After the Darkness

by Lisa S

Disclaimers: This story contains violence, adult situations, and same sex relationships, which at times are graphic. If this is not suitable for you, please don't read any further.

All characters found in this story are the creation of JD Jenkins and are her property exclusively.

Feedback: I would love to hear what you think of this story. Please email me at and let me know what you think!

Author's Note: For anyone familiar with my stories, you might recognize these characters from my story "Shadows". While the characters and setting and some of the incidents may seem familiar, this story is not necessarily a prequel to that story. At this point, I am playing around with how the two stories will fit together, and as a result one or both stories may be altered at some point. Also, this story takes place in one of my all time favorite towns, Madison Wisconsin. Most of the places mentioned are factual, but some are not, created for the purpose of this story. I hope all this rambling makes sense!

Dedication: I want to thank my beautiful partner in life for never letting me give up on myself. This story, as with all creativity that comes from me, is dedicated to her. Thank you sweetheart.

Darkness. It consumes you. A cover of shadows creates a new world where evil and good are muddled, lines are gray. A myriad of deceit, immorality, and corruption fill the shadow and take away even the slightest hint of innocence. It is in the darkness that death and life are intermixed, and every breath is a gamble. Plagued with nightmare demons, the darkness strips all its inhabitants of humanity, sucking out any traces of goodness, and keeps you like a puppet, under its control. A living horror, it will take you whole and leave you broken.

There are few chances out of the darkness. A precious few breaks in the shadows that are only visible for a second in time. An escape that is not a release. Once through the break, back into the light, a fight ensues. The darkness doesn't want to let go, but the light is so welcoming, your body, mind, and soul fight an eternal battle. Like a drug, the darkness calls to you, tempting you, reminding you of how easy it was to give up your soul for the treasures of evil and sin.

It's after the darkness that the real test begins.


The sailboats skipped over the water, seeming to defy the gravity as they leaned and tilted toward the water. Bright colored sails filled the horizon, dotting the dark blue-green water. Ducks floated by, quacking at the people on the terrace, hoping for food from the dozens of people gathered around the tables, talking and laughing. The bright orb of the sun shone down on everything, lighting the water and the sails, as though someone was shinning a giant spotlight on Lake Mendota.

One woman sat by herself, just observing the people around her, her eyes skipping around, sometimes focusing on the various boats on the lake. In one hand she held a waffle ice cream cone, her tongue frequently snaking out and licking at the quickly melting ice cream. All around her, people were oblivious to the tumultuous thoughts that churned within her, upsetting the perfection of the day. As she watched and thought, a drop of ice cream fell slowly from the cone, landing on her thumb. She quickly brought her mouth to her thumb, licking up the fallen drop of ice cream, savoring the sweet flavor that Babcock Dairy was famous for.

Lifting her other hand, she swept back her shoulder length hair, unaware of the way the sun played with her the dark locks, creating a glowing halo. Her ice blue eyes caught sight of someone heading toward her. She looked up, focusing on the approaching figure, not recognizing the person, but reading the intention. The approaching woman gave her a quick smile.

"Hi, I was wondering, are you using all of those chairs?" The new woman gestured to the three empty chairs that were crowded around her metal table.

"No, take them," the woman replied, her eyes moving from the new woman, continuing to glance around.

"Thanks!" The woman grabbed two of the chairs and left.

"No problem," the dark haired woman said under her breath.

Time passed slowly as she finished her ice cream cone, finally eating the cone itself and then wiping her hands on a napkin. The sun slowly began to drop, the brilliant sunset illuminating the sky with colors of gold, orange, purple and red. The lake reflected the horizon, creating a myriad of colors that stretched over the entire terrace.

"Hey, Jessie," a voice spoke from behind the woman, startling her.

"Hi Terri," Jessie replied, her voice cool and low, not showing any emotion at all. Quietly she berated herself for getting so wrapped up in the view. Letting someone sneak up on her was not usual. She felt naked to the world without her shoulder holster and Sig. It's almost enough to make me feel like I fit in here.

Terri looked at the seated woman, her eyes sparkling clearly with interest. "I didn't know that you came down here. Or is this a one time thing?" She bobbed her spiked head to encompass the Union Terrace.

"No, I come down here frequently." Jessie's reply didn't give anything away, which was her intent. She might have to work with this woman, but that wasn't a reason to reveal anything personal.

Taking the last chair at Jessie's table, Terri sat down, resting her elbows on the table and putting her chin in her hands so that she could have an unobstructed view of Jessie.

Why don't you just take a picture, it would last a helluva lot long, Jessie thought to herself, mildly uncomfortable at the looks she was receiving from the other woman.

"It's funny, I don't think I've seen you here before." Terri said, her gaze on Jessie never wavering. Oh, how she wished she could just stare at Jessie all day long. The woman was just plain gorgeous. With her dark shining black hair, and intense eyes the color of sapphires, she would never be called plain. But, add that to her perfectly balanced face, straight aquiline nose, and firm, square jaw, Jessie was beyond pretty or even beautiful. Terri had been trying to weeks to worm her way into a date with her co-worker, but hadn't had an ounce of success. Maybe tonight's my chance, she thought gleefully.

"I thought about heading over to Brothers for something to drink. Would you like to join me?" Terri's eyes sparkled hopefully. Maybe if she could get Jessie to the bar, she could then talk her into going for a walk someplace. Preferably someplace dark and deserted.

Avoiding Terri's piercing gaze, Jessie looked around the terrace. A band had begun to assemble and from the looks of the performers, the night air would soon be filled with the sounds of a rock group, more than likely some alternative variety. I could just go with her and get a drink. Nothing wrong with that. Doesn't mean I have to go home with her, right? Internally debating, Jessie's eyes settled on the now dark water. It had been awhile since she'd done anything as casual as getting a drink with someone. She deliberately avoided any socializing, not wanting or desiring anyone's company, happy in her solitude.

"Sure, why not," Jessie shrugged before standing up and stretching her long frame, ever more aware of the looks she was receiving from Terri.

Terri stood as well, a large smile on her face. "Great, let's go then."

The two women headed for the building which housed one of the student unions for the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

The heart of the UW rests near the state's capital building, separated by a long strip of stores, cafes, restaurants, bars, museums, and the Civic Center. All of these could be found on State Street, a street closed to most cars, where people could walk and shop and talk. During the warmer, and some of the colder months, students would sit outside on the benches that lined the street, talking and smoking, some getting out guitars and such for an improvised jam session on the open street. All of this area and more were known to Madisonians as "downtown". The area rested between two large lakes – Lake Mendota and Lake Menona.

The Memorial Union rested on the shores of Lake Mendota. Originally the building had been a war memorial for those who fought and died in World War I. It was now the center of recreational, social, and cultural activities on campus. Add to that the terrace and you had an area bustling with students, faculty, and the general public.

And it was the place Jessie went when she wanted to be the most alone, hiding among the crowd, finding solitude in being alone with all the people around. The most lonely place in the world was a crowd of strangers.


Brothers was unusually crowded for a Friday night. Boisterous voices were almost drowned out by the music, which made it less than ideal for pleasant conversation. This was fine with Jessie, conversation wasn't something she really wanted.

As she followed Terri to a seat, she chastised herself. Why am I here? She didn't particularly like Terri, so why had she agreed? She's not even my type, she thought while slipping into a booth Terri had picked. If I even have a type anymore.

"I'll get the first round, what'll it be?" Terri raised her voice to be heard above the steady stream of noise.

"Ah, Sam Adams," Jessie replied, trying to remember what Brothers normally had on tap.

"Be right back," Terri winked at her as she swiveled around, making her way to the bar.

Pulling out a pack of Marlboro Lights, Jessie searched her pockets for a lighter.

"Here." An arm extended toward her, a lit lighter in a beefy hand. Jessie put the end of her cigarette into the flame, inhaling, then pulled away.

"Thanks," she murmured, glancing at the man who'd made the gesture. He was very large, with broad shoulders, and a thick, short neck. His round face was reddened probably a combination of beer and the heat of the bar which was a result of the number of people present.

"No problem," he said, giving her a large smile before lumbering back to a group of similarly built friends. They snickered as he rejoined them, all of the glancing back at Jessie as they did.

"Gotta love straight bars," Jessie said under her breath, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Instead, she gave the group a sexy smile.

"Only gone a few minutes and you've already been picked up, huh?" Terri said as she put down two beers, the frothy liquid sloshing a bit at the impact. She slid into the other bench of the booth, giving Jessie a smile.

"Just innocent boys looking for fun." Jessie took a sip of the bitter liquid, savoring it as it slid down her throat. "Thanks," she said, gesturing to the cup Terri had brought her.

"Maybe we should have gone somewhere else." Terri eyed the group of men as they got louder and downing more beer. "I just wasn't sure..." She deliberately let the sentence drop as she tried to feel out Jessie.

"Yes, I'm gay." Jessie said simply, understanding completely what the other woman was getting at.

"You never can tell these days." Taking a drink of her beer, Terri looked at Jessie critically. "Do you have a girlfriend?"

Right to the point, huh Terri. Jessie hid her grin as Terri displayed a typical lesbian feeler. If they were single, they were fair game. "No, I don't have a girlfriend."

Terri's face definitely lifted at this bit of news, the corners of her mouth turning up as she gave Jessie a come hither look. "Have you always lived in Madison?"

Inwardly Jessie sighed. Here it came, the time to ask each other questions, and getting to know each other as much as they could in one night. "No. I grew up here, but left. Now I'm back." She carefully gave the information without committing to anything. It had only been six months since she left Chicago, since she'd run from her life. And every night since she left, the face of a young girl haunted her dreams.

"Why'd you come back." Continuing to probe, Terri wasn't going to give up. She wanted Jessie with every fiber of her body, knowing that it would be a sexual experience to write down in her journal.

Thinking about how to answer that question, Jessie felt a hand on her knee as Terri reached under the table to make contact with her. It had been so long for Jessie. So long since she'd let herself have that casual sexual encounter, that the contact immediately warmed her. "My mother lives here." She answered simply while trying not to focus on the thoughts of Terri's body, completely naked under her own. Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can just let go for tonight and let my body take over.

"So, do you live with your mother?" Terri quickly stood up and moved over to Jessie's side of the table, sitting down on the same booth. Her hand resumed its exploring, finding its way up Jessie's thigh, moving inward till it was at the crotch of Jessie's jeans.

I can't do this, Jessie thought sadly. She no longer wanted the one night stands, or quick loves. She was tired of playing that game, tired of the roller coaster ride. No, she'd rather be alone. "Maybe this wasn't a good idea..." She started to say, but then Terri's hand was there, pressing against her crotch, warming Jessie from the inside out.

"Oh come on," Terri said softly, in a low voice that Jessie supposed she thought was sexy. "Can't hurt anything. Two, single women. Come on back to my place." Her hand started moving, rubbing against the rough fabric of Jessie's jeans.

Actually contemplating this, Jessie became aware of another sound near them. It was a woman's voice. "I said, NO! Just leave me alone!" The woman was saying adamantly, her voice becoming more intense each time.

Both Terri and Jessie looked over their shoulders. The group that Jessie had dealt with earlier was cornering a young woman. They were leering at the woman as they closed in on her. One man grabbed a bit of the woman's reddish blonde hair and gave it a tug. The woman bit his large hand and then stomped on his foot.

"You little..." His had was raised and as he swung it around to make contact with the woman's face, it was stopped mid air.

"I don't recommend that, you asshole." Jessie growled at him as she held his hand in a firm grip. The man turned his anger to her, coming up with his other hand. She quickly caught the other one as well and using the limbs as a pivot point, whirled him around and pinned on of his arms behind his back.

He cried out as his arm was twisted painfully. "Come on guys, help me here!" He pleaded with his friends who were backing off.

"No man, I don't hit women. You're on your own," the man who'd lit Jessie's cigarette said, the others nodding their heads in agreement. "I'm sorry, we were just having fun. We didn't know he'd try something like that," he told Jessie.

Pushing against her hold on the large man, Jessie shoved him toward his friends. "Get him outta here before he gets me mad." They grabbed the man and dragged him out of the bar.

Taking deep breaths, Jessie tried to control her anger as it boiled very close to the surface. "Goddamn pig," she muttered heatedly.

She felt a hand on her arm and the anger seemed to lighten considerably, surprising her. Jessie turned and saw the blonde looking up at her with expansive green eyes. "Thank you," the woman said, a small, gentle smile forming on her face.

Jessie could only stare into the green eyes, finding herself falling deeply into them without her realizing it. The woman left her hand on her arm, her fingers gently moving on Jessie's skin. Her own eyes were still blazing with the blood stirring anger, but as the looked at the smaller woman, she saw no fear in those green eyes, only something else that she couldn't name.

"Jessie!" Terri yelled from behind her, trying to get the woman's attention.

This snapped Jessie out of her reverie. "Ah, you're welcome," she growled, looking down at the smaller woman. "Are you okay?" She ignored the sound of Terri's approach, only noticing the woman before her.

"Yeah." The woman's face scrunched up in distaste as she looked in the direction the men had gone in. "My name's Rowan," she said, sticking her hand out to shake Jessie's.

"I'm Jessie." She met Rowan's hand with her own. Her larger hand completely engulfed Rowan's smaller one. Just one of a thousand differences.

A wonderfully sweet smile was her reward as Rowan starred back at her without fear. The air around them was filled with electricity as they just stood there, anger and other emotions in the current. A whirlpool of thoughts ran through Jessie as an inner war seemed to rise within her.

"Hey, you done over here or what?" Terri said impatiently as she approached the two women.

"Sorry, didn't mean to take you away from your...friend." Rowan said politely as she removed her hand and arm. Her arms immediately went around herself as she realized what had happened. If Jessie hadn't come when she had, Rowan could only imagine what her fate would have been. She gave an involuntary shiver at the thought. As she remembered the look of dangerous anger that had been in Jessie's eyes she shivered again. While she should have been scared at such raw and powerful rage, she felt oddly comforted and safe.

Seeing the small shiver, Jessie's first instinct was to take the woman in her arms and shield her. Where the hell'd that come from??? She shook her head to clear her thoughts. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Um, yeah." Rowan nibbled on her lower lip, her eyes narrowing. "I think I'll just head home."

"Where do you live?"

"Over on East Dayton," Rowan said thinking about the walk home and shivering again.

"I'll walk you home, okay?" Jessie asked, not wanting to make the woman uncomfortable and not wanting to let her walk home alone. Those guys could still be out there, and Jessie didn't want to take the chance that Rowan would run into them again.

Rowan looked into Jessie's face, seeing the concern there. Why would she want to do that? Rowan thought to herself, studying the woman's beautiful face, which was framed by dark hair, providing the perfect background for the pair of brilliant blue eyes, which were in turn studying her. "That would be...great," she finished, really grateful that this woman would help her that way.

They both turned toward the door, only to be confronted by a very angry Terri. "What the hell is going on here Jessie? You're just going to leave here, with her?" Sneering at Rowan, Terri leaned forward till her face was right in front of Jessie's.

A low growl came from the back of Jessie's throat at this invasion of personal space. "Get. Out. Of. My. Way." She said slowly, in a menacing tone, biting off each word.

"Hey, look, I didn't mean to cause anyone any problems here." Rowan put her hands up in defense and started to leave.

Jessie gently grabbed hold of her arm, stopping her. Rowan turned, prepared to fight the bigger woman, but instead was caught in the warm eyes looking at her. "Please, I'd like to see you home," Jessie said gently, without any of the menace that had previously been in her voice.

Unable to do anything but look into those incredible eyes, Rowan merely nodded. Turning back to the third woman, Jessie's eyes grew cold. "I am leaving now," she spoke deliberately to Terri. "I don't owe you any explanations." She leaned over to the table they had occupied, grabbed her beer, and downed it quickly. Slamming the cup back down on the table, she looked at Terri while using her tongue to catch the drops of beer on her lips. "Thank you for the beer, now I'm going." Her hand curled around Rowan's small hand and with long strides she led the blonde out of the bar.

"Frigid bitch," Terri yelled as they walked out of the door.

Anger filled Jessie as they left. Taking a deep breath of the humid air, she slowly let it out as she walked. There was no way she'd let someone like Terri have any place in her emotions. She wasn't about to waste time on the woman.

"Jessie?" A timid voice came from behind the tall woman. Stopping, Jessie turned, realizing she still held Rowan's hand in her own. She dropped the woman's hand quickly. Rowan could feel the tension from the stranger, fear growing in her. Indescribably, she trusted this woman, but she didn't want any more confrontations tonight.

"Sorry about that," Jessie muttered, stuffing her hands in her jeans pocket. Looking at the smaller woman, she saw that Rowan was avoiding her gaze. Damn, probably scared the shit out of the kid, she realized suddenly.

"I didn't mean to cause you any problems." Troubled green eyes lifted to meet blue.

Giving the other woman a small smile, Jessie shook her head. "Don't worry. I should thank you for getting me away from her."

"Is she your...girlfriend?" Rowan asked shyly as they began to walk again down the street. To her surprise a gentle laughter came from the other woman at the question.

"Ah, no."

Rowan blushed as she realized that she might have been wrong about her initial observation. "Sorry, I just thought..."

Jessie waved a hand at her, dismissing her concern. "Nah, you were right about that. I'm sure she'd like to be my girlfriend, at least for a night." Jessie snorted softly.

"Not your type?" Rowan said, smiling up at her tall companion.

"Something like that," was the vague reply.

Silence fell between the two women. The night wasn't very old yet and the streets were filled with people milling about outside of bars and clubs, talking and laughing. The streetlights threw illuminating beams over some of the groups, making the others seem as though they were in deep shadows.

Rowan mentally shook her head. She couldn't believe how this night had ended up. First a friend of hers had stood her up, leaving her alone in a bar where she didn't know anyone. Then that guy had tried to pick her up, not taking her no for an answer. Then this woman stepped in. Quickly looking up at Jessie, Rowan felt her breath quicken slightly. Even from where she stood she could smell the perfume the woman wore, combined with the scent of clean clothes. A nice combination, she decided instantly.

Jessie didn't mind the silence, but she found herself trying to formulate questions to introduce new topics of conversation. She looked over at the smaller woman, catching glimpses of her face in the streetlights they passed. Rowan looked fairly young, probably early twenties. "Are you a student here?" She finally asked, amazed at herself.

Looking up startled at the voice, Rowan smiled to cover her embarrassment. "Not anymore. I'm an Assistant Professor in the English Department." Don't talk too much, Rowan, she told herself, very aware of her habit of talking more than necessary.

"Oh," Jessie looked up at the moon, noticing the first time the half orb that was glowing in the sky. Desperately, her mind tried to think of more questions to ask without seeming obvious.

"Uh, what about you?"

"Me? No, not a student."


The silence between them grew again as they both continued to walk, each deep in their own thoughts.

"Did you know that guy?" Jessie asked suddenly.

"At Brothers? No, I didn't. Apparently he wanted to get to know me, though." Rowan laughed lightly. "Not my type," she said, laughing louder now. Jessie joined in and soon they both had to stop to catch their breath.

Both women turned their heads toward each other at the same time, eyes catching, their laughter ending. Rowan had a sudden urge to wrap her arms around the other woman, but kept her arms at her side. Where did that come from? She frowned to herself.

"What's wrong?" Jessie asked softly, not taking her eyes from Rowan's, noticing the frown on the woman's face. Even the frown couldn't mar the younger woman's beauty.

"This is going to sound strange...but, do I know you from somewhere?" Talking fast in order to get it out, Rowan's eyebrows came together as she gazed up at Jessie. She felt a gnawing inside trying to convince her that she indeed knew this woman from somewhere. No, she would have remembered someone like Jessie, no doubt. So, why this strange feeling?

Raising a hand, Jessie found herself almost cupping the smaller woman's cheek in her hand. What was going on here? "I...I don't think so."

Shaking her head, Rowan smiled. "Oh well, I just feel like I know you from somewhere. Maybe it's the beer talking, I don't know." She started to walk again, wanting to get back to her comfortable home where she'd feel secure. That had to be why she was suddenly feeling strange. She was almost attacked, and this woman had rescued her. It was some kind of hero worship, or something.

Quickly following the other woman, Jessie wasn't going to let her out of her sight until she knew she was safe at home.

"Hey girls, wanna have some fun?" A high-pitched male voice came to them from the shadows of one of the doorways they passed. Jessie quickly looked and saw a young man sitting on the stoop, holding a joint in one hand and a beer in another. He winked at her as she looked, a hand beckoning her to join him.

"No thank you," Jessie answered, her hand going to Rowan's elbow, steering them both away from the doorway.

"Aw, come on. I'll share!" The man yelled after them, coming out of his doorway. Seeing that they weren't going to stop, he shrugged. "Your loss," he muttered before taking a hit off the joint.

"Is tonight the night for freaks?" Rowan mumbled, looking up at the moon. "It's not even a full moon or anything."

"No, it's worse than that."

"What? Did I miss some great big announcement that said it was freak night?"

"No, school starts on Monday. Everyone's having one last huge party before they start to study." Jessie grinned at Rowan, finally releasing the other woman's elbow.

Rowan's skin tingled from where Jessie had touched her, a warmth spreading from that one gesture. "I almost forgot."

"You? The professor? Almost forgot that classes were starting?" Jessie said incredulously. "I would think you'd have it inked on your brain."

Giving a small laugh, Rowan grinned up at Jessie. "Nah, I tend to put things like that out of my brain. Less to worry about if you forget it's coming!" She took a few more steps and then stopped.

"What's wrong?" Jessie asked, concerned by the look on Rowan's face.

Rowan groan softly. "Shit, classes start on Monday!" Seriously dismayed at the thought, Rowan was startled from her bout of misery by a deep, belly laugh. She turned and saw Jessie literally guffawing. "You think this is funny?" Putting her hands on her hips she watched as Jessie merely laughed harder. Rowan looked up at the half moon, her hands in the air. "She thinks this is funny?"

Breathing deeply, Jessie tried to catch her breath. "Oooo...sorry there."

Raising an eyebrow, Rowan just looked at the breathless woman. "How is that funny?"

"It wasn't what you said, it was..." Jessie hesitated. What had been so funny? What had made her laugh like that? Her belly ached pleasantly, a reminder of the force of the laugh. It wasn't what Rowan had said, or even how she said it. It had been the adorable look on her face that had caused Jessie to break up. "It was...ah, nothing, just a thought that went through my mind." She answered, trying to dismiss the thought that caught her off guard.

Stepping closer, Rowan peered into the other woman's face. "No, seriously, what was it?" She was curious. Everything about this woman intrigued her. She seemed so...unflappable. The laugh had been so genuine, so unexpected, and completely wonderful to hear.

Uncomfortably aware of Rowan's face turned up to her, she caught herself wondering what it would be like to quickly press her lips to hers, feeling the softness that she was sure she'd find there. In the light of the street lamp, Jessie saw Rowan's slightly upturned nose, her clear skin that was flushed slightly, and her deep green eyes which were perfectly framed by her eyebrows. It would be so easy to lean down and kiss her...

"Jessie?" Rowan asked softly, moving in a bit closer.

"Uh, what?" Her mind was completely blank. She turned quickly away, focusing her eyes somewhere else, needing to break the invisible spell, which was drawing her closer to Rowan.

"Why were you laughing?"

"The look...on your face. It was..." Jessie felt her face grow warm as she blushed slightly, "...cute." She finished, realizing that cute didn't even come close to describing what she had seen. Or what I felt, she realized. That was impossible. She wasn't looking to feel anything.

A definite reddish color grew over Rowan's face. "Oh," she grinned to herself. Cute, huh? I can handle that.

They stood there, looking at each other, both blushing and both unsure of what to say next. Finally, Jessie cleared her throat. "So, East Dayton Street, right?"

"Right," Rowan confirmed and they both started walking.

Finally, they reached a three-story house with a porch on front. The outside of the house was yellow with dark trim, very typical of the area. Most of the homes were converted into apartments for students, but this one had a nicer look, that of a real home. A wooden swing hung on one end of the porch, and comfortable patio furniture lined the rest.

"Do you live here alone?" Jessie asked, realizing that it might not be the best line of questioning. "Or, are you a renter?"

"No, I own it. I used to rent out one of the bedrooms, but didn't like dealing with people coming and going all hours of the night." Answering automatically, Rowan pulled out her keys and walked up the stairs in front. As she reached the door she noticed that Jessie had stayed back on the sidewalk. "Do you want to come in? For some coffee or something?" She wasn't ready to let this woman out of her sight just yet. Something inside of her wanted to get to know Jessie.

Looking at her watch, Jessie noticed that it was only 10 pm. The night was still fairly early. It was either go in with Rowan or go home and be alone. "Sure," she shrugged, slowly walking up the stairs. A shadow of something akin to grief had passed over Rowan's face just moments before and Jessie was left with a desperate urge to take it away from her. Something, or someone, had hurt Rowan in the past and the mere idea caused her to seethe in anger.

"Great!" Rowan gave her a smile before turning around and unlocking the front door. The shadow was gone, and Jessie decided to leave it alone for now. Rowan opened the door and gestured for Jessie to enter. After the taller woman had cleared the door, Rowan shut it behind her, flipping a switch by the door.

The room now illuminated with light, Jessie looked around curiously. They were obviously in the living room. It had a comfortable, lived in look, but she saw that everything was clean and orderly. Most of the room was in blues, a large couch taking up one entire wall and a small TV in one corner. Pictures of various people covered the walls as well as a few colorful prints. A recliner sat in another corner, and sitting in the recliner was a large cat. The cat rose with a plaintive cry, giving its owner a look of desperation.

"Tigg, you're not dying." Rowan admonished to the cat. The cat gave a small murmur of disagreement, standing and stretching its long body. It was a gray and white-stripped cat; its markings making it look like a small minx. Intelligent gray eyes looked up at Jessie expectantly. "Oh. Jessie, this is Tigger. Tigger, this is my new friend Jessie." The cat seemed to nod his head in acknowledgment.

Jessie, used to the quirks of cats, smiled. "Hello Tigger," she returned the greeting. Seeming to be content with that, the cat looked back at its owner, crying out again for attention.

"As you can see, he's spoiled." Rowan explained. "What would you prefer? Coffee, tea, beer? A soda?" She headed toward a doorway, talking over her shoulder to Jessie.

"Um, whatever you're going to have is fine," Jessie replied, staying where she was.

"Make yourself comfortable, I'll be right back." Rowan disappeared through the doorway, leaving the cat and stranger in the living room.

Knowing that moving the cat would be a bad idea, Jessie settled on the couch. How the hell did I get here again? She asked herself now that she was alone. This was no something she'd normally do. So what had possessed her to come here? As she thought, Rowan came back through the doorway, carrying two steaming mugs. Seeing the soft smile on the other woman's face, Jessie suddenly realized that she knew the answer to her questions. She was there because of Rowan. Simple as that.

"Here," Rowan handed Jessie one of the mugs before sitting next to her on the couch. "Hot chocolate," she explained to the other woman who was looking at the mug curiously.

"Ah," was all Jessie said before taking a sip. Not much of a chocolate fan, she was surprised at how perfect the drink seemed. Taking another sip, she savored the sweet flavor and the warmth in her mouth.

"So, do you always go around helping women in bars?" Rowan had no idea what to talk about. Their conversation on the way to her house was strained. And now here they were sitting in her living room, warranting more conversation.

Ducking her head, Jessie grinned. "No, not something I usually do."

"Am I your first damsel in distress than?"

"I guess you could say that."

"Do you live in Madison?" Rowan continued to try to draw the older woman into conversation.

"Yes." She knew that she needed to be more complete with her answers, so she volunteered some information. "I live above my mother's store on State Street."

"Which store?"

"Shakespeare's Closet."

"Oh! You're mother's Anne?"

Blinking in surprise, Jessie starred at Rowan. "Yeah. How'd you know that?"

Laughing at Jessie's puzzlement, the blonde was more than happy to explain. "I'm just one of your mother's regular customers. Best bookstore downtown, if you ask me. Do you work there? I don't think I've seen you there before." She didn't add the fact that she would have remembered the tall, dark haired woman.

"I help out there sometimes, but I don't officially work there. I work at the P-Plus office down here." P-Plus was Physician's Plus, one of the health organizations which filled Madison and the surrounding area.

"Are you a doctor?"

It was Jessie's turn to laugh lightly. "No, unfortunately not." She shook her head. "I work in the Human Resources Department."

They continued to make conversation, each of them taking turns asking questions and answering them. They're mugs lay discarded on the coffee table in front of the couch, time forgotten. Finally, Jessie took a glance at her watch. It read 2:08 am.

"Oh shit," Jessie said, standing up. "I'd better get going."

Rowan grabbed Jessie's wrist and looked at the watch herself. "Holy shit!" She echoed, not understanding how that much time had passed. Getting up as well, Rowan looked up at Jessie. "Uh, thanks again. I really appreciate all that you did tonight."

Giving the other woman a self-depreciating smile, Jessie looked back. "You're welcome." They stood there for a minute, neither one looking away. "Well, I guess I'd better go."

Nodding, Rowan walked with her toward the door. "Be careful, okay?"

"I will."

Watching as Jessie opened the door and started to leave, Rowan grabbed for the last ounce of her confidence. She put a hand on Jessie's shoulder. Turning around, Jessie was shocked when she felt a warm pair of lips brush against her own. "Bye," Rowan said her voice husky.

"Bye." Jessie smiled to herself as she closed the door behind her. She was right. Rowan's lips were soft.


It was the same dream as always. Jessie dream eyes watched herself. She was dressed in a black pant suit, which hung on her body in a familiar way, tight against the curves of her body, but loose enough for her to move with ease. With her were three men, all of which watched her with reverent admiration as she held a gun to the temple of a fourth man who was tied to a chair. They were in an empty room, dark except for an overhead light which wasn't strong enough to light the corners. Those darkened corners held more mystery than the scene itself, full of demons and sorrow ridden ghosts.

Even as she watched the scene, like a mysterious omniscient entity, she tried to warn her dream self. "Don't do it!" She tried to yell, but the woman in the suit didn't listen. The gun never wavered from the man's head, the long, strong hand holding it steadily.

"You know what your punishment should be," her dream self purred to the man tied to the chair. The woman smiled, not a pleasant smile, which seemed to evoke fear in everyone.

The man's eyes bulged out at her voice, his hands fought against the binds that held him tightly. "I didn't do it JB, I swear! It was Nick, I promise you!" The man's whimpering didn't seem to have any affect on the stoic woman.

"Don't worry about Nick. He's already been taken care of. Of course, when it was his time he ratted on you, saying that it was your fault the route was disrupted." As Jessie watched herself, the memories of the anger welled through her. She had been betrayed by this man, he had let something slip to an undercover cop about one of their more profitable drug routes. In the end, Jessie had had to appease many important clients on the East Coast, sacrificing her own reputation to make them happy.

As she remembered the anger, her conscious seemed to coalesce with her dream self, so that now they were one. She was standing in front of the man. She could see his fear in his eyes, smell the pungent odor of his fear-induced sweat. The handle of the gun weighed in her hand, the cool metal a reality check.

"Nick's been taken care of," she repeated before continuing. "All that's left now is taking care of loose ends." She moved the muzzle of the gun down the man's face in an almost caressing manner. "That would be you."

What occurred after that point happened so quickly that Jessie wasn't sure how it had happened. Something scampered out one of the dark corners. One of her men, out of fright, pulled his gun and shot three times into the corner. After the noise of the bullets being forced from the barrel had receded, all eyes turned to see a small form lying on the ground, a pool of dark blood growing around it.

"What the hell did you do!" She yelled as she moved away from the man in the chair. She rushed to the prone form and turned it over. It was a small girl. Her eyes were open in death, starring up at Jessie.

Turning to the man that had pulled the gun, Jessie swiftly was in front of him. Thoughts having escaped her, she was quick to shoot him, not even watching as his body fell heavily to the ground. "Goddamn fucking asshole," she yelled into the air, her scream reverberated off the dank walls of the room, echoing back at her.

Rushing back to the body of the girl, Jessie fell to the floor and took the girl's head in her hands. The face of the girl had changed. She shrank back in horror as it was now Rowan's face looking back at her. Rowan's green eyes had grown glassy in death and were now looking at her in such sorrow that Jessie could feel her heart break in two.

Tears streaming down her face, she leaned down and put her lips to Rowan's before lifting her own gun. Placing the muzzle against her temple, she starred at Rowan's face as she pulled the trigger.


"Hi Rowan!" A pleasant voice welcomed Rowan into the bookstore. The voice came from behind a tall bookshelf. Peeking behind, Rowan found the bookstore owner sitting on the wood floor re-arranging the shelves, a stack of books on the floor next to her.

"Hey Anne," Rowan greeted her warmly. She looked around at the nearly empty shop. "I'm surprised there aren't more people here," she commented.

"Ah," Anne waved a hand at her. "It's a lull. They come in waves." She stood up, stretching her petite body.

Now knowing that Anne was Jessie's mother, Rowan had to wonder where the dark haired woman got her height. Anne stood about five feet, three inches, her hair a rich blonde with gray strands interwoven. But, looking into the older woman's face, Rowan realized that she saw Jessie's brilliant blue eyes starring back at her, a little faded with age, but the same.

"How have you been, Rowan?" Anne asked, ignoring the fact that the other woman was starring into her face intently.

"Pretty good. Busy with classes and students." She wasn't sure whether or not she should mention the fact that she had met Jessie. Oh what the hell, she thought. Truthfully, she had come to Shakespeare's Closet in hopes of seeing the woman. "I met your daughter a few weeks ago." She laughed lightly seeing the surprise on Anne's face. "Actually, she came to my rescue."

"You met Jessie?" Anne seemed quite surprised about that.

"Yeah. She helped me out when some over exuberant college boys decided they wanted to have fun with me."

"I think they wanted more than that," a deep voice came from back. Both women turned around in surprise as Jessie came from the back room. Eyes twinkling, she winked at Rowan. "Nice to see you again."

Blushing slightly, Rowan nodded back in her direction. "You too."

The tall woman studied Rowan for a minute, a small smile forming on her face. It had only been two weeks since their first meeting, but Jessie found herself thinking about the blonde a lot. It was strange and disconcerting, but she had wanted to see her again without being too obvious.

"Are you playing hero again, Jess?" Anne grinned at her daughter.

"I wouldn't exactly say that mom." Not looking at Rowan, she put her hands in her jeans pocket, just standing there. "Just in the right place at the right time."

"Whatever it was, I will be forever grateful." Her voice soft, Rowan looked up at Jessie. Their eyes met as they had many times that fateful night, and Rowan felt herself instantly drawn into the woman's eyes.

Standing back, Anne smiled to herself. There was obvious chemistry between the two women, she could feel it from where she was standing. Rowan had been coming to her bookstore since her freshman year at the UW, and over the years Anne had grown very fond of her. Sometimes Rowan would come in and they would sit over coffee and talk about books and classes, and life in general.

One night, Rowan had come into the bookstore, her depression showing in her face. When Anne probed, Rowan told her that it was the third anniversary of her parents' death. That night Anne held the young woman in her arms, letting her cry in her pain, reminding Anne of her own daughter whom she hadn't seen in years.

Now here they both were, standing in front of her. To Anne it felt like a reunion of sorts. "So, Jess, what brings you here?" Anne turned to her daughter. "I don't have any new lesbian fiction in, so what could bring you here?"

"Can't a girl just come and see her mother?"

"Sure she can. Just curious that's all." She grinned up at her daughter.

Rowan watched the exchange with interest. She had always noticed how a lot of people acted much different with their parents than they did with their friends. Not Jessie. Very interesting, Rowan thought to herself, putting the memory away for a later time.

Anne turned her grin to Rowan. "And the book you ordered is in, Rowan." Turning toward the counter, Anne walked behind and reached for something underneath. Pulling out a hard cover book with a rubber band holding a piece of paper in place, Anne waved it in the air for Rowan to see.

"Great, I was really hoping it would be," Rowan walked over, pulling her knapsack off her shoulder. She hardly ever went anywhere without her knapsack. It contained everything that she thought would be essential in any situation. Digging around for a minute, she finally pulled out her wallet. "How much do I owe you?"

"Mmmm..." Anne flipped open the book, looking for the price on the jacket. "Never can find the prices. We'll say fifteen dollars."

Taking the book from Anne's hands, Rowan looked for herself, very clearly seeing the price listed. "More like $24.95?" Anne looked sheepishly at the woman across the counter. "Anne, I'm a paying customer just like everyone else."

Jessie had sauntered over to the counter by this time. She looked over Rowan's shoulder and saw the price herself. "Mom, she's got you there."

Looking very indignant, Anne put her hands on her hips. "Whose bookstore is this anyway? If I want to charge $15, then I'll charge $15!" She narrowed her eyes at the two women in front of her. "Do either of you have a problem with that?"

Rowan backed up a bit, pretending to be daunted by the look. "Geeze Jess, did you get that look a lot growing up?" She stage whispered to the woman behind her. Jessie hadn't backed up when Rowan had, causing Rowan's body to brush up against her.

Leaning down, Jessie put her mouth near Rowan's ear. "Yeah, if you think that's bad, you should see her when she's really angry," she whispered back.

Turning her head slightly so that she was looking at Jessie, Rowan's eyes got large. "You mean she gets even worse?"

Her eyes looking directly into Rowan's, Jessie nodded her head slightly. "Her face gets red and her voice gets really, really loud."

"Really?" Rowan had almost forgotten what they were talking about as she looked at Jessie. In fact, she'd forgotten all about Anne's presence until the older woman spoke up for herself.

"Very funny you two. Ha ha," the sarcasm heavy in her voice, Anne rang up the purchase on her register. "Fifteen dollars and ninety cents is your total."

Pulling out a twenty, Rowan handed it to her. "Keep the change. You deserve a tip for that performance!" She grinned at Anne, who knew she was beaten.

Jessie took a glance at the book that Rowan had purchased, surprised that she was familiar with the author. "J.D. Redmann, huh?" She remarked, as she picked up the book which was most definitely a lesbian novel. Granted, it was a mainstream publisher, but still, she hadn't picked up on any gaydar vibes when she was with Rowan.

"Yeah, I love Micky. She's so human, she's lovable." Rowan said enthusiastically, grateful to have something to discuss with the other woman.

"I don't think I've read this one yet," Jessie looked at her mom, her eyes narrowing. "You didn't tell me she had a new book out."

"Hey Jess?" Anne said.

"Yeah mom?"

"J.D. Redmann has a new book out."

Shaking her head, Jessie rolled her eyes. "Thanks mom, thanks so much."

"Always trying to be helpful," Anne replied cheerfully.

Turning to Rowan, Jessie ignored her mother's jokes. "Do you think Cordelia and Micky will still be together?" She referred to the book, Lost Daughters, which she still held in her hand.

"I hope so! I love them as a couple, don't you?"

"Yeah, I do." Jessie said quietly, thinking of her own love life or lack thereof. It was her choice to be single, to not be attached to anyone, and she was always happy with that. Why was she questioning it now?

Anne moved off to help another customer who had come through the door, leaving the two women alone.

"I don't suppose that she'll be able to have coffee with me today," Rowan remarked watching as Anne conversed with the customer.

Jessie felt that this was an opening for something. "I'm not the conversationalist that mom is, but if you want, we could go get coffee." She shrugged as though it was no big deal, when in fact her heart was pounding in her chest. When Rowan turned to her with a large smile on her face, Jessie didn't even hear her answer, instead she saw the delight in Rowan's eyes.

Saying goodbye to Anne, they headed out the door.

What Jessie hadn't counted on was that Terri would be having coffee at the same time. She'd run into the other woman at work a few times, both of them polite on the surface, but Jessie had sensed some kind of anger underneath it all. Why Terri was angry, she didn't know. It was like Jessie had given her indications that she was receptive to her advances. In fact, she'd done everything she could to discourage the woman. Yet Terri some how seemed to feel that Jessie had done something to slight her.

"Well, if it isn't my two favorite women," Terri's voice came sarcastically from across the crowded café. Both Jessie and Rowan turned from their cups to look at the woman. Terri's eyes were focused on them, blazing with something that indicated an unfriendly emotion. Ignoring the people around them, Terri moved in closer, circling the table the two women were at like she was stalking her prey. "And here I thought you two weren't aquatinted.

This was more than Jessie could handle. Her anger rose to match Terri's, a low rumble began in her chest. This woman would regret interrupting her time with Rowan. She swept her eyes over Terri's body then focused on her face. "It's absolutely none of your business." She said coolly.

Rowan watched it all, fear creeping up in her throat. She vaguely remembered the woman from Brother's, the way she had possessively tried to claim Jessie that night, only to be blown off by the tall woman. Looking at Jessie, she saw the blue eyes that had haunted her dreams turn a steely color, become cold. It was like she was looking at a complete stranger.

Focusing her anger at Rowan, Terri looked her up and down with, her eyes filled with hunger. "If I had known that this little one was of our persuasion, I would have taken her home that night." She brought her hand up and roughly brushed her knuckles against Rowan's cheek.

Rowan didn't even see Jessie move, but in the next instant, Jessie was standing, her hand holding Terri's wrist in a painful grip. "Why don't you leave?" She snarled in a low timbre.

Barking out a harsh laugh, Terri turned to Jessie, moving closer until her body was against the lean body she wanted so much. "Why don't you come with me?" She rubbed her body against Jessie's seductively.

"She's here with me," a quiet voice made the two women turn. Rowan was standing now, her body tensed for a confrontation.

Again, Terri turned to the smaller woman, her mouth quirked in a rakish grin. "You don't have any idea what you're doing, little girl. You're not woman enough to handle this one," she jerked her head in Jessie's direction. "So why don't you leave this to us?" She moved in close to Rowan. "Unless you want to join us, that is."

The anger that had been growing in Jessie suddenly boiled over. She felt it overwhelm her body, marring all control she had once possessed. Grabbing Terri's arm, she turned the woman around by force. Moving until she was nose to nose with the woman, Jessie looked down at her. "Leave. Her. Alone." A horrific rumbling sound came from her, making the room hum with her anger. "Or I'll throw you out of here myself."

Sensing that Jessie was serious Terri backed off. "You'll come to me when you realize that this little girl can't give you what you want. Then I'll make you pay for keeping me waiting." Turning on her heel, Terri stormed out of the coffeehouse.

Two sets of eyes watched her leave.

Breathing deeply, trying desperately to control her anger, Jessie closed her eyes and sat down heavily in her chair. She tried to force her body to relax, but found that she wanted to hit something in her anger, an outlet for the emotion that was controlling her.

Then, someone touched her. A warm hand was placed on her arm and her anger slowly dissipated. Reason and control began to come back to her and the red that she saw behind her eyes grew darker until it was black. Finally she opened her eyes and saw Rowan looking at her.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled, feeling ashamed at her display of anger. She knew better. By showing her anger to Terri, she had given the other woman control.

Not knowing what to say, Rowan merely moved her hand against Jessie's arm. Too many emotions were filling her, leaving her completely confused. The anger she had seen in Jessie scared her, and yet she knew instinctively that Jessie would never hurt her. "What does she want?" Rowan asked quietly, not completely understanding what had happened, only knowing that it now involved her.

A sharp laughter escaped from Jessie. "She wants to sleep with me."

"I figured that much, but why is she so persistent?" The anger she had sensed from Terri had to go beyond just sex.

"I guess she's not used to being told no." Shaking her head, Jessie smiled bitterly. "I'm not all that used to saying no either."

"Why did you say no then?" Rowan was curious. It was strange comment to make.

Because I met you. Because I wanted to change when I saw you. I didn't want her, I wanted you. She wanted to say that, she wanted to tell Rowan how she felt, but she couldn't tell her why. She didn't know herself why she felt that way. Instead, she said, "I just wasn't interested." She shrugged, taking a sip of her now cooled latte.

Somehow this disappointed Rowan. What had she expected? Jessie to say that she wanted her instead? She laughed to herself. Keep thinking that way, Rowan. She knew she would be fooling herself if she did. "Oh."

"I'd better get going," Jessie said standing. "I'll see you later, I guess." That was all she said as she walked out of the café, leaving Rowan sitting there alone.


Jessie opened the door to her apartment above her mother's bookstore. Gently she closed the door, making the decision to not take her anger out on a defenseless piece of wood. Once inside, she didn't turn the light on, she just sat down on the couch in her living room area. Elbows on her knees, she cradled her head in her hands, her entire body shaking.

Why was Rowan getting to her like this? Jessie had had plenty of women in her life. She would use them and then throw them away the next day, ready for the next one. In the last six months, she'd been alone. By choice. Her life had fallen in on her and she had come home to escape that life. Part of that former life was the different women in her bed, the conquest of sex. A fast paced, dangerous life, living on the edge, daring someone to push her over.

But, she'd left it. The life of a child was not worth all the thrills in the world. It had taken that brutal death to make her realize that she couldn't continue. It had broken her, left her realizing that she couldn't continue. Jessie Blackman left the days as Chicago drug lord behind. And now, she was trying to live a sedate life, dealing with the scars on her memory and dreams. Alone. It was simpler that way. No need to explain what she'd been doing with her life. No questions about her past.

Now she was actually contemplating letting someone into her world. How could she? How could she explain to someone like Rowan the things she had done in her past? How could she face her, seeing the disgust in her green eyes? How could she deal with the rejection?

"Yeah, sorry, I can't have a relationship with drug lord and murderer," Jessie said out loud, feeling for the first time how empty her apartment was with only her to fill the space. "Not that I could blame her." What had happened? Here she was, actually contemplating a relationship with a woman she'd only met twice.

"No!" She said bitterly out loud. "It's not going to happen, so I'm just going to forget about it!" She got up from the couch. She wasn't going to set herself up for something that wouldn't happen. Rowan could never love someone like her. Making herself realize that now would save a lot of anguish later. Kicking at a piece of paper on the floor of her living room, Jessie stormed into her bedroom.


Warming her hands on a cup of hot coffee, Rowan watched as Anne helped a customer find a copy of her favorite mystery author's newest book. She smiled to herself when Anne finally finished, plopping herself down in the chair next to Rowan.

Part of Shakespeare's Closet had been made a small cozy area with a coffee machine and plenty of Styrofoam cups. Rowan had come in an hour or so earlier, quickly making her purchases and settling into one of the plush chairs situated in the space. Anne would come over and join her when her attention wasn't needed elsewhere and the two of them would talk.

It was October and the infamous Wisconsin winter was pushing fiercely at Fall's door. The leaves had already fallen from the trees, leaving the wide flat land bare. Soon winter would be there if full form, covering the land in white snow and bitterly cold winds.

"So, how's Jessie been?" Rowan asked casually, taking a drink of coffee to keep herself from seeming too pushy. That was the main reason she'd come to the bookstore, she admitted to herself. Not that she didn't enjoy Anne or her company, but her true reason was less altruistic than merely paying a social call. She hadn't seen Jessie since the day at the coffee shop, even though she'd been in Anne's store as much as time permitted.

Sensing Rowan's attempt at appearing casual, Anne decided to go alone with that. She knew the young professor's real motive and she was secretly pleased. Her hopes of a romance between the two women hadn't seemed to be realized, but it was obvious that Rowan was interested. And she would swear that Jessie was too by the way her daughter kept asking about Rowan. "She's good. Busy. Her job and working at the women's shelter really keep her going."

Rowan's eyebrows came together as she looked at Anne. "Woman's shelter?" She asked curiously.

"She didn't tell you?" Anne wasn't as puzzled. "She doesn't really like to toot her own horn, so to speak. She volunteers at a woman's shelter here in town; mainly working on the hot line they have set up. A friend of hers runs it and she helps out there when ever she can."

"Wow, I didn't know that."

Shrugging, Anne took a sip of her own coffee, about to say something when the phone behind the counter rang. "Just a second," she said as she got up to answer the phone.

"Hello?" She paused, listening to whoever was on the other end. "Ohmygod, is she okay? Which hospital? Okay, I'll be right there." Anne quickly hung up the phone and reached for her jacket, which was hanging behind the counter. Looking to Rowan, her eyes showed fear. "Jessie's been taken to the hospital. I don't know what happened, but I need to get over there."

"I'll stay and close up," Rowan said quickly, her own fear level rising.

"Thank you," Anne handed her a set of keys. "Just get everyone out of here and lock up."

"Which hospital?"

"Meriter," she said, as she headed toward the door. "Come down when you've finished."

"I will," Rowan yelled as Anne left.


The hospital seemed quiet. Nothing like what Rowan was used to on TV. As she entered through the main entrance, she headed toward the main desk. "A friend of mine was brought in here. Jessie...Blackman?" She had to quickly remember Anne's last name, hoping that Jessie's was the same.

The volunteer behind the help desk typed something into her computer. "Blackman...she was admitted about an hour ago. She should still be down in the Emergency Room. Follow the red lines on the floor and you'll find that wing. You'll have to ask the desk down there." The woman pointed to a wing off to the left.

Blindly, Rowan saw the red lines on the floor and began walking. She seemed to be walking through a maze, rather like a rat. Finally, she saw two swinging doors with the words "Emergency Room" in large red letters. Walking through the doors she was surrounded by chaos. Everywhere she looked people were rushing around. This is more like TV, she thought immediately. Seeing a desk with two people standing behind it, Rowan walked in that direction. "Excuse me, I need to find my friend."

"Name?" The attendant didn't look up from her computer screen.

"Jessie Blackman."

"Are you family?" The woman's fingers flew over the keyboard, not pausing as she spoke.

"No," Rowan realized that she might not be allowed to see Jessie at all.

"Are you Rowan?"

"Yes." How did they know her name.

"Clip this to your clothing, keep it on at all times. Go through the doors to your right. She's in room 4." The attendant handed her a red visitor's tag.

Rowan took the tag, immediately clipping it to her sweatshirt and proceeding through the doors rather than asking questions.

The "rooms" were curtained off cubicles, beds in each one. Large letters were painted in black over each bed. All around phones rang, people were talking. Seeing room number one, Rowan followed till she found room 4. The curtain that opened to the center of the room was open. Anne sat on a chair by the bed in the cubical. In the bed was a form that Rowan thought she'd recognize anywhere.

A bandage covered half of Jessie's face from forehead to chin. Her normally tan skin was ashen white. The eye that was visible was closed. Rowan quickly sucked in some air, resisting the urge to run over and take Jessie's hand.

Hearing her, Anne turned around and saw the panicked look on Rowan's face. "She's okay."

Anne's voice was welcoming, encouraging Rowan to walk closer. She kept her eyes on Jessie's still face, noting the woman's rising and falling chest. Stopping beside Jessie's bed, Rowan finally gave in and clasped one of Jessie's hands in her own. "What happened?" She managed to ask in a choked whisper.

"I got stupid," a slightly muffled voice answered her. A blue opened, standing out almost violently against the pale face. The half of her mouth that wasn't covered by bandages lifted in a small smile. The hand that Rowan held clasped her own, giving it a squeeze. Looking over at her mother, Jessie spoke again. "Mom, can you tell her?" Talking hurt.

Rowan turned to Anne, waiting for the explanation. Smiling at the two women, Anne began to talk. "My daughter was doing her usual heroic deed for the day. A woman called into the shelter, afraid that her husband was going to kill her. Jess decided to take matter into her own hands and went to pick up the woman so that she could take her back to the shelter. Apparently the husband wasn't willing to let his wife leave. He answered the door with a shot gun in his hand."

"He shot you?" Rowan questioned, looking at Jessie. The dark haired woman only shook her head no.

"No, she managed to wrestle the gun from him, not realizing that he had a knife as well. He managed to cut her while they were fighting over it," Anne stood up and looked at her daughter fondly, a bit of sadness in her eyes as well. "The police were on their way. But you just couldn't wait for them, could you?" Her voice wasn't malice or biting. "My brave, foolish girl. What am I going to do with you?"

"You love me," Jessie said, her words slurred slightly as her eye drooped.

"Yes, I love you." Anne said softly as her daughter succumbed to the drugs the doctor's had given her.

Rowan kept her hold on Jessie's hand, unwilling to let go. "She going to be okay?" She asked Anne softly.

"Yeah, the doctors are going to put in some stitches as soon as they get a chance. They took x-rays of it to make sure that the knife hadn't hit the bone, but from what I've been told it hasn't. It'll scar, but that can be taken care of with plastic surgery." She watched her daughter sleep, a mixture of emotions flooding her body.

"What happened to the guy?"

"I don't know. Jessie said he tried to run when the police showed up. She was carted out of there pretty fast and didn't know if they'd caught the bastard." Now Anne's voice was filled with anger, surprising Rowan who'd never heard the older woman's tone be anything but pleasant.

"Mrs. Blackman?" A youngish woman in a lab coat, holding a file, came into the room. Anne nodded her head yes. "I'm Dr. Moser. We're going to take Jessica to the suture room and put the stitches in, then she'll be put into room 3841. You can go up to the third floor and wait for her there if you'd like." Two orderlies showed up behind the doctor, ready to wheel Jessie out.

"Thank you," Anne said, gathering her jacket and purse. "Rowan will you come with me?"

"I planned on it," Rowan answered.

As the orderlies prepared to take Jessie out of there, Anne leaned over and kissed Jessie's forehead. Together, Anne and Rowan left the room and headed for the elevators.


"Ms. Blackman?" A smooth looking man with dirty blonde hair that looked recently cut stood in Jessie's hospital room doorway. His faded blue eyes scanned the room with a professional air.

"That's me," she answered dryly, aware that he had to be police. She could normally spot them from a distance. Her life depended on that many times.

"Detective Michael Moore, Madison police." He held up his badge for a minute before returning it to the breast pocket of his shirt. "Can I ask you a few questions?"

"Sure, come on in." She pointed to a plastic chair sitting by the bed. "Make yourself at home." No point in alienating the local police force. That would come later when they discovered who she was. If they discovered who she was, she amended to herself.

The detective chose not to sit down, rather he stood at the end of her bed, his brown eyes starring at her intently. "Why did you allow yourself to be put in danger?" Was his first question.

Surprised, expecting to be asked to give a run down of what happened when, Jessie blinked at him. "Why did I allow it?" Her voice rose in disbelief. "Allow it?" She gave a brittle laugh. "I did not allow it, Detective Moore. The choice was taken from me the minute that asshole decided to threaten his wife's life." She returned his stare, unwilling to look away as her anger filled her.

Michael looked at Jessie in her hospital bed. He found himself respecting the woman's bravery, even though he thought it incredibly stupid. He studied the side of her face that wasn't covered in bandage, seeing the fine beauty in the facial structure, seeing the intense blue eye that glared back at him. "Did you know Mr..." he looked at the standard note pad in his hands, "Mr. Colston before this incident?"

"No," she said shortly, still angry at his attitude.

"Mrs. Colston?"

"No, I didn't know either of them. She called in, scared shitless that he was going to kill her. She gave me their address just before he grabbed the phone and started screaming into it." She shook her head in frustration. "I didn't even think about contacting the police, they wouldn't have gotten there in time. I got into my truck and headed over there." She remembered hearing Mrs. Colston's screaming even from the street. Neighbors were surely listening from behind closed doors. The sound of a gun discharging caused Jessie's pace to quicken to a run. "He opened the door with the gun in his hand. I was close enough, I got the gun away, but he pulled a knife, swinging at me." She didn't really need to finish. What happened was obvious. He'd cut her. By that time, the police, called by one of the hidden neighbors, arrived. "Did they get there in time?" Jessie asked quietly, her voice husky.

"No." Michael slowly shook his head and Jessie caught a glimpse of extreme sadness in his eyes. "She was dead before the EMTs could try to revive her. He'd shot her in the chest, point blank, with the shotgun. She didn't stand as chance."

Behind his words, Jessie finally got a glimpse of his humanity. Gone was the stiff mask that made him seem completely without feeling, leaving him completely vulnerable to Jessie's gaze. He doesn't even realize it, she concluded. There was no way he would reveal so much to someone he knew nothing about. Clearing her throat, she asked one more question. "Did you get him?" Her voice was softer this time as they both shared the grief of the loss of the woman who had died. Neither of them had known her, but they were both a part of her death now.

Lifting his head to look at Jessie, Michael's eyes hardened as he answered. "No, he got away."

They starred at each other, each of them silently vowing to find this man. He wouldn't be allowed to escape the punishment he deserved. Michael almost invisibly nodded his head in acknowledgment to the revenge he saw in Jessie's eyes. He hoped that he found Colston first, but he wouldn't do anything to prevent her from doing what she had to.

Taking a business card out of the inside pocket of his sport jacket, he laid in on the table. "Call me if you...remember...anything else. Or if you just want to go out for a cup of coffee or something." It was his silent invitation to share information.

Jessie nodded at him, her head feeling heavy. "It's time for you to leave Detective," Dr. Moser stood in the doorway, Jessie's chart in her hands. "The patient needs to rest."

Michael ducked his head, gave Jessie one last look, and left. There was no doubt in either of their minds that they'd be seeing each other again soon.


Rowan was incredibly nervous as she stepped off the elevator at the hospital. In one hand she held a small vase of tastefully arranged flowers. In the other hand, she clutched a small teddy bear. What had she been thinking? She inwardly shook her head, sighing with her own stupidity. Like Jessie was really the flowers-and-stuffed-animals type of woman. Her eyes shifted around the busy hospital hallway. Maybe she could ditch them before getting to Jessie's room.

"Rowan!" Too late Rowan realized as a familiar husky voice called out to her. Turning, she saw Jessie coming toward her. The bandage on Jessie's face had gotten smaller since Rowan had last seen her. One eye and one cheek were still covered with the white bandage, but her coloring had gotten better. A hospital gown hung off her shoulders, concealing little.

She even looks good in a hospital gown, Rowan thought. Involuntarily, she felt her chest warm as she looked at the taller woman. Really good.

"Are those for me?" Jessie's face lit up, making her look a lot like a kid at Christmas.

Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea, Rowan smiled at the other woman. "Yes," she said shyly, handing the flowers and bear to Jessie.

Taking the offered gifts, Jessie smelled the flowers, a soft smile forming on her lips. "Thank you," she said quietly.

They stood awkwardly in the hallway for a minute, neither one of them aware of the other people who passed by them, each absorbed in the presence of each other. Finally, Jessie spoke up. "I wanted to..." she hesitated, finding this harder than she thought it would be. "...thank you for coming to the hospital the other day. And for closing up the bookstore for mom." She looked at the floor for a moment before raising her eyes to meet Rowan's. "I really do appreciate it."

"I did what I could to help. I was just glad I was there at the time."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome," Rowan said quietly, a smile coming to her face. "Well, I don't want to bother you, so I'll just..." She gestured toward the elevators.

"No!" Jessie said quickly, lightly grabbing Rowan's hand with her own. "Please, stay. I'm about to go out of my mind with boredom here. Come on back to my room." Still holding the other woman's hand, she led her to her room. Jessie immediately perched on the bed, her legs hanging over the side of the high hospital bed. "Sit," she patted a place next to her.

Climbing onto the bed, Rowan took a position similar to Jessie's, her legs dangling off the bed. "How much longer are you going to be here?"

"Well, they want me to see a plastic surgeon here at the hospital about scarring. I guess they're keeping me to make sure I stay out of trouble." Actually, the knife had hit her cheekbone, causing fragments of bone to break loose. They wanted to keep her just to keep an eye on her.

"In that case, I brought you something else." Reaching into her ever-present book bag, Rowan pulled out a book.

"Hey! The new Mickey book!" She glanced at Rowan. "Is this your copy?"

"Yup. Read it already."

"Really? Damn, you read fast!" Jessie was honestly surprised. A quick reader herself, she never seemed to find the time to really read anymore.

"Well, it's a good book. Definitely sucks you in!" She flopped back onto the bed, closing her eyes. "So, it's your turn to read it."

Turning the book over in her hands, Jessie grinned. "Thanks." Out of the corner of her eye, she took in the sight of Rowan laying on her bed. Full lips tempted her, making her own lips tingle in response. Hands ached to reach out and touch Rowan, to draw her closer. It would be so easy, she thought, to just lift Rowan up and resettle her right on top of her. I'm gone. And again she looked at Rowan's face. And so is she, she thought as she realized that Rowan had fallen asleep. A gentle smile formed on Jessie's lips as she watched the other woman sleep, a calm spreading through her body. Something about Rowan did that for her. It calmed the stormy sea that was Jessie's normal life, making it all seem insignificant next to this kind-hearted woman.

A soft snore came from Rowan, causing Jessie to laugh silently. Too cute. Getting off the bed, Jessie carefully moved Rowan's body so that she was straightened out on the bed. The blonde didn't wake as she was moved, she just smiled in her sleep and murmured "I love you," before beginning to snore again.

"I love you," Jessie responded instantly, surprising herself. Oh well, it's true. Even if I don't know why, she reasoned. She leaned over the sleeping woman and kissed her forehead. Settling into the soft visitor's chair, Jessie opened the book and began to read, glancing at Rowan every few paragraphs.


In her dreams, Rowan felt hands touching her, knowing hands that caressed her body, exciting her. In response, her body writhed beneath whomever was touching her. Her own hands found purchase on a strong back covered in soft skin. While she couldn't name who was making love to her, it was someone completely familiar to her. Someone who knew exactly what she needed, what would drive her to the brink of ecstasy. Someone who touched Rowan's soul while also touching her body. As she strained to see who was over her, she saw two perfect breasts taunting her from above, swaying close to her mouth. Not even needed to think about it, Rowan pulled the body closer to her so that she could take a nipple in her mouth. A cry of pleasure came from the woman above her. "I love you," a familiar voice told her.

Just as her mind started to see through the cloud that kept her from the knowledge she sought, she felt a hand between her legs. Arching her hips, she silently begged to be entered and soon got what she wanted. As she climaxed, she released the breast she still held in her mouth, and screamed out a name.


"Jessie!" A husky voice called from the stark hospital bed, a strange but familiar quality in the cry.

Jessie, who had fallen asleep herself, roused out of her own dreams and went to the bed. She looked at Rowan's flushed face, and for an instant thought that that was what the woman would look like when being made love to. Trying to shake the thought from her head, she reached out and cupped Rowan's cheek. "Hey, Ro, wake up. It's only a dream." She repeated this over and over, until finally Rowan's eyelids moved to reveal two green eyes.

Rowan was startled to find herself in the vaguely familiar room, fully clothed, with Jessie standing over her. A wave of heat washed over her as she remembered her dream. It had been Jessie making love to her. The wetness between her legs indicated that she had definitely enjoyed the dream. Quickly she looked up at Jessie to see whether or not the woman knew anything. Jessie looked concerned, but nothing indicated that she had any idea of what Rowan had been dreaming of. Extremely embarrassed, she sat up in the bed. "What happened?" She said sleepily, rubbing at her eyes with both hands.

"You fell asleep."

"Why didn't you just wake me up?"

"You looked tired. I figured I'd let you sleep." Silently she added and you looked too cute to wake up.

"Jesus," Rowan mumbled. "I guess I was tired."

Jessie thought about telling Rowan what had awakened her, but looking at the flush that was still on Rowan's face, she decided that maybe now wasn't the time.

"Do you always let strange women sleep in your hospital bed?" Rowan tried to tease Jessie.

"You're not strange." Jessie got very serious suddenly. "I know you." She realized that she meant that on more than just one level. Something inside of her knew Rowan. Something had drawn her to Rowan from the very first. And even as she tried to fight it, she was getting closer and closer to the woman. Losing to herself.

Rowan didn't know how to respond to Jessie's sobriety. Ducking her head, she remained silent for a moment. "Hey, I'd better get going." She finally said. Her head was still clouded with sleep and her body was still burning from her dream. Fresh air would be good right now.

"Thanks for coming by and sleeping in my bed." Jessie grinned at her, letting Rowan know that she was being teased.

"Anytime," she blurted out. Shit Rowan, why don't you just throw yourself at her?

Not saying anything, Jessie just raised an eyebrow at the comment.

"Okay, well, give me a call when you get out of this place." Rowan hopped off the bed, and hurried out of the room before Jessie could reply.

"How about now?" Jessie whispered as the woman fled. With a sign she closed her eyes to get some much-needed sleep.


The nightmare that came while she slept was realistic in its colors and sharp, defined lines. It started out like most of them did, allowing her to watch her own figured. As usual she was dressed in black leather pants, a cropped black shirt that was tight over her chest and stomach, black boots and black leather coat. Her dark hair was whipping around her face and dark sunglasses hit her eyes. Instinctively she knew that under the coat she was carrying a gun, and that slipped between her leather boots and her skin was a knife that was razor sharp and easily accessible with practice.

This time she was standing on a street corner, surrounded by people who walked around her like she didn't exist. Peering into the faces of those passing, she recognized a few, but most she didn't know. All of them were pale, their faces full of pain, and their clothes hung on them like scarecrows. A bright sun shone down on the street, creating the surreal scene around her, which passed her by, not touching her.

"You!" Someone yelled from behind her and she heard screams going up from all around, people began to run in all directions.

Pivoting her body around, Jessie put her hand in her coat and firmly grasped her gun. Behind her stood Don Colston, the man who had killed his wife, the gun in his hand shining in the sun. Narrowing her eyes at him, she glared even though he couldn't see behind her sunglasses.

"Me?" She said with ease, a contrast to his sweating, red face and shaking gun filled hand.

"I've got something you want," he taunted, sneering at her.

Bored, Jessie yawned. "You think so?"

"Nick!" Colston yelled to someone in the crowd.

What the fuck was Nick doing here? Jessie wondered as she looked for the familiar face behind Colston.

He was there, and he was dragging someone behind him. Grinning in greeting, he jerked his hand, pulling his victim with savage ease. It was Rowan.

Sad, panic filled green eyes stared at her, Jessie's heart stopping painfully. She had led Rowan here. To this. If Rowan had never met Jessie then she would have never have been brought to the attention of the people who wanted to hurt her.

She had never let herself care before. She had never let anyone become a target because she knew that she would never be able to bear the loss of her heart.

Even as these thoughts ran through her mind, Colston quickly moved the gun so that it was no longer pointing at her, but now it was aimed at Rowan.

The gunshot woke Jessie out of her dream screaming. When she finally stopped screaming, her heart continued to race. Taking deep, even breaths, Jessie's mind was chanting it was only a dream over and over in a never-ending mantra.

Minutes past as she lay there trying to get herself under control. I have to protect her. I want to be with her, I want her in my life, but I can't let anything happen. I don't want her blood on my hands. But that was an excuse. If she'd been honest with herself she would realize that she needed to protect not Rowan, but her own heart.


"It doesn't look that bad," Rowan commented as she traced the heeling scar on Jessie's face with a feather light touch. Although the woman had only been let out of the hospital a week before, the vicious wound on her face was heeling very rapidly. Rowan had gone to the bookstore with the sole purpose of seeing her new friend who had finally been released from the hospital. She wasn't going to deny it, she was attracted to her and had hopes that they could have more than friendship. She'd seen spark of desire in the other woman's eyes at least once, and was willing to see if they could ignite that spark.

The touch to her face, while soft, was tickling the tall woman, causing her to both want to pull away and move in closer. Rowan didn't realize just how close she'd gotten to the other woman until her eyes shifted and she found herself staring at full, moist lips. Her eyes flickered up to catch sapphire eyes staring back at her and she could feel the desire from the other woman. Slowly, she leaned forward even more and gently placed her lips on Jessie's.

The kiss was hesitant, but sweet. Startled at first, Jessie didn't respond but it was only seconds before she felt the fire in her belly and the need in her soul. Consumed with the other woman her arms went around a small waist, pulling her forward. Rowan gladly nestled her body against Jessie's, feeling the hard muscle of her thighs and stomach as well as the soft fullness of her breasts. Moaning into the kiss, she gave herself completely to it, wanting it badly.

Even as she deepened the kiss, Jessie remembered her dreams. The nightmares that had taken on new meaning since she'd met the blonde-haired woman. She could get hurt, all because of me. Her inner voice disturbed her, causing her to pull away, breathlessly, from the kiss. She stared into Rowan's eyes, seeing the need and desire, feeling the heat between them.

"What are..." Anne came into the small store room where she'd seen Rowan and Jessie go, wondering what was taking her daughter so long to find the box of Harry Potter books. The electricity in the room was overwhelming as she could swear that she saw sparks emanate from one woman to the other. Swollen lips on both women were an indication of what had been taking so long and Anne could have kicked herself for interrupting.

Familiar eyes that were as blue as hers turned and looked at her, stunning her with the passion and turmoil she saw there. Gasping at the painful stare, she fumbled for an apology. "Sorry...customer asking...just wanted to see..." This is ridiculous! Anne told herself, realizing that there was no covering for what she'd interrupted. "I really need a copy of that book, Jess." Her voice soft, she didn't want to convey anything that could be perceived as negative.

As realization set in, a veil fell over the emotions that had been so prevalent in Jessie's eyes. "Sorry mom," was all she said as she moved from Rowan and found the box she'd originally set out to find. Handing the small box to her mother, she felt a pang in her chest.

She's almost lost control. If she had, she and Rowan would have gotten to a point where there would have been no returning. This was something she was sure of. She'd never experienced anything like this before now and it was overwhelming all of her senses, causing her to loose her mental balance. And she knew that if they proceeded in taking this further, it would be explosive. Their passions would meet and create a blackhole in their universe. It was frightening and exhilarating.

With bravado that she wasn't sure she actually had, she looked over at the smaller woman. Tumultuous green eyes looked back at her, filled with so much that Jessie almost gasped out loud. You don't understand Rowan! I can't do this. I can't let you in. I can't! I can't! I can't! It was with defeat that she said this to herself, realizing that she didn't have much hope. She had already started to give herself to this other woman. Her resolve was having trouble holding firm as her inner war continued to create havoc.

Tentatively, Rowan moved closer to the other woman, feeling that something was happening to her, but not sure how to approach it. Dammit, why did I kiss her? She wasn't ready for it. I hope I didn't blow it! Fear gripped at her, leaving her praying that Jessie wouldn't run.

"Jess?" Reaching out a tentative hand, Rowan hoped that she wouldn't be closed out.

"Yeah?" Blue eyes flashed at her with nonchalance. It was almost painful to see her attempt at pretending everything was normal.

"Nothing," Rowan said, her cheeks flushed a painfully bright red. "I have to go," she quickly turned and left the storeroom. Her embarrassment was too great to stay and suffer Jessie's coolness. Infused with confusion, she didn't even say goodbye to Anne on her way out.

Back in the storeroom, Jessie leaned her forehead against the cool wall. What had she just done?

By the time Rowan got home, she was in tears. What had happened? Had she read the signs wrong? Was Jessie not interested in her? Sitting down on the chair in her living room, she absently stroked Tiger, who had crawled into her lap. Her mind just couldn't grasp what had gone wrong.

The phone rang, interrupting her haze of confusion. Dumping the cat on the floor, she went to the phone, peering at the caller id before picking up. Just as she was about to answer she saw the name on the little box. Shakespeare's Closet. It was either Anne or...Rowan wasn't about to answer it, her voice mail could get it.

Sitting back down on the chair, her emotions continued their roller coaster ride as she replayed the scene earlier.

The phone rang again. Again, Rowan got up and checked it. Same as last time. "What? Do you think that I really want to talk to you after that?" She snorted in anger and stomped back to the chair. "You think that you can turn me on and off like a faucet? You think it's okay to play with my emotions like I don't matter? Well, you can't and it's not!"

A small part of her realized that she was probably being unfair. She'd clearly seen the confusion written clearly on Jessie's face. But, she was hurt. How was she supposed to be fair and rational when she was hurting so badly?

A third time the phone rang. "Goddammit!" She growled and picked the phone up. "I'm not here!" She shouted into the phone.

"You certainly seem there, my mistake." The voice was familiar, but it wasn't the voice she'd been expecting.

"Dena?" Rowan asked into the mouthpiece, feeling only slightly ashamed of her reaction.

"Not who you expected?" The other woman asked, hearing the strange quality in her friend's voice.

Laughing lightly, Rowan allowed herself to relax slightly. "No, sorry."

"S'okay. Everything alright?"

"Yeah, just having a bad day."

"Well then, I have a prospect for you that might cheer you up!" Dena sounded really excited, but Rowan was hesitant.

"And that would be?"

"A blind date!"

"No!" Rowan groaned. "Not another one!"

"Now, now, this one is not one of mine! Jamie found this one and thought of you right away." Jamie was Dena's girlfriend.

"Well, I have doubts about Jamie's taste. After all, she picked you, didn't she?"

"Ha ha, so very funny," came the dry reply. "Ten o'clock tonight, we'll pick you up."

It wouldn't hurt, Rowan guessed. It wasn't like she had any reason not to go. Maybe getting out would be just the thing for her. "Can you tell me where we're going at least?"

"Sure, The Foxhole. You game?"

"I'll be ready."

"Cool, bye!" And with that, Dena's voice was gone, replaced by dial tone. Gently, Rowan hung the phone back up.

Looking at the clock on the wall in her kitchen, she realized that she had more than 5 hours to get ready. Sighing, Rowan decided to go for a walk, hoping that time would pass quicker if she did. Picking up her coat from where she'd tossed it before, she felt the coat pocket for her keys and went out the front door, locking it carefully behind her.


Something was wrong here, desperately wrong. Anne watched her dark-haired daughter as she helped straighten shelves in the store. It was Friday night, which meant that Shakespeare's Closet was open until 10 P.M. State Street was always busy on Friday nights, despite the cold weather that was threatening to overcome Madison any day now. Winter was never pleasant in the Midwest, but that didn't stop people from shopping and relaxing on the weekends.

Looking at her watch, she sighed when she realized that they still had 5 hours till it would be time to close. That meant 5 hours of being with her now reticent daughter. Her attempts at getting answers from her daughter had been met with glares and hostile silence. After Rowan had stormed out of the store, Anne figured that intervention might be required.

"Jess?" Coming up her daughter in the History section, Anne somehow wasn't surprised to find Jessie near the war books.

Looking up, Jessie raised an eyebrow in silent question.

"Can I talk to you now?"

Sighing heavily, Jessie sat down on the small stool used to reach the higher shelves. "What do you want know?" Why fight a force as powerful as her mother? It was only another battle she would loose today.

"Why did Rowan leave here in such a hurry?"

Giving a humorless chuckle, Jessie held her head in her hands. "Because she kissed me."

Anne's first reaction was wide eyed. Then, in seconds, her eyes were slits and her brows came together in puzzlement. "Wait a minute. She left because SHE kissed YOU?"

"Yup. Next question?"

"Didn't you...want her to kiss you?" This was extremely confusing. She'd read the chemistry between the two women, she'd seen the energy between them. What was going on here?

"Yup. Next."

It was Anne's turn to give the raised eyebrow. "Don't be a smart ass Jessie."

Sighing again, Jessie rubbed at her eyes. "I'm sorry mom. I'm just...well, I don't know what I am, but it's not pleasant." Since the blonde had left, Jessie's body had felt the loss. Her heart ached, her stomach threatened to rebel, and her head pounded. Something had been taken away from her, something that she hadn't even realized that she'd gotten, but now that it was gone, the pain was evidence of its loss.

Sympathy filled Anne's face as she saw her daughter's obviously warring emotions. "I know I may be an old, straight woman, but why don't you give my ears a whirl? I promise to listen and don't only give advice when asked."

As she was waiting for the answer, the bell on the door signaled an incoming customer. "Listen, think about it. I'm here if you want to talk. Just come and find me," and with a pat on her daughter's knee, Anne left her alone with her thoughts.

The sound of Anne welcoming the new comer to the store was barely audible from where Jessie continued to sit, the books insulating her from too much noise. She didn't know how long she'd sat there, but finally, she got up and made her way to where the cash register was and where she knew that her mother would be waiting.

Sidling up to the counter, Jessie leaned back against the edge of the counter and looked at her mother, who just looked right back at her. "So..." she said, not sure where to start.

"The beginning is a good place honey."

And it all spilled out. Jessie told her about the nightmares she'd been having since moving back to Madison, about meeting Rowan and the new feelings she was having. She spoke of the fear of getting involved with the other woman.

"Mom, I think that I could real feel something...well, real with Rowan. But, I haven't been a saint and people are always going to be after me for the things that I have done. How can I even think about a relationship with her if I can't guarantee her safety?"

The pain in her daughter's familiar eyes was so deep that Anne could feel it emanating from her. "Does she know about your past?"

"No," was the reply. Jessie kept her head down, ashamed that she had done things in her past that could warrant such questions. "I didn't want to scare her off. I wanted a friend, but I should have known that first night that friendship was just the tip of the iceberg with her." Suddenly pounding her hand on the counter, Jessie's face contorted with anger. "Goddammit mom! She...she makes me feel so much. Good and bad, and I can't stand suddenly having these emotions and dreams only to know that I don't deserve them. And dammit, I feel pain when I think of her. My chest aches and I feel like I'm going to drown when I look into her eyes. How could I feel all of this?"

Now Anne looked at her daughter with understanding. "I think if you look at yourself deep enough you'll see how."

Jessie's face went blank as she thought. Then, she realized what her mother was saying and the color went out of her face. "No," she whispered. "It can't be possible, can it?"

"Yes, it can." Anne nodded with a small smile on her face. Her normally brilliant and quick-minded daughter was slow to see what was so obvious and Anne found it amusing. "You're in love sweetheart."


Flowers in hand, Jessie nervously approached Rowan's house. It was late, but she saw the light on in the living room. She'd been talking to her mother for hours, trying to reconcile these new feelings with her own fears of failing the other woman. Anne had helped her to see that the only way for things to work out would be for Jessie to give Rowan a chance to make her own decision. What Anne said wasn't fair was that Rowan didn't have all the information. She didn't know about Jessie's past, so her deck was only half full. In time, Jessie would have to tell her. Anne understood when her daughter said she wasn't ready yet, but that at some point, before things went too far, she'd tell her. Until then, she'd do the old fashion thing – she'd court her.

Knocking on the door, Jessie shuffled her feet waiting for Rowan to come. "Just a second!" A familiar voice called out.

Suddenly the door was opened and Jessie was face to face with a very surprised Rowan. "What are you doing here?"

"Um, I came to say I'm sorry?" Butterflies flew through Jessie's stomach with wild abandonment.

"Ummm..." Rowan looked over the taller woman's shoulder to the street, before turning back to Jessie. It was then that Jessie saw that Rowan was dressed up and had her coat on.

"I'm sorry, I came at a bad time," she said hastily, thrusting the flowers at Rowan and turning to leave.

"No!" Despite all her anger and hurt, Rowan didn't want the woman to leave. "Come back Jessie."

Slowly, the dark-haired woman turned around and looked at Rowan. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, come in."

They both went into the house with Jessie closing the door after them. Suddenly shy, Jessie didn't know what to say to the woman. They sat down together on the couch, each taking a different end. Picking up one of the throw pillows, Jessie played with the fringed ends, not able to look at Rowan.

"So?" The smaller woman couldn't help herself. She came here, that doesn't mean that I have to make it easy on her.

"I'm sorry for the way I acted." She looked shyly up. "I don't want you to think that it's you or anything. I...I have some things I need to work through."

Rowan nodded, still not feeling much better than she had before, but at least Jessie had made the effort to come all this way and talk to her.

Another knock on the front door halted the conversation. Rowan got up and opened the door. There stood a striking woman of average height with short blonde hair and wire rimmed glass covering her chocolate brown eyes. She gave Rowan a charming smile. "Hi, my name's Mandy. Jamie and Dena are out in the car. Are you ready to go?"

An instant welling of jealousy filled Jessie when she saw the other woman. Rowan smiled back at Mandy and ushered her inside, poking her head out and signaling to the waiting car that they'd only be a minute. "Come on in, I just need to get my coat back on. I'm Rowan, obviously."

Mandy again smiled at her. She started looking around the room when she saw Jessie sitting on the couch. Her eyes narrowed at the other woman, a reaction that was not lost on Rowan. "This is my friend Jessie. Jessie, meet Mandy."

Rising from her position on the couch, Jessie shook hands with the other woman, trying hard not to throw the woman through a window. Mandy gave Jessie a slow once over and then flashed her an interested smile. "Very, very nice to meet you...Jessie." Her hand lingered a little longer than necessary as she studied the gorgeous woman in front of her.

Maybe they'd want a three-some? Mandy thought evilly to herself. Looking back at Rowan she couldn't help but take in the beauty of the blonde, watching her tight muscles move under her shirt as she put her coat back on. Stepping toward her, Mandy reached out and helped Rowan find the sleeve of her coat.

"Thank you," Rowan said with a smile, while Jessie shot daggers of death from her eyes. She could tell that Mandy was not the nice girl that she seemed to be. There was something about her that Jessie didn't trust and she sure as hell didn't like her being near Rowan.

"My pleasure," was Mandy's reply as she gave her a sensual smile. "Are you...both coming with me...I mean, with us tonight?"

Jessie caught the slip and immediately understood the subtle question. "Jessie, do you want to come?" Rowan asked innocently, not realizing the innuendo passing through the air.

This woman is a slippery one, Jessie thought to herself. I'm not leaving Rowan with her, no way, no how. I don't care what she thinks, I'm going. "Sure, why not."

"Let's go," Mandy's smile had gotten even bigger, if that was possible. Oh yeah, tonight's going to be so much fun! She turned to smile at the tall dark-haired woman but her smile froze on her face. Blue eyes had turned to chips of ice, staring at her with malice and disgust. Gulping in air, Mandy almost started to seriously rethink her plans for the night. But, one look at the way the Rowan's hips subtly swished as she walked was enough for her to gain courage. Okay, so it will only be two of us in bed. I can handle that.

In the car, brief introductions were made. Dena was at the wheel with Jamie in the passenger seat. The two women looked at each other with surprise as Jessie got into the car. "Damn, she's hot!' Dena whispered, saliva forming in her mouth at the lewd thoughts going through her mind. "Ow!" She exclaimed when Jamie slapped her thigh.

Mandy gestured for Rowan to climb in the back seat first, and was about to get in her after her, but Jessie managed to work her way between the door and the woman, getting in second. There was no way in hell she was going to let this woman sit between them.

Formerly the Bombay Bicycle Club, Club 5 was now the biggest and most popular place for those in the Lesbian, Gay, BI, and Transsexual community in Madison and the surrounding area. With a 1,550 square foot dance floor, two different bars, and a restaurant, Club 5 was definitely the hot spot for a Saturday night.

The ride there wasn't long, which was good for the three women sharing the cramped back seat. Dena did most of the talking as she drove, with Mandy and Jamie piping in every once in awhile.

Rowan was quiet as her mind was filled with both excitement and trepidation. Why had Jessie come with them? You invited her, dummy! Why had she done that? Out of the corner of her eye she watched the stoic woman next to her. Because you want her. That was clear enough in Rowan's mind, but Jessie's speech rolled through her mind.

When they pulled up to the unassuming building, Dena pulled into an empty parking spot and they all piled out.

The Foxhole was the lesbian bar/club within Club 5. Walking in, Jessie immediately scanned the room, taking in the layout. It was an old habit that she wasn't in any hurry to get rid of. The other women immediately made a beeline for a corner table that was empty. Sauntering behind them, she covertly noticed the exits, the patrons and the seating arrangements before she turned her attention to the others.

Dena was looking at her with frank admiration while Jamie went to get them drinks. Rowan had already taken a seat and was in what appeared to be a very intimate conversation with Mandy. As for Mandy, she had a look in her eyes that reminded Jessie of a beast getting ready to devour prey. Wild Kingdom, here I come. Grabbing a nearby empty chair, Jessie squeezed herself in so that she was sitting on the other side of Rowan, her back to the wall.

"That's a nasty looking cut on your face." Jessie turned and saw Dena looking at her with a provocative smile on her face. "How'd you get it?"

Three sets of eyes were on her now, waiting to hear her answer. "Wrong place, wrong time. The usual." Shrugging, Jessie watched Rowan carefully, seeing that Mandy's arm had snaked around the back of her chair.

"Can I get you something to drink?" Mandy asked Rowan, her attention fully on the blonde.

"Sure, a B52 on the rocks, if you please."

"Can you get me a Miller while you're there?" Jessie pulled out her wallet.

"No problem," Mandy winked at Jessie and walked away before she could give her the money.

Jessie watched as Mandy approached the bar. A woman approached Mandy and they started talking as they waited for the bartender to get to them. They seemed to be laughing together, giving the impression that they were old friends, or at least pals.

"How can you stand to be with her?" She couldn't help herself. This woman was obviously wrong for Rowan.

Green eyes focused on her, giving her a surprised look. "I hardly know her, I'm just here to have some fun."

"Yeah, she thinks she's going to have some fun tonight," she said, pointing to where Mandy was still talking to her friend. Jessie's eyes narrowed as she saw Mandy point subtly to Rowan, making a thrusting motion with her hips. "You're not going to tell me that you didn't see that?"

Anger welled in Rowan, but not at Mandy's crude idea of getting her in bed, but at Jessie's nerve. "So, she thinks she's going to sleep with me tonight? So what? It's my choice, not hers and certainly not yours!"

Growling deep in her throat, Jessie's anger grew as well. "Fine, I was just trying to help. Go ahead, go get mauled by handy-Mandy, see if I care!"

Dena watched the exchange in fascination. The sparks of electricity that were flying between the two women was almost palatable. Jesus, look at the fire in Rowan's eyes! Now, Dena had known the other woman for a few years, going back to their days in college when they'd both clung together due to the common bond of being gay. She'd seen her get involved with quiet a few women. But, this was different. Beneath the anger the two women were clearly feeling, there was something else, something molten and blistering, shared between them. Hot diggity! I'm betting that their first time in bed together will be explosive! She giggled at the thought, drawing the two women's attention.

"What!" They both yelled at her together, causing Dena to hold her hands up in peace.

"Nothing, nothing, just remembering something funny I saw the other night. Go on, keep up with the foreplay." Her laughter only grew when she saw the expressions on their faces. Rowan's blushed deeply and Jessie's went slack and then quickly closed completely.

"Excuse me," Jessie got up and walked away.

"Wowziers!" Dena stared at the retreating form in amazement. "Have you slept with her yet?" She said to Rowan, earning her an elbow in the ribs. "Ouch! Whadda do that for?"

"Why do you have to be so...crude!"

"It's just a question!"

"Well, the answer is no. And I won't be sleeping with her. Okay?"

"Okay, okay, didn't know I was touching a sensitive subject." Dena felt bad as she saw Rowan's face fall, a glimpse of sadness behind her eyes.

Sighing loudly, Rowan put her head in her hands and took several deep breaths. "I'm sorry Dena, I...well, I just don't really want to think about that right now."

"Are you two dating?" She had to get her information before she'd just let it go.


"Why not?" It was obvious to her that these two had some kind of chemistry that would not just lie down and be quiet.

"She doesn't want me," Rowan said sadly.

"Here are the drinks!" Mandy put down a full glass in front of Rowan, while carelessly dumping Jessie's beer bottle at her place. Jamie sat down as well, handing Dena a bottle of beer. Immediately Mandy noticed that the tall, dark-haired woman was gone, but she decided not to comment. After the hostility she'd gotten from her, Mandy was rather glad she was gone.

"Thank you," Rowan said quietly. Her day had brought so many emotions to the surface that she couldn't just pretend not to be upset.

"Would you like to play a game of pool?" There was something bothering Rowan, but Mandy didn't really want to know what it was. Getting her up and active might do something to dissipate the woman's dour mood.

"Sure." The two women got up and, taking their drinks, went toward the only unused pool table.

"Tonight is going to be filled with fun, I can see that already!" Dena observed out loud before filling Jamie in on what had happened while she was gone.

"Rack or break?" Mandy asked, setting her drink down on the rail of the pool table. She squat down and put 4 quarters into the slots on the money receiver on the side of the pool table. Pushing it in with force, she stood back up grinning.

Rowan put her own drink on the side and grabbed the triangle rack from beneath the table. "You can break first," she said, pulling the balls out two at a time and placing them in the rack.

Selecting a cues stick, Mandy chalked up the tip and retrieved the cue ball from its nesting place. Deciding that her rack was tight enough, Rowan pulled the triangle away, leaving behind a perfectly formed triangle of balls. With a loud smack! The white cue ball hit the rack, sending balls scattering over the table. Despite the good break, none of the balls sank, giving Rowan the chance to decide if she wanted stripes or solids.

Mandy wasn't that bad, Rowan decided as she watched her "date" shoot. She hadn't missed the sly looks or the over confidence with which Mandy approached her. But, over all, she'd had worse dates in her life. Her eyes traveled unconsciously to the tall woman standing at the bar. But, Mandy wasn't what she wanted and nothing else would do.

"Your shot," Mandy said with a sweet smile, startling Rowan out of her thoughts. Smiling back, Rowan examined the table, counting the number of balls left and realizing that Mandy had made two shots during her turn.

With a quick gesture, Rowan pointed that she was going to put the 15 ball in the side pocket. Calmly she bent over the table, her cue close to her ear as she carefully aimed her shot. She felt Mandy come up behind her, rubbing against her back end, her hands going to her hips. Sighing, Rowan tried to concentrate on her shot, more to prove the point that this woman couldn't play with her like that than anything else. Just as she was going to actually hit the white cue ball, she felt something between her legs, rubbing against her center in a rough manner.

Standing at the bar, a bottle of beer in her hand, Jessie watched the blonde woman with handy-Mandy at the pool table. Her blue eyes squinted as she watched, a frown permanently placed on her face. From the back of her throat came a growling noise as Mandy bent too close to Rowan, her hands on Rowan's hips.

"Well, it looks like your little girlfriend got bored." The familiar voice from behind Jessie did nothing to brighten her mood. Ignoring the taunt, Jessie kept her eyes focused on Rowan.

Smiling, Terri moved around so that she could see Jessie's face. "Does this mean you're free for the evening?" She lifted her eyebrows up and down suggestively.

This woman just doesn't give up, does she? Taking a long draw from her beer bottle, Jessie put it down hard on the bar. Focusing her eyes on Terri, she almost laughed when the other woman jumped back in shock at the expression in her eyes. "You want to play, Terri? Is that what you really want?"

Seriously beginning to change her mind about pursuing Jessie altogether, Terri stumbled over her reply. "Listen, Jessie, I...I was just kidding around, ya know?" Feeling completely like she was about to be devoured whole by a vicious, blood-sucking bug, Terri began backing up slowly. She was not used to not having the upper hand. She wasn't scared exactly by this change in Jessie, but she wasn't sure she wanted to mess with it either. "So, listen, I have to get going. I'll see you around, okay?" Turning without waiting for a response, Terri practically ran in the opposite direction.

"That was kind of fun," Jessie said softly to herself even as her eyes found Rowan again. The growl that had before been quiet was now heard full force. She rushed over to the pool table even as Rowan slapped Mandy's face. The sound of the palm of Rowan's hand hitting Mandy's face resounded in Jessie's ears.

"You fucking bitch!" Mandy roared at Rowan, her true nature coming out in full force as her hands grabbed for Rowan's wrists.

"Think again," Jessie's husky voice caught Mandy off guard. With swift movements, Jessie grabbed Mandy's wrist and turned her around, forcing the arm behind Mandy's back. Slamming the woman against the wall, Jessie held her there with force while looking to see if Rowan was okay. A nod from the blonde was all that she needed. "You think it's fun to touch women when they don't want you to?" She twisted the arm even more.

"Fuck you!" Mandy spat out, spittle flying out of her mouth.

"That's the attitude that I'm talking about Mandy," Jessie clucked at the woman, trying to keep from punching the bitch. She'd probably press charges, which would get Jessie into a load of trouble.

Eventually, Mandy stopped squirming against Jessie's iron grip, panting from the effort. One of the women who had been bar backing came over, approaching the two women cautiously. "Not you again," she said, shaking her head when she saw it was Mandy against the wall. "That's it, you're 86ed. I don't want to see you hear again, you got it!" She took over the grip on Mandy's arm, freeing Jessie from the task, and walked the woman out of the bar.

"I guess you want a thank you," Rowan said quietly from where she stood behind Jessie.

"I don't want anything, Rowan." She sighed, shaking her head. In truth, the anger had just overcome her to the point that she hadn't seen anything but her own need to hurt the woman that had touched Rowan.

A hand touched her arm and she turned to look at the other woman. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way. Thank you for coming to my aid Jessie. I do appreciate it." Rowan gave her a gentle smile that touched something deep inside and she felt the anger dissipate, a balm soothing her soul.

"You're welcome."

They stood there awkwardly, neither one knowing what to say. A slow song came on and Rowan decided to take her courage in hand and ask for something she was dying to have. "Will with me?" She tried not to sound like she was pleading, but in truth that was what she was doing.

Hesitating, Jessie recognized that saying yes was opening herself to something she wasn't sure she could stop. And truthfully, she wouldn't want to stop. She loved this woman, was in love with her, but she wasn't ready to deal with everything that went with that. She wasn't ready to open herself completely, in case of the rejection that could follow. There was no denying that Rowan had the complete ability to crush Jessie, and that alone was frightening. But, as she looked into Rowan's green eyes, she was mesmerized by the longing she saw there, and a slow burn was ignited once again her abdomen.

"Yes." It was a simple answer, but both women felt the weight it carried.

Taking Jessie's larger hand in her own, Rowan led her to an area that they could dance in. Jessie's arms automatically went around Rowan's waist, pulling her closer and Rowan's arms circled her neck. Their bodies seemed to know what to do even if their minds were cluttered and hazy. With slow movements, they began to move together, a sensually motivated dance that took away their ability to breathe and think rationally.

Losing herself to the sensations of being held by Jessie, Rowan put her head on her shoulder, edging her body closer to the other woman's. With tenderness aligned with desire, Jessie held her closer, her hands moving in slow circles on her back.

Between them, a connection was growing stronger, creating a bond that nothing would ever be able to break. Internally, both women felt it, their hearts screaming in need, but their minds were hesitant and wary.

Slowly, the song faded, replaced by something more up beat and faster. Pulling apart, they found their hands refusing to let go. Hand in hand, they walked slowly back to the table. Dena and Jamie were still there, talking and watching people around them.

The rest of the night was spent exchanging innocent touches and smiles, talking about everything and anything under the sun. Rowan wasn't sure what all this meant, but she was going to take the time to find out.


Despite doctor's advice and her own mother's pleas, Jessie refused to have the scar surgically covered. As the wound healed, it remained a visible reminder of what had happened. Jessie used it as a reminder of her goal to avenge the murder of Joy Colston. Every day when she looked in the mirror and saw the scar, she renewed her vows to find Don Colston and make sure that he was treated according to his crime.

Michael Moore, Mike, met with Jessie on a regular basis. Neither one had much to report to each other. Even though it was against policy, Mike made the decision to keep Jessie up-to-date on the case. He wanted her as an asset to the department, not a liability. In truth, the more time he spent with her, the more he found himself liking the woman. There was something very fundamental about her that he could relate to. He always looked forward to their meetings.

Two months after the murder, the first sign of Don Colston surfaced. A letter sent to Jessie's apartment. The letter was full of threats for her part in making Don Colston a fugitive. It went on to say that Joy Colston had been a slut and a whore, that she deserved to die for not being faithful to her husband. It was signed by Don Colston. Handwriting analysists matched the handwriting and signature with samples they'd taken from the Colston home. It was a 90% match with Don Colston.

"Do you want police protection?" Mike asked Jessie after reading the letter.

"No," Jessie said slowly. "But, I would like someone to watch after my mother. I don't want that bastard to be able to get near her."

Nodding, Mike understood. He knew that she would never allow herself to be under police surveillance. But she would make sure those she loved were taken care of. "I'll take care of that right away. I want you to start reporting in to me everyday. If you fail to do report in even a single time, I will have an entire unit storm your apartment."

Jessie rolled her eyes at him.

"I'm serious Jess. We're not going to play games with your life, got it?" He waited until she nodded in understanding. "And you'll check in every day?"

"Yes Mike, everyday," she said with a sigh. She knew he wouldn't drop it till she consented. And maybe, just maybe, he was right.

Mike was true to his word. When Jessie went to see her mother the same afternoon she got the letter from Colston, a patrolman was already there, enjoying a cup of coffee on one of Anne's comfortable couches.

"Hey mom," Jessie called out to Anne whose back was turned to the door.

Dropping a book with a loud thud, Anne turned around. "Jesus Jess, you scared the bejesus out of me!" One hand fluttered to her heart, which threatened to pound out of her chest.

Jessie walked over and picked up the dropped book. "Why are you so jumpy?" She asked as she handed the book back.

"Why am I so jumpy?" Anne repeated incredulously. "Maybe you could tell me why I'm so jumpy!"

"Huh?" Jessie's eyebrows came together in confusion.

"This nice police man comes in here and tells me he's been told to watch the store, on your request. Says he can't tell me anymore than that." Anne pointed at the man with the book in her hand. "Naturally that's made me jumpy!" Taking a deep breath, Anne tried to get her nerves under control. "So maybe you can tell me why?"

Hopping up on the counter, Jessie folded her legs Indian style. "Do you remember that I told they didn't catch that guy who did this?" She pointed to the still puckered scar on her face.

"Of course."

"Well, apparently he's still around and has decided to focus his anger on me. I asked Mike to send someone over to watch you just in case this guy's a serious threat." Shrugging, Jessie started to get up when Anne put a hand on her leg to keep her in place.

Concerned, Anne wasn't going to let her daughter end it there. "How did he threaten you?"

"Via the Post Office."

"A letter?"

"Yup. Post marked in Madison." She raised an eyebrow in silent question.

"What kind of threats did he make?"

"Oh the usual. He threatened to hurt me, to make me suffer. Called me a bunch of bad names." She paused and thought for a moment. "Hmmm...I think he was honestly trying to hurt my feelings." Grinning rakishly at her mother, she hopped down from the counter. "May I go now?"

"Smart ass," Anne mumbled as she swatted Jessie's shoulder. "Hey, have you seen Rowan lately?" Although her voice was casual, there was a hint of bantering.

"Yeah, last night, why?"

"Just curious..." Letting her voice fade, Anne turned back around. She wasn't surprised when she felt her daughter's presence behind her.

"Mother..." Jessie drew out the word.

"Yes?" Anne asked sweetly, turning around.

"What do you have in your brilliant mind now?"

"I don't know what you mean!" Pretending shock, she started to turn around, but her daughter's strong arms prevented it. "Well, maybe Rowan said something the other day..."

Truthfully, Jessie had been seeing Rowan almost daily since she'd gotten out of the hospital. They ate dinner together, watched TV, went to movies, took walks, but everything remained on a non-sexual level. For some reason Jessie was afraid. She was afraid of what would happen if they took it further. Rowan's friendship was so important to her now that she didn't want to lose that, no matter how much she wanted to take the woman in her arms and passionately kiss her inviting lips.

Despite her resolve not to take things further, there was something else that was keeping her from acting. She still wasn't sure that it was what Rowan wanted. What if Jessie did take that step and Rowan didn't want it? That would change everything.

"Oh?" She finally replied to her mother.

"Yes." Anne put a finger to her chin, pretending to think. "Let's see...what was it she said..."

A soft growl came from Jessie, causing Anne to laugh. "Something about you moving too slow!"


"Yeah, something about you not being interested in her romantically. Apparently, she doesn't think you're attracted to her. And honey, I KNOW that isn't true. I've seen the way you look at her, the way your eyes light up when you see her." Anne tapped Jessie's chest. "So, tell me, what have you done to give her that idea?"

"I...I don't know!" Complete shocked rippled through Jessie's body.

Anne mimicked her daughter's familiar gesture by raising an eyebrow. "Think about it." Was all she said before turning back to the bookshelf.

Walking slowly out of the bookstore, Jessie allowed herself to be lost in thought. Here she had thought that she was doing Rowan a favor by not pushing herself onto the woman. It hadn't been easy to hold back her desire for Rowan. In the past two months she had grown to realize that not only did she want Rowan, but she also enjoyed the woman's company. They spent a lot of time discussing movies, books, television, the time passing quickly as they playfully argued things, each of them taking turns playing Devil's Advocate. Rowan made her think. She kept Jessie on her toes and yet there was a familiarity about her, like coming home to something very soft and comfortable.

Did Rowan really not know how Jessie felt about her? "It's not like I came out and told her or anything." Jessie reasoned out loud, ignoring the people around her who gave her strange looks. So what did she think she was accomplishing? They were friends, without a doubt. But, were they heading toward something more than that? Was she the one keeping that from happening?

She had grown comfortable with their relationship. The occasional touch from Rowan would warm her from within, while the woman's gentle voice calmed her. With Rowan, Jessie found herself laughing more, having more fun, just being carefree most of the time. It had been a long time since Jessie had allowed herself to just let go. Normally, her darkened past hung over her head more times than not.

But, these days all Jessie had to do was to think of Rowan's gently curved lips, her incredibly warm green eyes, and her soft, firm body...

"Shit!" Jessie muttered as she realized that a dumb grin had formed on her face, as her thoughts grew more descriptive.

"Do you always walk down the street swearing to yourself, or is this a new thing?"

Jessie looked up to see Rowan standing in front of her. Immediately a blush formed on her face at the same time a determination grew within her. Without actually considering her actions, Jessie got closer to Rowan, put an arm around the woman's waist, and drew her close. It only took a brief look into Rowan's eyes to know what she wanted. With a sense of desperation, Jessie found Rowan's lips with her own.

Hesitant at first, it took Rowan a second before she started to respond to Jessie's warm mouth. Her own lips opened, inviting Jessie to explore, which she did expertly. The arm around her waist tightened, drawing her closer against Jessie's firm body. Her own arms went around Jessie's neck, her hands instantly running through the woman's soft dark hair.

Any common sense that Jessie still had left her as she felt the other woman respond. She tightened her hold around Rowan's slim waist, pressing her body against her. A soft moan grew in her throat, coming out like a hungry growl. The noise vibrated through Rowan's mouth, causing a warm wave to wash over her body, her knees growing weak. Just when she thought she'd fall down, the strong arm around her tensed, holding her up.

Sparks and charges jumped from woman to woman, igniting both of them, pushing them both on. It wasn't until Jessie felt her hands starting to explore Rowan's body that she remembered they were on a crowded street.

Slowly, not wanting to, but knowing that she needed to, Jessie pulled away. She kept her hold around Rowan's waist, not willing to give up that connection yet. Rowan was in a haze as she recovered positive that she was not misreading these signs. Jessie wanted her.

"You go girls!" A female voice startled them both.

Both of them turned their heads toward the voice. A young woman with dark black hair was standing near them, giving them a grin.

"I wish I was brave enough to kiss my girlfriend like that in public!" She held her hands out in fists, her thumbs up in approval, before she continued down State Street.

Rowan and Jessie watched her for a minute before they turned to look back at each other. As if there had been some silent cue, they both started laughing. The sexual tension lessened as they continued to laugh, Rowan finally needing to lean her head against Jessie's shoulder as the laughter weakened her.

They wound down, Rowan keeping her place, not wanting to loose any contact with the other woman yet. The on-edge feelings returned, reminding them both separately of their desire for each other.

"Disgusting," a voice muttered, once again breaking the two women's concentration on each other.

Jessie saw an older man starring at them, his thoughts shown plainly in the way he looked at them. His face was wrinkled as though he'd spent too many years looking at others with abhorrence. It was like what Anne had always told Jessie when she was little. If she spent too much time hating others, it would show on her face as she got older and everyone would know that she was hateful.

"Excuse me?" Jessie spoke before she could stop herself. Really, she didn't want to get into anything with this ignorant person. Her anger would only break the moment with Rowan, and it wasn't worth it. She'd rather concentrate on the other woman than taking her long seeded anger out on this man.

His face still scrunched with loathing, the man looked as though he was having an internal struggle, trying to decide whether or not he should turn and walk away, or confront this issue. Apparently, his attitude of superiority won out because he stayed.

"You are an abomination! God will see that you go to hell for your sins against nature!" He stuck his chin out in defiance, so sure of his opinion.

Jessie was tempted to strike that very chin, to knock the self-righteousness right out of him. Taking deep breaths she tried to swallow the urge to hurt the man. Words can be weapons, Jessie thought as she got herself under control. Just as she was about to speak she felt Rowan move from where she was leaning against Jessie. A figure blurred toward the man, at a speed which even Jessie envied.

"I am so tired of people like you who try to tell me that just because I love someone I'm a bad person!" Rowan was standing directly in front of the man, her face turned up to his, yelling at the top of her lungs. Her hands gestured wildly through the air, coming close to striking the man, but never quite hitting him. "I love her, and because she and I are both women, that makes it unacceptable to you!

"People like you assume that because I love another woman that I'm a bad person without any morals or anything! Well, listen to me asshole! If your God can't accept the fact that I love someone, then what kind of benevolent being is he?" Her anger seemed to wind down. Backing slightly away from the man, Rowan's face took on a calm appearance. As she looked at the man she felt sorry for him. "The God I believe in is more concerned with people hurting, hating, killing, MURDERING each other than who I love." She shook her head slowly. "You don't even know me, yet you judge me. Maybe you should look at your own life and figure out what God will see there." Her steam was gone. She was tired of being angry with this man who was simply ignorant. Rowan just couldn't fight against his stupidity, no matter how much she yelled or if she hit him, pummeling him senseless.

While Rowan had yelled, the man had been stunned into silence. Now that she had stopped, he sneered and quickly walked away, muttering to himself about sinners and the way of God.

The ground under Rowan seemed to suck her energy from her. She could feel the weight of her own body being pulled toward the concrete of the street, gravity seeming to drag every molecule of her down. A heavy sigh escaped her mouth as her head hung limp. Some people would never accept. Rowan didn't expect understanding or even hope for it. She just wanted people to leave her alone. She didn't always agree with others decisions, but that was their choice. Why couldn't people respect her choices?

Just as she felt that her legs would give out from beneath her, letting her sink to the ground, into oblivion, Rowan felt a hand on her shoulder. It gave her the power to lift her head and look into sincere, warm eyes the color of the ocean on a stormy day.

"You okay?" A gentle voice filled with warmth that matched the look in the eyes met Rowan's ears and she felt her legs grow strong again.

"Yeah, I'm okay." She unconsciously leaned against the solid body behind her, taking strength from Jessie's presence. A strong arm wrapped around her waist from behind and Rowan just let herself relax. She felt completely safe, like nothing could touch her so long as Jessie's held her.

Jessie felt Rowan's need as strongly as she felt her own. And at that moment Rowan needed to be held, to feel safe and secure. Giving the other woman a few moments of silence and comfort, Jessie allowed her mind to wander. It had been amazing what she'd felt when she saw Rowan go after that man. It had been exhilarating to watch. There was no question that Rowan was her own woman. All of Jessie's worries of forcing Rowan into something she didn't want were gone. It was clear that Rowan wouldn't allow herself to be coerced into anything.

"Well, that was fun," Rowan finally said, sarcasm heavy in her tone.

"Ro, if that's your idea of fun, maybe we'd better find you some hobbies."

Grinning to herself, Rowan liked the way Jessie said we. As in the two of them.

They began walking down the sidewalk once again. Suddenly, they both stopped in mid step. Turning to each other, they both spoke at the same time.

"Did you just kiss me?"

"Did you say you loved me?"

Silence buzzed in both women's ears. Any noise from the street, from the people around them was completely blocked, their own heartbeats pounding in their ears.

"Did you say you loved me?" Jessie repeated softly, unable to keep the hope from shinning in her eyes. She didn't want to get her hopes up, but she had heard it. She knew she had. Hadn't she?

Blushing fiercely, Rowan looked at her feet, pretending to care that her shoelaces were frayed and that there was a hole forming in the front of her left shoe right over her big toe. Absently, she flexed her toe, watching her sock poke through the hole.

She didn't know how to answer Jessie's question. Truthfully, she hadn't meant to say it. She had merely meant to use the idea in general, not bring Jessie specifically into it. It was true, she loved her. She'd realized that after the dream she'd had at the hospital. It was so much more than anything sexual. It was something familiar, something so right.

But she wasn't ever going to say anything to her. In her entire life she'd never forced her attentions on anyone. She wasn't about to start now. But, when Jessie had kissed her, it had changed everything. And when she got mad, she reacted from that kiss.

"Yes," she finally said, lifting her face, unable to hide the truth from Jessie. Unable to pretend that it had been a mistake, when really it was clearly written on her heart. "Why did you kiss me?" She had to know the reason. Was it simply the moment? Had Jessie been thinking of someone else? What had provoked that?

"It was something I probably should have done a long time ago." Jessie admitted with a shrug. "It was brought to my attention that you might have gotten the wrong impression about how I felt. I'm very..." she hesitated. What should she say? That she was in love with Rowan? That was so unlike Jessie, throwing her heart out there like that. And as much as she felt it, she couldn't say it out loud, not yet. "...attracted to you. I care a lot about you," she added quickly, trying to make up for the lack of meaning in those words. The simplicity of those words didn't come close to how she actually felt.

"I'm glad you did." Rowan's soft smile said more than her words. The mere curve of her lips suggested more, causing a jolt of desire to travel through her body. Not breaking eye contact, Rowan moved closer to Jessie. One hand came out and brushed the taller woman's neck, softly caressing her. Green eyes burned into Jessie's mind, intentions clear.

They were beginning the dance, Jessie realized. The dance that passion and need made you do as it controlled your body, forcing you through the motions. With careful phrasing and deliberate eye contact, your words skirted the edge of desire. And they were doing this dance in the middle of the sidewalk on a crowded street. Not the best of ideas, Jessie realized. Easily solved.

"Do you want to come up to my apartment?" Jessie nodded her head toward her mother's store and her apartment. What she was really asking was whether or not Rowan wanted to go to bed with her. They both understood that. It had come down to that. Their desire for each other having been made clear, this was the next step. Or they could wait. Jessie was leaving the decision up to Rowan.

Nodding, Rowan made the decision that they both wanted. Taking the other woman's hand in her own, Jessie started toward the door to the left of the store. It had a flight of stairs that led up to her apartment.

Taking her keys out of her jeans' pocket, Jessie unlocked the outside door. Holding the door open, she gestured for Rowan to go on through. As she passed through the door, she smelled Rowan's perfume. It was an aphrodisiac, which grabbed at her, intoxicating her with need. A low growl escaped from deep in her throat and her long arms reached out and pulled Rowan close to her. When she felt Jessie's breath on the side of her neck, Rowan threw her head back, exposing her neck completely to Jessie's mouth.

Not hesitating, the dark haired woman's mouth tasted the skin on the revealed neck. Rowan moaned lightly as her breathing started getting heavy and her head got light. Strong arms held her tightly, not letting her think for even a minute that she was going to fall back. One large, slender hand played at the edge of her shirt before slipping underneath. Long fingers caressed her stomach and the skin over her ribs. Her breasts ached instantly to be touched, her nipples contracting against her clothing. It suddenly felt as though her clothing was too tight, rubbing harshly against her suddenly sensitized skin.

"I want to make love to you," Jessie whispered into Rowan's ear before she began to suck on her earlobe.

Leaning back against the woman behind her, Rowan lost all thoughts as she felt Jessie's desire. "Yes," she managed to whisper.

Together they moved up the stairs, stopping on each step for more contact. Reaching the top, Jessie felt Rowan stop suddenly in front of her.

"What's wrong?" She whispered into her ear.

"Jess, huh..." Rowan tried to finish the sentence, but was distracted by a hot mouth on her neck. No, this is important she told herself, her brain attempting to recover the brief thought she'd lost. "Your's open."

At those words, Jessie stopped what she was doing, slowly lifting her head. Her door stood slightly open. Seemingly innocent enough, she recognized it as the ominous sign it was. "Get behind me," she growled under her breath as she directed Rowan so that her own body shielded her.

"Jess?" Fear tinged Rowan's voice as she reacted to Jessie's sudden change in demeanor.

"I always lock it. There's no reason for it to be open." Her voice was calmer than she felt. "Just stay behind me, okay?"

Waiting a second, Jessie started cautiously through the door. For a split second she thought about calling the police and letting them handle this, but it was too late for that. Kicking the door the rest of the way open with her foot, she looked in the doorway.

At first glance it was clear that someone had been there. Her couch was visible through the door and the cushions were torn off the couch. Papers covered the floor, as though a cyclone had blown through, leaving this mess in its wake. While Jessie wasn't the cleanest person, she wasn't one to leave a mess like this.

Instinct told Jessie that the apartment was empty, but caution told her to proceed as though it weren't. Rowan held onto the back of Jessie's shirt with one hand, peering around the taller woman occasionally to see.

A tall lamp in the corner was on, illuminating the room. Taking in the entire room Jessie saw that it was empty and walked further in.

"Jess!" Rowan's voice hissed from behind her, a tug on her shirt getting her attention. She turned and saw what had caught Rowan's attention.

On the plain, cream colored walls someone had written "I'm watching you" in black paint.

Oookay, Jessie thought as she backed out of the apartment, herding Rowan with her. A thought suddenly hit her. "Mom!" A desperate feeling began to grow through her chest. If this maniac had been able to find her, what's to stop him from finding her mother at the bookstore?

Rowan didn't need any help understanding Jessie's train of thought. Together they hurried out of the door, turning to go into the front door of Shakespeare's Closet.

The familiar sight of Anne's blonde head bent over something on the counter made them both slow down. Taking a deep breath to calm her pacing heart, Jessie forced herself to call out. "Mom?"

Two very blue eyes looked up at the two women. "Hey girls," Anne said distractedly. "Rowan, someone came by here asking about you. She said her name, Kelly, I think."

A brief thought flashed through Jessie's mind Who's Kelly? But other matters took precedent over it. "Mom, we need to use the phone."

Puzzled, Anne handed over the phone. "Sure Jess." Glancing at Rowan, she saw that she was more pale than usual. "What's wrong?"

"Michael? It's Jessie. He's back."


Flashes of light came from a camera as a Madison police officer photographed Jessie's apartment. Another officer used a fine powder to dust for fingerprints around the living room. Apparently that was the only area bothered. The bedroom and bathroom both seemed to be just as she had left them. "This was the reason I wanted surveillance on your apartment Jessie." Michael's tone was annoyingly close to condensation. He, along with Jessie, Rowan, and Anne were standing in the living room, surveying the destruction.

Attempting to keep her anger down and her voice even, Jessie clenched her teeth together as she spoke. "I admit it Michael, it was the wrong decision for me to make. You were right, I was wrong." The detective had been raving for almost a half hour now about how if she'd just listened to him in the first place, they would have already caught Colston by now.

"Excuse me, but I really don't think that blame is right at this time." In a quiet, yet no-nonsense voice, Rowan chastised the detective.

A reddish coloring grew over Michael's face, but he refused to acknowledge the woman. Instead, he turned to one of the officers helping at the scene. "Are we going to be able to prove it was him, John?"

The short, portly man who had brought the forensic equipment with him didn't hesitate in his response. "No problem Michael. We have two full left indexes on the wall where he must have touched as he wrote, and a left thumb print on the door handle to the apartment that is clear. We have the prints from the murder scene on file, so it shouldn't be difficult to match the two."

Feeling as though she were watching a scene from Law and Order, Anne almost felt the thrill of the chase before she remembered that it was her daughter who had been at threat.

"Mr. Moore," her voice shook a little as she thought about what would have happened if her daughter had decided to come home earlier while the man was still there. "Are you going to be able to catch him? Obviously he's still here in the area, but will you actually be able to stop him before he tries to kill my daughter?" Her volume rose with each word, as she became angry at the fact that they still hadn't caught the man. How dare they play with her daughter's life?

It was obvious that they were all frustrated with the investigation. Truthfully, Michael had thought that they would have had the man in custody and on trial by now. But, try as they might, they couldn't get him. Without there being any sign from him in so long, he'd begun to think that maybe Colston had left Madison for good. So much for that.

With a sigh, the detective shook his head. He didn't know what to tell them.

"Can you at least tell me how much longer it'll be before I can have my apartment back?" This was Jessie's bigger concern at this point. She hated sitting back and watching as the officers went through the stuff in her living room. Being a very private person she didn't like the idea of other people riffling through her belongings. She felt very violated as it was, but now they were violating her space a second time.

"You can't stay here tonight," Michael said.

Sticking out her chin, Jessie glared at him. "I sure as hell can!"

"NO!" Both Anne and Rowan said at the same time. They looked at each other, a hint of a smile on both their faces. With a barely noticeable bowing of her head, Rowan deferred to Anne's right as a mother. "You cannot stay here tonight! In fact, you can't stay here for awhile, at least not until this man is caught!"

"But mom..."

"I'm serious Jess, don't play around with this man. He's obviously intent on hurting you."

Rowan's mouth opened before she actually thought about what she was saying, "You can stay with me!" The silence after this statement made it obvious that she had been a little more enthusiastic than she should have been in this offer. "I have...a well, you know...a spare bedroom." A rose colored blush spread over her features.

Grinning despite herself, Jessie watched the other woman as she fumbled to explain what she meant. I'll be dammed if I stay in the spare bedroom, she thought silently.

"Wonderful idea!" Anne said, a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye.

After the police left, white powder a testimony to their presence, Jessie gathered up some clothing and toiletry items to take to Rowan's. Grabbing her garment bag from her closet, she carefully put her work clothes in neatly. A grin formed on her face as she thought about staying with the other woman. Very convenient overall.

"Are you almost ready?" Rowan's familiar voice floated from her living room. "I'm getting the creeps being in here where that man was."

"Hey! That's my living room you're talking about!" Jessie called back.

"Yeah, but it's still creepy!"

"Creepy?" Jessie muttered to herself, smiling. Rowan had such an adorable way of putting things. "Okay, I'm ready," she said, walking into the living room, her bags slung over her shoulder. Her eyes immediately focused on Rowan.

The smaller woman had her hands wrapped around herself and she seemed to be shivering. Not hesitating, Jessie dropped her bags, closed the space between them and wrapped her arms around her. "Hey, you really are bothered by this, aren't you?"

Warm comfort and safety consumed Rowan as she felt herself melt into the other woman's body. "I just have this strange feeling, that's all." Her own arms involuntarily went around Jessie's waist. "Silly, huh?" She said into a shoulder.

"Not silly. Perfectly understandable really." Giving Rowan one last squeeze, Jessie let go and guided Rowan out the door. "Let's get out of here."

After closing and locking the outside door of her apartment, Jessie led them into the bookstore. Customers were browsing around and the place seemed to be pretty busy. Anne was behind the counter, ringing up a customer's purchases. She instantly lifted her head as they approached, as though she knew they were coming. Smiling, Anne nodded. "Here she is now."

The customer Anne had been ringing up turned around, looking first at Jessie, then focusing her eyes on Rowan.

Confused, Jessie was about to ask what this was about when she heard a slight gasp from the woman beside her.

"Kelly," Rowan said softly.

"Hi Rowan," Kelly said, a smile illuminating her face.

Sensing some kind of history here, Jessie studied Kelly intently. She was a tall woman with what could only be described as curves. Curly brown hair hung around her face, which wasn't what you would normally call attractive, but when she smiled, her face brightened up. Eyes a pale blue and a soft mouth were the only aspects that Jessie noticed on her face. And, she was eerily familiar to Jessie.

While she'd been studying the other woman, Rowan had grabbed her arm in a tight grip. She could feel the tension build, like a rubber band being stretched. Turning her head to look at Rowan, she gave her a concerned look. Perceptively turning her head, Rowan looked into Jessie's eyes. The look of fear and unease melted from her eyes. Taking the woman's smaller hand in her own, Jessie squeezed it tightly.

"It's been a long time," Kelly said, her voice smooth and controlled. Giving Jessie an amused look as she took Rowan's hand, her voice deepened to almost a purr. "I see you've been busy."

"What do you want Kelly?" Rowan said through clenched teeth.

One shoulder lifted and fell as Kelly shrugged. With a smirk she raked her eyes over Rowan's form. "I just wanted to see if you were free for some fun."

Something in the way Kelly said fun angered Jessie. A feral desire to wipe the smirk off the woman's face. Something wasn't right here. Why was this bothering Rowan so much? "She's busy," Jessie growled in reply.

Moving as close to Jessie as she could, Rowan was grateful for the support. Normally, having someone answer for her would have upset her, but it seemed natural to have Jessie defend her.

Her smirked slipped for a moment before being replaced by a full out grin. "Maybe I'll run into you later then." Kelly took her bag from Anne and sauntered out the door.

A full minute passed before anyone took a breath. Even Anne was holding in anger at the way Kelly had presumed to speak to Rowan.

"Who was that...woman?" Anne finally spoke first, her eyes still focused on the door that Kelly had gone through on her way out.

"Someone from my past," Rowan said cryptically. Figuring that pushing wasn't her concern, Anne kept quiet.

Deciding that she would ask about it in private, Jessie turned to her mother. "Just wanted to let you know that we're leaving. Call if you need anything." They turned and left, still holding hands.


Tigger greeted the two women with a plaintive meow. Jessie had been spending enough time at Rowan's so that the cat accepted her without complaint.

Dropping her carry all bag on the floor by the door and laying her garment bag over the chair for later, Jessie offered to help Rowan out of her coat, hanging both their coats up. With a sigh, she approached Rowan from behind, her arms naturally going around the smaller woman's waist. With a small noise she pulled her closer.

A matching sigh was released from Rowan as she leaned back against Jessie. "I'm glad you decided to stay here," she said softly. Truthfully, her reason for asking Jessie to stay with her was two-fold. First, was the obvious: she'd wanted to sleep with Jessie since the night she met her. Second, she was a little afraid of the maniac that was out there. With Jessie there, she felt safe.

"Thank you for offering," Jessie said as she began to kiss the side of Rowan's neck. It seemed so natural to be close to the other woman. She really wasn't thinking, she was just feeling.

Normally, Jessie was a player in bed. She planned every move, using her sexual prowess to seduce her lovers. Then she would leave them, moving on to the next woman.

With Rowan, however, she felt different. Almost as though it were her first time with a woman. She felt shy and charged at the same time, wanting so much to bring pleasure to the other woman. While her body was already reacting to Rowan, her hands and her lips seemed to be unsure of what to do, being guided by instinct alone, not experience.

A soft moan came from Rowan's lips as Jessie continued to kiss her neck. Her head went back, revealing more of her neck to the other woman's mouth. Never someone to ignore an opportunity, Jessie pulled Rowan tighter against her, her mouth quickly applying itself to her neck.

As her heart began to beat faster, Jessie found herself intoxicated by Rowan. Her soft skin, her inciting perfume, all adding to create an aphrodisiac more powerful than any she had experienced before. Her own breathing became ragged as she moved the two of them toward the bedroom. Normally, she wouldn't hesitate to make love to someone on the floor, but this was Rowan. The floor was not good enough.

Her mind clouded with desire, Rowan was aware that they were moving. She wanted to turn in the other woman's arms and press herself fully against her, but Jessie held her tight. All she could concentrate on was the feeling of the lips on her neck, biting and licking the sensitive skin there, leaving her breathless.

"Jessie," she moaned softly, her voice heavy with need. Not new to desire, Rowan knew that this was something above and beyond anything she'd ever known. This wasn't just passion, or desire, it was completely superior to those emotions. It was a need, an ache inside of her that could only be filled by Jessie.

Finally making her way through the bedroom door, Jessie didn't bother to turn the light on. She simply led the smaller woman to the bed, turning her and seating her on the bed in one quick movement. Kneeling between Rowan's legs, Jessie's mouth instantly went to her mouth. The taste of her mouth was now familiar, but she never got tired of it.

Her arms around Rowan's waist, she pulled the woman close, her hands slowly going under Rowan's soft shirt. Warm skin glided under her hands, softness unlike anything she'd felt before overwhelming her senses completely.

Two mouths crashed against each other, each vying for control. Tongues clashed, thrusting into warm caverns filled with soft, velvet textures.

Rowan's control was on the edge when Jessie took her bottom lip into her mouth, sending her over the brink. Grabbing the bottom of Jessie's shirt, she pulled it up, breaking their kiss for an instant to lift it over her head.

Before resuming their kiss, Rowan took in the woman before her. With sure movements, she reached around and unhooked Jessie's bra, taking a deep breath as she removed the final barrier. Before her were two perfect breasts, full and heavy. Steadying her hands, she reached out and gently cupped Jessie's breasts, moaning softly as her touch became more firm.

"Rowan, you're driving me insane!" Jessie hissed between her teeth. Before Rowan realized what had happened, Jessie had her shirt off and was unbuttoning her jeans. "I want to see you," she demanded. Within seconds, Rowan's clothing was on the floor, joined by Jessie's.

With one hand on Rowan's shoulder, Jessie gently pushed her down onto the bed. Gazing down, she took in the sight of Rowan, breathing deeply, almost as though she could breath in Rowan's essence. "You're a beautiful woman," she said without thinking. It was true. The woman laying on the bed before her was gorgeous.

Her breathing already ragged, Rowan's voice caught in her throat when she heard Jessie's words. As they were said, she actually felt beautiful. Never before had she heard such honesty in one person's voice. Trembling as blue eyes focused on her, she spoke from need without thinking. "Please Jessie, please touch me."

Large hands with long, slender fingers gently brushed over Rowan's face, tracing the contours, slowly moving lower. The fingers trembled slightly as they traced moist, succulent lips. Reacting from instinct, Rowan's tongue lashed out, licking the fingers which willingly followed it into her mouth. Sucking and biting, her body responded, flowing with the waves of desire that were quickly filling the room, hitting both women with a pulsating beat.

Quickly, Jessie replaced her fingers with her mouth, pressing hard against Rowan, their bodies meeting and instantly melting together. Fitting like two interlocking jigsaw puzzle pieces, their bodies moved together. Hips thrashed against hips, breasts mashed into breasts as mouths fought to overtake one another.

Sliding slightly off the other woman, Jessie's hand began to roam over Rowan's body, her mind memorizing each inch. Gliding over breasts that were full and firm, gently squeezing nipples that were already hard, her hand passed slowly over a stomach that was slightly rounded before coming to rest between two muscular thighs.

In truth, Jessie was almost oblivious to Rowan's pleasure, finding her own in just touching the other woman. It was like they had combined into one person and the pleasure was both being given and received by that one person. It was exhilarating to hear Rowan's moans combine with her own as her body reacted along with hers. Never had Jessie experienced anything as arousing and sensual as what was happening to her as she touched Rowan.

With sensual, yet precise movements, she found her goal, Rowan's quick intake of breath reassuring her. Unable to contain her own desire, she quickly brought Rowan to the edge of pleasure, letting her teeter there before finally giving her the release that sent her over.

Her mind went blank as her body came alive, feeling only Jessie's touch, she flew into the arms of pleasure. As though an electric current were being sent through her body, she convulsed with each wave of orgasm. One final strong pull caused her body to tense as she yelled "Jessie" and then relaxed into the bed.

Slowing her touch, Jessie pulled away carefully while pulling Rowan to her. Strong arms held the trembling woman tightly while she placed soft kisses over her face.

Thought was slow to come back to her as her body recovered from the infusion of sensation. As her blood receded from her nerve endings, the feeling in Rowan's body slowly came back. She wasn't sure what had affected her more, Jessie's touch or hearing the other woman's own passion rising. Without words being passed between them, Rowan knew that Jessie had come with her. As though giving Rowan pleasure had given her pleasure as well.

Both women drifted within their pleasant haze, each aware that her body was pressed into the other's, each taking satisfaction in that.

With an immense feeling of familiarity, Rowan's head nestled into Jessie's neck. Her lips found smooth, soft skin and began to tenderly place kisses which gradually aroused Jessie's senses.

"Hmmmm, Ro, what are you doing?" Her normally guttural voice had grown huskier, sounding now like a terrific purr. "God woman!" She moaned as a particularly sensitive part of her neck was nipped at.

A blonde head lifted off her chest and two very green eyes twinkled at her. "Something I've wanted to do since I met you," came the reply just before a warm, soft pair of lips surrounded one of Jessie's nipples.

It took all of Jessie's willpower to not flip Rowan over and take her again. The more she reacted to her touch the more she wanted to touch her back. But rather than take over, as was her nature, she relaxed her body and let the sensations Rowan was invoking course through her body. Her eyes fluttered shut as the other woman's mouth continued to make love to her breasts and her hands wandered over her body. It was as though they'd made love before. Rowan seemed to know exactly how to touch her, her hands sure and her mouth bold.

As she continued to raise Jessie's level of passion, Rowan felt hers rise as well. Now she understood what had happened to Jessie when she made love to her. It was as though Rowan's own need was being met by simply touching the other woman. It was incredible and completely amazing.

Intense passion and an intense bond flowed through both women, as first one, then the other cried out. Two bodies pressed together as they held on tightly to each other.

As breathing returned to normal and heart rates slowed, neither woman moved from the comfort of their position. The air had taken on a new quality, beyond the sensual scent of arousal and passion, almost as though something in the universe had hanged upon the minute these two women made love.

Floating through the thick haze, Jessie felt herself smiling into Rowan's hair. When was the last time she'd felt this good? The thought put a serious tone to her mind set. Had she ever felt so good? Running through her memories, she found that she had never felt anything like this before. Nothing in her past compared to the simple happiness she was feeling now.

"Are you okay?" Rowan's voice came at her slowly.

Pulling back so that she could look into familiar eyes, she smiled. "I'm more than okay."

"Just wondering, your eyebrows were scowly."

"Scowly?" Jessie raised her eyebrows. "Is that a word?"

"Sure, I just made it up," said Rowan smugly.

Laughing softly, Jessie reached a hand behind Rowan's neck and pulled her lips to her hers. Nibbling lightly on soft lips, her tongue slowly traced the outside of Rowan's mouth before dipping inside and finding her tongue. Rowan pressed her hips against Jessie, her thigh slipping between the other woman's legs. Slowly, she rubbed against Jessie, her pace steady and consistent, only stopping for a moment when she felt a muscular thigh bend and rub against her own center.

Mouths clashed against each other in the persistently growing passion. Jessie grabbed Rowan's hips above her and increased the woman's thrusts, matching the movement of her own hips. And together, as one, they passed over the threshold of passion and desire, each filled with pleasurable sensations as their bodies trembled and twitched with electric surges.

Completely lost in each other, they laid in bed, sleep overcoming them. Legs and arms entwined, their bodies flushed, the rest was deep and all consuming.


It was too perfect, Jessie decided. She'd woken up and although in a strange bed, she felt strangely at home and content. It had taken her body a few minutes to realize that there was a warm presence in bed with her. She'd turned her head and saw Rowan sprawled form on top of her, actually covering most of her body. A soft snore came from the still woman and warm sunlight bathed her body. It was the most perfect, touching, and wonderful sight she'd ever seen. And it was here, in her arms. I love Sundays!

If anyone had been watching they'd have seen a tender, almost sweetly innocent, smile cross Jessie's face. The sunlight created a surreal affect as it combined with the shadows of the darkened room. Like us, she thought to herself. "Light and dark," she finished out loud.

"Dark...dark..dark..." Rowan mumbled in her sleep as she tried to burrow deeper into Jessie. Long fingers stroked Rowan's soft hair until she settled down again and slept peacefully.

"I wonder if you have any clue what you're getting yourself into," Jessie said very softly, not wanting to wake the woman, but needing to hear the words in the air, not just in her head, making it more real.

A louder snore came from the still sleeping woman, followed by a murmur. "Was that me?" An extremely sleepy voice came from the head on Jessie's chest.

"Huh?" Brought out of her reverie, Jessie smiled at the waking woman.

"I thought I heard a snore...was that me?" The waking woman sounded confused, but so very sweet.

"Sorry Ro, that was definitely you."

"Oh no!" Sounding completely dismayed, Rowan's tousled head moved back and forth in dismay.

An honest, deep laugh came from Jessie as the other woman continued her antics. "I can't snore!" Rowan protested. "It's not in me, I swear!" Knowing that she was acting silly, she didn't want to stop if that meant that Jessie's laughter would stop. The laugh touched Rowan and warmed her body much like the effect Jessie's touch had on her.

"," Jessie paused to catch her breath. "Whatever you may say, it was you, Ro."

Suddenly, an agile form jumped onto the bed, startling both women. "Tiger!" Rowan gasped, her hand holding her heart. Eyes narrowing, she pointed an accusing finger at the cat. "You! You were snoring!" She gave the other woman a triumphant look. "See! It wasn't me! Tiger's famous for his snoring!"

"Uh huh, whatever you say."

Loud purring was heard by both as Jessie reached out and absently stroked Tiger. Neither woman said anything, they just lay there, enjoying the feel of being in each other's arms.

Unfortunately, the telephone rang, disturbing their peace. "Hello?" Rowan picked up the phone, so relaxed that she didn't even check the caller i.d. as she normally did. She was quiet as she listened to the person on the other end of the phone. "How did you get this number?" Her voice turned demanding, the peace quickly gone, replaced by a harsher tone.

Raising an eyebrow, Jessie gave her a concerned look, but the other woman didn't look her way, her own eyes clouding over.

"Don't call here again!' Rowan hissed into the phone before defiantly hitting the button that turned the phone off. With a toss, she threw the phone onto a nearby chair.

"Should I ask?" Outwardly, Jessie appeared casual, but within she was toiling with the fact that she wanted to know what had upset her friend so much.


That really was all that she had to say. That mysterious part of Rowan's life that Jessie had many questions about. She hadn't wanted to push earlier, wanting to wait until they were alone. And then, once they were just wasn't a good time to ask about this possessive woman who seemed to know Rowan very well. It wasn't her style to mention past lovers while making love.

Seemingly lost in thought, Rowan absently began to caress Jessie's naked hip, her hand lightly tracing over and back, sending gentle jolts of pleasure through her. Whoa, won't get anywhere like this! Jessie thought to herself. Taking Rowan's hand in hers, she lightly kissed her knuckles. "Do you want to talk about it?" The casual thing was hard to keep up, but Jessie didn't want to appear overbearing or pushy.

Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, Rowan shook her entire body and let out a loud growl. Jessie almost laughed, reminded as she was of a wet dog, but choose not to.

"I'm sorry Jess, it's not exactly a fond memory." Pausing, her eyebrows came together as she fought invisible demons. "I don't...listen," she turned to the other woman, grasping her hands. "I really feel that we...that is, you and I...have something special here. I love you, Jessie. I don't know if I want to air all my dirty laundry before we really get started. Does that make sense?"

While Rowan had said the three taboo words already, it still sparked something inside Jessie when she said it again. Gathering her in her arms, Jessie squeezed her tightly. "I understand what you are saying, but there are times when things come out and haunt us and we have to deal with that." Looking deeply into the green eyes of her lover, she softly stroked her face. "I want to help you if I can."

It was a proverbial rock and hard place for Rowan. While she sensed sincerity in Jessie's words, she didn't want to frighten her away with unsavory memories. And in addition to that, the reappearance of Kelly really was bothering her. She'd thought...well, it wasn't important what she thought. Kelly was back. And Kelly was not the kind of person to fade away if unwanted. No, she'd bite and not let go, like a ferocious dog.

"It's nothing big," she finally replied. The tender touch on her face didn't stop and she allowed herself to lean into it, the caress going deeper than the surface.

"Then why is it getting to you?" And expert at hiding, Jessie knew that she was being deeply distributed by the reappearance of this mystery woman.

"Damn good question," Rowan laughed lightly. Why did it bother her? It was the past, right? "Kelly...she...used me for sex. For three years." Tears actually filled her eyes as she remembered the pain of that particular betrayal. "I...did things for her because I thought I was in a relationship based on faith and love." The tears slowly dropped from her eyes, gaining speed down her cheeks, hitting Jessie's hand. "But, she was just using me."

And that was barely touching on what had actually happened. It had been a mixture of sexual need and acceptance, coalescing into a game of power and control, which Rowan found herself losing. There had been a handful of times when Kelly convinced her to allow a third woman into their bed. Shame thickly coursed through her as she again heard the pity and disdain in Kelly's voice when she told her what had really been happening. ", would bring other women in and I found out later that they had paid to have sex with me. I thought...I thought I was doing something to please Kelly, my partner. But, really, she was making money out of my loyalty."

It was too much for Rowan. She quickly moved away from Jessie, hiding her face in her hands, sobs shaking her body with their intensity. The shame, the pain of being used and not knowing it, of trusting someone who violated that trust, all came back to her beating against her like waves on the sand.

Emotions like none she'd ever felt went through Jessie. There was a burning fire in her chest, caused by the anger she felt for Rowan. Then there was the ache in her soul that wanted nothing more than to erase the pain and heartache she not only heard in the woman's voice, but also felt. Yes! She felt the pain radiating from Rowan, consuming them both, washing over them time and again, never ceasing and never slowing.

"Goddamn it!" Jessie finally exploded, her fist flying into the wall above the headboard of the bed. The plaster buckled under the force, leaving almost an imprint of her hand where it had hit. A dull pain in her knuckles, she recognized the futility of hitting inanimate objects, and yet, unexplainably the action helped clear her mind.

Focusing on Rowan, she realized that the woman had curled into a ball and was rocking herself. Shit, I should have noticed! Jessie thought to herself angrily.

"Rowan?" She reached out to comfort the other woman only to have her moan and try to get away. "Rowan, snap out of it! Baby, I need you to snap out of it." The rocking stopped, but she still didn't look up. "Look at me Rowan, look at me." Slowly, the blonde head moved and green eyes hesitantly focused on her own. Locking gazes, Jessie reached out and gently cupped Rowan's cheek. "I'm so sorry that happened to you."

"You aren't...disgusted?" Fear of being rejected laced Rowan's thoughts, irrationally making her feel physically ill.

"Yes!" Was the harsh reply, which thrusted through her like a knife to her heart.

"I knew it," she muttered to herself, backing away from the woman on her bed, blindly heading toward the door. Suddenly she realized that she was still naked, and feeling her shame intensify, she grabbed for any clothing she could find on her way to the door.

"Where are you going?" Jessie demanded, thoroughly confused.

"I have...I have to leave. I can't stay here...can't" She couldn't finish, her arms reaching for the doorknob.

Moving quickly, Jessie got to the door before Rowan's hand descended upon the handle. "I, what?" Putting a finger under Rowan's chin, she forced her to make eye contact.

"How can you still want to be in the same room with me? Knowing...what I just told you?" Rowan couldn't even say it again, the pain a dull throb in her heart, every now and again spiking in extreme and agonizing pain.

"Whoa! Wait just a minute, you didn't let me finish!" She waited until she had the other woman's full attention. "Yes, I am disgusted." Again green eyes fell in dismay. "Disgusted that anyone could do that to you!" This time relief flooded Rowan's face as she heard what was being said.

"You mean that you don't...don't hate me?"

"How could I hate you? I love you!" Strong arms enfolded the blonde, crushing her against a warm, naked, and incredibly soft chest. Unable to stop herself, Rowan leaned into Jessie, her ear picking up on the subtle heartbeat beneath it.

"Why do you think she's back now?" Her voice was hesitant as she asked, not wanting to cause Rowan more pain, and yet needing to get some answers so that she could handle the situation.

Shrugging within the embrace, Rowan mumbled into Jessie's chest. "Because she wants me back. She wants to use me again." She had been very good at the games Kelly liked to play.

It was more than painfully obvious that Rowan didn't want any part of what Kelly had in mind. Jessie remembered now the words that Kelly had used "I just wanted to see if you were free for some fun." Fuming, she thought of many different ways to hurt Kelly, to show her a whole different kind of 'fun'.

"How would you like us to handle this?"

The use of the word 'us' wasn't lost on Rowan. Her eyes still wet with tears, Rowan looked into Jessie's face, seeing for the first time the determination and...something else. Love. "I want her to leave us the hell alone." Just saying us instead of me added to the growing warmth in her chest. "I don't know how she got this number, it's unlisted because of her."

"Does she know where you live?"

"Yes, unfortunately." She saw something brief flicker across Jessie's eyes. "She has never actually been here. When we got together, I moved in with her, renting out the house to college students." Once again Rowan buried her head against the sweet smelling skin of Jessie's neck.

Silently, Jessie lifted the smaller woman in her arms and carried her back over to the bed where just hours before they had made love for the first time. The smell of their passion still hung in the air, thickening it as it densely swirled from the movement of the ceiling fan. Gently she laid down the precious woman. Her eyes couldn't help but flicker over the naked body before she laid herself down, half on top of the other woman, half on the bed. Rowan's arm circled her body and held her closer as her face rested on Rowan's shoulder. It was completely sensual and yet not overtly sexual. The tense need was still there, chased onward by the contact of skin on skin, but with that came the soft reassurances they gave each other and the tenderness of just caressing each other slowly to flame the desire just to be close.

The gentle snores that Jessie had woken up to soon were heard again as Rowan fell back to sleep. Jessie propped her head up with her hand and starred at the beautiful face beneath her. Sleep took away the creases of stress and worry, but the marks of the tears shed were still evident around her eyes. A luscious, full mouth moved slightly as the breath moved in and out, almost demanding to be kissed. Jessie obliged, her own mouth resting light on the edge of Rowan's lips, kissing tenderly.

I've killed people over drugs and money. I've used women and thrown them away without a thought. And yet she was worried that I would find her disgusting. The revelation brought not only anger to Jessie, but fear as well. There would come a point when she would have to tell Rowan about her past, about the unsavory and horrific things she had done. How would she react? Would she be able to see past it? Was there really anything past it?

It was with these heavy thoughts that Jessie finally found sleep. But her dreams were troubled with demons from her past, with the twist of her present. And in her nightmaric dreams she found herself only able to scream one thing. ROWAN!!!!!

The next day was Monday and it brought back reality. Rowan had classes to go to and Jessie had to get back to her office. The alarm clock had grudgingly been set the night before and promises had been made to not keep each other up. But, hands being what they are, the promise was hard to keep. Stray caresses lead to more heated moments from which they tried to quickly back away from before they got burnt.

When the alarm sounded at 7 am they had only gotten 4 hours of sleep. The first to wake to the buzzing noise, Jessie was reluctant to pull herself away from the warm body wrapped in her arms. At some point, when they'd finally fallen asleep, she'd curled her body around the smaller woman, her arms firmly around her. Soft hair brushed her arm and a warm breath hit her skin as the other woman breathed in and out.

But, as alarms tend to do, the buzzing refused to stop on its own and even seemed to grow louder in the otherwise silent house. With a growl, Jessie extended her already lanky body, her hand almost reaching the snooze button, but not quiet making it. Vengeance on that piece of modern machinery was going to be sweet. Untangling herself from Rowan, she finally turned the alarm off with a sigh of relief. The noise was beginning to really eat at her brain.

Standing up, Jessie stretched her naked body, working the kinks out with light popping noises. Turning around, she looked at the woman still sleeping in the bed. Face pressed against a pillow, Rowan's sensual lips were slightly parted as she slept. Unable to resist, Jessie leaned over and started to kiss those lips. At first they didn't respond, but then with a low moan those very lips began to kiss her back. The innocence with which Jessie had begun the kiss was completely sent to hell when Rowan's tongue slipped into her mouth.

Holy Jesus! Her brain was on overload as the smaller woman completely turned the tables and over took her senses. Small hands began to travel up and down her body, causing her nerve endings to fire an immediate response to her brain.

Thoughts of classes and students were far from Rowan's mind as she assaulted the other woman's mouth and body. God Jessie, your body is so delicious! She couldn't seem to get enough, constantly wanting her hands on her, constantly wanting to feel that smooth, soft skin.

Dizzying minutes flew by as the exploration continued. Too soon, far too soon, the alarm sounded again and Jessie regretted hitting snooze rather than turning the damn thing off! Rowan stopped her hands and her mouth, but didn't move away as Jessie hit the button yet again. Blue met green and they both got lost in the other, their thoughts working as though with the help of mirrors. Work was the only thing that kept them from jumping back into that warm, soft, comfortable bed together. Excuses ran through each of their thoughts, reason to not go to work, to call in sick, to just hibernate.

"But, we can't," Jessie finally said out loud to their silent conversation.

"I know. But I don't have to like it."

Laughing, the taller woman reluctantly let go of her hold and looked around for the bag with her clothes.

"It's still in the living room," Rowan smirked as she realized that the leggy woman would have to walk naked through the house to get to her clothes.

Raising a dark eyebrow, Jessie smirked back and walked boldly out the bedroom door. A warm laughed rang through the house, filling air that had been still for so long.


"Jessie Blackwell speaking." The phone had rung the minute that Jessie stepped into her moderately organized office.

"Such a professional sounding voice! It does a mother's heart good to hear such a thing!" Her mother's voice was warm and full of laughter. Seldomly had she heard her mother sound otherwise. Anne always seemed to find that proverbial rainbow in life.

"Hi mom." Smiling into the phone, she almost laughed. Figures that her mother would call first thing Monday morning. She wants to know all the dirt, huh? Let's see if we can play a little game with mom, she thought evilly. "Sorry I didn't call you from Rowan's to give you the number there."

"Oh, that's okay, I'm sure you were..." she let the sentence hang before she finished it, "...busy."

"Not really. I spent a lot of time out, shopping and stuff." The laughter was threatening to bubble up as there was a stunned silence on the other end.

"Shopping?" Anne croaked out in a hoarse voice.

"Yeah, I thought I needed some new clothes for work." Oh God save me on this one cause mom's going to kill me!


"So, how was your weekend?"

"Fine, fine. Uh, I've got a customer, got to go."

Even as she heard the click followed by dial tone the laughter finally was allowed to spill over. "Maybe that will teach you mom!"

Hanging up the phone swiftly, Anne stared at it long after she had put it back. "What the heck is going on?" She said aloud to the moderately crowded bookstore. A few heads looked up from browsing, but most ignored her. "The went to her house and I don't hear or see either of them for two days." Puzzled, she scratched her head absently. "Was I wrong? Did I misread those signs?" Absently, Anne began to put books on shelves, talking to herself the entire time.


When she arrived back at Rowan's house after work, Jessie realized that Rowan hadn't come back yet. "Guess that defeats the 'honey I'm home' thing," she said to Tigger as she put her briefcase on the floor, out of the way. Petting the cat briefly on the head, she headed to Rowan's bedroom to change her clothes.

"I wonder if I should move my stuff to the spare room?" She slowly began to unbutton her shirt, absently thinking of the woman she'd fallen in love with. Snorting at this, she began to speak out loud again. "Who would have thought that I would fall in love?" Tigger meowed in response, rubbing up against her leg for attention. Slipping out of the shirt, she took off her pants and hung them both back on hangers. Walking over to the full size mirror, she looked at herself critically.

She didn't look any different then she had when she had left Chicago. Her body was still toned and hard with muscle, while remaining curvy around the breasts and hips. Broad shoulders and back tapered down to a slim waist, then flared out at her hips, curving into firm thighs, then slimming down to well defined lower legs and ankles, ending in feet that were a little bigger than average size, but which suited her frame. It was all familiar, looking as it always did, and yet, Jessie felt different. She felt that her body should respond to this change in her life, but it hadn't.

But then, she looked into her eyes and she saw it there. A changed HAD occurred and it showed in her eyes. The cold blue had an added warmth now that had never been there before. Stepping closer, she stared at her own eyes for what felt like hours, as if she could see into her soul if she looked hard enough.

"She is my soul." The realization came with a shock, cause a shiver to run up her spine. "I need to tell her," she said sadly, knowing that once Rowan found out about her past, she might not want to continue. Hitting the wall by the mirror with her hand, Jessie damned herself. "I should have told her sooner, I shouldn't have let her fall in love with me without knowing!" Over and over she hit the wall, blessed pain growing up her arm. It was better than the pain and fear she felt in the center of her chest.


For the first time in a very long time, Rowan arrived home to someone else already being there. She'd never had a lover live with her in this house, but she had had roommates from time to time while she was going to school. While it had been lonely to come home to a house empty but for her precocious cat, it had been easier than letting anyone into her inner sanctum. First her parents and then Kelly had taught her that love could not be without pain. Too often finding pain and betrayal in those she trusted, she decided to forego the pain again and keep her lovers for a short time, never letting them stay around long enough to penetrate her heart.

However, as she hung her keys on the small rack by the door, she found herself warmed instantly at the sounded of Jessie's voice in the kitchen. Smells of something delicious were wafting from that same room, drawing her instantly there.

"Hi," she said shyly as she poked her head into the kitchen, visibly startling the dark-haired woman.

"Hey there," Jessie said back, a smile lightening her face. "Come here," she commanded lightly as she saw Rowan's hesitance.

Her feet moving of their own volition, Rowan found herself standing in front of Jessie, her arms immediately going around the taller woman in an embrace. Returning the hug, Jessie's mouth sought Rowan's in a welcoming, electrifying kiss.

Pulling back after a few moments, leaving them both breathless, Jessie whispered softly, "Honey, I'm home."

"What?" Rowan murmured, a smile on her face as she looked into the blue eyes she found so appealing.

"Nothing." She held onto the smaller woman for a few minutes longer before reluctantly pulling away. Feeling suddenly shy and awkward, Jessie turned back to the stove. "I made dinner. Why don't you go change into something comfortable? By the time you get back, it should be done."

Trying to peek over Jessie's shoulders, Rowan realized that the woman had an advantage with her height. "Okay, I'll be back in a minute." Hesitating, Rowan wanted to say something to her, but instead she turned and left.

Walking into her bedroom, her mind was occupied by the strange vibes she'd been receiving from the other woman. There was something on Jessie's mind, that much was obvious to her. But what? Was she regretting sleeping with her? Rowan hoped not. She'd spent all day thinking about Jessie and their lovemaking over the weekend. It had seemed like she'd finally found that niche where she belonged when she was with Jessie. Almost like she'd been giving the last piece to a puzzle she was never able to complete before.

Quickly Rowan discarded her clothes, tossing them on the armchair in the bedroom and putting on a pair of sweat pants and a long baggy sweater. She was determined to get to the bottom of Jessie's problem and do everything that she could to keep this woman in her life. She'd be damned if she'd let her get away.

It took all of Jessie's willpower to keep from following Rowan into the bedroom. She close to being naked and I'm missing it, she whined to herself. Having made a promise to herself to talk to Rowan tonight, she knew that if she touched her then her resolve would be gone and all that she would be able to think about clearly would be the woman she wanted so badly to make love to.

Dishing out spaghetti from a large pot on the stove, she then covered the noodles with sauce and put them on the small kitchen table. Two forks, knives and napkins shortly followed. By the time Rowan got back, Jessie was just waiting, leaning against the counter in contemplation. Pressing her body into Jessie's, Rowan gave her a gentle hug. "Why don't we sit down, eat this delicious food, and you can tell me what's on your mind."

Blinking in surprise, Jessie opened her mouth to speak. Warm, soft fingers covered her lips. "No, it's okay. I'll listen to whatever you have to say and then you will listen to me."

Nodding silently, Jessie pulled out a chair for Rowan to sit in, taking the other one for herself. They were quiet as they began to eat their food, with only comments about passing the Parmesan cheese and Rowan's praise for the sauce.

Finally, once Jessie had eaten as much as she could, not tasting the food at all, she put down her fork and wiped at her mouth with her napkin. "What I need to say is not easy for me. And, I'm sure it will be difficult to hear as well." She took a deep breath before continuing. "But, I promised myself the day that I realized that I was in love with you that I would tell you before things went too far." Giving the blonde a sardonic grin, they both realized that over the weekend was when things had gone too far. "I love you and I don't want anything to jeopardize whatever future we may have. However, I might do so in what I am about to tell you."

When Rowan realized that Jessie was not trying to give her the brush off, she was elated. However, the gravity of her words filled her with trepidation, vying with the knowledge that she loved this woman before her with all her heart. Putting down her own fork, she shoved her plate away from her, giving Jessie her full attention.

"I grew up in Madison, as you may know." She looked to Rowan for confirmation, and after receiving it, she continued. "I was what you would call a trouble teen. Into drugs and guns, doing things that would have shocked most people on a daily basis. But, I wasn't stupid. I never missed school and I never let it affect my grades. I graduated at the top of my class, and was accepted to all the colleges I applied to. However, by that time I had used my brains and my connections to begin to sell drugs rather than take them. I went to the University of Chicago, my education funded by the money I made from selling drugs. I dealt mostly in coke, but I also sold lighter things like pot and PCP."

She took a chance to take a breath and look at Rowan to gauge her reaction. So far, the woman was still listening, her facial expression not revealing anything.

"Once in Chicago, my horizons were broadened by the larger drug rings there. I quickly found myself rising within the organization, my ruthlessness and desire to be in control leading me further than most people. I watched as those around me fell by the wayside to my own drive. I continued with college during the day, while my nights were spent first working the streets and then controlling the streets.

"After graduating, I stayed in Chicago, continuing to secure my right to lead by working on it full time. 8 years after I got there, I became the most powerful drug lord in Chicago at the time. I ran an organization of over 50 men, all of them doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I used people, I killed people, I sold drugs to those that were helplessly hooked on the brief moments of numbing pleasure they could get from it."

Rowan's face was now filled with uncertainty, her eyes looking troubled. Jessie felt a pain stab into her as she realized that she might lose this precious woman.

"Six months before I met you, I was in the prime of my career. I had proven time and again through acts that lacked humanity that I was not someone to be messed with. But, it all changed with one little girl." Tears were now streaming down Jessie's face as she felt the pain that she'd not ever let herself feel. "I had been betrayed by someone who worked for me. His carelessness led to an investigation by the Chicago PD, an investigation that even the cops on my pay role couldn't help me with. I lost valuable business because of his slip up, and I was going to make sure that he paid for his transgressions. He was going to die for what he had done.

"The men with me were nervous that night. Tension was high. This was one of their own who was going to be executed. We took him to a condemned apartment complex, tied him in the basement and I held the gun to his head. Before I could shoot him, something came out of the corner and one of my men panicked. He fired. Three times." The tears continued a steady trail down her cheeks, but her eyes had taken on a far away look as she remembered her nightmares, which never let her forget what had happened that night.

"It was a little girl. I guess she'd been hiding in the corner...she came out and...we killed her. I killed her..." Jessie couldn't finish. This was the first time that she'd told anyone what had happened, the first time that she'd voiced the tragedy that had stolen her bravado out from under her. Tears made her choke with anger and pain.

Rowan couldn't stand to watch it anymore. She got up and knelt on the floor in front of Jessie, pulling the woman to her in a tight embrace. The sobs racked through Jessie's body, her tears wetting Rowan's shirt, her hands grasping the other woman in a strong hold, needing the comfort of another person.

Finally, after the tears had worn out, refusing to fall anymore, Jessie pulled back. Rowan looked at her, green eyes filled with sympathy and concern. Jessie had never thought that she'd see such tenderness reflected at her.

"I...I...left. I couldn't do it anymore. Every time I turned around I saw that girl's face." She paused before whispering, "I still do." Exhaustion filled her and she slumped in her chair. "I don't expect you to want to stay with me. I don't expect you to want to be with someone who's not only a former drug dealer, but also a murderer. I don't expect-"

Rowan stopped her from continuing by kissing her softly on the mouth, tasting the tears that had coursed over Jessie's face. "Have you told me everything you needed to tell me?" Rowan finally spoke, her voice soft and gentle.

Nodding, Jessie couldn't seem to summon the energy to speak.

"I am not God, Jessie. I am not a judge or a jury. I will not judge you for what you have done in the past. And I refuse to take that role." She lifted Jessie's chin with her fingers, wanting the woman to look at her as she spoke. "You are the only one who can decide your fate. Are you going to spend the rest of your night punishing yourself? Or are you going to allow yourself to be happy?"

They were both quiet, staring into one another's eyes. "You need to decide for yourself Jessie. I don't care about your past. Did you really think me that naïve? I knew you were hiding something from that first day. I did my research. Did you know that there are over 457 different articles about you online?" The surprise in Jessie's eyes made Rowan smile. "Yup, there are. And I read every single one of them."

Speechless, Jessie just gaped at Rowan. She had known this entire time! And she'd still slept with her!

"And I want to be with you. I want to be with you for as long as I can. I love you."

The tears that Jessie had thought had been dried up came back, flooding her eyes as she swept Rowan into her arms. Happiness filled her as she buried her face in Rowan's hair and wept. In all her childhood and adulthood, Jessie had never cried as she did right then.

Always keeping her emotions bottled tightly inside of her, she found herself not only crying in relief, but also for the pain of the last 30 years. She was crying for the innocence she'd lost to the hands of drug dealers and for the childhood she'd taken from others. And, in the end, she was crying for the life of that young child that had been taken before her very eyes. What would she have become? What dreams did the child have that would never materialize?

Dark waves of anguish crashed upon her, countered only by the light she saw in Rowan. It was a war between the two forces, with the light winning, but only for that moment in time. However, it was enough to hold back the darkness which promised to return on another day.

Long after Rowan's light snores penetrated the night, Jessie laid in bed next to her, watching the woman sleep. An errant wisp of hair curled over Rowan's forehead as she slept and with a tender touch Jessie nudged it back to join the rest of her hair. Her fingers strayed and traced Rowan's rounded cheek, enjoying the softness of her skin. Tightening her hold on the sleeping woman, she sighed happily to herself.

Rowan had surprised her that night. Her fears had been without foundation. Rowan knew and still loved her. The emotion that Jessie felt at this knowledge was making her head light, swirling with thoughts and happiness. Having never told anyone her entire story, Jessie felt a new found freedom with the sharing of her life. How appropriate that it was Rowan she was sharing with? Rowan, her exact opposite. The dark versus the light, Rowan didn't seem phased by the shadows around Jessie. Instead, she embraced both Jessie and her shadows, loving them both without care or second thoughts.

Smiling, Jessie kissed her lover's forehead, noticing that the lock of hair she'd pushed back earlier had fallen again, she laughed lightly before putting her head on the pillow and letting sleep claim her. Tonight there would be no nightmares. Tonight she could just let love carry her through her dream world.

With daylight came the feeling of being exposed. Jessie had opened herself for the first time in 30 years of running away from emotional intimacy. Nerves were raw from the knowledge that she had poured out her soul, and she was unsure of how to react. While she was relieved to know that Rowan was aware of her dark past and that she didn't care. But, on the other hand, she found herself in a position she'd never had to deal with - someone knowing her deepest and most dark secrets.

When Jessie woke up, the sun shining in on her face, she found herself alone in the bed. Fleeting waves of insecurity combined with waves of happy passed through her as she remembered the night before. I could just hide, run and hide. But she didn't want to do that. She didn't want to hide anymore, especially not from Rowan. Something about the blonde had taken her heart and her soul and she knew that no matter where she ran, she could never run from that. It would always be a part of her.

It wasn't a great epiphany that shook her from her dilemma. Rather, it was the sound of the shower running in the bathroom. The thought of a wet, naked Rowan was enough to make her see her own stupidity. She'd be a fool to run from the love that she felt with Rowan.

Getting up from bed, she stretched, feeling the warm sun against her exposed skin. There was something so different about being in Madison. She felt peace in the college town, unlike she'd ever known. Even the simple act of waking up in the tranquil morning light was fulfilling. Or maybe it's just waking up in sheets still warm from Rowan's body! She smirked to herself as she padded into the bathroom.

Dreams filled with Jessie had made Rowan wish she could have slept longer, forever seeing the dark-haired beauty in her mind. But, with great reluctance, she had finally pulled herself from the warmth of the other woman, amazed that Jessie had slept through the alarm. Deciding that she could sleep a little longer, Rowan had gotten up and went directly to the shower. She found herself thinking of the night before, of Jessie's tears and anguish. It unnerved her. But, it didn't frighten her.

When she'd first learned of Jessie's past, she was afraid -- afraid of caring for such a woman, afraid of getting hurt, and afraid of falling in love. But, the day that Anne got the call from the hospital, Rowan knew without any doubt that loving Jessie was not an option – she already was in love with her. The only choice left for her was to come to terms with Jessie's past and move forward.

Absently scrubbing her body with a soapy washcloth, Rowan nearly slipped a fell when she felt Jessie get into the shower behind her. Strong hands grabbed at her hips, keeping her from falling and a warm, naked body pressed against her back.

"Do you mind if I join you?" Warm breath brushed her ear, followed by soft lips.

A shiver passed through Rowan's body, but didn't keep her from pressing back against the woman behind her. "Not at all," she said, her voice husky with desire. Without realizing what she was doing, she rubbed her body against Jessie's, feeling her breasts against the backs of her shoulders.

Taking the washcloth from Rowan's hand, Jessie began to sensually wash Rowan's body, noticing the goosebumps that surfaced as she did. Passing the cloth over first her back and arms, she then used her long arms to wash breasts and stomach, a moan coming from her as she reached the apex of Rowan's legs.

Before she recovered, Rowan had turned in her arms and she found full lips pressed against hers, opening hers, and invading her mouth. Intermingled moans flooded the air, creating a hedonistic sensation for both sets of ears. Hands fought for control as they tried to touch each other everywhere at once. Jessie gasped as a hand slipped between her legs, and fingers entered her.

Balance was precarious as both women rocked with a thrusting and giving motion that was as natural to them as breathing. Chests rose and fell heavily as passion soared, creating a delicious heat under the warm stream of water, steam rising around the two wet, naked bodies. Cries of release soon followed as pleasure was found at its highest level, repeating over and over until both woman slumped against the back wall of the shower and they slid to floor together. Rowan found herself blissfully on top of Jessie, her head resting on heaving breasts and her ear able to hear her rushing heartbeat.

Moments passed and neither of them spoke as they drowned in the sensations they found in each other. Finally, Rowan looked up and smiled at the relaxed woman under her. "Good thing we have an unending supply of hot water."

They both laughed and helped each other up, only to start the delightful task of washing each other all over again.

"Do you need some help with those buttons?" The mouth near Jessie's ear nearly took away all her resolve to get to work on time. She could just imagine that if she took just a baby step back her body would meet with Rowan's. An anticipatory shiver went through her.

"I think that if you were to help me with these buttons," she held up edge the yet to be buttoned shirt in emphasis. "I would make the shower look like just the appetizer to the main course." A devilish smile crossed her face as she heard Rowan's quick in take of breath.

"And I'm supposed to say no to that?"

Turning, she gazed adoringly at Rowan. "Listen, just because you don't have class till after noon, doesn't mean that you can just play with me. What am I? Your sex slave?" Her outrage was definitely in jest as she thought of just how much she'd love to be just that.

"Hmmm...I ask again. Am I supposed to say no to that?" An infections laugh bubbled from the blonde.

A predatorial look came over Jessie's features and her body crouched as though she were getting ready to pounce. "Why you little..."

With a small shriek, Rowan ran for her life, knowing that she'd pay for her impertinence. Jessie chased after her, growling the entire time until she cornered her in the spare room.

" you're mine, my little pretty!" She hissed in a mock evil voice. Slowly she crept closer until she was upon the other woman. Hesitating just a second, hoping to evoke fear in her captive, Jessie pounced, her mouth going to Rowan's neck were she started to suck while her hands reach down and began tickling her prey's abdomen.

Squealing and squirming, Rowan dissolved into a giggling puddle on the floor, Jessie sliding down with her. They lay in a heap on the floor, both gasping for breath. Blue met green and the laughter started all over again.

"You...know...what?" Rowan gasped out through her laughter.


"This...second...time...we've been...on!" They laughed helplessly, unable to control the mirth that they felt not only in the moment, but in their souls.

Finally, they realized that life was ever obtrusive and that the time was getting late. Jessie was going to be late to work as it was, but she couldn't find it in her to get up from her comfortable spot on the floor. It had been so long when she'd felt so carefree. Her stomach hurt from laughing so hard and the pain was a wonderful reminder of the fact that she had shared such a moment with Rowan.

Laying on her back, Rowan put her hands back, leaning on her elbows, her legs resting over the other woman. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, taking in the smell of her house with Jessie's own spicy scent. Despite the shower, she could still smell Jessie on her fingers from where they had pierced her earlier that morning. How did life get to be so good? I haven't felt this way since... A sign escaped, revealing far more than it should have. Before mom and dad died.

Jessie watched as Rowan's face changed from happiness to a sadness that she'd seen before in the woman's face. It seemed to follow her and haunt her like a nightmare. Jessie was very familiar with nightmares and it concerned her to see something of her own pain mirrored in Rowan's face. How do I ask her? She obviously wasn't ready to talk about it to Jessie, so the dark-haired woman remained quiet, willing to wait until Rowan was ready.


Fingers thumped over and over on the surface of Jessie's desk, the files open in front of her ignored, a worried looking face was held in a hand supported by a bent elbow on the desk.

Okay, maybe I was kidding myself. "Waiting sucks," she said darkly, gaining the attention of a passing administrative assistant. Waving her on, Jessie continued to stare without focusing, her fingers continuing their assault on the desk.

The phone was taunting her, daring her to pick it up and place an important call. "Research, yeah that's it, research," she said as she picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number. "Mom?"

Anne smiled into the receiver she had just picked up. "Hey Jess, how are you doing?"

"Fine, fine. I need some help from you."

"I'll try."

"Tell me about Rowan." She was almost embarrassed to ask her mother, but she was getting desperate for the information.

"I would think that you know more than I do by now." Anne had no reservations about teasing her daughter. "Or have you been doing more shopping?"

Wincing, Jessie realized she'd been caught in her earlier joke. "I'm caught?"

"Oh yes! Rowan came by yesterday and told me everything."

Everything? Jessie had to wonder just what everything meant! "Yeah, well..."

"So, what do you need to know?"

Jessie explained the melancholy she sensed from Rowan sometimes, as well as her desire not to push the other woman. She was worried about the woman she loved, wanting to be prepared to be anything and everything that she needed.

"So, it finally happened." Anne sighed happily into the phone.

"What happened?"

Anne could almost hear the scowl she knew was on her daughter's face. "You finally fell in love." Again she sighed.

"Yeah, I guess I did," came the quiet, surprised reply.

"Rowan is a sensitive soul, Jessie. I don't want to see her hurt." Anne's voice was serious. She loved her daughter, but she also knew that her daughter had a tendency to shut her feelings and emotions off from the world, and walk carelessly through life without a second glance to see who had fallen in her wake.

Somehow, Anne's protectiveness toward Rowan didn't surprise Jessie. And, she understood exactly what her mother was getting at. "Mother, I'm serious about Rowan. I really love her and I plan on making a life with her, if she will accept me."

Privately, Anne had no doubt that Rowan would accept her. But, she wisely decided to keep that to herself for right now. Rowan and her daughter would have to go through their own period of discovery. "I'm very glad to hear that. Now, do you have time for a story?"

"A relevant story?" Jessie was skeptical, used to her mother's stories.

"The story you want to hear, silly. About Rowan."

"In that case, I've got all the time in the world."

"When Rowan was 17 her parents were killed in a car accident. She was still in high school. From what she's shared with me, she was very close to both her parents, having been an only child. They were her best friends, which we both know is unusual these days." Anne paused before continuing. "Or in any day for that matter!'

Jessie laughed with her mother as they both remembered Jessie at that age.

"She was heartbroken that she had lost not one, but both of them. A half dozen relatives all offered to take her in afterwards, but she went to court and was declared able to continue living in her family's house, go to school, and take care of herself. I think that this was more out of pain than anything. In their wills, her parents left her enough money to go to college without a worry and to provide for her to have a comfortable living afterwards."

That explained the house, Jessie realized. And, that explained the pain she'd seen in her eyes. The pain of loss.

"She moved to Madison when she started school, still looking out for herself. I don't know much about her relationships, but I know that she's been hurt badly. Over the last few years I've seen her grow more desolate, not allowing anyone to get too close. She's the kindest person you'll ever know, but no one ever really gets in her heart." Anne debated on whether or not to continue with this thought. "Until you," she finally said softly, hoping that her daughter would understand the importance of this.

Jessie took a deep breath and held is as the weight of what her mother had said settled on her. It was a huge responsibility to be entrusted with someone's heart, especially someone who had so much pain in their past. Slowly letting her breath out, she made up her mind that she would never give Rowan reason to be hurt again. She would love and protect her for as long as she let her.

"I promise, mom, thank you."

"You're welcome. I want the two of you over for dinner this weekend. Saturday, 7pm. Bring the wine." And with that, Anne hung up, leaving Jessie holding the receiver, her mind lost in her thoughts.


After work, she decided to stop off at her apartment to get some more of her clothes and a few other things she'd forgotten before.

The apartment was dark when she entered. Flicking the light switch by the door, Jessie was surprised when the lamp in her living room did not come to life. She was instantly on guard. Standing completely still was when she smelled the acrid smell of a flavor cigarette in the still air. Narrowing her eyes, she slowly swiveled her head, looking for any clue. It came within a few seconds as whomever had invaded her apartment took a long draw from the cigarette, the ember lighting up, showing the person's location.

"I almost didn't recognize you, Blackie." The voice was that of a woman, low and sensual, reaching out to Jessie like a velvet caress.

The use of the name Blackie clued Jessie in to the fact that this was someone from deep in her past. From when she had been a minor drug dealer and gang leader in Madison, before she left for college and a life of crime.

"I don't use that name anymore." Her body was coiling in anger, ready to pounce at any moment, held only in check by her brain telling her to wait.

"So I heard. It's too bad, I remember Blackie quiet fondly." The woman's voice held a trace of laughter, covered by a thick layer of scorn. "In fact, I haven't forgotten the way her touch burned."

Suddenly, the light in the living room came on as the woman turned the switch with her hand. Jessie blinked a few times to adjust her eyes at the sudden brightness, then focused immediately on the woman.

"I thought you looked familiar the other day, Kelly." She allowed her muscles to relax slightly, aware that this woman was not out to hurt her physically. "But, I thought maybe I was just remembering a nightmare." Her lip curled as she gave the woman a scorching smile.

"That's not what you used to say to me." Slowly standing, Kelly walked provocatively toward Jessie, her eyes smoldering with lustful intentions. Coming to stand just in front of Jessie, she used the tip of her finger to caress her jaw, sliding down her neck and then her shirt, coming to stop just under one of her breasts. "I must say Jessie, you were quiet the hot item back then, but that's nothing compared to how you look now. Would you like to feel what you do to me?" She grabbed Jessie's hand and pressed it against her own crotch. The heat coming from Kelly was undeniable.

"Is that why you're here? A quick fuck?"

Smiling, Kelly moved her hips against where she had Jessie's hand firmly captured. "Quick, long, fast, slowly, hard, rough...I remember very well what you used to like. We used to be good together. Now we'd be electric," she purred as she leaned in to press the length of her body against Jessie's lithe figure.

Once, in Jessie's life, she would have felt the electric pulses coming from Kelly. Now, she felt a pity in her stomach for this pitiful woman who was filled with memories of the past.

With gentleness touched by rejection, Jessie pushed her away. "I'm sorry, I'm not available."

Harsh shock flashed through Kelly's eyes. "Don't tell me. Rowan?" A harsh laugh followed. "I've already had her, and I can tell you she's good for a fuck, but she demands too much."

Catching the other woman by the throat, Jessie threw pressed her hard against the wall. "Don't. Ever. Talk. About. Rowan." She bit of each word in emphasis, new anger surfacing within her. "Do you understand me?" She growled menacingly into the woman's face, her breath hot against Kelly's cheek.

It wasn't fear that coursed through Kelly's body at this rough treatment. Jessie was every bit the spitfire she'd been before and then some. Licking her lips slowly, Kelly smiled into the ice blue eyes that stared at her, anger sparking in them. "So, it is Rowan, then?"

It was all that Jessie could do to keep from back handing this woman across the face. She'd made a rule many years back not to hit women. It was one of the few honorable promises she'd made to herself and she wasn't going to let this bitch destroy that.

"What is it that you want, Kelly?" Deciding not to allow herself to be taunted, Jessie kept her grip firm, not allowing Kelly any room to maneuver.

"Get rid of her and I'll make it worth your while. She'll never satisfy you, Jessie. She'll never be enough for a woman with such a ferocious hunger." Jessie's grip tightened as Kelly went on until finally her hand cut into her windpipe, making it difficult for her to continue.

"Listen to me, you bitch. I want you to leave me the fuck alone. And that goes for Rowan too. I don't want you to go near her, or else you will see more than you bargained for from me."

Kelly knew enough from Jessie's past to understand that this was not merely an idle threat. She'd seen Jessie destroy people for the smallest of offenses.

Slowly, Jessie let her grip go, allowing Kelly to slide down to the floor. Laying in a heap, Kelly breathed deeply, her throat on fire. She got up after a few moments, straightened her clothing, and smiled at Jessie. "I guess that answers my questions. I can show myself out." She whirled around, opened the front door and left.

Jessie's own breathing had become ragged from the anger pulsating through her. A part of her mind that had never made itself known before was remembering the vivid red hand mark on Kelly's throat, while yet another part of her felt that the woman had deserved it. Never before had she felt even an ounce of remorse for anything she'd done, especially not to someone as deserving as Kelly. In the back of her mind she heard a soft voice that sounded for all the world like Rowan's. You feel now. It's starting.

"What's starting?" Jessie said angrily into the empty apartment. But, her anger was beginning to dissipate as the sudden image of Rowan filled her mind, replacing everything else. A desire to see the blonde welled up in her. Forgetting to grab her things, she left her apartment, her mind only on getting back to Rowan.

When she got to Rowan's house, it was after 8 pm. She hadn't realized she'd been in the apartment with Kelly so long. It had only seemed like a few minutes, but it must have been much longer.

Over the past week, she'd gone straight there after work every day, made dinner for Rowan who's last class was usually done by 6, and then they'd spend the evening together, cuddling on the couch, making love on the kitchen table, or watching tv.

Tonight, however, the house was dark. She used the spare key Rowan had given her to let herself in, surprised that Tigger wasn't there to greet her.

"Hello?" She called out, thinking that maybe Rowan had an after class appointment.

"Where the hell have you been?" Rowan's voice came out of the dark living room.

Jessie's eyes focused in the dark, finally able to make out Rowan's figure in the armchair, the moonlight outlining her features. Shit, she's mad. Why is she mad? Confused, Jessie moved closer, kneeling in front of Rowan. "I stopped by my apartment to get some stuff."

Reaching over, Rowan turned on the light by the chair. She looked around and then looked back at Jessie. "Then where's the stuff you got?" Her voice was cold and It was then that Jessie noticed the fresh tear tracks on Rowan's face.

"I...I...ran into some trouble at my apartment and just wanted to come here to be with you." Jessie hesitated, her eyes coming together in confusion. What was wrong here?

"Yeah, okay, sure!" Rowan got up suddenly, stalking away from Jessie.

"Wait!" Jessie moved quicker though and was able to stop Rowan before she started up the stairs. "What is wrong? Please tell me."

Tears that had been dry were quickly brought back to life as they stood there. As she looked into confused blue eyes, she saw sincerity which took the anger right out from under her. Her lowered her eyes, blinking rapidly at the tears which fell. "I guess you don't owe me any explanations." She sighed heavily. "I just thought...I thought..." She couldn't finish her sentence, finding it too painful for her to say the words she'd been thinking silently for the last two hours.

Using her finger, Jessie lifted Rowan's chin so that she could wipe away her tears. "What could you possibly think that could cause you all these tears?" With soft touches she kissed Rowan's eyes, tasting the salty tears, as she caressed her cheek.

"I was scared." Came the soft hesitant reply.

"Of what?"

"That you weren't coming back." Rowan finally said, her tears pumping out of her eyes at the mere thought.

"Oh baby," Jessie murmured as she pulled the smaller woman into her arms, engulfing her completely. "No, baby, no." She held her tightly as the sobs ran through her body, the power of the embrace alone rocking them both with a sense of safety and peace.

"I'm sorry," Rowan sniffed loudly, pulling away to reach for a tissue.

Cupping her face, Jessie wiped at Rowan's tears with her thumbs. "I understand fear," she said quietly, looking into the face of the woman who had saved her soul. Her savior; her angel. "Since I've met you I've feared every day that something or someone would take you from me. I've never given anyone my heart before." The admission was said with a smile, but the intensity of the words were not lost on Rowan.

With a perfection that normally comes with time, their lips met, fitting together in a natural formation, sending mini jolts of passion and need through them both. Gasping, Rowan grabbed hold of Jessie shirt with both hands and pulled her closer, trembling with power and desire as her lover's body pressed against hers.

Pulling away from Rowan's soft, hot lips with a low growl, Jessie began nipping at the edge of Rowan's jaw, her mouth trailing down the soft skin of her neck, biting lightly at her pulse point. Arching her back to reveal even more of her neck to her lover, Rowan moaned as Jessie reached the edge of her shirt, pushed it away and continued to where her bra began. The soft fabric of her bra felt rough against her aroused breasts, seeming to just barely contain them as they pushed forward toward Jessie's mouth.

A loud, insistent noise invaded the haze that both women were caught in. Pulling away from the creamy neck being exposed to her, Jessie's eyes focused as she tried to focus on the source of the noise. It came again, insistent and penetrating. Someone was knocking on the door.

Glaring at the offending source, Jessie dared the person on the other side to knock again. They didn't. Instead, the doorbell rang. Annoyed at the distraction, she flew across the room and flung the door open.

The young man on the other side jumped at the sudden movement of the before dormant door. He smiled nervously at the dark haired woman who stood at the open door, her sapphire blue eyes blazing at him in annoyance.

" a delivery?" Thrusting the flowers toward the woman, he held onto his smile.

Taking in the young man's red and white hat that had University Florist emblazoned across it, she tried to hold her anger. "Do I have to sign for it?" Her low voice growled at the man, leaving him unsure of whether he was scared witless, or was turned on.

"Yeah, yeah, here," he held out the clipboard with his other hand, waiting patiently while she signed her name in quick strokes. "Have a nice day," he said as he hurried away, glad to be done with that particular delivery.

Closing the door, she finally took stock of the flowers he had handed off to her. A dozen wine colored roses were blooming, oblivious to the fact that they had been clipped from their natural habitat. In short, they were gorgeous. Spying the white envelope in the bouquet, she plucked it out carefully.

"Wow, those are some good looking flowers," Rowan said appreciatively from across the room. She hadn't moved when Jessie had leapt for the door, her own state of arousal needing time to work through her blood before she could move.

"Aren't they?" Jessie said absently as she worked the card free of the envelope. The card was marked in red marker, its harsh black lines forming words. Nice looking girl you have there. Hope she stays that way. A chill of foreboding went through Jessie's body as she read these words over and over.

"Who are they from?" Having seen the way Jessie's forehead crinkled as she read the note, not to mention the sudden tensing of the woman's body, Rowan had concluded that something was not right with her lover.

Deep in thought, Jessie tapped the corner of the card against her chin, not answering her lover's question. Carefully taking the card from Jessie, she read it for herself. Immediately she understood Jessie's concern, seeing the threat for what it was. Someone was taunting Jessie, letting her know that they knew where she was and who she was with. Whether or not they knew of their relationship was unclear, but there was that possibility as well.

Selfishly, Jessie imagined her own loss if something were to happen to Rowan. Her own pain would be unbearable. Without conscious thought, her eyes drifted to the blonde woman who stood beside her, taking in the visual image of her lover. A sharp, insistent pain from her heart echoed into her gut, causing her breath to catch. With a will of its own, her body moved closer to Rowan, her arms taking in the smaller woman and holding her tightly. Her lips moved against silky blonde hair, taking in the fresh smell of the shampoo she used, feeling as though a part of her were clinging to life itself.

Feeling very safe and protected in Jessie's arms, Rowan snuggled closer. Her head rested just above Jessie's breasts, allowing her to hear the woman's quickened heartbeat. Uncontrollable shivers ran through her, caused by the idea of Jessie being afraid of anything.

Moments passed by quietly and unfelt by either woman. Each felt only the other, their thoughts solely on this new predicament. With a tight squeeze, Jessie finally released her hold, moving toward the phone hanging on the kitchen wall. Moving with her, Rowan kept her hand on some part of her lover's body, taking quiet reassurance from her presence.

"Michael Moore please." Jessie's voice was low and controlled, but Rowan could hear the slightest tightening in her words, which conveyed how disturbed she was. They were both silent as they waited for someone to come back onto the phone. "Jessie Blackman. Yes." Her voice became more tense as she went through the rigmarole of getting Michael on the phone. "Hi Mike...yes, there's been a new development. Some flowers were delivered here that I think you should know about." She proceeded to read the card over the phone.

Without thought, Rowan began to lightly caress Jessie's arm, listening with more than her ears to every change and nuance in her lover's voice. After a few exchanges with the detective, Jessie hung up the phone. Letting out a controlled sigh, she put her arms around Rowan, holding her close.

"So, what's the plan?"

Jessie kissed Rowan's golden head before she replied. "Mike says that even if it wasn't Colston, it was still a threat. So, he's going to treat it as such."

"Uh huh, and what exactly does that translate to?" If this weren't so serious, Jessie probably would have grinned at the face looking up at her.

"He's going to put a watch on the house."

"The house? THIS house??" Rowan pulled away from Jessie a bit as this new information churned in her mind. "There's going to be someone watching this house?" While the rational part of her mind understood the necessity of having protection, the private part of her rebelled against the idea.

"Rowan," Jessie's sobering voice caught her attention. The dark haired woman held up the card, which had come with the flowers. "Someone's already watching the house."

What Jessie was saying hit her hard. "Oh shit," she said as she fainted into Jessie's arms.


"Are you sure you can handle this?"

"I think you should be asking yourself that question."

"No, really. I mean, I don't want you to do this if you don't think that you can. I don't want to pressure you into anything."

Rowan gave Jessie a fond smile. Her lover's blue eyes were darting around nervously, her hands fidgeting with collar of the black rayon shirt she was wearing. "Jessie, I've known your mother for years. I am not in the least bit uncomfortable with going to her house for dinner." She smiled again, noting that she had a good image of how Jessie must have looked when she was little. "However, if you don't want to do this, then we can stay here."

An adorable scowl formed on Jessie face as she thought about how silly she was being. Rowan had to bite back a laugh. Who would believe that the ex-drug lord is acting like a three-year old?

"Fine, fine." She finally muttered. "Where did I leave my shoes?"

"Follow the trail back down the stairs." Rowan's eyebrow rose as she said this. "I still can't find where my bra ended up."

"Hey, you weren't complaining earlier!"

"Why would I complain about you making mad, passionate love to me?"

Jessie barked out a laugh. "I wouldn't exactly call it that!"

"Then what would you call it?" Truly curious, she wondered if she had misread Jessie's commitment to their relationship.

"I would call it wild monkey sex, followed by some serious looooooove making." Grinning, she ducked out of the room, just barely avoiding getting hit by a flying book.

Rowan shook her head as she heard Jessie laughing on her way down the stairs. When was she going to get over her insecurity? Jessie had never given Rowan any reason to think that she wasn't serious about their relationship. At first, Rowan had chalked it up to the newness of it all. But, after a few soul searching moments, she realized that it was more than that.

Turning to look into the full-length mirror on the back of the closet door, Rowan sighed. "What would someone like her want with someone like me?" Her own eyes didn't see the beautiful woman staring back at her through the mirror's reflection. Instead, she saw only someone who was flawed and unworthy of someone like Jessie.

"Are you coming Ro?" Jessie's voice floated up the stairs.

"I'm coming," she yelled back, holding back the sigh. Sometimes it wasn't prudent to question the good things in your life. Nodding her head to her reflection, Rowan took a slow, deep breath, holding it before letting it out. She was going to love and enjoy Jessie for as long as she was allowed that pleasure. A brilliant smile came onto her face, but she didn't see it in the glass. If she has she would have maybe glimpsed at what everyone else saw in her. Her beauty was undeniable to everyone but herself. Only time would give her the gift of sight.


"Anne, you never stop surprising me, you know that?" Rowan looked around at the spread of food on Anne's dinning room table. The first surprise she'd had was Anne's house. Jessie had driven them over in her midnight blue Saturn. As they drove up University Avenue, they finally got onto Midvale Boulevard, passing Regent Street. Finally, Jessie turned off Midvale onto a street that Rowan didn't recognized. A few more turns and then Jessie pulled into the driveway of a large, stately two story house. She hadn't expected the bookseller to live in such a house. It was elegant but sedated with large trees scattered in the yard.

Her eyes twinkling, Anne had opened the door for them, just as at home in this house as she was in her little bookstore. A wine glass was already in her hand, the dark amber colored liquid catching the last of the sun's rays.

After a quick tour of the house, Rowan had seen some of the bookstore-Anne in this house; the multiple bookshelves, the hidden piles of papers and books filling a few corners. The tour had ended in the dinning room, which Rowan was grateful for. Her stomach had started to make it known that it was in need of a feeding and that could get very embarrassing.

Laughing lightly, Anne took a sip from her wine glass. "Whatever does that mean, Rowan?"

"I never knew that you could cook."

A soft snort came from Jessie. Anne raised an eyebrow in an amazing replication of her daughter's own trademark expression. "Well, as my daughter will attest to, my cooking skills are limited."

"Try nonexistent," Jessie muttered.

Looking from the beautifully arranged table filled with food, to the mother and daughter standing next to her, she looked curious. "Then how...?" She let the question hang, waiting for Anne to explain.

Reddening slightly at being caught, Anne gave a feeble laugh. "Well, I was a little nervous about this dinner and I didn't want to mess it up, so I had it catered." Her mouth turned up in a sardonic half smile. "Kind of silly, huh?"

"Like mother," she said smiling, turning to focus her gaze on Jessie. "Like daughter."

Anne and Rowan began to laugh as Jessie's face turned slightly red. "That's as close to a blush as you'll get," Anne told Rowan through her laughter.

"Nah, I've seen better on her." Her laughter was loud and boisterous, giving Jessie no choice but to join in.

"Come on you two, can we please pick on someone else?" Jessie was beginning to understand why she was so nervous earlier. Dinner with her mother and her lover could only mean one thing – she'd be the entertainment.

Turning her green eyes on Anne, she narrowed them slightly at the older woman in accusation. "Why are YOU nervous about tonight?"

Her laughter still coming out in little spurts, Anne avoided Rowan's penetrating look. "Um, see, you're the first women Jessie's brought home."

The comment worked to sober Rowan's mirth. "In that case, it is a honor to be here."

There was a moment of silence that served to make the women both uncomfortable and at ease. Anne cleared her throat finally. "Shall we eat?"

Dinner was an unexpected delight for each of the women. The serious tone that they'd fallen to had been lifted and the meal was filled with laughter and talking. Gentle teasing of Jessie continued as Anne shared a few stories from her childhood with her lover. The former drug lord took it all in stride, enjoying the sound of Rowan's laughter and her mother's familiar voice which took her back to days before the darkness had formed around her heart. She could almost imagine that none of the last fifteen years had happened they way that had. It was easy to imagine herself as a 30-something health care worker, simply enjoying a meal with her mother and the woman she'd fallen in love with. No pain filled past, no demons hanging over her shoulder, no memories of dead faces haunting her. The warmth of Rowan's hand on her knee, as well as the occasional squeeze, reminded her that she was going home with this woman, a prospect she found to be more fulfilling each and every day. Yes, it was easy to pretend.

Almost by an unspoken agreement, no one talked about Don Colston or anything else that had happened lately. They stuck to teaching stories from Rowan and family stories from Anne, with Jessie making acerbic comments every now and again and everyone laughing along.

Once the food had been eaten, and the wine had been replenished, they moved to the more comfortable surroundings of the living room. Rowan and Jessie took the couch and Anne sat in an overstuffed armchair. Putting her feet up onto the matching ottoman, Anne let out a long sigh. "I haven't laughed this much in a long time." She gave the two women an endearing smile. "Thank you for coming over. I've really enjoyed myself."

Not feeling at all self-conscious in front of her mother, Jessie had half pulled Rowan into her lap when she sat down. She cradled the smaller woman in her arms, placing gentle kisses in her hair.

"Me too Anne," Rowan said as a feeling of contentment overwhelmed her, starting in her belly and spreading throughout.

Anne let a minute pass before she spoke again. "I'm afraid that I have to get serious for a moment girls." She gave each one a long, piercing look. Two sets of eyes looked back at her, one curious and the other filled with trepidation. "Now, Rowan, when Jessie was a little girl, I used to tell her that whomever she brought home would have to gain my approval before Jessie could settle down with them."

"I believe that you said with him, not her." Jessie quipped, her face hidden now behind Rowan's hair.

"Semantics, my dear, will not help you now."

"So, I need to gain your approval?" Rowan's voice was hesitant as she asked, unsure of where this was going and feeling more insecure by the minute.

This time a warm smile light Anne's face. "No dear, you already have my approval. In fact, I think that Jessie is the one that should be looking for my approval. I'm not going to trust just anyone with my favorite customer and dear friend, now am I?"

Jessie's head popped up from where she'd been hiding behind Rowan. "What??" She squeaked, her voice breaking.

"That's right, you need to gain my approval to be allowed to continue your relationship with Rowan."

"But mom-"

"Don't 'but mom' me," Anne interrupted. "I'm serious! I'm not sure if you're good enough for Rowan!"

A light blush began to creep onto Rowan's fair face. She cast her eyes down in both pleasure and mirth, not wanting Jessie to see the laughter in her eyes.

Blue eyes narrowed in both consternation and just a bit of anger. "I'm listening," she growled out, trying to control her anger considering that it was her mother.

Anne heard the warning tone in Jessie's voice, but ignored it. She wasn't a stupid woman. She realized that Rowan needed to hear just how much Jessie loved her and she knew that her stoic daughter might not exactly express what the blonde needed to hear.

Clearing her throat and sitting up straight, her hands folded in her lap, Anne looked at her daughter critically. "So, Jessica-"

"Jessica?" Rowan said, unable to hold her laughter any longer.

Looking at her lover, Jessie hissed, "whose side are you on?"

Properly chastised, Rowan let her laughter die. "Sorry, I didn't know you're real name was Jessica."

"It's not, I had it changed," she growled while focusing her attention back on her mother. "And you know that."

"I named you Jessica and if I want to call you Jessica, then I will!" Anne said primly, a satisfied smile on her face. "Now, if I can continue?"

Slowly Jessie nodded, knowing in the back of her mind that her mother must have some kind of purpose for this torture. A part of her found it very difficult to trust in someone else, even if that person was her mother.

"Now, Jessica," she paused, waiting to see if there was any objection from either woman. When she was met with silence and attentive gazes, she continued. "What are your intentions toward our dear Rowan here?"

Her immediate reaction was to rebel against this inquisition, sensing that she wasn't going to be able to shrug her way out of it. Looking into her mother's blue eyes, she felt herself growing resentful. Only a slight shift in her face brought Rowan's beautiful face into her view. It was only one look, which made up her mind for her, making her realize that she couldn't stop this train even if she wanted to. And as she looked into the green eyes that had captured more than her attention, she realized that she didn't want to stop it.

Taking a deep breath, Jessie willed her anger to leave. Squaring off and looking at her mother directly, she allowed one side of her mouth to lift in a half-heart smile, signaling the truce.

"I care a great deal for Rowan. I want be a part of her life." She found herself stumbling over her words, unsure of how to express what she felt without giving everything away. There was a part of Jessie that was used to hiding emotion and she wasn't sure it was wise to give that up. What if she was betrayed? What if Rowan left her? What if any of the other million and one things that could happen, did? Where would that leave her?

Out of the corner of her eye, Jessie saw a flash of something akin to disappointment cross Rowan's face before it was hidden again behind a forced smile. I caused that, Jessie realized with a flush of shame. She took a deep breath as her conscious and heart played a game of war with her over protective mind. Fuck it.

Anne watched both women with an all-seeing eye. She saw Rowan's chagrin and Jessie's internal struggle that followed. And despite this, she never lost faith in the love that she already knew they shared. In her heart, she felt that they were born to share a love greater than either one of them.

Finally, she saw a look of resignation come over Jessie's face and she steeled herself for either her daughter's acceptance or her rejection of the chance fate had given her. She took a silent, deep breath and waited.

Ignoring her mother sitting across from her, Jessie turned so that she was facing Rowan on the couch. With tender movements, she reached for Rowan's hand, brought it to her mouth, and kissed the back of it. "Rowan, I..." Her heart pounded so loudly in her chest that she thought it was going to break away from the fragile tissue that held it in place. "I love you."

Rowan opened her mouth to reply, but instead found Jessie's fingers there, urging her to wait. "No, please, I need to say this." She waited until Rowan nodded her understanding before continuing. "I love you and I want more than to spend time getting to know you. I want your nights, your days, your months, your years." Struggling to say exactly what she felt in her heart at her absolute weakest and strongest moments, Jessie stumbled along, only hoping that in the end, she was making sense.

" you," Jessie finally breathed out, her voice growing stronger as she reached deep within herself for the ability to reveal what was written on her heart. "I want to spend time, not just getting to know you better, but time with you. A lifetime..." She rubbed at her face with the heel of her hand as she grew frustrated at her own incompetence in explaining herself. Forgetting that her mother was even there, she turned and looked at the source of all her emotional anguish. "Rowan, I don't know what I feel half the time. I have never opened myself to anyone, much less someone that I've only known a few months. And yet, I feel like you've always been a part of my life. Like, through everything, you've always been on the outskirts, waiting for me."

Although she was silent, Rowan was mentally answering each of Jessie's statements with emphatic yeses. Unbeknownst to her, her eyes reflected every yes, giving Jessie the courage she needed to forge on.

"You have quickly become my power and perseverance. I look to you for strength you don't even know you posses. When I looked into your eyes that first night I met you, I felt something inside of me begin to change." Even as she spoke, Jessie was making connections that she hadn't seen before. "And I liked it." It dawned on her that she had liked what was happening to her. In some way, meeting Rowan was what allowed her to persevere through the path to redemption. "I love you Rowan and I want to spend the rest of my life loving you."

There were tears in Rowan's eyes as Jessie finished her declaration. Without hesitation or thought she threw her arms around Jessie's neck, hugging her tightly and sobbing with joy when she felt strong arms respond by holding her back.

My Job is done, Anne thought to herself quiet proudly. She watched the tender moment for a few minutes before escaping away, leaving the two women that were embracing on the couch. As she left the room it was as though she were leaving a sauna or a steam room. A wave of cold washed over her, leaving her longing for whatever entity Rowan and Jessie created when they came together. Instantly, she felt alone.

As she walked through the rest of the house, she felt tears well up in her own eyes. She missed love greatly. She felt its absence in her bones just as clearly as she felt the years shorten her time alive. Love had once shined on her in all its glory, creating within her a peace that only true love could bring. Oh Nic, where are you? She cried out silently, saying his name for the first time in many, many years. No longer able to control the pain that she felt, she ran to her bedroom and curled up on the bed as silent sobs racked her body.


The phone rang in an obscenely loud manner, waking Rowan from her sound sleep. "Who the fuck?" She mumbled as she fumbled around for the phone.

"Nice talk," Jessie teased from her prone position on her back. She instantly missed the warmth of Rowan who had been laying half on top of her and half on the bed, but her eyes took in with appreciation her lover's naked form.

Giving her lover a quick slap, Rowan made one final reach for the phone and successfully snagged the handset from where it was charging. "Hello?" She croaked her throat dry from the previous night's activities. Jessie snorted at the break in Rowan's voice, knowing full well that she was responsible for it.

"Danni?" Rowan was wide-awake now as she listened to the voice on the other end. She glanced at the digital alarm clock sitting on her nightstand. It read 4:30 am. "Well, of course I'm glad to hear from you but-" It was obvious that she had been cut off by the party on the other end. "Yes, but-" Again. "Danni, no! You can't stay here! There's not enough room for you and-" A sigh rumbled through Rowan's chest as she held back her anger. "No. No! Danni, no!" Her voice got progressively louder as she held her ground. "No, and that's it!" With a decisive motion she cut off the conversation by pressing the talk button.

Not bothering to ask, Jessie just waited patiently for Rowan to tell her what the call was about.

"Sometimes I could just scream!" Came the unexpected response.

Jessie could see the tension in her lover's body and she reacted without thought. Gathering Rowan to her, she held her tightly, gently caressing her naked back until she felt her relax and melt into her. Where her breathing had been erratic from anxiety, it was now steady and deep.

Waiting a few more heartbeats, Jessie took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "So, do you want to talk about it now?" Her voice was gentle, not wanting to push the precious woman in her arms.

"That was my sister," Rowan's body tensed every so slightly as she spoke, as if just the very thought of the phone call made her want to jolt up and hit something.

Completely confused, Jessie tried not to make her voice too demanding. "Your sister?" She had thought that Rowan was an only child. Where did a sister come in?

"Yeah. Family's a strange thing isn't it?" The question was rhetorical, but Jessie still considered it with great thought.

"I'm not one to comment on that," the dark-haired woman gave a humorless laugh as she thought of her own family of two.

Rowan made a note of this comment deciding to probe further after she'd explained her own situation. "Danni, short for Danielle. My parents adopted her when she was 9. They'd been married for a few years and couldn't seem to conceive on their own. So, they tried being foster parents for awhile, and eventually adopted Danni."

"I assuming that this was before you came along?" Jessie asked lightly, her eyebrow arching upward.

Rowan laughed softly. "Definitely. After they adopted Danni the found a new doctor who suggested mom have surgery to clear up her tubes. So, they tried and after that, I was conceived." She grew silent as her face grew serious. "I think Danni always resented me."

"Did your parents treat her differently than they treated you?" Jessie had heard the regret in her voice.

"No, not at all. But, Danni had had a hard life before she'd been adopted. Typical story, really. Her birth mother had been on drugs when she got pregnant and hadn't bothered to stop just because she was carrying a life. Danni's birth father wasn't around, from what I know of. She went from foster home to foster home before she ended up with my parents." Again, Rowan seemed to loose herself in thought. "I think that it was too late for her." She rubbed her face against Jessie's bare shoulder, taking in the scent of her lover for a brief moment.

"She was 11 when I was born. My first memories of her are just looking at her hair." Rowan giggled quietly. "She had this...FLAMING red hair that stood up in all directions no matter what was put on it or how they brushed it. When she was like, 17 she shaved it all off. Mom got so mad!" Rowan laughed loudly this time as the memories swept her away.

"Did you two get along?" Jessie's desire for information about Rowan's mysteriously appearing sister was held, barely in check, by her greater desire to comfort her love.

The mirth left Rowan's face at this question. She looked down at where Jessie's bare arms touched her naked stomach, trying to control the tears that were forming. "When I was growing up, I thought that the sun revolved around her. I looked up to her with the innocence that only a child can have and in the end, I got hurt because of that innocence."

"She let you down?"

"Something like that," Rowan said vaguely. "When she turned 18 she had already been using drugs recreationally. After that she got more involved, dealing as well as using." The back of her hand began to slowly stroke Jessie's arm. The need to connect to her lover as she spoke was overwhelming. "On my 10th birthday I found out that she couldn't come to my party because she was in jail."

Jessie quickly did the mental math, figuring that Danni had been 21. "Do you know what for?"

"My parents wouldn't tell me at the time. It wasn't till later, when I tried to find Danni to tell her about my parents' accident that I found out she was in prison because she'd been involved in the murder of a cab driver on the north side of Madison. She didn't get out until three years after mom and dad died." Falling silent for a minute, Rowan stared out into her mind's memories.

Deciding that she would be best able to help if she just let the story come from Rowan, Jessie sat there, holding on tightly. She was prepared to hold on for the rest of time if need be. In the back of her mind the combination of Rowan's sister's name, the red hair, and the crime triggered some kind of memory response, but she wasn't going to deal with that just now. Rowan's needs came first.

"When she got out I didn't hear from her for almost a year and then a letter comes from Texas, of all places." She paused, looking at Jessie for a minute. "Now, this part is going to sound unbelievable, and I understand. When I first heard I thought that she'd been taking drugs again. But, it's all true."

"Okay," Jessie said, uncertain of what she was being prepared for.

"While she was in prison, she participated in this..." Rowan searched for the right word. "...correspondence program. You see, they would match prisoners with people on the outside who were willing to communicate with them via letters. It was a way for them to gain some kind of interpersonal communication skills, or something."

"Right, I've heard of that."

"Well, Danni met someone and they, supposedly, fell in love." Rowan smiled at Jessie's puzzled look. "I know, that part doesn't sound too bad. But, here's the thing. The man she married was 30 years older and is a millionaire who owns a cattle ranch or something in Texas."

"You sister went to jail and then married a millionaire she met while in jail?" Jessie's voice sounded almost as incredulous as the story.

"I know," Rowan sighed. "Sounds impossible, huh?"

"Definitely." Feeling a bit disconcerted, but not overwhelmed, Jessie remembered the original source of this topic. "So, that was her on the phone?"

Rowan's body tensed again as she was reminded of the phone call. "Oh yeah, that was Danni. She's going to be coming to Madison, for some stupid reason, and is bringing her two kids."


"Oh yeah, she and the elder Texan have to children, a boy and a girl. Olson James Detwiler, the 5th is almost 8. Sunshine Detwiler is almost 6. My nephew and niece." She couldn't help the small smile that came over her face as she thought about the two children. Despite the annoyance of her flaky sister, she truly adored her niece and nephew.

"I can tell you like the kids. So, what's the problem? You meet up with them for an afternoon and then you don't have to worry about them again." Family was not something that Jessie totally understood. She'd never met any of them, only her mother, and for the life of her, she couldn't understand people's attachments to their extended family.

"The problem is that she wants to stay here."

Jessie paled as she realized what that meant. "Here?" She croaked out. "In this house?"

Nodding, Rowan couldn't help but smile at her lover's perplexed face. "Yes, that's what she wants. Of course, I told her no."

"I...I'll go back to the apartment while she's here." Jessie tried to appear nonchalant, but in truth she was having painful heart palpitations at the thought of spending a night without Rowan's warm body cuddle up next to her. You can do it J. You're a big girl, don't let something like this bother you.

Despite the facet that the mere idea of her sister staying with her turned her stomach, she couldn't help but warm at Jessie's sweetness. "You'll do no such thing. If she comes, I still want you here." A flash of insecurity passed over here. "Unless you don't want to stay while she's here."

A warm flush came over Jessie, inspired by both Rowan's words and the small dash of uncertainty. She wants me, her heart sang in response. Lifting the naked woman in her arms, Jessie quickly flipped her gently onto the bed, immediately positioning her own bare body on top of her. "I," she said nipping lightly at Rowan's neck. "Will be here," another nip on the other side of the beautiful neck. "Forever." Her eyes burned into Rowan's soul as the heat between their two bodies grew.

"Thank you," she said as she pulled Jessie's head down to capture her lips in a searing kiss.

"Do you know," Jessie began to ask as she laid herself fully on top of the smaller woman, her hands now free to caress and fondle the woman below her. "How much I love you?" Not letting her lover respond she softly nibbled on the woman's neck, relishing the arching body under her. "I want to take you now," she growled in a low voice as her mouth descended to Rowan's breast. "I want to make you cry out for me." Her tongue slowly circled a nipple, her eyes watching as it grew in anticipation.

"God, yes," Rowan said right before Jessie's hot mouth took her breast fully, suckling it, at first gently and then harder as their passions grew. Rowan reacted to Jessie's electric touch, causing soaring sensations to travel up and down her sweating body.

The pleasure that Rowan reacted to also filled Jessie as she took her over the edge again and again. Her fingers found the center of Rowan's needs, creating a frenzied rhythm of heat and a flow of pleasure and passion. With every pump of Jessie's arm, Rowan soared higher, crying out louder and louder.

Their bodies were joined, seared by the fire they were creating, melted together so that they were one. As one cried out in pleasure, the other cried out in an exact echo. Where one began and the other ended, neither knew nor cared. It was one pinnacle shared by two minds, one heart, and one soul, forever binding them together. Which, if you asked either one of them, was right where they should be.


Laying together, their bodies cooling from their lovemaking, Rowan and Jessie both silently watched the sunrise through one of the bedroom's windows. Her body feeling sated and lazy, Rowan could only lay there, drowning in the sensations that were still shooting intermittently through her body. As she remembered the touch of Jessie's mouth and hands, an uncontrollable shiver ran through her frame.

"You cold?" Jessie was immediately concerned, grabbing at the covers that had been totally disregarded. With tender motions she covered her lover, making sure that no space was left open for air to get through. "There, that better?" She asked, kissing Rowan's golden hair.

"Hmmm...except for one thing."

Puzzled, Jessie's eyebrows came together in a gravitational pull toward the bridge of her nose. "What's that?"

"You're not in here," Rowan gestured with her head at the cocoon that Jessie had created for her.

Smiling, Jessie rubbed at her forehead. "Well, we can definitely do something about that." With quick motions, she lifted the closest edge of the covers and slid her body under. As her cooled body came into contact with Rowan's now warm body, she felt the flame of desire ignite once again sprouting through her tender nerve endings.

"Much better," Rowan murmured, her head instantly finding a resting place on Jessie's shoulder.

They laid in comfortable quiet for a few moments. Jessie was torn between thinking about the naked body lying next to her, and the startling news about Rowan's sister. "Do you have any other family secrets that you're keeping from me?" Her tone was light, but it also carried a bit of wariness.

Rowan pretended to think about this a few minutes before she answered. "No...I think Danni's the only family secret I have." Her hand gently caressed the slope of Jessie's strong jaw. "What about you? I don't really know anything about your family, other than Anne, of course."

""Well, it's not really an easy question to answer." Jessie felt rather helpless.

"Why not?"

"Because I don't know any of my family, other than my mother."

"Grandparents?" Rowan asked, incredulously watching as Jessie shook her head no. "Aunts? Uncles? Cousins?" Each received the same negative answer. "What about your father?" Rowan was tentative in asking this, never having heard either Anne or Jessie talk about the man who had contributed to Jessie's conception.

"He's dead." Jessie's mouth turned down in a frown as she thought about what little she knew about her father. When she was younger she had held a lot of resentment and bitterness toward the man who had fathered her, but never lived long enough to be a part of her life. She didn't even know what he looked like. She remember that once, when she'd been about 11 she had come across her mother starring at a small back and white picture, tears streaming down her face. But, as Jessie moved closer to see what she was looking at, she hid the picture. "That must have been him," she whispered to herself, just now putting two and two together.

"What must have been him?" Rowan's voice was soft, respectful of the difficult situation.

"My father. She must have a picture of him." She went on to explain the memory that had just surfaced. "She must have been looking at a picture of him."

"And you say that she was crying? She must have loved him very much." Rowan's voice was wistful, her romantic cravings kicking in.

It was very difficult for Jessie to respond to that. "She only talked about him a few times..." she faded off, a wistful look in her eye, a look which did not go unnoticed by Rowan. "I had all the usual questions, I guess. The other kids all had fathers, or at least knew who their father was. Mom...well, it was hard on her and even as a kid I knew that it hurt her to talk about him."

Rowan smiled as she tried to imagine her lover as a child, with her large blue eyes and her dark hair. She could see a child like resemblance in her lover when she smile, really smiled. But that didn't happen very often.

"She told me that he died in Vietnam." Now Jessie was starring at something far away from the bedroom they were laying in. "When I left home, I took a trip to Washington DC. I went to..." her voice broke as she remembered the hardened girl she was then. Despite her tough attitude, she still had the emotions of a child who grew up without a father. "...the wall. You know, the Vietnam War Memorial? He...he wasn't there." Jessie struggled with the ghostly memories of pain she had felt growing up.

Over the years she had put the memories and the hurt away in a small box in the back of her mind, never wanting to revisit them. And yet, every day she found herself thinking about the man she never knew. Did she really look like him? She didn't look like her mother. Did she talk like him? Was her smile like his? Did they share similar interests? And with the every day questions there inevitably was the morbid questions concerning his death. Had he died in battle? Had he come home in a wooden box? Or was he left to rot in the jungle's humidity? So many questions without answers flooded her mind when she least expected it, leaving her unable to get beyond the mystery of her father.

Rowan felt stabbing pain through her body as she realized Jessie's suffering. She felt helpless to do anything to console her lover, wanting so badly to erase the pain she was feeling, and yet realizing that it was impossible. Tears streamed down her own face as she held on tightly to Jessie's warm body, both of them realizing how fortunate they were.

Years of bottling up her feelings made the moment even more powerful for Jessie as she realized yet again the extent of Rowan's hold on her. Tendrils of her lover had been woven throughout Jessie's being, creating an inescapable web. The sob caught both women unaware as Jessie broke completely, unleashing the pain that had gathered in her chest.

Putting her cheek against Jessie's, Rowan cried with her, both women holding on to each other as a lifeline and salvation.

After a while the tears stopped flooding, only leaking out occasionally. Neither woman had moved, both of them lost in their own thoughts.

The alarm finally went off, signaling that it was time to start the day, but neither of them moved. They sat, holding each other, as the song Cocaine ended and the morning announcers came on.

"This is the Bob and Tom show on WIBA 101.5 FM coming to you live from the station that plays classic rock that rocks!"

With an internal sigh, Rowan closed her eyes, willing herself back together so that she could face the day before her. Cupping Jessie's face with her hand, she drew her face closer so that she could softly kiss warm lips. Salt from the tears she'd shed was still on Jessie's lips, adding another dimension to her wonderful tasting kiss. The kiss deepened out of need and reassurance, recreating the heat that had barely had time to die down. They both pulled away at the same time, gasping for breath.

"Whoa," Rowan said breathlessly.

"We seem to be going from one extreme to the other."

"At least we ended on a happier note, right?" The sadness that had consumed Jessie's face earlier had faded somewhat, leaving only minute traces over the smooth planes.

Giving her lover a small, weary smile, Jessie brushed the blonde hair off her forehead before leaning over to place small kisses around her mouth. "I never knew happiness before I knew you. Thank you." Giving Rowan another quick kiss, she got out of bed and made her way to the shower.

Her breath having left her body at the power of her lover's words, Rowan couldn't help the smile that tugged forcefully at the sides of her mouth. "Wow," she said softly to herself before getting up. "Let's see if she needs some help in the shower."


Between classes and students with their ever-persistent questions, Rowan found her thoughts wandering back to Jessie's father. There was an unexplainable need to get answers for her lover, wanting to somehow help the painful ache she knew Jessie must feel. While she'd grown up with a very loving father, she did know the pain of loss. And it killed something inside of her to see that pain in the woman she loved.

"Got to figure out something," she finally muttered, forgetting that she was standing in front of a classroom filled with anxious freshman. She was almost startled to see almost two dozen pairs of eyes looking at her in bewilderment. "Sorry, just talking to Ralph here." She pointed over her shoulder at the empty space next to her, confusing her students even more. A few snickers in the back of the room indicated that some of them thought she'd lost her mind. Good, maybe that will scare them into their homework more often, she thought with a satisfied smile. "Okay, so where were we? Who wants to beginning reading Hills Like White Elephants out loud?"

A groan was barely stifled as the students looked at each other to see who would volunteer. Rowan's smile was slightly sinister as no one raised their hand. Another day, another victim.


"Jessie?" Rowan let herself through the front door, using her foot to close it behind her. Dropping her briefcase by the chair, she heaved an armful of papers onto the seat before turning around to lock the door. "Jess?"

The lights were on in the living room and kitchen, a sure sign that her lover was home, but there was no sign of where Jessie could be. After checking the downstairs and not finding anyone, she made her way upstairs.

The sound of now familiar, light snoring coming from the bedroom alerted her to Jessie's location. Entering she as touched by the sight of her dark-haired lover curled up in her bed. Our bed," she amended her thoughts with a tickle of delight. Tigger was curled up near Jessie's head, one paw lightly touching the sleeping woman's head. Upon hearing Rowan's approach, Tigger sleepily opened his eyes, blinked slowly, and then stretched his entire body while widely opening his mouth in a yawn.

"Hedonist," Rowan told him with an affectionate smile. She pulled her shoes off and climbed into bed behind Jessie, curving her body to match that of her lover.

"Hon?" She whispered softly, reaching up to stroke the sleeping woman's face, while pressing her body closer.

Jessie's beauty never failed to cause her breath to catch in her chest. She had known beauty before, but it wasn't close to the dark, glorious beauty Jessie held in just a mere look. How did I get so lucky?

She shook off her thoughts, concentrating on the conundrum before her. Why was Jessie in bed so early? Granted, she hadn't known Jessie all that long, but this didn't seem usual for her.

"Jess? Honey, are you okay?"

This time Jessie answered by mumbling into her pillow. "Sick. Flu."

"Oh boy," Rowan sighed. "Didn't you get a flu shot?"

"No." Jessie's tone of voice sounded like a petulant child, causing Rowan to laugh softly before chastising her lover.

"Jessie! You work in health care. Surely you know better than to skip your flu shot!"

"Don't get sick."

"Uh huh, sure. So, you're not sick now?"


"Then what are you doing in bed?"


"If you don't know, then how did you get here?"


If she weren't so worried about Jessie, Rowan would have been rolling on the floor, the conversation striking her as completely out of character and definitely funny.

"Can you sit up for me, sweetheart?"

Jessie lifted her head about an inch off the pillow, a silly smile on her face. "You called me sweetheart!" She seemed very pleased at this endearment.

"Well, you are my sweetheart, sweetheart."

Still grinning, Jessie began to sit up. Her grin, however, turned to a grimace as her stomach protested the sudden movement. "Oh God," she moaned as she unsteadily tried to get up from the bed and make it to the bathroom before it was too late.

Sensing her lover's need without words passing between them, Rowan helped her up and quickly walked her to the bathroom, the taller woman leaning against her heavily.

"You..don' stay," Jessie gasped as she leaned over the toilet, hoping that the waves of nausea would pass without her having to throw up. Rowan had helped her there and then stood by dutifully, waiting to help. Truthfully, Jessie was embarrassed and didn't want Rowan to suffer through seeing her so sick and helpless.

Before Rowan could answer, an even stronger wave passed over her and she was left with no choice as her stomach rebelled. It felt like hours passed as she continued to get sick, and she had thought that Rowan had gone ahead and left when she felt a cool clothe on the back of her neck.

Moaning, she tried to relax her body as she felt strong hands rub her back and her neck, making her instantly glad that her lover had not abandoned her, despite her earlier desire for just that.


Poor baby, Rowan thought as she brushed at the hair plastered to Jessie's clammy forehead. The ill woman had finally fallen into a light sleep, her body exhausted from the convulsions of dry heaves. Rowan was really concerned, but wasn't sure what more she could do other than make sure that the woman was comfortable and that she tried to keep liquids down.

Unable to stifle a huge yawn, Rowan drowsily looked at the clock and realized that it was already midnight. Sluggishly getting off the bed without jostling her lover, she quickly stripped out of her clothing, not bothering to put on anything else, and climbed into the bed beside Jessie.

Realizing she'd forgotten to turn the light off, she groaned loudly in frustration, her only desire at that moment to sleep. Reaching around, she found a book on her night table. With a well-aimed hurl, she managed to hit the light switch, instantly throwing the room into darkness. Curling her body around the slightly feverish one, she held the woman tightly, feeling very protective of her lover's weakened state. Snuggling into Jessie's back, she closed her eyes and let herself drift into the pleasant feeling of slumber, her mind doing little happy dances at the feeling of Jessie in her arms.


Jessie's first awareness was a sharp, pounding pain in her head. It was soon followed by the realization that her sides and her lower back were sore and it was then that the memories of her praying to the porcelain god the day before came back. Groaning, she tried moving her tongue in her mouth, not surprised to find that it felt like it had been drained dry of all moisture, leaving a putrescent taste that permeated her mouth.

Slowly, trying to ignore her head and the other aches and pains that seemed determined to remind her that she was alive, she moved her toes. That done, she proceeded to slowly move her fingers. They seemed to work as they should, reassuring her in some small way.

Using what little saliva she could muster, she attempted to wet her lips, her head protesting the little movement. Assessing that she was on her side, she slowly lifted one crusted eyelid, blinked sluggishly in an attempt to clear her vision, and then tried to find the alarm clock. With another groan she realized she would have to move her body a little bit to be able to see the face of the clock.

Feeling like she was moving under water, she shifted, putting her weight on an elbow, and managed to catch a glance before her elbow collapsed under her weight.

10:30. Sunlight attempted to sneak around the dark shades that had been pulled over the windows, letting her know that it must be in the AM. Rowan would already be at work. She felt disappointed that she'd only seen her lover long enough the night before to vomit and then fall back asleep. I must look like shit, she thought to herself, unable to get the energy to voice it out loud. I feel like shit.

"Good, you're awake!" An annoyingly cheerful, and yet very familiar, voice came out of nowhere. If Jessie hadn't felt so weak she would have jumped, startled. "I was going to let you sleep as long as you could." Rowan sat down carefully on the bed, not wanting to jar Jessie's body. She knew very well what it was like to have a night like Jessie did, and she knew that she'd be hurting today. A hand instantly went to Jessie's hot forehead, a frown forming on her face. "How do you feel?"

"Dying," she croaked out, her throat aching and her mouth sticking to itself.

"Be right back." She hurried out of the room, coming back with a tall glass of water.

Forgetting her pain, Jessie sat up in bed, eyeing that glass as if it held the secret fountain of youth. Eagerly, she took the glass from Rowan and tried to reign herself in as she drank from it, feeling the water slide all the way down to her beyond empty stomach, hitting it with a cool and oddly comforting force.

After taking a few careful sips, she paused, sitting absolutely still as she waited to see if the water would stay down. A diffused wave of queasiness followed, but nothing like what she had experienced the night before. The water would stay down, but she'd better be careful of what else she tried to consume.

"Better?" Rowan's voice filtered through Jessie's self-examination.

Nodding, Jessie laid her head back against the headboard, feeling exhausted from her small effort.

"I'll bring you some chicken broth a little later." The back of Rowan's hand went to Jessie's cheek, concern flooding her face. "Why don't you try to go back to sleep?"

"'Kay," was the quiet reply. With help, Jessie's managed to lay back down. She turned on her side, curling up around a pillow, and her breath soon evened out in sleep.

Checking her watch, Rowan saw that it was almost noon. When she'd gotten up in the morning, the first thing she did was call the English Department office, telling Debbie, the secretary, that she'd be out all day. Debbie assured her that she would make sure notes were placed on the appropriate places so that her students would know.

Next, she called Jessie's office. She told the person who picked up that Jessie wouldn't be in for the rest of the week because she was ill. The woman was very sympathetic, stating that her husband was sick with the flu as well. They chitchatted briefly about how it was 'going around' and then Rowan said her good-byes.

Looking at her sleeping lover, Rowan took in her pale face and her flushed cheeks. With a tender touch, she caressed the soft skin there, smiling as Jessie leaned into her touch even in her sleep. "I'll take care of you, baby," she whispered softly before leaning over and placing a light kiss on her forehead. Despite Jessie's self-reliant nature, she had a feeling that even Jessie needed someone when she was sick. And truthfully, even if she didn't, Rowan wasn't going to take no for an answer. She loved Jessie, and to her that meant that she would be there to take care of her when she was in need.


The day passed quietly as Jessie slept and Rowan caught up on housework before settling down to grade some papers. Around five o'clock that night, Jessie came hobbling down the stairs, her eyes still heavy from sleep, and came across Rowan stretched out in the arm chair, papers littering the floor around her, sound asleep. Tigger was curled up in her lap, his arm possessively over one of Rowan's hands.

"So you left me for her, huh?" Jessie only received a blink in return from the feline. "I don't blame you."

Kneeling by the chair, she reached out and brushed Rowan's cheek with the back of her hand, marveling at the softness she found there. You sweet thing, she thought silently, smiling to herself at the absolutely preciousness of the woman before her.

Green eyes slowly opened, blinking lazily before focusing on the woman. "Hey," Rowan croaked, her throat dry from sleep.

"Hey yourself."

"How ya feeling?" A hand instantly went up to feel Jessie's forehead.

"Better than before. Not 100%, but better."

"Your temperature seems to have gone down, but you're still hot."

"So I've been told," Jessie said, leering at Rowan with a roguish smile.

"You must be feeling better if you're up to flirting," Rowan teased back.

Standing up, Jessie stretched her arms above her head, rotating so that her back and shoulders cracked. "Oh yeah, that felt good," she said purred as she dropped her upper body down at the waist, touching her toes to stretch the rest of her sore body. With a loud groan of pleasure, she straightened up, stretching her calf muscles by flexing her feet at the ankles.

Enjoying the show, Rowan just watched, smiling. "Would you like anything to eat?"

Wrinkling her nose, a habit picked up from Rowan, Jessie thought about the consequences of eating. "A part of me is hungry, but my stomach is just not ready for it." She patted the body part even as she felt a slight wave of queasiness wash over her. Actually, there were a few things that she could probably eat that would keep her stomach calm, but she felt that she'd already put Rowan out enough and didn't want to make her do any more work.

"Not even some mashed potatoes?"

Jessie's eyes lit up, a smile taking over her face. "Mashed potatoes?" She asked, wondering if Rowan had read her mind. That was one of the few things that her stomach could always handle when she was sick.

"Yup. Or, how about some Jell-O?"

Wide eyes grew even wider as Jessie heard this. "RED Jell-O?" She asked in disbelief.

"Yup. Both cherry AND strawberry."

Licking her lips, Jessie was definitely ready to test her stomach's limitations. Putting her hands out, Rowan silently asked for Jessie to give her a hand out of the chair. Once settled properly on two feet, she got up on her tiptoes and kissed Jessie's nose. "Follow me," she said in a husky voice, crooking her finger in a 'come hither' gesture.

Like a well-trained animal, Jessie obediently followed her lover into the kitchen. Getting a bowl down, Rowan moved to the stove where a large pot sat on the back. Taking the lid off, she dished out freshly mashed potatoes.

"You made them? They're homemade?" Jessie couldn't get over the idea that her lover had actually cooked for her. And not only had she cooked, she'd done it in exactly the way that Jessie liked most.

"While you were passed out upstairs, I made a little call to a certain bookstore to find out what foods were your feel good foods." Rowan was delighted at the other woman's reaction, little balls of joy bouncing through her as she watched Jessie take a taste bite of the potatoes and groan in delight.

"Feel good foods?" Jessie asked around the potatoes in her mouth.

"Yeah. I think that everyone has certain foods that when they don't feel well, or when they're sad, make them feel better." She smiled when Jessie handed the empty bowl to her, a pleading pout on her face. Turning to dish out more potatoes, she continued. "It just so happens that your mother understood exactly what I meant and was more than happy to give me the secrets to your stomach."

"Remind me to thank her," Jessie said in between the happy humming that was coming from her as she ate. Finishing her second bowl of potatoes, she put the bowl down with a flourish and rubbed her stomach in appreciation. Leaning against the counter, she closed her eyes as she let the food settle. She felt warm all over from both the low-grade fever she still had and the treatment she was receiving from her lover. She couldn't remember anyone ever taking the time to take care of her like this.

Watching her lover, standing in her kitchen, eating the food she'd just made her, filled Rowan with a sense of being. Her life, and her house, had been so empty for so long. She was never at a loss for friends, but they never were really allowed to get too close. She doubted that any of them realized that she always held something of herself back. When they needed something, they never hesitated to call her and she never failed to do all that she could. But, if they really took time to analyze the friendship, they would realize that Rowan never once called them for a favor. She never once asked for help. And that's how she preferred it. But it was lonely sometimes. And now, her kitchen, her home, and her life were filled with this tall, dark haired woman who took her breath away with just a look. Lucky didn't cover how Rowan felt. She felt truly blessed.

She'd had relationships, friendships, and lovers, but none of them were what she needed. With each and every one of them she felt something missing, something that kept her from feeling complete. But, in Jessie she had found that element. That one missing piece that left her feeling totally satisfied with their relationship. Now, if only I could figure out how to officially ask her to move in, she thought. She'd been debating the issue with herself for days, knowing that Jessie really did live there with her, but they'd never made it official. Honestly, it felt to her like something they should celebrate, something that should be commemorated in some way, even if it was only in words.

Sidling over to where her lover was obviously deep in thought, Jessie used her hip to nudge the other woman. "You okay?" She hesitated in asking, simply because she felt so completely indebted to this woman.

Why not now? Rowan mentally prepared herself. I can do this, I can do this, I can do this, she repeated as a mantra. "Actually, I'm not okay."

Jessie eyebrows immediately come together as concern flooded her. "Are you feeling sick? Damn, I should have made sure you didn't get sick. I could have gone back to my place-"

Rowan stopped her right there, feeling a little exasperated. "No. I'm not sick. And you should not have left. That's what's wrong."

If she was puzzled before, Jessie was now beyond puzzled. She had no idea what Rowan was getting at. Putting her bowl down on the counter, Jessie began to steel herself against whatever Rowan was going to say. "I'm afraid I don't quite understand."

"You. Your apartment. I don't like it."


"I don't like that you have a place that you can run to, that you have a place where you can go to escape this," she gestured between them with her hands. "Us. I don't want you to have anywhere to run if we fight, or anywhere to hide if you're getting scared."

Jessie's body tensed at the barrage coming from Rowan. In truth, she hadn't really thought about running, but there was something in the back of her mind that knew she'd have an escape if she needed one.

"I want you to live here. I want you here when you're scared, I want you here when you're mad. I want you here no matter what. I want to know that each and every night I'll be able to count on you being in my bed, no matter what." Taking a deep breath, Rowan straightened. "I want you to move in here. Permanently." There. She'd said it. The very words that she'd been wanting to say for awhile now.

Focusing on her breathing for a moment, Jessie allowed herself to think before she answered. It was true. Her apartment was an escape for her. She'd never figured that Rowan would see that. And, she admitted to herself, it was cowardly. For all intended purposes, she was living at Rowan's house. She'd really become comfortable with that arrangement. But, she would always have her apartment to go to if she needed it. An out. Did she want to have an out.

Inwardly crestfallen at Jessie's lack of response, Rowan tried to be patient and give Jessie time to answer. Fear made her skeptical, but her heart knew that Jessie couldn't turn away from this. Not now. They were both too entrenched with each other to turn away.

Absently, Jessie rubbed one hand over her stomach lightly, feeling the potatoes beginning to churn there. A part of her brain registered that she wasn't going to be sick, but the potatoes were still causing quiet a stir in the otherwise empty organ.

"I...I don't want to leave, Rowan. If you'll have me, I'd love to live here. With you." She turned blue eyes onto her lover, hoping that Rowan would see the depth of what she was saying there. Searching green eyes out, she took Rowan's hand in her own and held it tightly. "I want to build a home with you. I want to be so tied to you that I can't leave even if I want to." Her last sentence was said with quiet embarrassment. Her need was so obvious at that point that it scared her.

Looking at her with wide eyes, Rowan felt very much like a deer in headlights. The raw emotion and need coming from Jessie was overwhelming, but at the same time completely welcome. Without words, Rowan threw her arms around the taller woman, holding her close, tears forming and then falling from her eyes. "Thank you," she finally whispered, still holding on tight, ready for the rest of their life together.


The next day Jessie felt considerably better, but Rowan made her promise to stay home and just rest.

"I told them you wouldn't be in for the rest of the week, so you might as well just take advantage of it."

"You did what?" Jessie didn't know if she was pissed off or grateful, the two emotions running closely together.

"I figured that you probably haven't take a single sick day since you've been there, and, like most companies, you'll loose your sick days when the year's over. It's already November, so it's about time you took a few."

Rowan's logic seemed flawless. It was all true. What's a few days? Jessie reconciled with herself. "There goes my perfect attendance award," she mumbled in half hearted protest.

"If you're good and stay home and get better, I'll give you an award that will make up for that one," Rowan purred softly into Jessie's ear, grinning a little when she saw that ear turn red at what she was suggesting.

Gulping, Jessie tried to take a few deep breaths. "Okay," she managed to squeak out.

Looking at the woman fondly, Rowan reached over and rubbed the back of Jessie's neck. "Are you going to be okay by yourself? I can stay home again if you need me to?"

"No, no, I'll be fine." She protested, not wanting the blonde to miss any more work because of her. "Thanks for yesterday though. I...I..." she found herself uncharacteristically stumbling over her words, finding words of gratitude difficult to verbalize. "I really can't tell you how much I...appreciate you staying here and taking care of me." Her head lowered. "I don't deserve it."

Lifting her chin, Rowan starred intently into her lover's eyes. "I love you. Therefore, you do. Simple as that." Leaning down she gently met familiar lips with her own, resting there a moment in a sweet kiss. But even the simplicity of that action couldn't prevent the sparking of desire that she felt.

"Call the English office for me if you need anything. I'll make sure they come and get me." She stood straight, trying to stop the trembling she felt in her legs.

"Okay. Play nice with your students," Jessie smiled at her lover, attempting to quell her own feeling of wanton lust.

Tucking in the covers around her lover, she kissed her on the forehead one last time before leaving.


Her morning classes over, Rowan settled into the chair in her office. She had three hours in her office in case her students needed anything, and then she was done for the day. She debated calling Jessie, but she didn't want to wake the woman in case she was sleeping.

Her dilemma was solved when her office phone buzzed. "Rowan, you have a call on line 3," one of the English department secretaries' voice came through the speaker on the phone.

"Thank you," she answered before picking up the phone and hitting the blinking line. "Hello?"

"Hey," the familiar, sexy voice rumbled through the handset, giving Rowan goosebumps.

"How ya feeling?"

"Not too bad. We' a situation here." Jessie's voice was hesitant, as if she were unsure of how to tell her something.

"Okay, what kind of a situation?" Truly puzzled, she waited patiently for her lover to explain.

"Well, it's better if you heard for yourself."

There was a muffled sound as the phone was passed from Jessie to someone else.

"Rowan?" Another familiar voice bubbled through, immediately giving Rowan a headache.

"Danni. What are you doing at my house?" More than a bit angry at her sister's total disregard for her, Rowan tried to keep her voice even.

"I told you I was coming. I guess I should have called to remind you." Danni acted as though everything was perfectly normal. "You should have told me that you had a new girlie and that she was living here though," her voice chastised gently.

Gritting her teeth, Rowan continued to try to keep her temper from seeping into her voice. "And I thought I told you that you couldn't stay with me."

"You were serious?" Rowan could imagine the blank expression on Danni's face. "Oh, I didn't think..."

"And," Rowan's voice rose in consternation. "Jessie is NOT my girlie. She is my girlfriend, my lover, my friend, but you will not refer to her as my girlie, you understand?"

"Geeze Rowan," Danni's voice lowered in a whisper. "You know that I don't have a problem with you being into chicks and all that. God knows I did plenty of exploring myself when I was in prison."

Counting to ten backwards, Rowan tried to even her breathing so that she could control her reaction. Deciding to ignore that subject for the moment, she blatantly made sure that her sister knew she didn't want her staying with her. "I'm sure you can find a room in a hotel nearby."

"A hotel?" Again, Danni sounded surprised at the suggestion. "Why, I don't think that a hotel will take Sylvester!"

"Sylvester? The dog?"

"Why, yes!"

"You brought the dog all the way with you from Texas?" Rowan could not believe what she was hearing.

"He loves to travel and the kids hate to be apart from him." Danni made it sound as though this were perfectly acceptable reasoning.

Exasperated, Rowan rubbed at her forehead with the heel of her hand. "How long are you going to be here?" She finally asked, resigned to her fate.

        "Only a week, honey, only a week."

        "Put Jessie back on the phone, please?" She waited as she was once again passed from one woman to the other.
        "Hey there," a low sexy voice drawled, and Rowan was unable to prevent the chill that went through her.

        "Listen, I'm sorry. It seems that they're going to be staying with us." She quickly remembered their conversation the night before, and amended that statement with a question. "But, only if that's okay with you?"

        Jessie took a moment to look around at the newly arrived guests. The two children, despite the fact that their mother seemed to almost shake with nervous energy, were sitting sedately on the couch. The dog in question, a small Jack Russell terrier, was sniffing around the room, his tail doing a fair impression of his mistress, twitching with energy. Wait till he finds Tigger, Jessie thought. The poor dog. "It's okay with me," she finally answered.

        Rowan let out a sigh as she finally took a deep breath in relief. "Thanks, I really appreciate it. Now, why don't you go to bed? I'll be leaving here in another two hours or so and then I'll take care of everything."

        "Sounds good to me." Jessie realized that she was feeling kind of tired. Being sick sucked, she noted as she inventoried her body's state of being. Everything still ached, especially her back and her sides, and her head was letting itself be heard with a dull roar.

        "I'll see you soon babe, love you."
        "Love you too."

        "Gimme back to my sister, then go upstairs."

        "Yes teach," Jessie smirked into the phone, but dutifully handed it to Danni before trudging up the stairs.

        "Wow, Rowan, you really picked a good looking one this time," Danni said as soon as she was sure Jessie was out of hearing range.

        Sighing, Rowan had a gut feeling that the week wasn't going to be easy. "Listen, let her rest, she had the flu right now and I want her to be able to get as much sleep as she can. You and the kids'll have to share a room; I only have one guest room. You, you can take the attic, but try to keep it down up there, okay?"

        "No problem Rowan. The kids wanted to go to the zoo anyway, so I'll just take them as soon as we've gotten our stuff upstairs. Don't you worry about a thing." As her sister said this, a loud barking came over the phone, followed by a very familiar meow.

        "What's going on?" Rowan demanded above the ruckus she could hear in the background.

        "Dammit, Sunny! Stop grabbing him by his tail!" A loud crash followed the scolding, and the sounds of a little girl crying followed. "Baby, are you okay? OJ, don't just stand there, help your sister!"

        Danni must have hit the off button on the phone because that was all that Rowan heard before she was met with a click and then dial tone. Quickly glancing at the clock and then at her empty office, she gathered her things and ran out her door, posting a hurriedly written note on her door, telling students that her office hours were canceled for that afternoon. As she hurried home, she prayed that her house was still in once piece.


        Sighing, Rowan finally went into her bedroom, taking great comfort in the fact that the lump under the covers indicated that her lover had managed to get some sleep through everything that had happened.

She'd gotten home two hours before and had spent the time cleaning up after Sylvester's run in with Tigger. After chasing each other around the house to the point of exhaustion, the two animals had flopped down in opposite corners, both breathing heavily and eyeing each other. Finally, Tigger got up and cautiously approached the resting dog. Too tired to chase after the cat, Sylvester merely followed him with his eyes. Tigger stopped right in front of the dog and warily leaned over and sniffed at the dog's face. Staring at Sylvester as though he were an unknown, foreign object, Tigger again leaned into him and took a quick swipe of the dog's nose with his tongue. When Sylvester didn't react, Tigger got closer, finally settling his body next to the dog and laying his head on his paws. Now, they were fast asleep, oblivious to the damage their explorations with each other has caused.

Danni, of course, offered to pay for the vase that was broke when the lamp fell and hit the side table in the living room, but Rowan didn't really care about the object. What bothered her was the invasion of her home. She asked Danni to go ahead and take Sunshine and OJ to the zoo, leaving her to clean up the mess.

Before they left, she gave her niece and nephew hugs, smiling into their uncertain faces. It had been a few years since she'd seen them, and they had only vague recollections of a nice aunt who had a gentle touch. "Are you hurt?" she softly asked Sunny as she wiped at the drying tears on her face.

"No ma'am," the girl answered hesitantly.

"Good," Rowan kissed her smooth forehead and looked at her sister. "It's obvious she didn't get her manners from you," she teased.

"Well, Ollie insisted that they both have some kind of formal training when it comes to that kind of thing." Danni still had a hard time adapting to the life of the terribly wealthy, and it was a source of some contention that her daughter had better table manners than she did. At dinner parties in their home, she'd taken to following Sunny's lead as to which fork to use when.

"I'm sure," Rowan murmured, aware of her sister's deficiencies. Jail had done nothing to improve her abilities in the social niceties. Helping her niece with her coat, Rowan smoothing out her shoulder length hair, then helped put a snow hat on. "Are you sure it's not too cold to go to the zoo?" She asked her sister for the second time.

"Nah, just bundle them up well and they'll survive."

Dubious, Rowan helped with the task and then saw them off before beginning the cleaning of the living room, then headed up stairs to check on her lover.

Climbing into bed beside Jessie's deep breathing form, Rowan studied the other woman's face intently, seeing each and every nuance. The lines that were starting to stand out around Jessie's eyes and on her forehead were smoothed in sleep, and the tenseness around her mouth was gone. Leaning over, Rowan gently kissed Jessie's forehead, much like as she had done with her niece earlier. Settling back against the pillows, she nestled her body so that it was touching the length of Jessie's, smiling as the other woman reached out for her even in sleep, drawing her even closer still. Closing her eyes, she just allowed herself to luxuriate in the feeling of home before sleep claimed her.


The smell of food woke Rowan from her nap. Wiping at the saliva that had formed at the corner of her mouth, she sniffed the air cautiously. Pizza. She sniffed again. Dominos? One last sniff. No, Rocky's! Her stomach echoed her realization with a growl.

In 1974 the first Rocky Rococo's was opened and pizza had never been the same since, as far as Rowan was concerned. It was one of the few fond memories she had with her sister. She could remember Danni taking her by the hand and going to Rocky's and sharing a slice of pizza and an order of breadsticks.

She remembered, Rowan thought to herself as she found her stomach gave every indication that it remembered. "Jessie?" Rowan softly called to the sleeping woman, unsure if she should wake her. After receiving no response, and quelling her immediate concern by seeing that her lover was indeed still breathing, she decided to just let her sleep, saving her some pizza for later.

Crawling slowly out of the bed, Rowan stretched her lithe frame, her back cracking in several places as she did so. Covering her mouth as she yawned, Rowan went to her closet and changed into a pair of sweat pants and an old UW sweatshirt, smiling at the smell of laundry detergent that wafted from them. Grabbing a pair of socks, she made her way down the stairs.

The tv was on, quietly playing a children's show of some sort. Her first sight of her visitors was of OJ sneaking up behind Sunny, yanking her hair hard, and then running away.

"MOOOOMMM!" Sunny whined loudly. "He's doing it again!"

"Am not!"

"Am too!"

"Am NOT!"

Now brother and sister were both standing, facing each other, looking for all the world as though they were getting ready to rumble.

"I want you both to sit down, OJ you take the chair, Sunny, you sit on the couch and I don't want either of you moving until I tell you to, do you understand me?" Danni stalked into the living room from the kitchen, her hair looking like it had gone to war with a wind tunnel and lost.

"Yes mama," the children said in well practiced unison, their attention immediately sucked back to the television.

Sighing, Danni started to turn back to the kitchen before she saw her sister standing on the steps. "Hey, I didn't know if I should wake you two or not," Danni said with a smile.

Something had changed in her sister, Rowan realized. Gone was the frazzled, at the end of her nerve Danni that she remembered last time she saw her. It seemed as though there were now some kind of peace within her, calming her usually raw character. She seemed...grown up, Rowan realized suddenly. While her sister was older than she was, Rowan had always felt older, more responsible than Danni, and neither of them had ever really questioned that assessment. But something had changed, and Rowan found herself actually liking the change. Maybe she could mend some fences with this new attitude of her sisters. Maybe they could develop a real relationship, rather just one based on the common bond of growing up in the same house.

"I smelled the food," Rowan said with a rueful smile. "I never could resist Rocky's pizza."

"I know," Danni wrinkled her nose, a trait that she shared with her sister despite the fact that biologically they weren't related in any way. "Come on in and have some. The children had too much to eat at the zoo and their not really hungry, but that doesn't mean that we can't eat."

Rowan followed her sister into the kitchen, shocked to see at least three pizzas and two big bags of breadsticks and sauce sitting on her counters. "Are you preparing to feed an army?" She asked as she peeked inside the first box.

"No, this is quiet normal for us. We all like different kinds, so I usually get three or four different pizzas just to make everyone happy." She shrugged. "It's not like it matters how much we spend on it," she acknowledge, self aware of her own financial status since being married to a millionaire.

"True," Rowan said easily, having no financial complaints of her own at the moment. Searching through all the boxes, she finally selected a square slice of sausage and pepperoni pizza. Taking a large bite, she hummed in delight as the familiar sauce came into contact with her taste buds. "Oh yum, I haven't had this in so long!" She moaned out loud.

"Well, I'm glad I picked well then," Danni said, smiling at her sister's pleasure, selecting a slice for herself.

They ate in silence, both of them lost in their own memories. After finishing her second slice and quiet a few breadsticks, Rowan wiped at her mouth and regarded her sister. "So, why are you in town?"

"No reason, really. Ollie's in Europe somewhere, and I didn't want to go with him this time, so I thought I'd bring the children here to show them where I grew up."

"Why now?" There was something going on, something that Rowan couldn't put her finger on.

        "I could never hide anything from you, could I?" Danni smile at the woman who had always been a thorn to her, finally seeing with her own eyes the woman that her little sister had become, and smiling at her. "I'm sick." She put up her hand to stop the inevitable questions. "It's nothing too bad, but I want to be able to make sure that I've given the kids everything I can just in case something happens, and that includes giving them some of my history."

        "What is it?" Rowan's stomach clenched as she suddenly thought about loosing her sister. A week ago she would have felt sorry for her sister, but she wouldn't feel this overwhelming sadness. Just in a day her attitude toward Danni had changed completely. She found herself wanting to connect with this woman, and now she was presented with the idea of loosing her. It was incomprehensible.

        "Leukemia," she answered softly, a gentle smile on her face. "When we get back to Texas I have to go in for some more tests and then I'll start either chemo or radiation therapy. After that I'll have to have a bone marrow transplant."

        It sounded frightening to Rowan, but Danni spoke very calmly, her peace with the situation obviously had already been made. "That's it? You make it all sound so simple."

        "That's the gist of it all. The hardest part will be finding a donor. Since we don't know any of my biological relatives, it makes it harder to find a donor."

        "I-" Rowan began, only to be stopped by Danni.

        "I already checked. You're not the right blood type. But thank you," Danni patted her hand. She knew her sister would be willing to help, no matter the history between them. "You want to know something?"


        "I know it sounds strange, but this is the best thing that's ever happened to me." Danni got up from her seat at the kitchen table, and went to look out the window over the sink. "When I found out, I really took a hard look at myself and my life. And I didn't like what I saw. I began to wonder why I was living at all, when I was only going through the motions, never really feeling anything deeper than the surface." She paused, her eyes focusing on something outside, her hand going to play with the necklace she wore around her throat. "I did some stupid things in my life, Ro. I played with fire more times than I can tell you." She stopped, her head dropping to her chest for a moment. "And, after all of that, I was still here, still breathing. And then, in the end, my own body betrayed me." She gave a humorless laugh. "Ironic how life plays its games. It was then that I realized that if I didn't do something to reclaim my life then I might as well let this cancer eat at me and destroy me because I wasn't doing anyone any good otherwise."

        Rowan moved so that she was standing behind her sister. She looked at their reflection in the window as she took her sister's hand in her own. "I'm happy you found your way," she said softly, squeezing Danni's hand.

        They stood there for several moments, looking out into Rowan's small back yard. Dusk had come and gone, leaving just a hazy light in the sky before darkness claimed the day completely. In the shadows of her yard, Rowan saw something that startled her.

        "What the hell is that?" She said out loud, looking at a moving figure in the yard. The figure hadn't seen them, but it was obvious that who ever it was didn't want to be seen as the figure slunked from hiding spot to hiding spot.

        Danni saw the moving shadow as well. "Do you think it's the neighbors?" She couldn't think of any reason why anyone would be hiding in her sister's back yard.

        "I don't know, but I'm going to find out!" Rowan stalked into the living room, grabbing her coat off the coat rack, and throwing it on. Opening the closet, she groped along the shelf on top until she found the Mag-lite she kept there, turning it on to test the batteries. A feeble, but full beam met her approval. She turned the light off, and began unlocking the front door. "I'll be back in a minute. Stay inside." She told her sister as she pulled the door open, stepped outside, and pulled the door closed again. "I hope she listens to me," Rowan mumbled out loud, closing her coat against the cold winter air.

        Her plan was to sneak up on whomever was sneaking around her back yard, proving herself the sneakiest of them all. She wasn't going to let someone just come into her yard and get away with it!

        Moving around the side of the house, she stayed close to the house itself, watching the shadows around her as she went. Finally, she reached the back of the house, peaking around the corner into her backyard. The picnic table and benches she used in the summer were stacked along the back, along with a small pile of wood in case she wanted a fire. She finally taken her grill in a few months before, realizing that the snow would soon be upon them. Other than that, everything looked normal from what she could tell in the fast approaching darkness.

        Scooping out every shadow and nuance of the yard, she was finally satisfied that who ever had been out there was gone. "Dammit, I wanted to catch someone!" She walked around the back of the house, stopping once she was in front of the kitchen window. Danni was still standing there, looking around nervously. Waving to her, Rowan indicated that she hadn't found anything and that she was going to go back around front. Danni nodded her head in understanding, and Rowan gave her a thumbs-up along with a reassuring grin.

As she turned the corner of the house, she found herself face to face with someone dressed head to toe in black, carrying something large in their hand. Found 'em was the last thought she had as something hard hit her in the head, knocking her completely unconscious.


        Danni got nervous when her sister went out the door. Something didn't feel right about all of this. Despite everything, Danni had learned recently to trust her instincts. And her instincts were telling her that something was desperately wrong about this situation.

        She checked in the living room and saw that OJ and Sunny were still watching television, neither one of them seeming to be aware of the ominous feeling that Danni could almost taste in the air. Maybe I'm just paranoid, she thought to herself, unable to move beyond her nervousness.

        Going back to the kitchen, she continued to stare out the window, not seeing the moving shadows that had been there before. At last she saw Rowan through the window and a wave of relief flooded her, but still did not help her fear to dissipate. Indicating that she was going to come back in, Danni nodded to her sister, still watching as Rowan disappeared out of the view of the small window.

        She continued to stand there, her mind waiting for the sound of Rowan coming through the front door. Minutes passed and she still didn't hear anything. The feeling of dread was heavy within her as she waited. Finally, she couldn't wait any longer.

        Checking to see that the kids were still in the living room. Both OJ and Sunny were engrossed in whatever show was on the television, the ever present Nickelodeon symbol in the corner. Satisfied that she could go look for Rowan without the kids being disturbed, she slipped on her coat before opening the front door and going outside. She went along one side of the house, not seeing or hearing anything. Approaching the back yard, she kept her eyes on the shadows, looking for any sign of either the intruder or her sister. Nothing. Moving across the back yard, she felt a slight headache from her eyes straining so much in the dark and wished that she'd thought to look for another flashlight. Turning the corner of the house, she began to move up the last side of the house. Almost immediately her right foot caught on something on the ground, and she stumbled forward, landing on something soft and pliable.

        Fumbling with her hands, she realized that she had fallen over a person. Searching for the person's face, she was shocked to see Rowan's sweet face, chalky in the moonlight.

        A sudden thought hit her with the force of a thousand elephants. The kids! Her mind screamed as she berated herself for leaving the kids alone. Scrambling to get up, she began to run toward the house, only to run into an unmoving object. With horror she realized that she'd found whomever Rowan had seen in the back yard.

        With a silent scream, Danni fell to the ground, her body instantly collapsing as she went unconscious from the blow to her scalp.


        With an anticipating pull in her stomach, Jessie watched as Rowan crawled up the length of her body, both of them naked, a feral look of desire in Rowan's green eyes. Her body reacted without her giving it any thought, the flooding between her legs, the tightening of her nipples and the rapid beating of her heart all in synch with her constant tug in her lower abdomen.
        Rowan finally was lying on top of her, but she continued to move forward so that her breasts were swaying over Jessie's face. There was no hesitation as she reached out and sucked one of Rowan's nipples into her mouth, moaning as she felt it harden as her tongue ran over it.

        Pulling away with a teasing smile, Rowan move seductively over her lover, teasing her with her breasts and mouth, until she finally settling her lips over Jessie's mouth. Before her lips came down to meet Jessie's, Rowan flicked her tongue out, wetting her lips in a sensual dance.

        As Jessie had hoped, Rowan slowly met her lips, her hot mouth enticing her own, her tongue causing havoc within her entire being. Responding immediately to Rowan's kisses, Jessie's body surged into Rowan's, electric heat building between them. Pulling away for a moment, Rowan gave Jessie a sexy smile as she allowed herself to rest fully on Jessie's body, one hand snaking down Jessie's firm abdomen, resting between her legs. She then returned her mouth to Jessie's, her cold, wet lips...


        Jessie's mind, though filled with the erotic sensations coursing through her body, realized that somehow this wasn't right. Wet, definitely, but cold did not fit into the picture that her mind was seeing. Looking at Rowan, she examined her lover's face curiously, trying to figure out this conundrum. Opening her mouth, Rowan meowed frantically.


No, this definitely wasn't right.

        Slowly she came to surface from her dream, not wanting to leave the molten heat of it behind, but unable to reconcile whatever was sniffing at her mouth with a cold nose with what she wanted to be feeling. Dragging her mental feet, Jessie slowly responded to the wake up call, her hand lazily reaching to brush whatever it was away. But, the cold nose persisted, this time accompanied by the occasional lick of a dry, rough tongue.

        "Tigger," she managed to say, brushing the cat away again, only to have him return again. "Okay, okay, I'm up, I'm up." She finally managed to open her eyes, her hands coming up to rub away the blurriness left behind by sleep. Eventually she was able to focus, seeing the annoying face of Tigger right before her. The cat was standing on her chest, his front paws firmly planted, his nose nudging her even as she looked at him. "What is wrong?"

        "Merrrow," Tigger answered, looking at her expectantly.


        "Merrrooooow," he repeated, bumping his head against her even more firmly this time.

        "Christ, if you woke me up cause you want food, you're in big trouble mister!" She sat up as she swung her legs over so that her feet were firmly on the floor. She vaguely remembered Rowan getting into bed at one time, but now the bed was disappointingly empty of blondes. "Water I might be able to forgive you for cause if my tongue was that dry I'd be pissed if there were no water too. But, If it's just food, then we're going to have words, you and I."

        She stood up, taking a minute to get her legs steady under her. Trudging to the bathroom, she was intercepted by Tigger. The cat raced over, placing his body almost directly under her foot, causing her to have to stumble to the side to avoid stepping on the cat. She glared at him, and then stopped in her tracks.

        "Come here Tigg," she said gently, crouching down and offering her hand, the cat immediately responding. She reached out and touched an odd looking spot on his fur. It was wet. Pulling her hand away, she looked down and found what she was afraid she'd find. Blood.

        Her eyes moved to the doorway that opened out into the hallway and the sense of foreboding that was heavy in her chest increased. There were bloody cat prints coming into the room from the hallway, indicating that wherever the blood came from it wasn't just a little bit. It had to have been a lot if Tigger was able to track it all the way up the stairs and into the hallway.

        She checked Tigger to see if the blood was coming from him. She doubted that he'd be in such a amiable mood if he were cut, considering that he was a first rate drama king. As she let the cat go, she noticed that he limped a little, as though his left front paw hurt. He looked at her, his worry evident in his eyes. Something had happened, and something had scared him, his tale enlarged even still.

        "Shit," she cursed softly, immediately getting to her feet. Going to the closet, she pulled out a bag she'd stuffed in there after the roses had been delivered to the house. Pulling out yet another bag from that one, she unzipped it. From there she pulled out a French-fitted case, crafted of hand-tooled, black leather. She stared at the combination lock on the case for a long moment before she put the numbers in the right positions. Sighing deeply, she opened the case, revealing a part of her past that she never wanted to have to face again.

        She'd first seen the Desert Eagle in an old movie with Mickey Rourke and had fallen in love with the gun. Since then she'd owned several different models, but the one she had now was her favorite. It was a big and heavy gun, heavier than most handguns, weighing almost 5 pounds when loaded. She'd gotten the .41 magnum model with the gold barrel and trigger, and smooth black grip. It was beautiful. Anywhere that she went the gun went with her, striking fear into her enemy's eyes more than once with its recognizable, triangular barrel. The recoil from the gun would knock most back, but Jessie had gone to a range and practiced reacting to the gun's shot, learning how to move with the gun rather than against it. In the end, she and the gun worked as one.
        Laughing humorlessly as she checked the magazine, she realized that the gun had lasted longer than anyone else in her life had. The hardest part about leaving Chicago and her past behind had been getting used to every day life without the feeling of her gun at her side. She had lovingly put it away, polished and cleaned, vowing to never take it out unless absolutely necessary. That time was now, she realized.
        With slow but deliberate steps, she made her way down the hallway, noticing that Tigger stayed with her, watching her to see where she went. She wondered if maybe the cat was more intelligent than she'd ever given him credit for.

        Pausing at the top of the stairs, she closed her eyes for a moment, focusing only on what her ears were picking up. The only sound she heard was the annoying background rumble of the television. Using all her senses she tried to see if she could feel anyone downstairs, but she couldn't. The house felt very empty.

        With her back against the wall of the stairs, she slowly made her way down, pausing on every stair and listening to see if the sounds changed, but they didn't. When she reached the bottom of the stairs she felt the same sense of emptiness coming from the house. There was no one in the house, she was sure of it. Walking carefully into the living room, she only confirmed her instinct. The living room was empty, but the front door was wide open, grabbing her attention right away.
        A plaintive meow from Tigger reminded her of the blood that had first alerted her. Looking for that cat, she found him huddled in the corner over something on the floor. A puddle of blood surrounded the area. Rushing over, Jessie realized that Tigger had been standing over the prone form of Sylvester, the dog. He wasn't moving and his eyes were closed, but Jessie picked up the slight rise and fall of his chest as his lungs continued to work. Kneeling down, she briefly felt ridiculous as she prepared to find the dog's pulse. She finally found the slight flutter of his heart in his neck, thankful that the dog was still alive. They'd have to get him to the vet right away. Examining the dog quickly she realized that he had a knife wound on his hindquarter, producing the copious amount of blood that was now tracked up the stairs.

Ripping the bottom of her shirt, she wound it around the dog tightly, trying to stop the blood from continuing to flood out of the wound. A soft, gentle tongue reached out and licked her hand for a moment as the dog regained consciousness just long enough to thank his rescuer.

Tigger moved closer, taking a protective stance over the dog, reaching out and licking the dog's head every now and again in reassurance.

"Stay with him," Jessie said in a low voice that wouldn't carry. Tigger looked at her then blinked slowly, settling down next to the dog, a paw resting against the dog's front leg.

        She covered the distance between her and the front door quickly, waiting at the door for a brief moment before moving through the door frame. She crouched down in the doorway, allowing her eyes a few seconds to adjust to the darkness outside. Her ears picked up movement to her left, the sounds of someone walking around the house, an occasional grunt filling the air.

        Hefting the large gun her hand, she gripped it lightly, keeping her arm tense as she prepared to raise it at whoever was coming around the corner. Finally, a dark figured came slowly around the corner. Raising her gun, Jessie's finger rested over the trigger. "Who are you?" Her voice was all steel, her anger evident in even the way she was standing.


The voice that was closest to her heart reached her ears and she shakily lowered the gun in shock. "Rowan?" She said softly, rushing forward as she saw the figure of her lover being to waiver. She reached Rowan just in time to catch her as she fell forward.
        Gently lowering Rowan to the ground, she quickly checked over the woman's body. The only injury that she could find was a large gash on her forehead. Blood was only trickling out at this point, although it was evident that it had been bleeding more profusely at some point. The wound was swelling as the area around it darkened with bruising. "What the hell happened?" Jessie whispered as she brushed her fingers over her lover's cheek.

        Lifting Rowan carefully, she grunted slightly at the weight. Her body still hadn't recovered from the flu, but she forced her muscles to respond. Carefully she took Rowan into the house, lowering her onto the couch. Picking up the phone, she called 911 requesting an ambulance and the police, giving them Rowan's address before hanging up.

        Leaving Rowan on the couch, she grabbed her keys from the table in the living room, she went back out the front door, locking the door behind her. Keeping her senses completely alert, she walked the perimeter of the house, not finding anyone else, including the cop that was supposed to be watching the house.

        What HAD happened? There was supposed to be an officer watching the house at all times. How many times had she and Rowan passed by the officer on duty? There had never been a lapse before. What had happened that would cause it to happen tonight? It all made her very suspicious. Had she misjudged Mike? Was he involved in this somehow?

        Satisfied that there was nothing else for her to do outside, she went back around front as she heard the sirens coming closer. Remembering Sylvester, she went inside and called the Animal Hospital, arranging for someone to come and pick up the dog at the house right away and take him to the hospital.

        Letting the EMS into the house, she waited at the door for the familiar figure walking quickly up from his unmarked sedan. Her eyes looked at him with distrust and undisguised anger as he approached the door. He slowed down, seeing everything she was portraying and, warily holding his hands up, he tried to explain.

        "Jessie, I am not sure yet what happened. Your mother called the station and told me that the car outside her house was gone. Then I heard the call for this address and came right over. I promise we'll get this figured out." His faded blue eyes were filled with sincerity, but she wasn't going to blindly trust this man anymore. Looking through the doorway behind her, she saw the EMS workers concentrating on Rowan and she struck with the pain that she had no choice but to trust this man. If she didn't, she was putting both their lives on the line and she wasn't willing to sacrifice the one person who had brought her light.

        Sighing inwardly, Jessie moved back to let Mike through the door. She was going to let him help, but she was also going to keep her eyes and her ears open. First sign of being double-crossed and she would make sure that Mike Moore was never given the opportunity to hurt Rowan again.


        Faces faded in and out of her vision as her mind struggled to wake her, while her body desperately wanted to stay immobile. "Jessie," she whispered over and over again, but no one around her seemed to respond to her request. Didn't they hear her?

        "We need to take her to the hospital for a CAT scan," a male voice said.

        "I don't want to go to the hospital," she replied, but again no one seemed to hear her. It was beginning to frustrate her that so many people were just ignoring her, like she wasn't even there.

        "I'm going in the ambulance with you," the familiar voice caused warmth and affection to rise in her. Jessie was there! Jessie would listen!

        "Ma'am, are you family?" The first voice asked this hesitantly, his voice sounding nervous.

        "I am going with her," Jessie said again, her voice strong, telling not asking.
        "I'll follow in my car," another voice came through, familiar, but not enough for Rowan to recognize it. "Pat, it's Mike, tell Dan to send a squad car to," the voice paused as he talked, his tone changing direction. "Which hospital?"

        "Meriter," Jessie answered.

        "Pat, tell him Meriter hospital."

        "I'm not going to the hospital," Rowan tried to insist. This time, Jessie heard her.

        "She's trying to say something," Jessie said, her voice coming closer.

        Then she was there, kneeling next to Rowan, her warm hand brushing gently through Rowan's hair. "What did you say baby?"

        "" This time Rowan heard her own voice break through the air, sounding horrible and harsh. Why hadn't her words come through before.

        "Honey, you need to go to the hospital. You have a head injury and we have to make sure that your brain's going to be okay."

        "No." Rowan inwardly winced as she heard her own voice sounding so childish and unreasonable.

        "I'm coming with you, you won't be alone for a second."

        A thought suddenly occurred to Rowan and she tried desperately to sit up. "Danni???" Her eyes, filled with unfocused confusion, looked at Jessie in terror. "Sunny? OJ?"

        "They're gone baby, they're gone. Don't worry we're going to find them. We'll find whomever took them and we'll get them back."


        The ride to the hospital was very short. When they got there the police escort allowed them to get right into the emergency room and they were able to get a doctor to look at Rowan soon after. After checking the bleeding on her head, the ensuing swelling and then shinning a light into her eyes, the doctor announced that he wanted her to have a CAT scan. She would also have to stay over night to make sure that there was no swelling or bleeding in her brain.

        Michael stayed with them as they got Rowan into a room and settled her into the hospital bed. He silently waited as Jessie talked quietly to Rowan, reassuring her that they would find Danni as soon as possible. Two uniformed officers came to the door, looking to Michael for their assignment.

        "You're going to sit outside this room at all times. I don't care what you're told, unless the order comes out of my mouth, you don't move, understand?" Michael's voice was filled with a new harshness that neither officer had any desire to go against. "Can I speak to you outside Jessie?"

        Turning to look at her lover, Rowan nodded her head for Jessie to go on out. The sooner they figured this out the sooner they could find her sister. She just prayed that she and the kids were okay.

        Resting against one of the smooth walls in the hallway, Jessie waited for Michael to speak. He didn't keep her waiting for long.

        "I called the station on my way here and found out a bit of what happened. Someone put a general order over the radio for all the officers on this assignment to come into the station for an immediate briefing. The officers who were on duty didn't question the order and headed straight for the station."

        "Leaving the house unguarded." Jessie finished for him, her hand going up to rub at her tired eyes. "Can you track where the radio call came from?"

        "Not really, everyone is just on the same frequency. Anyone could get a hold of one of the radios we use and make the call in." Michael looked frustrated and angry at this violation.

        "So, what do we do next?"

        "I want to talk to Rowan so that she can tell me what happened to her and then we try to find any clues left at the house. Now, there are two scenarios. If whoever orchestrated this is after you, then there' s a chance they'll want to make some kind of exchanged. Or, this could be some sadistic SOB who will just want to kill everyone." He ran his fingers through his short hair. "I don't think it's the former, but I want to be prepared for any possibility."

        Jessie nodded, understanding, in theory, what he was saying but having a hard time getting past the idea of people dying in this situation. "Do what you have to and I'll do the same."

        He stared at her for a moment before nodding. He wasn't sure what she had planned, but he had seen the bulge of the gun she was carrying and knew that he would have to trust her, just the same as she would have to trust him.         


        Jessie left the hospital briefly after Michael talked to Rowan. What Rowan had said disturbed her. This was all too professional to just be a casual nabbing. Someone had planned this out and had taken the time to create a quick and efficient crime.

        Finding a wall of pay phones, Jessie got her calling card out of her wallet. Picking up the receiver, she punched in her calling card code and got ready to enter the phone number she wanted to call. She hesitated. Did she really want to call the number? Couldn't she do this on her own?

        She sighed as she realized that she needed help. She couldn't find Danni and the children on her own. With resolute movements she dialed a long ago memorized number. "Dante? Yeah, it's me."


        Her head was pounding. She couldn't move her hands. When she opened her eyes she realized that there was a rough cloth wound around her head which prevented her from seeing. She tried to pull herself together long enough to figure out where she was, but that was much more difficult than she thought it would be.

        "You stupid fuck!" A loud voice yelled harshly, startling Danni out of her own thoughts.

        "You said you wanted the woman. I brought you the woman." A soft voice spoke calmly and rationally.

        "I didn't say the redhead! She's blonde, you idiot, the woman I wanted is blonde!"

        "You didn't say anything about hair color. If you wanted a blonde you should have said so." The soft voice sounded slightly amused, not at all afraid of the man who was yelling.

        "Dammit, there was no redhead, there was only the blonde and her."

        "That's not my problem. My men and I went and brought you the woman. That's what you're going to pay us for." The man with the soft voice suddenly sounded very menacing, a quiet threat hanging in the air that Danni didn't understand but she felt very clearly. "We brought you the children so that you would have even more to bargain with. You will pay us more for them."

        The children?? Danni felt her stomach turn immediately as she realized that he could only be talking about Sunny and OJ. Her anger cleared her once clouded mind, giving her a sharp focus on the fact that she needed to get herself and her children out of this place.


        Don Colston was not as innocent as she had thought. Jessie slammed the phone back down, startling a nurse who had been walking by. Don Colston had worked for many years for Manny Rivera, a long time rival of Jessie's. She'd never met Colston before, but apparently he had been quickly moved through the ranks of Rivera's operation.

This changed everything. The call to the women's shelter hadn't been a coincidence. Neither had the shooting of Colston's "wife" who had probably been an innocent woman that Colston had picked as a victim. It had all been a very elaborate trap that Jessie hadn't even realized had been set.

Jessie gave a feral grin to herself as she walked down the hallway toward Rowan's room. This also meant that the game had instantly become one that she could play because it was one that she was well familiar with. The dynamics had changed and she suddenly felt in control once more.

Before she'd hung up the phone with Dante, she told him that she needed backup. Three of her former bests were going to come out of retirement to help her one last time. Between the four of them they would find Colston and end this game.

She checked her watch. She had four hours to prepare Michael and the rest of Madison for the invasion that was coming their way.


        "No!" Michael shouted, earning him dirty looks from the nurse sitting at the nurses' station. "No," he said more quietly this time, "we cannot allow those people to come here!"

        "They're going to come and help with this and then they're going to leave." Jessie was tired of getting no where with this man. He was so frustrating! Didn't he understand that people's lives were at stake here?

        "Jessie, if these supposed former hit men come here and tear apart this city, how can I have any reassurances that they won't cause trouble?"

        "I am giving you my word, Michael. In my life that's all that I have that has any weight to it. I never violate my word."

        Michael, hands on his hips, looked down at his feet for a moment as he thought. This seemed so ridiculous, so out of control. And yet, when he looked up into the icy blue eyes, he realized that he trusted her. "One misstep and I will not hesitate to find and apprehend every single one of you."

        Jessie laughed harshly. "I promise, that if one person messes up I will personally bring them to you."

        "Okay," he nodded his head. "What am I supposed to do with the police investigation?"

        "Keep going. You might find out where he is before we do. I want both avenues open. I'll agree to keep you informed if you give me the same courtesy."

        "I'll do what I can." Michael sighed. "This is unbelievable, you know?" He awkwardly patted Jessie's shoulder as he began to walk toward the elevator. "Unbelievable," he muttered again.


        After calling the animal hospital to check on Sylvester, Jessie went back to Rowan's room. She was a little nervous about how to approach her lover. She knew that she had to tell Rowan what was going on, but she was worried about how she would react. There was really nothing to do but tell Rowan the truth about everything, including what was in her heart and then just wait for her decision.

        Taking a deep breath, she entered the hospital room, her face relaxing somewhat as she took in the sight of Rowan's body tucked into the hospital bed. She looked small, almost childlike, lying there. Her head was resting on a pillow, her blonde hair fanned out over the starch white surface. I love her so much my heart hurts, Jessie sniffed back the tears that formed in her eyes before approaching the bed.

        "Hey," she said softly, not surprised when alert green eyes looked right at her.

        "I was thinking. Can you call Chicago? Get some of the people you used to work with to come and help with the search? They might be able to find Danni faster, they're used to playing without rules, right?" Rowan searched Jessie face as it broke into a huge smile. "What?"

        "I love you, you're brilliant."

        Puzzled, Rowan shrugged. "If you say so."

        Picking up the chair next to the bed, Jessie went to move it so that she could face Rowan and touch her while she spoke.

"Don't sit there," Rowan stopped her. "Sit here," she patted the bed, moving over so that she'd have plenty of room to sit.

Not arguing, Jessie sat down, careful not to crowd her lover too much. "Listen, we need to talk."

"Uh oh, that's never good."

"No, it's not," Jessie agreed. "There's much more going on here then we ever realized." She proceeded to tell Rowan everything she had learned about Colston and what had happened so far. She finished with the phone call she'd made earlier, seeing the dawn of light in Rowan's eyes as she put the pieces together.

"It's 8:30 now, so they'll be here by midnight?" Rowan felt better about the situation they were in now that they had a plan.

"Around then, yes."

"Where are you meeting them?"

"An old building on the north side."

"Dammit, I'll still be here," Rowan said in frustration. She didn't want to be separated from Jessie even for a minute.

"I don't want you there," Jessie's voice took on a firmer tone. Rowan couldn't not get involved in this. No way, no how.

"And I don't want you alone!" Rowan challenged. "I finally found you, I'm not going to let you go so easily!" Tears filled her eyes as she realized what they were getting themselves involved with.

"Shhhh...I'm not going anywhere. I promise, but this time tomorrow this will all be over with and you and I will be sleeping in OUR bed, snug and sound." Blue eyes met green for a long moment as they both realized that they needed to believe. "I promise I will come back to you. You are my heart. Without you I am lost. I will find my way back to you, I promise you that."

        The events of the day and the pain in her head were catching up with her. Rowan nodded, placing a gentle kiss on Jessie's hand as her eyes slowly closed. Leaning down, Jessie placed a soft kiss on Rowan's forehead. "I love you," she whispered before she straightened up and left the room.

        Anne stood in the hallway, waiting for her daughter to finish. Jessie had called her before talking to Rowan, explaining that Rowan had been hurt and that she needed Anne to stay with her. Not questioning what her daughter was asking, Anne agreed to come right over.

        "How is she?" Anne asked, concern lacing her voice.

        "She's asleep. I think the doctor gave her something for the pain that made her sleepy. Hopefully they'll be letting her out tomorrow. Can you make sure that she gets home okay?"

        "Of course. Where are you going to be?"

        "Fighting evil, mom." Jessie's voice was sarcastic, belaying the truth that was in her statement.

        "Okay honey, have fun."


        The hospital was quiet when Rowan finally woke up. The soft sounds coming from the other rooms on the floor were only a buzz in her ear, nothing more. She took a moment to stretch lightly, realizing that moving too much made her head hurt more.

        "I was hoping you'd sleep at least till morning," a soft voice came out the darkness, startling her slightly.

        "Anne?" She asked, confused. What was Anne doing here?

        "Last I checked." The older woman finally came into focus, a gentle smile warming her face. "Between you and that daughter of mine I seem to be getting to know the local hospitals pretty well." She brushed back the hair that had fallen over Rowan's forehead, the bandage there very stark and white. The gesture was so like something Jessie would do that Rowan felt tears prick her eyes. "Don't cry honey, she'll be all right. That girl has more lives than a cat, and I dare say that now that she has something to live for she'll fight even harder to come back."

        "How'd you know I was thinking about her?"

        "The same way I knew you two loved each other before either of you did! You both get this misty look in your eyes when you think about one another, and sometimes you even get this goofy smile on your faces. I used to know that face pretty well myself..." Anne drifted off, her mind and memories focused on something long gone. Shaking herself out of the pain she felt at loosing her own love, she took Rowan's hand. "Love is a gift, Rowan. Grab on and never let go."

        Rowan allowed herself to be pulled into her own thoughts of love. She had always known that love must be great; powerful and ultimate, it was both volatile and gentle at the same time. All consuming, love dragged you in and then took everything from you, leaving you filled with its impressions. It was a tempest storm and every other calamity that humanity faced, filled with dramatic pain and travesty, but it was also the very joy of existence. It was a rush greater than any drug could give you, lifting you higher and higher every second. In essence, it was the greatest roller coaster ride ever.

        Was it worth it? Rowan asked herself. Her answer was a decided yes. What she felt for Jessie was greater than anything she'd experienced in this life and she doubted she'd ever experience anything greater. The highs and the lows of loving someone so much were devastatingly extreme, but she would never give them up.

        "Go back to sleep, dear. I'll be here when you wake up." Anne's hand gently stroked Rowan's cheek until she felt her eyes close sleepily and her breathing begin to deepen. She fell asleep and dreamed of her lover.


        The three men in front of her were as different from each other as anyone could be. Jamie was a large, black man who's skin was so dark he almost appeared a violent purple at times. His large brown eyes never missed anything, allowing him to carefully calculating things around him. In addition to be an asset because of his size, he was also brilliant at deductive reasoning and finding what most people missed in the smallest of detail.

        Peter was a short, skinny man who's skin was so white that he almost glowed in the dark. He had shaggy black hair that hung over his face, obscuring people from seeing his green eyes that were able to see better than most in the dark. He never smiled, never grinned, his mouth was set into a permanent straight line. On rare occasions he would actually frown when really perplexed, but other than that his mouth didn't deviate.

        Wu was the last of the men there. He had been a part of the Chinese Mafia in Chicago, but Jessie had recruited him almost 5 years before, finding his abilities in both marksmanship and man-hunting very appealing for her former business.

There was many times where she needed to find someone very quickly, and these three men always came through for her. She had kept them on permanent retainer, leaving them at her beck and call through out the years. When she left the business she'd made it clear to her successor that he needed to keep these three on his good side, otherwise he'd find himself dead.

"So, you finally decided to give us a call," Wu said, his narrow eyes getting even more narrow as he gave her a cold look. "What made you think that we'd help you?" The three men seamlessly created a visually intimidating picture, but Jessie stood her ground, her arms at her side, her feet shoulder width apart.

"Because," she drawled slowly, "I was the one person who got away from you and lived to tell about it."

Everyone smiled jovially with the exception of Peter who merely grunted. "We let you get away, JB. If we wanted to we could have found you," Jamie approached her, hugging her tightly before letting her go. "It hasn't been the same since you left. Does this mean..." He let his question hang as all three men waited for her answer in anticipation.

"No, I'm not coming back." She sobered quickly, the reunion over it was time for business. "You three know that I wouldn't have made contact if it hadn't been an emergency."

"Dante just told us that you needed us. He didn't give us any details." Peter finally spoke, his voice gravely from too many years of smoking.

"This isn't like what you're used to. I do need your help, but this time it's a personal problem."

"Someone messing with you?" Jamie asked softly, the menace in his voice unmistakable.

"Don Colston."

Wu whistled softly. "He disappeared about a year ago. We wondered where he went, but since we didn't hear anything and no one reported having any problems with him, we just let him go. There was no reason for us to go after him." Wu shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, I figure that he must have come here and started a plan that would cripple me." It was very hard for Jessie to admit that she'd been trapped. She'd obviously had gotten soft, thinking that she was safe in her new life and that no one would bother to track her.

"Is he working for Manny?" Wu asked carefully.

"I can't see why he'd be working alone, can you?"

"No, I can't." Wu gave a heavy sigh. "Shit. Okay, what's the deal?"

"Last night he was at my house." Inwardly she smiled at the mention of her house. Maybe not in ownership, but she was in fact sharing the house with Rowan, creating a home with her. It felt very good to say that. "He took a woman and two children who were there and who are very important to someone I love."

Jessie watched the three men carefully as they thought about what she had said. While she had a very close working relationship with these men and while they all had a mutual respect for one another, Jessie was a little apprehensive about bringing them into her personal life. These men were cold killers who could take a life without remorse or regret. She'd seen them do it many times, usually on an assignment she'd given them. She had no way of knowing if their loyalties were to her or just to the money that she paid them.

"I'll pay the three of you to-"

Jamie's hand immediately went up and he took a step forward, away from the other two, stopping her in mid-sentence. "No. No money from you. We'll take care of this asshole for you because we want to help."


"No buts," Peter broke in this time, his mouth in a hard line as he moved forward to concur with what Jamie had said. "You needed us and you trusted us enough to call for help. We don't want your money."

"Besides," Wu moved to stand with them, a grin cracking his face. "We never liked the guy."

Jessie gave them a genuine smile as her faith in people got a surge of reassurance. How she had ever earned such loyalty from men like this, she'd never know, but at this moment she was very glad for it. She wanted to thank them, to show them her appreciation, but she knew it would only make them feel uncomfortable. "Okay, then let's get started."


"I'm glad that they didn't make you stay the full 24 hours," Anne said as she helped Rowan up the walkway to her house.

"Me too. I think I would have gone crazy. I hate being forced to stay in bed." She fished around in the pockets of her jeans, hoping that someone had had the forethought to put her keys there. Sure enough, they were there. Rowan said a silent thanks to Jessie for thinking of her. She unlocked the door, immediately feeling someone else's presence in the front room.

The police officers from the hospital had followed them to the house and were now sitting outside in their car. She'd asked them if they wanted to come in, but the politely declined, saying that they needed to stay where they could see anyone coming and going. That was all fine and good, but apparently there hadn't been anyone at the house to watch whether or not anyone went in before they got there.

"Hospitals are nicer these days, but the care lacks something personal. When you give birth these days they let you out almost the same..." Anne stopped talking as she realized that they weren't alone.

"Hello," Kelly's voice purred at them, her sly smile reaching them at the same time.

Shaking her head, Rowan gestured for Anne to go into the house and she closed the door behind them. "Why are you here, Kelly?" She finally asked warily. Why couldn't this woman just stay out of her life?

        "Well, I happened to find out that you were missing something very valuable to you and I thought that I would come to see if we could arrange some kind of trade." A mysterious smile formed on her lips, but was not reflected in her eyes.

        Anne watched the exchange between the two women. She remembered the tall woman from the bookstore. She still wasn't sure of the dynamics between this woman and Rowan, but obviously they knew each other very well.

        "You know where my sister is?" Rowan asked carefully, wanting to make sure that she was going to get exactly what she wanted.

        "Yes, and her two brats too," Kelly said, giving an evil laugh reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the West. "Do you want to trade, or should I take my leave?"

        "What do you want?"

        "Your little wife."

        "What do you mean?" Rowan narrowed her eyes at the other woman.

        "I want you to break up with her."

        "What makes you think that even if I broke up with her that she'd want to be with you?"

        Kelly gave a little laugh. "Oh, I'd make sure that I was there to pick up all the little pieces."

        Rowan sighed. Her sister's life over a relationship; but it wasn't just any relationship. It was the one person who had known her from the beginning, the one person who'd fit her own personality and quirks. She couldn't give that up. But, she couldn't let her sister die either. She would have to agree for now and then think of some way to fix things afterward. I'm sorry Jessie, Rowan thought before she said the hardest word in her life. "Okay."

        Kelly had watched the conflicting emotions as they flashed across Rowan's face. She'd always been so easy to read. The remaining emotion was one of convicted defeat. Smiling inwardly, Kelly tried not to crow at her victory. "Tonight I'll be by to pick you up at 9." She got up to leave but was stopped by Rowan's next question.

        "Why should I trust you this time Kelly?"

        "From where I'm at, I don't see that you have much of a choice."

        She was right. What if Jessie couldn't find them in time? What if tonight was their only chance? She would have to trust Kelly and hope that she wouldn't not be played again. "Tonight. 9pm. I'll be ready."

        "We'll be ready." Anne stepped forward and put her hand on Rowan's shoulder. There was no way that she was going to let Rowan go alone. She'd come to think of Rowan as another daughter and she'd be damned if she were going to lose her now.

        Kelly eyed both of them carefully. "Fine, till tonight then." She walked to the front door, opened it, and walked out, closing the door with a quiet thud.

        Rowan and Anne stood deep in thought for a moment, each of them thinking about what they were getting into and knowing that it was probably going to be the most dangerous moment of their life.

A loud knock at the door brought them both out of their thoughts. "POLICE! Open the door!"

Rowan immediately went and opened it, surprised to see the face of one of the officers that had been with her at the hospital standing at her door with a gun in his hand.

"Everything okay?" The officer asked, putting his gun away but not snapping the holster.

"Yeah, we're fine. Are you okay?" The man was flushed with exertion.

"We saw a woman come out of the house and we hadn't seen in go in, so we wanted to make sure you were okay." The man explained, slightly embarrassed by his unnecessary bravado.

"She was here when we got here," Rowan explained.

"Are you both okay?" The officer looked past Rowan to check on Anne who was standing further back.

"Yes, we're fine. No danger here."

"Okay, I guess I'll just go back to the car." The officer turned and left, leaving behind a very amused Rowan.

Chuckling, she closed the door and secured the lock. Turning around her eyes went to a dark spot in the corner of the room. It was then that she realized that she hadn't seen Tigger around since she got back. That was very strange. Tigger usually was there anytime the door opened. Maybe he was upstairs hiding.

Jessie had told Rowan what had happened to Sylvester, as well as telling her which animal hospital he'd been taken to. Going to the bloodstain, she knew that she'd have to replace the carpet. Even if she got the stain out, she'd always known where that little dog had almost been killed.

Anne followed Rowan and saw the blood for the first time. "What happened?" She asked, concern lacing her voice.

"Sylvester got knifed. He must have been trying to stop the attackers."

"Sylvester? Who's he? Was he at the hospital? Was he killed?" She whispered the last part, horrified at the thought.

"No, no, calm down Anne. Sylvester is my sister's dog. He was taken to the animal hospital." She looked at her watch. "I think I'm going to call to see how he is before I go up and take a shower."

Walking into the kitchen, she got the yellow pages out and found the number for the hospital. Dialing the number, she explained who she was when the line was picked up.

"Oh yes, the Jack Russell Terrier, right? Yes, he's doing very well. Luckily nothing was damaged internally. He received 30 stitches to the wound, and since he lost a lot of blood we gave him a transfusion. He's been a great patient." The man on the other end of the phone paused. "The cat on the other hand has been a bit of a terror."

"The cat? I didn't think that the cat was hurt?" Rowan was definitely confused at this point. Jessie would have told her if Tigger got hurt, right?

"No ma'am, he wasn't hurt. When we went to pick up the dog, the cat refused to let us get to him until we promised to take him with us."

"Oh Lord," Rowan put her hand to her forehead. "To think, just yesterday they were fighting like...well, like cats and dogs!"

"Excuse me, ma'am?"

"Nothing, nothing. When can they come home?"

"Anytime. When they're picked up we'll show you how to care for the dog and his stitches. He's going to need to take it easy for a while, no excitement, that kind of thing."

"All right, I'll be there in about an hour." Rowan figured that would give her enough time to shower and change.

"They'll be ready."

"Thank you." She hung up the phone still in wonder about her cat. "What a little nut!" She mumbled.

"Everything okay?" Anne walked into the kitchen, concerned when she heard Rowan talking to herself.

"Everything's just fine. Do you mind going with me to pick them up in about an hour?"

"Them? I thought it was just a dog?" Anne was as confused as Rowan had been.

"Yeah, well you don't know Tigger."


        By mid afternoon Jamie, Peter, and Wu had found where Colston was located. It had been a bit tricky, but they were all pros at finding people who didn't want to be found. They'd called various contacts and asked about the area, trying to determined where was the most likely place for someone to try to hide without being conspicuous.

        Whereas Chicago always had plenty of abandoned buildings that could be used, Madison didn't. So, that made the search a little harder. They'd finally found out about an abandoned barn located on the outskirts of the West Side of Madison that had recently seen more activity than it had in the last five years.

        Carefully and covertly they watched the barn all day, deciding that they would wait until dark to go in. From what they could see there was little security, which surprised them. Colston must think that he's invincible to try to pull this off without any security or anyone on watch.

        Jessie was relieved to at least have the hideout in sight, but she felt a little apprehensive about the lack of security. They hadn't seen anyone go in or out of the barn all day which only served to increase her anxiety. "What if he's not in there?" She finally asked.

        "He's been in there for a few months now, there's no reason why he would change locations now if he hasn't been caught." Wu reasoned as he put a pair of binoculars to his eyes.

        "I guess. It just doesn't make sense that he'd keep three hostages without any kind of security." She looked at her watch. It was almost 6 pm. The sun would be setting within the next hour, but something inside of her told her that she shouldn't wait till sun down. "I think we should move in."

        The three men with her looked at her in surprise.
"Are you sure, JB? I mean, we wouldn't have the cover that darkness would give us." Jamie didn't want to question his former leader's plan, but he was skeptical.

        "I don't feel right about this. I want to find out why I am having this feeling before it's too late. The sooner the better."

        "Okay," Jamie said. The three men stood up in the back of the van they'd brought from Chicago and put on their coats. Each one checked their weapon to see that it was ready and when they were done, Jessie led them out of the back doors.

        They'd parked down a little dirty road, far from the main road, but still close enough to the barn to get there by foot. Ambling over the abandoned farmland, they crept slowly and surely toward the barn. Using hand signals they moved forward one by one until they were all against the back wall of the barn. So far nothing had so much as moved around them.

        Carefully, Peter moved around the side of the barn, stopping every few feet to listen for any new noises coming from within the barn. The only way in or out of this barn was the wide front doors. There was no way to get those doors open without attracting the attention of whomever was inside. So, they wouldn't.

        With one man on each door, Jessie and Jamie pulled their guns into their hands and stood ready. On the count of three, Peter and Wu pulled the doors open and Jessie and Jamie rushed inside, with the other two men coming in immediately behind them.

        They all stood there, taking in the sight before them. Finally, Jessie moved, kicking the ground viciously. "I knew it! Dammit!." She turned around and left the barn, too frustrated to stay and look around.

        The barn was completely empty, except for a few piles of ancient hay and a lawn chair, which stood in the direct center of the large area. Walking to the chair, Wu picked up the white envelope that sat on the lawn chair, Jessie's name scrawled in dark, bold letters on the outside.

        The three men walked out the barn and followed the distant form of Jessie to the van. Once inside, Wu handed the envelope to Jessie.

        "What did it say?" She asked without looking at it.

        Wu shrugged. "I don't open other people's mail."

        Smiling at the small joke, she took the envelope and opened it carefully. Aloud she read:

You're so close and yet so far.
It's a large town, can you find me
Before it's too late?
Fly home little black bird,
And see if you can find
What it is you seek.

        "Well," Jamie spoke first, "he's no poet, that's for sure!"

        Wu snickered in response, pounding the large black man on the back. Sobering, his face turned to one of contemplation. "There must be something there that tells us where's he's at. He wants you, JB, he's leading you to him."

        Fly home...the phrase struck Jessie more than any of the others. Unclipping her cell phone from her belt, she dialed Rowan's number.

        "Hello?" Her mother's voice came through the phone.

        "Hey mom," Jessie murmured in a low voice. The three men looked at her in surprise. JB had a mother? Who knew!

        "Hi Jess, how is everything going? Are you okay?" Despite the years they'd spent apart, Anne's maternal instinct was still well in place.

        "I'm fine mom. Are you and Rowan okay?"

        "We're just find. Rowan's up in the shower getting cleaned up. We're going to go pick up the animals from the hospital when she's done."

        "Animals? As in plural?"

        "Yes. I'm not quiet sure what happened. All Rowan said was that I didn't know Tigger. I assume that's the cat?"

        "Yeah, that would be him." Jessie shook her head, a little smile playing on her face. "Pain in the ass that he is."

        "We also had a visitor," Anne confessed, unsure if Rowan had wanted Jessie to know.

        "Who?" Jessie's voice demanded, her senses immediately alerted to danger.

        "That Kelly woman, you know the one I mean?" Anne's obvious disgust for the woman was very clear in her tone.

        "Yes, I know her. What did she want?" Jessie's voice became cold as she thought about Kelly being in their home. The bitch had better not touch Rowan, she thought.


        "Excuse me?" Jessie was sure she'd heard wrong.

        "She wants you. She told Rowan that she'd take her to where her sister is at in return for Rowan breaking up with you."

        Jessie gave a harsh bark of laughter. "Rowan couldn't shake me even if she tried. Did Kelly honestly think I'd give her up just like that?"

        "I don't think that Kelly has any comprehension of love or what it entails. How can she understand what you feel for Rowan if she hasn't got an inkling herself?" Anne's sage words struck the bell of truth. How could Kelly have any clue when her life was about sex and gratification, not love?

        "Is she going to back to take Rowan to her sister?"

        "Yes, she said she'd be back at 9 tonight."

        "Okay, I'll be there. We'll follow them. Don't tell Rowan, I don't want her to give anything away." Jessie was worried about letting Rowan get involved in this, but she didn't see any other way to find Danni and the kids without putting their lives in further danger.

        "I won't. Be careful honey." Anne felt much better now that she knew Jessie would be there. She may not like to think about it, but she knew that her daughter could take care of herself and them if need be.

        "You too." As she pressed the end button on her cell phone, the phone beeped at her, indicating that her battery was getting low. "Great, just great," she muttered. She dialed one more number, hoping that the phone would last long enough to get the message across. "Michael?"

        "Hey Jess, any leads?"

        "Yeah, listen, tonight at 9 pm-" The phone went dead before she could finish. "Shit!" She threw the cell phone at the back of the van, watching with quiet satisfaction as the phone broke into smaller pieces. Sighing, she looked at her watch. It was almost 8 pm. Time for them to move into place before Kelly got to the house. She didn't want her to suspect that they were following her. "Okay guys, new plan." She turned to the three men who'd been watching her in unconcealed fascination. "What? Why are you looking at me like that?"

        Jamie reached out a slightly shaking hand, poking Jessie's arm and then retreating back. "She IS human, guys!"


        Rowan stood in front of her closet in contemplation. They'd gotten the animals from the hospital, paid the substantial bill, and brought them home. The woman on duty had suggested that Rowan get Tigger declawed. Apparently the cat had scratched quiet a few people before they'd reached a compromise with him. Secretly she was very proud of her boy. Sylvester was now resting comfortably downstairs, with Tigger hovering over him like a worried momma. Now, Rowan was attempting to figure out what she was going to wear for that night's rescue. What does one wear when going into a den of evil?

        Okay, she thought to herself, that might be a little too dramatic! Her mind was used to the suspense of books and movies, and therefore she felt she was excused if she were just slightly excited about the night's foray into danger. She was, however, smart enough to realize just how serious the situation was and how many lives were on the line. She'd tried to call Jessie on her cell phone to tell her about the meeting, but only got her voice mail. It worried her more than a little bit that she couldn't contact her lover. Jessie had a way of making Rowan feel safe and secure, and God knows she could have used that reassurance right about now.

        She finally chose a pair of black jeans and a long sleeve black shirt, followed up by her sneakers. She wanted to be able to run if she needed to. Putting the selected clothing on, she took a second to check herself out in the mirror, satisfied with the look she'd achieved.

        Looking at the clock next to the bed, she sighed. There was still a half-hour before Kelly would be there. What would she do for a half-hour? She was anxious and more than a bit apprehensive. Resigned to sit and wait patiently like a good little girl, she went down the stairs and flopped herself onto the couch next to Anne.

        At 9pm exactly the doorbell rang. Rowan opened the door and was greeted not only by Kelly, but also by the same officer who'd been at the door before. "It's okay," Rowan told the officer. He gave her a curious look, but left them alone.

        "You're little watch dog is kind of cute. Too bad you don't swing that way, I think you could get him." Kelly smoothly breezed in, chatting as though they were friends getting together for an evening of fun.

        "Can we go already?" Rowan wasn't in the mood for anymore games. She wanted to get to her sister and her niece and nephew.

        Kelly pivoted on her foot so that she could look at Rowan. Raising an elegantly shaped eyebrow, she allowed one side of her mouth to quirk up in a slight smile. "Anxious, are we?"

        "I just want to get this over with already."

        Nodding her head, Kelly clucked her tongue against her teeth. "Fine, fine. Let's go then." She abruptly moved passed Rowan and opened the door again, walking out into the night.

        Anne and Rowan exchanged looks before following her out of the house, locking the door behind them.

        Kelly waved saucily at the men in the patrol car as she made her way to her own sleek, black convertible. Unlocking the doors, she gestured for Rowan and Anne to get in before she climbed in herself. "Ready for the ride of your life?" She grinned at them before gunning the more and taking off in a squeal of rubber and wild laughter.


        Jessie watched as the black car pulled up to Rowan's house. Kelly climbed out, not even bothering to look around to see if she was being watched. Apparently she didn't care. She walked over to the police car, leaned in the driver's side window and said something to them. One of the cops got out and walked her to the door. At least they're doing what they're supposed to, Jessie thought with mild satisfaction.

        A few minutes later Kelly bounded out of the house, Rowan and her mother following her a little more sedately. When they pulled away, Jessie signaled for Wu to give them a slight head start before following. She'd talked to the cops, telling them to follow further behind her. They were instructed to wait until they were signaled before coming in. Where ever they were going.

        Wu pulled out of the neighbor's driveway, following the racing car as far back as he dared. The convertible pulled into one of the downtown parking garages. After taking her ticket, Kelly pulled in, climbing the levels till she found a park spot that suited her. Keeping his eye on her, Wu parked on the other side of the garage, on the level going down from where Kelly parked.

        "Where the hell is she taking them?" Jessie said out loud as they discreetly followed them down State Street. Rowan must have been wondering the same thing, her face showing her consternation.


        "Kelly, where are we going?" Rowan finally asked as they walked further toward the capital.

        "Here," Kelly stopped in front of Anne's bookstore, a brilliant smile lightening her face.

        "They aren't in my bookstore, I was here when they were taken," Anne insisted.

        "You were here, but you can't see the door to Jessie's apartment from in inside of your store, can you?"

        "No, I guess not," Anne admitted.

        "They managed to get them in here right under your nose. That's pretty good, huh?" Kelly smiled again, tickled by the complexity of the plan. "Donnie told me that he'd been planning this for months. They were supposed to grab you, you know," she told Rowan. "But they messed up and got your sister instead. Wrong place, wrong time, I would say." She laughed to herself.

        "If you're a part of this, why are you taking us here?" Rowan couldn't understand why this woman was leading them to where her sister was unless she was trying to trap them.

        "That stupid Donnie..." Kelly's eyes took on a far away look and her mouth pursed into a tight line. "He thought he could use me for information and that he could get away with throwing me out in the end." She gave a little growl before laughing again. "He tried to have me killed. Unfortunately, he killed my lover instead."

        "Wha..." Rowan's voice faded in horror. This woman was sick. Here she was laughing about how her lover had been killed instead of her, not batting an eyelash.

        "I'm not going to let him fuck me over." Kelly gestured for Rowan to open the outside door that led up to the apartment Jessie had been using before moving in with her.

        The three women made their way slowly up the stairs until they reached the top door. "You have keys, right?" Kelly asked Anne, pointing to the locked door.

        "Uh, yeah, actually, I do." Anne pulled her key ring out of her pants pocket, surprising herself by actually having them on her. She found the key for the apartment and inserted it into the lock, turning it slowly until they all heard it click.

        "I'll get that." Kelly opened the door with a flourish. "Ta da!"

        "Danni!" Rowan ran to her sister, taking off first the blindfold and then starting in on the ropes around her wrists and ankles.

        "Rowan! How's you find us?" Danni looked around wildly, spying her kids sitting in the opposite corner similarly tied, their mouths stuffed with rags. "Get the kids!"

        "I've got them," Anne said as she made her way to where the kids were sitting.

        Kelly stood back watching the two women rush about, untying and helping to get the circulation moving back through wrists and ankles. She smiled as she thought about her prize. Jessie was hers again.


        "I want the three of you to wait here. Watch the entrance. If anyone tries to go up those stairs, I want the three of you right behind them, okay?" Jessie checked her gun a final time before making her way across the street to the door leading to her former apartment. So far she'd seen no signs of distress coming from Rowan or her mother, but she wasn't taking any chances.

        The stairs were clear and she made it to the open door without any problems. She peered in and saw the melee that was going on as Rowan and Danni and the children were reunited and introductions were made between them and Anne. She checked the room and only saw Kelly there, standing in the corner watching it all with a strange look on her face.

        Holstering her gun, she walked to Rowan, coming up behind her and putting her arm around her. "Hey there," she said, making Rowan jump.

        "How'd you get here?" Rowan asked as she hugged the taller woman tightly.

        "The walls have ears, my dear," she said with an exaggerated accent.

        "Anne told you, huh? Smart woman. But everything looks fine. We should get out of here before-" She broke off mid sentence as she saw a large man walk through the door, a gun in his hand, pointing directly at them.

        "Before I come back?" The man said with a harsh smile.

        Jessie immediately put Rowan behind her, blocking her with her body. Her hand twitched, wanting to pull her gun from its resting place but with the kids and her mother on the other side of the room she was afraid that they'd get in the middle of a gun battle, which was the last thing that she wanted.

        "JB, but you were surprised to find out who I was." Colston gave her a mock smile as his eyes traced the scar that still showed red and raw on her face. "I never forgot you," he sneered.

        "I've never met you before in my life, Colston. I knew you existed, but you weren't important enough for me to bother with." Jessie sneered back, hoping to get him angry enough to make a mistake.

        "You don't remember, do you?" He laughed. "I should have known that I wasn't important enough for you to remember."

        "Are you trying to tell me that we have met before?" She was curious now. She honestly had no memory of this man.

        "I wasn't always Don Colston. About 8 years ago I was known as Donald Smith. Does that name ring a bell?"

        Jessie felt as though she'd been struck in the stomach. The acid there burned as a memory smoldered in her mind. Donald Smith had been older than her. He'd grown up in the same neighborhood as she had, they'd attended the same high school. The year before she'd left for Chicago she'd been involved in a very bad drug deal that had almost killed one of her friends. She'd left the scene, leaving Donald Smith there to take the blame. "You should still be in jail," she said slowly.

        "Yes, I should be. But, while I was there I met Manny's cousin Paolo. Paolo and I escaped together and he brought me into Manny's organization. You can imagine my surprise when I first saw you in Chicago. I knew then that I still owed you something for leaving me to clean up your mess." He waved his gun at the people in the room. "What a better way than to kill everyone who means something to you?" He laughed loudly. "And you all made it so easy on me, coming together to save one another. I thank you for that."

        "Donnie, take me with you." Kelly walked toward him, her hands in the air to show she was without a weapon.

        "And you, you crazy bitch! You're supposed to be dead. Another botched up job. Why do I bother to pay for what I could do so much better myself." His gun never wavered even as a shot rang out from the area of the door.

        They all watched as Kelly crumpled to the floor, blood spreading from where she lay. Anne held the kids closer to her so that they wouldn't see the carnage.

        "She's dead now, are you happy?" The soft quiet voice that Danni had heard when she'd woken up the day before floated through the air. They all turned to see a slight man with well-groomed dark hair standing in the doorway, his gun still in his hand. He pulled out a white handkerchief from his suit pocket and mopped his forehead. "So many people in this little space is making me sweat," he explained as he put away the cloth.

        "About time you showed up. You never seem to get anything right," Colston hissed at the new comer.

"I came when I wanted to, not before." The man in the suit explained easily not at all disturbed by Colston's attempts at threatening him. He looked around the room, giving everyone a smooth smile as he did. His gaze stopped when he saw Rowan. "So this must be the blonde you wanted so badly." He moved closer, giving Rowan a slow going over with his eyes. "Yes, I can see why you wanted her so badly," he leered at her. A growl from behind him stopped him. He turned and stared at Jessie with a great deal of interest. "Yes, I know who you are. You once took out five of my associates in one night."

        "I'm afraid I am not as well aquatinted with you as you seem to be with me," Jessie said through clenched teeth.

        "Ah, my apologies" He bent over at the waist in a bow. "I am John Paul Martin. I never worked directly in Chicago, although I always had fingers in so many pies it was hard to tell." He gave her a charming smile.

        His back was to the door when Jamie, Wu, and Peter burst through, each one had a gun in their hands. Jessie pulled her own weapon out and held it at John Paul Martin's temple. "So glad to meet you," she said sweetly as she cocked the gun.

        Colston roared in anger, pointing his gun toward the three invaders, shooting without aiming. Jamie and Wu managed to avoid getting hit, each of them aiming at Colston and shooting until the man was on the floor. Peter was hit in the arm and shoulder, but he managed to push himself against the wall as he waited for his friends to finish.

        The sound of many feet pounding against the wooden stairs alerted everyone in the room to the approach of more people. Three guns pointed to the door, Jessie not moving hers, as two men in uniform came through the doorway, followed by Michael.

        Michael's alert eyes took in everything in the room, finally resting on Jessie and her hostage. "What took you so long?" She asked him casually.

        Michael shook his head at her and began giving instructions to his officers.


        Anne made coffee as the others sat down on the furniture in the bookstore. Jessie leaned against the front counter with Rowan leaning back against her. They'd been allowed to leave the scene, provided that they waited in the bookstore until Michael could come down to talk to them.

        An ambulance had come and taken Peter to the hospital, Wu and Peter following in the van. Jessie knew that she wouldn't see them again unless she made the call. They would head back to Chicago to the relative peace of retirement, whatever that meant for them.

        The children were shaken not only by the events of that night, but by the news that Sylvester had been hurt. They kept asking Jessie and Rowan if they were sure that their beloved pet was okay. Rowan promised that as soon as they were done they'd go back home and they could see the dog for themselves. If Tigger will let them, she amended silently.

        Danni looked tired, but over all she was okay. She'd refused to go to the hospital to let someone look at the nasty lump on her head. She'd had enough hospitals over the last year and knew that more were in her future. Besides, it was nothing that a little ice wouldn't take care of.

        Rowan turned in Jessie's arms and gave her a full body hug, nuzzling her nose against Jessie's warm neck. "How come you always smell good?" Rowan asked, taking another sniff of Jessie's skin.

        "I dunno. How come you always feel good in my arms?" Jessie smiled down at her lover.

        "Cause that's where I'm supposed to be silly," Rowan gave the taller woman a soft kiss on her chin.

        "Damn straight," Jessie answered pulling Rowan closer, vowing to never let her go, which was perfectly okay with Rowan. Now that they'd both found love, nothing was going to keep them apart.

The End

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