THE BLUEST EYES IN TEXAS
Copyright 2000 by Texbard
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I am pleased to announce that Jane Doe Press will publish The Bluest Eyes in Texas. (Editor's note: Jane Doe Press is no longer in business. For the latest edition of Bluest Eyes, visit Regal Crest Publishing.)
Chapter 10 (Conclusion)
Carson entered the office, escorted by a bored-looking security guard. She kept her head down, her eyes occasionally darting to the sides to gauge the reaction of her former co-workers. Some glared at her. A few openly stared, and many gave her silent sympathetic smiles of encouragement. It was obvious they had all been instructed not to talk to her, as no one made a move to get up and speak or otherwise approach her. She sighed.
It had been a long week. She had been released from the hospital late Wednesday evening and then spent four days recuperating at home under Kennedy's concerned watchful care. The attorney was still in Dallas and on her way to Carson's office as soon as she could get out of an early-Monday morning conference call with a judge and opposing counsel in an immigration case based in the valley near the Texas-Mexico border.
The brunette had begged Carson to wait for her to come with her downtown, but the paralegal gently explained that she needed to be alone in her office for a while. She had a lot of memories to pack up, along with several boxes of books and other odds and ends she had collected over the past five years. After making sure the cell phone was fully-charged, the palm wizard was working properly, and Carson had a full canister of mace, Kennedy had reluctantly agreed to stay behind for an hour or so to deal with her own professional responsibilities.
Carson smiled. She was learning to deal with her lover's over-protective inclinations, and secretly found them quite endearing. Truth be told, after being without close family for almost two years, it was nice to have someone in her life who cared. As if on cue, the cell phone rang. "Hi honey." The blonde smiled at the caller ID screen, Kennedy's number etched there in bold digits.
"Everything okay?" The brunette did her best to try to keep the anxiety out of her voice.
"I just got here and am about to enter my office. So far, so good." She pulled out her key only to discover it didn't work. "Well, except they've re-keyed the lock." She stood aside as the security guard pulled a ring from his belt loop and opened the door for her. "But my escort seems to have a master, so everything's cool."
"Escort?" Kennedy frowned, keeping one ear tuned to her cell phone and the other tuned to an ongoing droning argument from the opposing attorney in the immigration case, whom she had on mute on the speaker phone in Carson's apartment.
"Yeah." Carson tried to sound more light-hearted than she felt. "Seems I'm a threat, so they had security bring me up here. Guess I don't get to be alone in my office after all."
"Sorry, sweetheart. I should've realized they'd do that and warned you. It's standard operating procedure in most places." The brunette tapped a pen against the desktop in agitation, hating what her friend was going through. "I'll be down there as soon as I can. Call's in progress though, and it doesn't sound like it's gonna end anytime soon."
"Don't worry about it." The blonde was already breaking down folded boxes, which had been provided for her to pack up. "I'll just get my stuff together here and then see if they'll at least let me say good-bye to Rebecca and Tamara."
"Ooops." The argument on the other phone abruptly ended with a terse interjection by the judge. "Gotta go. I'll call you when I leave here."
"Kennedy, there's no need to report your every . . ." Carson stopped. Let her do what she needs to do to feel secure, Carson. It's not always about you. "Okay, that'll be fine. Talk to you in a bit."
"Love you too." Carson ended the call and clipped the phone back onto the waistband of her jeans.
She spent several minutes staring absently out the office window, taking in the crisp late October morning. The sky was blue without a single cloud, and the Trinity River was high from overnight thunderstorms. She smiled, remembering the night.
She and Kennedy had done little else but cuddle and talk for the past four days, both of them mindful of still-healing injuries that precluded much else. It had been nice, though. It had been chilly enough outside to build a fire in the fireplace, and the brunette had tossed several large throw pillows and an afghan onto the floor, and held her while they alternately watched the fire in the fireplace, and the panorama of lightening streaks out the large sliding glass door. They had rented a couple of videos but never got around to watching them, preferring quiet conversation and lots of snuggling instead.
They had fallen asleep in front of the fireplace and stayed there until the wee morning hours when they'd finally moved to the bedroom. After they were settled under the covers, they'd shared several lazy long kisses before Kennedy had curled up around her and fallen blissfully asleep.
As far as Carson knew, it was the first night her lover had slept free of nightmares since her kidnapping. Every night the attorney had held onto her with both arms, her body almost completely engulfing Carson, as if to form a human shield from any outside threat. Kennedy mumbled incoherently in her sleep, and often awoke in a cold sweat, only calming down after she was certain Carson was next to her and breathing. The paralegal was determined to help make the nightmares go away.
Carson heard the security guard clear his throat. "Ma'am, are you okay?"
She turned around and shook her head a bit to clear it. "Yeah. Sorry." She eyed him carefully. "If you don't mind, can you please stand outside the door while I do this? That is unless you have specific instructions to watch me while I pack."
"Well . . ." The guard shifted uneasily from foot to foot. "I'm really supposed to watch you continually, but . . ." He looked around the office. "I don't see much of value you could walk away with except maybe the computer, and I'd think I'd notice if you tried to carry that out." He smiled. "Sure. I'll be right outside the door."
"Thank you." Carson watched the tall man disappear and then looked slowly around the office. She had spent a minimum of forty hours per week in the smallish room for most of her post-college life. It was the only job she'd held since graduation, and she was finding it difficult to picture what her next career move might be.
She closed her eyes, remembering how proud she had been when they first assigned her to the office. Most of her friends that had been in the paralegal program in school had not landed nearly as good of jobs, and none of them had an office with a window. Most were holed up in impersonal cubicles doing relatively mindless work. She had been lucky enough to get a position with more substantive responsibility, especially for an entry-level position. She had quickly proven her worth and had been given increasingly greater responsibility as time went on.
She opened her eyes and realized how empty it all suddenly felt. Five years, and for what? So I can be escorted in here in humiliation and leave with my head down in shame? I didn't do anything wrong, dammit! She swung her fist into the thick padding of her desk chair. "Ouch," she murmured softly, so as not to draw the guard's attention. The punching motion had pulled at still-sore muscles in her side from where Marcello had beaten her. She rubbed her side ruefully and frowned.
Might as well get this over with. She slowly began to retrieve books from a low shelf, packing them into one of the boxes. She finished with the books and then moved to her desk drawers, removing a myriad of personal items she had accumulated.
"Hi." An uncertain voice drew her attention away from the boxes.
She looked up and pursed her lips hesitantly. "Hi, Tamara. You mean they're actually letting you talk to me?"
Kennedy muttered under her breath, cursing generally at the cars on the southbound Tollway. "Where the hell are all these people going in the middle of the morning?" She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel and cursed again. A large sign sitting in the right shoulder indicated that both right lanes were closed for construction ahead, and that all traffic would be diverted to the remaining left lane.
She clicked on her blinker and began the tedious process of nosing her way between two cars in the left lane that were intent on not letting her in. She was in Heidi's BMW. Her friend had graciously agreed to loan it to her the night before, since Carson needed to use her Integra to go to her office. In return, Carson had swung by that morning and picked up Heidi and dropped her off at her office on the way downtown. They'd leave Heidi's car for her and ride together back to Carson's.
Kennedy reached the toll plaza and went fishing for quarters before she realized that Heidi had a toll tag. Coulda been in the toll-tag only lane. She sighed.
She knew she was impatient. She also realized that if she wasn't careful, she was going to smother Carson to death. The paralegal had been more than patient with her. Part of her was ashamed of her own weakness, and her driving need to make sure Carson was safe. She hated the nightmares, hated feeling out of control, and hated that she was the one who was not dealing well with Carson's kidnapping.
Instead of her being strong for Carson, things were turning out to be the other way around. It was Carson who held onto her when she woke up afraid and confused and Carson who simply allowed her to follow her around like a mother hen. She wondered how long it would take for her to drive her lover stark raving mad.
She smiled. She had actually asked the blonde if she wanted her to go take a flying leap off the nearest cliff. Carson had looked up at her, seriously at first, and then with the sweetest of smiles had told her, "Not unless I'm tethered to you." Carson had been indulgent, allowing Kennedy to hold onto her as often as she wanted to, which had been pretty much most of the time. It grounded her to feel Carson in her arms, to know that the paralegal was very much alive and on the road to recovery.
Her thoughts were abruptly cut off, as she reached Carson's building and parked the BMW in the lot across the street. She paid an attendant and then entered the high-rise, only to discover that she, too, would be escorted to the eighteenth floor by a security guard. She groaned with resignation, staring directly ahead, watching the floor numbers as the elevator made its ascent.
They entered the law firm lobby, and the receptionist stopped her. "You're Kennedy Nocona, correct?"
"Yeah." The attorney eyed her warily.
"Mr. Howard would like a word with you, if you don't mind." The receptionist peered at her from above a pair of reading glasses with half lenses.
The request caught her completely off guard. "Um . . . sure." She waited while the receptionist buzzed the managing partner, and in a short time, Trevor Howard entered the area, holding out his hand. She noted that his hand shook slightly, and he appeared genuinely nervous.
"Ms. Nocona, you're still Carson's attorney, correct?" He shook her hand firmly.
"Yes." She tacitly released his hand, feeling vaguely unclean. "Why?"
"I'd like to discuss several matters with you, if you can spare a few minutes." He smiled, his lips twitching slightly with strain.
"Of course, but I'm her attorney, not her mother. If you want to discuss something that concerns Carson, I think she should be present, don't you?" Her return smile dripped of insincerity.
"Oh. Yes. Of course." Howard appeared flustered as he motioned at her to follow him. "Let's go get her and we can sit down in my office and talk. Or maybe I can take you two to lunch at the restaurant downstairs."
Kennedy grinned privately. She had negotiated deals often enough to know that whatever Howard wanted, just by his demeanor, she already had him by the balls. The restaurant downstairs was a five-star nationally known establishment, one that was frequented by celebrities whenever they were in Dallas. Yeah. I think she deserves something nice from these bastards. Bet they've never taken her to lunch there before, unless it was to entertain clients. "Mr. Howard, lunch is a splendid idea. I believe we'll take you up on that offer."
She watched him grimace with discomfort, and the private grin became public.
"I never meant to hurt anyone." Carson sat across the desk from Tamara, the boxes now stacked on the floor in a corner.
"I don't blame you for anything, Carson." The attorney reached across and patted her arm. "Those that do don't understand what all was going on. They've been really careful not to let the staff know what Tony and Nick have been up to. Howard and McIntosh were behind closed doors for most of the day last Tuesday. Then they met with the associates on Wednesday. The staff meeting was on Friday afternoon last week. All the staff knows is that you're leaving, Tony's leaving, and they're not supposed to talk to either one of you. You know how gossip goes. A lot of them are convinced you're some kind of traitor, and that their jobs are in jeopardy."
"Maybe they're right." The blonde studied her fingernails, carefully avoiding eye contact.
"No they're not." Kennedy's voice had never been more welcome. The brunette stepped into the office and extended her hand. "Kennedy Nocona."
"Tamara Richardson." The shorter attorney stood and smiled warmly. "So nice to finally meet you."
"Wish it were under better circumstances." Carson also stood up, resisting the urge to make physical contact with Kennedy.
"Hey." Warm blue eyes took Carson in in one quick sweep. "Mr. Howard wants to take us to lunch downstairs."
"Downstairs, as in the Devonshire Grill?" The blonde squeaked.
"Yeah." The attorney reached across, squeezing Carson's shoulder. "Take your time here. I'll be out in the lobby when you're ready."
Carson looked up and saw Trevor Howard standing just outside the door. "Yes, take your time, Carson. It's early." He nodded at her and then turned, walking toward his office.
"Will they let me see Rebecca?" Gray eyes peered earnestly toward the door. Her secretary of five years was nowhere to be found.
"Yeah, I think they'll let you see anyone you want to, right Mr. Howard?" Kennedy
smiled charmingly and watched the pensive man turn back around.
"Sure. Sure." He waved his hand absently around in the air. "Feel free to talk to Rebecca. I believe she's in the main work room collating some documents."
Carson tilted her head in confusion. "What's up with him?"
"I've got several guesses." The brunette glanced at Tamara. "But I think we should just wait for lunch and see what he wants. For now, let's just say he's in an agreeable mood and leave it at that."
"Okay." The blonde frowned. "That's good, I guess. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go talk to Rebecca for a few minutes."
Carson exited the office, leaving Tamara and Kennedy staring awkwardly at each other.
Tamara studied Carson's girlfriend. The brunette was overpowering, and seemed to fill up the small office. It wasn't just her height or her striking good looks. She had an attitude and a presence that commanded attention, a magnetism that defied description. Her eyes were intelligent and thoughtful, and Tamara could tell Kennedy didn't miss much. She could see why Carson was drawn to her.
"Look at all those boxes," Kennedy gestured toward six boxes stacked neatly in a corner of the office. "Hope they have a dolly we can use to haul them down to the car."
"They'll probably have some of the office boys help you carry them out." Tamara moved over to the stack and ran her hand lightly over the top box. "Lots of memories in this office."
"Have you worked here the whole time Carson has?" Kennedy leaned back against the desk and crossed her arms loosely over her middle.
"Longer." Tamara turned back around and assumed a similar stance against the boxes. "I helped train Carson. She was a fast learner."
"You can say that again." The words were out before Kennedy thought to censor them, and she blushed furiously. Damn. Not what I meant. She had been thinking of how quickly Carson absorbed the legalities surrounding recent events.
Tamara noted the taller woman's rosy-colored cheeks, but made no comment. "Despite everything, I've never seen her happier than during the past month."
"Really?" Somehow, hearing the words from a third party warmed her to the core. "That feeling goes two ways. I've never been happier either."
Awkward silence settled over them again. Kennedy finally laughed. "Look at us. We both stand before courtrooms and argue on a regular basis, but we can't seem to find anything to say to each other." She smiled and pushed her hair behind her ear. "Listen. Carson has really looked up to you. I understand you helped her a lot when she was first starting to come to terms with being gay."
"Yeah." Tamara chuckled. "She was so confused, and then as we talked about different things, it was like the light bulb went off. She told me that for the first time, a lot of things about her life that had never made sense before suddenly made perfect sense."
"I'm glad she had you to talk to. She seems to really feel things in a way few people do. She's a deep thinker. It's one of the things I've come to appreciate about her. She looks at all the angles and she's so honest. I hope her friends, like you, understand just how much I care for her." The brunette's face became somber, and she looked down, almost as if to hide behind the hair that framed her face.
"She told me about how you rescued her." Tamara's voice grew soft. "That spoke volumes to me. But seeing you two together just now . . . in that short time, I could see it in both your eyes. You care deeply for each other. All I've wanted for Carson, from the time we became friends, was for her to be happy. She went out with some of my friends, and I think a few of them hurt her. My partner and I tried and tried to fix her up with people. But Carson . . . she was holding out for the real thing."
"Yeah?" Blue eyes hesitantly met brown.
"Yeah." Tamara smiled. "I think she's found it."
Kennedy looked down again, unable to respond. She sighed with relief as Carson re-entered her office. "Hey. I need to talk to you for a minute before we go to lunch."
"Okay." The blonde's voice was flat and quiet.
Kennedy studied her. Carson looked utterly defeated and it was evident she was trying not to cry. Something happened with Rebecca. "Do you want me to let you have some more time with Tamara first?"
"No." Carson shook her head and bit her lower lip, looking down at the carpet. She took a minute to compose herself and then tilted her head up, facing Tamara. "I'll come by your office again before we leave."
"Good." Tamara moved to the doorway and paused. "You better. Don't you dare leave without saying good-bye."
"Won't be 'good-bye'." The blonde mustered a smile. "We'll be inviting y'all down to visit us on the lake sometime."
"I'll look forward to it. See you in a bit." She disappeared, sensing that the two women needed some privacy.
Kennedy closed the door and turned. "You okay?"
"Not really." Carson looked up at the ceiling, blinking several times. "Rebecca was pretty cold. I tried to explain to her that I didn't mean to hurt anyone, but I don't think she understands. She kept talking about what might happen if the firm folds. She told me her whole family . . . husband and three kids . . . they're all on her medical insurance because her husband doesn't get good insurance where he works."
"She's just afraid, Carson." Kennedy took two steps forward. "Mikey already has a legal placement service ready to help anyone here who wants a new job to find one. Don't blame yourself."
"I'm trying not to." The paralegal faced her lover. "So what did you need to talk about?"
The brunette was surprised at the sudden change of subject, and made a mental note to talk it out more at a later time. "I need to know how you feel about suing this firm for sexual harassment, reckless endangerment, mental anguish, and loss of future income."
"Huh?" The anger came rushing to the surface with swift force. She should know me better than that. She frowned. "Kennedy, that's not who I am. If you think . . ." She trailed off, the disappointment written all over her face. "And if you're the kind of person who would . . ." She turned and faced the window. "Well maybe I don't know you as well as I thought I did."
"Sweetheart." The attorney moved quickly to comfort her lover, placing one hand on Carson's lower back and rubbing it gently. "I needed to ask, as your attorney. Not as your friend. I already knew the answer. I just needed to hear it. Now I hope you'll hear me out."
"Okay." Carson tried to push down the anger. "Talk."
"I have a feeling Howard wants to cut a deal with you."
"A deal? What for?" The blonde forgot her anger. Of everything that had happened, she hadn't even considered her relationship with the firm itself, apart from her relationship with Tony as her boss.
"Because he's afraid you will sue." Kennedy sat down at the desk, grabbing a pad and pen and doodling some notes to herself while she talked. "I need to know what you want me to do. Do you want to walk away with nothing at all, or do you want me to try to get you something for what you've been through?"
"Like what?" Carson's interest was piqued, and she moved to sit down across the desk.
"Maybe get your medical benefits extended for a while, without you having to pay Cobra fees. Maybe get you some sort of severance package so you can truly take your leisure to look for another job. Maybe get you your full 401K benefits, including all the matching funds." The attorney made more notes as she thought of other issues to cover. "What Howard will want, in return, is a waiver from you stating that in exchange for whatever benefits we negotiate, you will agree not to sue this firm over everything that happened with Tony and Nick."
"But I don't plan to sue them." Carson frowned and sat back in the chair in a huff. "I don't want them to think I'm the kind of person who would."
"Carson, sweetheart." God she is honest to a fault. Kennedy smiled gently. "You deserve something. And Howard will twitch with fear until the statute of limitations runs on your time to sue over everything. Believe me. It will make him feel better to have a promise from you in writing not to sue, even if you swear to him you don't plan to. If you need something to help you feel good about this, think about that."
"So . . . I let you cut some kind of deal for me, I sign a piece of paper stating I won't do something I wasn't planning to do anyway, and everyone walks away happier?" The paralegal was starting to warm to the idea. She had been worried about insurance and dipping into her savings to live. All of a sudden things looked a whole lot brighter. "Okay." She grinned. "You get me whatever you think I should get, and I'll sign whatever you think I should sign, counselor."
"Now you're talking." Kennedy grinned back, and finished up her notes. "Let's go find Howard and let him take us to lunch."
Lunch was one of the most uncomfortable events in recent memory. Well, at least since my dinner with Nick. Carson pushed the remains of some asparagus around her plate. The Devonshire Grill served up beautiful plates with very small servings of eye-appealing food on them. She had eaten the smallest filet mignon she'd ever seen along with about a quarter of a potato and half of the four asparagus stalks that garnished her meal.
The restaurant itself was elegant, with crisp linens on the tables and rich ornate tapestries on the walls. It was underground, but overlooked a sunken courtyard that had a fake waterfall along one wall. The sound of the running water would have been calming under normal circumstances. They had chosen to eat indoors, but several patrons were seated in the courtyard, the festive sound of laughter and tinkling glass breaking up the strained stretches of silence between Carson, Kennedy, and Howard.
She smiled as Kennedy poured her a second glass of wine. The attorney was sticking to her usual sparkling water, albeit the most expensive bottle of sparkling water she had consumed in a long time. Kennedy had ordered the merlot, hoping it would calm her lover's frazzled nerves and possibly loosen up the rather reticent Howard. Geez. The man practically squeaks when he walks, he's so rigid.
"So, Mr. Howard." Kennedy scooted her plate aside and leaned forward on her forearms. "Let's cut to the chase, shall we? We all know you didn't invite us her for the pleasure of our company."
"No." Howard's face was pained. There were days when he truly believed he should have followed in the footsteps of his namesake. His mother had been a huge fan of the 1940's actor, and Howard had been born at the height of the other Trevor Howard's career. He had never hated his position of managing partner more than in the week that had just passed. His world had been turned upside down. "Before we get started, Ms. Nocona, I owe you an apology for the way I treated you when you were in our offices the night Carson was kidnapped. You must understand how inconceivable it was to me that Tony would be involved in anything like you were suggesting. I simply had no idea."
Kennedy studied his eyes, deep-set brown orbs that appeared to be genuinely remorseful. "I understand. Apology accepted."
"Thank you." Howard's shoulders relaxed, just a little. "I was hoping we could discuss a severance package for Carson. In exchange for that package, I would like a written agreement from Carson to hold my firm blameless for recent events, and a promise not to sue us. Tony truly was acting of his own accord. As far as I know, no one else in our office was involved in his dealings with Nicholas Giovani."
Kennedy felt Carson's knee bump against her leg under the table. She stifled a grin. "Okaaaay." The attorney drew the word out. "Why don't you lay your cards on the table, and I'll take a look."
"One year's salary, medical benefits for six months, and 401K matching funds to date in full." Howard sat back smugly, convinced his offer was the equivalent of Christmas morning for the young paralegal.
"Now Mr. Howard." The attorney smiled unnervingly. "You and I both know that Carson is already fully-vested in her 401K, so that part of your offer is something she's entitled to anyway. I think we need something more to sweeten the pot, don't you?"
Howard sighed. He should have known it wouldn't be easy. "What do you consider to be fair?"
"Five year's salary, medical benefits for three years, and 401K matching benefits on the five years' salary." She crossed her arms. Your move, bucko.
"But . . ." Carson's eyes almost popped out of her head, and she started to interject her own thoughts on her lover's demands. Too much, Kennedy. It's way too much.
A firm squeeze to the top of her thigh, under the table, told her to keep quiet and wait.
"Ms. Nocona." Howard's voice was painfully even. And strained. "I can't possibly agree to that. Carson has only been with our firm for five years. That's a little steep, if you ask me."
One arched black eyebrow indicated that he should keep talking.
"I . . . um . . ." He fumbled, pulling numbers out of the air. "I'll go three years' salary, medical benefits for one year, and the equivalent of a flat six month's salary added to her 401K funds before she rolls it over."
"Add in your most stellar letter of recommendation, and we have a deal." The brunette watched his mouth fall partway open in mute astonishment. Gotcha.
Carson looked back and forth between a stunned Howard and a very self-satisfied Kennedy. She smiled. It was evident that when Howard came "down" on his offer, he actually reached the ballpark Kennedy had been aiming for in the first place.
"Very good, Nocona." Howard finally smiled. "Under different circumstances, I'd be offering you a job right now. Okay, I'll dictate that letter, along with the settlement documents, this afternoon, and forward them to you . . . where?"
The attorney whipped out a small leather case and handed him one of her business cards. "I'll be back in my office by the end of this week."
"If not sooner." Carson bumped her leg again. They had had one minor argument over Kennedy returning to Austin before Carson was ready to move. She planned to be packed by the end of the week, and Kennedy wanted to stay for the duration. Carson knew the attorney had obligations back in Austin she needed to attend to. A final decision had not yet been made.
"Good enough." A waiter brought a small tray and Howard signed a ticket for what appeared to be a monthly running tab. "Shall I escort you ladies back up to the office?"
"Sure." They stood up and made their way to the elevator banks. The ride back to the eighteenth floor was silent, except for the automated voice that announced the floors as they passed them. Kennedy watched a running red digital read on a small screen just above the keypad. It announced the current time and outdoor temperature over and over again, along with the current account deals at the bank that took up one side of the building lobby. Fascinating.
The receptionist met them at the door as they entered the office. "Mr. Howard, we have a small problem." She looked down the hallway and wrung her hands nervously. "Mr. Moore is packing up his office right now. There are two security guards with him, but I thought he wasn't supposed to come do that until tomorrow."
"He wasn't." Howard stormed down the hall in agitation. "I didn't want him and Carson in the office at the same time. Dammit! Carson, I'm sorry," he called over his shoulder. "I didn't want to subject you to being around him. I'll go tell him to leave. He must have gotten his days confused."
Carson looked at Kennedy for a split second, and made a decision. "Wait." She took off after the managing partner. "It's okay. I want to talk to him."
"Carson!" It was Kennedy's turn to trail after the others. "I don't think you should . . ."
The blonde spun around and walked back. She placed her hands on her lover's arms, stopping her. "Kennedy. I need to talk to him. He was my boss for five years. I have to talk to him. Please. You can stand outside the door if you want to. Heck, you can sit in the room with us if you want to. But I wanted to talk to him, and this seems like as good a time as any."
"I don't want you to get hurt." Kennedy's chest was tight with emotion. She's been through enough. I can't watch him crush her any further.
"Kennedy, honey. I don't think he can hurt me much more than he already has." The sting of betrayal was fresh in her memory. She swallowed, almost tasting the bitterness. "I need some closure. Talking with him is going to help me get just a little closer to that."
Kennedy cursed silently. She was sure it wouldn't be the last time she was sorry Tony was a free man, at least temporarily. She understood the need for the plea bargain, but it grated on her nerves that he wasn't scheduled to report for transfer to Big Spring for three months. Damned white-collar sissy-assed prison.
She warred with herself and almost . . . almost advised Carson, as her attorney, not to talk to Tony. But the side of her that was Carson's friend won out. "Okay. But I'm going to stand outside the door. Actually, I'm going to lean in the doorway and keep an eye on him."
"You do whatever you need to do, honey." Carson reached up and poked at a slightly protruding lower lip. "It'll be okay. I promise."
"Okay. But if he says or does anything out of line, I might have to intervene." Kennedy scowled like a petulant child.
"He won't." Carson held out her hand, indicating that the attorney should take it. She smiled as the larger hand slipped into hers. A few secretaries were watching with avid curiosity. She decided she didn't care. Let 'em talk. Like they're not already.
As they approached Tony's office, she unconsciously squeezed Kennedy's hand in a death grip. She felt the brunette squirm and looked up, and then down at their hands. "Oh, sorry." She released her lover's hand and drew in a long shaky breath. "Wish me luck."
The attorney leaned over and pecked her on the cheek. "Don't forget. I'm right behind you."
Carson sighed and closed her eyes. So much had happened so fast, she still hadn't processed it all. She hadn't even had time to thank Kennedy for the negotiations at lunch. She smiled. I'm sure I'll think of some way to properly thank her.
In a very short time she would be leaving the office for the final time. The future stretched out before her, wide open and inviting. She peered into the office where Tony's back was turned. The guards were busy helping him pack the boxes. She remembered his recent heart attack and actually felt sorry for him.
She needed to confront him. If she could just get some answers, she felt that maybe she would be ready to close the door on her past and move forward. She grabbed Kennedy's hand and squeezed it one more time, before she stepped into the office. "Hello Tony."
Tony spun around, recognizing Carson's voice. He quickly appraised her, and the paralegal watched with horror, as he turned ash gray. He grabbed the edge of the desk, digging into the cherry wood top with his fingertips, leaving sweaty streaks as they slid along the sooth polished surface.
Oh my God. Don't you dare have another heart attack. "Hey. Calm down." Without thinking, Carson crossed the room and steadied her former boss, gripping his arm and leading him over to a chair. She paused. It was the chair she was sitting in when Nick belted her the first time. She swallowed and shoved a choking mixture of emotions back down.
"I just came to talk." She stepped back, holding out her hands, palms up. "I'm not armed." She looked over her shoulder at the tall dour figure hovering in the doorway. Well, not technically, anyway. Tony followed her gaze and he swallowed audibly, his eyes growing wide with fear. For a moment, a tiny grin played at her lips. Wonder if I should register her as a lethal weapon?
"Carson . . . I . . ." Tony stopped. After the first eye contact, he lowered his head, unable to meet the intense gray eyes that pronounced him guilty more effectively than any jury ever could. He was briefly thankful that he would not be appearing before a jury, at least not as the one being prosecuted. He was certain that any judge or juror who took even one look at Carson's honest face would condemn him to the worst possible fate the law would allow.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, unable to speak further.
Carson took a seat in the matching guest chair. "You said that when Nick first cornered me in here last week." She frowned and forcefully expelled a breath, choosing her words carefully. "Somehow I don't believe you. Not after you said nothing. Nothing, Tony. You had an idea where I was, and you didn't say anything until your back was against the wall. Why?"
"I'm under a gag order." The attorney finally met her gaze. "Nick's attorneys have filed one. I can't discuss the case or anything specific about it until after he's brought to trial."
"Oh. Well I'm not under any kind of order." Her anger rose and she could feel the heat in her face. "So I'm going to tell you what they did to me."
"I know what they did to you. They kidnapped you, drugged you, beat you up, and almost killed you. I've heard. Believe me, I've heard. Carson, I really am so sorry. I wish I could explain myself better, but I can't." Genuine remorse was evident in Tony's eyes, and he watched Carson's features soften, just the smallest bit. "After Nick's trial, if you have time, I'll be happy to tell you anything you want to know. I'll be in Big Spring, so you'll have to come see me to get your answers."
"I just might do that." The blonde studied the distressed brass studs that pierced the leather upholstery of the chair she sat in, attaching it to the thick wooden arm. "Why? I guess I just want to know what I did to make you think so little of me that you would consider my life worth forfeit, just for money."
Tony flinched. "You didn't do anything, Carson. I always thought highly of you, both personally and professionally. It's complicated. I can't discuss it without getting into more trouble than I already am."
He stood and began pacing the room. "I never meant for you to get hurt. And I never imagined things would go as far as they did. By the time they did . . . I was trapped . . ."
"You couldn't just walk away? Say 'no'?" The paralegal twisted in the chair, tracking his movements. "How in the name of God can you tell me that I almost died because you were trapped? Trapped by what?"
Two anguished brown eyes met confused grey. "I wish I could explain, Carson. I . . . can't. Not now. I've already said too much."
She thought about Nick spying on her, threatening to blackmail her, having photographers follow her and Kennedy around, and ultimately, kidnapping her. And I was barely involved. "Nick threatened you, didn't he?" What could he possibly have done . . . or said . . . to Tony, that would scare him so much that he'd just stand by and let me be treated that way? Her eyes fell on a small framed photograph on Tony's desk, a black and white of Patty and the twins when they were about six months old. She gasped aloud and turned, facing him fully. "He threatened to hurt your family, didn't he?"
The painful silence that settled between them was all the confirmation she needed. Tony made his way back to the chair and sat down, leaning over and burying his face in his hands. "I was such a fool. I know I did some horrible things. It just got easier and easier. After that it got harder and harder to back out. Finally, I had no way out. Not without great cost."
"What did it come down to, Tony? Lose your family or lose me?" Carson's voice was almost a whisper.
"I never thought of it exactly like that." Tony sat up and briefly wiped his face with the back of his hand. "You want to hear the most ironic thing about it?"
"What's that?" The paralegal was aware of Kennedy, hearing the slight swish of denim, as she brushed past the doorway and stood inside the room, leaning against the wall. She was in the company of the security guards, who had politely stepped aside when Carson first entered the room. All three of them warily watched the scene unfolding in front of them.
"I've lost them anyway." He reached over and picked up an envelope that sat on the edge of the desk. "Patty served divorce papers on me this morning. The process server knocked on the door while we were eating breakfast. She let him in. I was in my damned boxers. The girls were sitting right there at the table. I was forced to just take the papers with a smile. She knew I'd never have a fit in front of the girls."
"Do you honestly blame her?" Carson's voice was incredulous. "All things considered, you got off easy. If I had been married to you . . . well, I remember a scene in a movie where the woman took all the man's clothes, dumped them in his luxury car, and set it on fire. That would be a bit more my style. I'd do that and then serve the divorce papers."
Kennedy's eyebrows shot up. Mental note to self. Don't ever really piss her off.
"Close." Tony shook his head sadly. "After the process server left, she put the girls down for a morning nap and then emptied my closet. She dumped all of it in the pool and then told me I have until midnight tonight to clean it out. I couldn't even bring myself to stop her. I'm not even going to tell you what she did to my antique beer stein collection."
Oooo. Carson winced. And then smiled. Yeah. Go Patty. "I'm sorry, Tony. Forgive me if I'm having a hard time feeling sorry for you right now." The paralegal sat back with cool detachment.
The attorney stared off into space. "One decision. One decision that I made almost three years ago. It changed everything. My life is over."
"No, it's not." Cason stood up. "You can spend your time in prison feeling sorry for yourself, or you can spend it figuring out what you're going to do when you get out. Your choice. Isn't that what this is all about, Tony? Choices. You made a very poor choice and it has cost you your family. And your career. And probably your social standing. Not to mention your freedom. But why don't you think about that while you're out in Big Spring? Whose fault is all of this, anyway?"
"Nick's?" Confused brown eyes peered at her almost hopefully.
"No." The anger surfaced again. "Is he guilty? Yes. But you had the choice to do the right thing way back when, and you chose not to. It snowballed from there, I'm guessing. So take responsibility for that. You're not who I thought you were. You're certainly not the man I first started working for. Why don't you grow up, Tony? It's not like you're going to have anything better to do while you're out there."
The attorney squirmed, almost as if she had slapped him. He stared at her in mute shock.
Carson moved to stand beside Kennedy. "While you're at it, find your backbone." She took her lover's hand and tugged her to the door. Right before she walked out, she turned one more time. "Good-bye, Tony."
She didn't wait for a response.
Kennedy found herself led forcefully down the hallway. She was acutely aware of the stares, both from open workstations and offices, including Tamara's office. The shorter attorney got up and walked into the hall, watching as Carson made a hasty retreat to her office. Or what used to be her office.
Carson, however, was oblivious to the others. Her sole focus was on making it behind a closed door before the breakdown she knew was coming. Once inside the room, she slammed the door and walked across the small space, kicking her guest chair so savagely that it ricocheted against the wall before it fell on it's side. As the chair toppled over, she picked up small items from her desk, one by one, and threw them against the opposite wall.
Kennedy watched helplessly, as a glass paperweight shattered, landing in tiny jagged pieces. Laying next to it on the carpet were a paper clip holder, a small calculator, several pens, and a Rolodex. When it appeared the storm was at a lull, she cautiously moved closer, until she was about three feet from the blonde tornado. "Hey."
A knock at the door interrupted both of them.
"Go away!" Carson screamed.
Uncertain footsteps could be heard slowly retreating down the hall.
"Carson." The brunette closed the distance, resting one hand on a trembling shoulder.
"Oh God!" The paralegal slumped against her, and Kennedy felt the compact body shaking with silent sobs.
"Shhhh." She automatically wrapped one arm around her lover, stroking the fair head with her other hand. "I was wondering when this would happen."
The blonde hiccupped, and looked up at her. "You were?"
"Yeah." She continued riffling her fingers through the fine waves. "Just didn't expect it to happen here."
"You thought I'd start throwing things at some point?" Carson momentarily forgot her anger.
"Not exactly." The brunette smiled briefly. "But something like that, yeah."
"Why?" The paralegal continued to clutch at her lover's shirtfront, as if to burrow herself into Kennedy, if that were possible.
"You remember last week, when I ran away from the hospital for a little while?"
"I went across the street to a park and had a little chat with myself and a few birds."
"A few birds?" Blonde brows furrowed.
"Forget that part." Kennedy kissed the top of her head and shifted, gaining a more secure hold on the smaller woman. "I went there to sort things out, and I figured out something. You're a lot like my mother and I'm a lot like my father."
"I am?" Cason looked up at her skeptically.
"Yeah. She's . . . um . . . pretty passionate. When she's happy, she sings and dances and acts like a little kid. When she's sad, she's not afraid to cry. And when she's angry . . . well . . . let's just say my brothers and I had a few hideouts we could get to quickly."
"Oh." The blonde chewed her lower lip thoughtfully.
"Sound like anyone you know?" One dark brow lifted and a teasing smile graced Kennedy's lips. "Hmmmmm?"
She was rewarded with a sheepish grin. "And you still want to be with me, even after you figured that out?"
"Carson." The brunette playfully fluffed blonde bangs with her fingers. "My father told me that life with my mother has been an adventure. A good one. He said he's never had a bored day in his life. She's kept him young, and she's helped him not to take everything so seriously. He tends to be quiet and single-minded at times. He takes his responsibilities to heart. And he thinks he can control everything in his life.
"Now that sounds like someone I know." The blonde tickled her lover's ribs, earning a swat to her behind. "Hey. I'm not going to be able to break you of that habit, am I?"
"Nope." Kennedy rubbed the spot she'd just slapped, and gave her lover a little growl of appreciation. "That part of your body is just too perfect. And too tempting. Too distracting as well. My point, sweetheart, is that my parents balance each other."
"Just like us?" Carson batted her eyelashes and smiled charmingly.
"Exactly like us." The attorney ducked her head and nibbled at her lover's lips, savoring the sweet contact and feeling Carson begin to relax in her arms.
The blonde finally pulled back. "Was I too hard on Tony?"
"Were you . . . what?" Kennedy spluttered. "No. Absolutely not. If I had been in your shoes, he'd be hurting a whole lot more than he is right now. And I'm not talking about emotional pain. I would have done things that would have taken his mind right off his pathetic personal life."
"Like you did to Nick and Marcello?" Carson studied the smooth skin at the hollow of her lover's throat, and traced it with one finger, watching the little muscles under the skin twitch in her path.
"Mmmm. Yeah." Kennedy shuddered, remembering her confrontation with Nick in a blurry haze. It was the first time she'd ever had to use her skills with the gun in a real-life situation. She hoped it was the last. "I would probably have worked him over pretty good, at any rate."
"Kennedy?" The blonde felt Kennedy's body tense, and she nuzzled her face into the taller woman's shoulder.
"Hmmm?" Carson's warm breath sifted lightly across her neck and throat, causing a pleasant chill down her spine.
"Can we go home?" The blonde released her lover and moved over to the stack of boxes. "I'd like to get these loaded up and get out of here. I'm done with this place."
"I think that can be arranged. You wanna go say your good-byes to Tamara?"
"No." Pale gray eyes blinked sadly. "After my little outburst, I think I need to just disappear quietly. I'll try to meet her for lunch one day this week before I leave."
"Okay." Kennedy draped an arm across her shoulders, pulling her into a comforting side-hug. "Let's go pull the car around to the loading dock, and then maybe we can go find some ice cream somewhere."
"That would be perfect." Carson smiled, and opened the office door.
"This was the best idea you've had all day." Carson sat back in the warm bubbling water, her arms draped along the sides of the Jacuzzi. Chlorine-scented steam wafted up around her, beading on her face and slicking her hair back against her head. She looked up overhead toward her balcony, where Roma and Allie both sat, peering anxiously down at her and occasionally meowing in protest at being temporarily deserted.
Kennedy sidled up to her and tucked herself neatly against Carson's side. "I've got a few other ideas that might be even better." She looked around the quiet courtyard where the pool and hot-tub were nested, and satisfied that no one was watching, ducked her head and slowly sampled her lover's lips. "Mmmmm." She pulled back and smiled. "Chocolate and cherries."
Carson giggled and wrapped her hand around a tall cold shake cup. She sipped at the rapidly melting beverage, making sure to get equal parts of chocolate and whipped cream. "Uh-huh. Are you complaining?"
"No." The brunette raised one eyebrow and took the opportunity to explore further. She chuckled low in her throat as Carson placed the cup aside and concentrated fully on the kissing. Kennedy left her lover's lips, and carefully flicked the tiny drops of melting steam from Carson's jaw line, working her way up to the blonde's ear. "Salty and sweet. I like it."
"Better than that soy thing you just drank?" Carson wrinkled her nose. She'd tried to like Kennedy's choice of drink, really. But there was just no comparison between soymilk and ice cream, no matter how hard she tried to convince herself otherwise. Even low-fat whipped cream and a cherry garnish couldn't hide the odd flavor that settled uneasily on her tongue.
"Some tastes are acquired." Kennedy nibbled at a pink earlobe, pleased when she felt muscles gently fluttering against her hand, which was resting against Carson's bare stomach. "Others you can just sample once, and know you're never going to get enough." She allowed her tongue to trail down an inviting expanse of neck to an even more enticing cleavage. "Did I mention I like this swimsuit?" She smiled.
Carson had opted for a scantier little red suit over her usual royal blue athletic one. The top basically consisted of two triangles of shiny fabric that tied behind her back and at her neck with thin strings, and were held together in the middle with a small round gold and silver ring. The bottom was two larger triangles, gathered at the sides with two matching rings.
"Honey." The blonde gently pushed against her lover's shoulder. "I love what you're doing right now, but I'm not quite ready to put on a show for whatever neighbors might be peeking out through their curtains."
"Can't help myself." Kennedy reluctantly tempered her actions. "Do you have any idea how hot you are in that swimsuit, all wet and steamy?" Her eyes spoke for her, roving hungrily over her lover's muscular body.
"You're not so bad yourself." Carson trailed one finger up the brunette's midline, admiring her own view. Kennedy hadn't brought a swimsuit with her. Somewhere between Carson's office and the ice cream shop, she'd gotten the bright idea to get their ice cream to go, and then go back to Carson's place and sit in the Jacuzzi that was connected to the pool right below her apartment.
That had led to a detour to the mall to find a swimsuit. She had started to reach for her typical one-piece swimtards and tanks, when she'd felt an insistent tug to her back belt loop, and was dragged over to the bikini section. Before she could protest, Carson pointed out that all the suits were included in a fifty percent off summer clearance sale and then whispered that she might like to see the tall brunette in a bikini at the lake sometime.
Grudgingly at first, she'd selected several suits and taken them into the dressing room. Carson sat politely outside near a three-way mirror. Almost shyly, Kennedy appeared for the first time in one of the suits, to be greeted by the blonde's very obvious approval. With growing confidence, she'd tried each suit on, enjoying Carson's attention, soaking it up on a level of her ego that hadn't been stroked in quite that way in a very long time.
When she finally stepped out of the stall in the suit she was now wearing, she' earned not only an appreciative look, but also a low wolf whistle from Carson. It was a leopard-print number that was high-cut at the legs and came to a V directly below her navel. The top was a strapless twisted bandeau that simply wrapped around her and hooked together in the back. Quizzically, she'd looked at Carson trying to understand the blonde's reaction, telling her there wasn't much to the suit. Carson had rolled her eyes and explained that that was the point.
"You like this here suit, huh?" Kennedy drawled lazily, and captured the roving finger, interlacing her fingers with Carson's under the water.
"I like what's in the suit." The blonde leaned in and kissed Kennedy. She broke off on a breathless note. "Not just the physical part, but the whole package."
The brunette found herself at a loss for words. She tilted her head to one side and drank in the moment, allowing Carson's heartfelt words and the closeness of their bodies to surround her with a soft warm glow that had nothing to do with the hot churning water. She sat back and stretched her legs out on the solid concrete shelf under the water, and pulled Carson back against her, circling the blonde's waist with one arm and bringing one of Carson's hands up above the water.
She studied their twined fingers and kissed the paralegal's fingertips. "So, what's on the agenda for tonight? Much as I like it here, we're both getting pretty pruney."
"You need to pack so you can go back to Austin tomorrow." The blonde turned, prepared to stare down her lover. They had argued again in the car regarding Kennedy's departure date.
"Carson . . ." The attorney put on her litigater persona, ready to answer every protest. She was surprised instead with a soft kiss to her collarbone.
"I know." Carson turned sideways and curled up against her. "You want to stay here and keep an eye on me. You want to help me pack. You want to drive down to Austin with me on Friday or Saturday, whenever I'm ready to leave. Honey . . ." Another kiss. "First of all, the movers are coming on Thursday to do most of the heavy packing for me. They'll load up the moving truck on Friday morning and start the drive to Austin that afternoon. Tomorrow and Wednesday I'll be packing up the things I want to take with me in the car."
"I could help you with that." Kennedy playfully flexed a biceps, grinning and waggling her eyebrows.
"I'm sure you could." Carson laughed and squeezed the bulging muscle. "But it's not going to take me that long, and most of it is light. That brings me to my second point. I won't have room for you in the car when I drive down. I've got me, two cats, and all the things I'm hauling down there myself. My little car is going to be full to the brim. The cats are going to take up most of the back seat by themselves. My plants will take up the passenger seat, and the rest of my stuff will go in the hatch. Short of tying you to the roof, I don't know where I'd put you, and I'm not going to let you repeat that skate-boarding stunt from your hellion days."
"I could keep you company until Friday, and then fly back." The brunette's voice bordered on whining
"Yes, you could." Carson smiled. "And I'm sure you'd do a very good job of it. But I'll be spending most of the rest of the week meeting different friends and relatives around here for lunches and dinners." She stroked her lover's cheek. "Honey, I need to say my 'good-byes' to several folks. You'd be more than welcome to join us, but you'd be bored silly, I imagine. And you've put off your cases for over a week now. You need to get back to your office before you start losing clients. And think of poor Valerie and the others. They need you down there, honey. I'll be there by Saturday night at the latest."
"You're right." Kennedy looked down, flicking the surface of the water. "I hate to admit it, but you are."
"It'll be okay." Carson reached across, drawing her chin up. "We just both have things we need to be taking care of right now, and we have to be apart to take care of them. I'll be there before you know it. I give you a month before I've driven you crazy and you're ready to toss me out on the street."
"Not hardly." Kennedy frowned. "As far as I'm concerned you don't even need to look for an apartment. I'd like for you to just stay with me." The words were out and she closed her eyes as she realized she'd voiced thoughts she intended to keep to herself.
"We'll see about that." Carson smiled. The smile grew wider as she watched surprise register in the blue eyes. "Maybe I will. It's not like I haven't thought about it, and I kind of figured you were too."
"Yeah." Kennedy sighed with relief. "I have. I've gotten used to being around you. And I like it that way. I like waking up with you. I like making breakfast together and playing games. I like talking with you, Carson, and I like just hanging out. I know our lives will be different once we're together on a daily basis, but I think it'll be a good kind of different. I'd like to see how things go between us, living together."
"Me too." The blonde felt comforting fingers firmly massaging her neck. "I'm just so independent. You know that. I'm going to need some time. Let's just take it one day at a time after I get down there. After I find a job, we'll take another look at things and see if we want to make my move to your house more permanent or not. Deal?"
"Deal." Kennedy hugged her close, the wheels in her mind already turning. I'm going to make living with me so pleasant and so much fun that she'll never want to leave. Ever.
"Why don't we go shower and start thinking about dinner?" Carson untangled herself from the long legs and arms, and flipped her head up and down to re-settle her hair. "I'd like to have a nice dinner with you tonight."
"Yeah. I'd like that, too." The brunette stepped up on the ledge, offering Carson a hand up. They wrapped up in thick terry towels for the short walk up the stairs to the apartment.
Carson paused in the middle of brushing her teeth, mesmerized by the gorgeous dark body she could see behind her in the mirror. She was at the sink in the vanity area that ran between the bedroom and the hallway. She turned around to more fully enjoy the view.
Kennedy was in the bedroom, squatting down and rummaging around in her duffle for her clothing. The brunette's back was turned and she was oblivious to her audience. She grunted with satisfaction, retrieving a pair of purple and black zebra-striped cotton underwear. She stood up fluidly and dropped the towel that was wrapped around her body, exposing firm muscles from her shoulders all the way down to her calves. The muscles were covered with smooth dark reddish-brown skin, marred only by the remains of the large fading bruise where Marcello had slugged her lower back.
Carson almost swallowed her toothpaste, and instead, quickly turned around, spitting out and rinsing her mouth. When she turned back around, Kennedy had the underwear on and was once again digging in her bag. Carson watched the interplay of shoulder and back muscles and felt a tingling heat begin to spread across her skin.
Kennedy stood up again and donned her bra. As she started to pull a t-shirt over her head, she felt a set of fingernails run lightly down her back. "Leave that off and I'll check out your bruises for you." Carson's voice purred seductively in her ear. Kennedy froze, her arms raised and the shirt obscuring her head. She groaned softly, feeling Carson's fingers trail from her neck to her waist, tracing her shoulder blades and all the muscles below them. Soft lips followed the fingers, planting firm wet kisses in their path.
The brunette spun around, and with one flick of her wrist, tossed the t-shirt across the room. Her eyes sparkled mischievously, and she rested her hands on the tops of Carson's hips. "Ms. Garret, did you just offer to play doctor with me?" She pulled the blonde closer.
"Yeah." Carson gave her a sexy little grin. "Something like that." Nimble fingers reached behind Kennedy, unhooking her bra and drawing it down her arms. "Want to make sure you're healing up and all."
"How do I know you have the proper credentials to perform the exam?" Kennedy smirked, and then gasped, closing her eyes.
"Well . . ." The blonde discarded the bra and trailed her fingers back to the front, tracing the tops of Kennedy's breasts and running her hands lightly down her sides, and then back around and over firm butt cheeks, and on down to the sensitive skin just below them. She made good use of her fingernails. ". . . I think you've had one of my examinations before, but just to be on the safe side, I'll have to take my time, give you a preliminary exam before we get down to the real thing. You be the judge of my credentials."
"Mmmm." Kennedy growled, tugging at Carson's hips and pulling her in until they were pressed together. She leaned down and enjoyed a slow teasing kiss, allowing just the tips of their tongues to dance together for several long moments, her body responding to both her lover's lips and her hands. "It's starting to come back to me, but you're right, that preliminary exam is a good idea."
Carson slowly backed her tall lover toward the bed. She felt her own short terry wrap being removed, shrugging out of the light material. She rubbed her bare breasts against Kennedy's torso, enjoying the heat of skin against skin, and hooked her thumbs into the elastic of the black and purple panties.
"You gonna get me totally naked?" Kennedy grinned. "Not that I have a problem with that."
"Yeah." The blonde tugged at the soft cotton, sliding it down and tickling her lover's calves as Kennedy stepped out of them. Carson gently pushed her back onto the bed. "Need to make sure I do a thorough job."
Kennedy laid all the way back, her hair spilling across the pillow and her arms draped loosely over her head in a submissive gesture. Her eyes softened and she watched, as Carson crawled up next to her and then straddled her, coming to rest in a seated position across her hips. The brunette's breath caught at the wide-open passion in Carson's eyes. "I'm all yours, Dr. Garret."
"I know." Carson curled over her, kissing her thoroughly, as her hands began to wander up the toned stomach. She reveled in the sensations, feeling Kennedy alternately relax and tense against her, as the taller woman continually murmured nonsense words to her. Carson understood them perfectly, her own passion rising to match that of her lover. She took her time, using her fingers and lips on every available inch of skin, and feeling long legs wrap loosely around her, pulling her in closer.
Kennedy felt her lover's lips gently kissing all around the remains of the large bruise on her ribcage. With painful slowness, the lips gradually moved upward, licking at the underside of her breast. Her eyes flew open as Carson closed her mouth around her nipple. "Oh, yeah. Feels, so good." Long fingers threaded into short blonde hair, encouraging Carson's actions. "Oh, God." The blonde pulled back and blew on her wet skin, causing a chill that ran from her toes directly to her groin.
Carson watched the dark skin pucker and tighten, and she ran the flat of her hand across it as she gave the other breast equal attention. Her free hand meandered down Kennedy's side, urging her legs further apart, and teasing the highly sensitized skin of her inner thighs.
"Baby, please keep going." Kennedy's tongue traced the rim of Carson's ear and nibbled down her jaw to her lips.
"Not stopping until I'm finished." Carson's fingers moved inward, and Kennedy got a much more intimate examination. She gave in to the delicious sensations, closing her eyes blissfully as she felt herself entered deeply, her lover's firm strokes bringing her to what she knew would be a mind-shattering climax. "I love you so much," Carson breathed softly in her ear. "So much more than I can possibly express."
Kennedy surrendered completely, feeling her body curl up inside before she allowed herself to ride the waves, her body pressing into Carson as she clutched desperately at her lover's shoulders for an anchor. "That's it, Kennedy. Be mine." Carson held her close, gathering as much of the longer body into her as she could, riding out the climax with her lover until she felt the brunette begin to relax, sinking limply down into the mattress.
"So . . ." Kennedy began to form lucid thoughts. She wrapped her arms and legs tightly around her lover, pulling the smaller woman up until their lips met in a sweet languid kiss. "What's your diagnosis, doc?"
"Mmm . . ." Half-closed gray eyes peered at her dreamily. "You're beautiful." Her fingertips lightly brushed against the bronzed face. "You seem to be having perfectly normal reactions to stimuli."
Kennedy burst out laughing, her rolling chuckles giving Carson a bumpy ride as she was stretched out on top of her. She continued to laugh inside, while wiping the grin from her lips to replace them with mock-stern seriousness. "Do you have any prescriptions for me?"
"Well . . ." Carson smiled and rolled off of her and onto her side, making small circles with her hand against a flat stomach. "I think we need to repeat the exam frequently, just to make sure."
"Oh, I like the sound of that." Kennedy flipped her onto her back. "Do you need me to return the favor?"
"That only sounds fair, don't you think?" Carson felt the taller woman begin a slow path down her neck with her lips. Her breathing grew erratic, as the lips circled her belly button before giving a gentle tug to her navel ring, causing a jolt of pleasure that caused her to cry out.
Kennedy smiled with self-satisfaction, and nibbled lower. "Oh, yeah." She made good on the deal.
Much later, Carson lay in her arms, thoroughly sated. "We kind of skipped dinner."
"You hungry?" Kennedy kissed her head, her hands wandering idly up and down Carson's back, her mind lost in thought. It was the first time they had made love since they were in Fredericksburg. She'd been very careful not to push Carson, and had been waiting for the younger woman to make the first move. Every fiber of her body was grateful to have this, their physical intimacy, back. She had been hungering for the kind of healing that only Carson's loving touch could bring.
"Uh-huh. Although I'm not much in the mood to get dressed and go out now." She rose partway up. "We could order in some Chinese."
"That sounds good." Kennedy detected a slightly melancholy note in her lover's voice. "I'd like to have dinner in bed, and just talk." She blinked, allowing her emotions to show in her face. "I'm gonna miss you this week."
"I'll miss you too." Carson smiled, her voice sounding a little less somber. She reached up, stroking long dark locks, twisting them through and around her fingers. "I once swore to myself that I'd never move somewhere for someone else." She watched defensive walls begin to rise in hurt blue eyes. "Wait." She smiled reassuringly. "There's more. I watched several of my friends give up everything for someone else, and watched them lose themselves in the process. So I promised myself I'd never move for someone else, unless I found someone who made my life better by being with them, than it was on my own. I've finally found that."
Kennedy held her breath, as Carson took her hand and placed it against her chest. The brunette felt her lover's heart beating strong and steady, pulsing back against her. "This heart belongs to you, now. You didn't take it from me. I give it to you freely. I know you'll take good care of it"
Kennedy felt an inner trembling, her own heart fluttering wildly in response to her lover's words. She started to tell herself she didn't deserve this. And then she stopped. She remembered a pure white buck and she thought about her younger self, and the five years that has passed since Angela died. I'm not that person anymore. She nodded slightly in recognition. Maybe it's time I just accept this for the gift it is, and stop questioning myself at every turn. "You better believe I will."
She pulled Carson down in an affirming kiss. As she broke off, she remembered a small box in her duffle. "Oh. Stay put." She carefully slid out from under Carson and rolled to her feet. She knelt down and unzipped a side pocket, retrieving the box. She padded back over to the bed and sat on the edge. "I got something for you. Part of it, you already had, but I got something to go with it."
She handed Carson the box. The blonde studied her quizzically for a second before she lifted the lid. "Oh." She smiled. "How pretty. Thank you." She lifted a dainty charm bracelet from a bed of soft cotton. She carefully fingered the charms attached, laughing with quiet wonder. There was a tiny pair of cowboy boots, a small telephone, a single rosebud, a tiny teddy bear, and finally, she spied the key that Marcello had thrown in Tony's trashcan. "How . . . ?"
"I found it when we went up to your office looking for clues." Kennedy took the box from her and lifted the cotton, revealing a long thin chain with a single very small heart pendant. She reached up, draping the necklace around her own neck. The chain was long enough that the heart actually fell between her breasts, and would remain hidden if she kept it tucked inside her shirts. "I guess we're on sort of the same wavelength tonight." She gently took the bracelet from Carson and showed her how the key actually fit into a small slot in the heart. "Key to my heart, Carson."
Carson watched, as Kennedy took her hand and fastened the charm bracelet around her wrist. She followed by pressing her lips against the inside of her palm, nipping softly at the skin just below her fingers. The brunette sat back and smiled. "Let's order that Chinese food before I decide to have you for dessert."
"Okay." Carson sat all the way up, swinging her feet around to the floor. "I think I know where I can find a menu."
Kennedy's lips tickled, and she brushed at them in annoyance, her eyes still closed. Her hand made contact with a purring furry bundle and she opened her eyes to find two very round green ones peering at her from inches away. Green eyes framed by black, white, and orange patches, and long whiskers. A tiny wet nose pressed against hers and a rough tongue gave her an experimental lick. "Yaaaa!" The startled brunette cried out reflexively.
Roma scampered off the bed, the frightened feline much more surprised than the object of her curiosity. "What's wrong?" Carson's sleepy voice drifted over a bare shoulder.
"Nothing." Kennedy kissed her on the head. "Just one of the cats. Go back to sleep."
"'Kay." The blonde nestled her head into the side of her neck, sighing with contentment.
Wide-awake, Kennedy also sighed, and looked at the window. The mini-blinds were silhouetted by soft gray light, indicating the coming dawn. She knew she should try to sleep some more. They had stayed up talking until well past midnight.
They had grown much closer during the five days together after Carson was discharged from the hospital. Any doubts Kennedy had ever harbored concerning her relationship with Carson, for the most part, had completely dissipated. She had held her emotions carefully in check, not wanting to frighten Carson with just how deep her feelings had become.
But last night . . . Kennedy smiled. Last night, after they shared their Chinese food and curled up on the couch to watch a video, Carson had tentatively confessed similar feelings. With no more real doubts between them, they had opened up to each other on a new level, sharing their real life-dreams with each other . . . where they wanted to be in ten years, and twenty years, and fifty years. What they wanted to be doing and what things they hoped to accomplish.
Little by little, they realized that they were talking in terms of "we" and "us" and even "family," rather than "I" and "me." It had been both frightening and energizing at the same time. Kennedy had never envisioned herself having a long-term future with anyone before, even Angela. With Angela they had both been too young to think much beyond the next weekend. But with Carson . . . she shivered happily. With Carson she saw things in her future that before she had never dared to imagine.
She tightened her hold around the smaller woman and planted another kiss on the fair head. She felt a feather-light kiss to her shoulder in return, and gently rolled Carson over. Her lover's eyes were still closed, and she leaned down, brushing her lips across each eyelid and then on down, meeting Carson's lips in a light teasing contact.
"Thought you wanted me to go back to sleep." The blonde smiled and her eyes fluttered open.
"You don't have to wake up." Kennedy's hands wandered lower, her easy steady strokes causing Carson to pull her in closer. "At least not completely."
"This is nice." Carson's eyes closed again as her body felt a strange combination of early morning lethargy, mixed with a banked fire that was slowly coming to life, but with much less fervor than she had experienced the night before. This was unhurried, and somehow stimulating and relaxing at the same time. It was almost like . . .
"Just float here with me for a little while." Kennedy kept up her motions, neither increasing nor slowing her speed, as her hand moved lower still, and she reached wet silky warmth. "So nice."
"Mmmm." The blonde arched into her. Carson did indeed float there for a long while, allowing Kennedy's touches to gradually bring her up to a very nice place, and then feeling her lover just as gradually bring her back down to another place that was completely peaceful and totally safe.
Kennedy curled up against Carson's back, rubbing her lover's belly slowly and kissing her softly along the back of her neck and shoulders. "Now you can go back to sleep."
"Don't we need to get up?" Carson already felt her body giving in to the overwhelming desire to just close her eyes and allow sleep to claim her for a few more hours.
"Nah." The deep voice vibrated against her back. "I'm flying out this afternoon. We've got plenty of time."
"Are you gonna take me out to breakfast the next time I wake up?" The blonde smiled, resting one hand on top of the one that was wandering across her stomach.
"Darlin', I would never go to bed with a woman and not take her out to breakfast the next morning. Breakfast . . . brunch . . . lunch." Kennedy placed one last kiss at the nape of her neck. "Whatever you want, sweetheart." She allowed her fist to come to rest between Carson's breasts, and felt a smaller hand curl around it, holding her there.
"Does that hold true even after I get to Austin?" Carson teased, squeezing her lover's hand.
"Well . . ." Kennedy buried her face into soft blonde hair. "I might not take you out every morning, but I will cook for you."
"I think I've found Heaven," Carson laughed softly.
"Oh, baby. I'll take you to Heaven any time you want to go there." The brunette nipped at the exposed skin of a shoulder, and then quickly kissed it.
"I love you, Kennedy." Carson snuggled back against her.
"Love you too." I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Carson Garret. She blinked in surprise, her eyes going wide in amazement. For the first time, that thought didn't frighten her. She wasn't ready to say it out loud just yet, but as surely as she knew she was in love with Carson, she knew the words were true. It was only a matter of time. The brunette closed her own eyes, her breathing and heartbeat slowing down as her body coaxed her back into pleasant dreams.
The terminal was fairly still in the early afternoon, almost as if it were laying in wait for the coming bustle of business commuter traffic that would begin to arrive after the workday was over. Carson and Kennedy sat side by side at one of the gates, facing out the large windows that overlooked the maze of tarmac and runways of the regional airport. Kennedy had one arm draped casually across the back of Carson's seat, their legs touching and their heads bent together in quiet conversation.
To the casual observer, they appeared to be two close friends in deep discussion. In reality, they were both greedily soaking in their last few minutes together before Kennedy's flight was called to board. Finally, the gate attendant made the announcement that the passengers should get in one of three lines, depending on the numbers on their boarding passes. It was the first time Kennedy had ever been glad to be in the last group that would be allowed onto the plane. Every minute counted.
They had gotten up at mid-morning and showered together. That had been a first, as they took turns playfully soaping each other up and spent a lot of time in even more exploration. Getting clean had never been so much fun. Both women were grateful that Carson's apartment complex was on a boiler system, assuring them that running out of hot water was almost impossible, and they could take their time at their new found source of recreation.
After the rather long shower, they had gone to brunch at a small health-food cafÈ near downtown Dallas. Kennedy persuaded Carson to try granola pancakes with raw honey and nuts, and the blonde had discovered she really liked them. After a few cups of coffee, her mood had grown more somber, and they had turned to topics both women didn't want to discuss, but needed to.
Nick and Marcello had been arraigned the Friday before. It was one of the few times Kennedy had left Carson, and she filled her lover in on the details. She had gone to the hearing, carefully spelling out her arguments. Both men had plead "not guilty," but in the end, Kennedy won. Due to the nature of their alleged crimes, their case had been handed over to federal authorities, and the judge had ruled in her favor, stating that due to their history of stalking and other aggressive behavior, the two men would be held in a federal prison without benefit of bail, until trial.
Over breakfast, Carson fearfully asked what would happen next. Nick and Marcello were already incarcerated in Big Spring, a safe distance away from either Dallas or Austin. Kennedy explained that each man would stand trial separately, but that she didn't expect either one to actually go to trial. Attorneys for both men, attorneys for the government, and attorneys for other interested parties, such as Carson and Trevor Howard, would all be building their cases over the next several months, and information and evidence would be exchanged. She expected both men to eventually agree to plea bargains. Of course with that many attorneys involved, it could take a year or more for everything to be resolved.
Carson's former firm, surprisingly enough, seemed to be weathering the storm unscathed. Trevor Howard had been quick to hire one of the best public relations firms in the state. When news of the whole affair did begin to leak out, they spin-doctored the situation in such a way that it appeared to be solely the fault of Tony Moore, and the firm came out looking like a victim with Howard himself looking like a saint.
Kennedy had received Carson's proposed severance package the day after she was discharged from the hospital, and after a thorough review, had sent it back with only a few minor changes. She called Howard to discuss the changes, and in the process, he had confided that rather than people shunning the firm, he had had an increase in inquiries from potential clients, as well as from potential employees. Kennedy raised her eyebrows at that. People never ceased to shock her. Carson had merely been relieved. After the fallout, she and Tony were the only casualties.
"Carson . . ." Kennedy drew her aside to wait for her group to be called. "I'm so sorry you had to go through all of this."
"I'm not." Carson patted her on the shoulder, restraining herself from hugging the taller woman outright.
The blonde's calm voice surprised her, and she frowned. "You're not?"
"No." She moved closer. "Kennedy, if I had to go through all of this so that you and I could get together, then I don't have a single regret. My only regret would be if all those innocent folks at my firm had been hurt in the process, but it looks like that's not going to happen. So, no regrets."
"I . . ." The brunette looked around. To hell with them. She pulled Carson against her, inhaling her lover's sweet clean scent and closing her eyes for a moment. "I'm glad you feel that way. I still wouldn't have wished all that pain on you. Not in a million years. But you're teaching me something Carson."
"What's that?" The paralegal wrapped her arms around Kennedy's waist, giving in to her own cravings.
"I've spent so much time looking back on my past. You've been through so much, not just this stuff, but losing your family and having to deal with all of that. Yet you keep looking ahead. You just roll with the punches, Carson. When I see the world through your eyes, I see so much to be thankful for. You've taught me to hope for the future again." Kennedy looked down, getting lost in clear gray eyes that shone back at her.
"And you're teaching me that it's okay to need someone else." Carson smiled. She almost, almost kissed her lover, when they heard Kennedy's group called to board. They moved to the end of the line, Kennedy's arm still hanging loosely around her shoulders.
They watched the throng of passengers enter the tunnel, many of them struggling with large bags that really should have been checked, until no one was left except for the gate attendant. Kennedy stood at the doorway and pulled her close again, and whispered in her ear. "Nei - na - su - tama - habi. I lie down and dream of you. I rise up and think of you. When the wind blows through my hair, I'll know you are moving in my heart."
"That's beautiful." Carson whispered back.
"Comanche love poem." Kennedy glared at the gate attendant until the uniformed woman had the good sense to look away. The brunette ducked her head, and quickly kissed her lover. "I love you, Carson. I'll be waiting for you."
"I'll be there by the end of the week." The blonde kissed her back, and then gently nudged the taller woman through the doorway, watching until the brunette disappeared around a curve in the tunnel.
She turned and found the attendant staring at her. She chuckled evilly inside, and did her best Kennedy imitation, scrunching her brows together and allowing her eyes to grow cold. The woman's eyes grew wide, and she quickly became interested in her computer monitor.
Carson walked over to the large windows, watching idly until Kennedy's plane was in the air. When it was a tiny dot in the sky, she made her way out to the parking garage and drove home quietly. She wasn't sad. If anything, she was excited. The rest of the week was going to fly by, of that she had no doubt. Kennedy was right, she wasn't looking back. She firmly believed that everything had happened precisely as it should have. Her future had just boarded a plane for Austin, and by Saturday she would be there by her side, exactly where she belonged.
Five days later . . .
Carson sat on the porch swing, the steady rhythm of the rocking lulling her into a state of utter well-being. It had been a long day. She had arrived in Austin around noon and they spent the rest of the day unloading her car and getting the animals situated. For the time-being Roma and Allie were staying on the sleeping side of the house, while Spanky, LJ, and Murphy were quartered on the living side of the house. They would gradually introduce the pack to each other, carefully following instructions Carson had received from her veterinarian before she left Dallas.
Just as she had expected, the week had flown by. When she wasn't packing, she had been going to breakfast, lunch, and dinner with more friends and family than she realized she had. To top it all off, a bunch of her friends threw her a surprise going away party the night before at Sue Ellen's. A couple of them lured her there on the premise of having one last happy hour together. Several hours later she had finally gone home, her arms filled with boxes and bags of farewell gifts and cards. That had been nice, and she'd invited all of them down for a cookout the weekend before Thanksgiving. She grinned. She'd tell Kennedy about it, eventually.
The object of her thoughts was stretched out on the swing, her long legs reaching to the very end of the wood-slatted bench and her head cradled in Carson's lap. She ran her fingers through the thick dark locks and received a purr for her efforts. "You tuckered out?"
"Yeah." Kennedy reached up and lazily tickled the inside of her knee. "You have a lot of stuff, Ms. Garret. Not that I'm complaining."
"I guess I do." Carson ruefully nibbled on her lower lip. They had yet to do anything with the stacks of boxes and furniture that the movers had delivered to Kennedy the day before. It was temporarily stored in the guest bedroom. They'd sort through it, eventually.
They'd have to. Carson's winter clothing was somewhere in there, and she figured by January she'd need to pull out her winter coat. God, I've missed Austin. She hated the cold, and in Austin she only had about two months of winter to deal with each year. "Winter" being defined as any day when the temperature didn't rise above sixty degrees.
Kennedy turned on her side and continued with her light tickles to Carson's bare knee, tempering her actions so that they were soothing. Carson looked out over the lake. The sun had just set and the sky was painted in brilliant shades of orange and red. The water at the horizon appeared to be on fire. She watched as a flock of ducks flew low, dotting the sky and quacking anxiously to each other before settling in the cove below the house, near the boat dock. The air was pleasantly cool, and she inhaled the scent of lake water, mingled with the sweet smell of hay that wafted up from the barn.
This was peace. She trailed her fingers from Kennedy's hair, down to her cheek, dragging the backs of her fingers against the soft skin as she leaned over. "Honey, I'm home."
Kennedy blinked at her, her eyes pale silver in the low light. She slowly sat up and took Carson's hand, kissing it lightly. "You really feel that way?"
"Yeah." Carson sidled up against her and felt Kennedy's arms circle her body. "Yeah, I do."
"Well then." The brunette hugged her tightly, resting her cheek against Carson's head. "Welcome home, sweetheart." Kennedy felt her body relax, as they continued to rock in contented silence, allowing the music of the night to drift up around them, the songs of crickets in the garden, and bullfrogs down in the rushes, along with the gentle lapping of the lake against the shore, assuring them that all was right with the world.
There was a vacation to plan, and boxes to unpack, and the coming trip to Alpine to consider. Carson's settlement check would arrive the next week and she would have to start thinking about her next step, professionally. Kennedy had a full docket to look forward to in the coming week, and she needed to take some time to go up to the garage apartment and kick Pete into gear over his midterms. She had promised her parents she would.
For now, however, they were both happy to sit in the swing, on the porch, comfortable in each other's arms. It was a beautiful night, and the first twinkling stars were starting to appear overhead. One shot across the sky and they both drew in a breath. Carson smiled and looked up at her lover. "Did you make a wish?"
"Yeah." Kennedy leaned in and kissed her, conveying shared dreams, both spoken and unspoken. This was sweet. She allowed Carson's scent and taste, and the very real sensation of the younger woman in her arms, to wash over her with reckless abandon.
They came up for air. Gray eyes met blue in quiet understanding. The future had never looked brighter.
THE END (for now)
NOTES (as of May 31, 2001): I want to thank y'all for coming along on this journey. If it weren't for your positive feedback, this story would not be headed for the publisher. Some of y'all have been with me since "March the 16th." Back then I never dreamed anyone would read this stuff, much less that anyone would want to publish it. I've always written because it was relaxing and fun. Now something else fun has come of it. It's because of y'all that it's happening. I don't think I can adequately express my gratitude in that regard.
The next story will be another long Xena/Gabrielle story, and will be titled "The Eyes of Eire." There will be Amazons, Druids, ancient curses, and we just might eventually get a joining ceremony, which could mean that Lila, Cyrene, Gab's parents, Herc, Iolaus, and just about everyone they've ever known could show up.
There are a few projects I need to get out of the way before I start writing it, so it could be a month or so before the first chapter is posted. Have patience. I'll try to make it worth the wait.
While writing the next story, I will also be editing Bluest Eyes for publication. That means time will be precious. Completed chapters will still be sent to MaryD and ForevaXena, so if that's where you've been reading, you can still get them there.
For those who don't like to wait for completed chapters, and like to read the story unedited in progress on list, I've decided to limit posting of those bits of "The Eyes of Eire" to my own two lists:
Updates/Chat List: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Texbard
Updates Only List: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TexbardUpdates
The Updates Only list is exactly that, and no one can post to it but me, so your mailbox will not be flooded. The updates/chat list is one to which other folks can post too. We discuss mostly fan fic and Xena there, and I usually respond to any feedback posted. Some days it's busy and others it's quiet.
Once again, thanks for reading!
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