The Greatest Gift

Part I

By Carrie Carr

Disclaimers: Sequel? Did someone say sequel? Everyone knows that writing stories are like those famous potato chips to me - I can't write just one (or two, or...well, you get the idea ). You may get confused if you haven't read the first two stories, umm, first (In the Blink of an Eye, and Something to Be Thankful For). These characters are still mine - I don't play well with others, so please don't try to steal them or my warped ideas (like you would, anyway ).

This story, as with most of my writing, deals with two women who love each other. After all this time, if you haven't figured it out, you're in worse shape than I thought. There are a few naughty words, but nothing really nasty ... my mother still threatens to wash my mouth out with soap. No graphic sex scenes, either, I'm afraid, so if that's what you're looking for, I'm sorry - but I embarrass easily.

Many thanks go out to my wonderful editor, Day, whose magical touch with the grammar and punctuation wand makes this story look so good. Thanks also have to go to those beautiful folks at the Carrie's Crossing list ( for their wonderful patience and support. I couldn't do this without them.

All comments, suggestions, or just notes to say hello can be directed to -

This story, as are all my others, dedicated to my AJ, the woman who holds my heart. Forever and always, my love.

Copyright February 2002 by Carrie Carr

Chapter 1

The faded blue tee shirt flew from the closet and landed unceremoniously at the foot of the bed on the top of a growing pile. A blonde woman, comfortably propped at the head of the queen-sized bed, struggled to control her giggles. "Honey, really. I can just put my clothes in the guest room closet. You don't have to do everything in one day, you know." She absently stroked the soft fur of the small dog resting comfortably in her lap.

Another shirt, a bright yellow polo that looked as if it had never been worn, landed atop the pile. "There's no way you can even get into the guest room," Randi disagreed, her voice muffled by the closet, "much less maneuver to the closet. Too many boxes."

Kay leaned forward, careful to not crush the dozing Spike, and snatched the yellow shirt from the pile. "What's wrong with this one?" she asked, holding up the newest victim of Randi's cleaning frenzy, checking it for tears or stains.

The dark-haired woman stopped what she was doing, took a deep breath and backed out of the closet. Wordlessly, she walked over and sat down next to Kay on the bed. She took the garment out of the younger woman's hands and held it up to her own body, making a face. "In case you haven't noticed, this is fluorescent yellow. I don't wear fluorescent yellow." Randi leaned back against the headboard and sighed. "Damn, this feels good."

"I feel really bad that you had to unload the moving truck all by yourself," Kay murmured, the bright shirt temporarily forgotten. She gestured down at her right foot, which was still covered in plaster from just below her knee. "I can't wait until I get this stupid cast off."

Randi turned her head and smiled at her lover. "Another week or so, right?" Having been on crutches herself many times during her life, she could sympathize with the helplessness that Kay was feeling. "I've got a pretty good orthopedic surgeon, if you want to use him."

"Thanks, I think I will. No sense in driving all the way to Woodbridge, is there? I wasn't that fond of my doctor, anyway." Kay took Randi's hand and squeezed it gently. "You've been at it since six o'clock this morning. How about a little break?" After they had arrived with the moving truck late the afternoon before, Randi had insisted on unloading it immediately. She finally brought the last box into the apartment well after midnight and had gotten out of bed a few hours later to begin making room for Kay's things.

"That's not a bad idea. I need to get the truck turned in, anyway," Randi agreed, climbing off the bed. Her progress was stopped by the strong grip that Kay had on her hand. "What?"

Kay used her free hand to take the yellow shirt. "It's almost lunch time. How about we return the truck, then I'll buy lunch?" She tossed the shirt at the pile, then gently moved Spike off her lap.

"You don't have to -" The look on the younger woman's face stopped Randi in mid-sentence. She's independent, and not helpless. I've got to remember that. "That sounds like a great idea. What are you hungry for?" When a small hand darted underneath her shirt, Randi squirmed and fought back a laugh. "Besides that."

Rolling over onto her right side, Kay lifted the gray tee shirt and growled. "Why not? It's Saturday, and we're already in bed." Her smiled widened as she heard a gasp from Randi when she hit a particularly sensitive spot. " that, do you?" She leaned down and nibbled on the exposed flesh.

"I'd really like to get the truck...oh, Lord," Randi gasped, at the feel of Kay's tongue. She blinked several times as she tried to remember what they'd been talking about.

"What about the truck?" Kay asked wickedly. Looking up, she watched as Randi's eyes closed. With a flick of her fingers, the brass button that held the older woman's jeans closed popped open, and she was able to slide the zipper down with little trouble.

The same warm hands that had pushed her shirt up were now sliding Randi's jeans down her legs. Soft breath on her now bare thigh caused her to finally open her eyes. "Truck?" Her eyes closed again when Kay directed her attention to more important matters. "What truck?" she mumbled, losing herself to the feelings that her lover's skillful ministrations evoked.

A short time later, Randi stood beside the bed and pulled up her jeans. Still topless except for a white bra, she reached across the bed for her previously discarded tee shirt, but was stopped when Kay waved the bright yellow polo shirt under her nose.

"Why not wear this?" Kay asked. She was still sitting on the bed, wearing nothing but her cast and a smile.

Randi shook her head. "No, I don't think so."

Not to be deterred, Kay held it out persistently. "Why not? With your tan and those gorgeous brown eyes of yours, you'd look great in it."

"Melissa gave it to me," Randi explained quietly. "She was forever trying to change the way I dressed."

Damn. Open mouth and insert foot, Kay. "I'm sorry, honey. I didn't-"

"Don't worry about it," the dark-haired woman assured her. "I threw most of them out months ago. Must have just missed this one." Randi pulled her tee shirt over her head.

Kay looked at the shirt, noticing the tag still hanging from the sleeve. One hundred and forty-eight dollars, for a shirt? She looked up and saw Randi staring pensively at her. "What do you want to do with it?"

An evil smirk appeared on the older woman's face. "The same thing that I did with the other seven or eight that she bought, in different, blinding colors."

"What was that?" Kay struggled into her undergarments, and reached for the jogging suit that Randi had picked up for her on their last mall trip. Navy blue with white stripes down the sides, the nylon material snapped from the cuffs all the way up to her hips on both legs, and was the most comfortable thing she had to wear. Gentle hands snapped the garment closed over her right thigh, leaving the portion along the cast open. Kay looked up into Randi's smiling face. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Finished with her work, Randi leaned over and stole a kiss. A moment later, she pulled back and looked around the bed. "Where's your shirt?"

Kay pointed to the dresser on the other side of the room. Her light cotton top was draped over the bottles of cologne and other items that covered the five-drawer chest. "Where you threw it," she explained with a chuckle.

"Oops." Randi grinned and took the few steps to gather it up and return it to her lover. "Sorry about that."

"Thanks." Kay slipped the pale pink top over her head. "You never did tell me what you're going to do with the yellow shirt," she prodded.

"Donate it, of course to the homeless shelter downtown. I'd love to see the look on Melissa's face if she ever saw where her expensive shirts ended up." Randi brought Kay her lone sneaker. She sat on the bed next to her friend and watched as Kay easily bent her knee and pulled her foot up, her knee almost touching her chin. "Damn, I wish I could still do that," the older woman muttered.

Concentrating on tying the shoe, Kay almost missed what Randi said. "Do what? Tie your shoe?" A gentle shoulder nudge from the other woman caused her to nudge back.

Randi chuckled as the nudging match continued, both women now rocking widely back and forth. "No, silly. I'm not quite that old and feeble-minded, just yet. I just haven't been able to pull my legs up like that in several years." The tiny growl at her feet made them both look down.

Spike stood "guard" over one of Randi's sneakers, which had somehow landed on the opposite side of the bed from its mate. He couldn't figure out why his two humans were bouncing into each other, so he sat back on his haunches on the piece of footwear and let out a confused growl.

"Isn't that cute?" Kay cried, reaching down and picking up the small dog. She cuddled him close to her chest and looked back over at Randi. "Do your knees give you that much trouble?" She hated to think of her lover in any pain, no matter what the reason.

"Not really, no," Randi assured her. She looked at Spike. I swear he's smiling. The little animal leaned happily into Kay's touch. "Think you can tear yourself away from him long enough to turn in the truck and grab a bite to eat?"

Kay kissed the top of Spike's head. "I suppose so," she teased. One last snuggle, and she gently transferred him to the bed. "Just give me a few minutes to freshen up, and I'll be ready to go."

"Works for me," Randi agreed. She stood, and gathered up Kay's crutches. "Here you go."

Ignoring the crutches, Kay reached up and grabbed a handful of Randi's shirt. "C'mere." She pulled the older woman down until she had access to Randi's lips. "One for the road," she murmured, leaning back and bringing Randi with her.


"Damn, it feels good to be driving my car again," Randi exclaimed, leaning back against the worn leather seat and almost closing her eyes in ecstasy. It had only taken a few minutes to turn in the moving truck and trailer, and now they were on their way to a local Mexican restaurant for a late lunch. When the light turned green, she moved the car slowly, savoring the familiar feel of the steering wheel.

Kay looked on in amusement. She'd never seen anyone so attached to a car before. That's one of the many things I love about her, I think. The way Randi can get enjoyment out of the most mundane things always brings a smile to my face. She was so engrossed in her observation of the woman beside her that the ringing of the cell phone caused her to jump. "Do you want me to get that for you?"

"Sure." Randi pulled the device from her belt and handed it to Kay. "Saves me from having to pull over." She had seen too many wrecks involving idiots with cell phones, and was not about to play any part in the growing statistics.

"Hello?" Kay frowned. "Um, hold on." She put one hand over the phone and looked at Randi. "It's that Crawford woman," Kay whispered. She remembered how Randi had tried to contact Ms. Crawford the evening before, but had had to settle for leaving a message on her machine. "Do you want me to take a message, or..."

Randi shook her head. "No, I'm tired of playing phone tag with the woman. Give me a second to park, and I'll talk to her."

"Okay." Kay put the phone back up to her ear. "Ms. Crawford? Randi will be with you in just a moment." She listened to something the other woman said and smiled. "Yes, I agree. She's very talented."

Afraid to ask what the conversation was about, Randi concentrated on wheeling the Corvette into a nearby parking lot. Once she'd turned off the engine, she accepted the phone from Kay, with a "Thanks," and using her left hand, placed it up to her ear. "Hello, Ms. Crawford? I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get back with you, but I had a family emergency out of town." She looked over at Kay and winked, tickled by the blush that covered the younger woman's features at her attention. Listening for a moment, she nodded. "I suppose so. Let me check with my partner, first."


Partner? Cool. I think I like the sound of that more than just "girlfriend." Of course, Beth usually just called me her "old lady," which always pissed me off. Kay smiled at Randi, who held the phone against her chest.

"Ms. Crawford wants me to stop by her house today. Want to do that after we have lunch?"

"You want me to go, too?" Kay asked, surprised.

The dark head bobbed up and down. "Of course. Unless you don't want to, that is. It's up to you."

The expectant look on Randi's face left no question in her heart about the answer. Not needing any time to think, Kay smiled again. "Sure. I'll be glad to go with you."

Good. This way, there'll be no question as to my unavailability. If that's what she's up to. Randi was beginning to believe there was more to the Crawford woman's persistence than just someone who was looking for a date. But it never hurts to be careful, she decided. "Ms. Crawford? We can be there around," she looked at her watch, "five, if that's all right with you." Nodding her head, Randi looked over at Kay. "Uh-huh. I remember. Sure. See you then," she hit the off button and looked down at the phone for a short time. "That's so weird. She seemed even more excited when I told her that you'd be with me."

"Maybe it's not what you think, then," Kay offered, touching Randi's arm lightly.

"Mysteriouser and mysteriouser, that's for sure," Randi agreed. She shrugged and clipped the phone back to her belt. "You ready for some lunch?"

Kay nodded. "Definitely." Her stomach had long ago started rumbling for something more substantial than the bowl of cereal she'd had for breakfast.

"Great. It's not that much further, I promise." Randi started up the car and pulled it out into traffic.

True to her word, they were in the parking lot of the small restaurant in a matter of minutes. Although she trusted her partner's instincts when it came to restaurants, Kay was a bit leery of the building. The outside was done in bright pink stucco with teal trim, appearing as if someone had leftover paint from a child's playhouse and was trying to keep from wasting it. They were there well after the lunch hour, but quite a few cars were still in the parking lot. She was so busy looking at the building, she didn't notice that Randi had gotten out of the car and walked around to open her door. "Oh!" Holding one hand against her chest, Kay shook a finger at the older woman. "You scared me."

Randi laughed as she helped Kay out of the car. "That's what you get for daydreaming," she teased. "C'mon. I think you'll really like the food here."


Lunch was an enjoyable affair. Good food and wonderful service had Kay vowing to return to the restaurant soon. She looked over at Randi, who was once again skillfully maneuvering the Corvette through the city streets. The last couple of days had seen the weary look slowly fade, and the dark circles that had been so evident beneath her lover's eyes were almost gone as well. A sudden surge of emotion overtook Kay, and she reached out and covered Randi's hand that rested on the gearshift between them.

Randi felt the smaller hand squeeze hers. She glanced over at Kay and smiled. "Hey there. Everything all right?"

"Yep," Kay assured her. "Just happy."

The smile on Randi's face grew wider. "Yeah, I know what you mean. It's almost overwhelming at times, isn't it?" She turned the car onto a quiet residential street. "For the record, I couldn't be any happier if I won the lottery."

"Me, either." Kay looked at the houses they were passing. Most were large two-story brick, with immaculate landscaping and expensive cars parked in the driveways. When Randi pulled the Corvette into one of the circular drives, Kay's eyes widened. "This is where you made a house call?"

"Yeah. Huge, isn't it?" Randi hurried around the car to help Kay. She walked behind her friend with one hand on her back as the younger woman slowly ascended the steps to the front door. "Just take your time, Kay. I won't let you fall."

Even through the exertion, Kay couldn't help but smile. "I know you won't," she murmured. The gentle touch was more than comforting, making her feel very loved and protected.

Once they were both standing in front of the door, Randi rang the bell. Before her hand could pull away, the door opened and a tall, slender blonde woman addressed them.

"Dr. Meyers?" she asked. Dressed in faded jeans and a navy blue sweatshirt, the barefoot woman stepped back at Randi's nod, and gestured inside. "Please, won't you both come in?"

"Thank you," Kay followed the woman through a tiled entryway, Randi close behind her. They were led into a large living room, where a shorter, dark-haired woman stood up to greet them.

Anne Crawford brushed her hands down her worn jeans. "Thank you so much for coming, Dr. Meyers." She looked at Kay with concern and said apologetically. "I hope our front walkway wasn't too difficult for you. Please, sit down and make yourself comfortable," Anne offered, guiding Kay to a comfortable-looking taupe leather loveseat. Once Kay was seated, her hostess gently pushed a matching ottoman in front of her.

While Anne was fussing over Kay, the woman who had led them into the living room turned to Randi. "Hi, I'm Laurie Griffin." She held out her hand and smiled, as Randi shook it in a firm grip. "Thanks for coming over on a Saturday like this."

"Nice to meet you, Laurie." Randi looked up into the other woman's eyes thoughtfully. Laurie was a couple of inches taller than she was, with blue eyes. Her blonde hair was cut short, and elegantly styled. "I have to admit, I'm a bit curious." The vet took her place next to Kay and waited patiently until the other women sat down across from them. "How's Clarice?"

"She's doing great, thank you," Anne responded happily. "She's probably asleep in the kitchen right now. We just got back from our walk. I'm so glad you were able to come over today."

"I'm glad, too. Since I was out of town on business when Clarice took ill, I wanted a chance to thank you in person for what you did." Laurie grasped Anne's hand and squeezed it. "I'm afraid my partner can be quite relentless at times, Dr. Meyers. Once she gets an idea into her head, there's not much chance of stopping her."

"Please, call me Randi." She placed her hand on Kay's leg. "And this is my partner, Kay Newcombe."

"All right...Randi," Laurie nodded. "It's nice to meet you, Kay." She looked over at Anne, who tilted her head slightly. Standing up, she asked, "Would you like something to drink? Coffee, tea, something stronger?"

Kay exchanged looks with her lover. "Tea would be nice, thank you." They watched as Laurie walked gracefully from the room.

"I'm sure you're both wondering why I asked you here," Anne started, curling one foot underneath her in a more comfortable position.

"Well, yes. We are." Randi leaned forward and braced her elbows on her knees. "You've left cryptic messages at the clinic for a couple of days now. Although, I suppose you probably know by now that I don't work there anymore."

"The receptionist mentioned something about it, yes. But I was under the impression that you enjoyed your work, Doctor. Excuse me, Randi." She looked up as Laurie came back into the room with a tray laden with glasses. "Thank you, hon."

"Anytime," Laurie acknowledged, passing out the glasses to everyone. Setting the tray down on a nearby table, she took her place by her partner.

Anne placed a hand on her partner's knee and repeated the statement she had made while Laurie was out of the room. "I was just commenting to Dr...Randi, that she seemed to like her work." She turned to Randi expectantly. "Well?"

Randi took a sip from her glass. "You're right, Anne. I enjoy what I do. But there's not much I can do about it right now. Dr. Wilde can be pretty adamant once he makes up his mind; and he seems to have decided that we have come to a parting of the ways."

"Have you ever considered opening your own clinic?" Anne asked.

"Yes, I have. But it's not something I can really afford to do at this time," Randi admitted quietly. "I'll just do some checking around on Monday, and see if I can get in with someone else. Why do you ask?"

"I'm sure that you have no way of knowing this, but I'm one of the officers at Southwest Mutual in Dallas," Anne explained. At the confused look on Randi's face, she tried to be more specific. "Our bank specializes in small business loans."

With a heavy sigh, Randi shook her head. "I don't have the collateral to put up for a business loan, Anne. Believe me, I've tried in the past." She stood up. "I'm sorry, but this was all a waste of your time."

"Please, sit down, Randi," the banker requested gently. She waited until Randi had complied before continuing. "You're a very caring, conscientious veterinarian, Dr. Meyers. Those are traits that are hard to come by these days, especially where we live. The people you work with hold very high opinions of you, you know."

"Uh, well -"

"No, really. I've had some very enlightening visits with them this past week." Seeing that her guest was embarrassed, Anne tried another tack. "Have you spoken with Dr. Wilde since he fired you?"

Randi shook her head. "No, I haven't. But I hear he's been looking for me." Probably wants me to pay for using his damned car, the rotten son-of-a-bitch.


"I think he's planning on selling the clinic," Laurie chimed in, a smug look on her face. "Seems he's worried about the IRS checking into some of his more, shall we say, unconventional bookkeeping practices if he continues to do business."

"How would you know about that?" Kay asked, speaking for the first time. She had been rubbing gentle circles on Randi's back, trying to keep her calm, while taking in every word.

Anne and Laurie looked at each other and laughed. "It's really quite funny," Anne admitted. "After the trouble I had with Dr. Wilde over Clarice's surgery, I was angry, to say the least."

"I can understand that," Randi admitted. "But what does this have to do with him selling the clinic?"

"You took such good care of Clarice, and were so nice, I started wondering why you didn't have your own practice. So, I asked around at the clinic and found out how badly he had been treating you, and the staff." Anne smiled. "So, I did a little research on the good doctor. I wanted to see how on earth he could keep that place open, being the inept, insensitive jerk that he is."

Randi raised her eyebrows. "Research?"

Anne nodded. "Yes. In my business, we run hundreds of credit reports a day. It was pretty easy to get enough information to run a check on Dr. Wilde. But I found a lot more than I bargained for."

"Like what?"

"Like the fact that he's been under investigation by the IRS. It's only a matter of time before his assets are frozen, and the clinic is shut down. But, if he sold it, then he could avoid the public humiliation, and fight the government privately." Anne leaned back and smiled at Randi, quite proud of herself.

Randi frowned. "Are you telling me that, under a veiled threat of blackmail, Wilde wants to sell me the clinic?" No matter how much she wanted her own clinic, and how much she despised her associate, Randi didn't feel right about this entire situation.

Laurie shook her head. "It's not blackmail, Randi. Dr. Wilde has been under investigation for almost two years, now. I should know, since I work for the Internal Revenue Service. It was just pure coincidence that he found out about it when he did," she assured the vet. "Believe me, I take my job very seriously. I would never jeopardize my work for a personal vendetta, even if it were for Anne, here." She put her arm around the smaller woman and pulled her close.

"That's about the gist of it," Anne agreed. "Although Laurie wasn't the investigator on the case, she was able to check the computer at work and found an open case file on the good doctor. So," she looked at Randi, "if you could get the funding, would you be interested in opening your own clinic?"

Randi was shocked into silence. After all these years, making a damned house call could help make my dreams come true? She turned her head to look into Kay's eyes. I wonder what she thinks about all of this? Having my own clinic would require me to work more hours, and we wouldn't see much of each other. I think we need to talk, first. "It's an intriguing offer, that's for sure," she told Anne. "But I think I'm going to need some time to mull all of this over."

Anne smiled to herself. I thought I was right about her. Not one to jump right into something; that's good. I think she'll be a good loan risk. She stood up and picked up a card from the side table. "Take all the time you need, Randi. Here's my card, and you already have our home number. Give me a call, day or night, when you've made your decision."

"Thanks." Randi accepted the card and studied it. Senior Vice President? Damn. Nothing like going to the top. She stood up and helped Kay get to her feet. "I'll get back to you soon, I promise."

Laurie and Anne walked them to the front door. "I have an idea," the tall blonde offered, after a small nod from her partner. "What are you two doing next Saturday afternoon?"

"Nothing that I know of," Kay answered, seeing the shrug of Randi's shoulders. "Why?"

"How about you come back over, and I'll cook up some steaks? I've been dying for an excuse to fire up my grill," Laurie admitted, opening the door. "No business talk, just socializing."

Randi smiled, relieved that her earlier fears were completely unfounded. The couple before her looked very happy. "I think I'd like that. What do you think, Kay?"

"Sounds like a great idea," Kay agreed. She shook hands with Anne and Laurie. "Thank you, both. I look forward to seeing you again." She had a pretty good idea why Randi hadn't accepted the offer outright, and was charmed by her lover's thoughtfulness. "I'm sure we'll have an answer for you by Saturday," she whispered into Anne's ear.

They finished their good-byes and started down the steps, Randi walking in front of Kay this time, in case she fell forward. "That was quite an interesting chat," she commented.

"It certainly was," Kay agreed, climbing into the Corvette. She waited until Randi was in the car and buckled up. "So, what do you think?"

"I think we have a few things to talk about once we get home," Randi said, turning the key in the ignition and driving off.

Chapter 2

"It's not that simple," Randi argued as she held the apartment door open for Kay to enter. Once the younger woman was well into the living room, she closed the door, fighting the temptation to slam it.

Kay rolled her eyes. "You said yourself that you've always wanted your own clinic. I just don't see what the problem is." They had been going 'round and 'round on the subject ever since they'd left Anne and Laurie's. For every reason Kay would give as to why the banker's offer was a good idea, Randi seemed to find an argument against it. I just don't understand what her problem is. Unless... "You're scared."

"That's ridiculous," Randi scoffed, almost too quickly. She waited until Kay was comfortably seated on the sofa and then headed for the kitchen. "Do you want something to drink?"

She is scared; but, of what? All right, then. At least now I know what I'm up against. Kay smiled to herself. She doesn't stand a chance. Noticing her lover still standing in the kitchen doorway, she gave Randi what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "I'll have whatever you're having."

"All right." Randi disappeared into the kitchen without another word.

A tiny whine at her feet caused Kay to look down. Spike sat almost on top of her sneaker, his fretful dark eyes melting her heart. "Well, what are you waiting for? Come on," Kay offered, patting her lap. Seconds later she was fending off dog kisses. "Spike, stop it."

Randi stood just inside the kitchen and watched the scene in the living room. Could she be right? Am I afraid? She closed her eyes and looked deep inside herself for the answer. Randi knew she could handle running the clinic, and she knew that she wanted Kay in her life; but she was afraid that she might not be able to successfully balance the two. And she would not risk their relationship for anything, not even the possibility of seeing her dream come true.

The months of Melissa's constant complaining and hateful remarks after she'd started working longer hours in order to make more money, weighed heavily on her mind. The same thing could happen with Kay. Of course she was scared. Although she was almost forty years old, this was the first time in her life that she was in love, and Randi wasn't too certain how to proceed from this point. As much as she loved Kay, getting used to their new relationship was difficult for Randi, and she wanted to avoid doing anything that might make it harder for either one of them. Randi sighed. I think I need to call my mother. Maybe she'll know what to do. Her mind made up, she squared her shoulders and continued on into the living room. "I hope cranapple juice is okay with you."

"That sounds great, thank you." Kay accepted the glass and was relieved when Randi sat down next to her. The older woman's mood worried Kay, and she was afraid that the previous discussion was going to blow up into a full-scale argument. She placed her glass on the side table and turned to give Randi her full attention. "Randi, I'm so -"

"I'm sorr -"

Both women tried to apologize at the same time, which caused them to laugh, disintegrating the tension between them. They looked at each other for several beats until Randi decided to break the silence. She took Kay's hands in hers and looked into her lover's eyes. "I've been acting like a complete jackass this evening, and I'm sorry." The understanding nod from Kay gave her the fortitude to go on. "I know it's no excuse, but this is the first time that I've been in love, and I'm a nervous wreck. I guess it's getting in the way of me thinking clearly about much of anything," Randi confided. During her relationship with Melissa, she'd felt that it was more of a duty than actual love, so she didn't have anything tangible to base her emotions with Kay on.

"Nervous? Oh, Randi," Kay cried, pulling their hands up to her lips and kissing the older woman's knuckles. "You have nothing to be nervous about. We wouldn't have much of a relationship if we never disagreed on anything." Did she say "the first time"? I think we have a lot more in common that we realized. She had cared for Beth, but it was a relationship based more on convenience, than love. "This is a first for me, too, you know. I think the best thing we can do is keep the lines of communication open, and be as honest as we can with each other."

"You're right," Randi agreed. She leaned over and left a soft kiss on Kay's lips. "Thanks. Honesty, huh?"

Kay nodded. Although she was tempted to grab the older woman and kiss her until they were both breathless, she knew that it was even more important that they talk things out, first. "Do you want to tell me why you're thinking of turning down Anne's offer?"

"I'm not sure." Randi looked down at the dog in Kay's lap and couldn't help but smile. He's stuck on her pretty good, it looks like. The thought caused her smile to widen. Like owner, like dog. Kay's subtle clearing of her throat brought Randi back to the conversation at hand. "So much could go wrong," she mumbled, still not looking up.

"That's true," Kay admitted. "But a lot more could go right, don't you think?" She pulled one of her hands free and stroked Randi's cheek. "Think about all the good you could do, if you were operating your own clinic."

Randi's eyes closed, and she leaned into the gentle touch. "Maybe."

"And what about the women that work there now? If Dr. Wilde follows through with his threat, they'll all be looking for jobs. If you bought the place, you could keep all of them on." Kay knew that she wasn't playing fair by bringing the welfare of the other employees into the conversation, but she wanted what was best for Randi. And in her mind, following her dreams and having her own clinic was just what the vet needed, at least in Kay's opinion. "You practically run the place now, Randi. What's the harm in making it legal?"

Her eyes opened slowly, and Randi looked up into Kay's face. "I'd end up working a lot more hours, plus having to supervise all the paperwork and books."

"So? I know you can handle it, love." Kay found herself getting lost in the light brown eyes. I love her eyes. They're so...expressive. It's like looking into her soul.

"Sure, I can handle it," Randi allowed. "But can we handle it?"

Kay frowned. "What do you mean? It's an incredible opportunity, something that you've always dreamed of."

"That dream means nothing to me, if it could even remotely jeopardize what we have," Randi asserted. Her voice broke on the final words, and she could feel tears well in her eyes. "I can't lose this." She reached up and held Kay's hand to her face. "I can't lose us."

"What makes you think that we'd lose what we have?" Kay's heart was breaking at the anguish on her lover's face. "Don't you have more faith in us than that?"

Randi fought the urge to jump from the sofa and run. "Of course I do! But the long hours would eventually come between us. You could start to regret talking me into doing this, and then we'd drift apart." Thoughts of Melissa's discontent chased 'round and 'round in her head. Her long work hours had become such a bone of contention, that it had been the beginning of the end. "We'd fight all the time, and then you'd finally get fed up enough to leave," Randi finished in a bare whisper, her eyes going distant.

What makes her think that...Melissa. That bitch keeps popping up. I should have whacked her when I had the chance. Kay realized that the argument stemmed more from the past, than the present or future. The scars run deep. "Randi." Kay's voice was strong and no-nonsense. "Look at me." She waited until Randi's eyes were focused on her. Framing the older woman's face with her hands, she leaned in close until they were inches apart. "I'm not going to leave you. I love you, Randi Suzanne Meyers." Using her thumbs to brush away the few tears that drifted down Randi's cheeks, she continued. "We're going to have disagreements - that's part of what makes a relationship work. But," here she smiled, "there's nothing that you can do or say that will cause me to stop loving you."

"I wish I could believe that," Randi rasped. "I want to believe it." Her heart and her mind were at odds. "I don't think I could survive going through that again." Even though the relationship with the redhead had been stormy, the shock of coming home from work and finding the apartment empty nearly broke Randi's spirit for good.

"I'm not Melissa," Kay affirmed.

Worried, Randi tried to explain. "I know you're not." Unable to handle sitting still any longer, she stood up and began to pace the small living room. "I can be pretty single-minded when it comes to my work," she admitted. "I always have been." She stopped and glanced out the window, avoiding Kay's gaze. "I've screwed up one relationship because of that. I can't take the chance that it would happen again."

Kay watched as her friend continued to beat herself up. I'm going to wring that redheaded bitch's neck the next time I see her. "Don't I have any say in the matter?"

Jarred from her musings, Randi turned away from the window. "What?"

"It takes two people to make a relationship succeed or fail. And I don't know about you, but I'm sure as hell going to do everything I can to make sure we succeed." Kay held out her hands. "Come here, please?"

Randi hesitated. Can I do this? Her past failure with Melissa haunted her. Maybe if I had done things differently... The look on Kay's face was one of pure love and trust. Can I keep from hurting her? God, I don't want to hurt her. The younger woman's words echoed in her head. "I'm not Melissa"..."There's nothing you can do or say that will cause me to stop loving you"... "I'm sure as hell going to do everything I can to make sure we succeed." She's right. There's no comparison between her and that hateful bitch. Her resolve strengthened, Randi stepped away from the window and returned to her place on the sofa. She took a deep breath and took Kay's hands in hers. "I love you so much, Kay. And I'm going to do everything that I can to make us work."

"We," Kay enunciated, "are going to make us work. Together." Her smile widened at Randi's answering nod. Wrapping her arms around Randi's neck, Kay pulled her close. "I love you, too," she murmured, feeling the answering hug from Randi. "We'll get through this, love. You'll see."


With the cordless phone wedged between her ear and her shoulder, Randi waited patiently while she scooped the ground coffee into the basket of the machine. The ringing stopped, and a woman's voice came onto the line.


"Mom?" Now that she had her mother on the phone, Randi panicked. What the hell am I doing? She's going to -

"Randi, sweetheart, it's so good to hear from you," Patricia burred happily. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

Trying to think quickly, Randi poured water into the top of the coffee maker and turned it on. "I just thought I'd call and see how you're doing, that's all. Is everything okay there?"

"Everything's just fine, dear. But you're up awfully early, aren't you? By my watch, it's only eight o'clock there, and on a Sunday, to boot." Soon after Randi graduated from high school, the Meyers' sold their house and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Patricia was from originally. They had decided to spend the next few years traveling, and wanted to make their home base somewhere they could relax comfortably, and escape the scorching Texas summers. Patricia loved the city that she had spent her childhood in, but at times she missed having her children nearby.

"I couldn't sleep," Randi admitted quietly.

"Does this have anything to do with Kay? You know you'd feel better if you talked to her."

Randi smiled. "I did talk to her, Mom. She's here, now." Tiny clicks behind her alerted Randi that she had company in the kitchen. Spike's nails made his steps seem loud on the tile floor, and he walked over to stand over his bowl with a perturbed look on his features. "That's what I want to talk to you about, actually," she finished, pouring a small amount of dog food into the dish. He's certainly got me trained. Her mother's voice brought her attention back to the phone call. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"I asked if you were having problems. How long has Kay been there?"

"We got here on Friday evening. Kay's job wasn't going well, and I -"

"You'd better start at the beginning, Randi. Did you go back to get her, or did she find a way up to Fort Worth?"

With a heavy sigh, Randi poured herself a cup of coffee and slid down the wall to sit on the floor next to Spike. "Mom, wait. It's a long story, and it's -"

"If you say complicated, I'm going to be on the next flight out and tan your backside," Patricia threatened. Hearing her daughter laugh, she joined in. "All right, enough of that. Let's hear it."

Damn, she's persistent. Why the hell did I call her, anyway?

Randi spent the next thirty minutes relating the events leading up to Kay's move. She conveniently left out Beth's part, thinking that it would do no good to get Patricia upset. "So, anyway, now that she's here, I'm afraid I'm going to screw this up, Mom. And with the chance to run my own clinic, how can I balance work and home?"

"Sweetheart, listen to me. You're a fine person, and Kay obviously realizes that. I honestly don't think you're going to have any problems that the two of you can't work out. Your father and I balanced two careers, and still made time for each other and you kids. It can be done." Patricia was a retired nurse, and her husband had been a business analyst for a large firm. Family was important to both of them and they'd been married for forty years. "What kind of work does Kay do, anyway?"

"She was a file clerk at a law office at one time, and the last job had to do with entering data into computers," Randi answered. Soon after he finished his meal, Spike had crawled up into her lap and proceeded to gently chew on her fingers. "Why do you ask?"

"If you do buy the clinic, you might consider getting an office manager to handle most of the paperwork for you. That would leave you free to do what you like to do best: take care of the animals. Do you know anyone who might be interested in the job?" she asked, in a teasing tone.

"I haven't even decided if I'm going to take Anne Crawford up on her offer, Mom. Not to mention, I'll still need to talk to Dr. Wilde and see if he would consider selling to me. I can't go around hiring people for positions that I don't have, yet." She rubbed her eyes with one hand, the long conversation beginning to wear on her.

Patricia sighed. Her daughter was highly intelligent, but could be quite dense at times. "Why don't you talk to Kay? Ask her about the office manager's job."

Randi couldn't figure out why her mother sounded so exasperated. "What would she know...oh! You mean ask Kay if she'd like the job, right?" Randi felt like smacking herself on the forehead. "I'm sorry, Mom. I must be tired."

"That's quite all right, honey. But it's at least something to think about, don't you agree? Kay seems like a very smart young woman. I'm sure she'd be good at anything she did." Patricia heard her daughter sputter on the other end of the line. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," Randi gasped. She was embarrassed to tell her mother what she had been thinking when Patricia mentioned how good Kay would be. She's more than good, Randi thought to herself, she's incredible. She wiped at the coffee that now stained her tee shirt. Spike stood a few feet away, glaring at the woman who had spewed coffee all over him. "Sorry, buddy."

"What was that?"

"Nothing, Mom. I was just talking to Spike." Randi slowly climbed to her feet and winced at the stiffness in her limbs. I'm getting too damned old to be sitting on the floor. Maybe I can talk Kay into going furniture shopping. We can pick out a kitchen table and chairs, at least.

"You must be tired, if you're talking to the dog," Patricia teased. "Especially since you've got such fine company on the phone."

"Mom, I'm sorry. It's just that -"

Patricia laughed. "Hush. I was just teasing you, Randi Suzanne. Why don't you go back to bed? There's nothing you need to do today, is there?"

Randi thought for a long moment. "No, not really." She braced the phone between her ear and shoulder and used a dishtowel to wipe Spike dry, much to his displeasure. Thinking of the young woman still asleep, she grinned. "That's a good idea, Mom. I think I'll do that."

"Good for you. We love you, sweetheart; now go get some rest."

"I love you, too, Mom. Give Dad a hug from me, okay?" After her mother's acknowledgement, she hung up the phone and looked down at the upset dog. "How about a quick dash outside, then we go back and snuggle with Kay?"

Spike's ears perked up at the word "outside," and he beat a hasty path to the front door. Randi rinsed out her coffee mug and left it in the sink, following in her canine companion's footsteps.


Kay awakened to thoughtful brown eyes staring down at her. "Hi."

"Hi." Randi stroked her fingertip lightly across the tanned cheek. "How'd you sleep?"

"Mmm," Kay moaned, stretching slightly. "Really good. How about you?" She looked back up and frowned. "You look tired."

Randi glanced down at the sheets. "Yeah, I am, a little bit. Been thinking."

"About?" Struggling to a sitting position, Kay unconsciously held the sheet up to her chest. Her heart started to pound, and she swallowed hard to try and dislodge the lump that appeared in her throat. Is she having second thoughts? Maybe all of this is too much for her.


Seeing the alarm on her lover's face and having a pretty good idea of the cause, Randi quickly brought her hands up and rubbed Kay's upper arms. "No, it's not that, sweetheart. Please don't look so scared." She scooted closer, never releasing her hold. "I've got a proposition for you. But, before you say anything, I want you to know that whatever your decision is, I'll understand."

"Proposition?" Kay frowned again. "Just what kind of proposition are we talking about here?"

"I talked to my mother this morning, while you were asleep," Randi explained. "Since she practically read me the riot act before they left for home last week, I thought I'd better let her know that everything worked out for us." She smiled and ran her hands down the younger woman's arms, until she was holding Kay's hands. "She and Dad both gave me hell for not telling you how I really felt about you," Randi admitted sheepishly.

Kay grinned. "I like your parents." She loved the blush that covered Randi's face. "So, what's the proposition?"

"If, and it's a big if right now, I agree to try and buy the clinic, I'm going to need some help. Mom helped me realize that in order to keep it running well and still be able to handle patients like I want, I'm going to have to hire an office manager." Randi's smile turned bashful. "You wouldn't happen to know anyone who might be interested, would you?"

"Me? You're asking me to be an office manager?" Kay asked, incredulous. "But I don't know a thing about running an office."

Randi shook her head. "That's not true, Kay. With all the different skills you have, you'd be perfect for the job. And, I'm sure Christina would be more than willing to help you with anything that you might not be sure about."

"You're serious, aren't you?"

"Yep." Randi bounced on the bed excitedly. "Think about it. We'd be working together, so I wouldn't feel as bad about staying late at the office. And, to tell you the truth, you're about the only person I know I can trust to keep an eye on things for me. You're intelligent, kind, -"

"And sleeping with the boss," Kay finished. "How well would that go over? I don't want to cause you any problems, Randi. You're going to have a hard enough time without having to worry about me, too."

"What makes you think that? Everyone in the office knows that I'm gay ... it's never been a problem before."

Kay gave a sad little smile. "But I live with you, Randi. It would be bad enough that you'd be bringing in a stranger to run things, but how do you think they're going to feel when they find out I'm your girlfriend, too?" She shook her head. "I'd love to work with you, but not at the expense of ruining the relationships that you've got there already."

Realizing that they were getting nowhere, Randi got off the bed. "I think we're getting ahead of ourselves, here. I don't even know for sure that Wilde will want to sell, least of all to me." She walked around the bed and sat next to Kay. "Do me a favor?"

Oh, no. She's going to give me that look. "All right. What?"

Randi cocked her head slightly to one side and gave a tiny grin. "Just think about what I asked you? Maybe you can go up to the office with me on Monday and meet everyone, see what you think."

Damn. I can't tell her no when she looks at me that way. She doesn't play fair. "Okay. I'll think about it. But I'm not promising anything." Kay pointed her finger at Randi and shook it. "Now stop looking at me like that."

The smile widened, and Randi's head ducked lower. "What?"

"Oh, c'mon. I said I'd think about it," Kay begged, then grinned. "I bet I can change that look."

"Really? And how do you think you're going to ..." Randi was silenced by Kay's lips covering hers. That'll work. She gladly fell back to the bed to continue the conversation.


A couple of hours later, the ringing of the telephone woke the two sated women. Randi raised her head from where it was cushioned on Kay's stomach and frowned. "That damned thing is really beginning to get on my nerves," she grumbled. Rolling over onto her right side, she grabbed the offending device. "What?"

"My, my, sugar, you're sure cranky. Don't tell me you were still asleep," Melissa's syrupy voice drawled. "It's after eleven o'clock in the morning. You were always an early riser, before."

"It's none of your damned business what I was doing. What the hell do you want?" Randi sat up and swung her legs off the side of the bed. She could feel Kay's hand lightly rubbing her back and was grateful for the calming touch.

"Temper, temper. I think I know what your problem is, Randi. You need to get laid."

Unable to control herself, Randi laughed. "Believe me, Melissa, that's not my problem." She turned to look over her shoulder at Kay, whose face had grown stormy. "Is that the only reason you called?" Randi shifted so that she could sit next to her angry lover, reaching up and gently smoothing away the crease in Kay's forehead that the frown created. I love you, she mouthed silently.

"I love you, too," Kay whispered, a smile replacing the frown and causing her eyes to soften with emotion.

"What did you say, Melissa? I wasn't listening." Randi heard the other woman's voice, but was too intent on looking into Kay's eyes to realize what she had said.

"That's the trouble with you, Randi. You never did pay attention to me," the redhead whined. "But I'm willing to overlook that one little detail and take you back."

"You'll what?" Randi yelled, spinning around and jumping off the bed. "What the hell makes you think I'd be interested in you?" Her outburst frightened Spike, who was sleeping on the pile of clothes that were to be donated. He jumped up onto the bed and stood between Randi and Kay, barking at the dark-haired woman as if she had lost her mind.

Kay laughed at the small animal's antics and scooped him up to snuggle him close to her chest. "Shhh, tough guy. She's on the phone with Super Bitch." Her heart swelled with love over Spike's protective streak towards her.

"I've checked around, hon. From what I've heard, your little girlfriend went back to the boonies where she belongs, and you're all alone."

Wiping her hand down her face in exasperation, Randi sat on the edge of the bed. How would she know...oh, yeah. Her 'friend' that lives in one of the apartments in the next building. I didn't think they were speaking to each other any more. One of the last arguments they'd had when they were together was about the man who Melissa insisted was 'just a friend.' She'd come back from doing the laundry with her lipstick smeared and her clothes rumpled, and Randi knew in her heart that Ricky had been at the laundry cabana, as well. He was more upset than Randi when Melissa moved away without so much as a good-bye. "Even if that were true, and I'm not saying it is, you'd be the last person on the face of the earth that I'd even remotely consider being with."

"You don't have to get nasty, baby. I know you don't do well alone, and I worry about you."

"Bullshit. You've never cared before now. Why the sudden change?" The pressure from fighting all the old emotions that Melissa evoked was wearing Randi down. She closed her eyes and bent her head, exhausted.

"Of course I care, darlin'. I know we had our little problems before, but I really want to try again." Melissa's tone sounded almost desperate.

Kay awkwardly scooted down the bed until she was sitting directly behind her lover. Placing her hands on Randi's shoulders, she attempted to relax the older woman with a slow, deep massaging of the tight muscles there.

"What part of 'no' can you not get through your head? I told you I'm not interested, and I meant it," Randi tried to explain. The warm hands on her bare skin soothed her frazzled nerves, and she was able to distance herself from the conversation. When one of the hands reached for the phone, Randi was more than happy to relinquish control and released her grip.

"Of course you are, baby. We're so good together, you and me. Just let me come on over there and ..."

"Listen, you deep-fried, Southern belle wannabe," Kay spat out venomously. "We don't want, or need you in our lives, so just butt out."

A moment of shocked silence was followed by a giggle. "Oh, sugar. You really have no idea what you're in for, do you? You're a sweet young thing, but she's way out of your league."

"I know exactly what I'm in for," Kay retorted. "And it's precisely what I want."

Randi turned around and faced the younger woman. Her brown eyes were weary, but she wore a tender smile on her face.

Kay reached across with her free hand and stroked Randi's cheek. "Do yourself a favor, Melissa. Find a nice rock and crawl under it." She disconnected the call before the other woman could say another word and tossed the handset back up near the top of the bed.

"Thanks," Randi murmured. "I don't think I would have been able to take much more from her right now." She thought back to part of the conversation that Kay'd had with Melissa. "Deep fried Southern wannabe?"

Having the good grace to blush, Kay ducked her head and grinned. "Deep-fried Southern belle wannabe," she corrected. The comment got the desired effect, as Randi's face split into a wide smile. "Well, she is. The only other place I've heard an accent that pronounced is on television."

Randi wrapped her arms around Kay and squeezed. "You're something, you know that?"

"Yeah, well, figuring out what that 'something' is will probably be a full-time job. You up for it?"

"Most definitely," Randi assured her, kissing the top of the blonde head. Her stomach took that moment to announce its presence, causing Kay to giggle. "I can't help it. Someone kept me from having breakfast."

Kay ran her fingers down Randi's bare sides, causing the older woman to squirm. "If we work it just right, you can miss lunch, too," she growled, nibbling on the nearest bit of flesh.

"I, umm...ooooh," Randi moaned, falling back to the bed with Kay in her arms. "Lunch is highly overrated, in my opinion." She started her own counter-attack, eliciting groans of pleasure from her companion.

Lunch was soon forgotten.

Continued in part 2

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