery or the raised letters in the letterhead. Martha knew before she had even fully withdrawn it from the envelope that someone had hired a real lawyer. The question in her mind was who, but a little voice in the back of her head mocked her with a Vroom Vroom.

Carefully removing the letter, her eyes traced to the "RE:" section near the top of the first page. Immediately her shoulders dropped and she sat down in the worn fake leather chair to read.

Dear Ms. Isaacs:

This letter serves notice that this firm has been retained by Ms. Gillian Montgomery to investigate and find legal resolution for copyright infringement.

Our client is prepared to show documentation of a legal agreement, signed and dated by both of you. A third party, you will recall, also witnessed this agreement. We are further prepared to show documentation and physical evidence of the illegal and unauthorized use of copyrighted material, specifically defined within the aforementioned agreement. Additionally, we will be taking depositions in the next few days from other persons who have become involved, knowingly or unknowingly, in the fraud committed against our client.

Our client is prepared to take advantage of federal copyright laws as well as other laws protecting intellectual property from theft and misuse.

Please be advised that this firm will use all the resources at our disposal as well as any and all laws currently in force to identify and resolve this situation. It is our intent to launch a full and complete

investigation into this matter. To that end, we have filed an injunction to stop any and all use by you or your companies from using or selling anything with either the artwork of our client or any reasonable likeness thereof. We expect you will be served shortly with a summons for the upcoming hearing.

Please address any reply to our offices and do not make any attempt to contact our client personally. Thank you for your prompt attention in this matter.


Roberta Suzanne Payne

Roberta Suzanne Payne,

Attorney at Law

"Shit," was all Martha could say before the doorbell rang again. "Great," she muttered. "What now?"

"Ms. Martha Isaacs?" asked the Sheriff’s Deputy standing on her front steps.

"Yes," came the resigned reply. There was no point in denying who she was; he could read her name on the doorplate.

After the deputy left, Martha tossed the summons onto her desk, next to the letter from the lawyer’s office. She knew what it was. She had received them before, but never quite like this. No. This time she was going to have to do more than spin a tale or two and buy someone a new Television or Laptop. Well, they were new; they just didn’t exactly come from the local Sears Store. Pouring her fifth cup of coffee before ten o’clock, she considered who she could call upon to bail her out this time. Finally settling on an old bowling buddy, she sat down and dialed the phone.

Chapter 14

David had insisted Martha go through her files and locate the "agreement" to which the attorney referred. He asked her to put all the information she had that even remotely related to the woman the lawyer represented and meet him for lunch at a small sandwich shop downtown. She had reluctantly agreed.

Charlie’s Diner was one of Gillian’s favorite lunch spots so the publisher spent the first minute or so visually checking all the tables and booths for any sign of the artist. Relieved not to find her, she nodded at her friend David Graham.

"That the file?" he asked, pulling out a chair and nodding. "Hope you don’t mind. I ordered us some tea."

"No problem. I love ice tea," she lied with a smile. "Yes, this is the file you asked me to bring. There’s not much to it really. Just the one paper we signed a while back and some notes on the title she did the cover art for, promotional stuff mostly. You think this is anything I need to worry about? Could you tell anything from the stuff I faxed you?"

Looking up from the file, over the top of his dark framed glasses, he shrugged. "Hard to say without looking this over, Martha." He wrinkled his brow and narrowed his vision momentarily before setting the file back down and looking directly at the woman.

"What?" she asked, trying to act nonchalant. "Is something wrong? Did I forget to bring something?"

David Graham lifted his tall glass and sipped, never losing eye contact with the woman who wanted to be his client. Slowly, he returned the glass to the brightly checked vinyl tablecloth. "Tell me something Martha," he said. "Did you intend to steal this woman’s work all along or was that an afterthought when you realized people would pay for anything with her cover on it?"

"Steal? I’m sure I.."

"Save it. I don’t really want to know anyway. It isn’t pertinent to what you originally asked me. No, I will not represent you and yes, you need to worry."

Martha Isaacs drank huge gulps of the iced tea she hated and never even noticed until she had drained the glass.

"As it happens," he continued. "I know Bobbie Payne and her sister Brynn. They are damn good attorneys, Martha. Some of the best Denver has to offer, in fact. But that is not why I won’t represent you. It isn’t even because I don’t think I could win. It is because it is clear to me, based on the way this agreement is worded and written, that you took advantage of someone who trusted you. This is someone who thought of you as a friend. Someone who was trying to help out a friend. You are not only a thief, Martha. You are the worst kind of a thief. You are a thief without a conscience."

Without ever ordering lunch, David Graham picked up his briefcase, tossed a ten-dollar bill on the table and left the restaurant.

A young waiter, who had been watching and listening carefully, approached the woman. "Something to eat? Another tea perhaps?" He glanced down at the file, lying open, to see the 8 by 10 of a painting he recognized. It was the cover of a book he had bought just so he could have the artist sign it. Honda Heaven. He didn’t even notice the customer leave.

Chapter 15

Three weeks later, Martha was still trying to figure out what to do. She wanted to find some way to make the whole situation just go away, preferably without losing too much of her precious cash in the process. It was not looking good on that front. She had already contacted the Payne Sisters with an offer to take the book with the cover in question out of print, post on her website than through an error on her part the author’s work had been used without permission and issue an apology in that public forum. She even offered to pay the artist royalties on the sales of any items using her work. Gillian, through her attorneys, had declined her offers and issued a letter stating the terms she would accept. It was not, the letter said, negotiable.

Ruben had phoned Martha so many times in the last few weeks the woman had almost gotten used to his calls. That thought alone sent a shiver up her spine. He was concerned that the people who were making plans to audit all her books would be heading his way soon. Not that he had done anything wrong but he just didn’t need any nosey accountant types messing around his shop. He told her all about the two different times he had gone to the Payne Sisters’ offices and all about the questions they asked him. Ruben informed Martha that they had videotaped and recorded both meetings and that they made him identify the leather jackets he’d bought from her. He said they had also found the mugs and tee shirts in the back where she had told him to hide them until this was all over.

"Could this man be any more stupid?" She wondered aloud.

It didn’t really matter anyway and she knew it. According to the four different law students she’d asked her best bet would be to settle before the hearing. They had all agreed that if this went to a hearing the judge would issue the injunction and she would be in for a lot more than losing a few hundred bucks.

Martha had laughed inwardly at the foolishness of the students. It was more like a few thousand bucks and that wasn’t the half of it. Getting unknown artists and authors to work with her was easy. They were always so anxious to please, to make a name for themselves. If this got out it the press might pick up on it. Then where would she be? Finally, she resigned herself to the fact she was not going to win this one. She would meet with Gillian and her attorneys and hope she could walk away without having to close the company altogether. At this point, even bankruptcy was a better option that a full audit and investigation. After all, Gillian was only one of the artists whose work she had been using.


Everyone listened to the clicking of the publisher’s high heeled shoed as she approached the door to the office. Max stood up, crossed over to where Gillian sat and perched on the arm of the perfectly upholstered chair.

"Really, Max. I think we can find another chair." Brynn chided. One look at the darkening irises told her it was not a good day to kid with the investigator. "Whatever," she remarked as she walked to open the outer door.

Ruben sat quietly in the corner; in the newly acquired Lazy boy recliner that Max was certain had been purchased just to keep the unwashed man from sitting on Brynn’s precious furniture.

Bobbie was finishing the copies of the documents they were there to sign. This would be settled and Martha would have to acknowledge what she had done. She would have to pay the legal fees, which were no small matter since Max had hired one of the most expensive legal teams she knew. The publisher would be saved a full audit in exchange for a list of every author and artist she had ever worked with as well as her understanding and full agreement, in writing, that Gillian would personally speak with each of those on the list. If even one of them were found to have had work stolen, the investigation and audit would begin anew, with a vengeance. Any monies earned from the illegal sale of Gillian’s work would be replaced within one calendar year and placed in a fund over which Gillian would have exclusive and complete control and discretion.

All in all, Martha thought it could have been a lot worse. She quickly scrawled her name on the documents and headed back toward the door, having never so much as taken a seat.

Stepping in front of the escaping publisher, Max lowered her voice to a soft rumble. "I’ll be watching you….BITCH!"

"Max!" Gillian scolded. "This is over with now. I thought you weren’t mad any more."

Max draped a long arm across Gillian’s shoulders. The artist smiled, noting that the light had returned to her favorite blue eyes.

"Oh, I’m not mad baby. I’m as calm and sane as the day is long. In fact, the only thing longer is my memory."

She whispered the last part as her eyes narrowed to thin slits just as they hit their mark. The unspoken warning had been delivered. Mad Max and the publisher had reached an understanding. There was no mistaking that look and both women knew that the tall woman didn’t need to say the words for them to be fully understood.

As Martha eased through the doorway and out of the building, Max could not resist saying it out loud, whether she needed to or not.

"No one messes with Gillian. No one."


Floating unseen by human eyes, just above the little group, Mysti: Mistress of Dreams shakes her head softly.

"Those two," she smiles. "Some things just never change."

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About the Author

Sam Ruskin, like most of us, is different things to everyone. Whether the sky is blue, gray, orange or filled with the brilliant colors of a rainbow, depends on where you are standing at any given moment. So it is with people. Sam would tell you that, at 52, she is very much a work in progress.

Born prematurely in Tampa, Florida, her first days of life proved her to be what her Granny called a scrapper. A dream in recent years revealed that her animal spirit or totem animal is the badger. Her partner says this describes her to a T.

Let a badger set its mind on a goal and nothing will take it from its path, at least not for long.

Dare 2 Dream Publishing began as little more than a pipe dream, a hope of one day helping worthy but overlooked writers see their work published. Today, Sam often spends 18 and 20-hour days making that dream a reality.

She lives, with her partner and a multitude of critters, in South Carolina.