For Disclaimers See Chapter 1:

THE BLUEST EYES IN TEXAS

Copyright 2000 by Texbard

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Chapter 6

(posted February 21, 2001)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nick Giovani sat in a secluded alcove of the upscale men's club, nursing a snifter of brandy and smoking a cigar. Tony Moore sat across from him, sipping at a martini and nervously playing with a coaster that he kept flipping between his fingers. A topless waitress walked by, leaving a plate of appetizers on the table and accepting a ten-dollar tip from Nick, which he tucked into a black lace garter around the top of her thigh. Tony's eyes strayed idly across the room. It had been a while since he had been in such an establishment. "This is different for you."

"What's different?" Nick looked up from perusing a folder.

"This place." Tony gestured around.

"Nah." The short man ogled another waitress as she walked by. "Just never brought you here before. I'm a regular."

"Oh." Tony's face grew thoughtful.

"Whatsamatter, Tony?" Nick laughed. "You afraid the little woman will find out you've been here, and tie those apron strings a little tighter?"

"No." Yes. "It's just been a while. I haven't been to a topless bar since my brother's bachelor party five years ago." He swallowed another sip of the martini. I’m gonna need another one of these.

"Relax." Nick sat back in the smooth leather chair and blew a perfect smoke ring. "Enjoy yourself. Besides, it's going on your company card, right? Patricia doesn't ever need to find out. She won't see the bill, at any rate."

"Yeah, I suppose you're right." He finished off the drink and signaled for another one.

"Here's what we found." Nick shoved the folder across the table. "Kennedy Shea Nocona, born November 29, 1967, in Fort Stockton, Texas. Was valedictorian of her class at Alpine High School, graduated Magna Cum Laude from the College of Santa Fe with a double major in Pre-Law and Humanities on a full scholarship, and has a JD from The University of Texas, where she was editor of the Law Review. Currently, she owns her own law practice in Austin, where they concentrate in high-tech corporate law, and a lot of pro bono do-gooder crap on the side."

"A real loser, huh?" Tony quipped sarcastically.

"We're having a hard time figuring out where she lives." Nick chewed on the end of the cigar. "She and her brother share a P.O. box in Lago Vista on the north side of Lake Travis. Deed records are a little hazy, or more accurately, someone in the Travis County records office is a personal friend of hers. They seem to have 'lost' her land records. My man down there said they would not co-operate with him at all."

"What about her driver's license or credit records?" The attorney tipped the waitress for his drink, simply handing her a five-dollar bill rather than tucking it into what little clothing she wore.

"Everything has either the P.O. box address or her office address on it. There's absolutely nothing to tell us where she physically lives." Nick retrieved a set of notes from the top of the folder. "Another weird thing . . . . she has no debt. No mortgage. No car payment. No nothing. We can't find her bank accounts. She smells of money. We're still working on where it comes from. I've got some guys that have traced her back to Harris County prior to Travis. They're going to check out those records tomorrow."

"Why all this effort on her, Nick?" Tony leaned forward, resting his forearms on the smooth wooden tabletop. "She doesn't work for either one of us. Seems like a waste to me."

"I don't like her, especially with Carson. The two of them spell trouble, I guarantee you. They're already partly on to me. I told you about Kennedy taking out my photographer. I need something if we are going to reel Carson in. If she starts nosing around any, it could ruin everything." The short man frowned angrily. "Unless you're ready to fire her like I wanted you to five months ago."

"I told you . . ." Tony sighed heavily. "What's the point? I'd have to hire and train another paralegal, and then what? Fire them when they start figuring things out? I don't have the time for that and I certainly don't have good reason to fire Carson. At least nothing I could explain to Howard. She's damned good at her job."

"A little too good." Nick snarled.

"All she did was ask why I wanted her to thoroughly work a file that was about to settle." Tony pursed his lips for a moment. "I told her I was certain that the plaintiff's personal insurance company was going to come after us for offset after settlement, and I needed to have all my ducks in a row, just in case. It was lame but I think she bought it."

"All the more reason to fire her, or make sure she's with us." The short man placed the notes back inside the file folder. "How many more lame excuses can you come up with?"

"What, exactly, do you plan on doing to Kennedy?" Tony eyed his client warily, ignoring the snide remark.

"I don't know yet. She has to have a weak spot somewhere. Maybe I'll threaten to expose her lifestyle to people that might care, like her clients, or members of some of those committees she's on with the state bar." He stubbed out the cigar and lit another one. "Maybe I'll just tell Carson I'm going to hurt her girlfriend if she doesn't co-operate with us."

"Nick . . ." Tony set his martini glass down with an agitated motion. "You're already walking on thin ice. Carson could very well file charges against you for stalking, invasion of privacy, and I guess she might even have grounds against my firm for sexual harassment, for exposing her to you. Now you're looking at blackmail. You know what I think?"

"What?" Nick glared at him.

"I think you should have left well enough alone. Now it's too late. She's been very quiet all week, hardly come out of her office, and she's avoiding me like the plague." The attorney gulped at his drink. "I think you screwed up. That's what I think."

"I don't pay you to think." Nick slammed his fist down on the table. "I pay you to do what I say. It's all over your office that Carson is driving down to Austin tomorrow night. I've got some men set-up to follow her all the way down there. They're good. She'll never see them. And we'll find out where Kennedy lives. Maybe get some photos worth something. All I need is one thing. Just one thing, to convince Carson to keep her mouth closed and go along with us. Is that too much to ask?"

"I . . . guess not." Tony looked down at his drink, unable to maintain eye contact.

"Hey." The short man grinned. "Good news. I'm sending you ten more lawsuits tomorrow."

"Great." The attorney managed to return the smile. Just great.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The early evening air was slightly chilled, and the sun was sinking low, painting the sky in bright shades of dark pink and coral. Ironically enough, the pollution in the city air helped make the colors even more vibrant than they would have been out in the cleaner skies of the countryside. Carson rounded the last bend in the running track at the club, and slowed down to walk another quarter mile. She had run four miles, the furthest she had gone in a long while without stopping.

She felt a trickle of sweat run down her spine, and concentrated on breathing, taking in deep breaths through her nose and mouth and exhaling slowly. She neared the pond that was the centerpiece of the club's grounds, and spotted Patricia Moore and the twins standing on the bank, feeding bread to the ducks and geese that resided there. Carson smiled and waved. "Patty, how are you?"

"Fine, Carson, and you?" Tony's wife was in her usual impeccable state, dressed in an expensive designer nylon running suit and the latest in high-tech sneakers. Her hair was swept up in a butterfly clip and her nails were perfectly French manicured.

"Pretty good." The paralegal stepped closer to where the twins were tearing at slices of bread and tossing them onto the water surface. "Hey Lindsey, Lauren, what are you doing?"

"Feedin' da ducks." Lauren smiled and laughed, as she threw more crumbs toward a large grey goose.

"I see." Carson turned toward Lindsey, noting the long neat set of stitches across her forehead, just below her hairline. "Lindsey, do you have a boo-boo?"

"Yeah." The cherub-like child touched her finger to her head. "Falled off da bed."

In a strange way, the paralegal was glad to see the stitches, validating Tony's quick exit from their Friday night dinner. She had been so pre-occupied since returning to the office on Monday, she had completely forgotten to ask Tony how Lindsey was doing, or to keep her eyes open for Patty and the girls at the club. The firm paid for spouses to have a club membership, and Patty was typically there in the late afternoon or early evening during the hours that free childcare was available. Carson was often beginning her workout when Patty was finishing up.

"Did you have a good workout?" Carson studied the faint traces of dark roots along Patty's temples.

"Yes. I've been going to that late afternoon step aerobics class. The instructor is pretty good." Patty smiled. She had always liked Carson, and knew the paralegal certainly made Tony's life a whole lot easier.

"Good. Hey, we missed you at dinner Friday night. Sorry to hear about Lindsey. She seems to have bounced back pretty well, though." The paralegal raised her hand to shade her eyes from the low angle of the sunlight.

"Oh, I know. Kids. They aren't easily fazed. I missed seeing you all too," Patty fretted. "I thought about it, and almost called a sitter, but Lindsey . . . well . . . she just got the stitches Thursday night, and she was feeling a little puny. I hated to leave her. She was kind of clingy."

"Thursday night?" Carson's heart leaped into her throat. "She got the stitches Thursday night?"

"Yes." Patty noted the startled look on the paralegal's face, and frowned. "Didn't Tony tell you why I wasn't at dinner?"

"Yeah. Yes, he did." Carson quickly recovered. "I just got my time-frame confused a little, that's all."

"Oh." Patty looked down, as Lauren tugged at her pants leg, begging for another slice of bread.

"Well, I better go hit the showers." The paralegal felt the sudden need to get home and call Kennedy. "You take care. I'll see you around."

"You too, Carson." Patty smiled. "Good to see you." She watched as the blonde jogged away toward the club's entrance.

Carson entered the locker room and grabbed her shower kit and two clean towels, and quickly made her way to an end stall. She closed the curtain, turned on the water, and stepped under the heavy flow, closing her eyes and simply standing there, letting the hot steamy water wash over her shocked body. I was set up. Tony set me up. With Nick. Ewww. Why?

The betrayal hurt her deeply, and she involuntarily sobbed a few times before she allowed the silent tears to fall, mingling with the shower water that pelted her face. She had worked with Tony for five years, and they had always had a good relationship. He was more than a boss. He had become a friend, on certain levels.

She gathered her emotions in, and began the methodic process of showering and washing her hair. She dried off and quickly changed into a clean pair of sweats. Foregoing the blow dryer, she quickly raked her fingers back through her hair, arranging the short damp locks.

She hardly noticed the drive home, her thoughts turned inward. She wondered how she was ever going to go back to work. She only had the next day, Thursday, left, before her trip to Austin. Carson wished with all her heart that she were already on that plane.

As she entered her apartment, she dropped gym bag, brief case, and purse in a trail that went directly toward the phone. She took a deep breath and dialed the number, waiting for what seemed an eternity until the familiar comforting voice answered.

"Hello?"

"Kennedy, we need to talk."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The gate attendant opened the double doors, and passengers began to emerge from the plane in small pockets of two and three. Kennedy stood anxiously nearby, peering over some of the taller travelers, looking for the one face that mattered most. She knew that Carson was in pieces, and planned to do her best to put them back together again.

They talked for a long time the previous night, as the blonde tearfully recounted her conversation with Patricia Moore, and Carson's fears about returning to work. Kennedy had practically begged her friend to just get on a plane and come down one night earlier, and she had almost succeeded. The blonde's voice had perked up considerably until she remembered that she had a deadline to meet the next day, to file several sets of documents with the court. Carson explained that there was no one else familiar enough with the case, whom she could call upon to complete final drafts and get everything out in time. Duty won out over fear, and the paralegal had resolved to get through the day with as little contact with Tony as necessary.

The attorney had spent most of Thursday reviewing the insurance law and RICO statutes that her friend Mike had suggested. Another part of her, a part that lingered almost on a subconscious level, contemplated what she could possibly do to help make Carson's situation better. She wanted Carson in Austin, plain and simple. Truth be told, if she was honest with herself, she wanted her friend not just in Austin, but also with her, as much as possible.

Am I insane? I've known her for a month. We haven't even slept together. Well . . . we've slept together, but not 'slept' together. Kennedy realized that part of her wanted to ask Carson to move in with her and find a job in Austin. Or move in and not find a job in Austin. Whatever Carson wanted, even if her friend needed time off, she was ready and willing to help, in any way she could.

Time enough to discuss that later this weekend. She didn't want to overwhelm Carson with too much to think about all at once. Let's get through our meeting with Mikey and get to Fredericksburg first. Give her time to relax and re-group. If it feels right, I'll bring it up, if not, well . . . soon. She needs to get out of Dallas . . . soon.

Kennedy's eyes continued to track back and forth from passenger to passenger, until finally they came to rest on a very drawn face. She edged forward, closing the distance, and offered a crooked smile as Carson slowly approached her. "Hey baby." Long arms opened, enveloping her friend in a comforting hug, as she brushed her lips across wavy blonde hair. Ice blue eyes shot warning darts over Carson's shoulder to the few people who paused to stare.

The smaller body trembled against Kennedy, as Carson inhaled deeply of a clean, somewhat woodsy scent that she realized she was familiar with. She felt safe and loved, as a small portion of a week's worth of tension slowly began to drain from her body. Carson buried her face into the folds of a buttery-soft black leather jacket and sighed. "Kennedy, take me home."

"Yes ma'am," the low voice whispered softly. "Anywhere you want to go, remember?"

Carson reluctantly pulled away from the hug and tucked herself against Kennedy's side. The brunette relieved her of her brief case and settled a protective arm across the blonde's shoulders. Without another word, they exited the terminal. It didn't matter that they were in the airport, in the heart of the Bible belt, surrounded by people who weren't used to seeing two women walking arm-in-arm. At that particular moment no one else in the world existed.

"Your stuff got here yesterday afternoon." Kennedy assisted Carson into the Four-Runner. "I didn't open it." She was rewarded with a half-hearted smile. "You eat dinner yet?"

"Not really." The blonde settled into the leather seat. "They served us those little bags of pretzels, and drinks on the plane."

"You wanna stop somewhere and eat, or grab some take-out or something?" The attorney rested one hand on Carson's suit-clad thigh and gently tugged at the shoulder harness.

"Not hungry." Grey eyes looked down for a moment and then looked up. "But if you're hungry I could give it a shot."

"Okay." Kennedy closed the truck door and made her way around to the driver's side. She slid into the seat and started the engine. "In that case, I'm very hungry. You need to eat, sweetheart." The brunette could almost swear that Carson had felt thinner in her arms than she had just one week earlier.

"Hasn't been high on my list of priorities lately." The blonde closed her eyes and absently rubbed her temples.

"Headache?" Kennedy frowned.

"Yeah. First one I've had in forever." She opened her eyes again and peered absently out the window.

"There's a bottle of ibuprofen in the glove box, and I've got some water here." The attorney gestured toward a cup that set in a holder in the center console.

"Thanks." Carson helped herself to the proffered pills and gulped them down. "What time do we have to meet with your friend tomorrow?"

"I figured we could get our shopping out of the way first, maybe go out to lunch, and then meet him after that." Kennedy reached across and idly rubbed her thumb up and down Carson's leg. "Sound okay?"

"Yeah." The paralegal finally offered a tired smile. "Sorry I'm so out of it. I'm completely exhausted. I think I could just fall asleep right now and not wake up until morning. I'm afraid I'm not going to be much company tonight."

"S'okay." Kennedy squeezed a firm thigh muscle. "Just having you here is company enough. Let's eat dinner and you can take a nice hot bath, if you want, and then we'll go to bed."

"Right now, that sounds like Heaven." Carson placed her hand on top of Kennedy's and interlaced their fingers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Hey." Kennedy looked up from a book, as Carson emerged from the hallway, dressed in her favorite loose-fitting waffle-weave shorts and a plain white t-shirt. After they shared a quiet dinner of take-out Chinese food, the blonde had indeed taken a long bath in the large tub in the guest bathroom. She had almost fallen asleep, surrounded by the warm scent of herbal bath oil and the soothing sensation of bubbling jets. "Feeling any better?"

The paralegal crawled up onto the king-sized mattress and snuggled up against Kennedy's side, sighing happily as the brunette pulled her in close. "Now I am."

"You didn't eat very much." Kennedy patted a flat stomach, leaving her hand there, softly caressing toned muscles through the thin cotton.

"I know." Carson casually draped a leg across her friend's longer ones, and turned, curling herself against Kennedy. "I'll do better tomorrow."

Blue eyes widened in surprise, and then softened, reveling in the close fit of Carson's body against her own. "Mmmm . . ." She inhaled the mixed scent of herbal oil and shampoo that clung to the blonde's hair and skin. "You smell good."

Carson slipped a hand under Kennedy's ribbed tank top. "You feel good." She trailed her fingertips in light circles against the dark skin.

"And you're killing me." The brunette's voice grew husky. She kissed the top of Carson's head. "That's really really nice, though."

The blonde slid up, until her head was next to Kennedy's on the pillow. She felt Kennedy shift, and then she was lifted, until she was resting all along the top of the taller woman. Long fingers played against the side of her face and then trailed across her shoulder and on down her back, pulling her forward into a warm sensual kiss. They spent several minutes in long languid exploration. Kennedy pushed Carson's shirt partway up, sighing as her hands met the soft clean skin of Carson's lower back.

Carson finally broke off and rested her forehead against Kennedy's upper chest. Her libido was working overtime, but her body was weary to the bone. She nibbled softly at the exposed skin above the scooped-neck of her friend's shirt, and then looked up to meet hooded blue eyes. "I'm so tired . . ." The blonde apologized. "I love . . . this . . . so much, but I'm just so tired. I'm sorry. I wish . . ."

She was silenced with a kiss. "No need to apologize, Carson." Kennedy smiled up at her. "I will never push you into doing anything you aren't up to, okay?" She fluffed her fingers through short blonde waves. "We've got another long day ahead of us tomorrow, and you've had a very hard week. Rest." The brunette carefully rolled Carson back against her side, closing her arms around her. "Go to sleep, baby. All I want to do right now is hold you. It's enough for me."

The smaller woman placed a chaste kiss on Kennedy's shoulder and allowed warm waves of sleep to claim her. The attorney rubbed her friend's back, listening and feeling Carson's breathing deepen and slow down. She frowned, thinking about everything the next day had to offer. I wonder how much more she can take?

She briefly considered chunking it all and booking them both on the next flight to Bali. She'd never been to Bali, but she had seen pictures, and it looked like the most peaceful, beautiful, carefree place in the world. The opposite of everything Carson was going through at the moment. She made a mental note to herself, that as soon as their current situation was resolved, she was going to take them both on a well-deserved vacation, to Bali, or anywhere else her friend wanted to go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Shea, come on in." Mike ushered them both into his office. "And you must be Carson." The man held out his hand. "Mike Bradley."

"Hi Mike. Nice to meet you." The paralegal clasped the firm hand, studying olive features, black hair, and hazel eyes. The man was about half a foot taller than her, wiry in his build, and he wore a blue button-down with navy pinstripe suit pants.

A tie and jacket were tossed haphazardly across the arm of a chair. He quickly snatched them up. "Here, have a seat, both of you." He nodded toward the two plain wooden chairs across from his desk. "Would either of you like coffee, coke, water?"

"I'll have water," Kennedy responded. "How 'bout you, Carson. A coke*?"

"Yes. Please. A Dr. Pepper, if you have it." She sat nervously on the edge of her seat, her back more rigid than usual.

"Sure. Back in a minute." The man disappeared and the blonde studied the small office, noting the Juris Doctor diploma on the wall.

Kennedy observed Carson's posture. "Hey, relax. This isn't the inquisition. He just wants to talk to us. Maybe we'll learn something that'll help us figure out what's going on."

"Maybe." Carson chewed her lower lip. "So you went to school with Mike?"

"Yeah." Kennedy chuckled. "Good old Mikey. He and I were in the same study group our first year of law school. We used to joke that he had two speeds, ninety miles an hour, or asleep. Nothing in between. I think he stays wired on caffeine twenty-four seven. Probably why he's so thin. Plus he and Heidi share a pack-a-day habit. She was in our group too. That's how we all became friends. People used to call us the smokers and the tokers."

The blonde watched Kennedy's face, as it conveyed several emotions all at once. "Things change, huh?"

"Yeah." Blue eyes sparkled warmly. "Sometimes for the good, if you're really lucky."

Mike re-joined them, handing off their beverages of choice. He sat down in his chair and opened up a thick manila folder. "A.C.S., Affiliated Claims Service. Your firm has been doing business with them for a while, hasn't it?" He peered at Carson.

"Yes." She looked at Kennedy for re-assurance. "For at least as long as I've been working there, which is five years."

"Tell me what y'all do for them, generally. I don't want you divulging any client confidences or anything you aren't comfortable telling me." Mike smiled at her encouragingly.

"Okay." Carson licked her lips. "We handle personal injury claims for them after they go into litigation. We do insurance defense. Sometimes we represent just A.C.S. and sometimes we represent the businesses they insure as well. I'd say about half the time there is a secondary insurance company involved too."

"What is your understanding of the relationship between A.C.S. and those secondary insurance companies?" The man studied some notes in the file.

"A.C.S. does contract claims work for smaller independent insurance companies that write and handle policies, but aren't big enough to be able to afford to have their own claims department." Grey eyes grew thoughtful, as Carson considered that. "We . . . seem to sometimes give more attention to those files than the ones that involve just A.C.S"

"What sort of extra attention?" Mike's interest grew exponentially, and he sat up straighter in his chair.

Carson eyed him suspiciously. "Why do you want to know?" She looked at Kennedy and received a small nod of approval at her hesitation.

"I'm sorry, Carson. I don't mean to make you uncomfortable." The man made an effort to relax his facial features. "Let's do it this way. I know you are supposed to guard client confidence, but it is okay if someone give you information about your client, correct?"

"Correct." The blonde's own curiosity was eating away at her, and she felt a strange sick sensation in her gut.

"Let me tell you about A.C.S. and Nick Giovani." Mike closed the file. He had it memorized. "A.C.S. writes and maintains work-place injury policies for many, many companies. It also, as you said, does contract claims work for smaller companies that write the same type of policies. They also have a personal medical insurance business that is a whole different division of the company. I'll get to that momentarily. Have you noticed anything unusual about Nick Giovani's dealings with your firm?"

Carson swallowed hard and turned to Kennedy. "Can I speak with you privately for a moment?" The blonde wasn't sure what she should and should not tell Mike about her own recent personal dealings with Nick. She was certain Kennedy wouldn't have divulged that information to Mike without telling her about it first.

Kennedy read her thoughts. "Sure. But I think he means generally. The way he interacts with the attorneys and the way he does business with the firm." She smiled at Carson. Good girl.

"Oh. In that case, yes." The blonde visibly relaxed. "He's a lot more hands-on than most clients. I mean, they all care. But Nick is in our office almost every day. They office a couple of floors below us in the same building. I used to think it was a bit strange, almost unethical. Like it was an illegal partnership almost, between attorneys and a non-attorney company. But after a while I just figured it must be okay or they wouldn't be doing business that way. And Nick and Tony, my boss, they have meetings almost every day. Go out to lunch, play golf, socialize. It seems to be escalating. They're together a lot."

"That is Nick's pattern." Mike swung around in the chair and typed something on his computer, pulling up another set of notes. "He has a history with law firms. What we suspect, but haven't been able to prove, is that he gets in good with a partner and slowly makes a buddy out of them. But I'm getting ahead of myself."

"So he's behaved like this with other firms before ours?" Carson's voice was incredulous.

"Like I said, we haven't been able to prove anything yet. But we suspect several things. We know A.C.S. is paid a monthly fee to handle all those contract claims. It's paid on a per-claim basis, so for each contract claim they handle, they make a certain amount of money a month. The more they handle, the more money they make. So it's in their financial interest to prolong them, and to handle as many as possible. But there's a clause in their contract. They don't start getting the monthly fee until a company uses up its deductible first. So, what we think they do, is they encourage whatever law firm is handling the litigation to work a file really really hard until the deductible is eaten up in attorney fees." Mike watched a light bulb go off in Carson's eyes.

"Wow." The paralegal commented softly.

"Sound familiar?" Mike saw Kennedy frown. "Sorry, Carson. Don't answer that, just yet. I'd hate for your attorney over there to kick my ass for asking you things you aren't supposed to divulge."

Kennedy smiled. "Wouldn't be the first time."

Mike blushed and made no comment. He cleared his throat and continued. "After the deductible is eaten up and the monthly fee kicks in, they still want the files worked so they can collect for as long as possible. That's where the buddy-buddy relationship with the law firm comes in. It's a sweet deal for A.C.S. They get their fee but the smaller insurance company that hired them to do the contract work is paying out all the legal fees, once the deductible has been reached."

Mike scrolled down the computer screen. "Nick has switched law firms five times in the last fifteen years. Your firm has been their counsel for the longest period of time. What we think, is that maybe the other firms were smart enough to get out before they were in too deep, but we really don't know why the relationships were terminated with A.C.S. People at those firms are completely tight-lipped, and with good reason, at least on a selfish level."

Blonde brows knitted in confusion. "What are you getting at, exactly?"

"In the case of your firm, for example, Nick got in thick with Tony. Maybe others. It started slowly, and he brought in more and more business. He started making small demands . . . maybe he wanted Cowboys tickets, or nice dinners . . . wanted a membership to the country club . . . you did know that your firm pays for Nick's membership didn't you?"

"No." Grey eyes grew wide. "Isn't that unethical?"

"Yes." Kennedy's voice was low and even. "It is."

"What she said." Mike smiled at the brunette. "One thing leads to another, and all of a sudden he has your firm by the balls. They've crossed an ethical, even a legal line, and there's no going back. They're in the middle of it and they don't even know how they got there, it was such a gradual process. Then he becomes blatant. He starts telling Tony to write off all kinds of things to various files. Golf outings . . . expensive dinners . . . sports tickets . . . trips out of town. All of it is written off as work for various cases, even if they aren't discussed at all. Nick keeps getting his monthly fees and your firm, as a by-product, gets lots and lots of attorney fees from the unsuspecting smaller companies, that are trusting A.C.S. to handle the claim for them. We think, maybe, in the case of your firm, they've come to depend upon A.C.S. billings for much of their livelihood."

Carson looked down and collected her thoughts. "I think they do. I know they will do almost anything A.C.S. asks them to, no matter how much trouble it is."

"That's what we thought." Mike's eyes narrowed. "But there's more. On their personal medical insurance side, we suspect they've violated the RICO act. We've had several complaints from individuals insured by A.C.S. What happens, is that let's say for example, they go to the doctor and the doctor charges a hundred dollars for the visit. And let's say that for that particular service, whatever it is, A.C.S. will cover fifty dollars. The insured gets charged for the fifty-dollar difference. Then A.C.S. turns around and negotiates a discount, say maybe a twenty-five dollar discount with the doctor. Instead of passing the savings along to the insured, A.C.S. pockets the difference."

"That's definitely illegal," Carson blurted out. "But what does that have to do with my firm?"

"We think that A.C.S., Nick more specifically, has your firm write very confusing letters to the insured individuals who question their insurance bills and charges, explaining away the illegal charges. Obviously that's not in the litigation area where you work, so you wouldn't be involved in that at all." The man paused, closing his eyes. He opened them again and leaned forward, gazing intently at Carson. "I'm so close to cracking this case, Carson. But every time I think I've got someone willing to cooperate with me, they get scared and won't talk."

"What do you want from me?" The paralegal's voice was very soft, and she looked away. "You want me to rat on my own firm, don't you?"

"If you want to put it that way, yes. All we need to have a strong enough case to file charges, is documentation of the illegal billings, and maybe receipts for things that have been illegally charged to various files." Mike looked at her sympathetically. "I don't expect an answer right away. Talk to Shea, and take your time. Just remember that lots of small companies and individuals are being hurt by A.C.S. Only you can decide what the greater good is, Carson."

"I understand that, Mike." The blonde's jaw clenched and her voice took on a hard edge. "You don't know the half of it. My loyalties to the firm itself are pretty thin right now. If the only people who would be hurt by me becoming a spy were the ones that are doing the illegal stuff, I would do it in a heartbeat. But I have innocent friends at the firm. People that have almost become family to me. They have husbands and wives and children that depend on their income and benefits. If our firm falls, they fall with it. Surely you understand that in the legal community, once you've worked for a disreputable firm, it's very very difficult to get a decent job again. Every place you go after that, you're stigmatized, even if you were never involved. Remember that firm that got in trouble for illegally coaching their clients prior to depositions?"

"Yeah. Harrison and Williams, wasn't it?" The name rolled off Mike's tongue easily.

"See. You remember it and it happened like ten years ago, before I even got out of high school. Yet people still talk about it." The paralegal crossed her arms over her chest. "And our firm still won't hire anyone that ever worked there."

"I see." Mike looked at Kennedy for help, receiving an impassive gaze. "Think about it. Please. You can help us or not, but eventually we're going to find a crack in your firm's armor. It's not a question of if it will fall, but when."

Kennedy stood up. "I think we're about done here." Her eyes were cold. "Carson, can you step outside for a minute, please? I need to have a word with Mikey here."

The blonde almost grinned. Her friend's stance clearly indicated that Mike was about to get a tongue-lashing, if he was lucky. "Sure. I'll be waiting out in the lobby."

The attorney watched her friend leave and then she leaned in, supporting her weight on her hands against the desktop. "Why don't you just cold-cock me next time, Mikey? You know I wasn't expecting that. 'Have a nice little chat' my ass. You've pushed it too far this time. You didn't tell me you wanted her to spy on her own firm. Do you have any idea what kind of spot you've put her in? What kind of person she is?"

"No." Mike remained calmly seated in his chair. "You're her attorney, Shea. And I suspect you two are a bit more than just friends, correct? Do you think maybe you're just a little too close to the situation to see it objectively?"

"Maybe." The brunette's shoulders slumped and she sat down. "Listen, I know you're just doing your job. And I would love to see you kick Nick Giovani's ass all the way to Big Spring.** I just hate for Carson to be your ace in the hole. She's loyal to a fault. She's already going through an incredibly difficult time, and she really didn't need this right now."

"I'm sorry." The hazel eyes were sincere. "But you do understand that we will bring Howard, McIntosh & Moore down, along with A.C.S. and Giovani. Carson will be without a job with them, eventually. At least this way she has a bit more control over the situation."

"True." Kennedy stood again. "Okay. Let me talk to her, and help her weigh her options. I'll get back to you in a week. Is that fair enough?"

"More than fair." Mike saw her to the door and watched thoughtfully, as the tall woman slowly walked down the hallway to the lobby.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Carson sipped at a large mocha latte that was layered with whipped cream and chocolate curls. It was a beautiful afternoon and they decided to sit outdoors, watching the hodge-podge of students that walked along the sidewalk below the raised deck of the coffee shop, which was adjacent to the university. The blonde dabbed at her lips with a napkin and smiled. "Only you could come here and manage to order a healthy coffee drink."

"Nah. Anyone can order this, if they want to." The attorney finished off a large decaf soy latte. Kennedy took a deep breath and gazed steadily at her friend. "I can't tell you what to do, Carson. I'm really sorry that Mikey put you in this position. If I had known . . ."

"You've apologized three times in the two hours since we left there." Carson reached across and patted the brunette's hand. "No need to do it again. I'm not mad. At you or him. He does have a point. At least I know it's coming, whether I help bring down A.C.S. and my firm or not. It doesn't explain why Nick is after me, but at least I have an idea of what's going on with him and Tony now. I just hate that because they've been such idiots, a lot of innocent people are going to get hurt. And I hate that I might have to be a part of that."

"What do you want to do?" The attorney asked gently. "Not that you have to decide right away."

"Kennedy . . ." The blonde hesitated. "I know I have a lot of stuff to deal with, and it's a little overwhelming. I feel like I'm having the worst time of my life and the best time, at the same time. I met you, which I think is one of the best things that ever happened to me."

"The feeling is mutual." Kennedy took her hand and squeezed it.

Carson rewarded her with a tiny smile. "And all this stuff with Nick happens right after that. I wish you and I could just have some normal time together for a while, without worrying about being followed, or photographers, or anything but just being together. Oh, that reminds me . . . you were going to show me the pictures you developed from that film you took off that guy at the fair."

"Oh, yeah." The attorney stood up. "You ready? The photos are in the truck."

"Sure." Carson got up and they made their way to the nearby parking lot. Kennedy retrieved her briefcase from the back and took out a packet, handing it off to her friend.

The blonde studied the photos slowly, one by one. The mystery photographer had managed to capture almost every close moment they had shared during the state fair. "You know, despite the way we got these, I'd must say, we make kind of a cute couple, don't you think?"

The attorney leaned against the back of the Four-Runner, studying the pictures over Carson's shoulder. "Yeah. We do. Some of those are frameble."

Carson smiled and looked up. "This one's kind of funny."

"Uh-huh." The brunette chuckled, looking at a photo of the two of them snuggled up together during the laser light show. "But I think you look better in the 3-D glasses than I do."

"I don't know, you look like quite the studly girl with that purple snake around your shoulders." The paralegal felt a gentle slap to her behind in response. "Hey, no spanking in public."

"Oh?" Dark brows waggled suggestively. "Does that mean I get to spank you in private?"

Carson smiled and winked. "Only if I get to spank you back."

"Darlin', you can do anything you want to me." Kennedy grinned lasciviously. "Spank me, cuff me, make me write bad checks."

"You are in a mood, aren't you?" The paralegal placed the photos back in the briefcase and turned, resting her hands on the tops of Kennedy's hips.

"I can't help it." The brunette ducked her head and quickly pecked Carson's lips. "I love being around you. You bring out the best in me."

"Really?" Grey eyes grew suddenly serious.

"Really." Long fingers brushed back blonde bangs. "I like having you around, Carson."

"I like being around." The blonde felt suddenly shy and blushed slightly, before changing the subject. "So, to answer your question from a few minutes ago, what I want to do, is go have a nice dinner with you someplace, and go to Fredericksburg tomorrow. I don't want to think about Nick or Tony or anything else but enjoying myself, until Monday, if that's okay with you."

"Very okay." Kennedy smiled and pulled Carson in close, kissing her on the side of her neck, just below her ear. "How about dinner and dancing? One of the clubs over on Sixth Street has trash disco night on Fridays. It's fun to dance and to watch. A lot of folks dress up for it. You should see some of the drag queens."

"Sounds great." The paralegal grinned. "Let's go."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kennedy and Carson walked hand-in-hand from the downtown parking garage, toward the club two blocks away. They could hear the pulsing beat of disco music all the way from where they were, the sound of the bass reverberating through the night air. Several people walked along the sidewalk, dressed in polyester multi-colored shirts with large collars, bell-bottoms, and platform shoes. A few over-sized Afro wigs could also be seen.

"I feel under-dressed." The paralegal peered down at her black jeans and boots.

Kennedy studied her friend in profile, noting the tight-fitting black knit top that outlined her body very nicely. "I think you're dressed just perfectly."

Carson heard the slightly deeper note in her friend's voice and smiled to herself. "Thank you. But I also feel like I might bust open after that meal. I'd forgotten how much I love that place, not to mention the live music."

"Yeah, the combination of home cooking and local musical talent has given them an edge on the market in Austin for almost thirty years now." For dinner, they had decided on a locally owned restaurant that had a menu full of Texas staples, such as chicken fried steak and black-eyed peas, and also featured live performances by local and national musical talent in various genres. The owner was a local celebrity, and had helped give Austin its reputation for being the live music capitol of Texas.

They reached the club and got in a long line of would-be dancers, all anxiously waiting for the bouncer to let them in. It was a mixed gay and straight crowd, and the club was the current hot dancing spot in town. An assistant manager walked up and down the line, randomly allowing some of the people in line to skip ahead and go inside. He took one look at the tall brunette and her blonde companion, both dressed in all black, and waved them up. "Go on in." He allowed his eyes to roam over both sets of curves as they passed by. Damn, they've gotta be good for our reputation.

"Cool." Carson grinned. "That's never happened before."

Kennedy placed a protective hand against her lower back, steering her though the crowd. "I find that hard to believe."

"No, really. Maybe because I don't go to upscale places very often." Carson started to walk in when an attendant stopped her.

"Hey blondie, need to see some ID." The girl popped her gum and held out an expectant hand.

"Here." Carson pulled her driver's license out of her pocket

The girl studied it before giving it back, and then held out her hand again. "That'll be five dollars each."

The paralegal started to pull out a wad of bills when Kennedy playfully batted her hand away from her pocket. "I've got it, 'blondie'." She grinned at her friend, who mock-scowled in return.

Grey eyes panned the room in wonder, while Kennedy paid the cover charge for both of them. "Wow. This is really neat."

The club featured several levels of dance floors, multiple lighting tracks, a few large disco balls, and a female shadow dancer behind a screen high up above the floor. A disc jockey sat in a large booth, obviously the king of his domain. Several people stood around him, offering large tips in exchange for having special requests played. Bars covered three walls, and people were lined up four deep waiting to order drinks.

"Kennedy, no offense, but this doesn't seem to be your kind of place." Carson tucked her hand inside the brunette's elbow.

"As a rule, it isn't." She found a table and held out a chair for Carson. Once the blonde was settled, she leaned forward and planted a kiss on the back of Carson's neck. "But it's been a long time since I've had a pretty girlfriend to go dancing with." She smiled as the skin on the blonde's neck turned pink. "Want a drink?"

"Um . . . yeah. Something fruity." Carson turned in her seat and looked up. "Surprise me."

"Okay. Back in a minute." Kennedy kissed her again, this time on the lips, and then disappeared into the crowd.

The paralegal peered around and then jumped, as she felt a large hand come to rest on her leg. She spun around to find a large very drunken man sitting in the chair next to her. His hair was brown and unkempt, and he wore a psychedelic shirt and a large gold chain that hung down below his neckline, over a very hairy chest. "Hi there. You want to dance?"

"No. No thank you." Carson removed his hand from her thigh.

"Aw, come on. It's just a dance." The man leaned in, his breath reeking of whiskey. "Say, what's a good-lookin' broad like you doing alone in here, anyway?" He put his hand back on her leg.

"She's not alone." A rich alto voice sounded from behind her, and Carson gratefully turned around. "Now why don't you take your hand off her leg before I have to break it."

"Ohhhh." The man smiled broadly, but did as she requested. "I get it. Why don't you both come dance with me? Maybe we can have a little fun afterward, say, back at my place."

"Look buddy." Kennedy sat the drinks down on the table and placed herself between Carson and the man, standing with her hands on her hips looking down at him. "You want that kind of fun, go take out a personal ad. Now get lost before I go tell the nice big bouncer over there that you won't leave us alone." She pointed toward a very large man at the front door, who was at least seven feet tall and about four feet wide at the shoulders.

"Okay. Fine. Fine." The man held up his hands and stood up, backing away. "Sheesh. I just wanted to dance." He continued to mutter to himself as he walked away.

"You okay?" Kennedy noted her friend's suddenly pale features.

"Yeah." Carson shook her head slightly. "Just . . . made me think of last Friday night with Nick."

"Oh." The brunette slid a bottle of water and a frozen orange across the table. "Sorry, sweetheart." She reached across, tracing the paralegal's face with her fingertips. "Hey, I got you a bellini? Is that fruity enough for you?"

"Yeah." Carson managed to smile. "Perfect. Haven't had one of those in a while."

"Apparently it's the house special." Kennedy handed the drink to her friend and watched as the blonde took a sip through the straw.

"Oooo. That's really really good." Carson giggled. "Don't buy me too many of those. I might get all goofy on you."

"In that case, I need to get you at least a couple more before we leave." Kennedy settled back, scooting her chair close to Carson and draping an arm across her shoulders.

They watched the crowd for a while, and finally got up to dance. They stayed on the floor for several songs, doing the Hustle and a few other line dances, and at other times simply dancing free-style. Kennedy was glad to see Carson laughing, and truly enjoying herself. They took a break for more drinks and then returned to the floor.

Carson shook her hips suggestively at Kennedy and batted her eyelashes, moving in close and then stepping back again. The brunette played along for a bit and then suddenly snared her, pulling her in close and establishing a sensual rhythm as they moved together to the fast gyrating beat. "Do you have any idea how gorgeous you are?" She purred into Carson's ear and then quickly kissed her.

"Just for you." The blonde whispered back. She heard the music change tempo, as a slow song began to play. She melted against Kennedy's body and felt the taller woman wrap herself around her. "Mmm. This is nice."

"Sure is." The attorney held her close, running her hands up and down Carson's back. She kissed the top of the blonde head and then moved lower, capturing her lips, deepening the contact as their tongues danced together in time to the music. She broke off and then nibbled her way down Carson's jaw line, feeling the younger woman's body press closer against her. She reached a tempting earlobe and nipped it. "Wish we were alone right now."

The blonde reached up, bringing Kennedy's face back around, and their lips met again. As the song ended she broke off, taking several unsteady breaths. She stood up on tiptoes and hugged the brunette tightly. "Kennedy, let's go home."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was the longest ride home of her life. Very little was spoken between them, but the electricity in the truck was almost palpable. Kennedy kept one hand on Carson's leg the entire way, tracing idle patterns there with her fingertips. The paralegal occasionally lifted the long fingers, kissing them one by one before releasing them to continue wandering.

When they reached the house, Kennedy came around to the passenger side of the car and helped her friend out of the truck. When Carson's feet hit the garage floor, she found herself pressed against the side of the truck, as a very hungry attorney kissed her and long arms held her close. She felt a strong thigh slip between her legs, and Kennedy softly ground her leg against her.

The paralegal whimpered quietly and felt strong hands grasp her bottom, increasing the contact with Kennedy's leg. "God I want you, so much." A husky alto voice was inches from her ear. "Don't know if I can wait much longer."

"Then don't," Carson breathed softly.

The attorney pulled back and studied dark grey eyes at close range. "You sure? I was kinda thinking, in Fredericksburg . . ."

A gentle kiss silenced her, and soft lips nibbled up the side of Kennedy's neck. "Kennedy, don't think so much."

Blue eyes twinkled in the darkness, and the attorney lifted both of Carson's hands, placing a kiss on each knuckle before turning them and kissing the inside of each palm. She pulled her friend into a tight hug and found the paralegal's ear again. "I love you, Annie Carson Garret."

Kennedy took Carson's hand and led her into the house, through the living area and across the dogtrot. When they reached the hallway, she scooped the blonde up in her arms and carried her the rest of the way to the bedroom, tossing her gently on top of the comforter. Strong hands tugged Carson's boots off, and they hit the hardwood floor with a muted thud. The attorney removed her own boots and then crawled up on the bed, hovering over Carson, bracing her weight on her forearms.

"This is how I want it to be." The paralegal reached up, memorizing Kennedy's face with her fingers. "My first time with you, in your home, in your bed. I love you. And I feel so safe here with you."

"Whatever you want, baby." Kennedy closed the distance, gently kissing Carson, tracing her lips with her tongue and sighing softly when the paralegal opened up, granting her entrance. She explored the blonde's mouth while one hand wandered down along Carson's side, and over, tugging the black knit top from her jeans. She pushed the soft fabric up, tracing patterns along silky skin until she reached the satin texture of Carson's bra. "So soft."

The paralegal felt fiery trails in the wake of Kennedy's touch and she shifted, allowing the attorney to settle between her legs. She wrapped one arm across the brunette's shoulders, encouraging her to continue with the skilled touches that were robbing her of breath and speech. She splayed her other hand across the brunette's lower back and felt strong hips pressing in against her in a steady pattern. "Ahh, Kennedy." Nimble fingers worked at the front closure of her bra, and then the touches became much more insistent.

"Wanna take this off." The brunette lifted up, anxiously tugging at the black top. She helped Carson raise up and then pulled the bra and top off together, tossing them aside. She carefully lowered the blonde back down onto the bed, her eyes drinking in the sight of the smooth bare skin. "God, you're so beautiful."

She started to lower herself again, when a strong hand dug into her shoulder. "You too." Carson's fingers plucked at the buttons of Kennedy's black shirt. As the paralegal reached the last one, the brunette shrugged out of the shirt and sat back on her heels, reaching around and unhooking her bra as Carson slid the straps down her arms. Kennedy watched as her new lover studied her partially naked body with her eyes for the first time. "Breathe, Carson." She chuckled quietly.

"Yeah. Breathing is a good thing." The blonde blushed and then reached up, circling the swells of Kennedy's breasts with her fingers. "You're gorgeous, did you know that?"

The attorney felt her body responding to Carson's touch, and she slowly sank back down, sighing as skin brushed against skin. "In your eyes, sweetheart." Her lips found the paralegal's neck and she nipped at it, before nibbling a slow trail down Carson's cleavage. She moved over, kissing soft round curves, moving inward until she reached a hardened nipple. She kissed it, and then licked it slowly, smiling against Carson's skin as she heard the blonde whimper.

"Easy, baby." Her mouth closed around firm flesh, and her hand slipped between them, working its way along the top of Carson's thigh and then inward until it reached warm denim. She continued to love the paralegal's breasts, and began a gentle stroking motion with her fingers.

Carson cried out and her grip around Kennedy's body tightened reflexively. Her entire world became focused on her lover's touch and she felt the attorney's lips leave her breasts, as they kissed and nipped their way down her torso until she felt Kennedy working at the button and zipper of her jeans. Then she felt her lower body lifted, and a tugging sensation, as the attorney slid her jeans and underwear down her legs and discarded them on the floor.

"Hey." The deep alto voice hummed against her belly, just below her navel, causing a delicious tickling sensation. "What's this? You didn't have it at the ski party."

The blonde forced herself to focus and she rose up on her elbows. "Oh." She blushed. "During the week after the party, I went out with some friends to Sue Ellen's. We got a little toasted and well, you know that tattoo and piercing parlor across the street from there?"

"Yeah?" Kennedy slid up, laying on her side and resting her head on an upraised hand, as one finger made circles around Carson's belly button. "So they talked you into getting it pierced, huh?"

"Not exactly. I'd been thinking about it for a while. Sort of my own declaration of freedom." The blonde studied the tiny silver two-headed stud that emerged on each side of the top of her navel. "Do . . . do you think it's ugly?"

"Nooooo." A warm voice purred. "Sexy. And something we can have some fun with once it's all healed up." Kennedy rolled off the bed and slowly slipped her own jeans down. "Besides, you're not the only one with a little body art."

Carson watched impossibly long bare legs appear, and the gentle sway of Kennedy's breasts as she leaned over to finish removing her jeans and underwear. She swallowed hard as the brunette stood up to her full height. "Oh." She smiled. At the apex of Kennedy's left hip and thigh was a small tattoo, which appeared to be an intricate arrowhead overlaid with a Celtic knot. "That's really pretty. You're really pretty."

Kennedy absorbed her lover's appraisal, noting the desire in Carson's eyes. "I figured if I covered both sides of my heritage, my parents would be a lot less likely to get angry when they found out. I was right."

She crawled back onto the bed and ran one finger from the hollow of Carson's throat all the way down to her lower stomach. "Now, where were we? Was it right about here?"

Carson felt Kennedy's hand nudge her legs apart, as the brunette once again settled between them. She resumed her earlier attentions, kissing every inch of bare skin, as her hand slipped between them again, sliding down and resuming the steady stroking motion that set her lover's body on fire. The younger woman whimpered and dug her fingernails into Kennedy's shoulders.

The brunette slid up, leaving her hand in place, and kissed her lover passionately. She broke off and studied Carson's face. The blonde's pupils were dilated and her skin was flushed. She drew in short uneven breaths, and her body began to establish a steady rocking rhythm with Kennedy's motions. So beautiful. "Does that feel good baby?" She smiled and kissed Carson's lips.

For an answer, Carson pulled her down closer and the attorney nibbled at Carson's earlobe and then nuzzled her neck. "It's okay, Carson. I've got you. You can let go, baby. I'll catch you."

Carson felt a curling twisting sensation that grew and then exploded, as her body convulsed over and over again. She vaguely heard Kennedy whispering unintelligible words in her ear, as the brunette used skilled fingers to prolong her pleasure. Finally, Carson released a long unsteady breath and sank back into the mattress as she felt comforting touches to her face and body.

Kennedy pulled the smaller woman against her and rolled to her back, wrapping her arms and legs around her new lover. Carson settled against her and she felt the blonde tracing idle patterns against the skin of her stomach. "You okay?"

"Yeah." Grey eyes looked up and smiled. "More than okay. That . . . was . . . just . . . I can't describe what I'm feeling. It's good, though. I never . . . not with anyone else. You were the first one who ever . . . Anyway, that was exactly where I wanted to go."

Kennedy's eyes grew wide with comprehension. "I love you, Carson." She drew the younger woman down for a kiss. "Glad I could take you there, baby."

"I think it's my new favorite place to visit." Carson blushed, as Kennedy chuckled at the passion in her voice. The blonde grinned evilly. "Now . . ." She kissed the brunette's neck. "Let's see if I can return the favor."

The brunette sighed, as Carson began to map her chest and torso. "Carson, you don't have to . . . oh God . . . I mean unless you want to . . . oh, yeah . . ." She trailed off, a she felt a gentle suction at one of her nipples. "You sure you've never done this before?" She smiled on a breathless note.

"Yes, but I read a lot." The blonde grinned, and then her lips moved lower. She nipped a few sensitive spots, receiving tiny whimpers in response. She paused at the tattoo, tracing it first with her lips and then her tongue, before moving lower.

"Oh, God." Kennedy gasped.

"You've become awfully religious all of a sudden, Miss Nocona." Carson nibbled at a tasty inner thigh.

"Just giving . . . ahhhh . . . thanks." Her stomach muscles spasmed as the blonde bit down gently on her leg muscle.

"Uh-huh." The paralegal grinned while she moved to the other thigh, and then inward.

"You learned that from a book?" The attorney's body involuntarily arched up as the blonde's mouth reached much more sensitive places. "What kind of book would . . . oh sweet Jesus . . ."

"Kennedy . . ." Carson raised up and frowned. And then smiled. "Do you really want me to talk about this right now, or just show you what I learned?" She squeezed a firm butt cheek for emphasis.

"Ahhh, Darlin' . . . show me . . . Please." The attorney felt some very intimate kisses. "Please . . ."

"Thought so."

Kennedy was reduced to a puddle of sighs and whimpers, as Carson proved that sometimes, reading really is fundamental.

Much later, Kennedy held Carson in her sleep. They had spent a few hours in further exploration, getting to know each other on a new and different level. Finally, exhausted, Carson had simply crawled into her arms and Kennedy had pulled the covers up over both of them. Feeling her lover's naked body sprawled against her own skin was strangely familiar, and comfortable, in a way she couldn't explain. There had been very little awkwardness between them, and they just instinctively seemed to know how to please each other. Nice. She contemplated that and then shrugged. She placed a kiss on top of the blonde head and then joined her lover in sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"What do you mean she disappeared?" Nick Giovani's face was beet-red, and the veins in his neck bulged in anger.

"She told Rebecca good-bye, said she was leaving for Austin, and she left the office. Next thing we knew, thirty minutes had passed and her car was still parked in the lot across the street." Tony shouldered his golf clubs. "We have no idea where she went. We assume to Austin, but we don't know how she got there. He car was still in the lot early this morning."

"Guess I should call off my men at this point. I'm paying them by the hour to watch the car." The short man motioned to his caddy, who fell in behind the two men, as they walked out of the pro shop toward their golf cart. "And you're certain that no one saw her leave the building? Security guards? Cameras?"

"'Fraid not." The attorney hoisted his bag into the back of the cart and checked the ice chest to make sure it was secured. "What's the big deal? So you can try again some other weekend. They've been together for the last two weekends. This one makes three. No reason to think it won't continue for a while."

"Because I want to nip this in the bud." Nick sat down in the passenger seat of the cart. "I don't like not being able to keep tabs on potential enemies. And Kennedy Nocona is an enemy, as far as I'm concerned. 'Freaking liberal lawyer. If she figures us out, we are dead."

"Did it ever occur to you that she wouldn't be an enemy if you hadn't made her one?" Tony rolled his eyes.

"You don't get it, do you?" Nick paused, considering their company. He turned to the waiting caddy. "Tell you what, kid." He pulled a fifty-dollar bill out of his wallet. "We don't need a caddy today. Go on and take the morning off."

"Thanks, sir." The teen's eyes lit up as he accepted the tip and disappeared back inside the pro shop.

"Now . . ." The short man turned back toward Tony, who had taken his place in the driver's seat. "As I was saying, you don't get it. If Carson or Kennedy figure us out, we could go to prison. If we can't get Carson to go along with us."

The attorney was silent for a long moment. I have a beautiful wife. Two perfect kids. A nicer home than I ever hoped for. Good job making great money. How in the hell did I end up chained to this demanding little bastard? He sighed. Tony Moore never intended to do anything illegal, or even unethical. It had happened so gradually. When did I first cross that line? He rubbed his temples and tried to remember.

Ahhh. It was a small case, really. A simple slip and fall in a grocery store that was all captured on videotape. It should have settled before it ever went into litigation. He remembered Nick's insistence that the file needed to be worked thoroughly, and countless needless expenditures for multiple private investigators, extra depositions, and expensive custom-designed exhibits. It hadn't occurred to him that they were quickly eating up the deductible. Nick was the client, after all. Tony had only been following his wishes, despite his own nagging conscience, which told him something wasn't right.

When did I quit listening to my conscience at all? Now it was indeed too late. Prison was a very real possibility if they were to get caught at this point. Tony was already a prisoner, though. I am such a coward. He briefly considered the consequences of going to Howard and confessing, and just as quickly dismissed the notion. At the very least, he would be fired. At the worst, Howard would feed him to the wolves. He wasn't prepared to put his family through the public humiliation.

He looked at Nick and then his eyes flicked away, studying the early morning dew that still clung to the grass, sparkling like tiny diamonds in the bright sunlight. "No. I do understand. I just think that if we leave Carson and Kennedy alone they are less likely to cause problems for us."

"Tony, let me handle this." Nick snorted, and lit up a cigar. "Let's go play before we lose our tee-time."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The first light of dawn filtered softly through the blinds and reached Kennedy's face. Dark lashes fluttered open and she blinked. And smiled. Somehow during the night, she had rolled to her side, and could feel Carson's warm body pressed behind her, one of the blonde's arms draped around her middle. She looked down at the paralegal's hand, which was resting softly against her stomach. I could definitely get used to waking up like this.

"Mmmmm." Carson stirred behind her, and nuzzled her face into fragrant dark hair. "You awake?"

"Yeah." Kennedy reached down and lifted Carson's hand, bringing it to her lips and gently kissing it.

"Too early." The blonde mumbled. "Go back to sleep."

"I was thinking about getting up and running." Kennedy chuckled internally and held her breath, waiting.

The smaller woman shot partway up and leaned over, peering into the one blue eye she could see in profile. "Are you insane?"

"Just kidding." Kennedy turned her head and smiled. "I figure I'll get my exercise in, hiking this afternoon."

"Good." The blonde sank back down against the pillow. "Glad we got that settled."

"We could get up, though. Get an early start." The brunette bit her lip to keep from laughing. They had been up rather late, and truth be told, her body was feeling pretty darned lethargic. She simply enjoyed her friend's reaction. I am evil.

Carson groaned and rose back up. "You are insane." She leaned down and nibbled at an exposed brown shoulder. "And tasty."

Kennedy closed her eyes. "That feels nice."

The blonde began to lightly scratch her lover's back, and watched the tall body stretch languidly, much like a cat, before Kennedy simply curled up on her side, making sure as much of her back was exposed as possible. "You are a pleasure hound, aren't you?" Carson smiled and continued with the scratching, making circles against the smooth skin with her blunt nails.

"Yes, ma'am." The morning-hoarse voice answered sleepily. "Keep that up and I will go back to sleep. My mother used to sometimes scratch my back before bedtime when I was little. Worked like a charm."

"Really?" The blonde's voice was very soft. "So did mine." She lay back down and kept up her actions, waiting until she heard Kennedy's breathing deepen and slow down. She kissed the shoulder once more and then curled back up against the attorney, pulling the covers up around them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The bright yellow cab stopped at the parking lot entrance, and Heidi got out, paying the cabbie. She looked around and spotted the dark sedan that had been there the day before. She had started to pick up Carson's car on Friday, but every time she looked out the window of her office, that same sedan had been parked there. The men in it were so obvious. Compounded by the fact that at least once she had caught Nick Giovani standing next to the car talking to its occupants.

Heidi's office building was in the block next to the one Carson worked in. Kennedy had been more than relieved when they had made that discovery, and had secretly asked her friend to try to keep an eye out for Carson as much as she could. Carson had managed to find photos of both Tony and Nick that she had snapped at her office Christmas party the previous year, so that Heidi would know what the two men looked like.

Now, she carefully studied the dark car, memorizing the license plate number for research later. There were two occupants, both slumped back asleep at the early morning hour. Suckers. She grinned. They had probably been on duty all night. She quietly made her way to Carson's Integra and hit the remote for the keyless entry. She slipped into the driver's seat, peered one last time at the sedan, and started the engine.

She pulled out of the lot and laughed. The sleeping men never saw the car leave.

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A long arm smashed into the phone, as it rang offensively, shocking Kennedy out of a sound sleep. Damn. Forgot to turn that off last night. She managed to smile. 'Course I was a little distracted at the time. She snagged the receiver on the first ring, hoping that it hadn't disturbed Carson too much. "Hello?" Her voice was a gravely whisper.

Carson slowly opened her eyes and listened. She lifted Kennedy's hair, kissing her neck. The attorney rolled to her back and opened one arm, inviting the blonde to snuggle up, which she promptly did, resting her head on a broad shoulder, feeling the brunette's voice vibrate in her chest against Carson's face. A blonde brow quirked in amusement at the one-sided conversation.

"No, I'm not up yet . . . It's okay . . . yeah, I slept in . . . I do that every now and then . . . Since when? . . . I don’t know . . . just sometimes . . . I was up a little late, that's all. . ." Blue eyes peered down at the blonde head and she brushed her lips against it, listening to whoever was on the other end of the line.

"No . . . I'm not sick . . . no, really." Kennedy felt Carson's hand rubbing her belly, and she reflexively closed her eyes.

"Oh, really . . . well, I just might have to kill my big brother for that . . . because, Mama, he had no business telling you that . . .Pictures? Oh, God, Mama, really . . . okay, yeah, I'll send you one if you'll just . . ." Grey eyes grew wide and Carson rolled onto her stomach, pressing one hand against Kennedy's upper chest and resting her chin on it, silently observing her lover's obviously flustered demeanor.

"Maaamaaa . . ." The alto voice whined. "It's a little early to be planning for that, don't you think? I mean it's over a month away . . . Yeah, I know, you like to start planning the menu way in advance but . . . Okay . . . just give me a little time . . .Well I don't know . . ."

The attorney grew quiet for a moment, listening to her mother, and the blonde grinned, nipping at the sensitive skin under her hand. She received a gentle swat to her bare behind and opened her mouth to protest, when a large hand closed over it and two blue eyes pleaded silently for mercy. She relented and settled back down to watch the show.

"I . . . no . . . not right now . . . I'll call you tomorrow night, okay? . . . No . . . no . . . I just can't right now . . . I . . ." Kennedy blushed dark crimson and Carson smiled, wondering what her mother had said.

"Mama! I can't believe you would ask me that . . . no . . . yes . . . well you asked . . . No! Mama, absolutely not . . . okay, I'll ask her . . . yes, I promise . . . No! I already told you that . . . Mama . . . I am NOT putting her on the phone . . ." Comprehension dawned, and it was Carson's turn to blush. She gasped silently and buried her face into Kennedy's shoulder.

The attorney chuckled. "Congratulations Mama, you just embarrassed the hell out of my girlfriend."

The rest of the conversation floated over Carson, who kept her face hidden. She felt Kennedy begin a gentle massage of her back and gradually felt some of the heat leave her face. Finally, the attorney hung up and closed the other arm around the blonde, hugging her tightly. "Hey, you okay?"

No answer.

"Carson, I'm sorry." She shifted, forcing eye contact. "Forgive me?"

"Yeah." Grey eyes blinked shyly. "Can I wait about ten years before I meet your mother? Maybe by then she'll forget who I am."

Kennedy laughed and kissed her lover's forehead. "Carson, I'm almost thirty-three years old. My mother isn't na‘ve enough to think I've never had sex. Heck, at this point I think she's probably relieved that I am, even if it is with another girl."

The blonde opened her mouth. And then closed it and buried her face again, this time into the pillow. She felt tiny kisses on her upper back and slowly re-appeared. "Still, I think I will die of embarrassment if I ever meet your mother."

"Hmmm . . ." The attorney studied her lover's face. "Don't know if I can get you through Thanksgiving in Alpine without meeting her, but I'll try."

"Huh?" Carson's eyes grew wide.

Kennedy reached out, brushing back the blonde hair. "Mama invited you to come home with me for Thanksgiving. Seems Parker has told her all about you."

"Really?" Carson felt her heart flip over. It had been two years since she'd spent the holiday in a family setting. The prospect warmed her all over.

"Yeah, that is, if you want to." The attorney lowered her eyes, afraid that maybe it was too soon to be talking about meeting families and spending holidays together.

"Do . . . do you want me to?" The blonde lay down where she could see her lover's face. "Be honest with me, Kennedy. I don't want your mother to force you to do something you don't want to do. I'd . . . understand if you'd rather I not."

"I'd love for you to come home with me." Blue eyes sparkled with quiet happiness. "Was thinking about asking you anyway."

Carson reached up, pulling Kennedy down for a lingering kiss. They separated and the brunette peered into pale grey eyes. She brushed the backs of her knuckles against Carson's cheek. "Mama is going to love you. Almost as much as I do."

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Continued in Chapter 7

*In Texas and other parts of the south, the term "coke" is used the same way "soda" or "pop" are used in other parts of the country. Dr. Pepper is a coke. Sprite is a coke. Pepsi is a coke. Root beer is a coke. No matter what the label on the can says it is, if it's carbonated and has lots of sugar in it, but no alcohol, it's a coke.

**There is a Federal prison in Big Spring, Texas. A lot of white-collar criminals are sent there, and it is sometimes referred to as "Club Fed."


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