The Darkest Hour

by

Talaran

Copyright © 2000 by Talaran

(talaransrealm.hispeed.com)

Disclaimers: This is a sequel to my first story, Vendetta. There are things that happened in the first story that are relevant so you may want to read that one first.

The two main characters, and I think you know who they remind us of, are in deeply in love. There will be sexual interactions in this story so if this type of material disturbs you, you may wish to read something other than this story.


What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. Author unknown.

›The petite blonde lay in the exquisite warmth of the king size bed with her head propped up on her hand. Emerald eyes gazed at the sleeping form next to her. The skylight above the bed supplied enough early morning light to the spacious master bedroom to allow the young woman to see the smile etched on her lover's angular face. Hair as black as a moonless night cascaded over her lover's pillow. Reaching out the woman ran slender fingers through the silken strands. She still couldn't believe that she was actually here, in this bed, with this incredible woman. Four days ago she barely knew this raven-haired wonder, but now they knew each other in the most intimate of ways. A few short hours ago they had explored each other's bodies until they could barely breathe. It was the most passionate experience of the young blonde's life. She simply couldn't get enough of this woman. Snuggling closer to her lover, the blonde breathed in her partner's scent re-igniting her passion. She wanted to take her again. She wanted to hear the groans of pleasure that she could entice from the dark haired woman, but one look at that serene face told her she didn't have the heart to wake her.

Placing a kiss on two fingers she pressed them lightly to her lover's lips, then without a sound the blonde slipped out from under the comforter onto the thick navy carpet. Since her clothes were still at their friends' house, she fished around in the drawers of the large oak dresser and extracted something suitable to ward off the chill of the house as she headed for the kitchen downstairs.

After last night they could both use a hearty breakfast, so the blonde opened the refrigerator and inspected the contents. "Perrrrfect," she purred, loading up her arms with eggs, bacon, English muffins, and orange juice. Even though she had only cooked in this kitchen once she had a good memory and easily located all the materials she needed to prepare breakfast. She started the bacon frying, then she scooped some coffee grounds into a filter and dropped it into the holder on the drip pot next to the toaster. After filling the reservoir with water she flipped the switch and returned to the stove to tend to the crackling bacon. She hummed a light tune while she worked, still in amazement at where she was, not to mention what last night had been like.

Back upstairs the dark haired woman blissfully slept as she relived the erotic moments of the previous evening. Crystal clear visions of her blonde lover flooded her mind. Even in this dream state the woman felt more relaxed than she ever had before and a small part of her brain recognized that fact. They had shared a sensuous bubble bath that had prompted some initial underwater explorations that continued into the bedroom for hours. Making love had never been sweeter than it had been last night for the woman who now rolled over in her sleep and reached out for her companion. When her searching hand failed to locate the warm body it craved the semi-conscious woman awoke. Cerulean eyes fluttered open and the smile that had been on her face all night slipped away. The first, horrifying thought she had was that last night had been nothing more than a dream. A magnificent dream. An intense pain gripped her heart. Shaking her head to bring about some clearer thought she caught the unmistakable scent of the woman that she had been dreaming about and her smile returned. Just as it did the bedroom door slowly swung open revealing the slender blonde who was carrying a breakfast tray and was grinning from ear to ear.

"Good morning, love. How are you feeling?"

Nic liked the endearment. "Now that you're back, great. But who gave you permission to leave our bed?" the dark haired woman asked with a raised brow.

The 'our' comment did not go unnoticed by the young woman as she walked over and placed the tray gently across her lover's lap, after which she placed a kiss on the woman's forehead. "So, now I need permission to leave, huh?"

The dark haired woman smiled, snatching a crispy piece of bacon from the plate and munching contentedly. "I'm sorry, I guess we didn't go over the ground rules last night, did we?"

"No, love, I'm afraid we were a little preoccupied last night. But I'm all ears now, so please enlighten me." The smaller woman slid back under the covers and snuggled next to her taller lover. Grabbing her own slice of bacon she placed it between her lips letting half of it hang from her mouth in a tantalizing fashion. Her dark haired lover knew exactly what she wanted so she complied, placing her mouth over the piece and biting it off at her lover's lips. A pink tongue slid between perfectly white teeth and traced the outline of the blonde's salty lips, eliciting a moan from the smaller woman.

"Well, let's see...rule number 1 is you belong here with me, always." She kissed the blonde lightly on the lips.

"Ahuh," the blonde responded.

"Rule number 2 is I belong here with you, always." The dark haired woman applied more pressure to the next kiss.

"Aahhhuhh"

"Rule number 3 is whatever we want, we take." The dark haired woman kissed the blonde with such passion that they both came away breathless. "Any questions?"

Deep, green eyes, hungry for more, regarded the taller woman. "Just one," the blonde said. "Can you move that tray?"

The dark haired woman smiled broadly as she bent down and placed the tray on the floor. "Now what?" she asked.

"Now I take...what I want," the blonde answered saucily as she straddled her lover's hips and nibbled her way up the dark haired woman's neck.

************************************

An hour later the two sated women were lying intertwined on the bed, eyes closed and thoughts on absolutely nothing but each other. Nic had never felt so thoroughly at peace in her life. She had spent the last ten years avoiding relationships out of a fear of losing someone that she cared about. Long ago she figured that the easiest way to avoid that pain was to never allow herself to care that much for anyone. So there had been several brief flings and one night stands, but nothing more. She opened her eyes and took in the woman who was nestled comfortably on her shoulder. Golden hair fell across Nic's shoulder and the young woman's hand was splayed across her taunt abdomen. Carly was so much more than Nic felt she ever deserved. Only two days ago she had told her friend Susan that she didn't need any complications in her life and here she was in bed with the biggest complication she could think of. But what a complication she was. Not only was the woman she held gorgeous by anyone's standards, but she was also talented, intelligent, mischievous and a gifted lover who was tender, playful, adventuresome, and enthusiastic. The blonde stirred a little.

"Maybe we should try to eat that breakfast you prepared?" Nic whispered.

A groan was Carly's only reply as she buried her head.

"You can't tell me you aren't hungry after all that physical activity."

A green eye opened and rotated up to look at the woman who held her. A yawn, then a stretch of both legs. "No, I'm hungry. I just don't like the thought of moving."

"Ohhh. I see." Nic pulled the smaller woman into a tighter embrace. Her hair smelled of lilacs and her skin like peaches. "Well I'm not really fond of the idea either, but we should call the hospital and see how Jimmy is doing."

"Nic?"

"Yeah?"

"I know this is going to sound selfish as all hell...but I could have lost you last night, and..."

Nic placed a finger under Carly's chin and lifted it so that her eyes were locked onto Nic's. "And what?" Nic asked.

The blonde blinked a few times to keep her tears at bay. "And I don't ever want us to leave this house again." There, she said it. And she meant every word.

Nic wasn't quite sure how to respond to the young woman she held so closely in her arms. What they had gone through last night would have scared anyone senseless and she had to admit that the mere thought of losing Carly scared her to death, so why should she expect that Carly didn't harbor the same fears? "Carly, I know we've been through a lot in the past few days and I know that last night was horrifying, but we made it through okay."

"You were shot last night, Nic. A few inches to the left and you would have been in a funeral home this morning and I would have been lying here falling apart."

"Carly, honey, I did have on a Kevlar vest, so I wouldn't have been dead. I probably would have been better off if the bastard had shot me in the back." Nic kissed her lightly on the top of the head. "And you can't really expect us to shut ourselves up in this house forever?"

Reluctantly the blonde acquiesced. "No, I suppose I can't. But that doesn't mean I don't want to." An endearing pout formed on the blonde's face.

"I probably shouldn't tell you this, but you look adorable when you do that."

Carly raised herself up onto her elbow and kissed her lover on the cheek. "I'll take the tray down and heat the food up in the microwave. Be back in a sec."

Nic watched the young woman leave the room then she slumped back into her soft pillow and stared at the ceiling. Her arm was stiff and a little sore, but otherwise not too bad. Absently she ran her fingers over the white gauze bandage that was wrapped around her upper arm. She had been lucky, again. The vest would have protected her torso, but if she'd caught the bullet in the back of the head she would be dead right now. A disturbing thought entered her mind. Could she put Carly through that day after day? Being a cop certainly wasn't easy, but being involved with a cop had to be worse. In time the tension of worrying about Nic would surely wear on the blonde. The next thought that crept into her mind disturbed her more. Could she push Carly away in order to spare her a life of constant worry? There you go again, Nic. What makes you think she's going to quit her job and stay here with you? She has her own life. Nic ran her hand through her ebony bangs and sighed deeply as her lover returned to the bedroom. She put on a false smile, which got a smirk from the blonde.

Instantly Carly noticed a change in her lover. She was brooding about something. The blonde returned the tray to the dark haired woman's lap and nestled herself back on the bed. Nic picked up the small glass of juice and drank it down. Carly studied her as she grabbed a plate and a napkin and began eating. "Is something wrong, Nic?"

The taller woman nibbled on a piece of toast, then sipped some of the hot coffee that Carly had poured into two cups. She wasn't sure what to tell Carly, so she decided to tell her nothing. "No, everything is fine." Nic leaned over and kissed the woman on the forehead.

Carly wasn't buying it, but if Nic didn't want to talk about it, then she wouldn't press the matter. They ate in relative silence until Carly spoke. "I called the hospital. They told me Jimmy is awake and looking forward to seeing us."

"That's good news. If you want we can go to the hospital after we're done with breakfast?"

Carly finished her eggs, then wiped her mouth. "That'll be fine." She knew something was up, but how would she pry it out of her stoic partner. "One problem, though."

"What's that?"

"The rest of my clothes are at Sue and Liz's place. What am I going to wear?"

"Hmm..." the dark haired woman contemplated that for a second. "I'm sure I have something around here that will work. I'll look in a minute." Nic finished off the toast and dove into the scrambled eggs. "This is delicious," Nic commented.

The compliment brought a glow to the young woman's face. "Thanks. I'm glad you like it. "

"What did you put in them?" the dark haired woman inquired.

"Oh...a little of this and a little of that." Carly wiggled her blonde brows inducing a chuckle from her companion.

A smile slid onto the Nic's face. "You know I have ways to make you talk."

Carly drank the last of her coffee. "I'm counting on it," she retorted. "Are you done?"

"Yes, thanks."

Carly removed the tray and placed it on the bench at the foot of the bed. Pale blue eyes watched her every move. "I didn't tell you, but I should have."

"Tell me what?" Carly asked.

"That you look very enticing in that." Nic felt some of her despair start to slip away at the site of the beautiful blonde who was standing at the foot of the bed dressed in Nic's Dallas Cowboy's jersey, which came down past her knees.

Carly was glad to see Nic's somber mood melting away. Crawling up the bed, looking very much like a slinking cat, the blonde placed her forehead against her lover's, green eyes staring into blue ones. "How do I look now?"

Full lips curled into a feral grin. "You look good enough to eat." Pulling the smaller woman further into her arms Nic began kissing her neck, her ear, her nose, then her lips. At each point she flicked her tongue out and tasted the blonde's flesh and was pleased at the reaction her kisses got. The blonde leaned into each kiss craving more contact. In one swift movement Nic slid the jersey over the woman's head and tossed it onto the floor.

"Hey, you're pretty good at that," the blonde commented.

"You ain't seen nothing yet..." her lover replied before she captured the blonde's lips in a steaming kiss that lasted for several minutes, stirring a fire within each woman that only the other could extinguish.

****************************************

"You know, we aren't making much progress in getting up," Carly said as she drew imaginary circles with her finger on Nic's belly. She was lying on her side up against Nic's taller frame, which was completely stretched out.

"If you keep doing that we're going to make less progress because I'll be sleeping again."

The blonde looked up and smiled sweetly at her lover. "Oooo...another secret revealed..."

An eyebrow arched up under ebony bangs. "And just what other secrets are you referring to?"

"Weellll....I did find a few areas on a certain body that when properly encouraged evoked the desired response." Carly wiggled her pale eyebrows and grinned, salaciously.

"Is that so?"

"Yes, Nicole Stone, that is so." The blonde punctuated her statement with a poke to the taller woman's ribs. "I've never told you this, but I love your name, you know that?"

"Really? Well I kinda like the sound of your name too. Did you have any nicknames when you were growing up?"

"Well, Jimmy always called me squirt, but I wouldn't count that. Some of my friends use to call me CJ, because of my initials."

"I like that," the dark haired woman said. "Do you have a middle name?"

"Where did that question come from?" Carly asked.

"I guess I just want to know all about you, dear."

"Oh. Well then my middle name is Ann. What about you?"

"I have one too, but I bet you can't guess it?"

Carly frowned. "Nic, there are a million names, at least give me a hint."

The dark haired woman considered the request. "Deal. Mine starts with a K."

The intrigued young woman sat up. "What's the bet?"

Nic thought it over for a second, then said, "If you guess it we stay in bed for another hour and I will get us both more coffee. If you don't guess it, then we will get ready to go to the hospital."

The blonde was determined to win this bet. Starts with a K. How hard could this be, she thought? "Katherine?"

Nic shook her head.

"Kim?"

Another head shake.

The list of names the blonde came up with amazed her lover. The dark haired woman hadn't realized how many names started with a K. Still, she was confident that Carly wouldn't guess it.

After ten more minutes Carly finally was at her wits end for another name to try. Displeased with herself for not guessing the name she stated flatly, "Okay, I give up. What is it?"

Nic had her arm lazily draped over the blonde's shoulder. She pulled her closer and gave her a kiss on the head. "I have to admit I didn't even know some of the names you came up with."

This admission pleased the blonde, who despite her obvious defeat, smiled broadly.

"My middle name is Katina."

"Katina? That's a beautiful name. Is it Russian?"

Nic's blue eyes twinkled. "No, it's Greek."

"Ohh...I see. So there is some Greek heritage in this tall, dark beauty that I am madly in love with? That would certainly explain the exotic good looks." Carly slowly ran her finger up Nic's left arm giving her lover a chill.

"Actually I'm three parts Greek, one part English. My dad was Greek and my mom was half Greek and half English."

Now it made sense, Carly thought. "So your mom wanted your first name to be an English name, but your dad insisted on a Greek middle name, right?" Carly noticed the look of pain that passed through Nic's eyes at the mention of her parents.

"You got it."

"What about your last name, though? Stone doesn't sound Greek."

"My great, great grandfather changed it from Stonopoulos to Stone when he came to this country. That was a pretty popular thing to do back in those days."

Carly sifted her fingers through Nic's jet black shoulder length hair enjoying the softness as well as the scent of wild flowers that drifted to her nose. "Well, Nicole Katina Stone, you certainly are an intriguing woman." Carly nibbled on her lover's tender ear lobe. "Have you ever been to Greece?"

"Nope. I'd love to go there someday. I still have family over there in Athens and Crete."

"I was there last year for a two day photo shoot. It was incredible! I hope we can go there someday." Carly laid her head on Nic's broad shoulder. "You know there are times when your eyes are the color of the Aegean. They are the most magnificent eyes I have ever seen."

Nic tipped the blonde's head up so that she could place a tender kiss on the woman's lips. "That's the same way feel about your eyes." Carly smiled. "Now, would you care to join me in the shower since you lost the bet?"

The smaller woman jumped off the bed and was in the bathroom before Nic's feet hit the floor. "I'll take that as a yes." The dark haired woman chuckled as she padded across the bedroom into the tiled bathroom where her lover was eagerly waiting.

****************************************

The phone had been ringing for nearly ten minutes, but the occupants of the house were unaware of it, since they were otherwise engaged in a steamy shower. When they finally emerged Nic heard it and made a dash for the phone, leaving her partner dripping on the bathroom floor, a towel thrown at her as she exited the room.

Managing to grab a towel for herself, she hastily wrapped it around herself and picked up the receiver. "Hello?" she answered.

"Nicole, it's Marcy. Where have you been? The phone was ringing off the hook."

A smirk formed on the tall woman's face. "I was in the shower, if you must know. Now, what can I do for you?"

"Haven't you looked outside?"

Just as Marcy said this, the doorbell rang. Carly emerged from the bathroom pulling a brush through her wet, golden strands of hair. She silently mouthed "Want me to get that?"

Nic shook her head. "Why do I need to look outside, Marcy?"

"Well, there are about a dozen reporters and cameramen outside your front door."

The dark haired woman's eyes widened, then she slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand. Great, just great! "Thanks for the heads up, Marcy." Nic hung up the phone before Marcy could ask any questions.

"What's going on?" Carly asked as the doorbell rang again.

"Marcy tells me there is a pack of reporters at the front door."

"What do they want?" the blonde's forehead wrinkled in concern.

Nic walked over to the window. Pulling the blinds apart, she peered out and saw several cars parked along the street that she didn't recognize. From the front of the house a plump man carrying a television camera on his shoulder walked over to one of the cars and began talking to someone who was inside the vehicle. Nic closed the blinds. The doorbell rang again. "Well, I bet they want to talk to me about what happened last night. After all the Larson PD did take down a major drug dealer who just happened to be one of the wealthiest men in the city. If that's not news, then I don't know what is."

"It wasn't as much the Larson PD as it was you." Carly walked over to her beloved and snaked an arm around the taller woman's waist. "So what do we do now?"

"I'm not sure, but I know we can't talk to them. I just need to figure out a way to get us out of here."

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure they'll notice a cute, naked blonde leaving your house. Course that'll do nothing but improve your reputation, I'm sure." Carly smiled at her frowning lover.

"Yeah, and it'll probably ruin yours. Besides, I don't want my girlfriend's picture plastered all over the afternoon edition. Jimmy will kill me for sure!"

"Now, what makes you say that?"

"Hmmm, let me see. I'm sleeping with his baby sister and then I let the entire city find out about it! Gee, why would that upset him?"

Carly put her hands on her towel wrapped hips and tilted her head a bit to the left. "Has anyone ever told you that you have a real flair for sarcasm?"

"Just everyone I've ever known." Nic deadpanned. "Come on, let's find you something to wear."

Carly followed her towel-clad lover down the hallway to the spare bedroom where Nic rifled through the closet, finally producing a pair of brand new brown chinos and a cotton crew neck sweater . "Here, I think these should fit you."

Carly accepted the offered items with a quizzical look. "Why do you have brand new clothes that clearly would never fit you, in this closet?"

With an innocent expression Nic replied, "I meant to send them to my sister a couple of years ago for Christmas, but I never got around to it. She's about your size so try them on."

The doorbell rang again eliciting a series of curses from the dark haired woman. Suddenly Nic realized she should have left the room as Carly let her towel drop to the floor revealing all her luscious curves. Well we haven't done anything in this room, yet, Nic thought.

Carly slid the pants over her legs then pulled on the sweater. She spun around in a circle. "What do you think?" She noticed her silent lover was standing, arms folded, watching her every move with an arched eyebrow.

"I think you'd look great in a burlap sack."

Carly giggled as the pair walked back to Nic's room. While she slipped into a pair of faded jeans and fended off the amorous attentions of her eager lover, Nic thought about their options. They'd need to distract the reporters long enough to get to the car, then she could lose them if they decided to pursue. Going to the window again, Nic looked out on the fine, sunny day that was forming. She had a better idea. Carly walked into the bedroom just as Nic turned from the window.

"Okay, dishes have been properly stowed in the dishwasher." the blonde announced.

"Good. You were careful about the windows, right?"

"Yes, I all but belly crawled to the kitchen."

This got the blonde a smirk from her companion. "Carly, do you like motorcycles?"

Carly didn't even have to think about it. "You bet. Why?"

"I just thought that we might make our get away on my bike, instead of the car. It'll be easier to lose anyone who tries to tail us." Nic couldn't help but smile at the twinkle in her lover's eyes. "I'd ask if you were up for that, but your expression says it all."

"You are so full of surprises, Nic! I didn't know you even had a bike. How's your arm feeling? Will you be able to drive okay?"

Nic flexed her right arm with only a mild wince. "Yeah, it'll be fine." Nic winked at her skeptical lover.

"So what kind of bike do you have?"

"It's a Harley Springer Softail and it's out in the garage."

Carly's green eyes twinkled more. "Great! Let's go."

"Wait a minute," Nic said. "I have to make a call first." Nic picked up the bedside phone and dialed a number, then waited. Finally someone answered. "Hi, it's Nic. Can you do me a favor?" She waited as the other party spoke. "Sure, not a problem. Anyway I need you to let out Ares and Zeus for a few minutes." Another pause. "Maybe just a little." Nic laughed. "Leave it in the mailbox. Thanks a million, Harry."

Carly leaned against the doorframe with her arms folded. "What was that all about?"

"Come over here and I'll show you." Nic parted the blinds and stepped back so that Carly was standing between her and the window. Two houses down a pair of Dobermans started trotting up the sidewalk. Both sported spiked collars and a strut that signified they weren't to be trifled with. Nic spotted Harry Wilkins standing on his front porch and she saw him give the command. "Watch this," Nic whispered in the smaller woman's ear, causing a shiver to jump down her spine.

"Nic, don't do that, okay?"

"Don't do what?"

"Whisper in my ear with that sexy deep voice of yours, that's what. Unless you want to find yourself back in this bed before you can blink."

The dark haired woman grinned while considering the idea, until she got a slap to her mid section. Returning their attention to the window Carly had all she could do to keep from bursting into laughter at the comical scene in the street. The two dogs had walked right up behind the pack of reporters and cameramen before anyone had even noticed them.

"My God! Are they dangerous, Nic?"

"No, honey. They are two well-trained dogs believe me. Now watch."

Harry pulled a silver whistle from his robe and blew three short bursts of air into it. On the command from their owner both dogs began growling and snarling, looking like they were about to devour the whole group. Everyone panicked and started to run in different directions, bumping into each other in the process. Microphones, notepads, pens, and purses went flying in all directions as people scrambled to get to the safety of their cars.

"Okay, we better get out there during the chaos if this is going to work." The pair descended the stairs, put on their jackets and eased out the back door. Nic peeked around the corner of the house at the continuing melee. Both dogs were chasing people and growling menacingly. Nic grabbed Carly's hand and they made their way to the side door of the garage. Sunlight streaming through the front windows illuminated the interior. A large covered object sat on one side of the two-car garage. A smaller covered object sat in the back. Mimicking a magician Nic walked over to the smaller object and grabbing the corner of the cover lifted it in one fluid motion, "Tada!"

Carly's green eyes widened at the sight of the bike. "It's beautiful!" She eyed the sleek lines of the burgundy colored bike. The chrome glistened where the slivers of sunlight hit it.

"Here, put this on." Nic handed her lover a burgundy helmet with a dark face shield. Nic put a matching one on herself and sat down on the bike. She hadn't ridden the bike in a month, but she started it up at least two or three times a week. Donning her black leather gloves she did a preliminary check of the bike.

Once her helmet was properly adjusted Carly took her place behind Nic and she eagerly placed both hands on her taller lover's hips.

Nic looked over her shoulder and asked, "Ready?"

Carly stuck her thumb in the air so Nic kicked the engine over. It roared to life filling the garage with a gust of smoke. Pushing the automatic door opener that she had put into her pants pocket Nic torqued the throttle, jettisoning them out of the garage, tires squealing.

Instantly Carly's grip tightened around her lover's waist as she felt the force of the acceleration.

Nic was glad to see that the driveway was clear. Wide-eyed people sat in their cars staring at the dogs that were now patrolling the sidewalk as if they were on sentry duty. No one even noticed the garage door going up. Nic had the bike down the driveway and into the street before anyone could even react. She flipped a wave to Harry as they passed his house. Immediately he whistled for the dogs to retreat. Carly looked back at the confused pack of people and smiled. Her lover had amazed her once again and she wondered if her life with Nic would always be this exhilarating.

*************************************

The motorcycle zipped through the tree-lined streets of Fairfield Hills, which was bathed in brilliant, warm sunlight thanks to the cloudless sky above. The unseasonable temperature pleased Nic, since she had figured she wouldn't be able to take her bike out again until spring. The feeling of utter freedom was electrifying. It was just one of the things she loved about riding and though she never imagined she could possibly love it more, with Carly's arms wrapped around her she found that she did. Part of her wished they could just keep going. The destination was irrelevant. The fact that they were together was all that mattered to Nic. For the first time in her life Nic felt whole and she knew that she would do anything to keep that feeling.

Carly, nestled behind Nic, couldn't think of anywhere else on earth she'd rather be. The continuous roar and vibration of the engine excited her, but not so much as the feeling of complete power that was between and in front of her legs. She tightened her embrace. Nic's black hair fluttered from beneath her helmet in the air that washed over them as they drove through street after street. Carly realized she hadn't been paying attention, she was so lost in the moment. After getting through the residential neighborhoods, Nic took them to the Northern edge of the city, which was a bit more rural and so was occupied by some newly developed industrial complexes. They drove past the company Liz worked for before turning south to head down through the Western part of the city. It was clear to Carly that Nic was taking the long way to the hospital. She smiled at her lover's exuberance. Closing her eyes for a second she could almost imagine the look that must be in her lover's azure eyes.

An hour later the motorcycle and its riders pulled into the hospital parking lot. Parking the bike, Nic cut the engine and removed her helmet. Looking over her shoulder at her partner, who was already removing her helmet she asked, "So, what did you think?"

"It was the best! I'd love to learn to drive one of these someday." The blonde answered enthusiastically.

"Okay. I'll teach you!"

"What?" Carly asked, dumbfounded. "You mean you'll teach me on this?"

"Sure, why not?"

Surprised green eyes regarded the bike, then the driver. "It's a bit big for me, don't you think?"

Nic considered the question. "Yeah, it might be at that. But we'll think of something."

Carly smiled at her lover's thoughtfulness. The pair got off the motorcycle and Nic locked their helmets to the bike. Walking into the hospital Nic was overcome with an urge to grab hold of Carly's hand. For a man and a woman it was a natural and romantic thing to do and her heart ached a bit at their own inability to display their love in the same manner. She'd been a dyke her whole life, even if she hadn't realized it until she was in her late teens, and she still hated the precautions gays were required to take in public. When will the world be more accepting?

They entered a vacant elevator. Carly pushed the button for the fifth floor, where they had moved Jimmy to after the attempt on his life and her abduction. It felt to Nic like that had happened longer ago than just yesterday. Carly turned to Nic and placed both hands around the taller woman's neck pulling her into a deep kiss.

After a moment Carly broke away and peered into the smoldering blue eyes of her lover. "What was that for?" Nic asked, breathlessly.

"Can't a girl express her feelings when the mood strikes?"

"Most definitely!"

*******************************************

Jimmy knew the instant he saw his sister's beaming smile that something had happened and he was pretty sure what that something was. Carly acted like she was floating on air and his partner certainly looked happier than he could remember. "So, what have you two been up to?"

Carly looked at her lover, who nodded slightly. "Jimmy, we have something to tell you."

Jimmy looked his partner evenly in the eyes. "What is it, squirt?"

"You were right."

"About?"

Nic stepped behind Carly and placed her hands firmly on the blonde's shoulders. "You were right about me, Jimmy." Jimmy eyed his partner quizzically. "For the last two years you've told me how I should find someone and settle down. That I shouldn't let the loss of my parents prevent me from opening my heart to someone."

Carly couldn't believe her ears. Her brother had said all those things?

"Well, Jimmy, I've found that someone." Nic placed a soft kiss on the golden strands on top of Carly's head then she looked at her partner. "I'm in love with Carly."

A wide grin spread across the prone man's face. "Oh, that."

The dark haired woman's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean 'Oh, that'?"

Swatting at the air Jimmy said, "I had a feeling the other day that you two were falling for each other."

Both women looked at each other and then they all started to laugh.

**********************************

Nic and Carly spent the afternoon with Jimmy, only leaving for thirty minutes to go off to the cafeteria for a bite to eat. After lunch Doctor Austin stopped in and said that Jimmy would probably get to go home next week sometime. This news made them all happy. While the doctor was there, he inquired about Nic's arm. With some coaxing from Carly, Nic gave in and let the doctor take a look at it. He said it looked like it would heal nicely, then he left to continue his rounds.

Jimmy thanked Nic for what seemed like the hundredth time, not only for saving his life, but also for saving Carly's. He told her that the next time Bill Peterson was in town that he wanted to meet him. Nic made a mental note of that. She had wished Bill could have stayed at least for a day so that she could take him out to dinner and properly thank him for all his help. He had followed the ambulance to the hospital to make sure she was going to be okay, then he had made his apologies and returned to Washington.

"So what are you two going to do this evening?" Jimmy asked, flipping the television to a new channel and groaning when all he could find were soap operas.

"Well, we should go over to Sue's to get Harley and the rest of Carly's things." Nic answered.

Carly's eyes widened. "That's right. Harley's still over there, isn't she?"

"Yeah, and we won't be able to get her with the bike, either." Nic realized out loud. "We could invite them for dinner, then they could bring Harley and your things with them."

Carly smiled at the idea. "That would be great. But we'll need to go to the market and we can't do that with the bike either."

"We can go back and get the car, then head over to Burnham's for some shopping. Let me leave a message on their machine and we can go." Nic stood and slipped into her leather jacket. She was glad she had several of them, since the one she got shot in last night was ruined. Leather was definitely one of her weaknesses.

Carly grabbed her own jacket and kissed Jimmy on the cheek while Nic made the call. Her brother looked at her with tender eyes. "I'm happy for you, squirt. For both of you."

Carly dragged a hand through her golden hair, revealing the hint of a blush in her neck and cheeks. "Thanks, big brother. I just wish I had visited you a couple of years ago like I had planned." Brother and sister smiled at each other.

"I told you my partner was something else, didn't I?"

"You sure did and I agree with you completely. Now get some rest and I'll call you later."

Jimmy winked at his sister as Nic ended her call and they said their good-byes.

*****************************************

The late afternoon sky was painted in bright orange hues from the fleeting sun. The air was starting to cool a bit, but was still quite comfortable. A flock of Canadian geese, honking noisily, passed high overhead in a perfect v-shape formation. The two women couldn't help but gaze up at them.

"Do you think they know where they're going, or are they just going?" Carly asked.

Nic contemplated the question for a moment. "I think they know. The question is how do they know?"

"Good point," the blonde conceded.

Unlocking the helmets, Nic passed Carly hers, then she donned her own. Once Carly was settled comfortably behind her, Nic started the bike and they were off toward home. Since they had left the hospital before the rush hour traffic the streets were only mildly busy. Carly thoroughly enjoyed the ride to the house. She couldn't think of anywhere in the world she'd rather be. She hoped the weather would be nice all week so that they could do this a few more times. Before long the winter weather will be upon them and the bike riding would be over for the year. Carly took in all the sights, sounds and smells of the city as they traveled north to Fairfield Hills. Passing through the shopping district caused her stomach to growl, as she smelled the enticing aromas that came from several bakeries.

As they neared Nic's house they both kept a sharp look out for any reporters, but thankfully none seemed to be in the area. By the time they pulled into Nic's driveway Carly was famished. Nic drove the bike straight into the garage and closed the overhead door behind them.

"I enjoyed that a lot. Thanks for taking me." Sincere green eyes gazed into pale blue ones.

"I'm glad you liked it. Maybe we'll get a chance to do it again this week." Nic heard a funny rumble and eyed the blonde's stomach, where she was sure the sound came from.

Carly smiled. "Sorry. Guess I'm a little hungry."

"We ate lunch and you polished off a bag of chips just a hour ago." Nic stated, incredulously.

"Well, it's your fault. You drove us past all those bakeries."

All Nic could do was laugh. "Come on. I'm sure you'll be able to find something to put in there before we go to the market," she teased, poking the blonde's tight abs.

Carly followed the taller woman up the stairs onto the deck and waited while she punched in the code to deactivate the alarm system.

After searching for a few minutes Carly settled on a can of soup which she went about preparing while Nic went to her office to check her messages.

The answering machine was blinking when the dark haired woman entered her office. She noted there were eight messages before she tapped the play button with her index finger and sat down at her desk to boot her computer.

"Message One" the male voice on the answering machine stated.

"Stone, Lieutenant Raimes. Give me a call. I have some interesting news I think you'll want to hear."

"Message Two"

"Detective Stone. This is Art Gilston at the Larson Chronicle. Please give me a call at 882-6452. I'd like to talk to you about the Marcone case."

"Message Three"

"Detective Stone. This is Louise Carter. I'm with Channel 7 News at 11 and I would love it if you'd call me so we could do an exclusive interview about the Marcone sting. Please phone me at 882-3415. Thanks."

Nic scowled at the irritatingly perky voice. She began listening to the next message, but hit the skip button the second she knew it was another reporter. This pattern continued until she heard Liz's voice on the machine.

"Niki, Sue and I would love to come for dinner. We'll bring the wine and see you two at six thirty."

Nic hit the stop button, then she turned her attention to her computer monitor where a list of new email messages was quickly filling up the screen. Most were inconsequential, but there was a message from Patti Jenkins and one from Denise Carter, the department psychologist that she had seen on Monday.

Nic opened the message from Patti first. She drummed her fingers on the desk as she read it.

Nic,

Wanted to know if you changed your mind about joining the LPD basketball team. I know I've asked before, but I told you I'd keep trying. PLEASE, we need someone like you. Let me know, because practice starts on Saturday.

Patti

Carly poked her blonde head in the door. "Soup is almost ready. Do you want some?"

Looking up with a lopsided grin she inquired, "What kind did you make?"

"Tomato Rice."

"Ooo, my favorite."

"No kidding," Carly commented, dryly. "You only have ten cans of the stuff."

Nic started typing a reply to Patti. "Well, what's wrong with having a lot of what you like?"

Carly stepped into the room. "Nothing, I suppose." She walked over to the fish tank and bent down peering into the greenish blue water. Coral filled the bottom of the salt-water tank and several brightly colored fish darted in and out of the many crevices it provided. It looked remarkable like the reefs she had seen in Australia.

"Could you drop a few flakes into the top for me?" Nic asked as she continued her typing.

"Sure," Carly responded. She opened the box that sat alongside the tank. Easing the tank cover open, she dropped some of the food onto the water's surface and watched as the fish eagerly devoured the offering. "Do you have a lot of messages?"

Nic hit the send button, then looked up. "A few. Mainly reporters on the answering machine, but Liz got back to us and said they'd be here at six thirty."

"Excellent!" Carly squealed.

"And I just told Patti that I'd join the department basketball team." Nic almost couldn't believe that she finally agreed to it. For some reason she felt different now that Carly was part of her life. She felt...alive again.

"Who's Patti?" Carly asked, trying to kill the tendril of jealousy that she felt creeping into her system.

Nic thought for a second that she detected a different tone in her lover's voice, but maybe it was only her imagination. "Patti Jenkins is a Vice detective. She's captain of the women's team for my precinct and she's been hounding me for weeks to join."

"Why did you decide to join now?"

"I'm not sure. I feel different now, because of us, I think."

Us. A smile tugged at the blonde's lips. I like the sound of that.. Closing the tank lid she walked behind the desk until she was standing next to Nic. Placing her hand on the taller woman's shoulder she squeezed it gently. "Different how?"

Nic swiveled her chair so that Carly was standing directly in front of her. Placing her hands on the blonde's hips she tugged her into her lap. Carly wrapped her hands around her lover's neck and caressed the soft skin with her fingers. Nic looked into the impossibly green eyes and smiled. "For the first time since my parents died I feel like living isn't something to dread anymore." Nic rested her head against the blonde's chest. The steady beat of the smaller woman's heart soothed her.

Carly gently kissed her lover's head, allowing her lips to linger against the silky black hair. She wasn't sure what to say to the dark haired woman.

The phone rang, startling both of them. Nic didn't reach for the phone. Talking to a reporter was the last thing she wanted to do, so she let the answering machine get it instead.

"Stone, Lieutenant Raimes. Thought I might catch you in. I beeped you, but you must not be wearing your pager."

Nic reached for the phone upon hearing her lieutenant's voice. "Hello Lou. Sorry I didn't pick up right away, but the reporters have been hounding me."

Carly remained in Nic's lap, which suited the dark haired woman just fine.

"Yeah, I bet they have," Raimes commented. "Well, I have some interesting news."

"And what is that lieutenant?"

Raimes cleared his suddenly gravelly voice. "You're going to receive the mayor's Medal of Valor."

Nic chuckled. "Very funny, Lou. What's really happening? They're gonna can me aren't they."

The blonde's brows shot up. How could they even think of such a thing?

"Stone, I'm dead serious. The mayor is quite impressed with what you've accomplished."

Nic couldn't believe her ears. The Medal of Valor was only bestowed on those individuals who displayed exemplary bravery and resourcefulness in the line of duty.

"Stone...are you still there?"

Nic shook her head back to reality. "Yeah, I'm still here." Carly gave her a concerned look as she ran her fingers through the dark mane. Nic returned a smile, which eased Carly's mind a bit.

"Well, you should receive a formal announcement in a few days. How's the arm?"

Nic flexed the arm that had sustained the gunshot wound. It actually felt pretty good, not that that surprised her. "It's fine. I'll be back on Monday, no problem."

"All right, then I guess I'll let you go."

"Thanks for the info, Lou. Goodbye." Nic hung up the phone and wrapped two strong arms around the person who was quickly becoming the center of her world.

Carly laid her forehead against her lover's and peered into the deep pools of blue. "So, what's up, if you don't mind my asking?"

"It seems that the Mayor is giving me the Medal of Valor."

Green eyes brightened as a wide grin crossed the blonde's face. "Really, Nic?"

"Afraid so." Nic replied.

"That's terrific!" Carly could hardly contain her excitement. "You deserve it for all you've done. According to Bill you took out three guys with nothing more than throwing knives." Carly still couldn't believe that part. She wished she had seen it, but she had been stuck inside a crate waiting for the gunfire to stop.

"Well then, would you like to accompany me to the ceremony?" Nic couldn't believe she had just blurted that out. But she knew she wanted Carly to be there, more that anything in the world.

"I would be honored, detective." Carly leaned in and captured the dark haired woman's silky lips. Nic melted into the kiss, which quickly deepened in intensity until both women's hearts were furiously beating.

Nic pulled away first, though she struggled with the decision for several seconds. "Listen, we better put this on hold or our guests are going to show up to no dinner at all."

Carly tangled the long black hair around her fingers. She wanted desperately to pull Nic back into the kiss, but then she realized what Nic said was true. They had better get prepared for their guests. Suddenly Carly realized how much she liked referring to Sue and Liz as 'our guests'. It brought another smile to her lips. "You're right, as much as I hate to admit it. Let's go," the blonde conceded as she stood up and headed for the door with her dark haired lover in tow.

***********************************

The four women sat in the living room enjoying their coffee and the warmth from the fire that Nic had started. They had just polished off the apple pie that Liz and Sue had brought over along with a bottle of wine. Harley was clearly pleased to be back in her own house as she was happily napping on Nic's outstretched legs. During dinner Nic and Carly let their friends in on their new relationship, which didn't seem to surprise either one of them, though Sue did whisper to Nic 'No complications, huh?'

Liz and Sue were seated on one end of the large sofa while Carly was in the opposite corner, conveniently close to Nic, who was in the armchair. Soft jazz played on the stereo adding to the relaxed atmosphere. The after dinner conversation had taken many turns, but was now centered on the upcoming holidays.

The similarity between the two couples was interesting. Sue and Nic were both tall and had dark hair and exotic looks, while their respective partners were shorter and definitely more petite. Liz was a redhead with a bubbly personality, not unlike Carly's in many ways.

"Do you two have any specific plans for the holidays?" Liz asked.

Nic and Carly looked at each other, then both answered in unison, "Hadn't really thought about it." They each laughed at their identical answers.

Sue rolled her brown eyes, "Oh, brother! You two are starting to scare me."

Liz slapped her lover's leg. "You behave."

"Always, love," Sue replied.

"Anyway, I thought you two and Jimmy, of course, might like to join us for Thanksgiving." Liz watched her friends as they contemplated the offer.

Nic gave a slight nod and Carly immediately answered, "We'd love to. Thanks."

"Great!" Liz beamed. " I'll start planning the menu this weekend."

"Please allow me to make the pies. I love to bake." Carly added.

"Sure thing." Liz acknowledged. "Hey, we were going to go over to the Lavender Rose this Friday night. Would you two like to join us?"

"What's the Lavender Rose?" Carly asked.

Nic answered her while she stroked the black cat's smooth fur. "It's a dance bar over in Clairmont."

"You mean a gay bar, right?" the blonde stated.

"Actually it's a lesbian bar. I don't think I've ever seen any guys in there at all." Sue answered.

"They had a guy bar tending there for a while, as I recall," Liz added.

"That doesn't count," Sue chided.

"Well, I'd love to go. How bout it Nic? Are you willing to take your girlfriend out dancing?" Carly asked her tall lover.

Deep blue eyes that twinkled in the firelight caught the blonde and held her for an instant. "I most certainly would love to take my girlfriend dancing."

Carly felt the blue eyes boring into her and a sudden flash of heat ran up her neck. This raven-haired beauty had captivated her from the moment she met her in the airport. The blonde had never fallen so hard for anyone in her entire life and it was an intoxicating feeling.

Sue cleared her throat in an attempt to break the hypnotic trance her two friends seemed to be in. "Perfect. Then we'll pick you two up at nine o'clock."

"We'll be ready," Carly replied. The truth was she couldn't wait to be held in her lover's embrace on the dance floor. She had the distinct feeling her partner was an excellent dancer.

The conversation turned to Nic's decision to begin playing basketball for her department's team. Carly wasn't surprised to learn from Sue that Nic had led her Larson High School team to the state championship, which they won. Both Sue and Nic had excelled at the college level and probably could have played professionally had they not chosen their current careers.

An hour and a second cup of coffee later the foursome decided to call it an evening. Nic walked their friends to the door while Carly cleaned up the dining room.

Sue held Liz's jacket for her allowing her to easily slide into it. "Thanks, honey. It's good to know chivalry isn't dead."

Sue smiled as she pulled her own jacket on. "Well, Nic, thanks for a great evening. Liz and I are happy for both of you, you know."

Liz pulled Nic into a hug and in a low voice said, "She's really good for you, Niki. Don't let her get away."

"I'll do my damnedest," Nic said.

*********************************

Nic proceeded to the kitchen to help Carly. "That was a lot of fun," the dark haired woman commented as she entered the room.

Carly placed the last of the glasses into the dishwasher. "I agree. I think we should do that more often." Squirting some Cascade into the compartment she closed the door and pushed the wash button.

Nic was leaning her back against the counter and watching her blonde girlfriend with keen interest. When Carly turned around, she couldn't help but approach the taller woman and wrap her arms tightly about her waist.

"What was that for?" Nic asked.

At first her partner didn't answer. She just held onto her and enjoyed their closeness. "Sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am, that's all."

Dark brows furrowed under equally dark bangs. Grabbing the smaller woman's shoulders she held her back at arms length. "I think you've got that all wrong. I'm the lucky one." The blonde's lips formed into the cutest smile and Nic pulled her close and kissed the top of her head, which fit just below her chin. "So, would you like to join me in the hot tub?"

It was the blonde's turn to step back. "Really?"

"Why not? It's a perfect night for it," Nic replied.

Carly's green eyes turned mischievous. "Au natural?"

Now the dark haired woman's eyes matched her companion's, "Last one in cooks breakfast," she answered as she quickly began stripping out of her clothes.

*******************************************


Continued in part 2

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