Ashton threw off her clothing, not caring where they landed, or that buttons burst from her blouse, bouncing off the highly-polished wood floor of her bedroom. She left a trail of anger and damaged clothing behind as she made her way into the bathroom. She turned the water as hot as she could stand it, letting it run over her head and shoulders, moaning quietly under its spray. She’d never felt so dirty in all her life, as she did in that moment. She knew it was just in her mind, but she swore the fingers of her right hand burned from their activities, not thirty minutes before. Childishly, she washed it by itself, twice.

Ashton was trying to get her emotions under control, but the tears that she’d tried to push down so hard earlier, came anyway. The encounter had scared her, but mainly because she was shocked at herself, losing control like she had. Granted, Scarlet had taunted her unmercifully, but that was no excuse. She prided herself on her ability to remain calm and cool, a must in the world of high-priced business.

Scarlet had hurt her tonight with her forked tongue and accusing eyes. She hadn’t even given Ashton a chance to speak to her, to apologize. Obviously she had hurt the blonde with her innocent actions, and she had wanted nothing more than for them to sit and talk about it like the adults she had thought they were.

Ashton sighed heavily, a shroud of melancholy falling over her.


It was cold, but that was okay, because the flame was hot. A little too hot. The dark figure moved easily between the buildings, masked by the cover of a cold night. He muffled the sound of the breaking window by using his elbow, covered in the thick padding of a heavy, winter jacket. Task finished, he lobbed his fiery little gift inside, then ran like hell.


Scarlet pulled on her jacket, feeling her car keys in the right pocket, her keys in the left. “You ready?” she asked Bobby, who would walk her out to her car.


Together they headed toward one of the side doors, which would lead to a winding staircase, taking them down the final two stories to the ground level. The club was still opened, though was beginning to thin. Scarlet had had enough for one night, and desperately wanted to go home. She hadn’t had a single customer tonight, which was incredibly unusual, but she was more than okay with that. Oh, well, she had the one. She could still feel the burn of Ashton’s money wadded up in her pocket. She fully intended to return it to the brunette. She wanted nothing more from her.

“Tough night?” Bobby asked as they rounded the first set of stairs, taking the couple steps on the landing that would lead to the second set. The normally vibrant blonde had been quiet and drawn, and after the brunette had left, she’d been downright prickly.

“Yeah,” she said, tossing a smile at the bartender. “Sorry, Bobby. Just got some shit going on, you know?”

Bobby was about to ask about the gorgeous brunette, but stopped, holding desperately onto the railing, just behind Scarlet. The world seemed to shimmy underneath them, bringing them both down- hard- onto the cement stairs.

“Jesus!” Bobby yelled. “We don’t get earthquakes in fucking Colorado!”

The words were no sooner out of his mouth before a distant BOOM! arose, the stairs groaning loudly as they shook again.

Scarlet looked around, eyes huge as she tried to figure out what was happening. The lights blinked once, twice, then were gone, both yelling out in surprise and fear.

“What was-“

Scarlet was thrown, crying out as her back hit something sharp. The world seemed to have fallen out from under her all of the sudden, and she was thrown wildly, landing hard on something rather soft. After a moment, when nothing else moved, she tried to look around, but could see nothing.

“Bobby?” she whispered frantically, trying to push herself up. Her body ached, especially her back. She got no response. “Bobby?” she tried again. She felt around her, feeling sharp-edged cement and debris, then realized the softness she’d landed on was Bobby. “Bobby!” she screamed, feeling desperately over his body, realizing that his head was set at an extremely unnatural angle.

She felt a sob overtake her throat, but tried to think. She peered through the darkness, but stopped all movement, listening. She heard something, a groaning. Like wood buckling.

Heart pounding, Scarlet had a really bad feeling. She pushed to her feet, ignoring her body’s objections, and began to search frantically for a way out. She felt along what used to be the wall, feeling some smooth cement bricks, then the rough jagged edges of wreckage. She could feel that her pupils were as large as they cold possibly get, trying to see something, anything.

Scarlet’s head turned left, feeling a cold draft. She headed in that direction, crying out as something sliced at her leg in passing. Wearing a short dress was not the best clothing for this, she mused silently. She could hear the muffled sounds of sirens, and began to head toward them, since they were in the same direction as the cold draft.


Ashton sighed in her sleep, rolling to her stomach when she heard it again.


“Godamit,” she muttered, opening one eye. She glanced over at her desk, the monitor coming to life as another buzz entered her ears. The monitor was split into two views of the gate of her palatial home. One was an overhead view, showing the vehicle as a whole, the second an up close and personal view of the driver. She saw a small four door on the first screen, then the second revealed a very upset Scarlet.

“Shit,” she grumbled, rolling over onto her back. “Tell me she hadn’t come here for fucking round two,” she groaned. Her second glance had her up off the bed and hurrying over to the screen. Scarlet was crying, and it looked like she had what looked to be a substantial bruise on her head. “What the…?” She pushed the red button which sent the electronic gates whirring to life, quickly tugging on a pair of silk pajama pants and a t-shirt.

Scarlet was surprised when the gate opened, but very grateful. She tried to get her emotions under control, but she kept seeing the images before her eyes again and again. Her body was incredibly sore, and she hurt, deeper inside. Her visit to the hospital had been brief, luckily. Somehow she’d managed to escape with only cuts and bruises, and two broken fingers, which were taped up.

She pulled her car to the circular drive, shutting off the engine and sitting, looking up at the big house. “What am I doing here?” she asked herself. She had no right to be there, to expect comfort from Ashton after the events of the night. She mused that perhaps the only reason she’d been let in was for Ashton to call the cops on her for trespassing. She smirked at the ridiculous thought. Her next thought was to turn the car back on and head back toward the gate, but the opening of one side of the double front doors stopped that one.

Ashton bounced over the cold snow in her bare feet until she reached the car. She met extremely haunted eyes when she reached the driver’s side. The door opened, Ashton stepping back out of the way.

Scarlet got out of the car, nearly falling into Ashton’s arms as the tears came all over again.

“Hey,” Ashton cooed, shocked, but easily holding the petit woman, who’s body began to sag against her. She held her for a long moments, doing her best to ignore the icy knives biting into the soles of her feet. Finally when it looked like Scarlet was going to come up for air, Ashton pulled away, just enough to look into her face. “Come inside, okay?”

Scarlet nodded, slamming her car door closed as she allowed herself to be helped up the stairs and into the warmth of the house. Ashton closed the heavy door, then helped Scarlet off with her jacket, tossing it over the chair in the entryway.

“Come on.” She led the blonde up the winding staircase, and finally into her bedroom, quickly closing the doors. In the light of the room, Ashton was shocked to see the shape of the blonde’s clothing and face. She sucked in a breath, hurrying over to her. “Oh my god,” she whispered. “What happened?”

Scarlet did her best to hold back the newest batch of tears, knowing she was scaring the older woman. “I’m really sorry to show up here,” she whispered, her eyes looking anywhere but at Ashton. “Especially after what happened tonight. At the club.” With those three words, she lost it again, grateful to be cradled in a strong embrace.

“Shh. It’s okay, baby, I’ve got you. Talk to me. What happened? Are you hurt? Want a bath? How about some brandy?”

Scarlet chuckled lightly, pulling away. “One question at a time.” She saw the sheepish smile cover Ashton’s face. “I don’t want any brandy. I would love a hot bath, I’m just really, really sore, and…,” Her eyes fell again, her emotions rising. “Someone bombed the club,” she managed. “It collapsed under us.”

Under other circumstances, Ashton standing there, her mouth hanging open, would have been amusing. As it was, she was too stunned to move. At the sound of new sobs, she shook herself out of it, and grabbed Scarlet, once again holding her to her. “Oh, baby,” she cooed unsure what else to say. She stroked her hair, allowing Scarlet to cry it out. Finally the blonde began to calm. With a kiss to the top of her head, Ashton pulled gently away. “Let’s get you in that bath now, okay?”

With a shaky nod and even shakier smile, Scarlet allowed herself to be led into a massive bathroom. Her eyes widened in awe at the luxurious splendor- marble flooring and vanity tops, and a tub that could fit ate least six. The toilet and shower had their own, separate rooms.

“Get undressed, baby,” Ashton said gently as she began to run the bath, dumping in a generous amount of lavender-scented bubble bath.

Numbly Scarlet did as she was told, her ruined dress falling to the floor in a bloody heap. She stepped out of it, looking down at herself. Her hip had a bruise the size of a softball on it, and it hurt to walk. Her collarbone and shoulder had a smattering of angry-looking bruises littering them, as well. She groaned as she walked over to the tub. Ashton helped her to step in, then walked over and gathered Scarlet’s dress.

“Sadly, I think this is a goner.” With a sad sigh, Ashton tossed the remnants into the garbage can.

Scarlet heard the softly-spoken words, but rather than responding, she settled herself into the water, wincing slightly as a few of the more minor cuts stung as they were submerged in the hot water. She rested her aching head back against the built-in head rest, sighing as she allowed her body and soul to be engulfed by warmth.

Ashton perched on the side of the tub. “Is there anything I can get for you, Scarlet?” she asked quietly, her heart going out to the battered young woman. Green eyes opened and took in the brunette concerned features.

“About earlier, Ashton, I’m sor-“

“Shh,” Ashton whispered, gently cupping the more uninjured side of Scarlet’s face. “We’ll talk later. For now, just relax. Okay?”

Scarlet kept her gaze for a long moment, then finally nodded. “Okay. Thank you.”

“Are you hungry? Thirsty? Is there anything special I need to know, concerning your injuries?”

The blonde shook her head, eyes slipping closed again. She covered the hand that rest against her cheek and entwined her fingers with it, resting the pair against her upper chest. “Just don’t leave.”

“Alright.” Ashton studied the younger woman for a long moment, wishing she could understand all the different facets. She had seen a fun side of her, playing pool with the two men, Scarlet taking pot-shots at all of them. She could still hear the blonde’s melodious laughter, and the twinkle in her eyes. She remembered their dancing, as well, in some seedy, no-name cowboy bar. She’d never encountered anyone filled with the passion that Scarlet was. Her name seemed to do her justice, as the blonde seemed born to give pleasure, and bring out passions in her lovers, that even they didn’t know existed. She knew the petit woman was kind, and filled with just as much compassion as she was passion, as seen the day they’d visited Laurel. The tormented look of frustration in green eyes had haunted Ashton. A look of helplessness, coming from a woman determined to make it on her own steam, no matter the cost.

“You’re staring at me,” Scarlet said, her eyes still closed.

Ashton smiled. “Yes. I’m just trying to figure you out.”

The blonde chuckled ruefully. “Good luck with that.” Green eyes blinked open. “I’ve been trying to do that for years. After a moment, “I’m sorry I came here tonight, Ashton, barging in on you in the middle of the night.” She met Ashton’s gaze briefly before looking away. “I saw you were in bed, the covers all over the place. I just…,” she stopped herself.

“You just, what?” Ashton gently pulled her hand free from Scarlet’s grasp, and gently pushed blonde hair away from Scarlet’s face, the golden strands glued to her skin from the steam of the bath.

“I didn’t want to be alone. Not after what happened tonight.”

“I understand. And it’s okay. Can’t say as I’d want to be alone, either.” She felt such tenderness with Scarlet, especially at that moment. She leaned down and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “Will you be okay for a few minutes? I need to try and find something for you to wear.”

The blonde nodded. “I’ll be fine.”


Left alone, Scarlet allowed her thoughts to crowd in. She remembered once she’d made her way out of the building, shocked as she’d stood on the snow-covered street, staring back at the old three-story brick building, which were engulfed in flames. As she’d watched, more of the building tumbled upon itself. She hadn’t been alone standing out in the cold. A crowd had joined her, a mixture of emergency personnel, and folks who had run from the surrounding buildings to watch in fascinated horror as their neighborhood was rocked to the core.

She remembered a man standing off by himself, dressed in black jeans. His hands were stuffed into the pockets of his coat. A few strands of dark hair blew into his eyes as he met her gaze. He nodded in acknowledgement, then turned to continue watching the burning building.

By time Scarlet had been allowed to leave the hospital- grateful that she’d parked across the street, and her car had suffered only minimal damage- she had been told that at that time the death toll was around six, but many others were missing. Including Ashton’s friend, Bart, who like Scarlet, had been on his way out.

Then Scarlet thought of Bobby. She would never get the sensation out of her mind, his neck broken, head lopping over to the side like a bag of trash. The tears came again, unbidden, tearing a loud sob from her throat.


Soft hands pulled the blonde to a sitting position, then softer arms encircled her. Scarlet’s head rested against Ashton’s chest, the strong heartbeat just beneath the cotton. Scarlet was rocked gently, her fingers claw-like as they clung to Ashton. After a long moment, the brunette pulled away.

“Come on, sweetheart. Let’s get you rinsed off then into bed, okay?”

Ashton’s gentle words managed to push through Scarlet’s grief, and she nodded, feeling like a child as her bottom lip still quivered from more tears that threatened to fall.

An hour later, Ashton held the sleeping figure in her arms, watching over her as the snow fell outside. Scarlet moaned in her sleep, jumping often as she was haunted in her sleep. Ashton kept watch until the wee hours of the morning, and she finally lost her battle, eyes sliding closed. She pulled Scarlet closer to her, wrapping her body around the petit one, and fell asleep.


Ashton woke, wincing at the sunlight that blasted in through the huge windows in the bedroom. Usually she was awake before sunrise. Looking around, she saw that she was alone in the large bed. A glance at the bedside clock told her it was after ten. Sitting up, she rubbed at her eyes, then looked around the room, looking for her bedmate.

Scarlet sat curled up on one of the cream-colored loungers that rested against the windowed walls. She was watching the falling snow, still dressed in the t-shirt and silk pajama pants Ashton had given her to wear earlier that morning.

“Hey,” Ashton said, pushing herself from the mattress and walking over to the blonde.

“Hi.” Scarlet gave her a small smile over her shoulder then turned back to the snow. “One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen was the snow falling, melting and sizzling as soon as it hit the flames. Truly incredible,” she said softly, almost wistful.

Ashton stood beside the lounger, staring at the beauty beyond the windows. “I can imagine. Surreal, I bet.”


Ashton studied the younger woman for a moment. “How are you today, Scarlet? I know you had a lot of bad dreams last night.”

Scarlet sighed, uncurling herself and she stood. “I’m okay. I should probably go.” She met concerned blue eyes, which was almost her undoing. “I’ve intruded enough.”

“You’re not intruding, Scarlet. I assure you.” She took the soft hands of the blonde. “If you wish to leave, by all means.” She made sure she had the full attention and held the green gaze. “But you don’t need to go. You’re not intruding, and you’re welcome here. It’s entirely up to you.”

Scarlet didn’t want to make a decision in that moment. She knew what she should do, but warred with what she wanted to do. Instead, she decided to put voice to what had been ravaging her mind all morning, as she’d watched the snow. “I’m not sure what to do, Ashton. And I don’t mean about leaving or staying. The club is gone.”

“Can I make a suggestion?” Ashton asked softly. The curious gaze of the blonde met her. “I know it’s a bit of a point of contention between us, but things being as they are, would you please just entertain the idea of just using this time, and what I did, and decide what you want to do with your life?” Scarlet was about to open her mouth, but Ashton placed two fingers over her lips. “I believe that Fate comes to us in the guise of a choice. You have a fork in the road right now, Scarlet, and you can choose which road to take. Take the gift I tried to give you, and use this tragedy as a jumping point for you. Or, reject the money, and pound the pavement, trying to find something to pay you what you were making at the club. The choice is yours to make. Either way,” she continued softly, “I’ll support you and help in any way you may need.” She graced the younger woman with an ironic smile. “All you need do is ask.”

Recognizing her own request thrown back at her, Scarlet smiled, a little sheepish. “Thank you. She turned away, knowing right now she was going to have to swallow her pride. “If it’s alright with you, uh, and I can make payments…”

Ashton just smiled. There was no way in hell she was going to let the blonde pay her back for what she perceived as a gift, but she didn’t want to fight. “Do what you need to do, Scarlet. Just know that I’m here.”

Scarlet wrapped her arms around Ashton’s neck, resting her head on her shoulder. “Thank you,” she whispered, squeezing tightly and then pulling away.


Scarlet caressed the limp, yet warm, hand gently. She leaned back against the headboard of the bed, leaning over once to place a soft kiss on a cool forehead.

“You’d be surprised at all that’s happened over the past week,” she said softly. “It’s been hard. Really hard. Remember that woman I brought with me last time? Well, she’s helped me out, though I was really hard on her.” Scarlet chuckled ruefully. “Really hard on her. Even so, she’s offered to help me.”

Laurel lay on the bed, eyes staring straight ahead as her body was stretched out along the length of the mattress. Today she was dressed in jeans and a tank top. Scarlet had been bringing her clothing for the last few years, as she knew that her baby sister would never want to live her life in cheap, paper gowns. The blonde had come in early that morning, offering to take care of Laurel. She bathed her, dressed her, and then spent nearly an hour just brushing her hair, which was maintained at a length just below her shoulders.

“I don’t know what to make of Ashton,” Scarlet continued her one-sided conversation. “I know she truly thought she was helping when she paid my rent for a year, and for your care. But, man, that was hard to take, you know? Remember when Mom used to say I was too proud for my own good? Yeah, well it’s still true.”

She stared off into space, seeing an image of the brunette float before her mind’s eye. She’d spoken to her on the phone off and on over the past couple days, Ashton wanting to know if she were okay, but Scarlet had yet to return to the big house.

“I never told you I was gay, did I? No, shoot, back then, even I didn’t know when I was 17. Well, let me tell you now, baby sis- I am a lesbian.” Scarlet smirked at her own words. “I always wondered what mom and dad would’ve said to that. I know you would’ve been fine with it. But them…” she shrugged. She whispered her next words. “Wish I’d been able to find out.”

She sighed, curling up with her sister until her head rested on an all too-thin shoulder, her arm resting across Laurel’s abdomen. When she allowed herself to think about all that she’d lost, she felt so cheated. She had been robbed of a mother and a father, and most importantly, of her sister. Laurel, though only three years younger, had always been her best friend. The younger girl was now 22. She’d never known what it was like to drive a car. She missed her high school graduation. Never had a boyfriend- or girlfriend, Scarlet smirked- had never had a chance at life.

“I really miss you, Laurel.” She sighed. “Sometimes I feel so lost.”


Ashton stared out the window of her office, knowing she should go home, but she just couldn’t make herself move. She felt cold, the tears wanting to come, but she couldn’t seem to make them, so she let it be. Undoubtedly they’d come in time.

A soft knock on the office door brought the brunette from the morose place her thoughts had visited all day, since she got the phone call. “Come,” she said, voice hard as she fought with her emotions.

Rachelle stepped inside, her eyes red-rimmed and swollen from her own emotions. “Will you be okay, Miss King?” she asked, voice thick from her earlier tears.

“Yes, Rachelle, I’m fine. Go on home.” Ashton’s smile was weak, but genuine. Her secretary nodded and gently closed the door behind her. Almost as soon as she was left alone, the phone on her desk rang. Blindly she reached for the receiver, bringing it up to her ear. “Ashton King,”

“Hey,” Scarlet’s soft voice said on the other end. She also sounded like she’d been crying.

“I’m still here, so I suppose that’s something,” Ashton said, her voice just as quiet. She brought a hand up, rubbing at her eyes, which stung from the held-in tears. “How are you doing?”

There was a moment of silence, the sound of soft sniffling on the other end. “I’m okay,” Scarlet said, taking a deep breath. “Did you hear?”

“Yeah. I heard.” Ashton stared blankly out the window, overlooking downtown Denver. She saw the busy streets below, the people like ants, the cars like those little toys, Micro Machines.

“Come over tonight, Ashton. Let me make you dinner,” Scarlet said gently. “We can talk.”

“Okay,” Ashton said automatically. She felt nothing as she agreed to the invitation. “I’m leaving now. Can I come straight over?”

“Of course.” Scarlet had no doubt that her friend was hurting over the news of Bart’s death, one of the bomb’s casualties.

“See you soon.”

Scarlet heard the click of the dead line on the other end, and flipped her cell phone shut. She scrubbed her face with her hands, then decided to jump into the shower, then getting dinner ready. She wasn’t sure the condition Ashton would be in once she arrived, but she wanted to be there for her, just as the brunette had been there for her.


The blonde had just turned the oven off, the lasagna finished, and smelling wonderful. It was one of the things that Scarlet could make that she was truly good at. The knock on the door was soft, almost timid.

Scarlet wiped her hands on the thighs of her jeans, slightly nervous for some reason, as she walked over to the door and unlocked it, pulling it open. Ashton stood on the other side, looking tired.

“Come in,” Scarlet said, quickly closing the cold night out behind the brunette. She took Ashton’s coat, quickly hanging it up in the coat closet, then took the taller woman in her arms, holding her.

Ashton rested her head on Scarlet’s shoulder, sighing deeply as she absorbed the blonde’s warmth, eyes closing as gentle fingers combed through her hair. “Thanks for inviting me,” she murmured.

Scarlet smiled. “You’re always welcome here, Ashton.” She pulled away, placing a soft kiss on the brunette’s lips then heading for the kitchen. “Come in and make yourself comfortable. I hope you like Italian.”

Ashton walked into the living room, noticing the small table set for two, tucked away in the dining niche. She plopped down on the couch. “I love Italian,” she called out, the blonde busy in the kitchen.

“Good. Here.” Scarlet walked over to her, handing her a juice glass filled with brandy. “I’m sorry I don’t have any snifters. I didn’t have any brandy, either.” She grinned. “But, I thought it might help relax you.”

“Thank you,” Ashton said, touched. She took the glass, taking a small sip of the liquid, closing her eyes as it burned down her throat.

“I must say, though,” Scarlet said, heading back into the kitchen. “I don’t know how you can stand that stuff.”

Ashton smiled, pushing up from the couch and walking until she was standing in the doorway, watching the blonde peel the foil off a long, glass pan. The bubbling lasagna beneath looked wonderful. “My father always used to have a brandy every night after work. One night he offered me a glass. I remember thinking the stuff tasted awful.” She swirled the liquid in the glass thoughtfully. “Come to think of it, I still do.” She chuckled, Scarlet tossing a grin at her. “Guess it’s just habit. And, it is incredibly relaxing after a long day, so I thank you.” She raised the glass in a toast, then sipped.

“My dad always had crackers and cheese or crackers and peanut butter to relax,” Scarlet said, tossing a quick salad.

“That’s a bit odd.”

“I thought so, too.” The blonde smiled, pulling various types of dressing out from the fridge. “Definitely one of those ‘whatever floats your boat’ kinda moments. Come on. Let’s eat.”


Later, they lay in Scarlet’s bed, lying on their sides facing each other. Scarlet had put on pajamas, loaning Ashton an oversized t-shirt. She wasn’t sure what to do, as people grieve in their own way. Ashton had been somewhat physically distant over the course of the evening, so she had honored that.

“How does it feel?” Ashton asked lightly, “not having to go back to work there?”

“It’s strange. Not only because of the obvious reason why I can’t go back, because that goes without saying. But, I don’t know.” Scarlet studied the brunette lying not a foot away from her. She decided to be honest. “The strangeness comes from knowing that I don’t have to share myself with anyone anymore. That I can shed Pearl, and just be me. No more pretending, no more sharing.” She smiled softly. “It’s nice.”

Ashton was respectful, smiling in return. “I’m glad.” She was quiet for a moment then sighed. “I miss him. I can’t believe Bart’s gone.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Well, professionally for a few years. Personally, a long time. He did business with my father for years. I remember him when I was in college. It always seemed strange, somehow, that Bart and I got along so well, considering he was friends with my father, as well. I think Bart must be the only thing my father and I ever agreed on.”

“I liked him, too. He saved me a lot, you know. If some guy would start getting rough, or had too much to drink, Bart would swoop in and pretend he had already paid me for the night.” She smiled. “I remember one time we had to go so far as to hide out in the back room for a half an hour.”

“You said he never touched you?”

Scarlet shook her head. “Never. Even while we were in the back, I tried. I mean, I figured if we had to pretend, why not just give him the favor out of gratitude.” Scarlet drew her brows as she prepared to go into a fairly decent impersonation of the older man. “’Put your dress back on, young lady! I just want to feel your pert little ass in my hands.’”

They both laughed, Ashton easily able to hear her own friend saying that. “He liked your ass, I think. Every time I saw him there with you, I think he had his hand there.”

“I know.” Scarlet chuckled. “It used to creep me out at first, but then it just kind of became part of Bart. If he didn’t do it, I had to wonder what was wrong.”

Ashton studied Scarlet for a long time, trying to find the words she’d been wanting to say. “I’m truly sorry, Scarlet. For what I did. This may seem like old hat to you, but I really want you to understand that I was just wanting to help you out of a bad situation. And, I must confess, I had my own selfish reasons for what I did.”

“What were they?” Scarlet asked softly.

Ashton grinned, sheepish. For a moment she looked like a little girl, hand caught in the cookie jar, and trying to talk her way out of it. “I hated that other people were touching you, making love to you. Or you touching them.”

“It was never making love, Ashton,” Scarlet clarified gently.

“I know. But still I hated it.”

Scarlet smiled at the sheepish woman, touched. “Why did you go with me that first night? You seem to find services such as mine too distasteful to contribute to them.”

“I do. I don’t know.” Ashton shrugged one shoulder, then grinned, nice and lascivious. “Cause you’re beautiful, sexy, and completely irresistible.”

“Am I?” Scarlet said, her brow raised and body temperature heating up. Why couldn’t she resist this woman?

“That, you are.”

Scarlet scooted closer, pushing Ashton to her back and climbing on top of her. “Well, I have a little confession of my own.” She began to nibble a trail of kisses along the brunette’s jaw and neck. She spoke against the warm skin. “I thought you were the most beautiful, sexy and irresistible woman I’d ever seen. Cause, you see,” she continued, pressing a leg between Ashton’s spreading thighs. “I saw you come in from a distance. When you sat down,” her hand slithered up underneath Ashton’s shirt, “I walked over by the table on purpose.” She lifted her head, looking down into hooded blue eyes as she massaged a firm breast. “I wanted an introduction.”

Ashton moaned, allowing herself to enjoy it as Scarlet slowly and methodically made love to her. Her body was alive and burning, reacting to the blonde’s touch like no one else she’d ever been with. She craved Scarlet’s touch, craved the sound of her voice, and craved her mere presence. She knew she could easily fall for the beautiful, proud woman who touched her with patient gentleness, yet with a firm and knowing hand that drove her wild. As she climaxed, Scarlet holding on for dear life, she knew she was in trouble. Big trouble.


He sat in his truck across the street from the brick apartment complex, the cherry of his cigarette the only light in the cab. A puff of smoke was blown out into the cold night. He reached out a hand, comforted by the cold steel of the 9mm.


Scarlet stood on the sidewalk, looking up at the large building. She felt nervous, heart pounding in her chest. She never thought she’d have the chance to do this, and wasn’t sure how she felt now that she did. She had miraculously won the King-Peddler Scholarship, amazing since she’d never applied, she thought with a mental smirk. She accepted only after extracting a promise from Ashton that the brunette let Scarlet pay back every penny she’d given her, even if it took the rest of the blonde’s life, which was likely.

Blowing out a breath, Scarlet made her way into Denver University, situated in downtown Denver. She couldn’t help but feel out of place as she strolled the halls, looking for Dr. Ally Richards’ office, a friend of Ashton’s, who promised to help her get her schedule in order to start in the new semester, beginning in January. She glanced down at the small map Ashton had drawn for her the night before, finally finding what she was looking for.

The office door was open, the woman inside sitting behind her desk, feet casually resting on the edge. She was chatting on the phone. Unsure what to do, and feel uncharacteristically shy and uncertain, Scarlet knocked softly on the doorframe. The woman, whom she presumed was Dr. Richards, glanced her way, enthusiastically waving the blonde inside, and pointing at one of the chairs in front of her desk.

Scarlet did as asked, looking around the small, somewhat cramped office. Books were piled everywhere, the bookshelves long-overflowing. A few pictures were set out atop the bookcases, most with the attractive blonde in them, most with her standing with a good-looking man. At the clatter of the handset hitting the cradle, Scarlet’s gaze whipped back to the woman sitting across from her.

“Okay,” the woman said, looking around her cluttered desk- more books and forests of papers- her hands searching alongside her eyes. “As soon as I find my pencil, we’re in business.”

Scarlet glanced up to the woman’s messy bun, the yellow No. 2 sticking out. She cleared her throat politely, and pointed to her own head. The Professor reached up, feeling the sharp tip, then grinned.

“Do that all the time.” Pulling the pencil free, Ally Richards fished a legal pad out from the avalanche of mess, and then finally studied the young woman sitting across from her. “Hi,” she said, a huge smile splitting her face. “I’m Ally Richards, and I’m a member of the faculty here. I’m also chair of the History department here. Your name is Scarlet, correct?”

The blonde nodded. “Yes. Scarlet Reed.”

“Scarlet Reed,” Ally said slowly, as she scribbled the name at the top of the page. She met nervous green eyes again. “First of all,” she reached over and covered one of Scarlet’s hands with her own. “Don’t look like you’ve come for your execution. You’re here today to start the first day of the rest of your life. Education is such an important thing for a woman to possess. Okay, pep talk over, do you have any idea what you’d like to study?”


Ashton was nearly flying on a cloud as she walked through the long halls of her home. She had decided to work from her home office, and now was headed toward the large kitchen where her lunch awaited her.

“Here’s your newspaper, Miss King,” Arnold said, handing the folded periodical to the brunette.

“Thank you, Arnold.” With a bright smile, Ashton took the paper and continued on her way. “Thank you,” she said to her long-time cook, accepting the large salad with chunks of tender chicken breast. She unfolded the paper, and was surprised to see the headline:


Ashton was stunned, fear gripping her immediately as she scanned the article, looking for the names of the two employees. Her relief was audible when she saw neither of them were Scarlet. However, they were both women, and the brunette had a bad feeling that both were part of the entertainment, just like the blonde had been. Both women had been murdered in their homes, both shot, execution-style.

Ashton felt sick to her stomach as she grabbed her cell phone, quickly dialing the familiar numbers. It went straight to Scarlet’s voicemail. “Damn,” Ashton muttered, but left a message for Scarlet to come over after she was finished at the college, that she needed to speak with her.

Over the past couple weeks, Ashton or Scarlet had accompanied the other to the funerals of lost friends in the bombing of The Black Pussy Cat. It had been horrible, the damage in the millions to not only the building the club was in, but also surrounding buildings that had been rocked in the powerful blast. Scarlet had been the only survivor, which was a miracle in itself. She knew the blonde felt terrible guilt over that fact, but it was something Ashton knew she’d have to work out within herself. For once, Ashton’s money could not help. So, she’d helped where she could, helping Scarlet to start a new life for herself and Laurel.

She smiled to herself, remembering the morning Ashton had approached the blonde with the acceptance letter for the annual King-Peddler Scholarship, which her great-grandparents had set up more than eighty years ago. She had been hesitant, but knew of no one who deserved it more than Scarlet Reed did. Scarlet had bristled at first, but had heard Ashton out, finally agreeing. Ashton knew the blonde felt better, thinking she’d be paying her back for her generosity, but Ashton was just happy to do it.

Later that afternoon, Scarlet arrived at the house, excitedly carrying in the backpack she’d picked up from a store, filled with everything she’d need for her upcoming classes.

“I know I don’t start for another couple months, but I just couldn’t help it,” she gushed, showing an enthralled Ashton the pack itself, plus the calculator she’d bought, the box of pens and mechanical pencils, whiteout and notebooks full of empty spiral notebook paper, waiting to be filled. She stood back, hands on hips at everything spread out over the kitchen table. She chewed on her lower lip. “I just hope I can read my writing for my notes.’

Ashton drew her brow in thought, then hurried out of the room. In her home office, she dug through the closet, finally pulling out a case that was half the size of a laptop case. Unzipping it, she found the little machine still inside, along with the charger and instruction manual. Hurrying back to the kitchen, she scooted aside the notebooks and placed it down.

“This little gizmo is one of the greatest creations,” she explained, unzipping the case again and pulling out the small, light-weight machine, that wasn’t even the size of a magazine. “It’s called a Dana, but AlphaSmart. You see,” she plugged the charge into the small machine and then an electric plug in the wall, and turned it on. “It’s a lot like a laptop, just a lot smaller and easier to use. It’s basically a word processor that you can hold up to ten files on, a hundred pages each. You use this,” she grabbed the USB cable from the case, “plug one end into the Dana, the other into your computer, which you will have to download the program onto, and voila! You download what you wrote on the Dana onto a blank Word doc.” She smiled in victory at the stunned blond. “See, I have absolutely horrific handwriting, and this little baby made it so much easier for me during meetings. Also, I can type a hell of a lot faster than I can write, so…”

Scarlet took in the machine, and Ashton’s excited instruction, feeling her heart swell and become suffused with gratitude. “Thank you, Ashton.” She wrapped her arms around the brunette, holding her close for a long moment.

“Anytime, sweetheart.” As she hugged Scarlet, she realized that by the blonde’s happy, easy-go-lucky attitude, she likely didn’t know of the murders, yet. She sighed, not looking forward to telling her. “Honey,” she began, pulling back just a bit. “Do you know of anyone that might have had something against you girls at the club? Or against maybe a couple of the girls?”

“No, why? You mean because of the bombing?”

“Well, not exactly.” Ashton took Scarlet’s hand and led her out to the library, a very special place for her, where the blonde’s concerned. She sat in the chair in front of the fireplace, where Arnold had started a large blaze once the sun had gone down, and pulled Scarlet down into her lap.

Blonde brows drew. “Then what?”

“Scarlet, do you know Rebecca Massey and Carol Gleason?”

“Yeah. Rebecca was new. I think she’d only been there maybe a month. Carol’s been there since God was a boy, I think. Why?” she plucked absently at Ashton’s sweater.

“They were both murdered last night.”

Scarlet’s fingers stopped, her gaze meeting the brunette’s, stunned. “What?”

“The police, according to the newspaper, think that maybe the person who bombed the club is after the girls. Were Rebecca and Carol part of the … entertainment?”

“Yeah. They were like me.” Scarlet wasn’t sure what to think. She hadn’t necessarily been friends with Rebecca or Carol. In fact, none of the girls were close, as each was the other’s competition. Carol hadn’t liked her much because Scarlet was younger, more beautiful and never had any problems getting clients. Back in her day, Carol had been quite the catch, but age and a hard life of drink had caught up to her. She blew out a breath, trying to figure out how to process this new bit of information.

“What are you thinking?” Ashton asked carefully, watching the blonde’s face closely.

“I don’t know.” She shook her head, feeling somewhat numb. “I don’t think they’re connected.”

“Why not?”

Scarlet met Ashton’s gaze. “Because it just doesn’t make sense. Some crazed bastard bombed the club. I mean, was it ever even proven that the bomber was targeting The Black Pussy Cat?”

Ashton shook her head. “I don’t know. But I don’t think you should go home, Scarlet.”

The blonde felt irritation fill her. She pushed off Ashton’s lap. “No. I’m not losing my apartment, too, Ashton. I’ve already lost my job, and my financial independence.”

The brunette stood, trying to stay out of the way of the pacing blonde. “Scarlet, please don’t be stubborn about this. You know I’m not trying to take anything away from you. What if you’re next?”

“And what if I’m not? What, am I supposed to just hide out forever? That’s crazy!”

“Dammit, Scarlet! I’m worried, okay? I have a really bad feeling about this.”

“No.” Scarlet waved her off. “I can handle myself.”

“I’m sure Carol and Rebecca thought they could, too,” Ashton said, voice calm, arms crossed over her chest. She met the glare sent her way. “You know, pride is good, but sometimes, Scarlet, pride can be a bad thing, too.”

“I don’t want to fight with you, Ashton. I’m going home.”

Ashton sighed heavily, shoving her hands into the pockets of her pants as she stared into the flames. Distantly she heard the sound of the front door.


Scarlet knew she was being childish and that Ashton just wanted to help, as she drove home, but she felt so out of control of her life at the moment. She felt like very little belonged to her anymore, as the brunette was behind everything she had now- her apartment, her schooling, and even her sister’s care. They’d had the discussion, they’d had the argument, and Scarlet understood, but she still hated feeling helpless.

Even so, she did glance in the rearview mirror far more often than was necessary, and the thought crossed her mind for about five seconds of going to stay with Laurel for the night. She didn’t want to give Ashton the satisfaction of thinking she was right. Again.

Scarlet pulled into the parking lot of her building, parking in her usual spot in front. Gathering all her belongings, she trotted up the stairs, digging her key from the ring and was about to slip it into the lock when she stopped. For a reason she couldn’t define, the hairs on the back of her neck began to stand on end. She looked around, seeing that she was alone, the night quiet and calm, the blonde decided she was being ridiculous. She was allowing her imagination to get away from her.

Just then, a strong, autumn breeze swept by her, her coat fluttering around her body. What caught her eye, however, was when her front door squeaked open just a tad, the breeze exposing its unlocked and unlatched position.

Scarlet’s breath caught. As quickly, and quietly as she could, she hurried back down the stairs to her car. With trembling hands, she pulled out of the parking lot, grabbing her cell phone as she did. She quickly made a call to the police, explaining that if they needed to talk to her, she’d be at Ashton’s house.

She was badly shaken as she drove, mindless to her surroundings, just needing to get to Ashton. Who was after her? Why? Was it some freakish religious zealot who was against what Scarlet and the girls at the club represented? Was it a scorned boyfriend of one of the girls? Ex-employee? She felt the sting of fear behind her eyes, and quickly reached up to brush away a lone tear. She kept glancing in her rearview, but saw nothing.


Ashton was upset, once again wondering why Scarlet refused to allow herself to be helped. She respected the blonde’s independence and desire to help herself and her sister on her own. But when pride and independence edged to carelessness, it concerned her greatly. She had a really bad feeling as she grabbed her keys, set to head out to Scarlet’s apartment when the blonde burst through the front door, scaring her half to death.

“Whoa!” she exclaimed, catching a very upset Scarlet in her arms. The blonde cried against her. “What’s the matter, baby?”

Scarlet had begun to sob as soon as she saw Ashton, burying her face in the brunette’s neck. She felt the strong, comforting embrace, which made her tears come faster. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen,” she sniffled, finally relaxing.

“What happened, baby?” Ashton whispered, rubbing the blonde’s back.

Scarlet cried out in surprise when her cell phone began to ring. With trembling hands, she removed the phone from her pocket, putting it up to her ear. “Hello?”

“Miss Reed? This is Detective John Klein with the Aurora Police Department. I’d like to ask you some questions about what you saw tonight at your apartment.”

“Okay,” Scarlet said.

“Are you willing to come down to the station and talk to us?”

“Honestly, Detective, I’m pretty shaken up. Could we do this over the phone? Or I could come in tomorrow morning.” Scarlet leaned against the brunette, needing her warmth. Ashton stood behind her, arms wrapped around a slim waist. Scarlet leaned back against her.

“I’ll ask you a few questions now, ma’am, and then if you wouldn’t mind coming in the morning?”

“Okay. Deal.”

Ashton led Scarlet quietly to the library as the blonde continued speaking with the detective. She sat in the leather chair, pulling the blonde into her lap. Scarlet curled into the older woman, answering the detective’s questions. When she slapped the phone shut, she cradled it against her as she once again buried her face into Ashton’s neck.

From the one-sided conversation, Ashton was able to deduce what had happened. She was nearly as shaken as Scarlet, realizing what could have happened. As she held her, she began to realize just how much Scarlet had come to mean to her in the short time they’d known each other. She didn’t know what it was that drew her so completely to the blonde. Yes, she was beautiful, intelligent, and Ashton couldn’t keep her hands off her. But, somehow it went deeper than that. She felt a fierce streak of protectiveness over her, and wanted nothing more than to make her happy.

“Are you okay?” she asked softly, placing a kiss on top of Scarlet’s head.

Scarlet raised her head, looking into the beautiful, and deeply concerned eyes of Ashton. She brought a hand up, gently caressing the side of her face. “I feel so safe with you,” she whispered, surprised at just how much she meant that. She looked down at the beautiful woman with adoring eyes, a soft smile spreading across her lips. Seeing the emotion in Ashton’s eyes, aimed at her, she felt her own emotions spreading like a warm blanket around her heart. She leaned in, placing a soft kiss on Ashton’s lips. “How did I get so lucky to have you in my life?” she whispered, leaning in again.

Ashton responded to the soft kisses. They weren’t meant to incite passion, only to explore and claim. She felt that in that moment Scarlet was completely claiming her mouth, as the brunette suspected the petit woman had already begun to claim her heart.

“I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you,” Scarlet said against Ashton’s lips. “I get myself in trouble more often than not.”

Ashton smiled, caressing the blonde’s back. “I don’t want to see you hurt, Scarlet. I feel such a need to protect you. I love your fierce need to take care of yourself, have more respect for you than anyone I’ve ever known.” She ran her fingers through the hair at the blonde’s temples, looking up into the beautiful green eyes. “I would never want to take that from you, or see that die in you. But, I don’t want to see anything happen to you.” She placed a soft kiss to the blonde’s neck. “I just found you. I can’t lose you, now.”

Scarlet felt her chest expand with an emotion that she was afraid to put a name to. She needed Ashton close to her. Needed her touch, her warmth and comfort. She needed her. “Ashton,” she whispered, wrapping her hands around the brunette’s neck. “Make love to me. Please?”

“You don’t have to ask,” Ashton said, bringing the blonde head down and kissing her deeply, pulling her body close.

Scarlet moaned into the kiss, her fingers immediately beginning to work on Ashton’s shirt. “I want you on top of me,” she murmured into the kiss. “I want you inside of me, Ashton.”

Upstairs in Ashton’s bed, Scarlet lie on the large mattress, naked and waiting. Ashton joined her, the leather harness in place. She climbed between Scarlet’s spread legs, brought down for a long, passionate kiss. The blonde buried her hands into Ashton’s hair, holding her in place as she explored the brunette’s mouth with slow patience, trying to convey so much of what she wasn’t ready to say, didn’t know how to feel.

Ashton continued the kiss, running one of her hands down Scarlet’s side, feeling the soft, smooth skin. Her thumb brushed across a rigid nipple on her journey, the blonde moaning into the kiss at the touch. Her moan grew louder, breaking the kiss as she was entered, Ashton slowly thrusting inside until her hips were cradled snugly between Scarlet’s thighs. She held the blonde tight, resuming their kiss.

Scarlet had never felt so full before, so whole as Ashton lay inside her, their bodies flush, breasts pressed together. She wove her fingers through Ashton’s hair, looking up at her as the brunette lifted her head, looking down at her. Their gazes met, and something passed between them, their connection deepening.

“Make love to me, Ashton,” Scarlet said again, her fingertips running lightly along Ashton’s spine, finally settling on the smooth skin of her ass. She spread both her hands on either cheek, urging Ashton to move her hips. “I really need to feel you.”

Nodding, Ashton rose to her elbows, slowly working her hips, heat shooting through her when she saw the look of pleasure glaze Scarlet’s eyes, the blonde’s hips moving slowly with her own. “Look at me, baby,” she whispered, Scarlet’s heavily hooded eyes opening a bit more, focusing on her. She needed to see her, needed Scarlet to know how she felt as she slowly thrust inside her. She felt the connection that they’d had since the night they met solidifying into something… more.

Scarlet ran her nails up Ashton’s back, smiling at the shiver she felt flow through her body in their wake. Her hands wrapped around strong shoulders, and eventually made their way around to cup the brunette’s breasts, squeezing gently. Ashton groaned, her head falling forward as she continued to move her hips, easily slicing through the abundant wetness between Scarlet’s thighs. She raised herself to her hands to offer more of herself to the blonde, groaning again as her nipples were lightly squeeze and pulled.

“God, yes, baby,” she moaned, finding the blonde’s mouth again. “You feel so amazing.”

Scarlet’s only response was a whimper, her hips beginning to move a big more, thrusting up into Ashton’s strokes. The pleasure radiating inside her was intense, like a fire burning hot and fast. She’d never felt anything like it. She raised her knees and spread her legs wider, moaning at the deeper penetration. Her hands found Ashton’s ass once more, rhythmically squeezing the flesh as Ashton moved her hips faster, increasing her thrusts. She could see the flushed pleasure spreading across Ashton’s face, the brilliant blue eyes closed in concentration. “Yes, baby,” she whispered, her words almost nothing more than quick pants. “I want you to come inside of me.” Scarlet’s head fell back, eyes squeezing shut as she was suffused with pleasure. “Oh, god, fill me…”

Scarlet’s words penetrated Ashton’s lustful haze, making her groan as new warmth surged to her sex, making her clit pulse in time with her quickening thrusts. She could feel her skin covered with both their slickness. Soon her skin was slapping against Scarlet’s, both panting heavily as the pressure built. She felt Scarlet grab onto her flesh, painfully digging her nails in as her body convulsed around Ashton, a raw cry ripped from her throat. Ashton fell quickly behind her, the bed vibrating with her body’s shudders.

Weak, Ashton collapsed atop Scarlet, feeling strong arms immediately wrap around her as she caught her breath. Scarlet held her close, welcoming the weight of her as she wrapped her legs around the brunette’s waist, pulling her even tighter against her. Ashton held on, burying her face in the warmth of Scarlet’s neck.

“That was incredible,” she murmured, leaving a soft kiss before raising her head and looking down at the very satisfied-looking Scarlet.

You’re incredible,” the blonde said, placing an almost chaste peck on soft lips.

As they lay there- eventually Ashton carefully pulling out and removing the harness- Scarlet rested peacefully in Ashton’s arms, neither speaking. There was nothing to say. The phone on the bedside table rang, a strange two-ring burst, indicative that it was an internal call.

Ashton grabbed the handset, bringing it to her ear. “Yes, Arnold?” She listened. “Okay. We’ll be down in a few minutes.” Hanging up the phone, she placed a kiss on Scarlet’s forehead. “There’s an officer here to speak to you, baby,” she said, hugging the blonde close before letting her go and both climbing off the bed.

Scarlet followed the trail that was her clothing, glancing toward the bank of monitors in the corner of the huge room as she dressed. She saw a squad car at the gate, waiting for the wrought iron to fully open. He glanced at the camera for a split second, making Scarlet’s breath catch. Something inside her froze at the familiarity she saw. Something, someone… She couldn’t remember who he was, or why she knew she’d seen him.

“Everything okay?” Ashton asked, stepping up behind her and wrapping her in a tight embrace.

Scarlet nodded, unable to take her eyes off the car as it drove onto the King property.


Arnold was just opening the front door when Ashton and Scarlet arrived at the bottom of the stairs. He was dressed in uniform, dark hair neatly combed. His dark eyes- black as coal- found the two women.

“Ladies, I’m Officer Derrick Wayne. I’ve come to speak with Miss Reed about the incident at her apartment tonight.”

“Of course,” Ashton said, “Follow me.” She led them into the living room

Scarlet couldn’t help feeling extremely fidgety, sweat beginning to make her palms sticky. She watched as the officer took a seat, pulling out a notepad and pen. He uncapped it, gracing them both with a smile.

“I don’t mean to be rude, Officer Wayne,” Ashton said, “but wasn’t it decided that Miss Reed would be heading into the station in the morning?” she glanced at her watch. “It’s awfully late.” She felt Scarlet almost pressed against her side, and could tell the smaller woman was trembling.

“Oh, well, I figured we could just take care of a few things now,” the man said, a wide smile spreading across a handsome face, though Ashton noticed it didn’t reach his eyes. For some reason, she began to feel a bit nervous.

“We’ll make some coffee to help warm you up on this cold night,” Scarlet offered, grabbing Ashton’s hand.


“Has gone to bed for the night,” the blonde said, giving Ashton a look that begged no argument. Ashton read something in the green eyes that made her blood freeze. She nodded, then turned back to their guest.

“Be right back.”

In the kitchen, Scarlet turned to face Ashton, her face pale. “That guy scares me, Ashton. Something about him. I’ve seen him somewhere…” she trailed off, lost in thought and memory. She paled even more. “Oh my god.”


“He was at the club. The night it was bombed. I remember seeing him on the sidewalk.”

“Scarlet, honey he’s a cop. Of course he was there-“

“He was in jeans, Ashton!” Scarlet hissed.

“What are you thinking?” Ashton asked, voice steady and calm. She felt a stab of fear in her gut.

“Everything alright, ladies?”

They both turned to see Officer Wayne standing in the opened galley door of the kitchen. He eyed them both, hand resting casually on the butt of his service revolver.

“Everything’s great, Officer. Why don’t you go have a seat and we’ll be with you in a few minutes.”

“Nah, I think I’ll just hang around. No reason to waste anymore time than necessary. While you make coffee, Miss Reed and I will talk.” He flashed a smile at both women. “After all, we wouldn’t want this to turn into an explosive situation, now would we?”

Scarlet felt absolute terror fill her as she started into those impenetrable eyes. “What would you like to know?” she asked, mentally slapping herself on the back for managing to keep her voice steady.

“I’d like to know what you saw tonight? What scared you bad enough to make you turn tail and run to your friend, here,” he motioned toward Ashton, who was making coffee, doing her best to keep her hands from shaking.

“I-“ Scarlet cut herself off, her mind turning quickly in her head. “Nothing,” she lied. “I guess I was just spooked after everything that’s happened at the club, and with my co-workers.”

Officer Wayne took a step further into the room, casual and leisurely. “Why are you lying to me, Miss Reed?” he asked, voice soft. He stared into wide green eyes. “See, I read the report you gave to the goodly detective earlier tonight.

“If you’ve already read the report, then why are you here? Asking Scarlet the same questions?” Ashton asked, turning away from the counter. Her mind was already racing, trying to remember where any sort of weapon in the house would be.

“Because I want to hear it from her. I want to know what she thinks. So, on that note, Miss King, it would be wise if you stayed out of an official investigation.” Again, his hand came to rest on his holstered piece.

“I don’t appreciate people coming into my house, Officer Wayne, threatening me, police or not. I think you should leave now, and allow Miss Reed to go to the station in the morning, as was already planned.” Ashton’s voice was deadly calm, the storms brewing in her eyes.

“I don’t really care what you think, Miss King. Be careful, however, or I will arrest you for obstruction of justice.”

Without taking her eyes off the officer, Ashton grabbed hold of Scarlet, giving her a hard shove toward the door that led to the dining room, on the opposite wall of where Officer Wayne was. “Get out of here, Scarlet,” she hissed.

“No. Not without-“ Scarlet had no choice as she was shoved again, this time flying through the door.

The man glared at Ashton. “That was a really stupid thing to do,” he growled. “That whore will die, just like the rest of her friends.” He grinned, looking Ashton up and down. “You, on the other hand, we might be able to work something out.”

The words were no more out of his mouth before he found an entire pot of hot coffee thrown at him. He screamed, trying desperately to get the hot liquid off his skin. When he opened his eyes, he found himself alone in the kitchen.

“Fucking bitch,” he snarled. “Now you die, too.”

Ashton ran into Scarlet as the blonde ran toward the living room, both standing in the front hall, just beyond the entryway. She caught her arm. “We’ve got to get out of here. He’s the killer, Scarlet.”

“I know. Come on, let’s get-“

Before she could finish her sentence, a vase near her head exploded, sending shards of priceless glass raining around them.

“Shit. Run!” The shots were coming from near the entryway, which left the front door out. The only other way to go was toward the back of the house, which would leave them trapped. “Upstairs.”

Scarlet took off at a dead run, followed by Ashton. She knew the maze of the upper floors would leave the officer confused, and would give them a chance to get away, as he tried to figure out which room they hid. More shots were fired, wood from the banister splintering.

Reaching the top of the stairs, Ashton grabbed Scarlet’s hand, tugging her wordlessly down the hall to the fourth door they found. The gunman’s thundering steps could be heard on the stairs.

Hurrying inside the room, Ashton closed the door as quietly as she could, looking back around to see where they were. She had taken them to her father’s old upstairs office, hoping against hope that he had some of his gun collection still in the room. No reason to ever enter the office, she hadn’t been inside for years. The room was near pitch black, heavy curtains hiding the large windows to keep the room warm.

Ashton grabbed Scarlet’s shoulders. “Find a place to hide,” she whispered urgently. “I’m going to see if my father’s guns are still in here.

Scarlet nodded, holding fast to the brunette’s arms. “Hurry,” she said, near frantic. She grabbed the taller woman and kissed her hard on the mouth, then disappeared into the darkness of the large room, trying to feel her way to some place safe. She found a closet, arms out in front of her, trying to see what was inside. She felt nothing dangerous, or that could hinder her entrance. Standing inside the door, she flinched, able to hear the man out in the hall, doors opening and slamming shut. Squeezing her eyes closed, she silently prayed for help and for Ashton to join her quickly.

Ashton wished she could turn a light on, but knew she couldn’t dare chance it. Her heart was pounding as she heard the officer get closer to the room they were hiding in. She wished the walls weren’t so well insulated, as it was hard to hear what was going on outside the wood-paneled room.

From years old memory, she was trying to remember the layout of the home office, her fingers shaking as they trailed over the desk in the corner. Her father used to keep an antique pistol in the third drawer down, always loaded. With any luck, it was still there. She nearly danced for joy when her fingers came across the cold metal.

“Now, is it loaded?” she murmured. Glancing at the door, she quickly turned on the Tiffany lamp on the desktop, checking the status of the pistol. Her heart sank when she saw it was empty. “Shit.”

Scarlet’s hand came down on something very cold and hard. She felt along the long, smooth barrel, gasping when she realized it was a gun- a shotgun. She remembered going target shooting with her father when she was younger, and quickly assessed the gun, finding it empty. Her hands continued to search along in the closet, looking desperately for ammunition.

Ashton was just about to turn the lamp off when the door slammed open. The brunette gasped when for a split second she saw the bulking shadow in the doorway, the Tiffany lamp not able to cast a large enough shadow. She fell with a racing heart when a shot rang out, a framed degree exploding behind her head. Ridding the cop of the advantage, she unplugged the lamp while on the floor, leaving the office, and both of them in complete darkness again. She still had the gun in her hand, though now it was just a very old paper weight.

She wracked her brain, trying to decide what to do, even as she was on the move again. She heard a small cry as another flash of light briefly lit the room, something else- no doubt priceless- exploding near where Ashton had just been. She tried to listen above the sound of her pounding heart, trying to figure out where the gunman was. It sounded like he was standing near the two leather chair, set in front of the massive fireplace.

Riding on a hunch and a chance, Ashton rose to her knees, peering through the darkness, which her eyes had started to adjust to. She could see a dark shape. She raised her arm and grunted as she threw as hard as she could. The sharp cry made her grin, as did the sound of something hard hitting the ground. Two hard somethings. Taking a chance that he had dropped his own gun, Ashton flung herself in that direction, coming into solid contact with Officer Wayne.

Scarlet was nearly hyperventilating ass she found a dozen or more ammo boxes. She was trying desperately to figure out what type of gun the various shells went to, while listening to the struggle outside of her hiding place. She heard a thug and Ashton cry out.

“Shit, oh shit, oh shit,” Scarlet cried, crying out again as she dropped a handful of shells.

Ashton tried to shake off the stars she was seeing after her head was pounded into the thick Oriental rug beneath them. She felt the gunmen coming back over to her, and lashed out, shoving her foot as hard as she could, at whatever it came into contact with, first. She heard a satisfying crunch and cry, then a thud. While she had a moment, Ashton scrambled around on the floor with her hands, looking for either weapon.

Scarlet had opened the closet door, and was watching as she loaded the gun, her eyes adjusted to the darkness enough to see that Ashton was in serious trouble. It would have been comical had the situation been anything, or anyone else. Both- Ashton and the cop- were searching on hands and knees, almost as though someone had lost a contact lens.

The blonde raised the shotgun, the long barrel pointed at Officer Wayne. She squeezed one eye shut, concentrating on him. She gasped when she heard his victorious cry, then the cocking of a gun as he pointed something at Ashton.

Ashton cried out in shock at the loud crack that echoed in her ears, followed by a loud thud nearby. She jumped probably three feet to her right, instinctively trying to get away from the sound. She heard loud panting, and glanced over, seeing Scarlet standing near the closet door, shotgun in hand, slowly being lowered.

Stunned and slightly shell shocked, Ashton got to her feet, flicking on the light switch by the door. What met her eyes made her stomach roil. Derrick Wayne lay sprawled, eyes looking sightlessly up at the ceiling. He had a hole in his upper chest, which was bleeding profusely, as well as his blood was splattered on the wall behind him.

Scarlet set the gun down and stumbled over to Ashton, dissolving in her arms. Sirens could be heard off in the distance.


Four years later…

Scarlet smiled, turning her head slightly as the soft lips continued to make a trail down her neck. She felt the soft, dark hair tickling the skin of her bared, upper chest. She groaned happily. “What a nice way to wake up,” she murmured, smiling at the soft chuckle.

“I agree,” Ashton said, placing one final kiss on her partner’s lips before resting her head on Scarlet’s shoulder, wrapping a protective arm across her middle. “Good morning, my little graduate.”

Scarlet grinned big, excitement and accomplishment sweeping through her. She caressed Ashton’s back as she stared up at the ceiling, picturing what it would be like to walk onto that stage later in the day and get her hard-won degree. “I couldn’t have done this without you, Ashton. For so many reasons.”

Ashton raised herself so her head rested on the palm of her hand, looking down at the gorgeous woman she loved with everything in her. As she studied the love-filled green eyes, she thought about the past four years, which had started the night they had been attacked in Ashton’s own home. The police had shown up, after Arnold’s frantic call, and had taken away the body of the rogue cop. Scarlet had struggled with the fact that she’d killed someone for a long time, but ultimately she’d lost herself in school, and allowed herself to boil it down to self defense in a nightmare.

It hadn’t taken Ashton nearly as long to convince Scarlet to move in with her as she thought it would. After the events of that night, she realized that she loved the blonde, and wanted to start a life with her. What- Ashton felt- had been the kicker was when she’d suggested moving Laurel into the house with them, as well, hiring a full-time nurse, as well as the best doctors in their field, to take care of the young woman. It had been difficult at first, Scarlet needing to make her independence known. Eventually they’d managed to fall into a comfortable, loving stride that worked for all involved. Ashton couldn’t ever remember being so happy.

“No, baby, you did it all on your own. Don’t ever try and give away credit for what you’ve accomplished.” The brunette leaned down, placing a light kiss on soft lips. “I’m so proud of you.”

Scarlet wrapped her arms around Ashton’s neck and pulled the older woman down on top of her, relishing the feel of naked skin on naked skin, both melting into the tight embrace. “I really love you, Ashton,” she whispered, cupping the brunette’s head in her hand. She accepted the long, passionate kiss.

“I love you, too.” Ashton intended to continue the kiss but stopped, glancing over at their closed bedroom door, hearing chaos in the hall beyond. Looking back at Scarlet, she saw the blonde shrug, then they both climbed off the bed, quickly dressing in jimmies and robes.

Scarlet was nearly bowled over by Laurel’s nurse. “Miss Reed!” the woman exclaimed, tears in her eyes. She grabbed Scarlet’s hand and nearly pulled the blonde off her feet as she dragged her toward her sister’s rooms.

Ashton quickly followed, torn between anger at the nurse’s behavior, worry, and curiosity.

Once the small parade had made into the outer room of Laurel’s suite, the stopped in the doorway of the bedroom, where the prone figure lay quietly. Scarlet’s heart was pounding in her chest, terrified of what she’d find. She never expected to see Laurel staring back at her. A hand came to her mouth, automatic tears in her eyes. She stared into those eyes, and saw life in them. They were focused and staring at her.

“Oh my god,” Ashton whispered, her hands on Scarlet’s hips, unable to look away. “Happy Graduation, sweetheart,” she breathed, her own voice choked up.



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