A long, low wolf's whistle split the air, gaining Sam's attention as she slowly emerged from the taxi. She quickly scanned the people congregating around the entrance of the restaurant. That's when Mark stepped forward to reveal the origin of her flattery.
“Partner, when you dress up—” He offered her his arm gallantly. “You get almost taller than me.”
“Which is not very difficult, especially after you let all the air out of you,” Sam smirked before turning to give him a 360 degree view of her. “So what do you think? I left the fishnets at home. I hope you're not disappointed.”
He took in Sam's elegant, scarlet, sexy evening dress with a deep v-neckline and a low open back that highlighted her curvy body. A stiletto style heel completed her sexy look. “You look stunning.”
“Thanks, and judging by the looks on the cab driver, the doorman of my building, and those three guys over there…” She discreetly nodded to a group of boys staring at her. “I'd say I still know how to make a man drool.” Sam smiled triumphantly. “But hey, you don't look so bad yourself.” She returned the compliment smoothing down the lapel of his s tylish, charcoal, three button suit.
“I know.” He puffed out his chest proudly and entered the restaurant looking for a strategic table where they could have a clear view of all the other diners.
“Okay, so when Miller walks in, we find a way to catch him on tape.” Mark reviewed the plan.
“Don't worry. I'll handle that.” Sam took her cell phone out of her purse and tested it on Mark. “When he arrives I'll walk to the restrooms and tape him with my ultimate cell phone camera. Say hi, Lieutenant.”
Mark crossed his eyes before Sam put the phone away. “Any guesses on who the mystery bankroll is?”
“I don't know, but if I had to—” Sam's ability to speak was interrupted when all the blood from her body seemed to be drained by the sight of Ann entering the restaurant.
You have got to be kidding me!
Sam took several short breaths in order to regain control over her emotions.
Mark turned to a familiar blonde figure elegantly dressed in a black halter dress with her hair tied up in a ponytail style. “Wow. She's gorgeous, buddy!”
“How many fucking restaurants are there in this city anyway?” Sam muttered under her breath.
“What?” Mark's expression turned to one of bewilderment when he saw Sam looking up toward heaven and arguing with God.
“Is this some kind of sick joke of yours?” Sam exhaled angrily before noticing Mark looking at her like she had grown a second head.
“Don't ask.” She hissed watching Ann as she approached two people seated at a table. The woman was a mature version of Ann while the other Sam recognized immediately when he stood up to greet her angel.
“Is that Batman?” Mark whispered.
Sam swallowed back the bile that had traveled up to her mouth. “Yeah, that would be Batman.”
Before she could reach her boiling point Sam averted her gaze. That's when she spied Miller coming from the back entrance and immediately switched into her professional mode.
“Our guy is here.”
Mark turned just enough to see Miller joining a gray-haired, well dressed, wealthy looking man. “Who's that?”
Sam quickly took hold of Mark's chin with one of her fingers and turned his attention back to her.
“That's what we're here to find out. Now act like you're my date and you only have eyes for me.” Acting coy on the outside, Sam struggled to push away her emotional turmoil and focused on her job. She quickly retrieved her phone and flipped it open. “The guys in I.A. will be drooling over this footage.” Sam winked at Mark and blew him a make-believe kiss. “I'll see you in a few, Tiger.”
Seeing this sexy, playful side of Sam caught Mark off guard and he did the only thing that came to his mind. He growled.
Ann felt sick in her stomach. She had to fight hard not to throw up in the middle of the restaurant when she spotted her mother chatting animatedly with Joe.
I can't believe she's done that. Her mind was struggling not to let her body shake with anger. Scratch that. I can't believe he has done that.
The closer Ann got to the table the whiter her knuckles became. She had been preparing herself for a confrontation with her mother but she got a set up with Joe instead.
“Hi baby.” Joe stood up and waved off the waiter making a show of pulling the chair out for her. “You look fantastic.”
“What is he doing here, mother?” Ann completely ignored the man holding the chair and directed her gaze toward her mother.
“Well, hello to you too darling.” Helena Thomas flashed her sarcastic trademark grin.
“Don't start with me, mother.” Ann was about to lose her temper. “I thought this was a mother and daughter catch up dinner.”
“Ann, I don't mean to impose.” Joe interrupted the glare war that was going on in front of him. “I talked to your mother and frankly I thought you knew I'd be joining you.”
“Oh no, mom neglected to tell me that small detail.” Ann took her seat and narrowed accusative eyes at her mother. “Didn't you?”
“A small oversight, my dear, what can I say? It simply slipped my mind.”
“Do you want me to leave?” Joe started to stand up but Helena 's hand kept him in place.
“Nonsense.” Helena sent a sharp look at her daughter. “We're all well-educated and civilized people here. We can have a perfectly polite conversation now, can't we?”
“Of course we can.” Ann released a long calming breath, relaxing visibly. “I'm sorry, Joe. I didn't mean to be rude. I apologize.”
“That's more like it.” Helena relaxed as well. “Now let's order something to drink and you can start explaining what is going on between the two of you.”
“There's nothing to explain.” Ann declared shortly. “Joe and I decided that we needed a break from each other.”
“I don't understand Ann. You two were just fine a couple of months ago. What happened?” Helena alternated her look between the couple.
“Don't ask me. She's the one who's been acting crazy.” Joe pointed to Ann.
“Crazy?” Ann snapped defensively.
“Yeah, I don't know what's going on with you, Ann. You don't talk to me anymore. I even have the feeling that you've been avoiding me for a while now.” Joe shook his head impatiently. “And every time I ask you what's wrong, you just say ‘nothing'. I don't know what else to do.” He softened his tone as he placed his hand on Ann's. “I just know that I'm crazy about you and I'd do anything for us to go back to the way we were.”
Ann closed her eyes feeling the stinging of the tears. There was such honesty in Joe's words that made her heart ache. She felt him squeeze her hand and opened her eyes to meet his, but instead her vision was drawn to a red dressed figure walking by her table. Ann looked up and felt an adrenaline shot course through her system as her eyes met familiar blue ones. As it seems to happen every time Ann's eyes met Sam's, time frozen. She became fully aware of her mouth getting dry and her heart thundering in her ears. The spell was broken when Ann followed Sam's gaze traveling to her hand that was being held by Joe. In an instant, Ann yanked her hand away startling Joe and raising her mother's curiosity.
Helena turned to see nothing more than a beautiful woman talking on her cell phone.
“What is wrong, Ann?” Helena 's tone showed genuine concern.
“Sweetie, are you ok?” Joe tried to reach for her hand again but Ann stood up so fast that she nearly knocked the chair over behind her.
“I have to…” Suddenly, Ann was out of her element. Her legs were threatening to give away. She needed to get out of there fast. “I have to go.” Before anyone could say anything Ann darted out of the room.
A barely audible click and the filming started. Sam got close enough to Miller's table in order to get a clear shot of the mysterious man. Unfortunately, her current position also provided a clear view of Ann's table which divided her attention between her target and the woman whose eyes lifted to meet hers. As it always seemed to happen, Sam's mind went blank and she lost all ability to focus until her gaze fell upon Ann's hand firmly encompassed by Joe's. Instantaneously, all the blood in her body boiled and her face hardened. Then without warning she was filled with nothing but puzzlement as she watched Ann's hand jerk free of its confinement. Ann's quick reaction had sent a wave of beleaguered interest not only to Sam but also to the older woman that sat at table. The woman had simply turned and followed Ann's gaze in Sam's direction.
Like a deer caught in the headlights, Sam froze forgetting her real reason for being at the restaurant. When confronted with the sight of Ann fleeing from the table, Sam had to fight the urge to run after her. She, however, coached herself to stick with the plan and filmed Miller's table a few seconds more. Only after being fully convinced that she had enough material to identify the mystery man, Sam looked at Mark and received an encouraged nod from her partner. She then turned to see a glimpse of Ann's back as she passed through the exit.
Sam was off without hesitation as her quick strides carried her through the same doorway. Once outside, she scanned the area until spotting Ann leaning against a parked car.
“Are you alright?” Sam asked approaching the distressed looking woman.
“No, I'm not alright.” Ann shook her head without looking at Sam. “I'm far from being alright.” Ann pushed herself away from the car and stood face to face with Sam. “I'm sitting there listening to the man who's been my boyfriend for the past five years telling me how much he loves me and the only thing that I can think of is that in five years he hasn't made me feel half the way I feel when I'm with you.” The tears that had been threatening to spill started rolling down Ann's cheeks. “And then, as if the fates had some twisted sense of humor, you show up looking absolutely gorgeous and send me into this parallel universe where I have no control over my emotions. So please, please tell me what to do?”
“I can't.” Sam's voice was choked with emotion. “I can't go down that road again.”
“What?” Ann stared into Sam's eyes.
“I've seen it before.” Sam kept their gaze fixed emanating genuine sorrow . “When a straight girl with a boyfriend in tow decides to experiment in a lesbian affair, it's the third wheel that ends up with a broken heart.”
“Sam—” Ann started but was cut by Sam's raised hand.
“I'm sorry if I've hurt you but we're done.” Sam slipped her stoic mask on. “It's best for all of us.”
Both women regarded each other in agonizing silence for a few seconds.
Fighting every need that screamed for her to gather Ann in her arms and never let go, Sam turned to leave. “See you around, doc.”
Ann stood motionlessly watching Sam walk away as her world continued to crumble around her.
Mark stopped mid-bite to acknowledge a very agitated Sam marching back into the restaurant.
“Is everything alright?”
“Just peachy,” she offered through clenched teeth.
“Did you two work things out?” He asked tentatively.
“Yep…” Sam downed her wine in a single gulp. “I never want to see her again.”
Mark's brow furrowed. “Are you—?”
“Sure?” She cut him off. “Yeah, I'm positive. Now, can you ask for the check so we can get out of this place, please?”
“But I just ordered crab cakes for the both of us,” Mark practically whined.
“I hear doggie bags are very fashionable these days. Ask the waiter to wrap them up.”
“Oh, come on Sam,” Mark argued. “I thought we were going to have some fun on the I.A. tab tonight.”
“Sorry, I seem to have lost my appetite.”
Sensing his partner's sour mood, Mark decided to pry. “What happened out there?”
“Reality snapped back.” She reached for the bottle of wine and refilled her glass.
“Want to talk about it?”
“No.” Sam stared at the wine she was swirling in her glass. She stopped the motion to let it settle then raised the glass to her lips. The aromatic fragrance of the wine was lost to her senses as the liquid rolled quickly over her tongue. She swallowed hard before releasing a long breath. Sam slid her cell phone over toward Mark. “Here, check out the footage.”
Mark clicked the video on and watched the scene Sam had taped a few minutes earlier. “That's good material, Sam. I think I.A. will flip over this.”
“They'd better. Mark, I'd really like to go home.” Sam's shoulders slumped.
Marked noticed this and signaled for the waiter without further argument. “Fine, I'll settle the bill and we are out of here...as soon as they bring us out doggie bags.”
To anyone else, Mark and Sam leaving the restaurant would mean nothing but a normal couple who had just finished their meal. To Ann though, the scene felt like a hard blow on her stomach.
“God, she takes my breath away.” It came as a soft low whisper.
Hiding among the shadows, Ann observed Mark walk up to the valet and retrieve the car keys. An overwhelming feeling enveloped her when Sam turned and scanned the area. Inwardly, Ann knew that gesture was meant to find her. In an effort to respond, Ann started to step forward only to see Sam disappear inside the car. Within seconds the engine was revved and the vehicle pulled out into traffic. Helplessly, Ann's gaze followed the car until they turned the corner and drove out of sight.
With nothing further to hold her attention, Ann slowly looked up into the clear night sky.
No sooner were the words out of Ann's mouth than a shiver ran down her spine. Placing one foot in front of the other, she started walking not really carrying where her legs were taking her as she tried to figure out the course of recent events.
“I have to let it go…let her go.”
“She asked me to.”
She never said that.
“It's my fault anyway. I should've called her.”
So, what now?
“Nothing, I guess. She said we're done. Maybe it's for the best.”
Biting the inside of her cheek in a nervous gesture, Ann pondered her options.
“Maybe it isn't for the best.”
Ann's turmoil intensified when she realized where she was. Unconsciously her feet had guided her to where her heart wanted her to be, standing in front of Sam's apartment building.
“Now what?” Ann whispered as reverently as any pray. She waited with baited breath until her inner voice answered.
Go talk to her.
Never one to run from a fight, Ann took a deep breath and walked inside.
Determined, Ann brushed past the doorman and made a beeline to the elevator letting it carry her all the way up to Sam's door.
Ann took in a settling breath then knocked gently.
“Who is it?”
The muffed question came faster than Ann had anticipated and it startled her.
“It's…it's Ann. Could you please open the door?”
Ann's hands and legs were shaking so hard that she was amazed she could still be standing. The door in front of her was yanked opened revealing a gorgeous but confused looking Sam.
“What the hell are you doing here? I thought I told you I was done.”
“We're not done.” Ann stated as she stepped inside unceremoniously blocking any attempt of Sam's to shut the door in her face. “Not done by a long shot.”
Sam stood motionlessly by the door watching Ann marching purposefully into her living room.
“You have no right to say ‘we're done' and just walk away.” Ann paced the length of the room, then stopped and abruptly turned, leveling a determined gaze in Sam's direction. “This is not just about you, Sam. It's about me too.”
Sam closed the door. “What do you want from me, Ann?”
“You heard me.” Sam ventured into the room, then leaned against the back of the couch and crossed her arms defiantly. “What is it that you want from me? Do you want me to be your sex buddy? Or maybe help you satisfy some sort of fantasy? Although I must admit a three-some in a straight sort of way has never really been up there on my list of things I wanted to do before I die.”
“Exactly,” Sam sneered. “What is it that you want from me because I sure as hell don't know. Tell me, will you, so we can get this over with and I can go back to my world while you run back to the safety of ‘Straight-Ville'.”
The words stung like a slap. Ann studied Sam's face intently wondering where all the bitterness had come from. In a blink of the eye, the answer was on the tip of her tongue. “You were seriously hurt before…”
The change in Sam's expression told Ann that she had finally found a crack in the woman's defenses.
“I gave my heart to someone who was just ‘going through a phase',” Sam admitted. “Yes, I was hurt and I'm not about to repeat the same mistake twice.”
“It's not fair.” Ann whispered.
“What's not fair?” Sam fought the urge to catch a lonely tear that rolled down Ann's face.
“You're punishing me for someone else's mistake.”
“I'm not punishing you—”
“Right, you're not.” Ann took a step forward approaching Sam. “You're just running from something so powerful that it almost killed you in order to bring us together. After all if it wasn't for that bullet, I may never have met you."
Both women went silent mulling over last few months events.
"And now, you're everywhere I turn," Ann continued. "You're a part of every waking thought I have."
"And so are you." Sam admitted in a whisper centering her gaze on Ann.
This simple acknowledgement coaxed Ann's lips into a subtle smile. Their eyes met and held, both too scared to say what their souls knew to be the truth.
"I thought I knew what love was all about until I met you, Sam. Now, I'm not so sure I knew love at all before your kiss."
Startled by Ann's revelation, Sam faltered. "I...I don't know what to say."
"Say what's in your heart. We'll never know if we don't give it a try."
"You mean experiment," hurt tinged Sam's voice.
"I wouldn't call coming home again an experiment,” Ann countered. “Because that's what I feel like when you're near me. I can't explain it. Hell, I don't even want to try. All I know is that you've touched my heart in such a way that no one ever could."
"And if it doesn't work, I stand the chance of being hurt all over again." Sam turned away and muttered under her breath.
"But if we don't try, we'll both ache for something that might have been."
Ann closed the distance between them until she stood next to Sam. The acknowledging glance she received from Sam fueled her determination. "We'll ache for something that should have been. I say we let the Fates' decide. They brought us here after all."
Sam took in a breath and looked away. "I don't know if I can."
"Everything is a little scary if you venture into by yourself." Ann reached out and caressed Sam's cheek. "Honestly, I'm not trying to hurt you. God knows I'm scared as all hell myself. I've never even considered falling in love with a woman before."
Sam looked puzzled. "Falling in love?"
"Hmm... And I thought I was the clueless one here," Ann smirked. "You mean to tell me that your detective instincts are on the fritz?"
"No!" Sam shot back rather indignantly. “Never.”
"Good," Ann fired back startling Sam. "And before you can change the subject, yes, I do think I am falling in love with you, but we won't know that for sure if we keep standing in the way of fate, now will we?"
Sam silently appraised the woman before her.
"I'll be there with you every step of the way," Ann said in a soothing tone as her hand gently slipped into Sam's. "We can take it in baby steps if you want to."
"Or we could just go all out, balls to the wall," Sam raised an eyebrow, her defenses obviously whittled away.
The tentative expression on Ann's face turned to one of adulation and utter surprise. It was simply too precious to go unrewarded. Sam reeled the woman into her arms and drew Ann's undivided attention into a smoldering kiss.
Dazed by the whirlwind reversal, Ann groped for some sense of balance.
"What was that for?"
"I wanted the Fates to know where my intentions lie."
"Then I'm going to put my two cents worth into the mix, too."
Ann returned the kiss with a gentler and definitely more seductive one of her own. The tender expression of a more intimate proposal brought other parts of her body to life with a vigor the likes of which she'd never known. Ann's body screamed for more as the wetness between her legs escalated like a flash flood raging down a valley. Surely the Fates were calling out to her, to them both sensing Sam's heart pounding so closely next to her chest. It wasn't long before Ann realized that her own heart was beating in time with Sam's rhythm. Save for the touch of their mouths as lips melded, they were one. Suddenly, kisses weren't enough to appease the sense of need that was growing by leaps and bounds in them both. Ann fought with all she had to muster, whether for her senses or for her glory in what she deemed a fight to the finish. When warring tongues alone could sustain them no more, Ann pushed back out of breath and decreed her foothold on their future.
To be continued…
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