Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 25
Four things happened simultaneously in and around Brambles as Harley and Emily pulled into the driveway of the Ravensdown home.
The first was the phone call to the Sheriffs office informing the deputy there was trouble at the Pechters place out on the south end of Bender, and to get the Doc out there right away.
The second was the phone call from his superior to the nondescript man who dialed the code in hours before.
The third was the phone call from Stephanie Croft to her Aunt Twyla to inform her that she arrived at her house on Old Orchard and would be at the Nest for dinner that night.
The fourth was the decision Emily made to push it with Harley.
Harley found herself pulling into the curving driveway of her parents home with reluctance. Shed really enjoyed her day with Emily.
Not like I havent enjoyed every day Ive spent with her.
Today had, she admitted to herself, kind of settled something for her. She had no clue what. It wasnt that clear to her, but it somehow felt different calmer somehow.
She stopped the vehicle and went around the hood to help her injured friend to the door. Shed noticed the younger womans silence in the last hour or so of their trip and felt a moments self-recrimination for having forgotten her injury until she saw the weary lines of discomfort furrowing themselves on the blondes brow.
They were about to enter the house when Emily stopped Harley by placing a hand to the Sheriffs chest.
She turned and was about ask what was on her mind, when she got her answer, full in the face.
Emily fisted her hand and balled up a chunk of the soft blue sweater, pulling the taller woman down to her lips.
Then she kissed her.
This kiss was a doozie.
It was smack on, full pressure, heart stopping, and breath stealing.
In only seconds, the blonde was pressing for entrance into her victims mouth and Harley had no choice but to open to her. The feel of Emilys tongue licking and pressing along her own made her feel like she was falling backward and telescoping down and the whole damn world was the blondes mouth.
Emily was just as enraptured. Shed planned to do this as they pulled up to the house. She knew she wasnt going to let the woman get away again with out kissing her, really kissing her. She knew all that and went for it, but she sure as hell never anticipated this.
The kiss had taken on a life of its own and she was just going along for the ride. Never had a mouth felt so soft or warm. Never had the breath or taste of anyone else made her feel like she stopped existing except for the kiss she was in now. It just never felt so good.
The tongue playing with her own felt to Harley like silk and satin, velvet and fire, and it was everywhere all at once. She was responding to the kiss as she felt her own tongue try to press back into Emilys mouth.
Then they began to feel it grow, that feeling, that wonderful sexual tingle that ran straight down from the base of the neck to ignite like an explosion between their legs.
Their thoughts were the same, though neither knew it, as equal exclamations of Jesus! went unspoken but silently screamed, until they both felt the swaying and had to grab each other to keep from falling.
Harley was amazed at herself. She never had her knees go out on her before.
Emily had, but never when she was sober, so she too was shocked.
And they both were deeply disappointed that the kiss was over.
Emily managed to smile around her own jumbled thoughts and weakened knees as she croaked. "Now! That was a kiss!"
Harley could only nod and murmur, closed mouthed, "Um hmm." She shook her head and willed her knees to hold her as she took long steps as fast as she could heading for the safety of the truck.
"Later," was all she could manage to say as she threw all her energy into escape and gunned the SUV down the driveway and out on the road.
Emily had a half second of being hurt before the condition of the other woman sunk in, then she just smiled wryly and shook her head.
She turned to the door and grasped the knob as she whispered to herself, "Yeah, later."
Harley kept reminding herself to breathe and rolled down the windows for as much air as she could get. Suddenly that rush of cold air made her recognize the goose bumps she was wearing and that the cold had nothing to do with them.
She glanced down automatically at the dash and realized she was going too fast. She started to slow down and then decided she needed to stop completely and get herself together.
She pulled over to the side of the road and just sat there for a while. She tried, she really did, she kept trying to tell herself to stop that and think about the consequences of what just happened, but the cascading ripple of the memory of that kiss, and all its effects on her body kept rolling over her like a riptide.
She had no idea how long she sat there and no idea how long her cell phone had been ringing when she finally noticed it and took in a deep breath to answer. Her only conscious thought was, maybe its her.
It wasnt. It was Cole and she needed to ask him to repeat himself twice before she understood what he was saying. Then she closed the phone and put the truck in gear to meet him at Polly Pechters.
Emily was having her own kind of aphasia as she entered the Ravensdown home.
She more or less made her rambling way to the staircase, completely unaware of the couple watching her and of Twyla speaking to her.
She made it, with help from the banister, up to the third step of the grand staircase when she heard the shrill whistle of her hostess.
She snapped back to the world around her and noticed for the first time Twyla and a man who could only be Josh Ravensdown looking up at her from the foyer.
"Well, thats better." Twyla said. "I was worried I might have to hose you down to get your attention." She grinned and raised an eyebrow in perfect imitation of her daughter. The sight brought a smile to Emilys face, which by now was blushing a deep pink. "I guess you two kind of worked out your differences then?"
When Emily didnt respond beyond opening and closing her mouth, Twyla continued.
"Would it be safe to say it was a good day for you both?"
Finally, Emily had no recourse but to find her voice. The writer cleared her throat and answered, "Uhm, yeah, it was pretty good. At least the last part." With that, she let the grin grow that was just aching to present itself.
Twyla clapped her hands together and shouted, "Oohee, you go girl!"
Josh took that as his opportunity and stepped forward a bit. "You would be the lovely Emily Cutter Ive been hearing about, I assume? Josh Ravensdown." He sketched a brief bow.
Emily returned the mans smile.
"Of course you are. I would have known you anywhere."
"I take it then, that the smile on your face has my Mongoose written all over it?"
Emily had to laugh at that. "Yeah, I guess so."
"Okay, now Josh, you let her get upstairs and cool down a bit and then you" pointing to the writer, "come on down here when youre not so pink and have a drink with us." Twyla paused and scrunched her forehead in thought. "Oh, wait. Are you still taking the pain pills? You shouldnt drink if you "
"No, no. Im fine. Im still in a bit of pain but I hate the way they make me feel; kind of not all here, so I havent taken any today. Maybe a drink will be just the thing to take the edge off. Just," she couldnt seem to hide the grin so she looked down and started again, this time talking to the floor, "Just let me have a minute and Ill, uhm, be right down."
She turned and made her way up the rest of the stairs as quickly as she thought she could, given that even now, her knees felt hollow and shaky.
Twyla and Josh grinned at each other and then wrapping their arms around each other, they slowly walked back into the front parlor.
"Savvy, are you ever gonna get out of that tub and get dressed? Were supposed to meet them at the Nest at six-thirty and its almost six now."
Stephanie Croft leaned against the door jam of the master bathroom, trying hard not to smile at the sight of her tall, slim, beautiful lover reclining in the tub.
"Be tranquil, mon petit. We will be there by and by."
The long fingers of her left hand brought the glass of White Zinfandel to her lips as she sipped in the cold liquid. She closed her eyes and let the fingers of her right hand trace the condensation down the side of the glass. As she rested her head more comfortably against the bath pillow, she said. "Besides, its my down time. You know how I hate that drive up here from L.A., especially in rush hour traffic."
Stephanie watched as the older woman pouted and had to resist the urge to lick the sheen of wine from those perfect lips.
She crossed the room to kneel at the side of the tub. Taking the wine glass from her partners hand, she leaned in enough to give into her desires and licked the wine from her lips before giving her an intense open-mouthed kiss.
She pulled away before they both lost themselves in it and repeated, "Time to get out and get dressed."
Stephanie smiled mischievously as she tried to back up and away and found herself caught by two deceptively strong hands. Without opening her eyes, Savvy said, "For this, you will pay!" Bringing her face forward and finding Stephanies lips unerringly before moments later she broke the kiss and finally opened her honey-brown eyes to stare intently into the blue gray ones before her. "Later!" Then she too smiled and lifted herself from the water, letting the bubbles and water sheet down her body.
Stephanie almost decided to call her aunt and beg off for the night. The sight of Savvy wet always did that to her. She tore her gaze from the six and a half feet of shiny café au lait skin and caught that knowing look in her lovers eyes. That did it.
"Okay, you, enough trying to seduce me into not meeting my familial obligations. Were going to dinner at the Nest and thats that." She stood resolutely and walked out the door.
"Of course we are, Darling. Whatever made you think otherwise?"
Harley arrived at the Pechters just in time to see the helicopter lift off from the clear space in the back yard. Just seeing it and knowing that Hobie would never have called for it if it wasnt a life threatening emergency started her adrenaline to flow.
She hurriedly slammed the car into park and made a run for the front door as her sister-in-law opened it for her.
"Kitchen," was all Kath said.
Harley turned left and found her brothers sitting at the table.
"Fill me in." She took the first chair she found and sat in it heavily as Kath followed her in the room and went to the coffee pot.
Hobie and Cole looked to each other and Cole nodded to Hobie to start.
"Shes got a fractured skull. Looks like someone hit her at the base of her skull from behind but I dont know with what. She was too severely injured to treat here. Without pictures, I cant say for sure, but my guess is severe intra-cranial bleeding and concussion. She was unconscious when I got here and never came around before the copter left." He stopped to sip his coffee and sat back to relax for the first time since Cole called him. "Thats all I know so far. Well have to see what the docs at UCLA say after her admit."
Harley nodded and turned to Cole as Kath sat a cup of coffee in front of the sheriff.
"I got a call about," he brought his watch up to check the time, "Fifteen minutes ago from Hank Stevens. Hed been out in the back looking for the shoe Amarice threw when he heard Merry Louise howling for all she was worth. Thinking maybe the poor dog had gotten hurt somehow he came down to their property line to investigate. Kept following the howling until he found her standing over Pollys body. He got the dog to calm down and let him get near Polly and saw she was hurt and called us. I came right out and called Hobie to do the same. We arrived at the same time." He picked up his own empty cup and went to refill it.
"We found her in the back yard about seven feet from the door. I dont think she knew what hit her." He finished pouring and took a sip, turning to lean back on the counter. "I couldnt see anything out there that gave a clue about who or what might have done it. Its a damn shame shes such a good gardener. With all the dry weather weve had lately if her lawn wasnt so thick, we might have seen a footprint in the dirt or something. Guess we can be grateful that the grass out there is so thick that when she fell, it cushioned her landing. Thats all so far." He set his cup down and inclined his head toward the rear door.
"Want to take a look? Youre much better at the whole crime scene thing than I am."
Harley nodded and stood, as did Hobie.
"Ive got to get back to the office. Ill call down to UCLA and let them know Im her doctor, and have them call me as soon as they know her condition."
Harley smiled and gripped his arm. "Thanks, Bro." She hugged Kath and moved toward the kitchen door as Hobie and Kath turned to leave.
Harleys eyes were everywhere and she made several mental notes as Cole opened the back door for her.
"Hank took Merry Louise to stay at his place until Polly gets back home." His face was set and serious as he offered this information.
Harley had to consciously bite back the smile she felt when her veterinarian brother put his obvious priority out there as though it was the most relevant of issues.
She nodded just as seriously. "Thats good."
Then she set herself to absorb as much of the crime scene as she could and walked through the door.
Emily sat on the bed once again going over her choices of attire.
Shed washed her face and removed the blush she wore by making a conscious choice not to think about the kiss until she was alone later.
Knowing that Twyla and Josh Ravensdown were waiting for her downstairs, she stripped as quickly as she could and finally decided on the easiest thing to get on with one arm in a cast. She didnt expect to see Harley tonight and wasnt expecting to go anywhere so she slipped on a pair of loose legged beige cotton pants that only required a pull of the drawstring to close and a hip length, loose weave chenille pullover in beige, brown and black tweed.
She took one last look in the mirror and pleased to see the blush gone, ran a brush through her hair, adjusted the cowl neck to suit her and sprayed a tiny spritz of cologne beneath each ear.
Leaving the room, she couldnt help but smile at the opportunity to finally talk to the man who sired such a remarkable family. Barring any unforeseen character flaws, she expected to like him very much.
"Ah, there she is," Twyla said.
Like the gentleman he was, Josh was on his feet and across the room taking Emily gently by the elbow and leading her to the large brocade chair adjacent to the love seat he shared with Twyla.
"Now, what can I get you this evening?" He stepped behind the cherry wood bar in the corner.
Uhm." Emily had to think this one through. She hadnt had a single drink since arriving and wasnt sure how too much liquor would affect her. She wanted to take the edge off the throbbing ache in her wrist but she didnt want to run the risk of letting the booze do her thinking for her. "May I have scotch and soda, please?"
"You most certainly may." Josh began to mix and pour like a pro. "I knew this girl and I would get along fine. Anyone who drinks scotch is my kind of person."
Emily noticed the bottle and was glad shed asked for this drink. That scotch was at least thirty-five years old and very smooth. Shed had younger scotch and would, when in a mood to get blind, drink nearly anything, but this scotch, was scotch, the way it should be. Her mouth watered as she waited.
"Twyla, was I as out of it as I think I was when I came here with you yesterday because I dont remember seeing that bar here before."
The older woman leaned over enough to pat her knee gently.
"No dear, it wasnt here yesterday. Well, it was but it was hidden. Its one of Joshs improvements. He wanted the whole house as realistically depicted as it was in the movie, but the practicalities of the place just didnt work for our lifestyle so he had them build the bar and then hide it. You just have to move that landscape above the mantle a smidgeon to the left and the wall to the right of the fireplace opens, and swings around to bring the bar into the room."
Emily looked at the bar again and realized it was sitting on a platform. She remembered yesterday when she toured the house that only a wall with art had been in that spot before. Now it was a fully stocked bar with a sink and bar stools backed by mirrored shelves filled with liquor bottles and beautiful crystal glasses. Then it hit her.
"She got it from you, didnt she?" She smiled at Josh as he started back to her holding out her drink as he resumed his seat.
Realizing that his sometimes-reticent daughter must have shown the writer her secret doors and rooms, he spoke.
"I suppose she did." He took a sip of his own scotch. "I think she and I share that need to maybe hide something of ourselves." He smiled at her engagingly. "Maybe, its more like wanting to play a little trick on the rest of the world."
"Whatever it is, its okay by me, Honey." Twyla leaned into her husband. "I kind of like that little boy who likes to hide." She watched, as the blush she knew would come appeared. For as far back as shed known him, only Twlya could make this tall, confident man blush and she did it as often as she could get away with it.
"Thanks, Cookie. I can always depend on you." He smiled and hugged hard.
They shared a few minutes of conversation with Emily relating the days events and Josh asking a few pertinent questions as they sipped their drinks.
"Well, Emily, when youre ready we should be heading on out to dinner. With Josh home I normally would have cooked for him but Stephanie came up for the weekend today and she just wont hear of me cooking after working at the Nest all week. Since I promised her you and I would have dinner with her she insisted on meeting at the Nest."
Emily nodded, took one last loving sip of the aged scotch and stood.
"Ready when you are." She started to return the glass to the bar when Josh took it from her.
"Ladies, get your wraps and Ill clean up here a bit and meet you at the car.
Harley sat alone at Pollys kitchen table and tried to put together all the puzzle pieces she had.
Cole left for the office after they toured the back yard and turned up nothing of significance.
She knew several things that Cole didnt.
Polly was looking for help. Harley had known the woman for years and her attention to detail was well known. She would never have let so many things go unless they happened so fast they overwhelmed her. Her back yard fence was down in several places and, looking at the numbers listed on the notepad by the phone, shed been calling or was going to call Ches Pontry, the town handyman to repair it. She knew the other numbers that were book marked in the small Bramble phone book meant Polly had called the electric company as well.
The Pechter place was old and something breaking down wouldnt be unusual, but a lot of things had been neglected lately.
Harley noticed a thin layer of dust on the otherwise immaculate womans piano and tables in the living room. Beyond the broken length of fencing, there was the lock to the shed that looked like it was just barely attached and the collection of paper tissues she found in all the rooms of the house, wadded up and set down next to every place to sit.
Polly was a creature of habit. Everyday she did the same things in the same order and the only time Harley saw the woman get stressed was just after her husband was diagnosed and the first week or so after Edna, her best friend, passed unexpectedly.
The most telling thing was the appearance of weeds in Pollys prized begonia beds. The woman took great pride in them and worked everyday on them from two to four in the afternoon. It was a clear sign of stress in the older woman.
It was now Harleys job to find out why.
They had been seated no less than two minutes when Emily heard the voice of her publisher and looked up to see Stephanie across the table.
"Hey, girl. Any new broken bones or attacks by crazy people since Tuesday?"
Emily smiled as her publisher approached the table. Before she could answer, Josh was on his feet engulfing the small woman in a hug. As soon as he relinquished Stephanie to Twylas hugs, he turned to a very tall black woman behind Stephanie and did the same.
Emily was still waiting to speak as Twyla took her niece into her arms and kissed her, exchanging greetings and the usual banter loved ones say to one another when they havent seen them in too long.
Emily was still fascinated by the way both Josh and Twyla were now making over the very beautiful black stranger Stephanie was beaming at.
As Stephanie took a seat next to Emily, the writer watched as the other woman seated herself next to the publisher and leaned across her.
"How do you do, Ms. Cutter? Im Savatheda Belvoir and Im a big fan of your books."
Emily had to return the smile the woman gave her. Her eyes got big as she took in the luminous beauty of the tall woman.
"Thank you, Ms. Belvoir, its nice to meet you too. Do you work with Stepahanie?"
Stephanie started to laugh and began to speak but Savatheda beat her to the punch.
Shaking her head as she placed her napkin on her lap she said, "Not in the publishing business, Im afraid, only as a domestic, Ms. Cutter."
Both the Ravensdowns laughed at that and Stephanie slapped at her shoulder and said, "Brat, as if! Like you even know how to do dishes."
She turned to Emily and explained. "Pay no attention to Miss. Fibber here, Shasta. Shed starve if she had to do housework for a living. Savvy is my partner."
"Domestic partner, darling, and believe me its work. Nice work, but still " Savvy added as she put her arm around the smaller womans shoulders and leaned in for a kiss on her cheek.
Once again Emily was struck with how insulated and ego driven her life had been for the last several years. She knew this woman fairly well, she thought. She and Stephanie had worked closely together for hundreds of hours over the years, either editing or her books or discussing promotions and sales.
Emily knew that Stephanie knew plenty about her life away from the business and had been in the embarrassing position of having to bail her out of more than one sticky situation.
How is it after all those years she didnt even know the publisher was gay, let alone that she had a partner at home?
Emily tried to follow the conversation going on at the table between the Ravensdowns, Stephanie and Savatheda as she tried hard to think through all the talks she had shared with the publisher looking for any clue she missed. Then it occurred to her how embarrassing all those Christmas gifts shed given the woman over the years must have been.
She tried to hide the blush she felt growing by taking a sip of her wine and leaning back away from the candle light.
Ye Gods, how they must have laughed at me! She remembered the collection of vibrators she had given her publisher every Christmas for the past few years, thinking all along she was single. They were gag gifts of course, but Emily in her own ignorance was trying to get the serious woman to get a life beyond her work. It never occurred to Emily that just because Stephanie never volunteered the information to her, that Stephanie actually had a life and a sex life as well. I just never asked, did I, and because she never told me she did, because she was never as out there, up front and in your face as I was, I assumed she was all alone.
A bit of her self- disgust must have been showing on her face because Twyla took a break in the conversation around her and noticed the expression she wore.
"Emily? Are you okay, hon? Is something wrong?" The sincere compassion from the older woman made the writer even more disgusted with her egoistic, pre-Brambles self. She resolved to make sure that the warm and funny woman she befriended had no reason to feel sorry for her.
She put on her best smile and laid her hand on the older womans arm.
"Not a thing, Twyla. Dont give it another thought."
Twyla didnt look convinced, but before she could comment further, she realized the younger womans attention was already elsewhere. She followed Emilys gaze and smiled to herself as she saw her daughter at the front desk, talking to the hostess and holding the Styrofoam containers she knew held dinner for the sheriff and deputy.
She was about to try to get her attention for Emilys sake, when her nieces partner did it for her.
"Hey, Hero! Come say hello before you head back to the Batcave!"
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