See Chapter 1 for Disclaimers
THE BLUEST EYES IN TEXAS
Copyright 2000 By Texbard
Kennedy slowly drifted awake, a part of her reluctant to break away from the pleasant haze that engulfed her. Mmmm. This is nice. She snuggled more tightly against the warm body she was curled around and inhaled, taking in the fragrance of herbal shampoo in Carson's hair.
True to her word, she hadn't budged all night. She frowned and then opened her eyes, as she assessed her current situation. Uh-oh. Her fingers were resting against soft skin. Somehow during the night, her hand had crept under the paralegal's t-shirt and was splayed across the younger woman's stomach.
Upon further assessment she smiled, as she realized that Carson's hand was also under the shirt, planted firmly on top of hers. Guess our subconsciouses are on the same wavelength. She sighed with contentment and allowed herself to savor the contact. I'm enjoying this way too much, she chastised herself. Especially considering the circumstances that brought me here.
She raised up on her free arm and carefully peered over the young woman, studying her profile in sleep. Sunshine filtered through sheer curtains on the nearby window, painting both of them in a large chunk of light, and lending an ethereal quality to Carson's skin. Poor kid. Hope a good night's sleep gave her a new perspective on things. Wonder how she's gonna feel when she wakes up? I hope she's not embarrassed about opening up to me like that.
She felt the solid body begin to stir, and ducked her head, placing a soft kiss on the younger woman's cheek. "Mornin', Carson." The paralegal's head turned and grey eyes blinked up at Kennedy.
"Uggh." Carson's eyes felt like sandpaper and she couldn't breathe out of either side of her nose. "I feel like a truck ran over my face."
"Probably from falling asleep right after crying." Long fingers unwittingly caressed Carson's stomach and the younger woman jumped in response. "Oh. Sorry."
"How ..?" Carson suddenly realized where both their hands were and grinned sheepishly. "Um ... sorry. Guess I kinda had you trapped, huh?" She gingerly removed her hand from its perch on top of Kennedy's.
"Nah." The attorney left her hand where it was. "Anyway, I think my hand must have started it." She made light circles against the solid muscles and shook her head with a smile. "Geez, Carson. Bet I could bounce a quarter off your stomach."
"Maybe sometime, if you're really good, I'll let you test that out." The blonde batted her eyelashes.
"I can be very very good." Kennedy flirted back and then her brows furrowed as she grew much more sober. She removed her hand from under the covers and gently pushed Carson's hair away from her face. "How are things upstairs?"
"Upstairs? I can't breathe. I'm all stopped up." The paralegal looked down, afraid to meet the pale blue eyes that appraised her. She probably thinks I'm some kind of psycho woman after last night.
"I can tell that." Kennedy tilted her chin up. "That's not what I meant." Her voice softened. "Are you okay? You need to talk anymore?"
The blonde swallowed, still unsure of where they stood with each other. "No. I'll be fine. I'm sorry I got all needy on you last night. I ..."
Two lips brushed lightly across Carson's, silencing her. "No need to apologize, Carson. I'm just sorry about you losing your parents. You're too young to have been through all of that already."
"Thanks for being there for me." The paralegal smiled shyly.
"No problem." Kennedy gazed intently at her friend. "Anytime you need me, all you have to do is call. I mean that, okay?"
"Okay." Carson sat part-way up and wrapped a hand around the back of Kennedy's neck, pulling her forward and kissing her softly. "I'll keep that in mind."
A surprised attorney licked her lips and smiled. "Um ... how about I whip us up some Mexican omelettes while you get a shower? The steam should help your breathing."
"How can I refuse an offer like that?" Carson tried the lamp on the nightstand and frowned. "Except I won't be able to blow-dry my hair."
"Yes you will." Kennedy sat up and ran a hand through unruly dark locks. "The other side of the house has a back-up generator. After you shower you can dry in the half bath over there. And since hot water and the wall heater in the bathroom are powered by gas, that won't be a factor."
"Great." The paralegal reluctantly stood up and stretched. "I'll see you in a bit then."
"Yeah." Kennedy watched thoughtfully as the young woman disappeared from the room. I think I could get used to having her around, she mused to herself. Yep. Wouldn't be difficult at all. And I can't believe I'm thinking like that already.
As the day went on, the temperature rose in true Texas fashion. Two horses picked their way through a small orange grove on the edge of Kennedy's property, the riders enjoying light-hearted conversation. The sun warmed both women, and the scent of rain-dampened earth drifted up pleasantly around them.
The attorney wanted to check on the grove to make sure the rain and wind from the overnight storm hadn't done any serious damage to the trees. At this time of year there were no blossoms and very little fruit on the trees to worry about, so she mostly eyed the leaves and branches, checking for breakage, as well as loss of soil around the base of the tree trunks. They reached the last row and she sighed with relief, satisfied that the trees had weathered the storm unscathed.
"Thanks for riding out with me." She looked over at Carson, who had on a ball cap and sunglasses to protect her face from any further sunburn. "I have to do this after every storm."
"Lot of trees for just you and your brother." The paralegal slowly panned the area, absorbing the quiet peace of the little grove.
"I ship some of them home to my mother and father." Kennedy played with her reins, re-tying the knot that held the two long leather straps together. "And I take a lot of it to the homeless shelter in town. But yeah, Pete and I are orange juice-aholics."
"Tcchh. A juice addict, huh? And here I was beginning to wonder if you had any vices at all." Carson shook her finger in mock-admonishment. "In the short time I've known you, I've learned that you don't drink caffeine and you don't have an ounce of junk food in your kitchen. The only time you drink alcohol is when you're having a glass of organic wine in your own home. You've got soy milk in your refrigerator, but you did eat cheesecake. I've seen you eat shrimp fajitas, a veggie burger, and omelettes made of free-range chicken eggs. I'm assuming you're an ovo-lacto-pesca-vegetarian, correct?"
"Guilty as charged." The attorney's eyes twinkled. "Although I can think of a few more things I could become addicted to."
"What's that supposed to mean?" The paralegal blushed, feeling the heat of her friend's gaze.
"Oh, nothing." For now. Kennedy clucked to MaryD, directing the bay to turn back in the direction of the stable. "It's a couple of hours until we need to leave for the airport. You wanna head back to the house?"
"Yeah." Carson and Missy fell in behind. The spirited mare had immediately taken to Carson, not that Kennedy was surprised by that, given the reception the blonde had received from the other four-footed members of her household. "I need to re-pack my bags and change into something that doesn't smell like horses."
"I've always liked the scent of horse-flesh," the attorney quipped, looking over her shoulder.
"Honestly, me too." The blonde smiled. "When I was growing up, my best friend and I used to go horseback riding every Saturday afternoon. I think both our mothers looked forward to it even more than we did. They'd drop us off at the rental stables and be child-free for two hours."
"My father had me on horseback before I could walk." Kennedy slowed, as they cleared the trees and had room to ride side-by-side. "I was barrel-racing in the junior rodeo division by the time I was five. It was one of the few things I did growing up that my father was proud of."
"How could he not be proud of you?" Carson's voice was tinged with anger. "You're smart, you own your own law firm, you give back to your community, and you're drop-dead gorgeous on top of all of that."
The attorney smiled, watching her friend blush as Carson realized what she had just said. "Thanks. And he is proud of me now. But it took us a long time to get to where we are today. Carson, you grew up in the city, and from what you've said, your schools were always fairly racially balanced."
"Yeah." The paralegal laughed. "Growing up, I literally didn't see differences in skin color. Especially with the Hispanic kids. My first clue that my friend Alicia Salazar was Hispanic was at her birthday party, when all her relatives were speaking Spanish and they served cake and tamales instead of cake and ice cream. I don't know why her last name didn't clue me in. I just never thought about the differences. Always figured people were people."
"Wish I had had a friend like you when I was growing up." Kennedy gazed off into the distance, not really seeing what she was looking at.
Carson sensed the shift in emotion and sidled up closer until their legs were almost touching. "Did kids give you a hard time?" The observant woman had noted during the ski party that Kennedy wore SPF 50 sunscreen. And then during the back rub it wasn't difficult to determine that she had no tan lines. The dark reddish-brown pigment that Carson had originally assumed was a deep tan was in fact the brunette's natural skin color.
"I was the only dark-skinned kid in a small all-white town, Carson. And on certain levels, I hated my father because of it. I wished so badly I had inherited my mother's red hair and fair skin. Blue eyes just didn't matter when the other kids wouldn't get close enough to see them." The attorney made an effort to tone down the bitterness she still sometimes felt. "Most of the other kids assumed I was from a Mexican migrant family. Although most of the migrant kids didn't go to school. I got called a lot of names ... 'wet-back' ... 'spick' ... I'm sure you get the picture."
"But you're half-Comanche, not Mexican." Two blonde brows furrowed in confusion.
"Oh, yeah, and that made things sooo much better," a sarcastic voice responded. "I made the mistake of pointing that out. Then I got called different names. 'Squaw' ... 'half-breed.' God I hated hearing that song on the radio. It hit way too close to home for me. No one wanted to be my friend. The white kids wanted nothing to do with me. I tried to make friends with the migrant kids, but none of them spoke English. I think that's partly why I took Spanish all through high school and college."
"Must have been pretty lonely." Carson reached out and lightly rubbed her friend's leg.
"Elementary school was rough and so was junior high. But high school gave me a second chance because it was a lot bigger and kids from the entire county all went to the same school." The attorney closed her eyes briefly, enjoying the touch against her denim-clad skin.
"Well, that's good. A second chance is good, isn't it?" The paralegal felt a larger hand close over hers.
"Not really." Kennedy brushed her thumb across Carson's knuckles and then released her hand. "I did my best to leave my Comanche heritage in the dust, and I think I broke my father's heart in the process. I made friends with all the kids who didn't know me in junior high. Told anyone that asked about my skin color that I laid out all summer and just had a really good tan. No one ever questioned my last name because no one recognized it as an Indian name. I never invited anyone to my house because I didn't want them to see all the Native American artifacts we had. I joined the rodeo team, learned to dip snuff, and became an all-around hell-raiser. We'd drive out into the hills on the weekends and smoke pot and drink our asses off."
"You sure have changed." The younger woman studied the guarded profile.
"I had one thing in my favor." The brunette half-turned in the saddle, the well-oiled leather creaking with her movement. "I was smart. No matter how much I partied on the weekend, I always managed to make straight A's at school during the week. And surprisingly enough, being a lesbian helped, because I didn't date much, and didn't have that whole scene to distract me. There certainly weren't any other gay people in Alpine, Texas, at least none that I was aware of."
"You were out in high school?" Carson's voice squeaked. "Gosh, and I'm still not hardly out at all."
"Oh, hell no." Kennedy shook her head. "I absolutely was not out in high school. I think the only thing that would have been worse than being a half-breed would have been to be a half-breed lesbian. I kept my attraction to girls to myself. I got in enough fights as it was."
"Fights?" The blonde brows rose.
"I had a mouth on me. And I beat up anyone from junior high who brought up the fact that I am Comanche. Pretty soon people learned to keep my secret. I had a tough reputation to uphold. With them and with the few people who did question my sexual orientation." The attorney chuckled. "I'm not sure beating guys up was the best way to try to convince them I was not gay. I went out with a few, just enough to keep the rumors at bay. But I never let them do anything more than kiss me. If they went back to the locker room on Monday and made up stuff that didn't happen, I figured that only served to help further my facade."
"You've ... never slept with a man?" Carson chewed her lower lip.
"No." Kennedy squinted into the sun, which was dropping lower in the sky. "I always knew I was different from the other girls. Especially when I realized that at football games I spent most of my time watching the drill team instead of the football team. It took a while to figure out exactly what was going on. I knew that I'd see certain girls and I'd have this reaction to them, inside, that I was pretty sure they weren't having in return. I was ashamed of myself. I'd sneak over to the library at the nearby state university and read everything I could get my hands on. It took a while to admit to myself that I was gay, but after I did, I knew I had to get out of Alpine. My good grades were my ticket out."
"Between my grades and my Native American roots, I was offered a full scholarship to a small liberal arts college in New Mexico." A full smile graced Kennedy's face. "A place where it was okay to be Comanche and okay to like girls. And then coming here to Austin for law school, that was a good thing, too, because it's so liberal here compared to the rest of the state."
"Yeah." The paralegal looked sad. "Wish I had taken advantage of that when I was in school here. I was so far in the closet then, that even I didn't fully understand what was going on with me. I dated so many guys."
"I'll bet you did." Kennedy smiled affectionately. "You're too pretty not to have attracted them."
"Thank you." Carson looked down, giving way too much attention to the tooled leather scrolling of the saddle. "Just made some mistakes, that's all."
"Why?" The attorney reached out, brushing her fingers against her friend's hand. "Because you slept with some of them?"
"Yeah," Carson responded sadly. "I didn't love any of them. Not that there were that many. Only three, actually. Sometimes I feel like I used them. I kept thinking that eventually it would be good with someone, the sex, I mean. Two of them I only slept with once and then immediately dumped them. I think I really hurt their feelings."
"Carson." Kennedy chose her words carefully. "Don't be so hard on yourself. A lot of people, especially in their early twenties, experiment around. And most lesbians have been with men. I'm the exception, not the rule. Some women even get married before they figure it out."
"It ... doesn't bother you?" The paralegal slid out of the saddle, as they reached the stables. "My past, I mean."
"No." Kennedy also dismounted and moved around, taking the reins from her friend. "Come on. Let's get these ladies in their stalls and then you and I can talk about this some more, okay?"
"Okay." Carson stood up a little taller, feeling a lot better about herself than she had a few moments before.
They made quick work of un-saddling the horses and brushing them down. Carson enjoyed the task immensely. She hadn't helped take care of a horse since she was in seventh grade. That was the year that her love for horses had been replaced with a love for her peer group at school, and all the activities that went with being a teenager.
She finished combing out Missy's tail and closed the stall door, receiving a nudge of the white mare's nose to her backside in the process. "Hey!" She turned around and scowled as she fastened the door latch. "What was that for?"
"I think I've spoiled them," a low voice purred in her ear from behind. "She wants an apple." Kennedy retrieved one from a barrel and handed it to her. "Go on. She always expects to get a treat after she's been groomed."
"Oh." The paralegal took the apple and held it out. She laughed as the fine hairs on the horse's muzzle tickled the palm of her hand. "What a sweet girl."
"Yeah." The attorney wrapped her arms around Carson's waist from behind and nuzzled her neck. "She's not the only sweet girl in here." She playfully guided her friend over to some large bales of hay stacked in an empty stall, releasing her and flopping down into the soft pile, patting the space next to her. "Com'ere, darlin'."
Carson smiled and reclined back into the fragrant straw. She felt giddy inside as a long frame cuddled up to her and Kennedy draped an arm across her middle. "Carson." The attorney idly ran the flat of her hand up and down an exposed forearm. "Listen to me. I'm pretty realistic about things. I don't care who you dated in the past and I don't care who you did or did not sleep with. All I care about is that you're here, right now."
"You have no idea how refreshing that is." Carson chuckled with relief. "You don't have that virgin-whore syndrome so many of the little Baptist boys I went out with had."
"Excuse me?" Kennedy's hand momentarily stilled and she raised up slightly to get a better look at her friend. "Virgin-whore syndrome?"
"Yeah." Carson giggled. "We used to joke that what all good Baptist boys wanted was to marry a virgin who was good in bed."
"Sounds like an awful lot for a girl to live up to." The attorney snorted, and flopped back down into the hay. "Geez. And I thought lesbians could be political. I never got too much into the politics of the gay lifestyle, at least not outside of some of the legal matters I've handled. Maybe I should have. I just always figured love is love. As far as women go, lesbians run the gamut, from lipstick chicks that wear more make-up than many straight women, to the ones who don't shave their legs or pits. While my own personal tastes fall somewhere in between those two extremes, I try not to judge anyone. This lifestyle is hard enough without making people feel bad about how they got here."
"Now I wish I'd had friend like you in high school." The smaller woman shifted, pressing herself closer to the warm body next to her. "Maybe I wouldn't have been so afraid to just be myself."
"Well." Nimble fingers sifted through wavy blonde locks. "We're friends now, aren't we?"
"Yeah." Carson felt warm breath on her skin, and then two soft lips pressed against her jawline, working their way up to her own lips. She closed her eyes and let herself get lost in the sensation, opening her mouth and inviting Kennedy to explore.
The attorney sighed and rolled over, hovering over her friend, not breaking the contact. Her hand wandered up and down Carson's side, finally brushing against the side of her breast through the cotton pull-over the blonde was wearing. She heard a whimper of encouragement, and slowly moved her hand down to slide under the shirt, exploring Carson's stomach, gradually moving higher until her fingers hooked beneath Carson's bra, pushing it up and tracing the soft curves she found there.
Carson wrapped her hands around Kennedy's biceps, digging in and pulling the brunette down closer against her. She arched into the contact and felt soft lips nibbling at her neck, working their way to her ear. It was so different. She'd kissed a few other women, but none of them had touched her like this. The men she had been with were all hard, insistent, and single-minded, but this ... this was soft and warm and unhurried. She turned her head and they kissed again, as Kennedy's fingers continued to play against her skin.
The taller woman broke off and raised part-way up to study dark grey irises that stood out vividly against their white background. "Carson, I ... don't want to push you."
"You're not." The blonde reached up, touching a chiseled cheek bone. "But ... and don't take this the wrong way. I don't think I'm ready for much more ... just yet. It's not that I'm not attracted to you. 'Cause believe me, I am very attracted to you."
"And I am to you." Kennedy flashed a sensual smile. "Which is partly why I want to be careful with you. Take it slow. I don't want us to get so caught up in the physical stuff that we don't get to know each other first. I think ... if things keep going between us the way they are ... we'll eventually get to more ..." She paused as Carson blushed very nicely. "God, you're beautiful." She ducked her head and quickly kissed the smaller woman.
"Kennedy, when it does happen, I want it to really mean something." She willed herself to breathe evenly, her body thrumming from Kennedy's exploration. "Not that you don't mean something to me now. I already care for you. But I ... I'm having a hard time explaining what I mean."
"I understand." Skilled fingers teased sensitive skin one more time, and the attorney tenderly kissed her breasts through her shirt. "In a very short time, I've come to care for you too, Carson." Kennedy reluctantly removed her hand from beneath Carson's shirt, and let it come to rest on the younger woman's hip. "I've waited a long time. I can wait some more, because I want it to be special, too. Which is why I think we better stop for now. Besides, you need to get ready to go to the airport."
"Yeah, and I'm going to need some extra time, now." The blonde felt herself half-lifted, half-pulled to her feet.
"Why's that?" The attorney brushed straw off herself.
"I think a cold shower might be in order." Carson smiled shyly. "Or at least a lukewarm one."
"Oh." Kennedy chuckled and pulled the shorter woman into a warm hug. "I might need one too. I'd suggest we share, but I think that would defeat the purpose."
"Yes it would." The blonde buried her face into a solid shoulder and felt Kennedy's arms tighten around her. "Or we could just stand here like this for the rest of our lives."
"Works for me." Kennedy rested her chin on Carson's head and closed her eyes, absorbing the sensation of the solid body in her arms, memorizing it for the days ahead when they would be empty again.
"I had a really nice time this weekend." Carson's voice was muffled against the cotton polo shirt.
The attorney kissed her forehead. "Me too, baby."
Carson shuffled out of the elevator and tugged open one of the large double half-glass doors to the office. She shifted her brief case from one shoulder to the other and made her way by rote to the kitchen to pour a cup of strong coffee. Rush hour traffic going into downtown Dallas had been so heavy that she had time to finish her latte in the car on the way.
Waking up to the harsh reality of Monday morning had seemed a cruel injustice. Memories of soft sad kisses in the Four Runner in the airport parking lot were bittersweet. It had taken an extreme act of sheer will to get out of the truck, turn her back, and walk into the terminal. She had insisted that Kennedy not come in and wait with her at the gate. It would have been too hard to restrain herself from kissing the dark beauty again, and it might not have gone over well with some of the more conservative passengers.
She sighed heavily, putting the memories on a back burner, and walked down the long carpeted hallway, nodding hellos to various secretaries at their work stations. She groaned as she rounded a corner and spotted all the boxes of documents from the trial stacked outside her office. Dropping the brief case on top of a box, she fumbled through her purse for her office key and heard the soft click as she un-locked the door.
"Back to reality," she mumbled to herself. She set the coffee cup down on the edge of her desk and moved behind it to stare out the window. "Back to my lovely view of the power plant." Her office looked out over the northeast edge of downtown, facing the Trinity River. On most days she couldn't actually see the water in the river, because it was too low. But the tall smoke stacks of the power plant were always in sight.
She flipped on her computer and watched as the screen came to life. "Oh, good Lord!" During the pleasant weekend she had completely forgotten that she had been out of the office in trial for a week. She groaned as she looked at her e-mail in-box. "A hundred and thirty-two freaking messages."
She sat down at her desk and began to methodically click through the various posts, opening the ones with 'urgent' red envelopes next to them first. "Hmmm. I don't give a flying fig about your new client, Steve. I don't think they rate a red envelope." She deleted the message and moved to the next red one. "Yes, I do want to sit in on the 401K meeting ... which was held Friday. Oh, well. Hope they saved some hand-outs for me." She deleted it and heard a voice clear behind her.
"Yes." She spun around and rolled her eyes. "Aw, Kevin, go away." The office runner just grinned at her while he placed a huge box of mail on the side table that was against the wall next to her desk.
"Sorry, Carson," he apologized. "Mr. Moore has been in since seven this morning, and he told me to make sure you go through your mail first thing."
"Thanks." She managed to smile as the congenial student left her office. She grabbed her letter opener and dug into the box, grasping a handful of mostly large vanilla envelopes. She spun back around so she could look out the window, and began to slit open the first parcel.
"Got another delivery for you." She heard Kevin's voice behind her.
"More mail? Oh goody." She turned around and stopped. And stared. "Oh."
"You sure rate with someone." The runner sat a large crystal vase on her oak veneer desk. In the vase was a dozen yellow roses. "Is here okay? Carson? Hello, Earth to Carson." He laughed.
"Um ... yeah. The desk is fine." She stood up and took a card from a holder that was tucked among the fragrant flowers. She smiled and then paused, looking up to where the runner stood in the doorway. "Good-bye, Kevin." She playfully shooed him away.
"Aw, man. I didn't even know you were seeing anyone. You're not going to tell me who they're from?" Big puppy-dog eyes begged.
"Nope." The paralegal moved toward him and he backed out into the hallway. "Thanks. Now, be gone." She closed the door and turned, leaning against it. The scent of the roses already filled her office. She pulled the small card from its envelop and grinned as she read it:
Carson - Thank you for one of the best weekends of my life - Kennedy
"Now how am I supposed to get any work done?" The paralegal felt a familiar fluttering in her middle and sat weakly down at her desk, leaning back and just staring at the flowers. She picked up the phone and flipped through her stored e-mail messages, locating a number. She pushed the digits on the keypad and waited.
"Kennedy Nocona." The firm alto voice settled over her like a warm blanket.
"Hey." Carson suddenly felt nervous. "Um ... thank you. The roses are really beautiful."
"Oh. Hi." The attorney's demeanor softened perceptibly. "Glad you like them. I ... hoped you wouldn't think it was too much."
"No." The paralegal kicked off her shoes beneath the desk and tucked one leg under herself. "That's really sweet. I've gotten mixed bouquets in the past, but I never got a dozen roses before."
"Really?" Kennedy brightened. "So I did okay, huh?"
"Very okay." Carson smiled. "I love them."
"I just wanted to make sure you knew how much I enjoyed your company." The attorney flipped a pen through her fingers while she talked. "I'd really like to see you again."
"You could come up here this weekend, if you want to." The blonde crossed her fingers and toes, and scrunched her eyes closed, waiting.
"I could do that." Kennedy clicked around with her mouse, locating her on-line travel agent. "There's a flight out on Friday evening that would arrive in Dallas at 7:00 p.m. And ..." She clicked some more. ".. a return flight that would leave at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday. How does that sound?"
"Great!" Carson wanted to jump up and down and scream, but managed to stay in her seat. "That would be great."
"Done." The attorney completed the transaction and printed out the confirmation.
"Just like that?" Grey eyes grew wide.
"Yeah." Kennedy folded the piece of paper and tucked it in her briefcase. "I have enough frequent flyer miles to fly round-trip to Istanbul free, if I wanted to."
"Wow." The paralegal heard a knock at her door. "Just a second, Kennedy ... Come in," she called out. Tamara poked her head in the doorway and let out a gasp when she spied the bouquet. She tip-toed in quietly and sat down on the guest chair in front of the desk. "I've got to go. E-mail me the flight details and I'll come pick you up on Friday."
"Will do." The attorney felt her heart flip over a few times. "Can't hardly wait."
"Me neither." Carson let out a heavy sigh. "See you Friday."
The paralegal heard the other line disconnect, and slowly set the receiver back down in the cradle. She turned to face her friend. "Hey."
"I came to ask how the weekend went, but I'm guessing it went really well." The attorney grinned at her friend.
"Oh, yeah." Grey eyes sparkled with wonder.
"You didn't ..." Tamara's eyebrows rose.
"Didn't ...?" Carson frowned. "Oh. No." She blushed. "We just had a really nice time, that's all. In fact, she's coming up here this weekend."
"Really?" The attorney's eyes grew wide. "Any chance I might get to meet her?"
"Maybe." Carson considered for a moment. Was she ready to share? "Maybe we could meet you and Sarah for lunch on Saturday."
"Hey. I don't mean to be pushy." Tamara sat back in the chair and crossed her legs. "I'm just happy for you, Carson. And I'll admit to being a bit protective, too. I'd like to meet the woman who sends a dozen roses after a first date. Even if it was a weekend-long date. Very good color choice, though. Not too forward."
"What do you mean?" The paralegal leaned closer to her desk, inhaling the scent of roses.
"Yellow is for friendship." The attorney stood up. "Well, I need to get to work, and I can tell from that pile of mail that you do too. Wanna do lunch?"
"Fishing for details, huh?" Carson teased.
"You know it. So. Lunch?"
"Sure." She watched her friend leave and then turned back to the mail, both paper and electronic.
It was Thursday afternoon and Carson was making the final revisions to a document that was to be filed with the court by 4:00 p.m. She pecked at the key board, adding the last paragraph, and then ran her spell-checker. After one last review she printed it out and carried it down the hall for Tony Moore to sign.
She entered the spacious office and laid it on his desk, stepping back and peering out the window at the much nicer view of the large homes and trees of Turtle Creek and Highland Park. "Here's the final draft. Kevin is ready to run it down to the clerk and get it filed."
Tony glanced at the document briefly and then signed it with a flourish. "Here you go. Thanks."
"Tony." Carson gently chastised. "It would make me a lot more comfortable if you would actually read the document before we file it."
"Nah." The busy man replied. "I trust you."
"Okay, it's your law license." She shook her head slightly. She turned to leave when he called her back.
"Carson." He smiled at her. "In case I forgot to tell you last week, you did a great job with trial assistance. Things went a lot smoother with you there."
"Thank you." The paralegal beamed at the unexpected praise. She and Tony got along pretty well, but after working together for five years, sometimes the little things were taken for granted.
"Listen." Tony pursed his lips. "Nick Giovani thinks you did a great job, too. He wants to take you, me, and my wife out to dinner with him and his wife, to thank us for our hard work."
"What about Tamara?" Carson frowned. Her friend had played a large part in the trial too.
"Well, Nick made dinner reservations for tomorrow night at 7:00, without asking about our schedules first." The attorney shifted in his chair, leaning forward a bit. "Tamara will be out in Tyler in depositions late tomorrow afternoon, and she can't get back in time, so Nick said he would take her out another time."
"Tomorrow night?" The paralegal felt her heart sink. "I sort of had plans tomorrow night."
"Can you change them?" Tony's eyes pleaded. "Please, Carson. Nick's company is one of our biggest clients. He specifically asked that you be there. He thinks very highly of you."
Yeah, right. Carson sighed. Christmas bonuses would be given out in three months. It was much too close to do anything that might make her look like less than a team player. Dammit. She didn't budget for anything based upon the bonus, but it always came in handy for paying down credit cards and buying Christmas gifts. "Okay. Let me make a phone call. I'll be there."
"Thank you, Carson." The attorney looked relieved. "Your sacrifice won't be forgotten."
A dejected paralegal trudged back out into the hallway and made her way to the copy room where Kevin was waiting. She handed off the document with instructions for copying and filing with the court, and then went to her office and closed the door. Can't believe that tomorrow night at 7:00 I'm going to be eating dinner with Nick Giovani instead of picking Kennedy up at the airport.
She slowly picked up the phone and dialed Kennedy's office number. She got voice mail and cursed silently, and then dialed her cell phone number. This time she was rewarded with her friend's voice. "Hey, Kennedy."
"Hey, Carson. You caught me at a really good time. I just finished a hearing and I'm going back to the office for a few hours. What's up?" From her tone, the attorney was obviously happy to hear from her, and Carson's spirits sank even lower.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news." Carson hedged, wishing she could hop on a plane and fly to Austin. "You can't come in tomorrow night after all."
"Oh?" The attorney felt her stomach twist into a knot, wondering if Carson was having second thoughts. "Why not? You replace me already?" She tried to joke, hoping to cover her disappointment.
"No." The paralegal could almost picture the rejection on her friend's face. "I have a command performance dinner with the client from the trial. They won't take 'no' for an answer. Kennedy, I'm sorry. You don't know how much I wish I was going to be eating dinner with you tomorrow night."
"That's okay." Kennedy was relieved. "I can switch the flight, come in later, or come in on Saturday morning."
"It won't cost anything extra?" Carson hated for her friend to spend extra money because of her.
"No. All I'll lose is seventy-five dollars worth of frequent flyer miles for transferring the flight. Drop in the bucket." The attorney smiled into the phone. "Small price to pay to get to see you."
"You ... you're not upset?" The paralegal felt tears stinging her eyes and she swallowed, willing them away.
"No." Kennedy chuckled. "Carson, I certainly understand client obligations. I'm an attorney, remember?"
"Yeah. I guess you would." Carson smiled.
"Tell you what." The attorney turned into her office parking lot. "I'll come in on the Saturday morning flight at 10:00 a.m. That way you won't have to worry about leaving dinner if it runs late, and you can get a good night's sleep."
"You know there's a flight at 10:00?"
"'Fraid so." Kennedy got out of the truck and locked it. "Unfortunately, I fly so much, I've got most of the in-state flight schedules memorized."
"Even for weekends?" Carson was incredulous.
"Carson, you aren't the only one who has had to make sacrifices to keep clients happy." The attorney reached her office and opened the door, slipping inside. "Don't worry. Enjoy your dinner as best you can, and I'll see you Saturday morning. I'll even fly back to Austin on the red eye on Monday, if you want me to, so we can have more time together."
"Thanks, Kennedy." The paralegal felt a little bit better. "Can't wait to see you."
"Counting the minutes." The attorney frowned, as she realized that Valerie was standing in her office doorway silently making fun of her. "Take care, babe. I'll see you Saturday morning."
Kennedy flipped the phone closed and scowled at Valerie. "What?"
"Girlfriend, you are so whipped." The dark-haired woman teased her.
"Oh, and like you don't have a red-haired midget that tugs you around by the leash." Kennedy sparred back.
"Hey, Serena is not a midget." Valerie laughed. "She's just vertically challenged."
"Bet if I repeat that to her she'd put you in the doghouse for a month." Blue eyes twinkled at black.
"You wouldn't." Valerie's voice rose in alarm.
"Oh, wouldn't I?" Kennedy smiled evilly.
"No, you wouldn't, because if you did, I'd have to show Carson that ink blotter on your desk. The one that has her name doodled all over it, along with a bunch of little hearts." The dark-skinned woman watched as Kennedy turned red enough to blend with the red suit she was wearing. "Gotcha."
"I've got work to do," Kennedy muttered, still scowling. She beat a hasty retreat to her office, listening to Valerie's quiet laughter behind her. She sat down in her functional desk chair and studied the tell-tale ink blotter. Am I whipped? And do I care if I am?
She thought about that, and looked around her office. It bore little of her personal taste for natural northwestern designs, but rather was furnished with two purposes in mind. They had chosen modern streamlined furniture that would appeal to their high-tech clients. At the same time, they deliberately kept things spare, so that their pro bono clients would not feel out of place
Her one concession to her roots was a dream-catcher which hung in the window. Native American lore stated that the webbing in the center of the dream-catcher would allow the good dreams to pass through, while the bad ones would become entangled in the web, thus sparing the dreamer any nightmares. She stood and walked over to the window, fingering the beads and feathers that adorned the piece of artwork.
What do you dream of these days, Shea? A vision of vibrant stormy eyes and soft blonde hair passed before her. And what of your nightmares? With a start, she realized that those seemed to be fading, at last. Are you going to pursue the dream, or are you going to let the bad stuff keep beating you down?
She picked up her truck keys and left her office, locking the door behind her. She poked her head into Valerie's office and cleared her throat. "Um ... I'm done for the day."
"Oh, fine. Everyone else is already gone and now you too." The dark-haired woman turned, ready to resume their banter. "Just leave me here to do all the work." She stopped, noting the serious expression on Kennedy's face. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Kennedy averted her eyes. "I have something I need to go take care of. I'll be in tomorrow morning, early."
"Okay." Valerie frowned. "You need company?"
"No." The attorney managed to smile. "But thanks. Don't work too hard."
Kennedy left the office and hopped in the Four Runner, punching buttons on the radio until she gave up, popping in a CD of melancholy operatic music that matched her mood. She drove south on I-35 and exited east onto highway 71, watching as the city gave way to rolling countryside. The leaves were just starting to turn, painting the foliage in an interesting mix of reds, greens, and yellows. Less than two hours later, at dusk, she pulled into the town of Bastrop.
As if on autopilot, the truck followed an old familiar route until she reached a tiny cemetery on the edge of town. She parked the Four Runner and looked carefully around before getting out of the vehicle. She pocketed her keys, not bothering to lock up, and slowly walked up to the gate, fiddling with the latch for a moment before getting it open. Ignoring the chill in her spine, she stepped inside the low stone walls, picking her way through overgrown grass and weeds until she found the small headstone in a far corner.
Suddenly at a loss, she sat down and pushed back a patch of tall grass that was obscuring the writing on the marker and studied it. Has it really been five years? She looked closer. Well I'll be damned. Five years to the day. No wonder I'm in such a funk.
A memory came crashing in, of screeching brakes and shattered glass, and an ache she thought would never go away. She felt the bile rise up in her throat and quickly got up, emptying the contents of her stomach into a nearby bush. She wiped her hand across the back of her mouth and forced herself to return to her spot, sitting back down This is going well.
She looked down at her crossed legs and allowed the tears to fall. After several long minutes she looked back up and spoke quietly. "Hi. It's been a long time, huh? I hope things are good for you, wherever you are. You wouldn't recognize my life now, if you were still here. Anyway, I came here because I need to say good-bye to you. I know I swore once that would never happen. I'm sorry, but it's a promise I'm going to have to break. I have to move on. And I think I've finally got a chance to be happy, though God knows I don't deserve it. I've met someone . You'd like her. And by the grace of God, I'm not going to screw up this time. A part of me will always love you. But Carson - that's the girl I've met - she deserves my best, and to give her that I've got to let go of you. I'm sorry. For everything."
Kennedy got up and ruefully noted the grass stains on her red suit skirt. As she reached the gate she turned and looked around one last time, realizing she would probably not be coming back again. "Sweet dreams, angel." Her words were a soft whispered prayer, to be carried away on the wind.
The valet opened the car door and Carson stepped out of the Integra, grabbing a small satin purse and light-weight wrap. "Thank you." She accepted the claim ticket and smoothed the skirt of her black evening dress. It was a form-fitting simply-tailored piece that came to just above her knees. It had a fairly high scooped neckline and long sleeves that were sheer from wrist to shoulder.
She stopped for a moment and peered at ornately pretentious hotel doors. "Figures that not only does Nick screw up my evening, he forces me to wear all of this crap on Friday night." She sighed heavily, settling her shoulders, and made her way through the large doors toward the most expensive restaurant in Dallas, her heels clicking lightly on the marbled entryway floor.
There was a time in her life when she would have been impressed with the dog and pony show she was about to enter, but that wasn't who she was any more. She much preferred her jeans, and sharing a couple of beers with a few of her closest friends, especially on Fridays when she was usually somewhat wound up after her typically long work weeks. "Maybe I can feign a headache halfway through dinner and go home."
She reached the restaurant and saw Nick and Tony already seated at a table for four. She frowned, as she noted that neither Tony's wife nor Nick's wife was present, and that it appeared at least one of them wouldn't be showing at all. It suddenly occurred to her that in five years, she had never met Nick's wife. Tony's wife was a different matter, as Carson had been to Christmas parties and Fourth of July barbeques at the Moore household on several occasions.
"Carson." Nick motioned her over. "We were about ready to send out a search party. Come on over. Have a seat." The short Italian man patted the chair next to him. "Carmella couldn't make it tonight. She's feeling a little under the weather."
That makes two of us, Carson grumbled internally. She took a seat and smiled as a waiter immediately placed her napkin in her lap. Like I couldn't do that for myself. Boy, am I in a great mood. She forced a smile, first at Nick and then at Tony. "Where's Patty?"
"She'll be along shortly." Tony gestured toward the door. "Our sitter was running late and she's waiting for her. I came on ahead and joined Nick for an early drink in the bar while we waited for the table."
"How are the twins?" Carson smiled, waiting for the usual round of recent photographs Tony always seemed to have with him. His two-year-old daughters were his pride and joy, along with Patricia, his trophy wife. The girls had inherited their mother's blonde hair and blue eyes, rather than Tony's brown-brown combination.
"Lauren has a bit of a cold and Lindsey is cutting her two-year molars, but other than that, they're fine." He riffled through his wallet. "Here's the latest." He laid a few black and white shots on the table. "Patty has graduated from color to black and white. I think these came out pretty good, if I do say so myself."
Carson smiled and studied the photos of the little tow-headed girls. "They sure did. Is Patty taking another photography class, or is she learning on her own?" Tony's wife was a free-lance photographer for several local and regional magazines, and had a dark room set up in their home.
"A class." Carson returned the photos and Tony re-pocketed his wallet. "She's hoping that adding to her skills will land her some black and white spreads in some national publications"
A waiter set a glass of red wine in front of the paralegal, and she looked up at him in confusion. "I didn't order this."
"I took the liberty of ordering for you," Nick interjected. "It's the finest merlot in the house. I thought you might enjoy it."
"Um. Thanks." I think. Carson took a sip. "It is good."
"Glad you like it. So what did you do in Austin after the rest of us flew back to Dallas?" The insurance agent swirled his own glass around, gulping half the contents in one swallow.
"Visited a friend," the paralegal responded to Nick, while observing a nervous twitch in Tony's eyelid.
"Did you have a good time?" The agent leaned closer, drawing her attention away from her boss.
"Yes." Carson took another sip of wine. "Yes I did."
"Good. Although we missed your company on the flight home." Nick motioned the waiter over and ordered a bottle of the merlot to be brought to the table. The wine arrived and the waiter went through the obligatory show of popping the cork and allowing Nick to sniff it, along with sampling a taste of the dark red libation. "Nice." He gestured toward the table, indicating that it was okay to leave the bottle.
Another waiter appeared to describe the evening's specials and then a platter of assorted appetizers arrived. Carson selected a mushroom cap, nibbling slowly while she listened to Tony and Nick discuss football and golf. The two men managed to consume the entire bottle of wine in a short time, and ordered another one.
Finally the waiter returned and took their dinner orders. They decided to go ahead and order, since Patty was still nowhere to be seen. Carson was about to order glazed chicken, when Nick cut in. "Carson, you must try the veal here. It's the best in the city."
"I don't eat veal." The paralegal tried to keep the annoyance out of her voice, mindful that Nick was a client.
"Don't tell me you're one of those animal rights activists." The agent laughed.
While not really an activist, Carson did find the way veal was produced to be repulsive. Visions of tiny calves tethered in their stalls, deprived of daylight and solid food, their sickly little bodies growing weaker every day, was enough to turn her stomach. She wanted to say what she really thought, but had learned from experience that people like Nick loved to argue, and she wasn't in the mood to deal with him on that level. "No. I just don't like it."
"Suit yourself. Maybe you would like to try the Duck L'Orange instead." Nick ordered the veal for himself, and Tony followed his lead, ordering it for both himself and his wife. Carson stuck with the chicken. One of her pet peeves when she had dated men were the ones who tried to think for her.
The waiter left and talk of football and golf resumed. Carson mentally contemplated the many ways she might get out of dinner after the main course. Suddenly Tony jumped. "Pager's going off." He removed the electronic device from his belt and looked at it. "Patty." He fumbled around in his suit pocket. "Damn. I left the cell phone in the car. I'm going to go call her on the courtesy phone in the lobby. I'll be right back."
The paralegal watched him leave, hoping he would hurry back. Being alone at the table with Nick was not exactly her idea of a good time. She turned to the short man and unconsciously scooted back. "Nick, I don't believe I've ever met Carmella."
"No, you probably haven't." The agent re-filled Carson's empty wine glass without being asked. "She doesn't get out much. She's from the old country and Italian is her first language. She still doesn't speak English very well."
"But she's sick tonight?" The paralegal carefully reached for her water glass, ignoring the wine.
"Yes. I think she has that stomach bug that's been going around." The short man piled caviar on a cracker and took a bite.
"Sorry to hear that." Carson wasn't aware of any stomach bugs going around.
Tony returned to the table looking very flustered. "I'm sorry, guys. I've got to go meet Patty at the emergency room. Seems that Lindsey was bouncing on the bed and flew off and busted her forehead open. She needs stitches. The sitter is at the house with Lauren, but Patty doesn't handle blood very well. She was nearly hysterical when I talked to her."
Carson noted the increase in the nervous twitch. Tony was white as a ghost, and she chalked it up to having an injured child. "Oh God. Go on. I hope everything is okay."
"I'm sure she'll be fine." Tony shook hands with Nick. "I think Patty's in worse shape than Lindsey is. We'll have to take a rain check on dinner."
"Give my best to Patty." Nick clapped Tony on the back. "Drive carefully. Don't get in a wreck trying to get there."
Carson watched her boss leave and then it hit her. I have to eat dinner alone with Nick. Good Lord, can this night get any worse?
They managed to pass dinner in polite conversation. Carson had to dodge personal questions several times, and felt her irritation growing exponentially as the evening wore on. She lost count of how many glasses of wine Nick consumed, while she had stopped with one. She was relieved when the meal finally ended, and they were waiting for the check to arrive.
Nick was sipping a glass of cognac and slowly ran his eyes from her head down to her feet. "Would you like an after-dinner drink, Carson?" He smiled indulgently at her.
"No thank you." The paralegal swallowed, as the man unexpectedly leaned forward and rested his hand on her forearm.
"Carson, I've really enjoyed the evening, haven't you?" He licked his lips.
"Um ..." She pulled her arm away. "It's been nice."
"We could prolong it." Nick pulled a hotel room key card from his breast pocket. "I've got a suite upstairs. Would you like to see it?"
Carson's heart beat double time and she felt a thin trickle of sweat run down the back of her neck. "No thank you."
The short man's face grew red with anger. "I've treated you to a wonderful meal at the nicest restaurant in town, and you can't even spend a little time with me?"
The paralegal studied Nick's face, trying to decide if he was a very controlled drunk, or if he held his liquor well and knew exactly what he was suggesting. He appeared to be completely lucid. "Mr. Giovani." Carson chose to be formal. "It was my understanding from Tony that this was a business dinner to celebrate winning the trial last week."
"There are many ways to celebrate, little girl." Nick reached across the table and grabbed her wrist, squeezing it tightly. "I've been watching you for a while now, and I'd really like to spend some time alone with you. Most women would jump at the chance to spend some time in a room at this hotel."
"I'm not most women." Carson jerked her hand away, rubbing her wrist where the agent's nails had dug in."You are married and I am involved with someone." She reached around for her purse, and started to get up from the table.
"You mean your little lesbian slut down in Austin?" Nick's voice stopped her cold. "Nice roses by the way. 'Kennedy' is her name?"
"You ... how ...?" She felt her nape hairs prickle. How the hell does he know about Kennedy?
The short man laughed cruelly. "Yes. We know all about you, Carson. You live alone, you have two cats, and your parents are both dead. You travel a lot because your closest friends live out of state. You meet a large group of them every year to go camping in Colorado or Utah. Your last real relationship was two years ago, when you dated a man in Fort Worth for about three months. Since then you've been spending more and more time down in Oak Lawn at the gay bars, and last weekend you kissed a woman under the First Avenue bridge in Austin."
How does he know all of that? The paralegal took deep breaths of air, part of her wanting to bolt and part of her needing to hear what else Nick had to say. "You have someone spying on me?"
"All the time." Nick finished his cognac. "I can show you some nice pictures from last weekend sometime, if you'd like."
"I don't understand." Carson willed herself to remain calm. "Pictures? Spying? Why?"
"It's very simple, Carson." The agent leaned in until the smell of alcohol on his breath was overwhelming. "My company pays your firm huge sums of money every year. In exchange, I get lots of nice favors. I own your firm. I own your boss. And I own you. I like to keep an eye on what is mine."
"No." The paralegal pushed her chair back from the table. "I am not your property."
"Maybe not yet, but you will be." Nick reached inside his jacket and produced an envelope, handing it to her. "Go ahead, take a look."
With trembling hands she opened it and pulled out several photos of her and Kennedy walking along the Town Lake trail. In two they were holding hands, in one they were hugging, and in two more, they were kissing. She noted with relief that whoever took them apparently had not followed them out to Kennedy's house. Unless there were more photos he wasn't showing her. She looked up and found herself at a complete loss for words.
"Tell you what Carson, you come upstairs with me, we spend a little time together, and I'll give you the negatives and promise not to send any copies to the managing partner of your firm." The agent sat back coolly in his chair, waiting for her response.
"No." Carson stood up, clutching the envelope. "You and I have a business relationship, and nothing more. And that's the way it's going to stay. So you do whatever you think you need to do, because I'm not going up to your room with you."
Nick watched her walk away. She took the photos with her. It didn't matter. He had more copies. You can run little girl, but I will get what I want, one way or another.
Carson drove around aimlessly for an hour. She was afraid to go home. Afraid that maybe her apartment was bugged, or that someone was there hiding and watching outside. She ran through a list of friends she might drop in on, and then realized that if she was indeed being watched, that by now Nick and whoever else he was dealing with knew about all of them. She continually looked in her rear-view mirror, checking for any sign that she was being followed.
She felt the edges of her mind slowly unraveling and finally pulled into a convenience store parking lot. She rested her forehead against the cool steering wheel and closed her eyes. Now what do I do? Do I go to Tony and tell him what happened? Can I trust him? Can I trust anyone? Was I set up tonight?
With great determination, she got out of the car and walked over to the pay phone on the wall beside the front door of the store. She dialed her calling card number and then punched in a phone number and waited while it rang.
"Kennedy?" Carson's voice shook.
"Carson?" The attorney was in her home office catching up on paper work. She could hear the fear in her friend's voice. "What's wrong?"
"Ev ... everything." The first tears began to fall, and the paralegal wiped her sleeve across her eyes. "This is your cell phone, isn't it? There's no way it could be bugged, right?"
"Carson, baby, you're not making sense." Kennedy's brows furrowed in confusion. "What are you talking about? Why are you worried about my phone being bugged?"
"It couldn't be, could it?" Carson sniffled. "I can't talk to you if it could be."
"No. It's with me all the time. There's no way it's bugged." The attorney's heart was thumping wildly in her chest. "Now tell me what's wrong. You're scaring me."
Amid sobs and hiccups, the paralegal re-counted the entire evening. She looked around warily as she spoke to make sure no one was listening. "He knows things that I can't figure out how he knows them. I'm afraid to go home." She finished her story. "I don't know where to go."
Kennedy had remained silent though most of the conversation, except to ask a few questions and encourage her friend to keep talking. Her first instinct was to tell Carson to get in the car and drive to Austin. But it was late, and that wouldn't really solve anything, anyway. "Hold on a minute."
"Don't hang up," Carson pleaded.
"I'm not going to hang up. I'm going to call Heidi on the other line. I'll only be off for a few minutes, okay?"
"Okay." The paralegal waited for what seemed an eternity, until she heard Kennedy's voice gain.
"Where are you, baby?"
Carson gave her the location. She began to shiver in the late evening chill, and wished with all her heart she had simply stayed home in her sweats, and not gone to dinner at all.
"Carson, go inside the store and stay put. Heidi's on her way to get you." The attorney walked through her house as she spoke, making her way to her bedroom closet. "She's gonna take you to her place, and I'll be there in less than two hours."
"You ... you don't have to do that." The paralegal suddenly felt foolish.
"Yes I do." The attorney was already packing a small suitcase. "I'm not sure what kind of game this Giovani creep is playing with you, but whatever it is, it stinks to high Heaven. I'm coming up there and we are going to figure this out together."
"Carson, please." Kennedy gentled her voice. "Let me do this, okay? It's for my peace of mind too."
"Okay." Carson took in a deep breath.
"Oh. One more thing." The attorney tossed a suit into a garment bag, just in case. "This was a conversation in anticipation of retaining me to represent you, correct?"
Carson heard the leading tone and smiled for the first time since she'd looked at Tony's photographs of the twins. If things were as bad as her gut told her they might be, it could get really ugly before it got better. If Kennedy was merely her friend, any conversations between them could be subject to discovery by any opposing parties in a lawsuit. But if Kennedy was her attorney, those conversations became private and privileged information between an attorney and her client. "Yes. And based upon our discussion, you're hired."
"Good girl. I'm on my way." She zipped up the suit case. "See you soon."
Kennedy made a quick stop at the garage apartment to tell Pete to take care of the animals, and then headed for the airport.
Heidi shuffled through the townhouse, flipping on lights and muttering incoherently. The insistent banging on the front door had awakened her from a sound sleep. She peered at a cherry wood mantle clock and shook her head. "One o'clock in the morning." She flung the door open. "'Bout damned time, Shea. What in the hell took so long?"
Kennedy glared at her. "Sat on the goddamned runway in Austin for an hour. Had to fly into the big airport. There weren't any more flights into the municipal one this late. And I won't even discuss the rental car line. What kind of idiots rent cars at midnight?"
Heidi thought of several smart retorts and managed to suppress them all. The look in Kennedy's eyes told her they would not be well-received. "Come in, and keep it down."
The brunette pushed her way past her friend, looking frantically around the room. "Where is she?"
"Asleep." Heidi closed the front door, locked it, and padded into the kitchen. "You want anything to drink?"
"How in God's name did you get her to sleep after what she's been through?" Kennedy raked her fingers back through her hair and dropped her bags beside a dark green upholstered couch. "I'll have a glass of water. And I need to use your phone."
"Valium." Heidi filled a glass with crushed ice from the refrigerator door and then poured the water.
Kennedy had just picked up the phone, and put it back down. "You gave her Valium?"
"Sure." The tall woman set the glass of water down on the end table beside the couch where Kennedy was seated, and flopped down in her recliner. "She was in pretty bad shape. I figured it would help her relax."
"Dammit, Heidi!" The brunette rose up from the couch. "She'd been drinking. You're not supposed to mix Valium with alcohol. Where is she?"
"Shea, calm down. She's fine. I asked. She only had one glass of wine. It won't hurt anything. I do it all the time." She followed her friend, who was already striding rapidly down the hallway toward Heidi's guest bedroom.
"Yeah, well you could probably ingest a toxic waste dump and survive. Your system is used to being poisoned." Heidi merely turned around and headed back to the living room. Kennedy regretted the words the minute they left her lips, but she forged on to check on Carson.
The blonde was curled up in the guest bed, one arm clutching a pillow tightly against her. A small lamp on the night stand kept the darkness at bay, and in the low light the attorney thought her friend looked about twelve years old. She sat down on the edge of the bed and gently fluffed a few stray hairs off Carson's forehead. She pushed down the rising rage that reared its ugly head every time she thought about Nick Giovani and his attempt to blackmail her friend, and what he wanted from her.
Two grey eyes fluttered open and a huge grin appeared on the paralegal's face. "Hi, Kennedy!" Carson's voice was giddy with happiness, and her eyes were slightly glazed. "How are you?"
"Fine." The attorney bit off a grin. "And you're looped."
"Val - i - um." The paralegal over-enunciated the word and giggled. "Only other time I had Val - i - um was when I had my wisdom teeth out. They did an IV drip with it. Felt no pain."
"I don't think you're feeling much pain right now, either." Nimble fingers traced Carson's face, reacquainting themselves with soft skin.
"Nope." The paralegal released the pillow and curled her arm around Kennedy's thigh. "Floating. Feels really nice."
Yeah, it does. Kennedy smiled at the contact, along with the goofy expression on Carson's face. "Listen. I need to go make a phone call and then I'll be out on the couch if you need me."
The attorney felt Carson's grip tighten on her leg. "No. Sleep in here." Grey eyes tried to focus. "Please?"
"Sure." Kennedy smiled. "Just wasn't sure if that's what you wanted."
"Always. Want you with me always." Carson smiled and closed her eyes, and patted the strong leg. "Got to sleep now. Can't .. keep ... eyes open. Don't be gone long."
"I won't." The attorney leaned down and kissed the blonde head. She quickly tucked away Carson's honest Valium-induced words for pondering later. I can't even begin to think about that right now.
She sheepishly stepped back into the living room and faced a miffed Heidi. "Sorry about what I said. I ... didn't mean that."
"Sure you did." The tall woman's anger dissipated, and she smiled. "Besides, it's true. Look, I know you're stressed out and worried. Combine that with being in love and it's no wonder you're a stark raving lunatic."
"I ... am ... not." Kennedy crossed her arms and sat down on the couch.
"'Am not' which one - stressed out, worried, a lunatic, or in love?" Heidi gently teased.
"A lunatic." She reached for the phone. "Or in love."
"Yeah, Shea, you just keep telling yourself that." The tall woman got up and made her way into the kitchen to pour a glass of bourbon.
The brunette rolled her eyes and dialed a number, grinning as the other line was picked up. "Hey, Parker. I need you to get your butt on a plane to Dallas in the morning. Need you to sweep an apartment for bugs."
"What the ...?" A gruff male voice mumbled in her ear. "Are you insane? It's after midnight."
"Sorry." Kennedy twisted the phone cord around her finger. "It's an emergency. I need it done tomorrow. Wanted to make sure you caught an early flight. I want the most thorough job you've ever done. When we're through with the apartment I may need you to check an office as a well, if we can get in."
"Which one of your clients is paranoid about the FBI, now?" The man began to sound a bit less irritated. "Or is this one afraid the CIA is after them? INS, maybe?"
"Not a client, exactly." She suddenly remembered she had technically been hired. "Well, it's not exactly a case yet, anyway." The attorney watched as Heidi finished the bourbon and re-filled her glass.
"You mean I'm not getting paid for this job?" Parker was now fully awake. "You are dragging me out of my warm bed on Saturday morning, away from my lovely wife, on a weekend when the kids are at her mother's, to fly to Dallas and do a job for free?"
Ooooo. Kennedy winced. I'm gonna owe him big time for this one. "Sorry. Consider it a favor to your favorite sister."
"You're my only sister," Parker chided.
"Yeah, details, details." The attorney grinned. "I called you because for this job I want the best, and that would be you."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, baby sis." The man yawned. "Sounds personal."
"It is." Kennedy drew one knee up, wrapping her free hand around it. "So. When you get in, call me at Heidi's okay?"
"Heidi's?" Parker chuckled. "You still hanging out with that nut-case?"
"Old is gold, big bro." The attorney watched two light brown eyebrows arch in question. "And now I'm going to have to explain myself, I think. She's sitting right here."
"You two aren't ...?"
"No." Kennedy spluttered. "Oh God, no. Absolutely not. God, Parker, that would be almost incestuous, don't you think?"
"Guess so," The older man mused. "I need to get back to sleep now if you want me up at a decent hour later. Goodnight, Shea. Or should I say 'good morning'?"
"'Night, Parker." The attorney smiled. She hung up the phone. "Got that handled. Now I think I need to get some sleep myself."
Kennedy's older brother owned a private investigation and security firm in Odessa, the closest city to the small town they grew up in. Over the years she had often called upon him to check out various people and situations, and he had yet to let her down. His attention to detail had helped her win more than one case.
"Shall I make up the couch for you?" Heidi gave her a knowing look. "And what snarky little remark did your brother have to make about me this time?"
"Parker merely sends his regards." Kennedy got up and stretched before reaching down to retrieve her overnight bag. "And I'll be sleeping in the guest room."
"Uh-huh." The tall woman got up, placed her glass on the counter, and followed her friend down the hallway. "You never did tell me how the sleeping arrangements worked out last weekend, by the way."
"I told you, Carson slept in the guest bedroom." It's true, isn't it? And that's all she needs to know about that. The brunette smiled and turned around. "Hey. Seriously, when this is all over, I'll give you free reign to interrogate me and tease me mercilessly. Just please, don't do it in front of Carson. I don't want her to be embarrassed or anything. Please?"
Heidi regarded her friend for a long moment. "You really care about her, don't you?"
"I ... she ..." Pale blue eyes blinked shyly. "She's all alone, Heidi. She needs a friend."
"Mmm-hmm." The tall woman's eyes twinkled mischievously. "A friend who dropped everything and jumped on a plane even though she was already scheduled for a flight twelve hours later. Even though there was nothing constructive that could be done during those twelve hours. You talked me out of my Friday night plans so I could go pick her up, and then you practically bowled me over looking for her when you got here. Now you plan to go snuggle up in the same bed with her. Yeah, Shea. All 'friends' do stuff like that for each other. You know what I think? I think you're already gone on her, and you just can't admit it."
"You been talking to Valerie?" Kennedy placed her hands on her hips.
"What?" Heidi noted the defensive posture with some amusement.
"Nothing." The brunette looked down and kicked at the parquet wood floor. "I ... couldn't stay in Austin when she needed me here, that's all." She looked back up, blue eyes begging for mercy.
"I give up." Heidi threw up her hands. "Get some sleep. And behave in there with your 'friend'."
Kennedy merely grinned, and slipped into the hallway bathroom to change into a t-shirt and flannel boxers, and brush her teeth. She splashed her face and then made her way across the hall to the guest room. Carson was asleep, and she stood over the bed for a moment, just watching the peaceful even rise and fall of the smaller woman's breathing.
She shook her head and crept under the covers, laying back with her hands behind her head, staring up at the ceiling. Unexpectedly, she felt a warm body curl up next to her, and Carson tucked her head against Kennedy's shoulder. "Hey, you awake?" The brunette stroked her friend's hair.
"No." The younger woman mumbled, her eyes still closed.
"You mind if I turn out this lamp?" The attorney tapped the base of the small carved crystal fixture.
"No." Carson wrapped an arm around Kennedy's middle, holding on tight.
Now that's nice. The brunette clicked off the lamp and circled the smaller body with both arms, finally allowing her own body to relax. She felt herself sinking into a pleasant warmth and sighed, closing her eyes in contentment and shaking off her worries for the morning.
"You're here." Carson nuzzled Kennedy's neck. "Everything will be okay."
Two blue eyes flew open, and the taller woman blinked into the darkness. Am I ready to be that important to someone? She allowed herself to acknowledge just how comfortable she was, the solid body in her arms an anchor that she willingly held on to. "Yeah, it will." She kissed Carson's forehead. "If I can help it."
I don't think I have a choice anymore. She closed her eyes again and surrendered just a little bit more to emotions that would no longer be ignored.
To be Continued in Chapter 4
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