Disclaimers - Nope, none. My characters, my hometown, my pseudo company.  Dar and Kerry are (amazingly) copyrighted people belonging to themselves, who are renting their lives to me for reasons beyond my understanding.  This is the sequel to Hurricane Watch.


Eye of the Storm Part 2

By Melissa Good

Waking up naked, in bed with Dar Roberts was about the nicest thing Kerry could readily conceive of, she decided, having done just that. She stretched a little under the soft quilt and snuggled closer, feeling really rested for the first time in two weeks.

They had managed to get Dar's clothes washed, and hung up in the bathroom, but it had been pretty late before that happened, and she wondered if the darn things would even be half dry by now.

The sun peeked in, and Kerry peeked back, then put her head down on Dar's shoulder, using her lover's body to block out the intrusive rays. A soft chime made her look up again though, to see her mail icon blinking.

She made a face at it. Dar had done a very quick review of her initial findings last night, and immediately sent the files off to Duk's auditors, with a grim look, and a shake of her head.

Not good.

Though, watching Dar browse Allison's data files in the nude certainly had lent a piquant note to the proceedings. Or maybe surreal was the word she was looking for. At any rate, her instincts had been confirmed by her lover's experience and now that bleeping blinking icon was probably Duks having a multiple coronary over the prelims.

But she didn't want to check it. She didn't want to move one inch from where she was, or tear her ear away from the soothing sound of Dar's heartbeat, slow and steady under her.

Dear Lord, she'd missed this. She hadn't really acknowledged just how much until now, after becoming used to it for the several months of their intimate relationship. She wondered if Dar felt the same way.

The laptop chimed again, this time causing Dar to stir, and she looked up to see her lover opening one clear blue eye to stare at the pc in irritation. "Probably from our notes."

"Grumph." Dar sighed, then rolled over and wrapped Kerry up in her arms. "I want a longer night."

Mm. Guess she did feel the same way. Kerry smiled. "Me too."

The phone rang, and they both groaned, then Kerry reached over and pulled it from the cradle. "Hello?"

"Morning, Kerry."

"Hey, Mark." Kerry stifled a yawn. "What're you doing up this early?"

"The usual… can I talk to the boss, please?"

Kerry snorted. "Excuse me? You call me at my hotel room in Vermont, when Dar is supposed to be in Houston, and you expect her to be here?"


She covered the receiver. "How does he do that?"

Dar just held out a hand. "Don't ask. You'll be a happier person for it." She took the phone and cradled it between her ear and shoulder. "Yeah?"

"Good morning, boss."

Dar considered that. "Yeah, it is, Thanks."

There was a momentary silence, then Mark cleared his throat. "Ah.. right, anyway… listen, those circuit diagrams of yours finally came in over the CAD server."

"Mmm… bout time."

"Yeah.. and the Cisco rep is busting my ass to try and convince you to upgrade the regional hubs to 7000's."


"Uh huh… he's one of those granola and sunshine nerds… gets up at dawn and goes commune with the squirrels or something."

"Good for him." Dar rested her forearm over her eyes. "All right.. have the print shop mount those diagrams on foam and get them up in my office… and tell Mr. Granola I'll think about it."

"Cool."   The sound of a keyboard came through the phone. "Oh yeah.. Maria's looking for you."

"Put me through." Dar made a face, and covered the mouthpiece. "I forgot to tell her I wasn't going to be in today."  She waited through a moment of the company's incredibly annoying hold music, then heard Maria's voice. "Morning, Maria."

"Ay.. Dar… where are you?" The secretary sounded worried.


"Ah..good." Came right back. "This is good.. very good.. is Kerrisita there?"

Dar eyed the disheveled blond head resting on her stomach. "Yes, in fact, she is."  Kerry looked up in question. "What's up?"

"Is a policeman here… he has some papers… he says she must sign for them." Maria responded.

"Police?"  Blue and green eyes met. "A regular policeman?"

"No no… in the plain clothing."

Dar muffled the receiver. "You're being served papers."

"Shit." Kerry mouthed, tightening her lips. "Only one thing that could be."

"Maria, is he a federal policeman?"


"Ah. Okay… it's all right. Have Penny notarize your signature on them and take em from him.."  Dar sighed.

"Is not trouble?" Maria's voice lowered. "I could tell him she went to Cuba… he will not be back then."

Dar chuckled wanly. "No.. it's.. more complicated than that, Maria… Kerry's not in trouble, but they need to ask her some questions… she's got to testify.. that kind of thing."

"Ay… is for her familia?"


"I will take them, Dar… you will be gone all day, no?" Maria now sounded briskly businesslike. "I have canceled your two meetings, and Mr. Draefus is pacing in little circles here waiting to talk to you."

Kerry felt a weight settle on her, as she considered the newest developments. Not that she hadn't been expecting the summons… she had. But she'd hoped the matter would take the usual government forever

Guess not. She wondered briefly what the investigators would get into, remembering the last few she'd seen on CNN… fortunately she'd been on her own for the last several years, without her father's support. That, at least, they couldn’t dispute.

College… well, they'd all gone, though she'd taken at least a three quarter scholastic scholorship the whole four years. Michael, though…  Kerry winced. Angie had, at least, been only the bachelors degree.

Well, she could honestly go in there and say she'd never had any idea her father was involved in the illegal acts - legally she was in the clear, and she actually couldn’t give any evidence against him, as a matter of fact.

Should be a short ordeal.

Might even be a little…satisfying? To see her father squirm.

"Okay, Dukky… lemme know what they find.. I figure they won't get anything before I've got to get out of here tonight." Dar sighed. "We'll keep them in a holding pattern.. but tell Mari to push on those security checks."  A pause. "Right." Another pause, and a look down. "I'll tell her.. thanks.. bye."

Dar hung up the phone and exhaled. "Ho boy."

Kerry traced a bare rib. "Had to come sooner or later." She remarked. "I can't tell them much.. it won't take long.. did Maria say when it was for?"

"Three weeks from now." Dar replied. "Duks pulled the auditing team off T and T and reassigned them to us… he says it's gonna take time to figure everything out, though." She considered. "And, it may be that some of those numbers just cross check strangely… though I doubt it." She tapped her nose. "Something stinks."

Both blond brows shot up. "I should be insulted."

"Not here." Dar slid her hands under Kerry's arms and pulled her up until they were chin to chin. "Do you have a local lawyer to go up there with you?"

"No… do I need one? I'm not being investigated, Dar."

"Tch.. someone as politically savvy as you saying that, Ker? You know how out of hand those things get."

"Mm." A sigh. "I'll see what I can do."

Dar rubbed noses with her. "Okay… I guess a shower is in order… and let's see how we can play your friends at Allison." She tilted her head. "I could just go in there and kick them around a little."

Kerry thought about that, then smiled. "I've got a better idea."


Kerry dusted the sleeve on her silk shirt off and twitched her gray linen jacket straight before she entered the conference room, aware of the tall, silent figure that followed her. She motioned to a chair, then proceeded across the room and circled it, giving the other occupants a brief smile as she did so. “Good morning.”

Eyes had flicked to the casually dressed woman sprawled in the chair near the door, but now they focused back on her. The attitude was wary, but lacked the nervousness of the day before, and even held a hint of complacence.

“All right.. thank you for getting me those reports. I’ve reviewed them, and referred the findings to our main office…our personnel department is processing the security checks, so things are in a holding pattern until those two items are completed.”

Kerry paused. “However, since the interconnectivity takes a while, we’re going to get started with that. We borrowed one of our local field technicians and asked her to come in to give your IS people a hand in the network migration.. I’d like to get that started as soon as possible.” She stared pensively down at her briefcase, trying to ignore the mischevious face Dar was making at her. “I’m sure..um.. Bunny.. here.. will get you up and rolling in short order.”

Paybacks. Kerry peeked up at her lover, who was giving her one of those ‘I’m gonna get you later’ looks. She returned it with a charming smile. “Right, Bun?”

“Aaabsolutely.” Dar drawled, adding a hint of the South to her voice.

Sam swiveled in his chair, then tapped his teeth with a pencil. “Sue, can you get someone up here to show our guest the server farm? I’m sure she wants to get started.” He looked pleased. “In the meantime, I thought maybe you’d like to sit in on a client briefing, Ms. Stuart.. since you’re here, and all.. perhaps you’d like to see our methods firsthand.”

Kerry let him wait for a few seconds, while she considered the request. “All right. I’d like that.” 

They all stood, and Sue brushed herself off, then walked over to where Dar was sitting. “Come with me, please?” Her voice was pleasant, but held a note of condescension.

“Sure.” Dar unfolded her length from the bucket shaped chair and stood, towering over the smaller woman. She was dressed in her jeans and short sleeved shirt, the rolled sleeves exposing her toned arms, and had pulled her dark hair back into a tail at the base of her neck.  “Lead on.” She let her eyes flick to Kerry’s face for an instant, then followed Sue out, pulling the door shut behind her.

“Funny.” Sam drawled. “I thought you people liked to present a much sharper image.”

Kerry bit the inside of her lip to keep the retort from emerging, then cleared her throat. “Well, it’s Bunny’s day off… she’s doing us a favor.”

The accountant shook his head. “I hope she knows what she’s doing.. we can’t afford down time today.”

“Oh.” The blond woman scratched her nose. “Don’t worry. She does.”

Dar followed her officious guide down a long, gray carpeted hallway, passing offices on either side full of paper covered desks. Eyes looked up as they passed, then dropped, and Dar sensed a feeling of reticience that made her spine prickle.

“Nice office.” She commented.

Sue glanced at her. “Thank you.” She lead the way into a larger room, full of cables and other telecommunication gear. “Roger?”

A tall, lanky man in a painfully white shirt and blue pants ducked his head from under a rack. “Yes? Oh.. “ He straightened up and ran his fingers through bushy brown hair, blinking out from behind a pair of very thick glasses. “Can  I help you?”

“The new company sent a technician over to start getting us hooked up to them.”  Sue waved Dar forward. “All yours.”  She turned and walked out, leaving them regarding each other.

“Hi.” Dar finally said. “So you’re Roger, huh?”

He seemed to realize he was staring. “Ah.. um… yeah.. hi. Roger Milken.. yeah.. and um.. there’s a couple of others around here.. Bill, and Tom.. and Squeeziks.”

One of Dar’s eyebrows lifted. “All right.”

He scratched his neck under an ill fitting collar. “Did you want to see something or…um.. what’s your name, anyway?”

Dar held out a hand, deciding on her middle name rather than the label Kerry had pinned on her. “Katherine.”  She released him. "I'd like to see your setup.. w.. they've got certain things they like to see before they let you connect."

"Mmph… okay." Roger waved at her. "C'mon.. I'll give you the five cent tour… watch your step. We're redoing the patch panel."

Dar strolled along behind him, her eyes taking in the room's equipment and evaluating it as he rambled on about the hardware. An NT server farm, a chugging AS400, and a bank of routers on one side of the room, with the rack of Ethernet hubs mounted next to them. "Nice."

"Uh.. thanks.. yeah, this is the main box.." He indicated the AS400. "We keep all the database stuff in there.. and that's our webserver… and we just got these two new Cisco 7000's…"

"Mm." Dar stopped in front of the routers and leaned on the console that programmed them. She idly signed into one, and browsed it's statistics. "Send a lot of traffic out."

"Uh.. yeah… they do lots of searches.. that kinda thing." Roger now sounded just a touch evasive. "You know."

"Mm." Dar pointed. "What about those?"

"OH.. that's the SQL servers.. I wrote em." Roger walked over and signed into one. "See? It runs concurrent copies… saves all the stuff to the RAID arrays… they go bonkers about downtime."

Dar signed out of the router and patted it. "Firewall?"

"You bet." Roger went to the next machine. "All our access in and out is logged…make sure no one's downloading nudie pics.." He laughed lamely. "So… what is it you want so we can get hooked up?"

Dar sat down on a chair. "Got a pad?"  She started listing off requirements as he scrambled for a pen.


Kerry caught up with the fair haired, heavyset woman as they took a break, and wandered into the coffee room. The clients had been quiet, almost passive, and she'd been curious about the attitude, which seemed more cowed then anything else.


The woman glanced at her. "Oh, hello… I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name in there."

"Kerry." They shook hands. "I'm with ILS."

The faded hazel eyes darted around the almost empty room, then settled back on Kerry's face. "Oh."

"We.. um.. we bought Allison Consulting… you knew that, right?"

"Oh.. yes. Yes, I did.. um.. excuse me.. I've just got to use the rest room."  The woman edged around Kerry's slim form.

"Me too." Kerry agreed pleasantly. "C'mon. .it's this way."  She guided the way to the bathroom, holding the door open politely. "That's a nice dress."

The woman looked a little startled. "Um.. why, thank you." She walked over and turned the water on, washing her hands quietly.

Kerry waited, leaning against the door with both hands behind her.

"So… are you here just to watch?"

"Something like that… to observe.. to get reports… start putting things together, that kind of thing." Kerry replied. "Find out what they do right.. what they do wrong… " She watched the broad shoulders twitch. "Why they're successful."

The woman slowly straightened, wiping her hands on a paper towel. "Is that why your company bought them? Because they were successful?"

"Mmhm." Kerry agreed. "There's always a lot of questions to ask, though.. we want to make sure we give their clients the service they contracted for."

Hazel eyes turned and regarded her with an emotion startlingly like wan hatred. Kerry's nape hairs prickled, and she wondered what nerve she'd struck.

"And he promised it wouldn't go any further." The woman hissed, advancing on Kerry. "Now all of you know? That bastard… "

"Hold on." Kerry lifted a hand. "I'm not sure.. ."

"Get out of my way, you little…" The woman grabbed Kerry's arm and shoved hard , throwing her against the door. "If' it's over, it's over… he's going to get what I owe him."

"Wait!" Kerry caught her balance, confused and startled. "Ms. Andrews… please.. hold on a minute.. I think there's some mistake.." She took hold of the hand that was reaching for her again and held it, tensing muscles strengthened by months of activity. "Please don't do that again."

The woman tried to wrench her hand free, but found it held very securely. "Let me go you bitch."

"Ms. Andrews… I am not your enemy." Kerry told her forcefully. "Now calm down, please." She kept her voice low. "Just take it easy."

They stared at each other in silence.

"Okay… now.. .listen. We know something's going on here.. we just don't know what it is yet."


"My boss and I, yes." Kerry replied. "So… if you tell me what happened, maybe I can help." She released the woman's arm and straightened, just as the door opened and Ann breezed in.

"Well well… is this a party?" The petite executive inquired, with a smile. "Getting an early start, aren't you, Ms. Stuart?"

"I'm not one for parties." Kerry opened the door and waited for Claudette to escape out in front of her. "Excuse me."

"Funny." Ann chuckled. "That's not what I heard."

Kerry watched her enter a stall, and close the door and she backed out, pausing in the hallway to consider the words.

Wondering what they'd meant.

Suspecting it was nothing good.


"So." Sam leaned back in his chair. "What did you think?"

Kerry was standing near his office window, gazing out. Now, she turned and leaned against the wall. "They seem very quiet."

He chuckled. "Yeah, they're nice enough folks, but not very lively."

"I was a little surprised they didn't question some of the outline, though." Kerry watched him carefully.

"Really? Why?"

She folded her arms. "Because most of it was bullshit." The words were spoken matter of factly.  "You can't deliver the services you sold them, and they're being left without any back up whatsoever."

"Now, you look.." Sam's face darkened.

"So either those clients were completely ignorant, or they were being quiet for a reason." Kerry crossed her ankles. "I think you'd better level with me, Mr. Gershwin."

Hostility bristled across the desk at her. "I don't know what you're talking about."

A shrug. "You can say that. But I need to tell you we're going to eventually find out what's going on… and what it was that woman was so afraid would get out."

Sam Gershwin went very still, as he studied her in silence. "You sure you want to do that, Ms. Stuart?" He finally replied. "If I were you, I'd just leave things alone… you'll be a happier person for it, I promise you."

Kerry chewed the inside of her lip, wondering how far she should push. "I'm not sure what you mean by that."

He steepled his fingers. "Aren't you? Perception is such a fluid thing, Ms. Stuart… I'm sure your company has a perception  of you as a fine, upstanding woman, a credit to their reputation.. don't they?"

A chill ran up Kerry's spine. "Is that a relevant question?"

"Well… " He stood up and strolled towards her. "It's your job to use your judgment, isn't it? To find a way to.. oh.. bring us in the fold, so to speak.. they must think highly of your decision making skills.. don't they?"

"Yes, they do."

Sam stopped and leaned against the wall next to her, his taller form throwing a shadow over her body. "Would it take much to change that? Say… what if they found out their fine, upstanding operations director….oh, got drunk and to be carried out of a bar… hmm?"

Kerry's eyebrow lifted. "The subject's not likely to come up, so I've got no idea how they'd react."

"Really?" Sam smiled. "Well, I've got ten people who'll swear that's exactly what happened last night, little Ms. Kerry."

The reaction wasn't what he expected. Kerry burst into laughter. "You're not seriously threatening me with that, are you?"

He was a little disconcerted, but retained his slightly mocking attitude. "Is it so farfetched? You're a pretty little thing… and I bet you know how to have fun, don't you?" Then he picked up a folder on his desk and flipped it open. "And they say a picture's worth a thousand words."

Kerry glanced at the folder, then blinked, startled to see an image of herself, very obviously out of control in an unfamiliar setting. "Nice piece of editing." She finally stated, her voice taking on a harder edge. "What's your point?"

"Ah." He smiled. "Now we're getting somewhere. Tell you what… it's really easy, and no skin off your nose, Ms. Kerry… you just put in a nice report on us, and go on your merry way, and we'll just never have had this conversation."

"And if I don't?" Kerry asked.

"Then I've got no choice but to contact your boss, and put in a formal protest. I can't have my company being evaluated by someone who shows such… lapsed judgement." He lifted the picture. "What would your boss say about that, hmm?"

Kerry rubbed her jaw. "I don’t know… I guess you'll have to ask her."  She told him, her chin lifting in challenge as she met his gaze. "But you're putting your eggs in a flimsy basket, Mr. Gershwin."

"Am I?"

"You're assuming I was alone last night." Kerry smiled.

He laughed in delight. "Oh.. that's even better… you're going to pull out some flannel shirted bum you found in a bar to defend you?"  He snapped the folder shut. "If that's the way you want to play it, fine." He looked up as the door opened, and a tall, dark haired form slipped in. "Excuse me, but this is a private meeting."

Dar continued across the room, with every step shedding her casual persona and taking on the dynamic fierceness that was part and parcel of who she was. "Meeting's over." She enunciated sharply. "You've got six minutes to pick up your personal effects and be out of the building."

"What?" Gershwin stared at her. "Have you lost your mind? Get the hell out of my office before I call security. Who in the hell do you think you are?"

Dar pointed a thumb at her own chest. "Me? I'm Dar Roberts." A delicious pause. "And you're unemployed. Now get out." She got between the comptroller and his desk. "My people have all your accounting records, and the client files, and by the time they finish sifting it for chargable offenses, you're going to be more than out of a job."

He was in shock. "You're Dar Roberts?"

Dar pulled her wallet from her back pocket and fished her Florida driver's license out, showing it to him. "Three minutes." She poked a finger at him. "Out."

"You're out of your mind. You can't just walk in here and fire me." Gershwin rasped. "I'll slap a lawsuit on you so fast…"

Kerry picked up the folder on the desk. "Hmm.. yeah, this'll make an interesting exhibit when I testify." She showed the picture to Dar. "This is where I was last night."

Dar took one look at the picture, then at Sam, putting two and two together and going from irritated, rumpled executive to borderline murderous lover in the blink of an eye. "You stinking son of a.." A step forward and her hands were curled in his lapels as she shoved him against the wall.

"Get your hands off me you.. "

"Dar." Kerry put a hand on her back, taking a nervous breath.

Dar stared into his eyes, her own ice cold. " Time up. You're out of here right now, before I do something we're both going to regret." She released him and stepped back. "Now."

He straightened his lapels, then gave her a hateful look. "You'll hear from me. This isn't the end of this, you can be sure of that."  

They watched him walk to the door and go through it, brushing by Charlie Efton on the way out. "Good bye, Charlie."

The thin, bespectacled man stared after him puzzledly, then looked inside the office, clearly at sea. "Ah… did I miss something? What's going on?" His eyes went to Kerry, and he was clearly surprised when it was what he considered a common field tech answering.

"Get your people in the conference room in five minutes." Dar growled.

Charlie stared at her in bewilderment.

"Please." Kerry added, folding her arms. "Let's get this over with."

He walked out shaking his head., closing the door and leaving them alone.

Dar opened the folder and stared at the picture in disgust. "Pig."

Kerry put out a hand and rubbed her back, feeling the warm tension under her fingers. "I thought it was sort of funny, Dar.. I mean.. it's so obviously doctored. You think this is how they got those accounts?"

"Pig." Blue eyes narrowed intently as she studied the photo. "I should have kicked him in the nuts."

"Um.. Dar.. " Kerry laughed a bit. "Take it easy, okay? Not that I don’t appreciate the noble protection of my honor, but… " She massaged Dar's back. "What brought that on? What'd you find?"

Dar sat down on the desk, rubbing her temples and sighing. "Sorry… I um.. he just hit me the wrong way, I guess… I was able to get Mark in to their system, and he did a complete dump for me, then started parsing records, and he found this dumb bastard's damn online Filofax."

Kerry's jaw sagged. "You're telling me he put illegal stuff he was doing in his computer?"

"No. Worse. He put it up on a network server, with multiple backups."

"Oh my god." Kerry covered her eyes. "That was worse than the illegal sales to China we found in that export company last month.. at least they only kept those records on their Powership PC."

Dar exhaled, feeling her body relax after it's unexpected call to arms. She'd been finishing up her inspection and the initial stages of conversion in the operations center, when she'd gotten a cell phone call from Mark.

That had lead to a guarded conference outside the office door, confirming Dar's vague suspicions, and marking the largest target of wrongdoing.  It was that, she was sure, that caused the sudden knot to form in her guts, and sent her heading for Sam's office, knowing she had to get him out of the building before he had a chance to cover any tracks.

That was what had caused it, right? The fact that the son of a bitch had been in here, threatening Kerry was just a coincidence.


"You all right?" Kerry's voice held a note of concern.

Dar looked up, and allowed herself a very brief moment of drowning in those sea green eyes. "Yeah. This is going to be ugly, Ker… I don't know who knows what… right now, I think it would be better to call in a team, and lock the management team out until we get some answers."

"All right." Kerry straightened. "That's what I'll tell them."

A tilt of the dark head. "Why don't you let me do that… after all, I'm here."

"Because this is my job." Kerry put a fingertip on her bosses well shaped nose. "You can come and watch, though."

Dar stood. "Let's get it done, then. You and I have a plane to catch, and a place to go to."

"Yeah. Home." Kerry allowed a big smile to take over her face. "I can't wait."

A hand ruffled her hair affectionately. "Me either… c'mon."

They left the office and headed down the hall, aware of the tense silence suddenly surrounding them.


"They just fired him?" Ann hissed, in disbelief. "Charlie, how could that happen? I thought he.."

"I don’t know. " The company president paced up and down nervously. "He just walked out.. told Carol he'd been fire. I have no idea what's going on."

"Shit." Ann played with her pencil. "Maybe that plan of his backfired… I told him not to mess with that Stuart woman.. she's a lot more than a fluffy blond cheerleader."

The short, dark haired assistant comptroller cleared his throat. "Um.. she's Roger Stuart's daughter.. you knew that, right?"

They all looked at him ."Oh shit." Charlie covered his eyes. "That stupid bastard Sam.. how could he miss something like that?"

"Oh.. well, I figured when you saw who was with her.. " The man started to say, but the door opening silenced him.

Kerry strode in, and motioned for Dar to take a seat in the back of the room, which her boss did, folding a leg under her and leaning on the arm of the chair. 

"Thank you." Kerry circled the table and went to it's head, standing behind the chair and letting her hands rest on it. "This is going to be a very short meeting."

"Look.. " Charlie interjected. "Would you mind telling us what's going on? What happened to Sam? What are you people doing?"

Kerry took a breath. Now that it had come down to it, and she was looking these people in the eye, she found it hard to say the words. Not that she felt sorry for them.. no, she didn't. They weren't nice people, and she had a feeling the deeper they dug into the company, the worse they'd find. But they were people, and she was a person, and she held their fate in her hands for this one, timeless moment.

It was a very odd feeling, and it sort of reminded her, just a little, of how she'd felt when she'd sent the damning information about her father to the press.

Sad. And relieved.

A little scared.

"The review of your systems has turned up a number of extensive irregularities." Kerry stated quietly. "Our auditing department is reviewing them. Until they complete their review, I'd like all of you to leave the building, and go home."

They stared at her in utter shock.

"Are you firing us?" Ann blurted.

Kerry had a sudden flashback to a phone call, and a sinking feeling. "I'm asking you to go home, and wait until we contact you." She replied. "Your pay, and benefits will continue until our management makes a final determination."

“You can’t just…” Charlie objected angrily.

“I can.” Inflexibly precise tones corrected him. “Now, please… just go home, and don’t make this harder than it has to be.” Kerry took a breath. “An operations team will be here Monday morning to.. take over.” 

There was a stunned silence.

“Son of a bitch.” Ann got up and threw her papers down. “I’m calling my lawyer.” She pointed at Kerry. “I don’t know who you people think you are, but you’ve pissed off the wrong person here.”

A soft scraping sound followed her words, then fabric shifting, and soft footsteps as Dar circled the table and came around to Kerry’s side.

“In fact, I don’t think you have the authority to do what you just did. I want to talk to your boss, right now!” Ann slammed her hand down on the desk.

Kerry tilted her head in faint amusement, then half turned, and lifted her eyebrows. “Okay…. Dar, she wants to talk to you.”

“Oh really.” The tall executive drawled, turning her eyes on the now silent woman. “I don’t think you have anything more to say.”  Dar spoke into deafening silence. “Ladies and Gentlemen, you got caught. Now go home, and hope all you get is fired.”

“You.. are Dar Roberts?” Ann’s voice held a strange hint of amusement.

Dar merely looked at her.

“Interesting.” The woman picked up her folder and walked out. “Let’s go, boys. I guess we know when we’re beaten.”

Dar and Kerry watched them file out, and the door close behind them.

“That was really weird.”

“Gotta agree.” Dar shook her head. “What a mess… I locked their accounts out on their domain controller.. and forced a reset on everyone elses passwords.”

“Mm.. you pull everyone except for you out of the domain admin group?”

“Uh huh..”

“That’ll do it then.. .I guess we’d better get out of here…it’s almost five oclock anyway, so I think we can just send everyone home, and let the ops team take over on Monday.” Kerry sighed. “This feels really strange, Dar… like there’s something here I’m not seeing.”

“Well, if you’re not seeing it, I’m not either.” The taller woman confessed. “Maybe Mark’ll find something.. c’mon.. we’ve got a chance to get a snack before we’ve got to get on the plane.”

“Yeah.” Kerry shouldered her briefcase and followed her lover out the door, still thinking.

The smell of pancakes woke her up. Dar lifted an eyelid, and examined the room, it’s cool, blue walls lit with tiny stripes of sunlight from the blinds. She stretched and regarded the ceiling with sleepy contentment, as subtle sounds from the kitchen indicated her lover’s current location.

Mm. Kerry’s home. A smile spread across her face. I missed her.  Dar yawned, and stretched again, then rolled up out of the waterbed and made her way into the bathroom, throwing a little water on her face and brushing her teeth. “Mm.” She chewed the toothpaste curiously, having picked Kerry’s up by mistake. “Grape. How did this woman find grape toothpaste?”


“Hmm?” Dar hastily swallowed, and wiped her mouth off, then padded out of the bathroom and found her blond haired lover leaning in the doorway to the bedroom. “Morning… you’re up early.”

“Not that much.” Kerry tickled her navel with a finger. “Just long enough to get breakfast started.. I wanted to make sure you got something other than coffee and Frosted Flakes before you went out to win trophies.”

“Speaks the woman who uses grape toothpaste.” Dar responded dryly, watching Kerry blush and start to laugh. “Gotcha.”

“Weeell.. it was all they had in the airport, Dar… it was that, or that baking powder stuff, and you know I hate how gritty that is.”  Kerry pulled Dar’s baseball shirt off the back of the loveseat and handed it to her. “It’s a gorgeous day out.”

“Oh yeah?” Dar slipped the garment on, then curled her arms around the smaller woman, pulling her into a hug. “It’s pretty nice in here, too.” She released Kerry and followed her into the kitchen, where Chino was patiently waiting. “Oh.. I get it.. there must be food somewhere.”


“Mm.. certainly was spotless in here.” Kerry poked her friend with the end of her spatula. “Did you even make coffee while I was gone?”

Dar looked suitably penitent. "Um…I was out late most nights at the gym." She offered as an excuse. "Just picked up something on the way home."

Kerry eyed her. "Chicken wings?"

A faint hint of a grin. "Among other things."

"Dar." Kerry turned back to her pancakes and flipped one expertly. "I was worried about you…though that's kind of silly, I guess.. you're a grown person, who can certainly take care of  herself."

Dar slid both arms around her and rested her cheek against Kerry's hair. "Yes, I can do that."  She murmured. "But I'm glad I don't have to." She nipped an ear. "I'm glad you're back."

"Mm." Kerry smiled. "Even though I make you eat vegetables?" She felt Dar's head nod against hers and she leaned back. "So what do I do for two weeks? I pig out on tacos and shrimp toasts."

Dar chuckled. "Hotel food is kinda limited."

"Don’t make excuses for me… the limited menus included salads." Kerry retorted, flipping another pancake, and turning the bacon in the next pan. "You've corrupted me, Dardar."

The chuckle turned into a full laugh, rumbling down Dar's chest and making a pleasant vibration against Kerry's back.

The phone rang, and Dar released her, then wandered over to the portable phone and lifted it up. "Hello?"

Kerry almost felt the change, and she turned her head to see a dark, still expression on her lover's face. She quickly shifted the pans off the stove and walked over, putting a hand on Dar's belly. "Hey?" She mouthed.

Dar tucked a hand behind Kerry's neck and pulled her close. "All right." She spoke quietly in to the phone. "Next Friday. I'll be there." A pause. "Goodbye." She set the phone down with deliberate precision and exhaled.

"Who on earth was that?" Kerry whispered. "From your face, I thought it was my father."

"Worse." Dar answered, with a sigh. "It was my mother."

Kerry looked up at her. "Whoa… that was unexpected."

"Yeah." The blue eyes focused on something Kerry wasn't sure she wanted to be able to see.


Kerry finished packing a small towel in the gym bag Dar habitually carried, then zipped the bag closed and walked to the double doors, regarding the tall, silent figure leaning against the railing.

Dar was upset, and shocked. Kerry could tell. Hearing from her mother was difficult, but finding out it was due to the passing of her grandmother was even worse. After not hearing from that side of her family for such a long time, getting news like that was tough, and knowing she'd have to go and face being with those people next week was eating at her.

Kerry pushed the door open and walked outside into the warm sea breeze. "You ready, champ?"

Dar turned her head and adjusted her sunglasses, pulling them down a little to regard Kerry's face. "I think my focus is off." She told her regretfully. "I wasn't expecting that… even though I haven't seen Gran in… " Dar thought. "Damn.. has it been ten years?" She exhaled. "She was a… a very tough woman."

"Mm."  Kerry put an arm around her. "I'm sorry, Dar.. I.. don't remember my grandparents. They died when I was very young." She considered that. "I wish I had… my uncles tell some really great stories about them."

Dar leaned against her. "I never knew my father's parents. When he and my mother got married, they disowned him.. sort of…. The only one who spoke to him at all was Aunt May."  She exhaled. "Then there was gran, and grandpa..  he and my father argued all the time, but I think they liked each other.  He died in a car accident, and gran wasn't the same after that."

Kerry pursed her lips, then forged on. "Dar… you know.. um.. maybe your mother… maybe she's using this as a sort of excuse to get back in touch with you."

Her lover went quite still for a few heartbeats, then straightened and pushed her sunglasses back. "I think it's too late for that. " She answered briskly. "C'mon… I got myself into this contest… let's go watch me make a fool of myself."

Kerry took the hint and dropped the subject. "I bet you don't." She followed Dar inside. "Remember, you promised me a trophy."

"Aw…Kerry… "

"You promised."


I promised. Dar leaned against her locker, surprised at just how nervous she was. What in the hell was I thinking? ? I’ll be lucky to last the first damn round. She scrubbed her face with both hands, then dropped them, shaking her arms to loosen the tight muscles brought on by the sudden stress.


Dar closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as she forced calm on herself. Too many outside distractions were hitting her, and she knew if she didn’t just push them out of the way, she wasn’t going to be able to go out there, or worse, she would, and get hurt because she lost focus.

So, okay. Forget about your mother. Forget about the asshole board member. Forget about Kerry’s testifying.

Forget about Gran.

Damn. Dar’s eyes opened and she gazed at the wooden surface. Wish I’d said goodbye to her.

“You need to find a nice boy, and settle down, honey.” Gran’s eyes had twinkled at her, as she stood uncomfortably in Gran’s small house. “Come here and sit down, and tell me what you’ve been up to.”

Dar had settled her long frame awkwardly on the frilly chair next to the old woman and tried to come up with something she’d find interesting to hear. Programming?  Gran had a radio, and a tv she never turned on, preferring to use it as a shelf to hold a beautiful creeping ivy.  School? Gran had been self schooled. Personal stuff? Dar had just figured out she preferred girls to boys, and doubted Gran would appreciate hearing that. “Same as usual, Gran.. just stuff.”

“Oh, come on now.. you telling me a nice looking young girl like you just sits around all day? What do you do with yourself, Paladar?”

“Um… work with my computer, do my gym stuff.. you know.” Dar had answered. “I go to school,  I go to work.. not much to tell, really.”

Gran had looked at her. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No.” That, at least, she could answer.

Her grandmother had leaned much closer, and lowered her voice. “Do you have a girlfriend?” She’d whispered, with a wink.

Dar had almost swallowed her tongue. “Uhh….. no.” Her voice had risen almost an octave. “I um…”

“Ha.. didn’t think old grumps like me know what’s what, eh?” Gran had poked her in the knee. “Figured you out years ago… had a best friend when I was a girl went the same way.”

She’d turned brick red, and had to endure the old woman’s chuckles until she finally cleared her throat and muttered something banal.

“What’d the folks say?” Gran had asked, conspiratorially.

“They don’t know.” Dar had managed to answer. “Yet.”

That had made Gran laugh even more. “Figures.. my daughter never could see the darn forest for the trees.” She’d patted Dar on the arm. “Don’t you worry, honey.. I won’t say anything.. you just be careful now, here? Chicken fights can be a lot nastier than cock fights, let me tell you.. they’ll peck your eyes right out, and you’ve got really pretty ones.”

Dar had blushed again. “Thanks Gran.” She’d muttered.

“Here.. stop putting your head down.” Gran had picked her chin up and looked at her. “You got nothing to be ashamed of, Paladar, so you keep those baby blues up just like that.” She’d paused. “Oh…you’re going to break some hearts, you are.”

Dar had managed a smile. “Think so?”

A wrinkled hand had patted her cheek. “Keep smiling like that, and I guarantee it.”

Dar found herself smiling again, in reflex memory, and she wished briefly her mother hadn’t gone to live with Gran. That, more than anything, had kept her from calling, and certainly from visiting…

And that hadn’t really been fair to either of them.

“Hey, Dar?”

She turned to find Kerry slipping through the locker room door. “Sorry.. I was just loosening up.”

Kerry came over and slid up against her, with a barely held back smile. “Your dad’s here.”

“Urk.” Dar’s nostrils flared. “Like I needed more pressure.”

“Tch.” The blond woman gave her a much needed hug “He’s lurking back under the seats… I got him some pop and a candy bar.”

“I think I need a candy bar.. .or maybe some ice cream.”

Green eyes twinkled. “Trade you a trophy for a cone, how about that?”

Dar turned, and put her hands on Kerry’s shoulders, her face taking on a serious expression. “Listen.”

Fingertips touched her lips. “No.. I was just kidding. I don’t care if you win anything at all, Dar.. just have fun, and don’t worry about it.” She pulled Dar’s head down and kissed her. “Okay?”

“Just have fun?”


“Okay.” Dar returned the kiss, and let some of the tension roll off her. “I think I can manage that.”  She felt her nerves settle, and she considered the contest. Without question, there’d be some fighters she could beat, and equally, some she couldn’t. That was all right. She’d just do the best she could, that was all.

“C’mon." She put an arm around Kerry's shoulders and guided her out of the locker room, into the main area of the gym.  A wide open space had been cleared, and covered with mats, and some rows of chairs added around it, with platforms after a few rows to raise the seats up into viewing areas.

People dressed like her were all around, warming up and chatting in small groups, or standing alone in fierce concentration. They ranged in age from teens, to middle aged men and women, and Dar felt a little more comfortable, realizing she wouldn't be the oldest person in the room by any means.

Her eyes flicked around and into corners, and found a dark one, with a shadowy form in it. She kept her gaze pinned there, and smiled, holding it until she saw a flash of motion, and a hand wave. She waved back.

"This is sort of fun." Kerry remarked. "Hey.. did you know they have a novice class tournament too? You think maybe I could take a shot next time?"

Hm. Dar mulled that over. Good question.  "I don't know. I think you're too nice." She confessed. "You're not supposed to apologize every time you hit someone."

Kerry grinned ruefully. "Hitting people doesn't quite come naturally to me, I guess…but I've been getting better.. I didn't scream the last time I flipped you."

Dar rubbed her tailbone in memory. "You grunted.. a definite improvement."

They walked up to the warm up area, and Dar released her lover as she joined the group of combatants already working there. "Wish me luck."

Kerry smiled, and tugged her belt. "You won't need it." She backed off. "I'm going to go sit down over there." She pointed at the bleachers.

Dar lifted a hand and watched her go, then turned her attention to the task at hand.  After about twenty minutes of light warm up, a man walked to the center of the mats, and lifted a bullhorn.

"All right ladies and gents… let's get rrrrroollling."

The exercises paused, as all eyes turned towards him.

"We'll do this the easy way. Double elimination, one ring for the pros, one ring for the kiddies, the judges picked the matches out of a hat. See the nice lady with the pink shirt to get your slots, and stay the heck out of the way until its' your turn. Everybody got it?"

A chorus of yells.

"Good! Let's kick some ass!"

Kerry found herself a nice bench and sat down, resting her elbows on her knees.  This was definitely different. The closest she'd ever come to this kind of atmosphere was during her high school bowling days.

"Hey there, kumquat." A low, growly voice made her jump, and she looked down between the bleachers, to see Andrew Roberts perched under them, peering out between the seats with interest. "Looks like a damn bathrobe convention, don’t it?"

"It's… unique." Kerry agreed, as she watched some of the younger contestants run at each other, screaming.

Andrew grunted, his head moving back and forth inside his hood as he observed. "My kid looks damned good, you know that?"

Kerry obligingly turned her eyes to the tall, dark haired form running through a few basic warmup drills while she waited. "Does she? I mean… well, yeah, I think she does anyway, but.."

"Yeap." Dar's father nodded. "Lookit that kick… I couldn’t get that high when I was getting paid for it."

"She's very flexible." Kerry agreed.

"Huh." Andrew chuckled, deep in his throat. "You'd know."

Kerry stared at him in puzzlement, then blushed. "Oh god."  She was saved by the bell, literally, and she turned to watch the first set of matches.

She really hoped Dar did well.

After all, she had a bet on with Andrew about that trophy.

Dar's first match was the third one listed. She spent a moment wishing she was somewhere else just before she had to pad onto the mat, and spent another moment hoping she didn't throw up before she got there.

It was really ludicrous, god damn it, she was an internationally known corporate cio, who ate company managers for lunch, and here she stood, worrying about upchucking in front of a boisterous Saturday night crowd at the local gym.


Dar glared at her opponent in pure annoyance, a man slightly her junior, with a sturdy, well knit body and intelligent eyes.

Which widened a little as they met hers. Dar could only wonder what her expression looked like, before the whistle blew and they were circling each other.  He dodged towards her and she blocked him, feeling the nervous energy make her reactions sharp, and almost edgy. He tried again, and she evaded the kick, countering with one of her own that, with help from her longer legs, connected and turned him halfway around and almost dumped him.

Okay. Dar flexed her hands, and watched him, feeling her heartbeat start to settle a little. She tried a little feint of her own, then realized it was going to work and followed through, neatly sweeping her opponent off his feet and taking advantage of that.

One fall down.

Hm. Dar watched him dust himself off, and face her, seeing something in his eyes that sent a shot of adrenaline right through her.

Now, intimidation… that she recognized, and her aggressive instincts flared as she swept in again, this time with more assurance, letting the watching crowd fade out as she dropped him a second time.

The whistle blew a minute later, and she stepped back, clearing the mat for the next match, feeling a little surprised, and a lot less nauseus. She snuck a look at Kerry, and found a grin waiting for her, along with a little wink.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all.

"She did okay, right" Kerry whispered.

"Damn straight." Andrew had his chin almost resting on the step her feet were on. "Knocked that silly assed punk right on his keester.. that's my girl."

Kerry muffled a chuckle. "You are so cute."

One blue eye edged around the corner of his hood and pierced her. "Scuse me there, young lady.. watch yer mouth." He growled. "I am not having no little kumquats calling me stuff like that."

"Ah.. I see where she gets that, too." Kerry grinned, and turned her attention back to her lover, who was getting a drink of water from the blue neoprene thermos she'd developed a fondness for.

Dar's eyes were a little brighter now, she noticed, and she seemed looser, and more relaxed. She was talking with Ken, who had finished his own bout just prior to hers, and watching the action.

Kerry wondered if she realized just how many people were actually watching her, instead of the matches. She kinda hoped she didn't.. at least until it was over.

"Who you got next?" Ken craned his neck to peer at the small piece of paper Dar had. "Oh… nice slate." He nodded. "They're all pretty decent fighters…I got lucky with mine. The first three of em are strictly hacks."

"Mm." Dar tucked the paper away and took another sip of water. She watched the match in progress, and replayed her last one with a sense of mild satisfaction.

Her next match was an easy one, then the third was a little tougher, her opponent a tough, determined woman with a permanent scowl and a feisty attitude that almost made Dar want to offer her a job. The woman used her smaller size to get inside Dar's defenses, but found out, a little too late, that it was a mistake to get caught by the taller woman's powerful grip.

Dar wiped the back of her neck with her towel, clearing the sweat a little, and glanced at the board, where a perky scorekeeper was moving names around. Hers was in one of the upper tiers, and she felt a sense of satisfaction at her accomplishment so far. Six matches, and she'd won half… that was not too god damned bad for someone who'd been out of competition for as long as she had, and Dar knew she had every right to be completely happy if she lost every single one of her remaining three matches.

Her name was called for her fourth match, and she put her thermos down, flexing her fingers as she entered the circle sketched on the mats again. This time, her opponent was an older man, with the hard eyes, and callused hands of an instructor, and she felt her pulse pick up as her now warmed up body scented a challenge.

He eyed her coolly, intent on intimidating, and received a dazzling smile in return, which made him blink in surprise just before he found himself caught in a combination move that knocked him backwards almost onto his butt.

"Son of a bitch. "He blurted.

Dar patted her chest. "Nope… wrong gender, and don’t you be calling my daddy names like that. " She roundhouse kicked him and sent him flying out side the circle with a thud as he hit the mat. He got back up and they circled each other, trading feints and jabs.

Weeks of pushing herself and weeks of sharpening rusting skills now came to bear as Dar loosened up and tried some more advanced moves, which she hadn't bothered with in her earlier matches. Her opponent countered one, then backed off a little, apparently realizing the skill level facing him was higher than he'd expected. He tried a counter, and Dar absolutely nailed him with a block and a throw over her shoulder that made his bones audibly rattle.

The whistle blew, and she stepped back, only now aware of the crowd slowly gathering around the mat, as the other bouts ended. Her name moved up a tier, and with a sense of shock, she realized she was positioned to come in no worse than fourth in the competition.

That was great, wasn't it? Dar was aware now of the growing crowd, most of them watching the match that was just starting, between a tall, aggressive redhead and a smaller, blond haired man whose quick style, and fluid motion Dar admired. She concentrated on it, and was surprised when a voice invaded her close presence, calling her name. She turned. "Yes??"

It was the match coordinator, in all her pink glory. "I'm sorry… you're Roberts?"

"Yeah… what's wrong?" Dar turned and faced the blond woman. "Did I step outside the circle or something?"

"Oh.. no.. no." Pinky shook her head. "No.. the guy you were supposed to fight next just sprained his ankle." She made a mark on the sheet. "He forfeited, so you got that one… so you've only got the one match left." She looked up." Whoever wins this one.. so don't wander off."

"Sure." Dar gave her a look. "I was going to see if there were any good nature trails around, but I guess I'll hold off."

Pinky looked up at her. "Hah hah." She turned and left, as Dar merely shook her head.

"What's up?" Ken came over, having finished his day. "Hey… third.. not too damn bad." He slapped Dar on the back. "John over there knocked me on my butt in the fourth round.. so I guess it's between you and him.. he's gonna beat Rusty."

Dar almost snorted her water as the words penetrated. "What?"

Ken stared at her. "You didn't realize? The guy who just conked out was in second place… whichever one of you wins the next one, gets the trophy." He almost laughed at Dar's expression. "C'mon Dar… don’t' look like you've been hit by a flying fish, okay? You've been kicking everyone's ass all day long.. you're the talk of the match."


"That last one thar's trouble." Andrew commented, sucking on a straw poking out of his soda pop.

"Yeah?" Kerry had found herself getting excited, as the energy in the room rose, and everyone started gathering around the ring for what was turning out to be the bout to decide the winner. "Well, Dar's doing pretty good anyway, right?"

"Sure.. sure… worst she'll be is second.. but see..I know my kid." Andrew rested his forearm on the bench. "She don't like being anything but first."

"Wonder where she got that from." Kerry smiled, but knew he was telling the truth. "Do you think she can beat that guy?"


"On?" Kerry rested her elbows on her knees, her back aching from the long afternoon sitting on the hard benches.

"How bad she wants to."

Kerry drummed her fingers on the bench for a moment, then stood up, wincing a little before she carefully stepped down the mini bleachers and made her way through the milling crowd of sweaty, cotton clad people to where Dar was standing.

Her lover turned as she came up and gave her a smile, stepping back from the clump of people and ducking her head a little against the noise. "Hey there."

"Hi." Kerry glanced at the board, then gave her a little pat on the back, a grin taking over her face.

Dar cleared her throat, and shrugged, then laughed sheepishly. "Not too bad, huh? I didn't expect that."

"I did." Kerry sniffed, blinking innocently as she peered around. The last bout was over, and the tall redhead, the winner, was resting before the final match started. "Your father's been giving me pointers."

"On the fighting?"

Green eyes slid up her body and twinkled. "That too." She leaned closer. "You know something.. he's really proud of you."  Dar merely shrugged in response, but a visible, coral blush colored her skin. "Think we can talk him into going out to celebrate with us afterward?"

Dar looked thoughtful for a moment. "Maybe… it depends."

"On what?" Kerry asked, just before they called Dar's name to come back up to the mat.

"What it is we're celebrating." A faint smile played around Dar's lips. "And right now, that guy's between me, and sharing a sundae with my dad." Her head angled a little as she eased through the crowd, giving her a slightly more predatory look.

"He's toast." Kerry put her hands behind her back and rocked on her heels. "I'll get the marmalade."


It was all mostly a blur. Dar stood on the edge of the mat, after the bell rang, and sucked air into her lungs, trying to catch her breath. She clearly remembered going into the match, but now that it was over, the details were fading rapidly.

Her body was covered in sweat, though, and she was starting to feel the beginnings of bruises that were going to make waking up the next morning a little less than comfortable. She was hot, and sticky, and wanted little more than a cold shower and a nice, large, dripping, oozing with caramel and chocolate with maybe, maybe a cherry on top sundae.

After all, she deserved it.

She'd won the god damned meet, and this last match had been a toughie, since John, the tall redhead was the local I-am-the-great-American-hope-pseudo sensai that every decent sized martial arts community seemed to spawn like unwanted weasels, who terrorized the lighter belts and had more testosterone than sense.

Well. Dar caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and turned, to see the organizer heading towards her, with a completely obnoxious looking trophy that she realized she was going to have to accept, and carry home.

"I think you should keep it on your desk." Kerry slipped in next to her and gave her a slap on the butt. "Dar, you rock."

"Ohhh.. no no no no…. I think you should keep it on your desk." Her boss corrected her. "Since you wanted one."

"Hey.. congratulations." The match organizer reached out a hand. "Haven't seen you around before… but I hope I will again.. you really stirred up some excitement around here."  He was in maybe his mid twenties, and had cute freckles and almost orange hair, and sported a slim, muscular body. "I'm Richie Ryan, by the way."

Dar returned the handshake. "Thanks… it was um… fun." She accepted the trophy with her other hand. "I used to compete around ten years back… I was just sort of getting back into it."

His eyes opened wider. "Yeah? Wow… well, you're hot, let me tell you.. it was a pleasure watching… you do sports for a living, or… "

He sidled a step closer, and Dar realized she was being flirted with. "No.. I'm in the computer business."

"Who isn't?" Richie laughed. "Hey, listen.. you got any plans? A bunch of us.. " He gestured towards a group of the competitors, regular cronies apparently. "Are going over to Chevys.. you interested?"

"No thanks." Dar gave him a brief smile. "I've got a date.. but thanks for asking."

"No problem.. no problem.." Richie held up both hands. "Maybe next time… and hey, congratulations again, okay?"

Dar watched him rejoin the group, and by the regretful shrugs, and glances in her direction, gathered she was the topic of conversation. The man she'd beaten wasn't part of the group, she noticed then, as he walked off with four or five of the others, apparently their own little clique.

"A date?" Kerry elbowed her. "He liked you."

Dar gave her a look. "Here." She thrust the huge trophy at her lover. "I believe this is yours… and stop looking at me like that."

Kerry snickered. "Like what? I don't know what you're talking about, Dar." She gave the black belt tied around the taller woman a tug.

"Yeah, yeah." Dar sighed. "All right.. let me go shower, and I'll be right out. You owe me ice cream, if I recall." Her eyes went to the stands, finding an inconspicuously hidden figure in one dark corner. "You think he'd… "

"He already said yes." Kerry murmured. "Go on.. we'll wait for you over there."

Dar nodded, and headed into the locker room, which was mostly empty. One or two women were just finishing up their changing, and the nearest looked up and gave Dar a little wave as she came in.

"Hey.. great job." The blond woman smiled, offering a hand as Dar passed. "I'm Sheila… and you're.. Dar, is it?"

"Yep..thanks" Dar briefly clasped her hand and went to her locker, opening it and removing her towel. "You did pretty well yourself… you a regular in this bunch?"

"Eh." Sheila waggled a hand. "When I'm into it… you know how it goes. I cycle through this, triathalon, blading.. I'm in the chop socky phase right now."

Dar chuckled. "Yeah.. I'm just getting back into it myself." She slung her towel over her shoulder and started towards the shower.

"Hey… that your girlfriend out there with you?" Sheila called out, unexpectedly.

Dar hesitated briefly, then nodded  "Yeah, why?"

Sheila gave her a double thumbs up. "She's a babe… nice job." Then she walked out, whistling.

Dar chewed her lip thoughtfully, then resumed her trek. "I think so." She commented to the minute fungus on the wall as she turned the cold water on, waiting a moment to achieve lukewarmdom before stepping into the shower's path. Cold showers really didn't have much meaning in Florida, naturally, where the water took on the temperature of the pipes, which by necessity were near or aboveground, but this felt refreshing, and she stood for a moment, just letting it run over her body before she started scrubbing the sweat off.

When she was finished, she let the water run again, as she leaned back against the wall and allowed the reality of what she'd just done seep in.

Not too damn bad, Roberts. She grinned at her reflection, seen through the water's distortion. Not too damn bad… especially that last one, where for a few minutes, she'd felt herself go all out, and push past her normal caution, letting loose a wild energy that had both surprised, and delighted her.

With a  chuckle, Dar finally shut the water off and toweled her body mostly dry, wrapping the fabric around her as she padded back out to the locker, her sweat soaked gear hung over one arm.

Funny. She mused idly, as she changed. I though this place had emptied out.. .guess there were a few stragglers left after all. Certainly, the locker room's attendance had grown, as various women busied themselves earnestly about the place. Whatever.

Dar folded her gear neatly and tucked it inside the gym bag, then coiled up her belt and added that, as well, before running her fingers through her damp hair and shouldering the bag's strap. As she headed towards the entrance, she saw a familiar blond head poke in, and she cocked her head at the half amused, half outraged look on her lover's face. "What's up?"

"Are you done being the center of attention?"

"Huh?" Dar looked behind her in puzzlement. "What are you talking about? C"mon.. let's go…. I hear that ice cream calling my name." She put a hand on Kerry's shoulder and steered her towards the exit, where her father was waiting, none to patiently.

"Oh.. so.. you didn't hear the blond with the crew cut come out here and yell for everyone to come look.. that you were naked in the shower?" Kerry inquired archly. "Wow.. gotta check for.. careful there, Dar.. don’t' trip."

"She didn't."

Kerry pulled down her sunglasses, and peered over them at her lover. "You're their new poster child, Dardar."

Dar groaned. "Just get me to some ice cream, please?" She covered her eyes and allowed Kerry to lead the way.


They ended up raiding the local Publix, and escaping back to the island, when three possible ice cream parlors turned out to be packed with people or, in one case, a huge children's birthday party.

So now they were home, and Dar was sprawled comfortably on the couch with a huge bowl of ice cream resting on her stomach. Andrew had taken over the love seat with a similar dish, and Kerry was seated on the floor next to Dar, sucking contentedly on a root beer float.

Chino, of course, was roaming from human to human hopefully, the tip of her black nose already white and sticky with ice cream. The large screen TV was on, but mostly silent,  with scenes of ancient Asia playing across it.

"Mm… this is a nice way to end a really disgusting week." Kerry commented, around her straw.

"Yeah?" Andrew looked up. "What'cha get into, kumquat? More of that jibberish you two area always talking about?"

"Not really." Dar sucked on her spoon, as she remembered the phone call she'd gotten the previous day. Her father hadn't been exceptionally close to her grandparents, but she thought he might want to know about it. "I heard from mom."

There was an awkward silence, and stillness, before Andrew went back to his ice cream. "Didja now?"

"Yeah… um.. Gran passéd on. She wanted me to come up for the service." Dar exhaled softly.

"You gonna go?" Her father asked.

Dar considered the question. "I.. I should."

"But you don't wanta."

"Not really, no." The dark haired woman answered, honestly. "I haven't' seen any of them in damn near ten years… I don't know."

"Mmph." Andrew slid a little lower in the cushions. "The old lady was always partial to you, Dardar…." He messed around with the ice cream a minute. "And it's a… it's not a bad thing for you t' see your mother. … I'd um… I'd like to know how she's doing."

Kerry tipped her head back and let it make contact with her lover's arm in mute comfort, feeling Dar's hand come to rest on her shoulder in silent response.

"All right… I'll go." Dar took a spoon of ice cream and mouthed it, able to convince herself easily that her father wanting her to do it was reason enough. "I was surprised she called."

Andrew put his bowl down on the table, and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Dardar, I'm sorry about that." He told her softly. "It's so damn hard on everybody."

Dar shrugged it off. "Old history… I am what I am… a chip off the old block, and that's never going to change."

A faint, pained smile crossed Andrew's scarred lips. "Squirt, that's some true, but there's more of your mamma in you that neither of you realize." He exhaled audibly, and changed the subject, which was making them both very uncomfortable. "That all what made it a bad week?"

Kerry cleared her throat. "No… I was at an account that went pretty badly… and I finally got subpoenaed to testify about my father. "

Andrew made a face, and recaptured his bowl, resuming his aborted attack on the melting treat. "Sorry to hear that, kumquat… that means you'll be mixing with your folks soon, eh?"

"Yeah. That'll be pleasant." Kerry agreed ruefully. "My sister says I'm a persona non grata in their house…I don't get mentioned." She paused. "They took all the pictures out of albums.. that sort of thing."  Dar's arm moved, and surrounded her suddenly, in a very welcome hug. "Fortunately, Angie got a hold of most of my stuff there.. she's shipping it down."

Andrew scowled. "I thought he didn't know you spilled the beans?"

"He doesn't." Dar interjected.

"So he's just doin that because…"

"Of us." Kerry told him. "Yeah… you know, something… that's one of the things I like most about you - it was never an issue." She smiled at Andrew.

"Wall… I like t'think I'm as liberal as the next Southern Baptist career military type." He answered, with a totally straight face. "Went out and got me a rainbow sticker to fit between my NRA poster and my pitcher of Stormin Norman the other day."

They all laughed, and the tension that had been building relaxed perceptibly. "Did you really?" Kerry suddenly asked.

"Damn straight.. I walked right on in to that little place up in Lauderdale…scared the bejezus out of them two little boys kissin behind the counter and bought me a sticker, and one of these." Andrew pulled something out of his pocket and tossed it over. "Got me a nice cuppa coffee, too."

Kerry handed Dar the tiny rainbow striped keychain. "You 're so outside the box sometimes… I never know what to expect from you, dad."

"Do what I do, Kerry.. and what you find out is, doesn't much matter what kinda packaging people got. They all bleed the same, damn, color." Andrew replied, with quiet meaning. "Then you stop seeing people as this kind, or that kind… just they're either a friend, or they're not."

"Yeah.. well, I wish that attitude was contagious." Dar sighed. "My other bad news was a new board member that's making more trouble than he's worth… Alastair's worried he's going to start digging in the wrong places."

"Again? Damn that company's a pain in mah butt." Her father complained. "You should jest cut out, and start your own company that does whatever the hell it is you do…  put them all the hell out of friggin business."

They were all quiet for a moment, then Kerry turned her head and looked at Dar speculatively. "You know….. "

"It's crossed my mind." Dar spoke at the same moment.

"Would backing be a problem? I'm sure we could.." Kerry spoke up eagerly.

"No." Dar munched on a spoonful of ice cream. "All those bonuses could finally be useful… last time I counted, which was a while ago honestly.. there was about twenty million dollars in those damn accounts."

She could feel the waves of utter shock beating against her. Dar glanced up, right into Kerry's astonished green eyes. "Which you, by the way, are heir to. Just thought I'd mention that… I've got some guy at Smith Barney who's been investing, and reinvesting everything I've gotten from them in fifteen years… he's pretty damn good, and thanks to Aunt May, I don’t' really spend much."

"Jesus." Kerry whispered. "Good lord, Dar.. I knew you said you had money stashed away but…"

"Wow." Andrew muttered, for once at a loss for words. "I never done expected to be related to no millionaire, that's fer damn sure."

Dar shrugged. "Anyway…maybe after I finish this network project… we'll do some research on it… would you come work for me?" She asked Kerry.

"That's not a serious question, is it?" The blond woman laughed in delight.

"What about you, Dad?"

"Hell yes." Andrew answered immediately. "I want to get me some of those hot shot corporate executive perks I keep hearing so much about… it ain't bad working for Uncle Sam, but let me tell ya, you don’t' get no leather chairs."

They all laughed, then Dar put her bowl down, for Chino to finish off, and stretched, easing out strained muscles then relaxing into the leather's soft, inviting surface as Kerry gave Andrew a humorous run down on Allison Consulting.

Start her own company. Would she want the headaches? What the hell.. she had them now, didn't she? Cutting out on her own was… a little scary.  A little intimidating, because she was, she knew, much better at organizing and designing things than selling them.

Well, okay.. so she'd hire a furking salesman for that… and maybe Mark would come work for her…. Yeah… maybe Maria…

Aw, c'mon Dar.. that's been a daydream of yours for years.. who are you kidding? You don't want to be responsible for the entire damn thing.




Continued in Part 3

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