Ashton stood at one of her four closets, chewing on a lower lip. Casual, casual, casual… She wasn’t entirely familiar with that turn of phrase in any aspect of her life, and certainly not in her wardrobe. She was about to give up when she spotted something in the corner of the closet, something blue, tucked away on a shelf. Crawling under the hanging suits and skirts, she found a pair of blue jeans.
Tugging them out, Ashton stared in wonder. “Where the hell did these come from?” she wondered aloud. Walking back into the bedroom, she wiggled out of her silk lounge pants and slid the jeans on. Turning this way and that, she decided it would have to do, even though she felt like a complete slacker in them. Blue jeans had never, ever been allowed in her childhood, nor that of her young adult life. Even in college, she’d never worn them.
Her next thought was who the hell gets up and starts their day at four-thirty in the morning? Unless she’s coming after work. No, Ashton didn’t feel that was right. She wondered what Pearl was up to.
Freshly showered and dressed in the jeans and a black button-down shirt, Ashton grabbed one of her many leather jackets, and trotted down the winding staircase. The Grandfather clock in the entryway announced the hour of four. Ashton was surprised that she was not only up, but very much awake. But then, the sleeping pill she’d taken last night had knocked her out by eight p.m., and she’d slept solidly until her alarm woke her at three.
It was strange being awake in the morning hours before the staff rose and began their daily duties. Arnold would be on the floor within two hours, and Ashton’s long-time cook, Hilda, would be along by six-thirty.
After what seemed forever, Ashton heard a car pull up outside the house, and a glance at the clock told her Pearl was exactly on time. She tugged her jacket on and headed out into the harsh November morning.
Pearl’s car was a mid-sized Nissan, and, to Ashton’s eternal intrigue, the entire back seat was filled with bound bundles of newspapers.
“Good morning,” she said, slipping into the passenger seat. A steaming cup of Starbucks coffee was thrust into her hands.
Ashton was shocked at what sat before her. Pearl’s hair was pulled back into a casual ponytail. She didn’t wear a bit of makeup. She wore well-worn jeans and a sweatshirt, which was a bit big, the sleeves rolled to expose her hands, which rested on the steering wheel. She looked like a college co-ed rather than the beautiful, sleek woman Ashton was used to.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” the blonde said. “You are to call me Scarlet today.”
Ashton’s brows rose. “A new name? Is Scarlet your name on casual days, or something?”
The blonde chuckled. “Nope. Scarlet is the name I was given at birth.”
“Because I’m not working today, Ashton,” Scarlet said softly. “Today I just want to be me.”
Ashton met her gaze, and gave the beautiful blonde a soft smile. “I’d like that… Scarlet. I’d like that very much.”
Scarlet grinned, her eyes twinkling as she put the car in gear and they headed out of the circular drive. “Okay, now, I imagine you’re wondering what all this is back there,” she said, gesturing toward the backseat with her thumb as she easily maneuvered the car out of Ashton’s neighborhood. “This is what I do on the mornings of my days off.”
“Drive around with newspaper bundles in your car?” Ashton asked, confused. The light laugh that comment got warmed her far more than the latte she was sipping.
“No. I throw a paper route. Normally I’d take all the bundles back to my place and roll them, then get on my way, but today,” she reached over and slapped Ashton’s thigh. “I have help.”
They drove in silence for a bit, Scarlet getting them to the appropriate neighborhood. The low-slung house were still dark, a few windows bursting to life as those inside began to get ready for their day. Scarlet pulled the car to a curb, releasing her seatbelt. She turned on the dome light then reached between their seats, snagging a heavy bundle from the back and plopping it in a startled Ashton’s lap. She made quick work of the long, yellow strips of plastic that held the bundle together.
“Okay, here’s what you do.” She gook the top copy of the Rocky Mountain News. Ashton watched intently as Scarlet folded the paper once, top to bottom, then again, creating a thick bundle of newsprint. She held it together with one hand while snagging a rubber band from an open bag in the console, quickly double banding until she had a long log-like package. She held it up for inspection, seeing understanding in blue eyes. “Think you can handle that?”
“I’m sure I can try,” Ashton said, still bewildered at how she’d gotten herself in a car before sunrise, rolling newspapers.
“Good. Then let’s go.”
At first, Ashton was just trying desperately to keep up, the soft thump as each paper hit the porch or path up to the porch, by an expertly tossed throw from Scarlet. She was amazed at the accuracy.
“Did you used to pitch baseball or something?” she asked, ripping into a new bundle.
Scarlet chuckled. “No. I’ve just been doing this for a couple years.”
Scarlet laughed. “No, again. It helps to have the extra income.”
Ashton was confused. Undoubtedly a woman as beautiful as Scarlet was, and obviously popular at the club, made a nice living. Scarlet seemed to sense her thoughts and unasked question.
“Some of us have real bills to pay, Miss King,” she said, a playful note in her voice to remove the sting of her words. “Besides, when I was a kid, we used to do these as a family,” she continued, driving to their next route, a few blocks over from their original street. “My parents both worked during the day, and then in the wee hours of the morning, the four of us would do paper routs as a family. Then, at night, we’d clean office buildings around Denver, even Stapleton Airport, before DIA came along.”
“The four of you?” Ashton asked, continuing to roll papers. She saw the smile leave Scarlet’s face, and it made the brunette sad, wondering what had leapt into the blonde’s mind.
“Yeah,” Scarlet said softly. She glanced over at Ashton. “My younger sister, Laurel. She was there, too.”
“Are you two close now?” Ashton asked, but in answer, she was suddenly blinded by the dome light as Scarlet opened her door.
“I need four,” she said, holding up four fingers as she nodded at the papers in Ashton’s lap. The brunette quickly gave the awaiting blonde four banded papers, then watched as the blonde hurried in front of the car, tossing in quick succession to three house on one side of the street, and the fourth on the other. She jogged back to the car, Ashton grateful as the door was closed and the chill was melted away by the car’s running heater. “Damn, it’s cold out there,” Scarlet growled, rubbing her hands together to warm them.
Ashton decided to drop the subject, as the pained flash through Scarlet’s eyes at her question regarding Laurel, hadn’t escaped her notice. Soon all was forgotten as they giggled, watching as a newspaper bounced off the tin roof of a trailer, causing a dog to start barking enthusiastically. Then Ashton, herself was chased down by an un-tethered mutt who wasn’t fond of the ‘paper girl’ entering his yard as Ashton jumped up to grab the newspaper she’d thrown in a tree down, and onto the customer’s front porch.
“Go, go!” she called barely getting the car door closed before the dog had reached her. Scarlet got the car moving, both panting from the exertion and scare. Their wide gazes met, then both burst into laughter. “You’re going to get me killed,” Ashton cackled.
Scarlet grinned at her, finding the brunette’s giddiness contagious and completely endearing. “You didn’t know what you signed on for, didja?” she asked, getting them to the next part of their route.
“Isn’t that the truth?” Ashton quipped, getting herself settled from underneath the avalanche of papers that had fallen into her lap with her sudden leap into the car.
The sun was up, and the seven o’clock hour was quickly approaching as Scarlet drove them to a hole-in-the wall restaurant called The Pantry. Ashton stared at the simple, squat building, unsure. She met amused green eyes. “I could take you to-“ Ashton began, but was stopped by two fingers to her lips.
“No,” Scarlet shook her head. “You said you wanted to get to know me, the real me, well, guess what,” she indicated the restaurant. “This is me. I don’t do country clubs or places that don’t even have prices on the menus.” She met clear blue eyes. “This is real life, Ashton.” Her words were spoken softly.
Ashton studied the young woman sitting beside her, and realized that in her jeans and sweatshirt, and very messy ponytail, Scarlet was the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen. She brought up a hand, wanting badly to touch the clear, clean skin, but stopped herself. No doubt Scarlet preferred her space on her own time. What she didn’t see what the disappointment expertly hidden behind green eyes.
The Pantry was a typical greasy spoon, which was a usual for Scarlet, as she couldn’t allow her figure such a treat very often. She worked tirelessly at her body, as she knew ultimately that would keep her bills paid. But, this morning, it was a treat she wanted to share with Ashton, even if the older woman did look like she was looking at a room filled with bugs.
Scarlet chuckled, leaning across their table and speaking quietly. “Ashton, you have the most adorable scowl on your face.”
Ashton’s eyes were pulled away from the man sitting at the next table, his fourteen-months-pregnant belly causing his pants to hang low on his butt, the crack shockingly visible. She cleared her throat, settling her attention back to her hostess, and trying her best to wipe her face expressionless. She met amused, yet hopeful green eyes.
“Give it a chance, okay?” Scarlet begged quietly.
Ashton nodded, feeling like an asshole. Her grandfather would turn in his grave if he saw where his beloved granddaughter was at that moment. Ashton looked deeply into Scarlet’s eyes, and she couldn’t resist the soft words, the soft pleading within their endless depths. A smile crossed her lips. “Okay.” They shared a long look, neither willing or able to look away. The nasally voice of their waitress finally broke the spell. “Why don’t you order for us, Scarlet?” the brunette said, handing over her faith and trust to the blonde. Scarlet smiled, big and bright, understanding the gesture behind the request.
Scarlet watched in pure fascination as the woman sitting across from her sopped up the very last bit of sausage gravy with the final crumbs of her biscuit. Ashton’s head was low, mouth devouring all that came near it. Finally blue eyes settled on her.
“What?” Ashton asked, unaware of the bit of biscuit that clung to her lip. She drew back, slightly embarrassed as gentle fingers brushed it away.
“Did you enjoy your breakfast?” Scarlet asked, her eyes dancing with amusement, which turned into a chuckle at the blush that crept up Ashton’s face.
The brunette sat back in her creaky chair, wiping her mouth with her napkin before tossing it onto her spotless plate. “It was good, yes.”
“Hmm,” Scarlet hummed with a nod. “Glad to hear it.”
Ashton couldn’t take the smirk that quirked the blonde’s lips. “What? I had a meeting last night and missed dinner…” her voice trailed off at the raised brow. “Oh, alright! So this was the best damn biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had.”
Scarlet snorted, cupping her coffee cup in a hand. “I’d wager it’s the only biscuits and gravy you’ve ever had.” The sheepish grin she received at that warmed her heart. “So,” Scarlet said, pushing both their plates to the edge of the table. “Tell me about your family.”
“Not much to tell, really. My father retired several years ago, and he and my mother decided to go globe trotting. They’re currently in France, staying for the winter, then come spring, they’ll head out to some other remote destination.”
“Do you miss them?”
“Not really.” Ashton drained her coffee cup, sending it to the end of the table next to their plates. “I’m not close to either of them.”
“Were you ever?” Scarlet saw a shield slide carefully into place in front of Ashton’s eyes.
“no. My father wanted a business associate, not a daughter. And my mother,” she blew out a breath, leaning back so her very full stomach could stretch. “Well, she’s a princess who only cares for herself. I’ve never met someone so self-absorbed before,” she added quietly, glancing out the large window that sat next to their table. “She only wanted his money, what he could buy her. I remember as a kid, all I could do was stand back and watch as she brought more and more crap pinto that house, filling it up. You’d think a house of that size could never be too full.” Ashton shook her head. “Not so. When they left I got rid of a lot of it, keeping the antiques and getting rid of the rest.”
“Do you use much of the house?”
Ashton shook her head. “No. The majority of it is closed off, only opened and aired out for the King Christmas party.”
Scarlet searched Ashton’s face, surprised to see a loneliness in her eyes, bared for only a moment, but it was a feeing she could so easily understand and reach out to.
“My parents were killed when I was 17,” she said softly, surprised to hear the words leave her own lips. This wasn’t something she ever talked about. Scarlet studied her hands as they shredded her napkin, unable to bear the pity she’d no doubt see in compassionate blue eyes. “They were driving with Laurel, who was 14 at the time, heading to a Bronco game at what was then Mile High Stadium.” She looked up and out the window, noting that a soft snow had started again. “My parents were killed instantly.”
“Laurel, too?” Ashton asked, voice nearly a whisper.
Scarlet shook her head. “No. But sometimes I think it would’ve been better if she had.” Finally she met Ashton’s steady gaze. “I don’t do what I do for fun or pleasure, Ashton,” she explained softly. “I’ve learned not to hate it, but to tolerate it, and know that it’s a means to an end.”
“What end could that possibly be?” Ashton asked gently.
“The one that allows me to pay for Laurel’s care.” She knew Ashton didn’t understand, and for some reason she wanted her to. Scarlet grabbed the check and took some money out of her wallet, slapping at the brunette’s hands when she tried to contribute.
“Good morning, Scarlet,” a friendly-looking and plump nurse said from behind the main desk at Halpron’s Care Center.
“Hi, May. How are you?” the blonde called back with a warm smile and a wave.
“Not bad. It is Thursday, after all.”
Both women chuckled as Scarlet expertly navigated the long, clean halls of the nursing home, Ashton following behind, taking everything in with wide sweeps of her eyes. Their dull footfalls stopped when Scarlet turned at a door toward the end of the hall, near public restrooms and a drinking fountain.
The room was small, a single bed taking up most the space. A large window dominated one wall, and a lone figure sat in a chair in front of it. Her long, dark blonde hair hung straight, her hands resting on the arms of a wheelchair, head held in place by thick padding.
“Hey, Laurel,” Scarlet said brightly as they entered. She headed toward the figure, placing a quick kiss on the young woman’s cheek.
Unsure what to do, Ashton hung back near the small bathroom in the corner of the room. Green eyes sought her out, beckoning her over.
“I want you to meet someone, sis,” Scarlet said, reaching for Ashton’s hand to tug her closer. “Laurel, this is Ashton King, a friend of mine. Ashton,” she said, turning to the brunette, “this is my sister, Laurel.”
Ashton looked into the dull, hazel depths of Laurel’s eyes, obvious no one was inside. She swallowed the sorrow that bunched in her throat. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Laurel,” she said at last. There was absolutely no change in the girl’s demeanor. “Does she know we’re here?” she asked quietly, glancing over at Scarlet, who had eased onto the end of Laurel’s neatly made bed.
The blonde sighed heavily. “I like to think so.” She met Ashton’s gaze. “But I just don’t know.”
“She’s been here since she was 14?”
“Well, in homes like this. This particular one for about five years.”
“I’m not sure what to say,” Ashton said softly, looking around the room. Suddenly she had a feeling of utter and total inadequacy, as well as an urge to walk over to Scarlet and take her in her arms, holding her. She fought that urge, but just barely.
“You don’t have to say anything, Ashton. I didn’t bring you here for any other reason than for you to understand. This, Laurel, is very much part of who I am. Why I do what I do.”
Ashton found her voice after a long moment. “I am very humbled today, Scarlet, I must admit. I’m in awe of what you accomplish.”
Scarlet damn near matched her name as she looked anywhere but at Ashton, finally able to meet her gaze after a few heartbeats. “Thank you,” she finally managed, running a nervous hand through her hair and dislodging her ponytail even more. She gave up and tugged the hair band free, running her fingers through the long lengths. “I guess it’s just how things are.”
Ashton could see that the blonde’s hands were shaking as she tried to regroup her hair. She pushed off the wall she leaned against and walked over to the bed, stopping Scarlet’s hands with a touch of her own. “Here, let me.”
Scarlet reluctantly allowed Ashton to gather her hair, green eyes sliding closed at the gentle touch. The ponytail was quickly finished, but the hands remained on her head, gently petting. The blonde’s head fell, a soft sigh escaping as she absorbed the touch, the gentleness. She had no idea where the tears came from, but suddenly they sprang to her eyes.
“Hey,” Ashton murmured, hearing a quiet sob. She walked around until she was facing Scarlet, just in time to see her angrily swipe at a tear. “Come here,” she gently requested. At first the blonde tried to fight her urging her to stand, but ultimately Scarlet did as asked, finding herself wrapped up in strong arms, her head urged to rest against a sturdy shoulder. She inhaled silently, remembering the smell of Ashton’s skins very well. She was surprised to find that the gentle woman holding her now was not very different than the woman she’d been hired to make love to more than a week ago. Both instances had left Scarlet confused, and deeply touched.
Ashton felt the smaller woman sigh, and she just barely managed to withhold an answering one. One of her hands rested on the blonde’s back, the other cupped the back of her neck, feeling the heated skin against her palm. She closed her eyes, allowing herself to just absorb the feel of Scarlet against her. After a long moment, Ashton pulled back, looking down at the blonde as Scarlet looked up at her. Their gazes met, Ashton’s heart stopping. Her eyes trailed down to the blonde’s lips, which were so soft-looking and full. As she watched, they parted.
Scarlet couldn’t think, completely caught in the heat of Ashton’s eyes. The strength of the brunette who held her made her body want to melt into her. And the sight of Ashton’s lips so close to her own, Scarlet fought the intense urge to touch them, taste them. Nearly overwhelmed, and knowing they were not in the place to explore this, she stepped back, smiling shyly for a moment.
“Um, we should probably go. It’s close to Laurel’s lunch time.”
Ashton nodded. “Okay.”
They were both silent as Scarlet drove through the streets of Aurora, where her small apartment was located. Ashton’s mind was on the blonde sitting next to her, wondering at her strength and drive. Though she wished there was something she could do, something to get Scarlet out of the life and job she was living, but she understood that Scarlet was doing what she had to do to survive. Her admiration soared.
Glancing over at Scarlet, Ashton studied her profile, noticing the slight tension she saw in the blonde’s jaw, her fingers wrapped tightly around the steering wheel. “Are you okay?” she asked at length.
Scarlet nodded. “Yeah. I always feel so helpless when I leave her, completely impotent to do anything more.”
“You don’t feel you’re doing enough? Selling your body so Laurel can be taken care of by professionals?”
Scarlet was quiet for a long moment. Her initial reaction was to be angry at Ashton’s words, but she knew the brunette hadn’t meant it that way, as an insult. She knew her anger was more at herself, not Ashton King. She took a deep breath so she wouldn’t say something she’d regret or didn’t mean. “I don’t have much choice. Ashton. It’s the only job I could take and make the money that I do. Laurel’s care is three times what my own personal bills are.” She spared a glance at the brunette before turning back to the road. “I’m not college educated, so I’m doing what I can.”
“I know you are, Scarlet. I know.” Ashton studied the passing landscape, then asked, “If you could go to school, what would you study?”
Scarlet blew out a breath as she pondered the question. “Wow. I don’t know. Guess I always knew that wasn’t an option, so I’ve never thought about it.” She hit her turn signal, turning off into a parking lot.
Ashton looked up at the three-story brick building, dotted by windows and balconies. Cars filled the lot, a bit of trash blowing in the cold wind. “Is this where you live?”
“Yep.” Scarlet got the car shut down then unbuckled herself. She opened the back door of the car, gathering the trash from the bundles of papers. Ashton quickly followed suit. Arms full of unused bundles and the plastic bindings, they headed to the dumpster in front of the building and unloaded it, then Scarlet led the way up the outside stairs to the second floor. She produced a silver key, sliding it into the locks, and then pushing the door open.
Ashton followed happily, glad to get out of the cold, but also curious as to see where Scarlet lived, as well as how she lived. She always felt that the appearance of someone’s home would tell a great deal about the person- their habits, attitudes towards themselves as well as life.
“Home sweet home,” scarlet said, tossing her keys to a small table that was set underneath a hanging coat rack. She reached for Ashton’s leather coat, hanging it next to a couple other winter coats and a baseball cap, then headed further into the place. The living room was straight ahead, and though very neat and clean, it was still obviously lived in: a magazine was tossed onto the dustless coffee table. A throw had been half-hazardly folded over the arm of the couch. Two large bookcases lined the wall on either side of a sliding glass door that led to the small balcony, though vertical blinds were closed over the doors to help keep the cold out.
“You like to read,” she pointed out, walking over to the first of the bookcases, scanning the spines. She saw everything from Stephen King to V.C. Andrews to Julies Verne and Katherine V. Forest. The other case held similar authors and variety.
The couch and love seat were part of a matching set, though both had seen better days. They sat at an adjacent angle, the end table between them was scarred and scratched.
Scarlet stood near the doorway to her tiny kitchen, curious of what Ashton’s reaction would be to her place. Yes, it was small, yes the carpet was worn and smelled like cat pee on really hot days, but it was hers and it was home.
“How long have you lived here?” Ashton asked, walking over to a set of framed photographs mounted on the wall above the couch.
“Three years,” Scarlet said, pushing off the wall and walking over to the sliding glass doors. She pulled the lever which opened the blinds, shining some light onto the subject. She then opened the blinds over the window that was on the couch wall.
“Is it safe?” Ashton asked absently, studying pictures that were obviously of the blonde’s family. In every single one the whole bunch were smiling, looking very happy. It made her so sad tat a family, happy and in love with each other, should be destroyed by a tragic accident, while her own family, all members very much alive, and not one of them could stand each other.
“Yeah. I’ve not had any problems.” Scarlet plopped down on the couch, still watching the brunette. “When you’re ready I’ll continue with the nickel tour.”
“Oh, sorry,” Ashton said quietly, giving the blonde a sheepish grin. “Lead on.”
Ashton saw the kitchen, a hallway with all the basic appliances, and little counter space. A hallway led from the kitchen, three doors breaking the line of the wall- to the left, the bathroom; the right was Scarlet’s bedroom, and finally straight ahead was the metal folding doors that would reveal a linen closet. The bedroom was basic, as well- bed, dresser and a night stand.
“There ya go,” Scarlet said, leading them back to the living room. “Nothing fancy, but home. Want some coffee?” she tossed over her shoulder.
“Yes, please.” Ashton went back into the living room, and noticed that the thermostat on the wall there was set to sixty-eight degrees. It certainly explained why it was chilly in the apartment. “Do you always keep your heat so low?” she called out so the blonde could hear her in the other room.
“Yeah. Gas is expensive.” Scarlet called back. “You get used to it,” she finished, suddenly standing just behind Ashton.
The brunette truly wasn’t sure what to think, what to make of Scarlet’s living situation. She had lived in the lap of luxury her entire life, as had those she’d known both school and now in business. She wasn’t sure how well she was hiding her thoughts as she turned to face the blonde. Scarlet studied her for a long moment, head slightly cocked to the side.
“It’s not what you were expecting, was it?”
“Uh,” Ashton said, unsure what to say. “We have very different lives, Scarlet. It’s not my place to judge-“
“I didn’t say you were judging me,” the blonde said, cutting her off. “I said, it’s not what you were expecting.”
Ashton gave her a shy smile, shaking her head. “No. It wasn’t.” She had to look away from the piercing green eyes. “So what now? You’ve taken me on a journey of your supplemental job, I’ve met your sister, and grown to understand why it is you do what you do, and now I’ve seen your apartment.”
“Well, that’s all up to you, Miss King. Have you seen enough, or do you want to see how the little people have fun, too?”
Ashton could see the amusement in Scarlet’s eyes, but she did not share the joke. “I don’t see you that way, Scarlet,” she said softly. “After everything you’ve shown me today, I have more admiration for you than anyone I’ve known. I know I wouldn’t be strong enough to survive all that you have, all that you do on a nightly basis.”
Scarlet could only stare, Ashton’s words touching a place deep within her. “I, uh… Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Ashton’s blue eyes shone with warm affection. “So, tell me. How do the ‘little people’ have fun?”
Scarlet’s grin made the brunette very nervous. “How do you feel about beer and bad country music?”
Mercifully, Ashton had been sent home to nap, shower and change, and was to be picked up by Scarlet at eight o’clock that night. Exhausted, the brunette had fallen into her bed, her jeans given to Arnold to have them washed, as she’d been told casual dress again. She was deciding that perhaps more pairs of the denim would have to be purchased if she planned to spend anymore time with Scarlet- which she most certainly did.
She thought about the time they’d spent together, and Ashton was in awe all over gain at just what the little blonde was undertaking, and the means of which she managed to do it. A plan was already forming in her mind, but she was trying not to dwell on that. She needed to get some sleep.
“This is what you’d call a honky tonk,” Scarlet explained, indicating the room around them.
Ashton took in the dimly lit space, the clatter of bottles and glasses clinking together. She saw the jukebox in the back, lit up with yellow and red neon, a song about a boy and his dog playing.
“No, this is what you call scary,” the brunette muttered.
Scarlet laughed, taking Ashton’s hand and weaving her through the throng of people and up to the bar. “Hey, can we get two beers, please?” she asked, leaning against the scarred mahogany surface of the bar.
“Sure thing, sweetie,” the bartender called, grabbing two brown bottles and quickly removing the caps with a dramatic flourish. “Five bucks.”
Scarlet slapped her money on the bar and took the beers, handing one to Ashton. “Chug-a-lug,” she said, raising the bottle with a grin.
“I thought you don’t drink?” Ashton asked, peering at the bottle and smelling its contents.
“I rarely do, and definitely not with a client.”
Ashton raised a brow at that.
“I told you,” Scarlet said, “I’m not working right now.” With that, she clinked her bottle against Ashton’s, and pulled on the beer. “Come on. I see a free table.”
The place went much further back than Ashton realized. She noted most of the clientele wore jeans of various types, cowboy boots and many had on cowboy hats, or had them hung on the back of their chairs. Voices were loud and jubilant. She could hear the crack of cue balls hitting each other from the few pool tables tucked into the very back. Cheering to her right showed a group standing near a dartboard.
In her mind she tried to reconcile this with The Black Pussy Cat, or any number of clubs with the same patrons that she knew of and had been to. If her father saw where she was right now, he’d have a heart attack. The thought made her smile, as she’d never shocked her parents with anything in her life. She’d always just done what was expected, and what was correct for her breeding. She had always felt like some award winning purebred or something.
“Hey, are you going to join me, or did you want to play?”
Ashton was ripped from her thoughts by Scarlet’s voice, and a playful tug on her shirt. She realized she’d been staring at the game of darts. Shaking herself free of thought, she put on a bright smile. “Sorry. Got a little lost in thought, there.”
“No worries,” Scarlet grinned, playful. “Just don’t let it happen again. Got me?”
Ashton returned the grin. “Oh, I gotcha.” With that she tucked the bottle of beer back and took a swallow. Interesting.
Scarlet burst out laughing, setting her bottle down on the table as she sat down. She laughed even harder at the raised brow she got in question. “You look like you just swallowed an insect,” Scarlet laughed. “It’s just beer, Ashton. Really.”
“Sorry,” the brunette grinned, sheepish as she sat down across from the blonde, setting her bottle on the table. “Guess I’m just not sued to drinks that are so yeasty.”
“Yeasty?” Scarlet asked, glancing at her bottle.
“Yes. Yeasty. It tastes like I could pour this into a pan with some other unknown ingredients and bake a loaf of bread.”
This sent Scarlet on yet another round of laughter. She reached across the table, covering Ashton’s hand for a moment. “Oh, honey, we have got to get you out of your castle and experiencing real life.”
Word, that from any other mouth would have angered and offended Ashton, but coming from Scarlet, she absorbed them, suddenly willing to do anything with the blonde, a thought she would regret later as she got dragged into a pool game partnered up with what Scarlet called Hustler Joe, while Scarlet and a man named Calvin.
As Calvin took his shot, Ashton walked over and stood next to Scarlet, bending down to not be overheard by her partner, Hustler Joe. “So, how is it that I got paired up with Hustler Jack over here, and not with you?”
Scarlet chuckled. “It’s Hustler Joe and you know it, annnd, you’re partnered up with Joe because you suck at pool, and he’s very good at it.” She smiled sweetly. “We had to even the odds a little bit.”
“I do not suck,” Ashton grumbled. All she got in reply was a raised brow, which made the brunette look away, as she knew she very well did suck.
“Well, then come on, stud. You’re up,” Scarlet said, a little pinch to a shocked Ashton’s behind. Ashton whirled on the smaller woman, noting a smile on Scarlet’s face, without a single ounce of remorse. She growled playfully before taking her cue stick in hand and heading toward the felt-covered table.
As she bent over to take her shot, she felt eyes on her ass. Glancing over her shoulder, she was surprised to not find the eyes she wanted on her, but their two teammate’s eyes instead. Groaning, she turned back to the task at hand and made her shot. Badly. She got nothing, basically giving the cue ball a tour of the table. Grumpily, she walked over to resume her place standing next to Scarlet. She heard a soft chuckle and a received a pat on the arm for her troubles.
“Let me show you how it’s done,” Scarlet murmured, taking her place at the table. Ashton watched as the blonde set up her shot, the guys bantering easily back and forth with each other, and with Scarlet. Something occurred to Ashton suddenly, that hit her squarely in the gut.
Was Scarlet even a lesbian?
She thought of their time together, both at the club and in Ashton’s library- both times the blonde had been paid to be there, had to enjoy it, well, act as though she did, anyway. Was it all just part of the service? Was Ashton barking up the entirely wrong tree?
“Hey, you alright there?” Scarlet asked, walking back over to her friend. “You look troubled.”
“No.” Ashton smiled, hiding her thoughts and concerns. After all, it really was none of her concern. “Nice shot, by the way.”
Three games later, Scarlet and Ashton sat at their table again, a lively group pushing tables to the sides and making their own dance floor. Ashton watched, bemused, as the couples’ boot heels clacked on the floorboards of the establishment, whooping and hollering as the women were whipped around. Next to her, Scarlet laughed at the antics, her own boots stomping along with the beat. Their eyes met, and Scarlet studied her for a long moment before she stood, holding out her hand.
“Dance with me.”
Ashton wasn’t given time to think before she was whisked off her feet and dragged out to the impromptu dance floor, her hand held securely in a tight grasp, no doubt Scarlet afraid she’d run.
They found themselves a somewhat clear spot, and Scarlet turned to face Ashton, her arms snaking their way up around the brunette’s neck as Ashton’s hands immediately found the blonde’s waist.
“Are you absolutely hating your time here?” Scarlet asked, yelling to be heard over the music.
Ashton stared into beautiful green eyes for a moment, then simply shook her head with an easy smile. “No.” She saw the doubt in Scarlet’s eyes and laughed. “This may not be where I want to hang out every weekend, but I’m having fun.”
Scarlet’s fingers played with the hairs at the nape of Ashton’s neck. “No, you’d rather hang out and drink brandy and smoke cigars with a beautiful woman on your lap, right?”
Ashton blushed slightly, trying to hide her face, but two fingers under her chin brought her back, a question in green eyes. “That’s not what I call fun, either,” she said softly, not sure if Scarlet could even hear her. “I don’t agree with it, Scarlet.”
The blonde looked hard into Ashton’s eyes, both understanding the meaning behind the brunette’s words. Scarlet had a lot of questions, but didn’t feel right now was the time for it. Instead, she wanted to study the beautiful woman’s face. Her finger joined her eyes, tracing the chiseled features, feeling soft skin. Her gaze landed on Ashton’s lips, studying their fullness. She had experienced their softness all too briefly the morning before she left the brunette’s house, but wanted more. She wanted to feel them move against her own. She wanted to taste them.
Ashton felt her breath catch at the look in Scarlet’s eyes. Her earlier question about the blonde’s sexuality was seeming less and less valid when she felt herself being pulled down, a firm hand at the back of her neck. Ashton’s eyes closed a second before she felt softness against her lips. Her hands tightened on Scarlet’s waist, pulling her in closer while their mouths continued with a soft, exploratory touch.
Scarlet sighed softly into the kiss, enjoying the feel and taste as much as she dreamed she would. She buried one hand deeper into the thick, dark hair, the other cupping Ashton’s cheek, needing to feel the softness of her skin, as well as her lips.
Any thoughts of dancing are forgotten as Ashton buries her own hands into soft, blonde hair, allowing it to run through her fingers. She was glad Scarlet had left it down. She deepened the kiss, her tongue licking lightly just inside the blonde’s bottom lip. She heard Scarlet’s soft sigh, her fingers tightening their hold in Ashton’s hair.
“Hey, you fucking queers! Take it somewhere else!”
Ashton was thrown back into reality with a harsh slap. She looked down at an amused Scarlet. “Busted,” she grinned. The blonde returned the smile.
“Come on, Ashton, let’s go.” The brunette followed Scarlet out of the bar and into the cold night. Scarlet glanced at her watch, noting that it was after one in the morning. With a sigh, she turned and looked back at Ashton. “It’s really late. Why don’t you just stay at my place tonight?” At the raised brow, the blonde clarified. “To sleep.”
Ashton was trying her best to get her body back under control, but Scarlet’s kiss had left her heart pounding and her sex wet and pulsing. Obediently, she followed Scarlet back into her apartment, unsure what to do as she stood in the middle of the living room. Scarlet disappeared down the hall. The sexual tension had been nearly palpable between them during the short drive to the apartment, and Ashton could feel that Scarlet wanted her, and she certainly wanted the blonde.
Making up her mind, she headed toward the hallway, down which Scarlet had disappeared a few moments before. She stopped short, nearly running the object of her lust over. Scarlet looked up at her, an armful of blankets topped by a pillow standing between them. “I’m not working tonight, Ashton,” she reminded softly, offering her load to the brunette, who without a word, took them.
Ashton swallowed her disappointment and mild confusion, turning and heading back to the living room. She heard Scarlet’s bedroom door softly close behind the blonde.
Ashton lay in her nest on the couch, starting awake at every night sound from the noisy neighbors above. She couldn’t figure out how Scarlet got a good night’s sleep in the place. Also, she was fighting with the realization that her body refused to calm, knowing that the blonde was just in the other room.
With a groan, Ashton turned to her side, bringing her knees up to her chest.
Meanwhile, in the other room, Scarlet lay in her own bed, unable to sleep. She tried every sleeping position, tried counting sheep and flat out forcing her eyes shut. Nothing was working.
Sighing heavily, she tossed her legs off the side of the bed and stood, walking to her closed bedroom door. She leaned against it, listening. The apartment beyond was quiet, no light shining underneath the small crack of her door. Sighing again, she pushed off, turning to head back to her bed, but her feet refused to take her there. Instead, she turned back to the door, quietly pulling it open.
The living room was dark, all blinds pulled shut. Scarlet stood in the entryway for a moment, allowing her eyes to adjust. It was so quiet, she wondered if maybe Ashton had left. But, then she heard a soft rustling as the brunette changed positions. She had felt bad, forcing Ashton to the couch, especially after that kiss they had shared, but she needed Ashton to understand that Scarlet wasn’t just there for the taking. If she wanted to be with Ashton, it was because she wanted to make love, and wasn’t being paid to.
“You okay?” asked a soft voice, which spurred the blonde into action. She padded over to the couch, looking down at the older woman, who lay on her back, staring up at her.
“Yeah.” Without further explanation, Scarlet lowered herself to sit on the edge of the couch, as Ashton had moved over slightly to make room. “Did I wake you?”
“No.” Ashton peered up through the darkness at Scarlet. She didn’t want to admit to her that she’d been lying there, desperately trying to get the blonde out of her mind, but was struggling horribly. “Can’t sleep.”
“Couch too lumpy?” Scarlet smirked.
“No, it’s actually not all that uncomfortable, surprisingly.” Ashton patted the back cushion to emphasize her point.
“Amazing, considering this couch is older than I am.”
“And how old would that be?” Ashton asked, the darkness beginning to dissipate somewhat. She could now at least see Scarlet’s pale face in the limited light.
Scarlet grinned. “Are you asking how old I am, Ashton King?”
“Yes I am, Scarlet…?”
“Reed. And I’m 25.”
“Oh, young pup,” Ashton waved her off, only to have her wrists caught playfully.
“Hey!” Scarlet demanded, pinning Ashton’s hands to the pillow beneath the brunette’s head. “Be nice. How old are you?”
“Older than you.”
“Uh huh, and by how much? You’re too hot to be old.”
“Oh?” Ashton asked with great interest.
“Stick to the question, King,” Scarlet said, putting a little pressure on Ashton’s wrists.
“Alright, alright.” She stared up at the beautiful young woman and grinned. “More than half a decade older.” She laughed at Scarlet’s growl. “I’ll be 31 at the turn of the year.”
“Oh, a little Capricorn, huh?” Scarlet lowered herself slightly, their upper bodies almost brushing together.
“Very good.” Ashton had to fight her body from arching into the blonde, breaching that final scant distance between them. She could feel her heart beginning to pound, the air around them heating up. “Is that alright with you?” she asked, trying to keep her voice under control.
“It’s very alright with me,” Scarlet grinned. “I hear Capricorn and Cancer get along quite nicely.”
“Really? I wouldn’t know.”
“No?” the blonde felt herself being pulled toward Ashton. She yelped when strong hands grabbed her around the waist, and she found herself suddenly lying on top of the brunette. ‘Well, hello.”
“Hi.” Ashton grinned, unsure of what Scarlet’s reaction would be to the move, but she didn’t seem to mind. “I figured if were going to have an astrological chat, we might as well get comfortable. So, comfy?”
“Hmm,” Scarlet hedged, moving around a bit, ‘accidentally’ dropping a let between Ashton’s thighs. “Yep. Pretty comfy.”
“You know,” Ashton said, voice having dropped an entire octave, “I had a thought tonight. I had to wonder if you’re even gay.”
Scarlet started, brows drawn. “Why did you wonder that?”
“Well,” Ashton hedged, her hands slowly working their way out from under Scarlet’s, resting on the blonde’s waist. She picked lightly at the t-shirt she wore. “You were with me because you were paid to be. You’re good at your job, Scarlet. Seeing you tonight with those guys, having fun, flirting… Are you?”
“Having fun and flirting with those guys?” Scarlet teased, her own hands on the move as she ran the tip of her finger along a strong jaw. She loved the shape of Ashton’s face, the strength in the features.
“No,” Ashton drawled, slapping Scarlet’s boxer-clad butt quickly. “Are you gay? Do you like women? I know Pearl doesn’t mind. But what about Scarlet?”
Scarlet studied the beautiful face her fingers now cupped. She leaned down, taking Ashton in a deep, passionate kiss. The brunette responded immediately, a soft moan escaping her throat. Scarlet pulled away, both panting at the rising need. “Does that answer your question?” she murmured.
Ashton nodded, bringing her hand back to Scarlet’s head, pulling her down once more. Scarlet gave in to her desires, lowering herself fully, her breasts pressing against Ashton’s. She couldn’t get enough of the brunette’s mouth. “God,” she breathed against her lips. “I’ve wanted to kiss you since the moment I saw you walk into the club.”
“That makes two of us. It was hard to behave when you were at my house.”
“You did good. Too good. I hated that you behaved so well.”
Ashton grinned, bringing Scarlet back to her again, her hands moving down until they rested on Scarlet’s ass, pressing the blonde further against her. “My nanny taught me to listen when spoken to,” Ashton said between long, deep kisses.
Scarlet lifted her head, brows raised. “Nanny?”
“Yes, ma’am. Nanny Linda was with my until I turned 22.”
Scarlet shook her head. “Weird.” She brought her lips to Ashton’s again. “I’d really like to hear about Nanny Linda, but not right now.”
The quiet sound of murmured conversation was quickly silenced, instead soft sighs and quiet moans replaced it. Scarlet broke the kiss, pushing to her feet. All of Ashton’s protests died on her lips when a hand was reached down to her. “Come to bed with me,” the blonde said softly.
Standing in the moonlit room that was Scarlet’s bedroom, Ashton allowed herself to be disrobed, watching as the blonde’s own clothes quickly fell to the carpet at their feet. Her gaze was hungry as it took in the almost painful beauty before her. She was pushed to the soft mattress of Scarlet’s bed, the blonde following, pressing their naked skin together.
Ashton groaned, her hands running down the length of Scarlet’s strong back, resting once again on her firm backside, pressing the blonde closer between her spread legs. “You feel so amazing,” she murmured, finding soft lips again. In response to the softly spoken words, Scarlet began an oral exploration of the beautiful body beneath her, wallowing in the soft moans and whimpers from Ashton. She couldn’t get enough, her tongue finding a rigid nipple, her fingers finding soft, supple skin, hot to the touch, as she inched her way down Ashton’s body, finally settling herself between long thighs, gently nudging them far apart.
Ashton sucked in a breath at the first touch of Scarlet’s tongue against the volcanic heat of her sex. Her hands tangled themselves in blonde hair, pressing Scarlet into her.
Scarlet hummed into her task, working her tongue quickly over Ashton’s excitement. She loved the feel and taste of the brunette, and could spend all day between her legs. She kept her hands on the insides of Ashton’s thighs, holding them open, determined to make Ashton come with just her tongue.
Ashton was lost in a haze of pleasure, her body completely overcome by Scarlet’s touch. She felt the steady build of her forthcoming orgasm, her hips pressing desperately into the blonde’s face, seeking her impending release. “Oh god, Scarlet,” she cried, body convulsing rhythmically.
Scarlet, about ready to explode herself, crawled back up Ashton’s body, her kisses veracious and hungry. Ashton met her passion for passion, sensing Scarlet’s desperate need for release. Using near superhuman strength, she flipped them over, nudging Scarlet’s legs open, and fitting herself between them.
The blonde moaned loudly, thrusting her hips up into Ashton’s sex. “God, you’re so wet,” Ashton groaned, taking the blonde’s mouth in a demanding kiss. She pushed her hips up slightly, adjusting herself so her clit pressed against Scarlet’s, which was rock-hard with her need. Scarlet cried out, her legs spreading wider at the contact, thrusting up into Ashton, who began to move in short, quick thrusts, each one pounding the headboard into the wall behind it.
Scarlet was taken quickly, her eyes slamming shut, head thrown back as she came loudly, soft lips grazing across her throat. Her body continued to pulse, her breath stolen as Ashton ground against her, pulling a second orgasm from her with a surprised cry, which left her panting and clinging to Ashton. The dark woman held her tightly, dropping kisses all over her face and neck.
They were both surprised by sudden pounding on the wall next to Scarlet’s bed. The blonde buried hr face in Ashton’s neck, embarrassed. “My neighbors,” she murmured.
Ashton chuckled, amused, gently rolling off the blonde, pulling the petit woman on top of her. Scarlet tucked her head underneath Ashton’s chin, sighing in utter contentment. “So much better when I can use my mouth,” she murmured, raising her head once more and taking Ashton’s lips in a heated kiss, but both women were too exhausted after such a long day, even with the nap each had taken separately.
Ashton agreed with a satisfied growl, holding Scarlet closer. The blonde ran her hands the brunette’s skin, feeling the soft curves.
“You have such a wonderful body, Ashton,” she murmured, placing a soft kiss on the older woman neck.
“Thank you. I must say, between the two of us, you certainly take the cake,” Ashton murmured, more content than she could ever remember being.
“Part of the job.”
Ashton winced at those words, her hand running gently through the long, blonde hair. “I really hate that you work there, Scarlet.” She said softly. She didn’t miss the slight stiffening of the blonde’s body in her arms. “You’re so much better than that.”
“Please don’t, Ashton.” Scarlet raised her head again, meeting blue eyes with pleading green. “Can we please just enjoy this?”
“I want to enjoy this, Scarlet. I want to help you. I want you to see there’s so much else you could be-“ Ashton’s words were cut off by a deep kiss, Scarlet cupping her face in gentle hands. The brunette was left breathless.
“Let’s enjoy this,” Scarlet whispered, her hands beginning to wander.
“Alright,” Ashton moaned, arching her breast into a firm hand. “Alright.” I’ll let it go. For now.
Ashton sat at her computer, brows drawn as she concentrated on the report before her. She kept glancing at her phone, willing for it to ring, but it had not all morning. Her office door cracked open, Rachelle peeking her head in.
“Miss King? Do you have a moment? I have a Mr. Dirk Brinks out here.”
“Yes!” Ashton smiled. “Send him in, please.” The brunette sipped her coffee, waiting patiently for her most welcome guest.
Dirk Brinks was a man in his fifties, well-dressed and a smile on his lined face. His graying hair was still thick and healthy. “Hello, Miss King. It’s nice to meet you after our numerous phone calls.” He set a file onto Ashton’s desk, flipping open the red cover. Inside were several forms. “I must say, we at the care center were quite surprised to receive your call.”
Ashton looked a the forms that were set on her desk, quickly looking them over, and signing where her signature was required. “I’m just glad everything went through with such speed. It’s very much appreciated, Mr. Brinks.”
“Oh, of course.” The older man smiled winningly. “Oh, I need your signature here, as well.” He pointed to a place Ashton had missed. Her gold pen flickered in the sunlight coming through the large windows behind her, quickly scribbling her name.
“Perfect. I think we’re finished here, Miss King. I make sure these get filed properly, and Miss Reed will be notified.”
“Wonderful.” Ashton gave the man her most winning smile. She stood, as did Dirk Brinks. “Thank you, sir.” They shook hands, and the administrator left the office, the file tucked neatly back under his arm again.
It had been a week since they had spent their day- and night- together. Scarlet was puttering around her apartment, feeling restless, even as she did her weekly cleaning. The image of Ashton’s gorgeous face, and even more gorgeous body, kept coming to her mind. As well as the brunette’s smile, the way her blue eyes lit up with whatever emotion she was feeling- joy, irritation. Passion.
Scarlet groaned quietly at the thought, still able to feel, smell and taste Ashton. She changed the sheets on her bed, her eyes scanning the breadth of the mattress, remembering their night together. It had been wonderful, unlike anything the blonde had ever experienced. The way Ashton held her… Scarlet sighed, closing her eyes for a long moment. She hadn’t realized just how detached and isolated her life had become, until Ashton came along.
“Damn,” she whispered to the empty room.
The next day, after more making love in the early hours of the new day, Ashton had left, calling for her driver, rather than making Scarlet drive her home. The blonde missed those final moments with the brunette, but she was grateful for the sleep. She had to work at the club that night, and knew she’d be exhausted.
That night, and the following nights, servicing her customers- both old and new- Scarlet had found it harder and harder to drop into ‘Pearl mode’. She resented the hands on her body, and what she was forced to do, her mind always floating back to Ashton’s touch, and touching Ashton’s body. The majority of her clients were men, and in some ways that made things easier, but in others, it made it harder. It was a hell of a lot harder to think of it as sex when she had some guys cock inside her, and very easy to allow Pearl to take over. But, at the same time, moments like that was when Ashton haunted her the most. She craved the soft touch, beautiful breasts and warm mouth. She missed the personal touch of their encounters, clashing horribly with the coldness at which she performed her work duties.
Scarlet sighed, running her hands through her hair. “Stop this,” she growled. “Nothing you can do.”
Her musings were mercifully interrupted by the sound of knocking on her front door. Scarlet dropped the pillow she was stuffing into its new case and headed into the entryway, pulling the door open. She was shocked to see a huge bouquet of roses with legs standing at her door. The delivery guy peeked around the side.
“Sign here, please,” he muttered, grunting under the weight of his bundle. She quickly did as asked, then took the flowers.
Closing the door after tipping the florist, Scarlet headed into her kitchen, setting the massive crystal vase on the counter. The arrangement was filled with roses of every color, and the smell was wonderful. She closed her eyes, inhaling the fresh scent. She found the card held in plastic prongs, quickly slipping it out of its tiny envelope.
I miss you.
Scarlet was deeply touched. “I can’t believe she did this,” she murmured, feeling giddy as her stomach fluttered. “I miss you, too, Ashton.”
The blonde logged onto the internet, easily finding the phone and address for the King Building in downtown Denver. She also spotted the information for Ashton’s personal offices. Grinning, she grabbed her cell phone, about to dial when there was another knock at her door.
“From Pretty Woman to Bed of Roses,” she mused, opening the door. She was surprised to see Kathy, her apartment building manager standing on the other side. “Hey, Kathy. What’s up?”
“Hi, Scarlet. Sorry to bother you, but I brought you the receipt I figured you’d want,” the older woman said, holding out a computer-generated report.
“Receipt? I don’t understand. For what?” She took the page and looked at, noting the line by line detailed account of what had been paid. At first she thought maybe it was a report of her history at the apartment, but she noticed that the final date ended this date the following year. She met the other woman’s eyes. “I don’t get it.”
Kathy looked confused. “Well, uh, the call from your accountant this morning… You’re paid up for the full year, Scarlet. I gotta say, I was surprised to find out you even had an accountant.”
“Oh. Uh, okay. Thanks,” Scarlet said absently. No need to freak her landlady out. She’d take care of this pronto.
Ashton was having a great day. She had pep in her step and a smile for all the men who were now seated at the small conference table set up in her office. The meeting had been going beautifully, the numbers to her liking. Even so, it was all old hat for her, which left her mind free to wander. She wondered if Scarlet’s roses had been delivered, yet. She smiled inwardly, imaging the look of surprise on the beautiful blonde’s lips.
“Hmm?” Ashton said, popping back into reality from wonderful visions of those very lips. Her accounting department head was looking pointedly at the door of Ashton’s large office.
“We seem to have some company.”
Ashton was shocked to see the very object of her thoughts standing in the doorway of her office, Rachelle trying in vain to pull her away.
“I’m sorry, Miss King, but she just barged in here…”
“It’s okay, Rachelle.” Ashton’s gaze turned to an irate Scarlet.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Ashton?”
“You don’t own me, Ashton! You can’t buy me-“ Scarlet stopped, suddenly very aware that they weren’t alone. She took in the suited men sitting around the table. A couple seemed annoyed, the rest amused as their eyes flickered back and forth between the two women. “Oh, god. I’m sorry,” she murmured, face turning beat red as she hurried from the office.
“Uh, let’s get back together tomorrow morning, gentlemen,” Ashton said with a quick smile before hurrying from the office, after the blonde. She grimaced when she heard one of the suits say-
“Wasn’t that Pearl?”
Scarlet wanted to die from embarrassment as she headed blindly down the hall. She yelped in surprise as her arm was grabbed, and she was pulled into a room. One look around and she realized she was in a small, square room filled with filing cabinets and a copy machine. She heard the brunette step in behind her, the door closed softly behind her.
As Scarlet whirled on her, embarrassment easily gave way to her anger. “What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded. “How dare you try and buy me. I’m not your whore!”
“Whoa!” Ashton fumed, holding her hands out to cut off the blonde’s scathing words. “I do not think of you that way, nor was that my intention. I only wanted-“
“What? You only wanted what, Ashton?” Scarlet demanded, eyes blazing.
“I wanted to help you,” Ashton said, stunned by the fury she saw in the smaller woman.
“Did I ask for your help? Do I look like I need your help? I’ve been on my own for a very long time, now. I think I’ve got it under control.” She paced away from the brunette, as much as the small space would allow. Turning back, she fired another glare at the older woman. “If I need your help, trust me, you’ll know. Until then, don’t you ever interfere in my life again. Do you understand? Don’t you ever speak to anyone involving business again, including my damn land lady!” She buried her face. “God, I felt so stupid,” she muttered.
“Scarlet,” Ashton began, moving closer, but a fiery glance stopped her in her tracks. “I didn’t mean to upset you. It just started with a call to Mr. Brinks-“
Scarlet’s head popped up, a look of death crossing her face. “What?” she growled, deep in her throat.
Oh shit. I thought she knew. Ashton took a step back from her, believing it not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Scarlet may smack her.
“What did you do with my sister?” The blonde’s voice was a deadly calm.
“Nothing. Your sister is fine. I just wanted to help, Scarlet. Take some of the financial burden off, then maybe you can leave the club…” Ashton’s voice trailed off as she began to literally see the blonde’s pulse in her throat.
Scarlet took a deep breath, trying to bring her temper down, just so she wouldn’t say something she would regret later. Her voice was calm, but hard, almost dangerous. “You don’t own me, Ashton. Do not presume to tell me what to do, or even hint at what I should do. You are not my keeper.” With those words, she pushed past the brunette and out of the room, leaving the door standing open behind her.
Ashton fell back against the wall, her emotions warring with themselves. She wasn’t sure whether she should feel like an asshole, or be angry with the blonde.
“Thank you, Mr. Brinks. I appreciate your time. Bye bye, now.” Scarlet slapped her phone shut and set it in the drink holder of her car’s console. She wasn’t sure what to think or how to feel. Her rent had been paid in full for the next year, and Laurel’s care had been paid for indefinitely. There was a part of her that was hugely relieved, but the bigger part, the part that had survived the destruction of her entire family, and who had made it on her own since she was 17 years old, was filled with pride and anger. How dare Ashton strip away her independence, and right to fend for herself. Yes, likely the brunette felt she was helping, but at what cost to the blonde?
Over the years that Scarlet had been working at The Black Pussy Cat, she had customers who had tried to buy her things, bringing in jewelry or even the keys to a brand new caddy once. All things Scarlet had turned down, wanting to be beholden to no one, and certainly not a customer. Even so, was Ashton exactly a customer? Yes, in the beginning, but the blonde had taken the older woman to her bed. Free will.
“Damn,” she sighed.
Ashton sat on the thick, stone rail of the balcony off her bedroom, the French doors still open behind her, allowing soft bits of Beethoven to flow out into the cold night. She sat, legs curled up against her chest, arms wrapped around her shins. The sky was clear, the sliver that was the moon visible and bright. Ashton stared up at the magic that was the night sky, chin falling to rest on her knees.
She had been surprised by Scarlet’s furious reaction to what the brunette had done for her. At least tried to do for her. She didn’t understand why it couldn’t be taken for the gesture it was intended as. Ashton found herself in a very strange position: she’d known the blonde for a very short time, and other than their magical day together, the majority of their acquaintance had been spent in bed- either paid, or unpaid. That didn’t seem to matter, as Ashton realized she cared for the younger woman in some strange way, and through admiring her courage and tenacity, wished to experience the Scarlet and help her find, what Ashton thought, was her better self.
Ashton realized, as she sat there, that what had drawn her to Scarlet in the first place had been the fire in those emerald eyes. She didn’t understand why her actions had been seen as a betrayal to Scarlet. All she’d wanted to do was help.
“She doesn’t want my help,” she sighed, turning her head so her cheek rested on her upraised knees instead. She looked out over the grounds of the great, old house, the far-off security lights showing the blanket of snow that covered the acres. She truly couldn’t remember a time when she’d felt more alone. Or cold.
Hopping down from the railing, Ashton made her way inside, relishing the immediate warmth as she stepped across the threshold of her bedroom, closing the doors behind her. She walked over to the bed, shedding her clothing before climbing in and pulling up the covers. She’d apologize, and promise not to bother the young woman again.
With that sad resolve, Ashton closed her eyes and attempted to sleep.
It had been three days, and still Scarlet’s anger hadn’t subsided. She hadn’t the heart to destroy the roses, as much as she’d wanted to, so instead was taunted daily by their fragrant memories.
Tonight she stalked around the club, dressed to kill in a blood-red, low-cut dress, feeling feisty and in no mood to humor rich old men with hard-ons and wads of cash. Though Scarlet smirked, as it obviously wasn’t as if she needed it. She had debated what to do about her newly non-existent debt, wanting to go to both her land lady and Dirk Brinks, explain the situation- to a point- and demand Ashton King be refunded fully for her offering. She had even gone so far as to stand outside Kathy’s office before she left for work, but had decided to give it one more day of thought before making any decisions.
Scarlet knew the money that Ashton had spent on her was a mere drop in the bucket to her family’s billion-dollar empire, so it certainly wasn’t out of a sense of guilt that she wanted to return the money. At the same time, the blonde didn’t consider herself to be a stupid woman, either. She’d be foolish to not take the money, she knew, but she also knew it would make her some kind of bitch and hypocrite, considering how angry she’d gotten at Ashton.
Sighing, the blonde threw herself out of her thoughts, looking surreptitiously around the club to see if any of her regulars had shown up. She wasn’t having much luck, and that was truly alright with her. It would be quitting time in a couple hours, and she looked forward to heading home, grabbing a good book, and soaking in a nice, hot bath.
She walked over to the bar and asked Bobby to fix her a water with lime. Her throat was sore from the confused tears that had bombarded her over the past couple days, which had made her more upset because she wasn’t entirely sure why she was crying in the first place!
“You okay tonight, Scarlet?” the bartender asked quietly, so no one would hear her real name.
The blonde nodded with a sigh. She gave him a brave smile. “Just some nights your hearts not in it, Bobby.”
“Amen to that.” He gave her a winning smile, and she feared he was about to ask her out, again, but he didn’t. Instead, he returned to wiping the bar down with a clean, white towel.
Scarlet was about to head back into the fold when her arm was grabbed. She turned, looking up into red-rimmed blue eyes. She yanked her arm away, the anger flooding back in as she took a small step away from Ashton.
“I want to talk to you,” the brunette said, her voice low and quiet.
“Well I don’t want to talk to you. I’m working, Miss King,” Scarlet said, her voice like ice.
“Stop with the Miss King bullshit, Pearl. I really need to speak with you.”
“Oh, yes, I suppose we do know each other enough to forgo formalities, don’t we? I think you’ve bought enough time with me for us to go by any names we like.”
“Don’t do this,” Ashton warned, her heart hurting inside her chest.
“Don’t do what? I am your bought property, aren’t I?” Scarlet slammed the water glass down on the bar, Bobby raising a brow at the move. “So come on, let’s do it. Let me do my duty for you, Ashton.”
Scarlet grabbed the brunette’s hand, her fingers like cold talons. Ashton pulled her hand away, looking around to make sure they weren’t being watched. “Stop it,” she hissed. “This is not necessary.”
“Oh, I think it is.” Scarlet grabbed Ashton’s hand again, this time holding on with an iron grip as she tugged the reluctant brunette through the club and into one of the back rooms, the door slamming behind them. Ashton found herself thrown backward onto the couch, the blonde immediately on top of her.
“Scarlet, stop,” she said, trying to push the blonde’s hands away from their determined fervor of undoing her slacks. “Stop this!”
“What?” Scarlet asked, her breath coming out in heavy pants of anger and excitement. “Don’t be the whore that you bought? Hmm?”
“Stop!” Ashton managed to get herself out from underneath the blonde, who nearly fell onto the floor. “This isn’t what I want,” she said, running her hands through her hair.
“Well, what about what I want?” Scarlet said. “Or does that not matter? Does a whore not have a say in your world, Ashton?”
Ashton was furious, and had been pushed as far as she could be. She grabbed Scarlet and slammed her against the wall, nearly knocking the wind out of the blonde. Their faces were mere inches a part, their heavy breathing burning the other’s face. “Stop it,” she said, her voice softening, her body reacting to the close proximity of Scarlet. “Just stop it.”
“No,” Scarlet said. She grabbed one of Ashton’s hands, shoving it up under her own dress. “Take what you paid for,” she breathed.
Ashton was shocked to find out wet the blonde was, her hand lost in a sea of molten heat. She wanted to pull her hand away, her brain screamed at her to, but she couldn’t. She could see the furious desire in Scarlet’s eyes, which she knew mirrored her own.
Scarlet let out a surprised moan as three fingers slipped inside her, one of her thighs roughly pulled up. She hooked her heeled foot behind Ashton’s calf, her fingers winding themselves in thick hair, pulling Ashton’s face to her own. The kiss was brutal and bruising, both women whimpering desperately into it.
Ashton’s thrusts were hard and deep, rocking Scarlet’s whole body with the power. IT was an issue of control and power, and they both knew it. She heard the blonde’s whimpers become high pitched as her orgasm started, the hot, tight muscle clenching at the brunette’s fingers, nearly pinning her inside as Scarlet came with a cry ripped from her throat.
She wanted to hold Scarlet, she wanted to rain kisses on her face and whisper comforting words as the blonde came down, but she couldn’t do it. She felt sick at what she’d allowed herself to be forced to do, as well as she was truly hurt with the panting woman before her. She removed her fingers, mindful of the beating Scarlet’s sex had just taken, then turned and headed toward the door, tossing some bills on the couch as she slammed out of the room.
Scarlet felt the tears come to her eyes, and slowly slid to the floor as they came.