Copyright 2004 by Texbard
For disclaimers, see Chapter 1
Chapter 12 (Conclusion)
"You ready for this?" Ranger Smothers ushered Kennedy and Carson into an observation room, a relatively new feature of the Brewster County Jail, one taxpayers had grumbled about, but that the sheriff took great pride in. One wall was floor-to ceiling glass, overlooking not one, but two interrogation rooms. Both rooms were equipped with communication equipment that connected back to the observation room. On a side wall was yet another one-way sheet of mirrored glass, which looked into a currently-dark line-up room.
"Ready as I'll ever be." Kennedy automatically placed one hand at the small of Carson's back, guiding her to a comfy padded couch where they could see the goings on in both rooms. In one room, Sam Greene sat at a table, nervously twiddling his thumbs and staring pointedly away from them. In the other, was a still-bandaged Jose, who glanced suspiciously at the mirrored window from time to time, in between taking large gulps from a can of Coke.
"How's his injuries?" Carson winced slightly, remembering the smashed pinky finger.
"He's had a few days to recover enough. Other than some broken bones in his hands and fingers, he got lucky, just like you two." Smothers took a seat next to them. "How're you doing, by the way?"
"A lot better." Kennedy rolled her shoulder, mindful not to do anything to loosen stitches that were almost ready to come out. "Leg's just about good as new. Doc said as soon as I get back to Austin, to start hitting light weights at the gym again. The shoulder -- eh -- he said he'd like me to do a little PT, just to make sure I get the muscles working back the way they should."
"Great." Smothers shuffled through a folder. "Let me get y'all up to speed here. At present, we have federal agents closing in on a house a little east of the park. Your buddy Jose there started singing like a canary, once he realized his choices were limited. We haven't even really finished cutting any deal with him just yet, but when his lawyer explained deportation and the intricacies of our lovely prison system, he became real co-operative."
"What house?" Kennedy shifted in her seat, draping an arm across Carson's shoulders.
"Somebody else after us?" Carson glanced toward Jose, who for a moment appeared to look directly into her eyes. She shivered, remembering the cramped confines of the trunk. "He can't see us, right?"
"Right." Smothers reviewed her notes. "Seems Roberto and Jose were working for a couple of bigger guys up the chain. We found some guns in an old shack he took us to. Ballistics on one matches the slug Carson took from your shoulder. Roberto's prints were all over it, so there's a good chance your shooter is dead."
"Really?" Kennedy appeared somewhat relieved. "Where does Sam fit in?"
"He's just become willing to talk to us." Smothers set her folder aside. "He saw us bring Jose in and immediately called a lawyer locally to represent him. All of this, Sam scaring y'all in the park, you getting shot, the rafts of illegals, and the dead girls in the park, it's all connected."
"Wow." Carson sat back, closing her eyes, the information a bit overwhelming. "How did we end up in the trunk of that car? And why were they shooting at us in the park?"
"Near as we can tell, you two were just in the wrong place at the wrong time." Smothers turned, as Sheriff Waters entered Sam's room, along with his attorney, and sat down across the table from them. "Here, let's see what he has to say." She fumbled with a switch, which piped sound from the interrogation room into the observation room.
"Samuel Greene," Waters read briefly from a piece of paper, before he set it aside, and looked up. "Your attorney here has cut a pretty sweet deal for you. In exchange for you telling us everything, and I do mean everything you know, about your buddy Jose over in the next room, and why you were in the park scaring the tourists and the wildlife, and what you know about Richard Wolden and Thomas Mackey, you will get five years' probation, which will include weekly community service for the duration. You will also enter a drug treatment facility for the first part of your probation period. Do you agree to these terms?"
"Yeah." Sam turned to his attorney, who whispered something too low to be heard. After a bit of discussion, Sam signed some papers, and looked up. "Here's the deal." He sat back, pushing hair out of his eyes. "Tom hired me to deal locally, that's all. Most of my clients were at Armadillo Flats. A couple of kids at the high school. That's it. I still had my job at the gas station. Just did the dealing on the side for extra cash. Never meant to get mixed up in no murders or running illegals or nothing."
"I see." Sheriff Waters studied his notes. "So Tom sent you to the park to scare Miss Nocona and Miss Garret?"
"Yeah. Just wanted her to get her nose out of our business was all. I wasn't going to hurt no one, honest. Just give a scare and tell 'em to butt out. The stuff in the park, I didn't even know about that 'til Rick landed in here after Tom was killed." Sam studied the glass for a moment, and Kennedy detected a hint of a sneer, her own lip curling up in response.
"Bastard." She clenched her left fist, the knuckles turning white, until Carson gently took her hand and tucked it against her.
"He didn't get to us honey." She soothed.
"I would've killed him, the idiot." Kennedy shook her head. "And that would've pissed me off. I've never killed anyone."
"I know." Carson kissed her knuckles. "And I’m glad of it."
"What do you know about the shooters in the park?" Sheriff Waters glanced toward the window himself, well-aware of who was on the other side.
"There's some other guys involved, but I never met 'em." Sam's words came slowly at first, and he stopped, taking a sip of coffee. "Tom knew 'em. I think that's how he ended up dead. I think those guys killed him. He and Rick, they got to where they knew too much."
"Too much about what?" The sheriff checked a tape recorder, which was running next to him on the table.
"Them guys, they was using the illegals to smuggle drugs into the country. Tom was helping 'em get the illegals past the park, and through it sometimes. They used the river to run 'em. But Tom, he was a cocky son of a bitch. Got to where he told me he was making demands of these guys for extra money and stuff. Damned fool. Those guys are dangerous -- they got connections all the way to New York, from what Tom said. I think they might be mafia or something. Anyway, I met Jose and his buddy Roberto through Tom. Roberto, he's a sharp shooter, or he was. When Rick was in jail, he and I got to talking late one night. He was scared of them guys. Said he thought they was the ones that killed Tom, and he was afraid they might come after him next." Sam stood for a moment, and walked toward the mirrored window. He glanced at it uncertainly, then sat back down. "Who's in there?" He gestured toward the glass.
"Never you mind about that." The sheriff made a few notes. "Just keep telling the truth."
"You got anything else, Sam?" His attorney interjected. "You have complete immunity at this point. It'd be in your best interests to make sure these fellows have all the information you can give 'em."
"Can't think of nothing much else." Sam chuckled a little bit and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. "Bet that ol' gal is gonna kill her little brother for talking to us, huh? Damned fool kid caused all this trouble, all over a measly few bags of pot laced with coke."
Kennedy stiffened in her seat, her mouth going dry. Pete had lied to her about what he was taking. She held her breath for a moment, unsure if she wanted the questioning to go any further. She sighed as it did just that. "Guess I might as well know everything now," she muttered.
Carson took her hand and squeezed it. There was little she could say to make it better. If Kennedy had any remaining threads of trust in her younger brother, Carson knew his lies about using nothing but marijuana had severed them.
"Ah, Pete Nocona," Sheriff Waters made an effort not to look toward the glass. "What was his involvement in all of this?"
"Other than being a damned fool user?" Sam grinned for a moment. "Not a thing. He warned Tom his sister was gonna call you, is all. Tom called me to scare her in the park after that. Then when I got mauled by that damned bear, Tom took Rick and decided they'd go find Shea and take care of scaring her themselves. So they followed her and her little lesbo girlfriend down to that river campground. Rick said he thinks ol' Shea just walked into the wrong place at the wrong time."
"So to your knowledge, Peta Nocona wasn't involved in any of the drug trafficking in the park?" The sheriff appeared relieved, wiping a hand across his brow.
"Hell, no." Sam shifted in his chair. "That boy doesn't have enough sense for Tom or no one else to have hired him to do anything. Idiot boy wanted to start selling stuff to his frat buddies, but Tom was afraid he'd mess up and get caught, so he wouldn't even hire him to do that."
"I'll kill him when I get home," Kennedy growled. "If that's true, I swear I will kick his bony behind all the way back to Austin."
"We don't know Sam is telling the truth on that, K." Carson reached over, smoothing back a lock of dark hair. "He may suspect you're back here, and be pulling your chain a little. Besides, I have a feeling Pete is so scared, he'll be afraid to take anything even resembling drugs for a while, even an aspirin."
"He better be." Kennedy released an agitated breath, and sat back in her seat. She turned toward Smothers, as the activities in the interrogation room came to an end. "So who are the feds closing in on?"
"A couple of guys that Jose told us about -- we think they're the ones who've been running the illegals through the park and using them to transport the cocaine and heroine baggies. He and Roberto were coming after you when their tire blew out on the road. You just made it easier for them by happening by. Seems those guys wanted to talk to you, find out who all you had talked to about all of this." She fished a tape out of her pocket, and popped it into a recorder on a table. "His lawyer had us interrogate him privately yesterday -- said he wouldn't work with us if there was anyone in here at the time. We'll finish up this afternoon, but here's what we got. You want to listen? Most of it's in Spanish."
"Sure." Kennedy's interest was piqued. After so much confusion, it seemed surreal that the answers to all her questions might be on a tiny little micro cassette.
"You gonna interpret for me?" Carson frowned, wondering if she wanted to hear what all might be on the tape.
"You betcha." They sat back, and Kennedy tilted her head to one side, listening carefully as she sorted out four voices, the sheriff, his interpreter, Jose, and Jose's lawyer. The tape went on for several minutes, before it trailed off into static, and Smothers popped it from the recorder, putting it back in its case.
"Didn't know you spoke Spanish." She pulled out another folder. "Tell me what you heard, and I'll update my notes. Save me having to get my own interpreter."
"Damn," Kennedy spoke softly. "Just like they've been saying, we were basically in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seems Jose and Roberto were our shooters in the park, if what he's saying is true. They were there trying to round up the escaped illegals, and trying to intercept that runaway raft. We got in their way, and because we saw the rafts, that's why they tried to kill us. They were afraid we'd go back and report the raft to the authorities. And with those dead girls out there, they didn't want any murder charges being pinned on them. Their bosses sent them after us again because we'd been back and forth to the jail so much, and then they saw a piece on the news about me delivering that baby, they were afraid we were going to eventually get someone to talk who would implicate them. They're still trying to track down all their illegals and the drugs they had ingested for them."
"Yeah," Smothers jotted down a few more notes. "He said they had plans to take out Sam and Rick too. Meanwhile, we're afraid we may be finding some more dead bodies before this is all over. He said he isn't sure all the illegals even knew what they were swallowing."
"What about my brother? Were they gonna come after him as well?" Kennedy immediately forgot her own threats to kill him.
"Don't know." Smother's brown eyes studied her in sympathy. "We're gonna keep an eye on your folks' house for a while, until we're certain we have everyone in custody that we need to. We've been watching the house at night, as it is."
"Thanks." Kennedy's heart skipped a beat, wondering where her folks were at that minute. She knew it was grocery shopping day, and so they had both gone into town to buy all the food needed to run the bed and breakfast. "We're headed back to Austin tomorrow. Wonder if I should get them to come with us for a while?"
"You know they won't," Carson interjected. "Your mom said they're full up of guests for a while. And what with the horses and dogs and all."
"I know," Kennedy sighed. "I still won't rest easy until those guys are caught."
Smothers glanced at her watch. "Should have 'em in custody by now. The agents headed out before dawn this morning. Wanted to surprise 'em while it was still dark. Jose assured us they weren't planning to move on until they had exhausted their search for their illegals and their drugs. But with him in custody, we needed to start moving, soon as we had our information. Didn't want 'em to have time to get spooked and run."
"When are y'all finishing up with him?" Kennedy nodded toward Jose, who still sat quietly in the other room.
"Another hour or so. Tuesday is hell day at the county courthouse. You got all the guys who were hauled in on Saturday night, got a chance to talk to lawyers yesterday, and are now busy pleaing out before the judge. Jose's lawyer got caught up down there, and he'll be in as soon as he finishes up with another couple of clients. Y'all gonna stick around and listen in?" she looked from Carson to Kennedy and back.
Kennedy studied Carson, who had been relatively quiet for most of the morning. It was the anniversary of Carson's mother's death, but they'd been so busy, they'd had little time to talk about how Carson was doing. Now gray eyes looked up, as Kennedy's hand ran gently against the back of her head. "You wanna stay here, or go find a milkshake somewhere?"
Carson found a small smile. "I've heard enough. Let's go one better. Let's go back to the house and make milkshakes, okay?"
"You got it." Kennedy stood, taking Carson's hand and hauling her to her feet with her. "You need us to stick around for anything else?"
"No, just figured you'd want to be up to speed." Smothers also stood, shaking their hands. "I have a mile of paperwork to fill out back at the office. I do wish these guys could have stayed out of my park to do their dirty work. It's hell on my supply of computerized forms."
"I can imagine." Kennedy pulled Carson to her side, giving her a little squeeze. "Let us know when you get those guys, and what you find out." She handed over a business card. "I won't be back in my office until Monday, but my partners will forward you to me, or you've got my cell number on the card as well. It actually works in Austin." She smiled.
"Will do. Go enjoy your last day at home. I imagine your folks will be glad to maybe have a quiet evening with y'all, before you take off." Smothers pocketed the card.
"We'll see you in Court, most likely." Kennedy's eyes darted down at Carson. "They'll probably have us in to testify if they end up trying anyone, huh?"
"Yeah, you can count on that." Smothers escorted them back outside, watching thoughtfully as Kennedy helped Carson into the truck. She smiled, as Carson immediately slid over next to Kennedy, once they were both inside. "I do hope she doesn't kill her brother," Smothers fretted. "That's just way more paperwork than I care to deal with on top of everything else."
Night sounds drifted up through the window, which was open a crack to let in fresh air. Even in winter, certain night birds and bugs still clung to life, chirping and shuffling about in the bits of brush that surrounded the house. Milkshakes had long since been consumed, and they'd gone on a horseback ride, and spent some time with some baby chicks in the barn, after which they'd shared an uneventful dinner with Aileen and Joseph. Pete had already gone back to Austin to try and pull what was left of the semester together.
During all the afternoon and evening activities, Carson had remained somewhat detached, though guardedly interested in what was going on. Aileen and Joseph had ensured no lull in conversation, incredulous as Kennedy shared with them what all they had learned at the jailhouse. If either of them noticed Carson's relative silence, neither one commented on it.
Now they were in Kennedy's room, packing, planning on a late evening flight back to Austin the following day. Kennedy had decided to take it easy, and to give her parents plenty of time to drive them all the way to the airport in Midland. The flight itself would be shorter than the drive it would take to get there.
Kennedy folded up a couple of t-shirts, laying them on top of the other clothing in her suitcase, and then shut it, zipping the flap closed before she set it down at the foot of the bed. She looked over where Carson was idly staring out the window, her suitcase already packed and sitting beside the door. Carson's face was impassive, her eyes a million miles from Alpine, Texas. "You've been awfully quiet today," Kennedy commented.
Carson turned and attempted to smile, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Have I? Sorry. Didn't mean to be."
"It's alright," Kennedy moved to join her, and hesitantly wrapped an arm around her waist. She looked out the window, trying to figure out what Carson had been studying so intently, and decided it had probably been nothing at all. "Just figured, what with today being … what it is … maybe you needed to talk or something."
"No. Not really." Carson made an effort to brighten her mood, but it fell short. She just felt numb, more than anything else. Truth be told, so much had happened, she'd had little time to think about her mother, and that was starting to weigh on her. She wasn't sure exactly why, it just seemed all wrong, to not spare some time to just remember. She sighed, and lay her head on Kennedy's shoulder. "Guess I'm just tired. You ready to go to sleep? I know it's early and all, but I don't have much energy left."
"Sure. We can go ahead and sleep." Kennedy glanced at the clock, which showed it to be all of 9:45 p.m. "Kinda early, but it's been a long day." She moved apart, long enough to shuck her clothes, and started to climb in bed, when she noted Carson removing her own clothing, before she shrugged into an oversized t-shirt, one they'd purchased on their trip to Mexico. Kennedy frowned, as they'd been sleeping in the nude for quite some time. Still, she could go with the flow. She quickly located a t-shirt of her own, and donned it, before she slipped under the covers, lying back against the pillow with her arms crossed under her head.
She watched, as Carson took her time, puttering about the room, straightening up a few things, before she finally turned and made her way to the bed. Her eyes were so sad, it broke Kennedy's heart, yet she was loathe to say anything. Carson had made it pretty clear she didn't want to talk about it, and Kennedy thought that perhaps talking about it would make her feel worse, and she'd be damned if after everything they'd been through, she was going to add to it by forcing Carson to talk if she didn’t' want to.
Carson sat on the edge of the bed and tugged her socks off, then leaned over and clicked the lamp off, leaving them in what was always the shocking darkness of a west Texas night. Kennedy felt Carson move, and the brush of air as she lifted the covers and settled under them, mimicking Kennedy's pose, lying apart with her head on her own pillow. Slowly, objects in the room began to take shape, and faint starlight twinkled in through the open curtains. Kennedy liked it that way -- always had -- being able to see the stars outside from her bed.
"Can't believe we're finally going home," Carson broke the silence.
"I'll be glad to get back there, too." Kennedy started to reach out, and stopped herself. For whatever reason, Carson was putting up barriers. Wearing the t-shirt, keeping the foot or so of space between them, sent clear signals that for some reason, she needed some space. She nibbled her lip, unsure of what to do or say. She was fairly certain she hadn't done anything. Still … "You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah," Carson answered, her voice not certain at all. She thought about the night in Austin, when she'd had the nightmares while sleeping in Kennedy's guest room, and Kennedy had come to her and she'd bared her soul, sharing about the night her mother died. She hadn't shared so much with anyone, and she remembered how raw and exposed she'd felt the next morning, unsure if she'd dumped too much on her new friend.
But Kennedy had been a rock for her, and had accepted everything she'd had to say without judgment, and with just the right amount of comfort and support. She felt bad now, knowing Kennedy was lying so close, wanting to be there for her again. Her emotions were so mixed up, and so close to the surface, she was afraid if she started thinking too hard, all of that might spill out, and she just … she sighed heavily … it was hard, trying to hold it all together, when she wanted so badly to … just … there, Kennedy's hand was on her head, gently brushing her bangs back off her face.
She closed her eyes, soaking up the touch greedily. She let the feelings come then, thinking about her mother, and about the night she died, and even allowing the guilt feelings that she'd spared so very little thought for her on this, the anniversary of her death. It had been three years, and maybe she wasn't supposed to feel it so strongly, but it was there, and she released another trembling sigh, followed by an unexpected sniffle, as the first tear squeezed out of her eye and tracked down her cheek.
"Come here, baby." Kennedy's voice was soft, and non-threatening, not demanding, just an invitation to go to the one place she wanted to go, more than any other. She rolled over, crawling into long open arms, burying her face against a strong shoulder as those arms wrapped around her, holding her close, while soft lips brushed against her cheek.
She wasn't sure how long she cried. It wasn't the hard wracking sobs she'd cried when her mother died, but more a steady, sad stream of memories that bubbled up one by one, swirling around as others pushed them aside. "I miss her so much, sometimes," she finally whispered.
"I know." Kennedy kissed her forehead. "I know, sweetheart. I wish I could have known her. She must have been a very special person, to have raised a daughter like you."
"She was the kindest, gentlest soul I've ever known," Carson replied softly. "You would have loved her. Everyone did."
"I know I would have." Kennedy rubbed her back, feeling the tears slow and subside. "Carson, I'm sorry we didn't take some time today to just honor her memory. I promise you next year I'll make sure we do."
"It's alright." Carson sniffled. "We're doing that right now, aren't we?" She slipped a hand inside Kennedy's t-shirt, rubbing circles against her belly with the flat of her hand. "I think maybe one of my biggest regrets is that I'll never get to introduce you to her. It's sad the two most important women in my life will never meet."
"I think I meet her every day," Kennedy reached up, stroking Carson's head. "I've seen her pictures, Carson, and I see her in your eyes, and in your smile. I bet you move and talk like her too, don't you?"
"Yeah," Carson smiled against the darkness. "Yeah, I've been told I do."
"She was a very beautiful woman," Kennedy continued. "And the apple didn't fall far from the tree, far as I'm concerned. I think she'd be very proud of how you've handled things these past few years."
"You think so?" Carson asked timidly. Sometimes it was easy to feel like she hadn't coped well at all.
"I know so." Kennedy pulled her closer, finding her lips, engaging in a series of soft kisses that were meant to comfort and reassure, more than anything else. She pulled away and hugged Carson close again, smiling sadly as she felt the tension slowly drain from her body. "I hate that you hurt so much. I wish I could make it all better."
"Just hold me," Carson answered, snuggling up and kissing a bit of bare skin at Kennedy's neckline. "There's something else you can do." She suddenly rolled almost on top of Kennedy, nose to nose, peering earnestly into surprised wide eyes that were mostly colorless in the darkness.
"Anything." Kennedy's eyes felt like crossing as she tried to focus on Carson's face at such close range.
"I almost lost you a few times this past week," Carson touched her nose with her fingertip, smiling as a set of white teeth playfully snapped at her finger. "Stop it, I’m being serious here."
"Sorry." Kennedy smiled anyway. "Go on."
"I almost lost you," Carson repeated herself. "So you promise me not to be putting me through that again any time soon, okay? I don't think I could stand it."
"I'll do my best," Kennedy grew sober. "I don't ever want to cause you any pain, Carson."
"And I don't want to cause you any either, so we need to just make up our minds to live a good long time." She smiled, ducking her head and quickly pecking Kennedy's lips, before she settled back down, curled up against her side. She snuggled closer, as one long arm wrapped around her and resumed rubbing her back. "That feels nice," Carson mumbled sleepily, her eyes growing heavier and heavier by the minute.
"Good." Kennedy nuzzled her hair. "Wanna make you feel nice all the time." She shoved down an overwhelming wave of tenderness, knowing Carson was just about to fade out on her. Morning would bring a whole new day, and a whole new outlook, she was certain of it.
Kennedy blinked into the darkness, trying to determine what had woken her up. The night creatures had all gone silent, and a glance at the digital clock showed it was 2:00 a.m. Carson was pressed tightly against her, a little too tightly as a matter of fact, and she smiled, realizing one of Carson's hands had found its way under her shirt, and had a firm grasp on her breast. "Mmph," she hissed, as Carson gave her a bit of a squeeze. "Gotta remove that."
"Mmmmmm." Carson mumbled in her sleep, and Kennedy's attention was re-directed to her hip, which Carson was grinding against. She had one leg draped across Kennedy's legs, doing a pretty good job of holding her in place. "Mmm, feels so good," Carson continued to carry on in her sleep, and Kennedy chuckled, enjoying the impromptu entertainment.
"Hope I'm part of this one, whatever it is," she whispered. "Sounds like a good one." Carson shifted a bit, continuing her assault on her hipbone. "Feels like it's a pretty good one for you too."
"Mmmm, Kennedy." Carson's hand wandered to her other breast, and Kennedy stifled a yelp as she gave her nipple a pinch.
"Well, at least it is me you're dreaming about." She managed to get hold of Carson's hand, which immediately settled down.
"So full. Feels so good," Carson's voice grew low and breathy, something that Kennedy always enjoyed during their lovemaking, and she found her own body starting to respond.
"Okay," she reasoned with the ceiling above her. "Your girlfriend is obviously making love with you in her dreams." She looked down again. "Do I wake her up and help her out?" She felt a distinct wetness against her skin and smiled. "Not that she seems to need my help at this point. Or do I just let her keep dreaming?" She let go of Carson's hand, deciding to see what would happen next. Then groaned as it wandered lower, gliding between her legs.
"Vroom vroom," Carson mumbled.
"Vroom vroom???" Dark brows shot into Kennedy's hairline. "Okay, now I've got to wake her up." She trailed a hand up Carson's thigh, finding her backside and giving it a squeeze. "Hey there hot stuff, wake up." She ducked her head, locating Carson's lips and kissing her soundly, her own heartbeat picking up as Carson readily returned the kiss, deepening it and moaning as she slowly came awake.
"What the??" Carson pulled back, blinking in confusion. She looked around wildly for a moment, assessing her situation, and released a long frustrated sigh, flopping back on her pillow with one arm over her eyes. "God almighty, I'm turned on right now. Was I doing what I think I was?"
"That would make two of us, and yes, you were." Kennedy laughed and rolled to her side, prying Carson's arm away from her face and finding her lips again. "You were dreaming, sweetheart. Pretty damned good one, judging from this nice big wet spot on my hipbone here.
"Oh, god," Carson groaned, and tossed her arm back over her face. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," Kennedy began tracing circles against Carson's stomach, gradually tugging her t-shirt up. "It was incredibly sexy. Can you tell me about it? I’m especially curious as to why you were making engine noises."
"Oh, sweet Jesus." She felt Kennedy continue to remove her t-shirt, and gave her a playful slap. "Please, can you let me maintain what's left of my dignity?"
Kennedy laughed outright and stopped, taking her own shirt off instead. "Sweetheart, there's no need to be embarrassed. I really am curious as to what you were dreaming about. It was incredibly cute."
"Cute?" One distrustful eye appeared. "Me humping your leg was cute?"
"You humping my leg was getting me hot and bothered. The things you were saying and the noises you were making were cute. Come on, share." She kissed Carson again, grinning as the felt her relax a little bit.
"What was I saying?" Carson finally broke off.
"Well, you said you felt good, you said you were full, and you said 'vroom vroom' right before I woke you up. I'm particularly intrigued as to where that came from." Kennedy's hand wandered under Carson's shirt again, and this time there was no resistance as she tugged it up. "You wanna get naked with me and pick up wherever you left off?" She managed her most charming smile, and was rewarded with one in kind.
"Be kind of hard to do in here," Carson's voice was sheepish, and she could feel the blush across her cheeks, glad of the darkness to hide it. "Okay," she gathered her courage. "I just don't want you to be appalled or anything."
"Carson," Kennedy's fingertips circled an enticing breast, pleased when she felt Carson's ribs expand sharply at her touch. "First of all, you were dreaming, and you can't help what you dream. But let me assure you, there is very little you could dream or fantasize about, that would shock me or make me think any less of you. I was getting turned on just listening to you a minute ago. I can't wait to hear what was going on in that lovely head of yours."
"Well …" Carson grabbed her hand. "You're distracting me." She smiled. "In a good way, but I can't talk when you touch me like that."
"Okay, I'll try to be good." Kennedy nibbled her way along a collarbone for a moment. "But it might be real difficult. Go on." She propped her head up on an upraised hand.
"We went for a ride on your motorcycle, and while we were riding, I kind of unbuttoned your shirt, and was playing with your breasts." Carson reached over, touching one of the body parts in question while she spoke. "I think in the dream, I made you come while we were riding."
"A, a woman of many talents," Kennedy smiled, rolling even closer and pressing her knee between Carson's legs. "Then what?"
"We got back to the barn, and I guess you were packing," Carson mumbled the last part so low, Kennedy barely heard her.
"Come again?" The dark head leaned closer, listening.
"Haven't come the first time yet, thank you very much," Carson replied, giving a nipple a pinch.
"Hey!" Kennedy grabbed her hand. "I could swear you said I
was packing in your dream."
"You were," Carson blushed furiously, and covered her eyes with one hand for a moment, before Kennedy removed it.
"Why does that embarrass you?" Kennedy tilted her head in question.
"I'm not sure. Maybe it's the rest of the dream. You basically got off the motorcycle, pulled my jeans down, bent me over the seat, and um …" she trailed off, hiding her eyes again.
"Went to town?" Kennedy supplied helpfully. "That's one very hot dream. I like it." She pulled Carson closer, and kissed her soundly. "I've actually had a fantasy or two that involved you and a dildo. Is that something you'd like to try sometime?"
"Maybe. Especially if we both get to use it," she finished quietly. "You still not appalled at me?"
"God, no." Kennedy rolled on top of her, insinuating her own leg more firmly between Carson's. She rocked against her a little bit, smiling as a low groaning noise rumbled up from Carson's throat. "I think we're going to have a fun and hot time together, for a very long time, that's what I think." She ducked her head, closing her mouth around one of Carson's nipples, feeling her own body on fire once more, as Carson clutched at her shoulders.
"Oh god, don't stop," Carson buried her face into the crook of Kennedy's neck, holding her close. She nipped at warm skin, and moaned softly, as Kennedy's hand trailed down her stomach and nudged her legs further apart.
"Don't have any toys with me right now," Kennedy found her ear, flicking an earlobe with her tongue. "But I can improvise, if you want me to."
"Mmmmm," Carson's hands trailed down her back, landing on her ass and pulling her closer.
"Guess that means you want, huh?" Kennedy chuckled, and began playing Carson in earnest. She smiled, as little noises of pleasure continually bubbled up from Carson's lips. As she continued to stroke her lover, her lips wandered leisurely from Carson's neck, down her body, stopping at all kinds of interesting places in the process.
"Grrrrrrrrr." She hummed against warm salty skin. "Vroom vroom."
Kennedy stood next to the Harley, as she looked idly around the barn, taking in the warm mixed scents of hay, horseflesh, oats, and leather. She wrinkled her nose, detecting a hint of the chicken coop at the far end of the building. Looking down at the Harley, she smiled, remembering Carson's dream, and their resulting lovemaking. She leaned over a little, bracing her hands against the bike's saddle, testing to see if the height would work for Carson's fantasy.
"You ready to go?" Joseph entered the room, raising his eyebrows slightly as he spotted her. "Surely you two aren't thinking of riding that back to Austin, are you?"
"Um. No." Kennedy stood up abruptly, blushing at her own thoughts. She cleared her throat and suppressed a smile. "Our bags wouldn't fit. Listen, Pa, about the dogs, I can't thank you enough for agreeing to drive them to Austin in a few weeks."
"No worries, Shea. They'll be fine here. Your Talia has already established herself as leader of the pack. It will be no trouble. It's only a few weeks, after all."
"True." She'd said her goodbyes to the dogs earlier that morning, and sent them off to the pastures to play with the others. "They may not want to come home. I've got a lot of land, but they aren't allowed to roam freely in Austin like they do out here. They stay inside or in the yard or the barn, unless I can go out with them."
"It's the people that make a family, Shea, not the place. You and Carson are their family. I know they'll be happy to get back to Austin, but they will be well-taken care of until then." Joseph placed an arm across her shoulders, hugging her close to his side.
"I know." Kennedy closed her eyes, laying her head against his shoulder. "And you're right about family." She looked up, blue eyes looking deeply into dark brown. "Pa, I can't thank you enough for the way you've accepted Carson as one of us."
"She's a beautiful woman, both inside and out. I couldn't wish for someone better for my cha-nawoonit ecka-peta to spend her life with." He looked down, kissing her head. She closed her eyes and sniffled, feeling him tilt her chin up. "You are happy, aren't you?"
"Oh. Oh, yeah." She opened her eyes and blinked, sending a few tears scattering down her cheeks. So much had happened, it was difficult to process. "Pa, I just want you to know you and Ma didn't do anything wrong. You did just fine with me and Pete. And Parker. I know I was so angry at you, growing up, but Pa, I shouldn't have taken things out on you. You tried to teach me to be proud of who I am. I … I just wanted you to know I am now -- very proud to be your daughter, proud to be Comanche, and all that means."
"And Irish," Joseph supplied. His eyes swam with unshed tears, and his heart threatened to burst with emotion he couldn't express with words. He sighed heavily and hugged his daughter. It was worth it -- all the heartache, and the worry, the late nights, the phone calls from the sheriff's office -- it was all worth it, for this one moment, when he could hold a daughter who made him so proud.
"And Irish," Kennedy parroted back at him. She hugged him in return, smelling the warm cotton of his flannel shirt, and the lingering scent of tobacco from the pipe he still occasionally smoked. "I won't forget, Pa. You and Mama, you done good."
Joseph held her in silence for a moment more, as sunshine spilled over them from a high window, dust particles dancing around them as if they were live flying creatures. Finally, he pulled back, clasping her shoulders at arms' length. "Shea, I know you had to do what you had to do, with regard to Pete."
She hadn't told her parents about Pete's stash being laced with cocaine, deciding it would serve no real purpose in telling them. "Pa, I can't have him in my house with drugs. I just can't. It would …"
"Shhhh." He smiled at her, a gentle expression indicating he wasn't angry. "I know. Let me finish, please."
"Sorry." Kennedy looked down, dark hair covering her face, as she tilted her head to one side, listening.
"Before he left yesterday, we had a long talk. He's deeply afraid, Shea. And genuinely sorry for everything that happened. He said he wants to talk to you when you get back to Austin. He knows he's not welcome to live with you, but I think he's afraid he's no longer welcome in your life." He pushed back her hair, searching her face, and finding a swirling brew of emotion there. "Your brother needs you. I think he's reaching out for help."
"Pa, it's not that easy. What he did … even if he didn't mean to … I just found Carson, and we plan to make a life together. What he did almost killed both of us. I'm finally happy, Pa, truly happy, for the first time in my life. I feel complete with her, and he could have snatched that away." She shook her head angrily, and crossed her arms over her middle. "I'll talk to him, if that's what he wants, but that's all I can promise."
"And that's all I can ask of you." Joseph brushed his hand against the back of her hair once, and let her go. "We probably need to get going."
"Yeah." She looked around one more time, and chuckled softly, patting the Harley's handle bars on the way out the door.
"Something amusing about your bike?" Joseph ushered her toward the house.
"Oh, maybe." She glanced at him, her eyes twinkling mischievously. "But nothing I can share."
"Ah." He smiled. "I see."
They reached the back porch, just as Carson and Aileen came out the back door, and set their bags down next to the swing. "Hey. We were wondering where you wandered off to." Carson approached Kennedy, holding out her hands and taking Kennedy's, pulling her toward her and giving her a quick peck on the lips. She laughed as Kennedy unexpectedly engulfed her, holding her close and kissing her cheek right next to her ear.
"Guess you've lost some of that shyness around my folks, huh?" Kennedy whispered.
"Been having a nice chat with your mother." Carson whispered back. "Been hearing some cute and interesting stories about you."
"Oh?" Kennedy straightened up, and peered at her mother. "Mama, please tell me you didn't pull out the photo albums."
"I most assuredly did." Aileen gave her a swat on the behind. "Figured Carson should know what she's getting herself into."
"Mama, not the naked baby ones!" Kennedy wailed piteously.
"Especially those," Carson giggled. "I must say, it was creative of you to take off your Tigger outfit in the middle of the Halloween party. Bet you won best costume after that."
"Mama!" Kennedy glared at Aileen. "I was two, Carson. Two! It was hot at that damned party."
"Uh-huh. Still using that excuse out on the boat too, even in the dead of mmpphhh." Gray eyes widened in outrage as Kennedy clamped a hand over her mouth.
Aileen and Joseph both burst out laughing, giving their daughter knowing glances. She could feel the heat flushing her cheeks, and blew out a frustrated breath, ruffling her bangs. "I think it's time to head for Midland." Kennedy pulled together her shredded dignity. She carefully uncovered Carson's mouth, and received an innocently charming smile for her effort. "And you …" She tweaked Carson's nose. "You gotta share the back seat with me. I just might have to tickle you for the next two hours."
"Am I going to have to call corners?" Joseph picked up a bag and shouldered it.
"Corners?" Carson looked at her lover in confusion.
"When we were little, if we were driving anywhere, Pa would yell corners if we got too rowdy in the back seat. Parker and I would have to hug the windows, and Pete was stuck in the middle between us. Parker and I could still poke at him, so he got double-teamed." She laughed evilly. "Poor Pete, if he tried to do anything back to me, then Parker would get him while his back was turned, or vice versa."
"Ah." Carson picked up her overnight bag. "Another thing I never had to deal with as an only child. Backseat rumbles." She stopped, noting a familiar sultry look on Kennedy's face. "What?"
Kennedy leaned over and whispered in her ear. "I'd love to backseat rumble with you, but I need to get another truck first." She grinned, and stood up, picking up her own suitcase.
"Secrets, ladies?" Aileen followed them down the back steps to the truck.
"Absolutely, Mama." Kennedy winked, and they all laughed, as they got in the truck for the long drive to the airport.
Kennedy pulled the rental car under the carport and released a long relieved sigh. The sun was setting over the lake, painting the gently-lapping waves at the shoreline in pink and gold ripples. With the windows down, she inhaled deeply of the fresh lake water scent, and the crisp smell of fall leaves she knew needed raking. A light breeze rustled in the cattails near the boat dock, the boats themselves making a dull slapping sound as they tapped against the foam bumpers that protected them from the wooden dock edges.
"Hey." She gave a dozing Carson a gentle nudge. "Wake up sleeping beauty."
"Ooooooo." Carson blinked and stretched, looking around outside. "Home. God, I've never been so happy to see a place in my life, I don't think."
"I'll second that." Kennedy extended her leg, wincing at a stiffness that had settled in near the injury site, the product of the long drive to Midland, sitting still in a cramped plane seat, and the relatively long drive from Bergstrom Airport to Lago Vista. "Ouch." She opened the car door, unused to driving an actual sedan after years of trucks. "I didn't plan well for airport runs when I built out here."
"Worth the drive, though," Carson mumbled, rolling out of her seat and gingerly rising to a standing position. "Wish Southwest would consider installing a first class section."
"That would be nice, wouldn't it?" Kennedy popped the trunk and they gathered their bags, trudging into the house, flipping on lights as they made their way to the other side of the dogtrot, dropping the bags unceremoniously on the floor of the master bedroom in a tumbled heap.
"Strange to have no animals greeting us." Carson divested herself of first her shoes, and then her bra, pulling a soft fleece sweatshirt on, reveling in the scent of their fabric softener. "Man, that feels good."
Long arms wrapped around her and Kennedy pulled her close, closing her eyes and resting her chin on Carson's head, slowly rocking back and forth for a long moment. "Yeah, you do feel good." She laughed lightly and released her lover, ruffling her head before she found her own sweats.
"We gonna go pick up the horses tomorrow?" Carson sat on the edge of the bed, wiggling her toes in idle pleasure at being free of shoes.
"Damn." Kennedy tied the drawstring on her sweats. "I forgot about that. Shoulda rented a truck with a trailer hitch."
"We can get up early and go truck shopping first." Carson closed her eyes, flopping back on the bed bonelessly. She frowned, wondering if she could talk Kennedy into going on a vacation to recover from their vacation. They had talked little during the day, the exhaustion of everything they'd been through finally hitting both of them hard, once they realized they really were going to put it all behind them, at least until the trial of the men involved. They'd eaten a late lunch in Midland with Aileen and Joseph, and upon landing in Austin, both admitted the need for rest was fast winning over the need for supper.
Kennedy puttered around the room, putting a few things away, before she finally decided to let the rest of unpacking wait for morning. "Hey." She climbed up over Carson, hovering over her on all fours and boxing her in. "Birthday girl -- what do you want for breakfast in the morning?"
One gray eye popped open, and then another, and Carson grinned, her eyes slowly trailing down the lean body above her. "That'll do," her voice rumbled happily.
Kennedy returned the smile in kind, lowering herself enough to capture Carson's lips for a moment. "And after that?" she purred seductively. "How about we drive into town and go to Kerbey Lane, and then go truck shopping?"
"Oh, that sounds great! Haven't been to Kerbey Lane in ages." Carson's stomach growled just thinking about the delicious breakfasts served up at the large old house-turned hippie-chic restaurant. It was Austin as she loved it best, where at one table there might be a Jewish family sharing a meal, next to a table full of sorority girls, next to a table of Rastafarians, and next to them, well, gay people like her and Kennedy. "I might even have some of your favorite granola pancakes drizzled in raw honey."
"Or you might have your favorite ham and cheese omelet drowning in cholesterol," Kennedy teased her.
"I might," Carson nodded in agreement. "What you gonna buy, anyway?"
"Dunno. SUV with a trailer hitch is about as far as I've gotten in my thought process." She rolled over, landing on her back next to Carson. "Then we can go birthday shopping, and I'll buy you anything you want."
"Anything?" Carson was intrigued. 'Anything' had never been an option before, that she could recall. Her mind raced with possibilities, almost overwhelmed at the prospect.
"Anything," Kennedy answered firmly. The earrings and tennis bracelet she'd picked out in Lajitas were still tucked secretly away in her carry-on. She smiled, picturing the platinum diamond studs gracing Carson's soft pink earlobes. She glanced over at one of said lobes, realizing all over again, that physically, Carson came in just about the most perfect package she could ever have dreamed of. The fact that that package surrounded an even more beautiful inside made her heart suddenly well up with a flood of uncontained happiness.
"Hey." She reached over, raking her fingers through short blonde hair. Slowly, Carson rolled her face toward her and smiled. "I love you," Kennedy watched that smile widen for a moment, before it disappeared, though Carson's eyes continued to glow, reflecting the sentiment without words. Carson rolled closer still, until she was pressed up against Kennedy's side.
Love you too." She wrapped herself around Kennedy in a full-body hug. "With all that I am," she whispered fervently, sealing it with an almost chaste kiss to Kennedy's lips. It was so sweet it bordered on painful, and she closed her eyes, as a happy shiver worked its way from her head all the way to her toes.
"You alright?" Large hands rubbed her back, cradling her like a treasure.
"Couldn't be more alright," Carson answered softly. "I don't think we can go shopping for my birthday."
"But …" full lips pushed into an all-out pout. Kennedy was looking forward to spoiling Carson totally rotten. It had been so long since she'd had anyone in her life to lavish things on, and she'd been mentally tripping through the mall in her head for a few days, wondering what all Carson might want.
"Shhhhh." Carson kissed her again. "You said you'd buy me anything I want."
"And I meant it," Kennedy continued to pout.
"You can't." She smiled happily, waiting for the next protest, her heart still racing with a giddiness that seemed to be visiting her often these days.
"Why ever not?'' Kennedy watched as Carson crawled up, resting her chin against her breastbone. Carson's smile was disarming, leaving her mind a mushy heap of worthless happy goo. "I …" she reached up, tracing her fingertips across Carson's cheek bone. "Unless you're planning on buying a private jet or something, I … I was just looking forward to watching you shop to your heart's content. If … even if you wanted that jet, I could …" she trailed off, forgetting what she was saying, lost in eyes that captured her all the way to the bottom of her soul.
"You can't," Carson repeated, "because I already have what I want, right here, right now."
"Shhh." Carson shushed her again, gently taking Kennedy's face in her hands and kissing her soundly, finally pulling back and rubbing noses. "I couldn't love you any more, I don't think, yet every day I do. Every single day." She watched Kennedy's eyes quickly fill with tears, her own watering up in sympathy, as she brushed her thumb across a high cheekbone, capturing a bit of moisture there.
"You want to do something for me?" The dark head shook soundlessly in answer. "Let's go to breakfast, and go get you some wheels, and go pick up the horses. Then let's come back here, drop them off, buy ourselves some picnic food, and go find a secluded cove somewhere on that great big lake out there, and spend the day together out there, just the two of us."
"And count stars and fall asleep on the boat?" Kennedy asked hopefully.
"Absolutely." Long arms engulfed her again, and she buried her face into Kennedy's neck, greedily inhaling her scent. The happiness swirled around inside some more, and she simply floated in it, almost drowning, as Kennedy found her ear, nuzzling her face before she whispered a few more 'I love you's.' No, Carson decided. No amount of money in the world could buy this.
Kennedy carefully steamed the milk, listening to the frothy hiss and hoping she didn't scorch it in the process. The espresso smelled good, better than it tasted, she reflected, wrinkling her nose. The cappuccino machine was one of her gifts to Carson, but she'd decided to set it up, read the instructions, and surprise her still-sleeping lover with a home-brewed latte. She poured the steamed milk into a tall ceramic mug, dumped in the espresso shot, added a healthy squirt of chocolate syrup, and scooped foam on the top, finishing it with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Hmmm. She tilted her head and studied it. It looked and smelled as good as Starbucks. She smiled and placed it on a tray, along with a linen napkin and a bud vase with a single red rose in it.
As she passed through the dogtrot, she stopped, just taking in the peace of the early morning. The breeze off the lake was light and cool, and sent a pleasant chill across her skin, most of which was exposed to the elements. It was just so damned good to be home, she could hardly contain herself. If they could just make it through Christmas, maybe they could finally figure out what normal everyday life together would be like.
"Well," she spoke to a bird perched on a tree branch just outside the screen door, "I do plan to make today special, and as normal as we can, at any rate." The bird twittered at her and fluttered off into the rosy morning sky.
She reached the bedroom and paused, drinking in the sight of Carson, who was snuggled up under the thick down comforter. She could tell Carson was beginning to wake up, her eyelids fluttering slightly and just the smallest movement of her body under the covers giving her away. She made a little mewling noise and one eye popped open, and then another.
"Morning, beautiful." Kennedy sauntered across the hard wood floor in her sock-covered feet, and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Morning." Carson eyed the tray. "What you got?"
"Latte." Kennedy set the tray on the nightstand and offered over the cup. "Happy birthday."
"Oooo. You drove all the way into town, just for me?" She took the mug and sniffed it in appreciation. "You didn't have to put it in a special mug. Their paper cups are fine."
"Special mug for the birthday girl," Kennedy grinned, as Carson reached over and rested a hand on her bare thigh. "Besides, I didn't go get it, I made it on your new cappuccino machine."
"Really?!" Carson perked up even more. "Wow, that is so cool! I've been wanting one."
"I know. Got you one of those stainless steel barista things they keep displayed at the coffee shop. Figured those were the best ones."
"Oh, honey. Those are expensive." Carson sipped at her drink. She was still trying to reconcile herself to the fact that Kennedy had the money to spend, and that she didn't need to feel guilty about that. Her expression softened as she set the mug aside for a moment. "But thank you. It's exactly the one I wanted." She leaned over, planting a soft kiss on Kennedy's lips. She pulled back and smiled, snagging a tank top strap with one finger. "I like this outfit, by the way."
"Oh, you do, huh?" Kennedy stole another kiss, growling in appreciation as Carson's hands began to wander. "Wearing more than I went to bed in, aren't I?"
"Mmm-hmmm." Kennedy was, Carson reflected, incredibly sexy-looking in socks, a white tank top, and navy blue cotton bikinis. Then again, she was incredibly sexy naked, or dressed in a business suit. She'd yet to find a clothing combination she didn't find appealing. "I'd like to get you back to what you were wearing then. How about it, huh?"
"My birthday suit?" Kennedy chuckled, a warm low vibration against Carson's skin. "But it's your birthday."
"My point, exactly." Carson laughed, as Kennedy covered her, pushing her back into the plush warm covers. "You gonna make me a fresh cappuccino later? That one's gonna get cold."
"Oh, I think I can manage it." Kennedy nipped at a bit of exposed skin. "That's gonna be the only cold thing in this room, I guarantee it."
"I have no doubt," Carson murmured, then closed her eyes, enjoying her second gift of the morning.
The porch of Kerbey Lane Café was warm and sunny, a rare early December treat. Carson sat just in the edge of a patch of sunlight, sipping at what she was sure was one cup of coffee too many. Still, she didn't feel jittery, and it was a nice way to end what had been a wonderful breakfast. Kennedy had moved out to the sidewalk to take a phone call, and looked none too pleased, one hand twitching, her fist clenching and unclenching as she talked to her caller. She frowned and raked her hair back, another sign she was agitated.
"Uh-oh," she muttered into her drink. She looked up as Kennedy flipped her phone closed and shoved it back onto her belt clip. She strode purposefully up to the porch and sat down next to her. "What's up?" Carson asked, keeping her voice neutral.
"I just agreed to stay here a while longer," Kennedy kicked idly at a knot in the wooden porch.
"And that's bad why?" Carson handed her the remains of a tall glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice.
"Thanks." She took a long drink and swallowed, as the combination of cool beverage and warm sunlight began to settle her emotions, just a little. "Pete is swinging by here to talk. I know it's your birthday and all, but he said he's got to study the rest of the week and as soon as finals are over, he's headed back to Alpine. I probably should've just told him to go to …"
"No, it's alright." Carson patted her arm. "You need to get this out of the way, and we have all day, honey. One truck to buy and then we head out on the boat. No biggie if we hang here a while. Look what a great day it's turning out to be."
"It is, isn't it?" Kennedy found her smile. "He said he's over near campus, and just needs to drop off a paper to one of his profs, then he'll come on up here. I -- just -- I haven't processed everything, Carson. I'm not sure I want to. Part of me just wants to put all the bad stuff behind us and move forward."
"You know, all you have to do is hear Pete out. You don't have to offer him anything at this point, even forgiveness, if you aren't ready to." Carson felt her way cautiously into new territory, giving her lover advice.
"Well …" Kennedy pondered that. "I guess that's true enough. He's lucky I don't knock him into next week, all things considered."
"He's lucky both of us don't do that," Carson agreed. She finished her coffee and curled around in the deck chair, tucking one leg beneath herself, and slipping her hand into the crook of Kennedy's elbow. "You thought any more about trucks?"
"Mm. Yeah." The change of subject was much appreciated, and Kennedy looked over, her blue eyes twinkling with a small measure of returning good humor. "I may go American this time."
"Really? What, like a Suburban or something?"
"Yeah, something big enough to haul the horses. Or maybe with the Land Cruiser, upgrade from the 4Runner." She frowned. Her environmentally-conscious side hated the idea of getting another gas-guzzler, but the practical side knew that living out on the lake, pulling boats and horse trailers, she really had no other choice. "How about you? You been talking about trading the Integra for a while, haven't you?"
"I might do some looking today, while we're out, but I think I'll wait a bit more." Carson's car was five years old, and she'd just finished paying it off. "I kind of like not having a car payment, especially while I don't have a job."
"I could --"
"No." Carson smiled, to gentle her words. "I'm not ready just yet for you to be helping me buy cars. Give me a little more time on that one, okay?"
"Okay." Kennedy took her hand and twined their fingers. "There is something else I could buy you." She brushed her finger against the knuckle of Carson's ring finger. "Maybe after we get a new truck, we can go ring shopping?"
"Oh, that would be fun!" Carson leaned over and pecked her quickly on the lips, glad they were in a place where that was acceptable, for the most part.
"Carson, just how much do you want to join lives with me?" She watched Carson frown, before a hurt expression etched her features.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you feel bad about the car comment." Carson looked down, withdrawing her hand.
"Oh, sweetheart, I wasn't saying that in response to that. I understand. It takes time to get used to sharing stuff. I just figured we need, at some point, to talk about things like bank accounts and all that. I just assumed we'd join ours, do everything like a married couple would. I thought, maybe," she took Carson's hand back. "Maybe we could start today by putting your name on the truck title too, with mine. Would that be alright with you?"
"Um … sure." It wasn't something she'd thought about much, truth be told. Her own property seemed so meager compared to Kennedy's. Kennedy was the one with the house, and all the big kid toys -- boats, motorcycle, horses. And all of it paid for with cash, just as the truck she bought would be paid for with cash. It was so different from how Carson had always had to do things. The thought that she could just walk into a car showroom and drive off the lot the same day with free and clear title to a brand new vehicle was a foreign concept to her. "You know," she stepped out on a limb. "I guess, if I do see a car I like today, we could go ahead and get it."
Kennedy studied her, a smile slowly stretching across her face. "Thank you." She sat back, scooting her chair closer to Carson's and wishing they were sharing. "I know that was a big step for you. Carson, I don't want us to quibble over money. I really don't. I don't want you to feel like you don't bring just as much to this relationship as I do. I don't want us to measure things like that. What I have, it's all yours -- if I'm going to give you my life, is it such a stretch to give you my material possessions as well?"
"When you put it that way, no." Cason looked over at her, her eyes shining brightly, the sun washing the gray to silver. "I'll take good care of it, you know."
"Sweetheart, if I didn't think you could handle money, I wouldn't --"
"Wasn't talking about the money," Carson gently interrupted her. "Your life -- I'll take good care of you, Kennedy."
"You already do." She leaned over, sharing one more kiss, as Pete's car pulled up in front of the restaurant.
Pete walked slowly up the sidewalk and climbed the porch steps. Kennedy remained seated as he turned toward her, her heart beating loudly in her ears. "Hi sis." He cleared his throat nervously, and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Carson."
"Hello, Pete." Carson separated from Kennedy. "I think I'll just walk across the street for a bit. I think I saw a new independent bookstore at the end of the block." She rose from the chair and made a show of checking her cell phone, then patted Kennedy on the arm. "Phone's on." Kennedy flashed her a grateful smile.
"Alright." Reluctantly, Kennedy stood and nodded toward a couple of chairs way down at the other end of the porch, away from the restaurant's front door, and out of hearing of any patrons mingling in the entry area, assuming they didn't raise their voices.
Pete took the hint and sat down, drawing his legs close to the chair and folding his hands in his lap. Kennedy leaned against a support beam and crossed her arms and ankles. When it became apparent she didn't intend to sit down, Pete sighed and sat up a bit taller. "Thanks for giving me a chance."
"Not giving you a chance. Honoring a promise to Mama that I'd hear you out, so start talking. It's a beautiful weather and it's Carson's birthday. I intend to spoil her rotten and every minute spent with you is taking away from that."
Pete flinched and hunched over again. "Oh. Sorry." He paused, studying his sister. Mirrored sunglasses kept him from reading her eyes, but her body language alone was prickly enough to make him want to hunt for a pair of tweezers. "Tell her happy birthday for me."
"Will do. Now talk." She tossed her head a bit, settling her hair around her shoulders. Sunlight seeped in on one side, shining off the sleek black leather jacket she wore in deference to just a hint of chill in the air. Agitation rolled off her in waves.
"I never meant for anyone to get hurt." Pete studied the stony face for any sign of sympathy, and found none. He swallowed, and forged ahead, hoping the slight twitch in Kennedy's fingertips wouldn't lead to her suddenly jumping him. "All I wanted was to buy a few recreational drugs and have a little fun."
"One of your buddies said you wanted to start dealing to your frat brothers." Kennedy sat back against the porch railing, stretching out her legs, but keeping her arms crossed. "That true?" She cocked her head to one side, tapping her fingers against her belt.
"They were going to get it somewhere. I figured …"
"This conversation is over." Kennedy turned and started toward the steps.
"Shea. Wait. Please." He stood up and went after her, barely touching her on the shoulder. "Please?"
There was no mistaking the desperation in his voice. She paused and looked out at the winter-dull grass and bare tree branches. Up on a power line a Mockingbird was singing, oblivious to the fact it was winter. It was so tempting to walk away, because the greater temptation to grab her brother and knock him up against the building was almost overwhelming. "Why should I give you a single minute of my time? Carson and I almost died because of you."
"I know." Pete backed off and moved into her peripheral vision. "I know. You don't owe me a thing. I understand that. I just wanted to apologize for everything you and Carson went through. Like I said, I never meant to hurt anyone."
Kennedy turned and removed her sunglasses. Her eyes were ablaze with anger, and her voice dropped a cold octave. "You want to apologize? You'll forgive me if it's a little too little, a little too late. Kind of empty, as long as you're still using, and thinking about dealing. Go do whatever you want to do, but just remember if you end up in the Travis County jail, I'm not the person to use that one phone call on."
"I'm trying, Shea. Honest." Pete moved back, as she stepped closer, her face hardened in what he recognized as barely-controlled rage.
"You …" she gave him a slight shove. "You don't get it, do you? I … almost … died, because your friends shot me, dammit! Carson and I were shoved into a trunk and almost kidnapped. Has any of that sunk in for you Pete? Has it!" she barked, watching as he cringed away from her, his eyes full of confusion.
She turned and raised one hand, drawing it into a fist. Her arm shook and she took several deep breaths, willing some of the anger down. She turned and stepped closer to him. "I spent years floundering out there, and when I finally have the life I want, you, you sorry son of a bitch, came close to destroying all of it."
"Sis, I never meant …"
"Save it!" She gave in, shoving him hard with both hands. He lost his balance and tumbled backward over the porch railing, landing in a prickly holly berry bush, the thorns tearing into his neck and arms, and ripping through his shirt, poking him in his sides.
"Ouch!" He scrambled around and untangled himself, barreling toward her as she stepped off the porch and headed down the sidewalk, intent on tackling her.
"Don't even." Kennedy turned, just as he reached her. She held up one finger, shaking it at him. "Don't even."
"Shea!" He backed away, his face awash with anguish. "Please. I know I screwed up."
"I don't think you do," she answered sadly. It was so hard to believe it was her brother. The kid she'd diapered and taught to ride a bicycle. The kid she'd played catch with in the back yard and carried around on her shoulders during the annual 4th of July parade. She tried to remember the last time she really knew him, and realized that once she'd left home, she'd lost touch with him. High school had been such a mess, but she knew in her own way, she'd tried to be a good sister to him. "Listen to me."
Pete nodded a little and relaxed his posture, shoving his hands in his pockets again. "I'm sorry."
"You may think you're sorry, but I've been there, Pete, and I don't see it in your eyes or in your actions. So listen to me carefully. The only reason I'm giving you this bit of time is because you're my brother. If you were anyone else, there's a good chance I would be in jail for murder by now, because anyone who hurts Carson, well, I’m just not going to sit by and let that go." She looked down the sidewalk, where Carson was milling around in front of the bookstore she'd seen. Carson looked up and started to walk toward her, and Kennedy held up one hand to stop her, then blew a kiss to remove any sting from her gesture. Carson returned the kiss and stopped, sitting down on the steps in front of the walk that led up to the store.
"I didn't intend …" Pete stammered.
"I know." Kennedy sighed. "And I didn't intend for Angela to die, but she did. And I didn't intend to put Mama and Pa, and you and Parker through hell all those years, but I did. So pay attention and try to catch a clue. My wakeup call was when my girlfriend died in my arms. You got lucky, Pete. Damned lucky. You came close to attending my funeral, and whether that makes you sad or not, it would have killed Mama and Pa. It would have ripped everything apart. Take this second chance and do something with it."
"But I …"
"No! Dammit, Pete!" She stomped her foot and clenched her hands into fists at her side. "No 'buts.' None. You want to show me your sorry. Get into rehab -- I have some sources if you need them, or go get some advice on campus, but god, Pete, get some help before you do something that can't be fixed. Get off the drugs. Hell, leave that damned fraternity if that is where the temptation is. You do that, and then you call me and apologize."
"But, Shea …"
"No! You lied to me. More than once. I know about the coke in the pot." She shook her head sadly. "I can't trust you anymore. Goodbye, Pete." She turned and walked away. It was harder than she thought it would be, but the forgiveness wasn't there. Not yet. A part of her would always love her brother, but he'd crossed a line it would take a lot for him to cross back over. She shoved her own hands in her pockets, head down as the wind picked up, whipping through her hair. She heard Pete mutter something else, then the slam of a car door and the revving of an engine. She kept walking, as he sped by and turned the corner, barely stopping at the stop sign. She shook her head and crossed the street, where Carson was walking toward her.
"Hey." Carson opened up her arms, and Kennedy walked right into them, nuzzling soft blonde hair as Carson held on, rubbing her back and whispering soothing words in her ear. "You okay?"
"No." She couldn’t find it inside to cry. All she felt was weary. But there was a birthday to celebrate, a truck to buy, and a sunset dinner on the boat to look forward to, and she determined not to let fifteen minutes with her brother ruin that. "No, but I will be." She pulled back, kissing Carson's forehead. "Thanks."
"You ready to go find those new wheels?" She searched Kennedy's face, her heart hurting at the anguish there.
"I couldn't forgive him," Kennedy looked uncertainly into Carson's eyes. "I just couldn't. Not yet."
"It's okay." Carson pulled her into another hug. "I can't either. We all need time and space, honey. I don't think he's a lost cause, just really confused. But no one is gonna expect either of us to pretend everything is fine, because it's not. So let's try to put it aside for now, and go enjoy the rest of the day."
"Has this ruined your birthday?" Kennedy closed her eyes, realizing she was close to breaking. She allowed Carson's warmth to fortify her, and released a relieved breath, as Carson's lips pressed close to her ear.
"Not a chance. Being with you makes this the best birthday of my life, so let's go celebrate." She kissed Kennedy's cheek and squeezed her, before she pulled back and took her hand, leading her back to the rental car.
The sailboat bobbed gently in the private cove just off the dock, the water slapping against the sides and causing the anchor chain to rattle from time to time. Carson stood in the galley rinsing off their dinner plates. As she finished up, she snuck a taste of leftover coconut shrimp, which sat on the counter next to the sink. Since Kennedy ate seafood, Carson had insisted they pick up some for her birthday dinner, instead of either of them having to slave over a stove.
She smiled, glad they'd only made it a few dozen yards from their own beach. It was nice, after everything that had happened, to be able to look out the galley porthole and see the house and beyond it, the barn. The horses were home, both of them pacing joyful laps around the corral and kicking up their heals, obviously as pleased to be home as Carson was.
Footsteps sounded on the ladder leading down into the living quarters from the top deck, and Kennedy joined her, wrapping long arms around her from behind, encasing her in a welcome warmth along with the scent of Kennedy's sun-soaked cotton sweatshirt. The temperature was starting to drop outside, and it was a toss-up if they'd stay on the boat for the night or motor back over to the boat slip and snuggle up in the king-sized bed in the house.
"Hey." Carson leaned back into the embrace as she nibbled at another piece of shrimp. She bit off half of it and offered the remainder over her shoulder, hearing the click of Kennedy's teeth as the closed over it. "You happy with yet another 4Runner?"
"Mmmm." Kennedy chewed and swallowed. "Very. I like the electric blue color too."
"Looks good with your eyes," Carson turned, bracing her hands on the tops of Kennedy's hips. She gazed up into the eyes in question, watching them sparkle with a calm happiness that made her own heart soar in response. After the talk with Pete, it had taken a while for Kennedy's good humor to return, but vehicle shopping had gone a long way in taking both their minds off things they had no control over.
"I'm still sorry we didn't make it to the mall to go ring or gift shopping." Kennedy lifted her hand, pressing her lips against Carson's left ring finger and giving it a little lick. "Heh. Coconut." She gave it another experimental lick, before moving to a pair of equally-tasty lips, which she savored for a few minutes, pressing Carson back against the galley counter, enjoying the forced closeness of the space they stood in.
"Um." Gray eyes fluttered open, and Carson pressed her lips together, then smiled. "I believe a new Ford F150 King Ranch Cab is more gift than I could have hoped for, and the rings can wait for another day. Besides, I really just wanted to get home and get out here on the water where we could re-group a little bit."
"Re-group?" Kennedy gave her a playful swat on the backside. "Is that what you kids are calling it nowadays?" She watched Carson blush to her roots in memory of a few pleasant hours spent in the berth of the boat, before dinner. "I'll re-group with you anytime you like, if that's the case." She pulled Carson close, hugging her tightly.
It felt so good. Carson closed her eyes and snuggled into Kennedy's body, rubbing her face against the worn old soft shirt she wore, and inhaling deeply of the spicy sweet muskiness that was Kennedy's own distinct scent. Unexpectedly, her eyes stung with tears, and she blinked, sniffling in the process, as a long shuddering breath escaped from her lips.
"Hey. You okay?" Kennedy pulled back just enough to peer at Carson's face. A few tears on her eyelashes caught the slanting light of the setting sun through the porthole, and Kennedy reached up, brushing her thumb across Carson's face, just under both eyes. "Happy tears, I hope?"
Carson nodded and burrowed back into her, glad when Kennedy simply hugged her close once more; knowing they both shared something much deeper than they had before Thanksgiving. She felt Kennedy fumbling with something, and then felt her reach around, taking her hand from its warm spot against Kennedy's back. Then something soft was pressed into her palm and she opened her eyes, looking down at a small red velvet bag. "Wha --?" She blinked, realizing it had to be another gift.
"Did a little shopping in Lajitas," Kennedy smiled warmly at her. "Asked for the red bag 'cause I knew it was your favorite color. Matches the new truck."
"Um …" Carson was still having trouble finding her voice, and her fingers trembled slightly as she untied the thin silk braided cord. She pulled the edges of the bag open and dumped it out in her hand, a sparkling pile of diamonds and silvery metal falling against her palm and warming as she held them. "Buh …?"
"Platinum and the highest quality diamonds to be had," Kennedy supplied helpfully to her mute lover. "They reminded me so much of you when I saw them -- all light and shining, but so sturdy and timeless at the same time. I -- I wanted to get you something nice, Carson, something that would last you for the long lifetime I hope we spend together." The blonde head remained bowed as Carson carefully trailed a fingertip over the jewelry, separating the two diamond stud earrings apart from the tennis bracelet. "Carson, you gonna say anything?"
Slowly she looked up, more tears spilling out and trailing down her cheek. "They're beautiful." She finally choked out, then stood up on tiptoe, cupping Kennedy's face, pressing the velvet bag against her face and drawing her down for a kiss. "Just like you." She nibbled softly at Kennedy's lips, feeling those long arms pulling her close again. It wasn't the jewelry, she thought fuzzily, it was the meaning behind it.
As they separated, she realized the boat had swung around, giving her a view of the house painted in the rich red golden light of the sunset. She studied it for a moment, then turned her gaze back to Kennedy's face, still seeing the house just over her shoulder. She was home, in every sense of the word, and felt yet more tears welling up. She brushed them away and held out the bracelet and earrings. "Put them on me, please?"
Kennedy took the offering, carefully wrapping the bracelet around her wrist and clasping it closed, then just as carefully removing the small gold studs Carson wore, and replacing them with the diamonds. She gave each earlobe a kiss, then kissed each cheek, ending with a kiss to Carson's forehead. Happy birthday, sweetheart."
"You wanna go watch the stars come out?" Carson set the velvet bag aside and took both of Kennedy's hands, bringing them up and holding them between both of them. "Grab us a fleece blanket and go wrap up out on the forward deck?"
"Absolutely." Kennedy quickly grabbed the leftover shrimp and placed it in the small refrigerator in the galley, while Carson went in the main berth and procured the blanket. She made her way up the ladder, giggling as Kennedy trailed her fingertip up the back of each calf, giving her a tickle behind each knee.
"Hey, you! Cut that out." She turned with a smile, offering her lover a hand up. Once they had their footing, they both walked gingerly to the front of the boat, feeling the slight movement of the deck beneath their bare feet, as they shuffled forward.
Kennedy relented on her calves, only to tuck her thumbs into Carson's back jeans pockets, gently shoving against her rear end as they reached the front of the boat and the large thick pad that was anchored down for sunbathing during the day, and snuggling up at night. "Can't help it. Can't keep my hands off your luscious body." She took the blanket from Carson, somehow managing to lower both of them down to the pad and wrap the blanket around them, all in one fluid motion, that ended with Kennedy on her back, Carson's head resting comfortably back against her shoulder.
The sun had just set, and already a few small brave twinkling stars were starting to appear in the suddenly navy-blue black sky overhead. The chill of the night drifted all around them, but rolled up together in the soft fleece, they were warm as toast. The breeze rustled through the cattails near shore, and further off, one of the horses snorted, a rumbling nickering breathy sound that reached both their ears, making them both laugh.
"Glad we got them home today. I'm in the mood to go for a ride tomorrow." Kennedy idly stroked Carson's head, ordering the pale blonde locks and pushing them off her face.
"What about work?" Carson slipped a hand inside Kennedy's shirt, resting it flat against the warm smooth skin of her stomach.
"Not going back until Monday. Val has everything under control, and Serena's been helping her out some, since her classes are all done and all she had to do is conduct the finals." She pursed her lips, unconsciously tapping a finger against them as she formed her thoughts into words. "Been thinking about working out of the home office a few days a week. I think I can manage to arrange my client and court schedule so that I can save the days at home to get paper work done and draft corporate documents."
"I do intend to search for a job," Carson answered almost defensively, then rubbed Kennedy's belly, realizing how she sounded. "Sorry. Didn't mean for that to come out like that. Just don't want you to necessarily count on me being here on those days, if that's what you had in mind."
"Mmmm. Would be nice if you were, but no, I'm just getting tired of the commute five days a week, and honestly, I get more done at home some days." She turned her head, brushing her lips against the top of Carson's head. "Don't take this the wrong way, okay, but I don't mind if you take your time with the job search, Carson. Give yourself time to find something you'll really enjoy, no matter what it might be."
"You mean no matter what it might pay, don't you?" Carson sighed, realizing just how much freedom there was in the offer. "You know, I'm not even going to argue with you on that point. After the last job, the thought of going back to a law firm makes me shiver, and not in a good way."
"Can't have any bad shivers," Kennedy's voice was velvety warm in her ear, and Carson felt some of the good chills dance across her skin, followed by the brush of air as Kennedy laughed into the darkness, knowing she'd drawn a response with those simple words. "Good." She rubbed her hand up and down Carson's forearm. "Please find something you like, sweetheart. Life is too short to be doing something you don't enjoy, if you have a choice."
"You wanna call Ranger Keena back in the morning?" Carson carefully changed the subject to a potentially less pleasant topic. "I'm curious about that message she left."
"Me too." Kennedy frowned. "On the one hand, it's nice to know we indirectly helped them break the tip of the iceberg on some huge drug cartel. On the other, I want to make sure we don't have to start looking over our shoulders for any cartel members running around out there, who might take exception to us."
"Yeah." Carson rolled to her side a bit more, draping one leg over Kennedy's much longer ones. "I'm about done with organized crime, honey. I'd really like to look forward to some normalness for the new year." She sighed in discontentment, frowning deeply as she laid her head back down against Kennedy's shoulder, this time facing her more fully.
It was such a nice night, and she waged an internal battle, shoving aside ugly thoughts for another time. No, she decided quietly. No more talk of drugs, Pete, criminals, or work for the rest of the night. She felt Kennedy's hand at her back, rubbing light circles in an effort to soothe her. "Thanks." She kissed a convenient exposed bit of collarbone.
"You're welcome." Kennedy mentally tossed one hand in the air, not quite sure what she was being thanked for, and not entirely certain she wanted to ask. Just feeling the tension easing from Carson's body, and her own in the process, was all the affirmation she needed at the moment. "Look." She nudged Carson, who rolled back over, facing the sky with her. "Shooting star."
They both closed their eyes, making roughly the same wish. Kennedy opened her eyes first, feeling Carson brush up against her, their hearts beating in sync. She pulled Carson closer still, feeling her wriggle around until she rose up just a little bit, looking down at Kennedy's face. Kennedy could see her smile, there in the darkness, and reached up, threading her fingers through the hair at the back of Carson's neck, and pulling her down for a long slow kiss. It tingled pleasantly all the way to her toes, and she came up for air, before going back for seconds.
Finally, Carson broke away, giving Kennedy a tiny kiss to the tip of her nose, before she snuggled up, tucking her head just under Kennedy's chin. She could hear her heartbeat there, and feel the slight rise and fall of her chest with her breathing. Those long fingers continually ran through her hair, and she sighed in the deep contentment she always felt when Kennedy surrounded her.
Kennedy's hand slid down, trailing against her scalp and then the back of her neck, before settling against her back, cradling Carson against her side. It felt wonderful, and she pressed her cheek against Carson's head, the fine hairs tickling her face slightly. "You know, I have a yellow cake with chocolate frosting down in the galley. Made it last night after you fell asleep."
"You made me a birthday cake?" Carson was charmed. "And my favorite kind."
"You interested?" Kennedy gave her a playful poke in the ribs.
"Would you be offended if I said we should save it for breakfast? I'm perfectly happy right where I am, and I don't want to move just yet." She grabbed the offending hand and tucked against her hip, covering it with her own.
"Absolutely not." Kennedy looked up at the ever-growing blanket of stars overhead, hundreds of friendly pinpoints of light smiling down on them. "We can stay out here for as long as you want."
Carson made an incoherent happy sound, and became even more limp against her. Kennedy echoed the sound, her own heart almost full to overflowing. True, there were court appearances to make, another holiday to get through, and an inevitable phone call would need to be made to her parents, to report on her talk with Pete. Life, it seemed, was going to go on, demanding bits of her time that she'd rather not give up. She closed her eyes, allowing the closeness between them, and the sweetness of the night to wash over her, driving away all thought of anything beyond the precious person she held in her arms. For now, this was her entire world. Everything else would have to wait.
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