Taylor was studying the woman's beautiful green eyes, trying to figure out how she could provoke the woman into such a rage, every time she saw her. Taylor took a step away from the woman, just as a familiar looking woman came up and touched Vicki's elbow in a comforting gesture. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I couldn't very well let you hit me." She glanced at the other women present before she continued in a lower voice. "Quit trying to slap me and I won't have to do it again."
The woman at Vicki's side leaned in to speak in a quietvoice. "Vicki, I think we should be getting back. You have a show to do and you still have to ready your horse."
Without taking her eyes off the officer's expressionless face, she replied in the same quiet tone. "Yes, Susan, you're right. I have to get Sky warmed up for the competition." Not knowing what to say to the officer still standing in front of her, she simply turned and walked away.
Taylor watched the two women walk away without saying a word to either of them. After they had joined the other two women whohad distanced themselves from the embarrassing situation,they all four headed back in the direction they had come from. When Taylor could no longer see them along the trail, she laughed and shook her head to try to clear her thoughts of the encounter. She took a different trail back to the park, knowing it would take longer but she would also have less chance of running into any more unexpected guests.
Taylor found herself in the middle of the park at the main event scanning the large crowd of men and women among the horses. Her eyes fell upon the small blonde-haired woman who had taken up a good part of her day. The woman appeared to be warding off advances from the man she was talking to. As the conversation continued, the man continuously invaded the woman's personal space. Taylor had to force herself not to react. She averted her angry gaze from the man and groaned aloud at the overwhelming urge to protect the woman. "It must be the cop in me." As she continued to watch, she could see the woman's small hands firmly planted on the man's broad chest pushing him out of her space. Even though she was too far away to hear the conversation, she could see that the woman was laughing. Seeing no real threat to the woman, she relaxed, but realized that she was no longer willing to watch what she perceived to be playful banter. She still wanted to interrupt the conversation and send the man on his way.
She turned her back on the image and walked toward the main entrance hoping it was busy enough to keep her mind occupied until time to leave the park. She had an unwanted urge to apologize to the small woman, but she didn't understand why. There wasn't a reason to apologize to the woman. She was justified in her actions during both of their encounters and she knew it. She decided that she would continue to do her best to avoid Mrs. Roberts and her daughter for as long as fate would allow it.
Vicki had just finished her first round of the competition and was spending a few moments showing her horse affection. She was pleased with her riding and her horse's performance, but was annoyed at the soreness in her wrist. Preoccupied with thoughts of what caused the sore wrist she didn't hear the man approaching behind her. She was startled out of her thoughts by two arms wrapping around her waist from behind and a voice at her ear. "That was incredible, Victoria."
Vicki removed the arms that were possessively wrapped around her waist and turned to face the man with an annoyed look on her face. "Thank you, Ken. Must you sneak up on me like that?"
"Sorry, I couldn't help myself. I couldn't wait to see you." He reached out for her hand and she reluctantly allowed him to take it into both of his larger hands. "You don't seem as happy to see me, Victoria."
"Of course I'm happy to see you, but I asked you not to rush things."
He tightened his hold on her hand and pulled her toward him. "Who's rushing things?"
Vicki laughed at his antics as she pushed him away. The fact that his actions contradicted his words was meant to be amusing, but Vicki was far from amused. "I have another ride to prepare for so you need to go." She emphasized this by pushing a little harder on his chest while laughing at the pouting expression he was giving her.
He released her and started laughing with her. "I know that you need to concentrate on the competition so how about dinner tonight then, Victoria. You can pick the restaurant."
Vicki smiled. "I'm sorry I can't." I promised my mother that I would attend a dinner party with her tonight because father has to go to Washington later today and will not be able to escort her." Vicki was not looking forward to accompanying her mother to another boring dinner party, but at the moment she was grateful for the prior engagement.
Kenneth Martin had been pursuing her for weeks now. Her father had introduced them at one of the many political dinners her father had dragged her kicking and screaming to. He was a handsome, successful attorney and was very charming in his own aggressive way,but Vicki didn't share his enthusiasm. She looked for excuses not to see him hoping that he would get the hint or grow tired of the chase.
Ken took a step toward her. "Are you sure you can't cancel plans with your mother and have dinner with me? I took the day off to watch you compete today and I was hoping to take you out to celebrate afterwards.
She put her hand up to stop his forward motion. "No, I'm sorry. I do appreciate your coming today. The tickets that were sold today are for a very good cause."
Ken nodded his understanding. "Well, will you be here at the park the whole week?"
"I know that I will be here tomorrow. I have agreed to help mother with the function as much as possible."
He looked around them at all the people gathering at their horses before looking back at her. "Sounds like you have a busy week planned. How about I give you a call on Saturday and we have dinner at my place?"
Before Vicki could answer the persistent man, Susan Pressnell, a friend she had known since college spun her around and embraced her in a tight hug. "Vicki, that was very exciting. I don't believe I've seen you ride with that much vigor in years. Where did that come from? You looked like a daring teenager on that huge horse of yours."
Vicki returned her friend's hug and listened to the praise as a genuine smile took over her face. "Thanks, Susan. I don't know where it came from. I just had an energy that I haven't felt in a long time and I put it to good use. I enjoyed it." She turned and scratched her horse's neck. "And I think Sky enjoyed it even more than I did."
"I understand. Well, it showed in your riding today." She walked over to Vicki's horse and showed her own affection to the huge animal. "You both were something to watch today."
Ken cleared his throat to remind the two women that he was still there. "I tried to tell her how incredible she looked out there today."
Susan let her eyes roam over the man from his eyes to his toes and chose not to reply to the comment. Instead, she looked to Vicki and her face showed her unwillingness to converse with the man.
Vicki rushed to fill the silence that Susan's reluctance to speak to the man had caused. "I'm sorry, Ken. I always get carried away when discussing Sky and a good ride. Do you remember Susan?" She looked at Susan with a pleading gaze. "Susan, I'm sure you remember Ken."
Ken held his hand out to Susan. "Yes, of course. How is life treating you, Susan?"
Susan felt her spine cringe at the man's voice. She had heard gossip about the man that she did not like to think about considering that he had his attentions set on Vicki. Susan looked at the pleading look on her friend's face and then took the offered hand. "Life's good. How is the attorney life treating you?"
He looked at Vicki and smiled. "Well, Susan, I could think of a couple of things that would make my personal and professional life better."
Vicki looked at her horse and started petting her mane, choosing to ignore the comment. Susan however did not ignore it. "What could possibly make the life of a handsome, successful attorney's life any better?"
He laughed. "Well, I haven't been as successful as I would like convincing this beautiful woman into having dinner with me on Saturday. She is as stubborn as her father is. I only hope her stubbornness doesn't have the stamina of her father's. I have been after him for over a year to change law firms."
Susan looked at Vicki and had to stifle a giggle that was dying to come out. Vicki's expression was so childlike that she had to look away to prevent from laughing. It was easy to comprehend the meaning of the pleading look that Vicki was directing at her. Susan could hear Vicki's voice even though she didn't speak. Susan, please help me. I don't want to go out with him. I will owe you just please help. They had been in a similar situation several times since they had met in college and it always surprised Susan that a woman as strong and outspoken as Victoria Roberts couldn't just tell the man to take a hike. She was more than happy to help Vicki avoid going out with this man. "Ken, I don't think her father is being stubborn about his choice in changing firms. I happen to use the same people and I wouldn't trust anyone else in the field, so I wouldn't take it personally." She then turned her back to Ken and addressed Vicki. "And you had better not try canceling on me again this weekend. You promised me that you would go with us to the cabin this weekend. Your father is supposed to leave the keys to the cabin with you before he leaves for Washington, so please tell me you have them."
Vicki closed her eyes and smiled. "Relax, Susan, I have the keys to the cabin. You walked up before I could give Ken an answer to his invitation." She walked back toward Ken, after giving her horse a small kiss on the cheek. "I definitely have a full week as you can see, Ken. I will try to give you a call in a couple of weeks when things slow down."
The frustration showed on the man's face, but he did not allow it to show in his voice. "I will look forward to it. Maybe I will see you more this week at the park. I picked up the charity program and your mother has quite the events planned so I will be contributing more to these good causes you spoke of." He stepped forward, kissed her on the cheek, and then turned to Susan. "It was nice seeing you again, Susan."
Susan gave him her best phony smile. "You too, Ken."
Vicki stepped up beside Susan. "I hope you enjoy the rest of the competition."
"I'm sure I will. Have a good day, ladies."
As soon as Ken was out of sight, Vicki hugged her friend's arm. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I owe you big time." Vicki's brows came together in concentration. "We are not actually going to go to the cabin this weekend, are we? If my memory isn't playing tricks on me we are not supposed to go until next weekend." Susan started walking off. "Susan, where are you going?"
Susan turned around and smiled. "Well, since you're free this weekend after all I thought I could catch Ken and you would want to take him up on his offer for dinner."
Vicki rushed to catch up with Susan, who had already resumed her path in Ken's direction. "No, Susan. You had better not even think about it." She calmed down and slapped Susan on the arm when Susan turned around laughing. Vicki went on to explain herself. "I was just making sure that I really didn't make a mistake about this weekend because I don't have my keys back yet. Father keeps losing his set and he borrowed my again."
"I know, Vicki. I spoke to your father a little while ago and he told me that you were getting ready for the next round. He also told me that he let Ken know where to find you, so I wanted to see what inspired you to give such a performance on Sky today." She started laughing at Vicki again. "That childish pout that you gave me I haven't seen on your face since college so now I know that it wasn't Ken that inspired you."
Vicki gave Susan her best scowl. "You're enjoying this? How can you be so mean to your best friend?"
Susan quit laughing at her friend and led her back toward the horse knowing it wouldn't be long before Vicki had to get back to the show. "I'm not being mean to you, my friend. Why don't you tell this guy that you're not interested?"
Vicki let out a frustrated sigh. "I have in every polite way I can think of."
Susan gave her a stern look. "Try impolite."
The seriousness in Susan's tone prompted Vicki's next question. "What is it that you have against him? I didn't think you were going to acknowledge him at all there for a minute. That's not like you to be plain rude."
"I don't like the man and if you didn't have that pout on your face I would have been content to just ignore him. I've heard some unsavory things about the man and he seems a little too persistent when it comes to you."
"What have you heard about him?"
Susan took a tight hold on her friend's hand. "I know a couple of women who have dated him and both of them complained about his possessiveness, his aggressiveness and his problem accepting the word no."
Vicki looked in the direction that Ken had headed. "He is very hands-on if you know what I mean and very persistent, but he hasn't made me fearful of his company. Did he ever…" Vicki couldn't finish her question, so she just stared at her friend with a confused look on her face.
"No, Vicki…I don't want you scared. I just want you to be careful around him or if you're not interested in him, then get rid of him as quickly as possible." Susan let out a long breath. "He didn't force himself on either woman. They just said that everything had to revolve around him and he was very aggressive about it."
Vicki squeezed her friend's hand before releasing it. "Thanks, Susan for everything; your timing, the information, lying for me and, most of all, for being my friend."
"You're very welcome. Now come on; you have a show to finish. And we need to figure out what inspired your impressive ride so we can bottle it for next time."
Taylor stayed at the park entrance for the remainder of the event and managed not to see either of the Robertswomen before leaving the park. She heard several conversations concerning Victoria's performance and found herself wanting to be there to witness the woman guiding the large horse around the course. She restrained herself and refused to go watch the main event, but it didn't prevent thoughts of the spirited blonde from invading her mind. She couldn't seem to forget the way the woman's eyes seemed to change colors when she became angry. She could feel the woman's small wrist in her hands and the heat coming off her body. She shook her head angrily to clear the memories that insisted on invading her mind. "Jesus, Taylor, get a grip. You're fantasizingabout a woman who has done nothing except try to hit you every time you've been in her presence. I need to find something more constructive to wrap my mind around." She decided that she would go to the station and see Jones concerning her findings with Arnell Palmore.
When Taylor arrived at the station, Jones obviously had not made it back to the station and Chad was in with the Captain. She headed for the small break area for a strong cup of coffee. On her way back to her desk, a young woman in uniform approached her with a stack of pink message slips. "If this keeps up, Detective, you will have to get you a secretary. Two of those are from yesterday. I didn't see you and I forgot to put them on your desk."
Taylor looked up from the messages as the woman walked off. "Thanks." She went to her desk and made herself comfortable while she sifted through the messages. Two of the calls were from Wendy Franklin, the woman she had taken out a couple of times, thanks to Chris' persistence. One was from her mother informing her to call and let her know that her only child was still breathing. The last one was from Victoria Roberts, with a return number. The time on the message indicated that it came in thirty minutes ago. Taylor went in search of the young officer thinking there must be some kind of mistake and the call was from Andrea Roberts, not Victoria Roberts. Taylor found the officer and the woman told her that Chad had taken the call. "What? Since when do my calls get transferred to my partner?"
The young cop squared her shoulders. "Since he is at your desk and answers your phone instead of letting it go to voicemail. Maybe you should check your voicemail every once in a while and return some of the calls, then you wouldn't need me for a secretary."
Taylor knew that she was in the wrong. "I'm sorry. I appreciate your taking the messages."
The woman smiled and nodded before returning to her attention to the computer screen.
Taylor went back to her desk to wait on Chad to finish up with the Captain. She called her mother and confirmed that she was indeed still breathing and sat quietly and listened to the you work entirely too much lecture that her mother had perfected before she was allowed to get a word in. The called ended with her agreeing to see her mother before the weekend was over. She had the idea of inviting her to join her at Chris' house for Mrs.Owens' anniversary party. Hermother agreed to go to the party with her.
Chad finally exited the Captain's office with a scowl on his face. "What's up, partner? You look like someone stole your badge."
Chad dropped into his chair. "I wish. You know, Taylor, sometimes I could do without this job."
"Damn, this is serious. What happened in there?"
Chad shook his head. "Nothing happened that you haven't already heard a thousand times. You know how he is."
Taylor smiled at her partner. "Yeah, but you don't usually let him get to you like this. It's usually me slamming shit and making obscene gestures towards his office."
Chad laughed at the truth in Taylor's comment. "You know what, partner?"
Taylor leaned back in her chair and put her feet on her desk. "What?"
"I miss having you around. How's it going at the park?"
Taylor's face took on a disgusted expression. "I feel like I'm trapped in the Sunday Comics with no chance of escape. It's a joke, Chad."
He gestured toward the Captain's office. "Well at least you weren't here for that shit."
Since Chad brought up the meeting with the Captain again, Taylor felt the need to do something about it. "Is there anything I can do? Is he on your ass about something to do with the Dreams case?"
Chad shrugged his shoulders. "It wasn't just one thing, Taylor. I think he just needed to gnaw on something and my ass was the closest thing to him."
Taylor got up with a roguish grin on her face and planted her backside firmly on Chad's desk. "Speaking of gnawing on your ass, what are you doing answering my phone?"
Chad looked at her innocently. "I always answer your phone if I hear it ringing. Don't you answer mine when I'm not at my desk?" He opened the drawer in his desk, removed several more of the pink message slips, and handed them to Taylor. "I almost forgot to tell you that I took a call right before I went into the Captain's office. She sounded anxious to speak with you, but she didn't sound like your type. It wasn't that girl that calls every few days; this woman sounded dangerous."
Taylor chuckled at Chad's examination of the phone call. "You got all of that from a short phone message?"
"Yes, she was audacious, Taylor. She practically ordered me to have you call her ASAP. She even had me repeat the phone number back to her."
Taylor hopped off Chad's desk and returned to her chair. "Did you write down her name with the number? Was it Andrea Roberts?"
Chad shook his head. "No, her name was Victoria Roberts. I wrote it down with the number no more than a half hour ago."
"Are you sure she said Victoria Roberts, Chad?"
"Yes, Taylor, I'm sure. I told you the woman was audacious and she just called." Chad's tone changed from agitated to taunting. "Who is she, Taylor? A new lady to chance your discriminating heart to?"
"Do you talk to your wife like that?" After receiving an affirmative nod from her partner, she continued. "No wonder you don't get laid."
"Hey! Cut that out." He pointed his finger in Taylor's direction. "My sex life with my wife is off limits."
Taylor mumbled under her breath, "What sex life?"
"I heard that." Chad picked up Taylor's messages and looked at each one before finding the one from Victoria Roberts. He held the message up in front of her face. "Well Taylor, who is she?"
Taylor snatched the paper out of his hand. "She is someone from the park. She more than likely has a complaint about some small incident that occurred that didn't get the attention she felt it deserved."
Chad rolled his eyes. "Uh huh."
Taylor ignored his comment and looked over the other messages that he handed her. "What is this from Jones?"
"I'm not sure. She just told me to tell you that she wasn't able to meet up with that woman…I'm sorry I can't remember the woman's name."
"Yes, that's it. She told me to tell you that she would call you later. She sounded distracted. Maybe she's onto something."
"Maybe she is onto something, but she knows that she can call on either of us for help. Surely she wouldn't get into anything on her own."
Chad shook his head. "I don't know. I haven't known herlong enough to be able to answer that. Give her a call and see what she says. Oh,and don't forget to return that Roberts woman's call."
Taylor reached for the phone and dialed Jones' cell, then covered the mouthpiece to speak to Chad. "I'm not going to return Victoria Roberts' call."
Chad only smiled.
Taylor was unable to get in touch with Jones so she stayed at the station with Chad for a few hours before heading home.
Taylor arrived home around eight o'clock, which was early for a Tuesday night. After the long, stressful day, she was looking forward to making herself a small dinner and maybe curling up on the couchin front of the fireplace with a good book. She checked her messages and was pleased to see that the display screen showed zero messages.
Remembering that she had not eaten all day, she headed to the kitchen to start the preparations for dinner. Going through the refrigerator and the cabinets to see what offerings came about, she decided to have beef tips and rice with some fresh vegetables.
When dinner was almost complete, the house phone rang. She quickly moved through the house to the living room andsnatched the receiver of the phone up on the forth ring. "Cross."
A familiar voice came from the phone. "Are you busy?"
Taylor stiffened suddenly, letting the day's events pass through her mind. "Ms.Roberts?"
Vicki gave a small laugh. "Yes, I'm sorry. I'm calling because I think we got off on the wrong foot and if you don't mind, all my friends, call me Vicki. Why don't you try it instead of Ms. Roberts."
Taylor gave an audible sigh. "Well, Ms. Roberts unless you have forgotten our last two encounters, we are not friends and if you don't mind, I really need to go, I'm having a late dinner."
Vicki quickly replied, hoping Taylor didn't hang up the phone. "Wait!" Vicki took a deep breath and returned to her usual smooth arrogant tone. "Would it be so bad to have a cup of coffee with me tonight, say after you've had your dinner? I really do think we started out on the wrong foot today. I thought you could get to know me a little better and come to see that I don't usually act like I did today. I would like to apologize. I've never acted like that before and I have to admit that I am more than a little embarrassed by my actions. I don't know what came over me."
Taylor almost dropped the phone. Taylor knew that it couldn't have been easy for the woman to call and apologize after the intense encounters that had occurred between them, but she didn't let her guard down. "Well, this is unexpected. I accept your apology, Ms. Roberts and I thank you for calling."
"That's it? It took a lot for me to make this call." Vicki's voice held an edge of irritation. "You won't let me buy you a cup of coffee, so I can properly apologize and you're not going to apologize for your part in what happened?"
Taylor felt her anger building, but put her best professional voice forward. "I didn't do anything to have to apologize for, Ms. Roberts. I don't think having coffee with you is such a good idea so why don't we just keep this professional, since you seem to be very involved with the park function. We had a misunderstanding, if that's what you would like to call it, you apologized, and I accepted. End of story. You could answer me a question, if it's not too much trouble?" Taylor paused, but didn't receive a reply. "I would like for you to tell me where you obtained my home phone number."
Vicki let out a defeated breath. "I left several messages at the station this afternoon but you did not return my call so I asked my mother for your phone number, Detective."
Taylor didn't miss the fact that the woman said detective instead of officer. "Where did you learn that I was a detective?"
Vicki let her frustration with the woman out. "Are you really that uptight? You refuse to use my first name, which could help in remedying the fact that we are not friends and then you get all defensive with these questions?" She let out a breath. "And furthermore, I believe you owe me an apology."
Taylor had heard enough. "Good night, Ms. Roberts."
Vicki was still angry about the turn of events. She didn't expect apologizing to the cop would be so difficult. "I'll be awaiting an apology, Detective. Good night."
Taylor and Victoria hung up the phone at the same time and each shook her head thinking of the other's audacity."
Taylor finished her dinner and piled up on the couch with a book but caught herself reading the same paragraph two and three times. She set the book aside and fell asleep on the couch thinking about the phone conversation with Victoria Roberts.
Her home phone rang again at two am. She knew it couldn't be good at this time of the morning. She answered it before the second ring ended. "Cross."
"Taylor, it's Jennifer. I need your help." Jennifer was crying and it wasdifficult to understand what she was saying.
Taylor sat up when she heard the distraught voice of her friend. "Jennifer, what is it? Are you okay?" Her conversation with Chad earlier ran through her mind. She could hear Chad saying the words again. She sounded distracted. Maybe she's onto something.
Taylor could hear Jennifer trying to pull herself together. "Taylor, I can't find Chris. I called her several times this afternoon from the station and she wouldn't answer her cell phone or the phone here at the house. I went to her office and her assistant said that she left around three and no one there has talked to her since."
Jennifer was still crying and now she was talking fast, so Taylor was having a hard time understanding what she was saying. "Jennifer, calm down. We will find her. Did you call her mother and father?"
Jennifer took a deep breath hoping to slow her pounding heart down. "Her father was at the law firm when I arrived and he didn't know where she was going. I called her mother, but I didn't want to worry her so I just stayed on the phone with her until I was sure that she hadn't seen Chris today. I'm really worried, Taylor. When I got to the house this afternoon there was an open bottle left in the den. She's drinking, Taylor."
Taylor got off the sofa and started putting on some clothes. "Where did you look for her?"
"I checked with a few nearby friends, the office, the gym and I even went to Sarah's grave site, Taylor. There are some things that you don't know about."
"It's okay, Jennifer, you don't have to say anything. I understand. Just know that Chris loves you no matter what she's going through."
Jennifer's crying increased for a time. "Thank you, Taylor. I needed to hear that. I came back to the house to see if she returned home and I realized how late it was getting. I didn't know what else to do."
"It's going to be fine. I know a few places that I can check so I'm heading out the door right now. Why don't you wait there in case she comes home and call or radio the Nextel if she comes home."
"Thanks. Let me know if you find her and call me if you hear anything."
"I will, Jennifer. Try not to worry; you know that Chris can take care of herself."
Jennifer tried to sound convincing. "I know she can, but she has been so different lately."
"She will be fine. I'll call you as soon as I know something."
Taylor hung up the phone and picked up her gun and the Nextel on her way out the door. By the time she made the drive to Sacramento, it was almost four. She put the Camaro's powerful engine and the absence of the heavy traffic to good use. After she reached Sacramento, it only took her thirty minutes and two stops to find Chris at a local bar. The bar was a small place that they had met at a few times to catch up on each other's lives and have a drink.
"How did you know where to find me, Cross?"
"I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will fall frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself."
"Funny Taylor, now answer me," she said bitterly after draining her glass.
Taylor dropped onto the nearest bar stool with a disgusted sigh. "When most people are feeling sorry for themselves they usually end up at the local bar."
Taylor shrugged her shoulders. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, I did check your office first. I thought you might just be ignoring your phone."
Chris motioned for the bartender to give her another drink. "You didn't come here to quote David Lawrence, so what do you want, Taylor?"
"First off, you are slurring already and you look like shit."
Chris looked down at herself and then back at Taylor. "I thought I looked good today."
"Chris, if I drank as much as you obviously have, you would look good to me too."
"So you not only quote David Lawrence, you do stand up, too. Taylor, what do you want? I'm really not in the mood for your sense of humor."
"I'm here to take you home to Jennifer. She's worried about you, Chris."
Chris' body language became even more suspicious and her already alcohol lidded eyes narrowed even more. "When did you talk to Jennifer?"
Taylor saw the change and it worried her. She wanted this void between her and Chris to end but not at the risk of a confrontation, especially a confrontation concerning Sarah or Jennifer.
After not receiving an answer, Chris raised her voice. "When did you talk to Jennifer, Taylor? Were you at my house?"
Taylor was shocked at the malice in Chris' tone. "I told you that she is worried about you. She called me a few hours ago."
Chris stumbled in an attempt to get off her stool. "Why did she call you?"
"Because I am your friend and she was concerned because you are not answering your phone. She couldn't find you. She looked for you all afternoon and most of the night."
"My friend?" Chris chuckled mockingly. "I suppose that you are her friend too, right?"
Now that Chris had gotten off the stool and was standing on unsteady legs, Taylor stood up in front of her. "That's right. I am friends with you and Jennifer. So, what do you say? Let's get you home, friend." Taylor reached for Chris' arm to help her to the door. Chris wrenched her arm away and swung a unfocused fist at Taylor. Taylor stepped back and Chris headed to the floor. Taylor caught her under both arms and pulled her to her feet. "Chris, don't try that again, because I might just let you hit the floor next time."
Chris was trying to right herself. Standing was a bigger problem than she realized but she didn't want Taylor's help. "Get your hands off me."
Taylor held up both hands and Chris stumbled slightly at the loss. "Fine, Chris. I won't touch you. We can talk, argue or even fight if that's what you want, but let's not do it here. I'm taking you home." When Chris started to protest, she added, "One way or another."
Chris just stared at her for a long moment. "Fine, let's go."
Taylor followed Chris to the door. "Did you drive?"
Chris didn't want to talk to Taylor at all so she was reluctant to answer,but after a few moments, she did answer. "No, I took a cab. I started drinking before I left the house."
Taylor opened the passenger side door of the Camaro and allowed Chris to climb in before closing the car door. The ride to Chris' house was made in total silence. Once they were in Chris' driveway, they both got out. Before Taylor could get to the front door, Chris grabbed her upper arm and turned her around. "About Jennifer…"
Taylor decided that it had gone on long enough. "This isn't about Jennifer, Chris. It's about Sarah."
Chris'voice tightened. "Do you really want to have this conversation, Cross?"
Taylor's voice was gentle. "It's time, don't you think?"
Chris only hung her head. It was true. It was all about Sarah and the time had come.
"Chris, I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you in any way. Never. Not physically, emotionally or any other way."
"Taylor, I want to believe that. I have tried to talk to you about this and you would joke it off or change the subject. Why now?"
"Before when you asked me about Sarah, about her choosing...me over you. When I met Sarah, I didn't know you then. Hell, if it wasn't for Sarah, we probably would not have met at all unless it was in court, and we definitely would not be friends today."
Chris tried to interrupt. "Taylor…"
"No Chris. Let me finish. I think this is important for the both of us. Separately, we almost certainly will not ever completely put Sarah behind us. She was an incredible woman. But together, with what's always between us, we need to try to put that part to rest." Chris hung her head and nodded in agreement before Taylor continued. "What happened between Sarah and me had nothing to do with you. I know Sarah and so do you. She loved you in her own way. You had to feel that. She did not choose me over you, nor did she intentionally try to hurt you. You have to know that, too. And by what you said to me before, when we tried to talk about this, I'm almost certain that is what confuses you the most."
Taylor waited forChris to agree before she continued. "You could not have controlled what happened. We couldn't control it. Sarah felt bad about what she did to you. It was so out of character for her that she handled it badly. She didn't know how to handle it. She tried Chris...she really did, but something that I can't explain to you would just happen."
Chris' features softened as she suddenly reached forward, clasping both of Taylor's hands in her own grasp. "I don't know what to do."
Taylor smiled at her. "There is something else that you should know, Chris. Sarah and I didn't sleep together until after you two completely ended it. We both wanted to,but it was too much for Sarah already."
Chris' expression let Taylor know that she was having trouble believing what she was hearing so Taylor felt the need to explain. "Chris, people fall in love from across the room. It's actually less likely to happen with casual sex partners. I know it's an old cliché but it's true. I think love has less to do with sex than with missing a person when they're not around and I have to assume that it was the same for Sarah as it was for me. I couldn't breathe without her after I met her. So you see,Chris, it wasn't anything that you did or didn't do. It just was..."
Chris collapsed in front of her, racked with sobs. She clung to Taylor with her head bowed, her hot tears running down over their clasped hands.
Taylor couldn't help but be moved to tears by the woman's obvious pain. She knelt down, trying to help the woman to her feet, but the woman only sobbed louder and clung to her tighter. Taylor felt a heavy weight lift off her shouldersas she settled herself onto the ground to comfort her friend for the first time since Sarah's death.
Taylor heard the click of the front door and watched as Jennifer walked across the threshold with her own tears flowing down her face.
Jennifer cautiously approached the two women as she mouthed the words thank you to Taylor. She then dropped to her knees behind her lover and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. Chris turned to her and instantly went into her arms apologizing profusely.
Taylor was late arriving at the park after the long ride back from Sacramento. She saw the world a little differently this morning, as she stood watching people roam the park. She had lost and found something that morning, thanks to Chris and the overdue discussion. She had lost the weight that she had been carrying of the unwarranted guilt of having Sarah in her life. She had also found a new beginning with Chris after watching Chris lose all the anger that she had been carrying around—a suppressed anger that was threatening to destroy Chris' relationship with Jennifer and their already stressed friendship.
It wasn't long before her serene moment was interrupted.
Vicki found Taylor outside the park office leaning on the railing that surrounded the south end of the small building with her hands wrapped loosely around the wooden rail. She looked almost relaxed as she watched everyone that passed her sight line. Vicki approached her slowly, not wanting to startle her, but the leaves underfoot gave her away and Taylor turned quickly to see who was approaching.
Taylor watched as Vicki continued in her direction. She was not surprised to see the woman after the phone conversation they had had the previous night. Taylor decided to start the conversation on a light note, hoping it would stay that way. "Ms Roberts, it is nice to see you. What do you think about the chilly weather we are having today? The breeze is cool."
Vicki had not noticed the cool temperature at all since leaving outa half hour ago to look for Taylor. A slight breeze blew her hair gently across her face, and she withdrew a hand from the pocket of her long coat to brush it away. She glanced from the blowing leaves at her feet to Taylor. "You have been avoiding me, Detective."
Taylor started to speak but Vicki waved her hand and shook her head in a gesture to prevent Taylor from speaking. "Don't even try to deny it. Whatever side of the park I happen to be on, you are sure to be on the opposite side. You have dodged at least three of my phone calls and I know that you are receiving the messages because you always return my mother's calls."
At first, Taylor tried to look shocked by Vicki's accusation and even opened her mouth to protest, but then quickly closed it and leaned against the railing. "Yes, ma'am, I guess I am. I thought that we agreed that this wasn't a good idea?"
Vicki shook her head no, as she moved toward Taylor. "You stated that it was a bad idea,but I do not recall my agreeing with you."
"Listen ma'am…" Taylor let her words trail off as she watched the woman before her start laughing. "What is so funny, Ms. Roberts?"
"My mother is right about you. You use the word ma'am so often it seems like a weapon."
Taylor raised a confused eyebrow. "A weapon?"
Vicki continued to laugh. "Yes, it makes me feel like I should run out and get me a cane, support hose and maybe even check into my Social Security."
Hearing that comment, Taylor allowed her eyes to admire Vicki's body and before she could stop herself she spoke in a half whisper. "It would be a waste of your time and money."
Vicki took a step closer, placed her hand on the detective's arm, and spoke in a very low sincere voice. "It's nice to know that I can get some kind of reaction out of you and you obviously have a sense of humor after all. I was beginning to wonder."
Taylor only smiled, knowing that she had let her guard down long enough for Vicki to sneak past it.
Another gust of wind blew Vicki's long blonde hair across her face again. Instinctively Taylor reached to brush it back. The reflex surprised both women. Taylor stepped back quickly as if she had been burned.
Vicki saw in the woman's eyes, her pull away before her body actually moved away from her. She could see the detective's walls rise back into place and she knew the detective well enough already to know what would come next. She decided that she would save the detective from having to go on the defensive. She turned the tables, so to speak, and took the defensive before Taylor could recuperate from letting her guard down. "Well, I told you that I would be awaiting an apology from you, so I'm here to hear that apology."
Taylor laughed at the woman. "You are just full of unexpected comments, Lady." She shook her hand and started walking toward the office, leaving Vicki standing in stunned silence.
Vicki soon followed her into the office. Taylor was pouring herself a Styrofoam cup of coffee and gestured toward another cup as she watched Vicki approach. "Coffee, Ms. Roberts?"
Vicki just stood with a puckered brow and looked at the woman.
Taylor knew that she was feeling a little more optimistic, if not plain light-hearted today because she felt the urge to tease the woman. Taylor shrugged. "Well, you did invite me for coffee last night so you could properly apologize." She handed Vicki the other cup of coffee. "It doesn't get any more convenient than this."
Vicki accepted the cup with an apprehensive look on her face. "Yes, Detective, I did, but I'm here to hear an apology from you. If you recall, you accepted my apology last night."
A lazy smile appeared on Taylor's face as she walked to the nearest chair. "Yes, I did."
Vicki took the seat on the opposite side of the small table. "So, Detective, if you make your apology then we can forget yesterday happened and start over. Maybe even become friends?"
Taylor let out a hearty laugh. "Friends? You really think that we're capable of becoming friends…you and I?"
Vicki was surprised at the actions of the woman in front of her. She wasn't sure she was the same woman that she had met the previous day until the sarcastic comment was made.
"Detective, don't you think that you're a little too blasé with your behavior this morning?"
Taylor laughter grew louder. "You are impossible. Last night you called me uptight and this morning I'm blasé. You need to make up your mind, Lady." Vicki started to get up out of her chair,but Taylor raised her hand and smiled. "Vicki, I think we could try to be friends, but I'm still not going to apologize because I was more than justified in my actions."
Vicki pushed out of her chair with enough force to send the chair against the wall. "You infuriate me to no end, Detective. Maybe you should stick with Ms. Roberts until you're willing to give me the apology that I deserve." Before Taylor could respond, she turned and left the office.
Taylor laughed at herself as she spoke aloud to an empty room. "Are you always so obstinate, Vicki?" She refilled her coffee cup before going out the door. Damn, I remember being much better at making friends.
The rest of Taylor's day went without incident. She headed to the station where she was reminded by a very amused partner and an even more amused Jennifer of her dinner plans with Ms. Singleton. She headed home early knowing that she had to get ready and drive to Sacramento.
Taylor met Eve Singleton at the restaurant of Eve's choice. Eve requested that they meet at a well-known exclusive restaurant in Sacramento. As they entered the restaurant, Taylor prayed that no one would recognize her. She had only been to this particular restaurant once before but she did know several people who frequently dined at the place and none of them would address her as Lucky Preston.
They sat at a table in the middle of the restaurant. The place wasn't too full and they were able to enjoy the quiet atmosphere. When the waiter came and asked if they were ready to order, Eve ordered a bottle of wine without even glancing at her dinner companion.
Taylor smiled at this, but said nothing until the waiter departed. "A lady who knows what she wants."
Eve Singleton didn't try to hide the fact that her eyes were roaming over Taylor's body and when they reached her eyes, a seductive smile crossed her face before she spoke. "Yes, I think you will enjoy the wine."
Before Taylor could reply, the waiter returned with the bottle of wine. They both gave the waiter their order and Taylor took a sip of her wine. "This is very good."
"Give it ten more years and you'll never know you were drinking the same wine."
Taylor stared at the bottle. "I don't know as much about wine as I would like. You have me at a disadvantage here."
Eve smirked at her. "A little payback for the disadvantage you had me at, Friday night. I don't believe I have ever had a more challenging card game in my life. A toast, to you, Lucky for winning the night, as well as our stimulating side bet."
Taylor gave no reply, only a charming smile.
Eve set her glass on the table and continued about the wine. "I didn't always know my wine. When I was younger, before the money, I was the same way. Actually wine coolers was more my specialty." She chuckled quietly. "And it fit my wallet better too."
Taylor saw the opening to keep the conversation away from her and her cover. "So you didn't always have money?"
"Goodness, no, I had been put up for adoption when I was born. To make a long story short, I was nineteen years old when my wealthy biological grandmother found me. Apparently she had looked for me for years."
Meanwhile, at the entrance to the restaurant, a man was leading four regulars to their table. Victoria Roberts, with two other women and the husband of one of the women were being shown to their table across the room. Vicki could not believe what she was seeing. Detective Cross was sitting in the middle of one of the finest restaurants in town with a stunning woman. She subconsciously massaged her wrist where the woman had grabbed her a second time just the day before.
Vicki leaned toward one of the women with her and whispered in her ear. "Do you see what I see? In the middle of the room. It's the cop from the park."
Susan looked up from her menu. "Damn, it is Taylor."
Vicki sat up and forgot to whisper. "You know her?"
The married couple at the table asked in unison, "Know who?"
Vicki just stared at them as if she were just seeing them for the first time. Susan waved her hand in their direction in a gesture of nonchalance. "It's just someone we saw at the park today."
Vicki leaned close again. "How do you know her?"
Susan put her menu on the table. "Taylor and I run in the same circle of friends."
"Susan, we run in the same circle of friends and I have never met her before yesterday. Why didn't you tell me you knew her then?"
Susan blushed. "Considering the circumstances, I didn't see the point. We were all talking about her ass as if it were on this menu." She picked up the menu to drive home her point. "Besides she didn't even seem to recognize me."
"Still, I don't understand how you can know her and I have never met her."
Susan had been avoiding this conversation with her best friend since college and she didn't want to have it now. She picked the menu back up and scanned over her choices while answering the question with as much a casual manner as she could muster. "It's just a different circle of friends, Vicki. I've known Taylor almost as long as I have known you, but we're not close. We still run into each other every once in awhile at parties and such." Susan felt good about her answer, since she didn't lie to her friend. She just didn't tell her everything.
Vicki looked at the two women as they toasted. "What did you say her name is?"
Susan leaned across the table so that no one could hear her comment. "Her name is Taylor Cross. She is a detective with Redding Police Department. Now do you want to tell me what this is all about so we can enjoy our meal?"
Vicki lowered her eyes and stroked her wrist. "I guess I'm still pissed off about what happened yesterday."
Susan laughed. "You were lucky that you didn't go to jail. You tried to hit a cop, Vicki. Just consider yourself lucky and let it go."
Susan's comment amplified Vicki's anger toward the cop. "I should feel lucky? She grabbed my wrists twice in one afternoon and you say I should feel lucky? Oh, and what about that comment that she made insinuating that I need medication for my violent outburst? She doesn't know me so she has no right to make comments concerning my actions."
Susan couldn't help laughing at her friend. Remembering the encounter between Taylor and Vicki was almost as entertaining as the small temper tantrumthat Vicki was currently throwing. "Vicki, I think the woman has a right to comment on your actions when they are physically directed at her." Susan held up her hands to ward off the threatening glare tossed her way. "I'm sorry, I can't quit laughing. What do you mean by she grabbed your wrist twice? I only saw her do it the one time when you were trying to hit her."
Vicki mumbled her response. "It happened earlier in the day as well."
Susan wasn't sure she heard her correctly. "What happened earlier in the day, her grabbing your wrist or you trying to hit her?"
Vicki was a little embarrassed all of a sudden. "Both."
Susan raised both eyebrows and then as the shock wore off she gave her friend a childish smile. "You attacked her twice yesterday?" She started laughing again. "What is it with you when it comes to that woman?"
"What is it with me?"
Susan quit laughing and became serious. "Yes, Vicki, you're acting like a child. Yesterday I watched you act like a child by trying to hit the woman. Now, you're telling me that you, a grown woman, tried to hit a cop twice and now you're sitting here throwing a temper tantrum because she stopped you by grabbing your wrists. Maybe you're throwing the tantrum because she happens to be having dinner at the same restaurant where you happen to be dining. This isn't like you, Vicki."
As the waiter arrived to take their orders, Vicki stood up. Susan was afraid that Vicki would cause a scene with her unusual behavior lately when it came to Taylor. "Where are you going, Vicki? What about your dinner?"
Vicki stayed standing and brushed away napkin lint off her dress. "Just order me what I usually get. I'll be back in a few minutes."
As Vicki turned to walk away, Susan touched her arm to stop her. "Word to the wise, Vicki, Taylor isn't one to be pushed. Watch yourself."
Vicki nodded and walked away.
Susan watched her walk away. She had never seen Victoria so aggressive toward anyone, especially another woman.
Taylor saw someone out of the corner of her eye heading toward the table. When she turned her full attention to the person, her eyes went wide and she sucked in a sharp breath.
Eve Singleton heard the intake of breath and turned to look at what caused the reaction in her dinner companion. "An old flame, Lucky?"
Taylor quickly decided that the fastest and easiest way out of the situation was to let Eve Singleton believe that the woman approaching them, from across the room was an ex-lover. "You could say that. But, this one's flame has a habit of attempting to continue to burn you."
Eve watched the gorgeous woman walk toward them. She accepted that she was not her type, but definitely beautiful. "Really?"
Taylor slowly stood up. "Anyway, if you'll excuse me for a moment, I think it would be best if I try to detour her before she gets to the table. I don't want to risk a scene that might ruin our evening."
Taylor hurried across the floor to prevent Vicki from getting any closer to their table. She could see that Vicki was smiling,but the smile did not reach her eyes. "Well, Detective, I am surprised to see you here."
"Ms Roberts, please lower your voice. I am working here and I would appreciate it if you would just return to your table and act like you didn't even see me."
"I would love to and I will just as soon as you apologize, Detective."
"Apologize to you? For what?" Taylor's voice matched her eyes. Frigid. Tinged with arrogance.
Vicki put her hands on her hips, but quickly relaxed her arms after reminding herself that she was standing in the middle of a elegantrestaurant. "I want you to apologize for yesterday."
Taylor looked over her shoulder to check on Eve Singleton. The woman was watching them with great interest. Taylor decided her cover was safe for now because they definitely looked like they were having a lovers' quarrel. "Could we talk about this another time?" She looked at Eve Singleton once more before turning back to Vicki. "Please."
Vicki's smile was taunting now. "I'm impressed. If you can say 'please' then you can say 'I'm sorry'."
"You want me to apologize for wanting confirmation of your identity and for wanting to arrest you for assaulting a police officer? I don't think so."
"For not believing me in the first place and for grabbing my wrist." Vicki raised her voice as she corrected her last statement. "For grabbing my wrist twice, Detective."
Taylor looked back quickly at her dinner companion and noticed that the woman was intent on trying to hear the conversation, but obviously had not heard the last comment. Taylor wrapped her fingers around Vicki's upper arm and attempted to lead her toward her own table as she spoke. "Ms. Roberts, this is serious. This woman does not know that I work for the police department and I need to keep it that way. If you will just…"
Vicki pulled her arm out of Taylor's hand and walked back toward Eve Singleton. Taylor intercepted her before she'd taken two steps. "Vicki, I'm serious."
They were closer to Taylor's table and Vicki was speaking loud enough for Eve Singleton to hear her now. "So am I. I'm waiting, Dete…"
Taylor had three choices. Blow her cover. Hit Victoria Roberts or kiss her. The kiss was forceful. She needed the woman to shut up and she needed her to shut up now.
When the kiss ended, Vicki had to catch her breath. She was shocked at the fact that the woman just kissed her in the middle of a restaurant for anyone that was looking to see. In addition, the kiss not only stole her breath but also removed any thought that was on her mind. She was unable to do anything beyond stare at the woman's lips and try to return her breathing to normal. She just thought her hands were shaking before due to her actions, but now she felt the need to hide them from the detective.
Taylor slowly opened her eyes. The feeling that was running through her body and the undeniable fact that she wanted to kiss the woman again mesmerized her. She was surprised when she realized that the woman was kissing her back, but that is also when the feeling that she had not felt in ages ran through her body. Her desire-clouded mind started to clear and she was disgusted with her body's reaction to a single premeditated kiss. She looked at Vicki with unwavering eyes. "Okay. You win. I'm sorry you went through some rough moments yesterday. Satisfied?"
Vicki pursed her lips, considering the matter and the kiss. She also let the events of their encounters yesterday run through her mind. She had not only allowed the woman to kiss her, but she kissed her back. This made her even more furious, but she wanted to move on to her next strike. She reminded herself why she was confronting the detective in the first place. She intended for the Detective to know better than to ever try to humiliate her again. "No, but I suppose that's the best apology I'll get from you."
Taylor let out a relieved breath. "Thank you." She then made a move to go around her.
Vicki sidestepped neatly. "Oh, no you're not getting off that easy, Detective."
Taylor looked surprised. "What do you mean? I did what you asked." Taylor smirked. "And then some."
Vicki narrowed her eyes at the last comment. "You did apologize. I question the sincerity behind it, but that is not important. I just wanted to see if you would do it, so I would know if I could get away with my real purpose for coming over here."
"We are in a restaurant. People are beginning to stare. Can we continue this later?"
Vicki looked at the stunning woman at the detective's table before speaking. "No."
"Fine, what was your real purpose for coming over here?"
Vicki lowered her voice so only Taylor could hear her. "Do you remember why you grabbed my wrist during both of our unfortunate encounters, yesterday?"
Taylor lowered her head, but did not answer. She had a feeling that this was going to turn into a scene and possibly hurt a bit.
Vicki was still talking in a whispered voice. "Detective, look at me."
Taylor forced herself to look up. Her mind and body were in a war over the woman before her. Her mind wanted to strike out at the brazen acts that the woman was attempting and her body was still in need from the kiss. Her mind won. She squared her shoulders and gave the woman a fierce stare. She knew that the woman felt it, because Taylor saw her visibly flinch. This gave her a little satisfaction.
Vicki was struck by the intensity of the cold stare, but recovered quickly after the uncontrollable flinch. "Now answer me. Do you remember?"
Taylor remained silent. Vicki took a step toward Eve Singleton, but Taylor quickly reached out and touched her arm to stop her. She took a deep breath, as she realized that the woman had her in a hard spot. She had no choice but to play Victoria Roberts' way. She spoke through clenched teeth. "Yes, I remember."
Vicki's smile was wicked. "I would like to complete the action that you would not allow. I felt you deserved to be slapped yesterday and I believe you deserve it even more now."
Taylor looked around the restaurant and shook her head. "Here?"
"Yes. I would have slapped you after you kissed me but I attempted it twice yesterday and failed both times. I had better not fail this time. Do you understand what I saying, Detective?" Vicki knew she was lying about wanting to slap the woman after the kiss. She knew that she didn't have one coherent thought in her head after that kiss. She started to question what she was doing and whether she could go through with it. She had never done anything evenly remotely similar to this before and she couldn't seem to control her childish actions when it came to the woman.
Taylor looked over at Eve Singleton and decided that it would be a small price to pay to end this humiliating scene and keep her cover. She squared her shoulders once again. She braced herself for the expected slap. "Perfectly."
Instead of slapping the detective, Vicki demanded more. "I also want your word that you will not retaliate in any way. I will not be arrested or have to look over my shoulder. Also, I invited you for coffee and I expect you to accept."
Taylor shook her head in disbelief. "This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. You are playing very serious games, with the wrong person I might add. I could arrest you for this, right now. You do realize that?"
Vicki's smile grew and she held out both arms to Taylor. "Not without letting that beautiful woman at your table know that you are a cop. The choice is yours."
Taylor let the reality of the situation run through her mind. I'm going to let this woman slap me and not act on it. Then, I'm going to agree to take her for coffee. This is a bad dream and I'm going to wake up any minute. This has to be a nightmare.
Vicki looked around the restaurant with growing impatience. The place did not have the usual crowd. That she was thankful for,but she did not want to lose her nerve. "I'm waiting."
Taylor sighed. "You win. You have my word. I will even make slapping me a little more enjoyable."
Vicki tilted her head slightly. "How will you do that?"
Taylor smiled. "I think this slap will hurt less than having coffee with you."
Taylor barely got the words out of her mouth, before she felt the sting of the woman's hand. Taylor refused to raise her hand to her stinging face; instead, she spoke to the retreating woman's back. "Thank you."
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