Disclaimers - Nope, none. My characters, my hometown, my pseudo company. This is an Uber Fiction - featuring two characters from a previous story called Tropical Storm. Dar Roberts is the vice president of operations for an internationally known Information Services corporation. Kerry Stuart is her assistant and protégé.

They kinda like each other.

There is mild violence, mild bad language, mild sexual activity, and mild salsa, with chips.

Whoops. Never mind that…


Hurricane Watch - Part 8

By Melissa Good

Kerry keyed the door open, and entered, smiling as she heard the raucous yipping from Chino's room as she flipped the light on. "Okay, honey.. hang on.." She pushed the door back and let Dar move past her, then closed the door and plopped her laptop case down on the couch as Dar set the suitcases on the floor. "I'll go let her out…and I sure could use some coffee.. you?"

"Uh huh." Dar agreed, straightening. "Damn weather.. we must have circled over Tampa for an hour. " She complained, rubbing her neck. "Thank god we had seats in the front." She shouldered her laptop and moved into her office, turning on the light as she dropped the case on the desk and moved around the other side, flipping her pc on and sitting down in the comfortable leather chair with a sigh. "Let's see.. it's nine oclock… it's Sunday… he's home." She cracked her knuckles, then wiggled her fingers before she punched a phone number on her speaker phone.

It rang once.


A voice picked up. "Hello?"

Dar smiled, and steepled her fingers. "Hi."

Momentary silence. "OH..oh.. hello, Dar!" A pause. "Heh heh.. so.. how was your little vacation?"

Dar let him wait a beat. "It was great until I picked up a god damned newspaper at the airport a few hours ago." She growled intimidatingly.

"Now Dar.. " Les' voice turned soothing. "Let me explain."

"Explain??? " Dar barked. "No no. .it was perfectly clear to me.. in black and white, in fact."

"Dar.. dar… now listen.. " Les cleared his throat. "I tried to call you. .I tried to page you.. several times… but you never answered me."

"I was on vacation." The dark haired woman reminded him. "You knew that." She looked up as Kerry entered, carrying a steaming cup, and dressed in a soft, brief cotton tshirt which just barely covered her thighs. She grinned at her lover, almost forgetting the man on the phone.

"All right, well.. but I tried to get you, Dar.. I had to make a decision, and you know, when I've got to go, I've got to go.. I can't just wait around for things to happen. " He cleared his throat. "It was the right time.. I needed something to boost things… and it worked!"

"What worked?" Dar asked, taking the cup with one hand, and tracing the soft curve of Kerry's leg muscles with her other.

"Stock went up five damned dollars!" Les chortled. "Now c'mon… you can't be that mad at me." He chided her. "Good grief, Dar.. you'd think I'd asked you to go off and become a missionary… it was a promotion, in case you hadn't gotten that part down."

"What if I don't want it?" The dark haired woman asked, mildly. "I'm not moving my ass to Plano, Les, so forget it. Find some other dog out there to wag their tail for you."



"Hmm.?? Oh.. sorry, Dar.. I was just contemplating the image of you wagging your tail at me." The CEO remarked cheerfully. "Hell.. I'd move to Miami for that.. never mind bringing you out here."

Dar sighed. "Les… "

"I know.. I know.. EEOC… but listen, Dar.. I never considered you coming out here.. I've got a nice, peaceful office.. I don't need Hurricane Dar coming in and blowing everyone out of the water.. no… that's not why I did it." He paused. "I just thought it would make things easier there…some of the problem seems to be from the committee mentality.. I just made you a committee of one."

"That's a lot of added responsibility." Dar slid her hand up a bit, twitching the edge of the tshirt, and getting her hand slapped. She looked up at Kerry with a wicked grin.

"Well.. I gave you a raise with it." Les sounded insulted. "I mean, Jesus, Dar.. give me a break, willya? I made the package with the works.. even keys to the executive bathrooms."

"In Plano." Dar remarked dryly. "Nifty.. just what I needed… Les, I don't need more crap, all right? The money's not the issue."

He sighed. "I thought you'd be flattered."

"Don't whine." Dar told him, testily. "Maybe I just like to be asked, first, before I have to read about in the god damned daily news!" She glanced up as Kerry unfolded the business section of the paper she'd picked up outside the condo. "Oh shit." She covered her eyes.

"It's a nice picture of you." Kerry remarked, diplomatically. "I like your hair."

"Is that Kerry?" Les asked, brightly. "Hello there."

"Hi, Mr. Rosenthal." Kerry responded. "There's a big story on the front page of Business Monday in the Herald about Dar." She patted her lover, who had covered her eyes, and was moaning, on the shoulder. "It looks great."

Les chuckled. "Oh yeah… they called up here for copy and a photo… I think they gave them the one from that company picnic last year." He cleared his throat. "So, what about it, Dar? I'll concede I should have asked you, but I really didn't think you'd mind."

Dar sighed, and studied her hands. "I need a few days to think about it, Les." She told the CEO, her eyes meeting Kerry's. "I'll let you know."

"Dar, I hate waiting." The CEO complained. "Besides, what am I supposed to tell the board?"

A soft chuckle, almost unheard. "Tell them I said to kiss my ass." Dar drawled in reply. "I'll let you know in a few days, Les." She paused. "Goodnight." She hit the release, then took a sip of her coffee, regarding her computer screen in pensive silence. "I wonder how much my raise was?"

Kerry flicked her fingers through the dark hair, then glanced at the phone when it rang. She picked it up. "Hello?"

A low, raspy voice responded, causing her to smile. "Oh.. hi…yeah.. yeah, that's your kid in the paper, all right." She watched Dar's whole demeanor perk up when her words registered. "Here… say hello." She handed the phone to her lover and kissed her head. "I'm going to put my stuff away." She whispered, then eased out of the room.

Chino trotted over to her, licking her chops from the snack Kerry had provided the puppy and attempted to catch her feet. "Hey.. cut that out." She laughed, reaching down and picking the animal up, then carrying her upstairs. "You leave your mom alone for a few minutes, okay? She's talking to her daddy."

"Woo?" Chino yawned at her. "Yeep."

"Yeah.. I know." Kerry entered her room, and put the puppy down on the bed, then sat down herself, laying back on to the soft surface and regarding the ceiling. Chino curled up by her side, and she stroked the puppy gently as she thought.

"Chino.. I'm twenty seven years old." She told the animal. "I'm not ready to be a vice president of anything more vital than the condo association here."

"Yeep." Chino licked her chops again.

"I mean, it's ridiculous…I can't do her job." Kerry argued, waving a hand. "I can't even begin to do it… look what happened in only one day without her here?" She shook her head. "I don’t know what she thinks she's doing by even suggesting it…she's just being nice, Chino… she can't be seriously thinking I can do that."

She played with the puppy's ears. "I can't do it.. I'm not good enough, Chino." She felt a little sad. "I'm no match for her capabilities… even though she says she put me in here because she thought I was… I'm not."

"That's not true." The low, vibrant voice came from the doorway.

Kerry felt momentarily confused. "Dar… "

"It's not true, Kerry." Dar crossed the room and settled onto the bed. "I know you believe that, because you've had assholes telling you you're not capable half your life, but it's not god damned true." Her voice deepened with anger. "And you do me a disservice by thinking I"d put someone into a job if unless I believed in their ability." A pause. "Unless I believed in them."

Kerry had no answer for that, so she simply closed her eyes. They sat in silence for a moment, then she opened them. "I can't do it Dar…please don't ask that of me." She put out a hand and captured one of her lover's. "All my life I've had to fight to make people believe I earned what I got… I'd never be able to fight hard enough on this one."

"But.. "

"Dar." Kerry gazed up at her, heartsick. "You know it's true… no matter what I did, nine out of ten people in that company would believe I got that job because we're lovers." And I'm one of the nine.. don’t you understand that? Her conscience silently added.

Dar's shoulders slumped, as she exhaled in resignation. "But it's not true… I swear it, Kerry… I swear it… if I didn't even know your first name, but I'd worked with you as much as I have… I swear you're the best choice." She got up and paced to the french doors, opening them and going outside onto the breeze licked balcony, leaning on it and gazing out over the water.

The soft sound of the waves breaking came to her ears, as Kerry just lay there, unable to come up with even a ghost of a possible plan, one that would get both of them what they wanted. Or didn't want, as it happened.

"Okay." Dar had returned, and was standing in the doorway, arms crossed, jaw shifting lightly as she thought. "What about this… "

"Dar.. "

"Just listen to me, will you?" The dark haired woman insisted. "Just listen a minute… how about, I don't fill the position." She moved forward, holding a hand up. "I just leave it empty.. because you're right, you've only been with us for a few months, and frankly, there isn't anyone in the immediate chain I'd be able to put in there anyway."

Kerry regarded her warily. "Yeah?"

"Okay… and you… you can take on a little bit at a time.. no, wait.. wait… just listen… " Another hand. "Just try things out, see if you think you can handle things." She paused, and waited, aware of the cautious, green eyes regarding her now in silence. "No pressure.. you just fill in for me here and there.. just to see how you like it."

"What if I don't?" Kerry asked, hesitantly.

"Then you stop.. and after six.. eight months… you'll know if you can do the job or not. If you can, great.. you get it, and by that time you'll have proven yourself so thoroughly, everyone will be slamming my ass for not promoting you earlier. If you decide you can't… then you can help me pick someone who can." Dar stopped again, and raised a brow at her. "What do you think?"

Kerry got up and paced around the area near the bed, her hands behind her in a classic pose, while a sleepy Chino watched curiously from the bed. Finally she stopped, and regarded her lover dourly. "I think you're too smart for your own good, Paladar."

A cautious twinkle appeared. "So, is that a yes?" Funny how nice that name sounded, coming off those lips.

The blond woman ran the idea through her head again a few times, looking for pitfalls. It did make sense… and it gave her an excellent, fairly low pressure way to really find out if she had what it took, without putting herself, or Dar, or their relationship at risk. "I can just back off at any time?" She questioned closely. "If I get in over my head?"

"Anytime." Dar reassured her. "You just come and say, 'I can't do this.'"

Hmm. And by waiting, Dar would defuse the sure charges of nepotism that would start flying… in fact, by not acting immediately, she would put everyone else off balance. "All right." She finally said, putting her hands on her hips and exhaling. "I think I can cope with that."

Dar's head cocked gently to one side. "You sure?"

Kerry's brows lifted. "NOW you're asking me that?" She demanded. "And don’t give me those puppy dog eyes."

Dar's gaze dropped guiltily. "I… Kerry, I don't want you to think you're being forced into this. If you really don’t' want to do it, just tell me." She replied, in a steady voice. "I mean that."

The smaller woman let out a breath, then she walked over to where Dar was standing, feeling the soft carpet under her feet, and the cool breeze coming in the open doors. She stopped right next to Dar and looked up. She could see the tension in her lover's body, and the effort it was taking for Dar to keep a cool, calm façade.

Her choice.

What the hell. Life was short. "It's all right." She put a hand against Dar's belly, and gave her a tiny, friendly shove. "I can live with the compromise." She leaned forward and placed a kiss on the taller woman's collarbone. "I think it's a really smart idea."

Dar wrapped her arms around her partner, and pulled her close into a hug, tucking her head in against one shoulder and pressing her lips to the pale hair. "Thanks." She felt Kerry's body shift under the light cotton shirt and press warmly against her, and she rocked them both gently for a few quiet moments.

"Does that mean you'll be saying yes, then?" Kerry asked finally, in a murmur.

"I guess." Dar shrugged. "But let's make him sweat for a few days… in case you change your mind." She rubbed Kerry's back. "No rush."

"Mm." Kerry listened to her heartbeat for a moment. "What did your dad have to say?"

Dar laughed a little, then cleared her throat. "Let me tell yah, rugrat.. " She imitated. "Was a fine thing me walking into the dad blasted govnmet center station, jest to see my kid plastered all over the damn place.. made me spit my coffee halfway to Tampa."

Kerry burst into giggles. "Oh god.. you sound just like him." She gasped , thumping her head against Dar's sturdy frame. "But.. " She quieted, and looked up. "I bet he was so proud of you, though, wasn't he?"

The taller woman shrugged nonchalantly. "He's not much into status stuff." She dismissed the idea. "I doubt it."

"Dar." Kerry took hold of her lapels and tugged them. "That is so bogus, and we both know it.. I bet he was ready to explode he was so proud of his kid.": She scolded her lover.

A hesitant smile. "Well.. actually he did say he was going around and 'collecting' copies of the paper to find the one with the best picture." She admitted sheepishly.

"Why don't we just give him an original?" Kerry asked gently. "We can go get your picture taken at one of those places in the mall…I bet he'd like that."

"No.. no, I… " Dar hesitated. "Only if you're in it too." She changed her mind. "I'd…um… I'd kinda like one of those for the entertainment center."

A startled, but giddy grin split Kerry's face. "You're on." She agreed enthusiastically. "This weekend."

Dar nodded, apparently satisfied. Then she glanced over her shoulder. "Hey.. it's a pretty night out…wanna go for a little walk?" Chino's ears perked up at the sound of the word, and Dar smiled at the puppy. "And you too."

Kerry chuckled. "Sure.. let me just throw some real clothes on…it's a little chilly for just a T-shirt."

"And nothing else." Dar teased, sliding a hand down her back and giving her a pinch on the behind.

"Eek." The blond woman jumped a little, grabbing for Dar's fingers. "No fair!"

"Arf." Chino sat up and barked a puppy bark at her.


Dar watched the panes beyond the shutters slowly change from black to a dark gray, heralding the coming dawn. Kerry was sound asleep, her arms and legs wrapped around Dar like a blond octopus, with her face buried against the taller woman's shoulder.

Well, she still had a few minutes, anyway. Dar reasoned, as she settled her arms around Kerry's warm body and exhaled. I could get used to this. She mused, resting her cheek against the soft, blond hair.

She considered that a moment, listening to her own heartbeat in it's slow, even rhythm. Who am I kidding? She finally admitted. I am used to it…I'm so used to it I don't know what I'd do without it anymore.

It seemed so damned strange. She'd been so incredibly self reliant all her life; she hadn't depended on anyone for anything for a very, very long time, and now, when you'd think she knew better, here she was willingly becoming dependent on something so intangible as love.

Wasn't that just the most screwed up thing you ever heard? Dar pulled Kerry a tiny bit closer, and was rewarded by a softly incoherent mumble and a tightening of the blond woman's already snug hold. But it feels so good. Her most self indulgent, hedonistic instincts whined for attention.

Admit it, Dar. She faced herself. You've been starved for this for a damn long time, and now you're finally getting a good, strong dose of it…no wonder everything's going crazy in there. Her body snorted in agreement, and reveled in the skin on skin touch all up and down their intertwined limbs.

She produced a contented sigh, and gave up worrying about it, turning her thoughts to the coming day instead.

Monday. Her brow creased. And it wasn't going to be a nice Monday either. She considered thoughtfully. On the other hand, she did have a certain advantage going in, right? A smile started to edge across her face as she pictured the executive staff meeting. Steve was gone. Jose and Eleanor were cowed. Mariana and Duks would be openly admiring.


It could be fun.

She wondered if she could get away with firing Jose. Nah. She decided, probably not.. but… A grin. It would be fun to let him think she could. She gave the steadily lightening window a glance, then sighed. Time to get up, and get back into her routine, before her body got used to all this lazing around. With a silent chuckle, Dar stretched, then slowly started to untangle herself from her partner.

"Mm…" Kerry complained softly, tightening her grip. "No…"

"C'mon, cutiepie.. I gotta go pay the piper" Dar murmured, pausing when she realized what she was saying. Cutiepie? Oh Jesus, Dar… She sighed, as Kerry burrowed closer, letting out a tiny mewling noise. "Hey… " She patted the blond woman's cheek very softly. "C'mon now.. I gotta get up."

An uneven intake of breath, then Kerry opened her eyes dazedly, peering up at her through half lidded and mostly unfocused orbs. "D… Dar?.. Wh.. "

"Hey… it's okay… I'm going to go run.. you go back to sleep." Dar told her soothingly, as she combed the smaller woman's hair back out of her eyes.

Kerry slowly let her go, and rubbed a hand across her face. "Oh.. god…I was having this dream… and there were gerbils everywhere.. it was so strange…" She murmured, obviously disoriented.

"Gerbils?" Dar repeated, in a puzzled tone.

"Yeah… lots of them.. little brown gerbils in tiny green hospital scrubs…jogging." Kerry responded. "It was really bizarre."

Dar regarded her bemusedly. "No more chocolate covered bananas for you before bed." She pronounced gravely, giving Kerry a little pat on the belly. "Not with dreams like that." They'd put some of Les' excellent chocolate to good use the night before, discovering that the large bars of dark, heavy chocolate made excellent coatings for all kinds of things.

Grapes, for instance. Especially if you froze them first, and bananas… and the warm, rich chocolate did wonders even for carrots. But then, Dar had always suspected that to be the case. It had also tasted great on Kerry, of course, the memory causing a slow, evil grin to spread across Dar's face, mostly unseen in the gloom.

Kerry rolled over onto her back. "Ungh.. yeah, I think you've got a point." She stifled a yawn. "Give me a second to shake out the cobwebs.. and I'll go with you." She offered. "I haven't done anything for a week, and that could get dangerous."

Dar contemplated telling her lover she didn't have to, then reflected on how much more pleasant it was to have company during her run. She kept her mouth shut, and merely rolled onto her side, reaching over and gently rubbing Kerry's arms and legs to get her blood flowing. "Couple of laps and a quick breakfast at the beach club?" She suggested, with a grin. "It's Monday…they've got those black walnut pancakes you like."

"Doesn't that defeat the purpose?" Kerry laughed, as she rolled out of bed and stood, arching her back and running her hands through her hair.

Dar blinked appreciatively as the pearly dawn light outlined her lover's lithe body. . "What?" She asked, her own body now fully, interestedly awake. Amazing how fast blood could rise from the groin to the brain, wasn't it? She mused wryly. Or maybe it was the other way around…. She mused about that for a while, then realized Kerry was standing, hands on hips, watching her with uplifted eyebrows.

And other things.

Dar gave herself a mental slap. "Uh.. sorry… let me get outta here." She hauled herself out of the warm bed and trudged towards the bathroom, glad, at least, that her knee seemed to be holding up just fine. She flipped on the light and winced at the brightness, hearing the low moan of protest from Kerry who was behind her, nuzzling her back.

Whoa. Another rush of blood. Definitely in the wrong direction. "Um… " She felt a pair of hands slip around her waist and clasp in front of her, and a light nibble along her shoulderblades. "Kerry?"

"Mm?" The blond head poked past her elbow, and peered up at her, half obscured by Dar's own body. "Problem?"

With a rueful grin, Dar put the tip of her finger against Kerry's nose. "Work before pleasure." She reminded her.

"Hmm." Kerry nibbled a rib, licking it delicately. "You sure?"

Dar felt her heart double it's pace, and her breathing pick up. Well, it could be considered an aerobic exercise, right? She turned inside the circle of Kerry's arms, and cupped her chin, drawing her head up and surrendering to the insistent surge of sexual feeling. Her fingers brushed over warm skin as she reached blindly for the light, dousing it and throwing them back into the murky shadows.

Not that they needed light, of course. Dar slid her hands down and got a grip on Kerry's waist, half lifting, half gently tossing her back into the waterbed, as she followed, finding herself being rolled over and straddled as a soft, lazy chuckle trickled from Kerry's chest.

Whoa. Dar felt the tingle as it spread across her skin. Definitely aerobic. She took the opportunity to start at her lover's knees, and slid her hands up the muscular thighs, then inward, and across Kerry's abdomen, which tightened in reflex as she spread her fingers and left little trails of goosebumps after her touch. Then she pushed up, lifting Kerry a little before settling her in a more comfortable position. Hmm.. a little weight training, too. She chuckled, as the blond woman's lips started a progression down her neck. Maybe we can put out a video.

She sucked in a breath in reaction as Kerry's lips moved lower, and their bodies slid together. Then again, maybe not.

They ended up making their laps, but skipping breakfast, resulting in their crossing only one ferry later than usual after a hurried, conjoined shower. "Whew." Kerry checked her hair in the mirror on her side of the Lexus. "That was the most entertaining Monday morning I've had in a while." She gave Dar a look, her body still tinglingly aware of her partner's close presence.

Dar chuckled and sighed. "Oh yeah…" She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, enjoying her relaxed, good mood. "Sure beats a staff meeting." She glanced at Kerry, and they both laughed. "Okay… let's see what's going on." Dar punched a number into the cellphone strapped to the dashboard.

"Good Morning, Operations, Maria is speaking." The voice came back, a tad more official sounding than usual, given that it was eight o clock in the morning.

"Morning, Maria." Dar drawled.

"AEEEIIII!!!!" The secretary squealed, startling Kerry who jumped. "Dar! Dios Mio! You are higher than el presidente now!!"

"Well… yeah, sort of." Dar laughed. "Take it easy.. I haven't accepted the damn job yet."

"Oye, Dar…have you seen the paper this morning?" Maria inquired.

"What paper?" Dar asked, innocently.

"You mean the one with her picture in it?" Kerry interrupted helpfully.

Maria laughed. "Si, si… Mark has put the picture into the computer, and we all have it as our screens."

"What???" Dar barked.

"Oh.. that's wild." Kerry chortled. "Did he get it on mine?"

"Don't you start in." Dar warned her, shaking a finger. "Maria, you tell him I want that off the desktops by the time I get in there, or he'll be wearing one of those monitors."

"Aww… c'mon, Dar… " Kerry objected. "I think it's great."

"It's not your picture, is it now?" Her boss shot back. "Maria, get Mark on the phone."

"Dar… " Kerry turned gently pleading eyes on her. "I wanna see it… I bet he did a great job.. it was a fantastic picture of you."

Frustrated blue eyes fixed on her face. "Absolu…" Dar felt herself melting at the sight of those beseeching orbs, and sighed. "All right.. just until we get there. But then, OFF IT GOES!!"

Kerry blew her a kiss, and smiled, getting an aggrieved look in response. "Did you have a nice weekend, Maria?" She directed her attention to the phone.

"Oh, si, Kerrisita…and you?" The secretary sounded pleased.

"Yeah.. we had a lot of fun.. we went horseback riding, and sailing.. " Kerry told her.

"Kerry fell off her horse.. " Dar added sweetly. "Then dumped me in the lake.. "

"You jumped overboard." Kerry objected. "That wasn't my fault."

"You could have told me it was fifty degrees… water isn't supposed to be that cold." Dar groused. "Maria, we'll be there in about ten minutes." She started up the Lexus and drove it off the ferry, turning onto the causeway and heading for the office. After a moment of relative silence, she glanced at her companion. "So… did you have.. um.. anything special you'd like to do this weekend?"

Kerry turned inquiring eyes on her. "This weekend? I hadn't thought about it.. why?"

Dar turned her eyes forward, and regarded the road. "Oh… well, I figured…" She paused. "Nevermind."

"No.. what did you mean?" Kerry half turned, and leaned against the soft leather seat. "What's this weekend? I wasn't aware of anything going on… did I miss something?"

Dar turned onto Brickell and drove in silence for a moment. "Well… I mean.. Sunday's Valentine's Day." She muttered. "I figured… um.. "

Kerry slapped her head. "Jesus." She groaned. "Of course it is… I'm sorry, Dar.. I just… " She considered her words. "I've never had any special reason to remember it before." She gave her partner an apologetic look. "Did you have something in mind?"

Dar remained quiet as she pulled into the parking lot, and parked, shutting the car off. "Lemme think about it." She finally said, shouldering her laptop. "I don't have much experience in the matter myself." She got out and closed the door, waiting for Kerry to do likewise before she locked it.

"Okay." Kerry joined her for the short walk up to the building. "I'm sure you'll come up with something incredibly romantic."

Wide, round blue eyes regarded her. "Uh.. right… right.. I'll think of something." Dar murmured. "I hope." She added under her breath. And if not, there's always a Yahoo search on the Internet.


Entering the building was an odd experience. Kerry felt her eyes flicking around, as she tried to catch the few other occupants looking at Dar. She knew they were, but they really didn't get the true impact until they both got on the elevator, and the conversation cut off as though the other rider's had suddenly contracted acute, spontaneous laryngitis.

It was deafening. "So." Dar finally said, making everyone jump. "How's the weather been here?"






Dar nodded. "I see." She leaned back against the wall as the elevator seemed to take forever in it's upward motion. "Good to hear."

A cleared throat. "How was.. the.. um.. weather in North Carolina?" This was Miles, a senior auditor of Duks.

"Cold." Dar replied, succinctly. "Rained the first couple of days, but after that it got kind of nice."

"Ah." Miles rubbed his earlobe. "Well, it rained here." He cleared his throat. "Um… congratulations."

A murmur of agreement rose quickly, and several very grateful eyes fastened on the audiotor's face.

Fortunately, the doors slid open, allowing them to escape. "Thanks." Dar commented wryly, as they scooted out, leaving her and Kerry to continue up another two floors. "Think I was the topic of conversation before we got on?"

"Oh… yeah." Kerry nodded firmly, as the doors opened and they got out. "Wait.. I'll go down to the cafeteria for coffee… see how fast a hush falls over that room, despite the fact that most of the conversation is in Spanish, and I know about six words of it." She remarked wryly. "You want some?"

"Oh.. god.. yes." Dar murmured pathetically, as they reached the outer door to her office. "And all the cheese pastalitos they have." She pushed the door open, and smiled at Maria. "Morning."

The secretary beamed at her. "Buenas Dios, jefa." She waggled her fingers at Kerry. "Buenas Dias, Kerrisita."

Kerry grinned at her. "I'm going down for some café… would you like some, Maria?" She accepted the secretary's nod, then gave Dar a little pat on the back. "See you in a bit." She slipped out the door, leaving her boss and Maria in the outer office.

"Any mail?" Dar crossed to the desk, shifting the strap on her laptop case a little. "I was expecting the new batch of contracts in." She reached down to pick up the stack in the in box, when her hand was captured.

"Mi Madre." Maria's eyes widened. "Dar, that is so beautiful."

The executive found herself suddenly speechless, as her brain frantically rooted around for some kind of coherent response. She'd forgotten she was wearing the damn thing, and on 'that' finger, and that surely someone would notice.

"Um… thanks." She finally replied, taking her hand back and flexing the fingers a touch nervously. "Listen, I'll be inside… trying to catch up." She clutched her papers, and headed for her office, ducking inside the door and closing it behind her with a sigh.

Then she looked up, stopping short as she caught sight of her desk. "Holy shit."


Kerry put her hands behind her back as she leaned on the wall, gazing with total lack of interest at the buff weave on the inside of the elevator. It would be weird day, she knew, and as if to confirm that, the elevator stopped on the ninth floor and two of the marketing secretaries got on. Their chatter stopped the minute they saw her, and they lapsed into silence.

I could get tired of this real quick. Kerry decided. "Hi." She remarked casually.

They exchanged glances. "Oh.. hi, Kerry." The older one said, a fake smile plastered across her face. "So.. how's things?"

"Great." The blond woman replied. "How about you?"

"Oh.. great…great.." She turned to her companion. "Right?"

The shorter of the two women nodded. "Except that it's Monday, yep..everything's terrific."

An awkward silence proceded to fall. Fortunately, the elevator reached the bottom floor, and they could all escape. Kerry headed off towards the cafeteria, shaking her head a little. At the entrance, she almost collided with Mark, who was just coming out. "Oh.. hey."

"Hey!" Mark gave her a big grin. "Great… that means the big kahuna's here too, right?"

Kerry muffled a smile. "If you mean Dar, yes… she's upstairs.. we just got here." It was so nice just to have someone be normal, she reflected. "Just trying to get things settled down…it's a little wild today."

"Today?" Mark took her elbow and steered her inside the café, where they settled on two of the padded stools. "You shoulda been here on Friday…man, after you guys brought the network back up, everyone was going nuts…then all off a sudden all the suits get called into a video conference call, and the next thing I know, we got an email saying Dar'd been promoted."

"Wow." Kerry laughed softly, then gave the waitress her order. "I think we slept through all that…was that when you called?"

"Uh huh." Mark sipped his coffee, regarding her. "Word's out about you guys." He added, lowering his voice quite a bit.

Kerry picked up a napkin, looking around and seeing the eyes dart off of her. "I figured." She replied. "After that whole thing with Steve… I knew he'd spread that around while he was crawling out of here." She exhaled. "We'd pretty much decided to just be open about it anyway… after all, Les doesn't care."

"Mm." Mark grunted. "Kinda rough on you, though, isn't it?" He gave her a sympathetic look. "People assume shit."

Yeah. Well. "They can bite me." Kerry responded. "They assumed all kinds of things anyway, Mark… the hell with them." She glanced up as her order arrived. "Thank you." She reached out and took the bag. "Let me get back upstairs.. I know it's going to be a zoo today."

"Hey.. " Mark touched her hand, giving her a hesitant grin. "Nice ring ya got there."

Kerry paused, flexing her fingers a little. "Thanks.. yeah.. um… " She felt herself blush. "Dar gave it to me."

"She's got good taste." The MIS chief admired it. "But then, we kinda knew that." He winked at her, chuckling as her blush deepened. "Listen…don't let all the crap bother you, Kerry.. you do a great job, and most everyone knows that. A lot of the shit's just jealousy… there're people that have wanted to get inside that office.. and you'll excuse the disgusting comment, but inside Dar's skirt for years." He shrugged. "It drives em nuts that you just walked in here, and shazam.. " He snapped his fingers. "You got the job, the perks, and the hottest looking VP this company ever had all in one, bigass fell swoop."

Kerry took the cover off her coffee and took a swallow. "Thanks, Mark… I know it's kinda hard to believe… in fact, sometimes I find it kinda hard to believe myself." She added, in a low tone. "It's like magic, you know?" She glanced up at him. "I feel like a little kid at the circus sometimes."

He gazed at her, a little disconcerted. "I don't know.. that's kinda beyond me, Kerry..I don' t know about a lot of that stuff.. but I do know Dar's been through a lot of shit…and if she finally found someone she really likes, fuck the company, you know?"

That got a smile from the blond woman. "Yeah, I do know." She agreed quietly. "We'll work it out…it's just going to take some time for everything to settle down again. " She leaned forward, changing the subject firmly. "Did you really put her picture up on everyone's desktop?"

He grinned. "You friggen betcha." He stood, and indicated that she precede him. "C'mon… I've been hiding cause I know she's gonna kick my ass when she sees it.. but it was too good a shot to pass up."

Kerry laughed, and held the door for him. "Oh…yeah, she was having a fit.. but I convinced her to leave it until we got in, because I wanted to see it."

They walked outside and almost crashed into Eleanor and Jose, who were entering. Both executives backed up, and gave them dirty looks. "Good morning." Kerry smiled at them.

"Good morning." Jose replied gruffly, circling her as though she were some kind of dangerous animal. Eleanor followed him without a word.

Kerry and Mark exchanged looks. "Ooo." The MIS manager winced. "Gonna be some meeting this morning."

Yeah. Kerry watched the reactions as they got back into the elevator, and noticed a subtle, but distinct edging away from her. Is there such thing as a scarlet L, she mused. Or do they think it's contagious? She leaned back, trying to wash the thought out of her mind.

"Hey, Kerry."

She looked up, to see Elaine, one of the data entry supervisors actually coming closer to her. "Morning."

"I hear you guys did a kick ass job up in NC… way cool." Elaine commented, with a grin. "You going to meet with the climbing group Wednesday?"

Kerry smiled, relaxing a little. "Yes.. I think so.. my hand's a little sore but I think it'll be okay." She gave Elaine a grateful look. "I missed going this past week.. be nice to get back to it." Her eyes moved to where they were getting a disgusted look from one of the administrative assistants. "Do you have a problem?" She asked the woman directly.

Only the squeak of the elevator was heard for a long moment. Kerry held the woman's gaze, her own unamused and stony. "You can say yes, ma'am, or no ma'am, take your pick." She added, icily.

The woman sucked in a breath. "No… ma'am.. I have no problem."

The doors slid open on the eight floor and the two younger women escaped hastily, leaving the doors to close after them. Kerry settled back against the wall and sighed. "Jerks."

Elaine rolled her eyes. "Phobes." She shook her head, then glanced at Kerry. "Don't let them get to you."

Them. Kerry considered, as the elevator went to the fourteenth floor. "So it's us and them." She mused. "Are there a lot of us?" She asked Elaine curiously.

An enigmatic smile crossed the tall blond's face. "I'll send you an email." She remarked, as the doors slid open, and they got out. "You'd be surprised."

Kerry inhaled, as she watched Elaine and Mark saunter off down the hall. "Would I?" She shook her head and trotted towards Dar's office, opening the outer door and slipping in. "Hi Maria.. I'm back I… " The secretary glanced over, and smiled at her. "I got you some coffee."

"Muchas Gracias, Kerrisita… " She pointed at the door. "I think el jefa is still in the shock… you better go see."

Puzzled, Kerry set down Maria's little cup of cafacito, then took her bag and entered Dar's office.

The scent of roses almost bowled her over. "Jesus." She blinked, trying to find her lover behind a huge arrangement of three colors of the flowers, which dwarfed her desktop. "Hello.. Dar? Do I need to go get a machete?"

Blue eyes peeked out from behind a creamy, peach colored rose. "Hi." It was Dar, at her most sheepish. "It's a little big, huh?"

Kerry edged around the desk, to find her lover slouched in her chair, regarding her flowers with some treipidation. "Dar, it's gorgeous… who sent it?" There must have been three dozen blooms, a dozen in red, in peach, and in yellow. The scent was almost overwhelming.

Wordlessly, Dar handed her the card she'd found on it.

That's my little rugrat. "Awww… " Kerry bit her lip, giving her companion a delighted look. "That is sooo sweet, Dar.. I told you he was proud of you."

Dar leaned back in her chair, bracing one foot against her desk and fiddling with her pencil, looking oddly adolescent. "Guess so." She replied gruffly, almost but not quite masking the little grin that trembled around her lips.

Kerry leaned over and kissed her on the head. "You're daddy's little girl, all right." She watched as Dar struggled with what was evidently an overload of emotion, then finally sighed, and gave into a broad grin. "Here… " She handed over the coffee, then gently cupped a rose in her hand and sniffed it. "Oh god… these are incredible…I love that smell."

"Mm." Dar buried her muzzle in the cup and regained her composure. "Guess we can take them home and put them on the dining room table for a few days… hmm?"

Kerry giggled." Thank god you're driving, not me.. I can't imagine trying to get us and these flowers into the Mustang." She looked past Dar to the monitor, and laughed. "Oh wow.. he did a great job with that!"

Dar sighed, peeking at the screen. Mark had taken the shot from the newspaper, and scanned it in, then composed a nice looking scroll background, with little dancing Dogberts all over it. "I'm gonna kill him for this." She groused, then sighed. "I have thirty two pages of mail to get through, six inches of inbox, three meetings, and I can't even get to my desk because there's a jungle on it. " She paused. "Can I just go home?"

Kerry divided her inbox stack. "I'll take half." She carefully moved the floral arrangement, carrying it over to the side credenza, where she set it down and arranged the flowers carefully. "There." Then she crossed back over and headed towards the door to her office. "Forward me any stuff you don't want to deal with.. I'm going to get started on my own avalanche." She looked back over her shoulder, regarding a happily munching Dar. "Dar… at least save a few for after lunch.. you're going to get sick if you eat all of those."

Dar licked a flake of pastry off her lips, and took a sip of coffee, then poked her tongue out at her lover.

Kerry sighed, and shook her head. "Stubborn…. Let me tell you what." She opened the door and slipped through it, heading for her own office.


"I'll be right in." Dar gave Mariana a wave, as she ducked into the bathroom. Fortunately, it was empty, so she spent a moment just twitching at her clothes, and giving herself dire looks in the mirror. She was wearing the gunmetal gray suit today, with a black silk shirt, the only splash of color the pin Kerry had gotten her down on the boardwalk.

Okay, Paladar. Her jaw muscle twitched. They're all in there, waiting on you. This isn't an executive committee meeting anymore. This is a staff meeting. They're your staff now.

You are their leader.

Dar winced, and her face wrinkled up into a grimace. Ugh. The slightly widened blue eyes gazed back at her mournfully. I'm too young for this. With a sigh, she reached up and ran her fingers through her dark hair, arranging it in some kind of order, then she took a deep breath, and let it out, settling the neatly pressed fabric over her broad shoulders. Okay. How do we do the 'tude..

Grumpy? Casual? Bitchy? Annoyed? Hey… I could say I was PMSing. She considered that for a moment, then discarded the idea. Nah. They'd never be able to tell the difference.

She lifted a brow experimentally. How about…. She let a sardonic grin edge across her face, to join the brow. Amused. Okay, I can do amused. I'll just think of them all in their underwear.

The grin widened. And I've seen some of them like that, too. With one last look, she left the bathroom and headed into the executive conference center, where the rest of the upper management staff was waiting.

"Whereinthe hell is she?" Duks whispered, nudging Mariana with one knee.

The Personnel VP glanced at him. "She'll be here in a minute.. would you calm down?" she whispered back, eyeing the restless group. Jose and Eleanor were seated next to each other, with frosty looks on, and the rest of the staff was a mixture of excited, annoyed, scared, or just plain bored.

The door opened, and everyone stopped talking, as Dar let herself in. All eyes fastened on their new CIO, who strode across the room with a smooth, powerful stride, and took her end chair in a blizzard of self confidence that simply rolled down the table at them.

In silence, Dar let her icy blue gaze go from face to face, then a slow, lazy, amused grin pulled her lips upward just slightly. "Morning." Her low, richly toned voice echoed slightly in the silence. "Let's get started, shall we?"

Everyone swallowed, Mariana noted, astounded at the amount and quality of sheer presence Dar could produce when she was in the mood to.

"For… obvious… reasons.. we didn't have a meeting last week." Dar put her fingerips on the table, and leaned on them slightly, the fabric of her jacket tensing across her shoulders. "And since I've got crap piled up on my desk six feet tall, this is going to be a short one."


"First item on the agenda." The tall, dark haired woman gazed down the table at them. "Every department get a fifteen percent operating budget cut. Effective today."

Jaws dropped.

Dar waited.

"Hold on a god damned minute." Jose stood up. "What in the hell, Dar?"

A chorus of protest rose after him, belatedly courageous once the Sales VP had broken ice, so to speak.

Dar waited. Silently. Blue eyes roving from face, to face, her attitude one of quiet menace.

The voices trailed off, until they were left again in uneasy silence.

"I'm going to take that budget, and duplicate the networking hub." Dar continued, as if nothing had been said. "Because, let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, I am not spending another night out freezing my ass off in North Carolina jury rigging some god damned patch panel to run this company off of."

Duks chewed on his pencil. "Budgets are already figured for the quarter, Dar." He commented quietly.

"Rework them." She answered back, inflexibly. "Or sell your damn desk chairs, I don’t' care, but I'm going to go ahead with the facilities regardless."

Jose was still standing. He put his hands on his hips. "I think we should consider the options, here Dar.. and I.."

She pointed at him. "This.. is.. .not… a ..committee." Each word was spoken sharply, with fierce enunciation. "There are no options."

Silence. Dar watched them. "All right, we're going to go around the table, you bring up what you think you need to, but be quick about it. I've got a ton of things to do." She finally sat down, and took a sip of water from the glass in front of her, then leaned back and gazed at Duks, who was closest to her. A brow lifted at him.

Impudently, he poked the very tip of his tongue out, where only she could see it. "Congratulations, my friend."

Her eyes twinkled soberly at him, the faintest hint of a grin pulling at the corners of her mouth. "Thank you."

"I have some good news." Duks went on. "The retirement fund had an investment in a group of technicals, and we made a killing last week. We're thirty percent over expectations in the fund."

Murmurs went around the room.

"Nice." Dar commented. "Who picked those?"

Duks named one of his assistants. "Damn good job of analyzing." He added. "I put a commendation in his file."

"Put a little commendation in his paycheck." Dar suggested wryly. "Before Merril Lynch steals him."

A faint, nervous chuckle skittled across the table. "That it for you?" Dar inquired.

Duks nodded, then turned, to where Mariana was seated next to him. "Next?"

They went around the room, receiving clipped replies from Jose and nothing from Eleanor, and everyone left when she closed the meeting, save Duks and Mari. Dar waited for the door to close, then glanced at them. "So."

Duks leaned on his elbows. "That was different." He commented. "Giving notice that your reign is not going to be business as usual, my friend?"

"Give me a break." Dar snorted, leaning back and allowing herself to relax from the almost painful tension of the meeting. Her entire body ached from it, and she exhaled in relief. "You know it won't last… next week they'll all be in here bitching again."

Mariana laughed softly. "I don't know about that, Dar… you made quite an impression… you have a very powerful presence, you know."

Dar gave her a wry grimace. "Well, I don’t' hold out a lot of hope.. but at least we didn't spend five hours going over crap we've been through for the last two years." She sighed, and studied her pen, which she turned over and over in her fingers. "I'm going to need to pull a project team on that new facility."

Mariana nodded. "I gathered… you want to put in a new orgid for you? We can slot them in there, and charge them off against the operating budget."

"Sounds good." Dar agreed mildly. "Well, I've got two phone conferences, four client briefings, and a major proposal to review, so… you two going to be around later? Maybe we can all have dinner or something."

Duks and Mari exchanged looks. "I hear you know a good Thai restaurant down on Biscayne.. sound good?" Mari asked. "We can save all our chitchat for there… will you be able to unbury Kerry from her desk by then?"

Dar chuckled. "Yeah.. I think so." She caught their eyes and realized where they were looking. Just barely keeping herself from sticking her hands in her pockets, she merely flexed her fingers instead. "I'm not going to fill my position right away."

Silence, as they digested that. "Good idea." Mariana nodded approvingly. "You slowly going to shift responsibilities to Kerry?"


"Smart." Duks nodded also. "Give everyone a chance to see what she can do."

Silence again. Mariana cleared her throat gently. "Are you going to um.. " She considered, fishing for a way to ask delicately. "Change your beneficiary information in CAS?"

Dar almost laughed, as she kept her eyes on her pen. "Yeeahh.. it looks like it." She admitted, glancing up to see a twinkle in Mari's eyes. "Talk about an obscure way of asking."

Duks chuckled. "C'mon, Mari.. we've got things to do, and so does the grand poobah, here… let's be getting a move on." He stood, then leaned over and clapped Dar on the shoulder. "Good job, Dar."

"Likewise." Mari added, as they pushed their chairs into place. "I think it's going to turn out for the best for everyone. "

Dar felt her pager go off, as she watched them leave, then she sighed, looking around the empty conference room. "I sure hope so." She stood and went to the phone nearby and rang the office. "Maria.. what's up?"

"Ah.. Dar… I was not going to bother you.. but it has been some time now, and I… that Michelle Graver person is here."

"Oh." Dar winced. "Great… is she down there waiting? I'll come down.. we're done here."

"Aie.. no.. no, Dar.. she came a half an hour ago.. she was upset at something, but Kerry took her away to fix things."

Kerry? Oh. Great. Dar tried to remember if she had a first aid kit in her office. "Um… did she say where they were going?"

"No.. but I think they were in her office." Maria supplied helpfully. "Is good I called you? I don't like that woman, Dar.. she is very asneaky looking."

Yeah. "Okay.. yeah, that was good, Maria.. I'll take care of it." Dar sighed. "Talk to you later." She hung up, then grabbed her portfolio and headed purposefully out the door.


Kerry nibbled her lip in thought, then added a couple of lines ot her email, clicking on the send once she'd reread it for the fifth or sixth time. She checked her watch, and paused, wondering how Dar's meeting was going, before she punched a few numbers on the speakerphone. "Hi, Maria?"

"Si.. si.. uno momento, senora.. " The secretary sounded harried, and Kerry could hear an angry voice in the background.

A vaguely familiar voice. "Maria, what's going on?"

"Ah… we have a Ms. Graver here, she is looking to be speaking with Dar, but I am telling her she is in a meeting." Maria answered. "Is problems, I think."

Kerry drummed her fingers on her desk. Michelle Graver, huh? A grim smile crossed the blond woman's face. "Let me see if I can help her, Maria.. bring her down here." She suggested. "Who knows how long Dar's going to be."

Maria sounded very grateful. "Gracias, Kerrisita.. we'll be right down." She hung up, leaving Kerry to run a quick eye over her desk, and straighten the stack of papers in her outbox with a push. Then she turned her monitor slightly and checked her reflection, trying on one of Dar's arched eyebrowed looks for size.

"Uck. I can't do that." She chuckled a little. "I look too weird." A gentle tug on her sleeves got her shirt straight, then she took a breath and settled herself, as a soft knock came on the door. "C'mon in."

Maria opened the door and entered, holding it for Michelle Graver to enter behind her. The short Disney executive brushed past her, and stalked across the carpet, tossing a folder down on Kerry's desk. "I doubt you can help."

Kerry held her eyes for a moment, then she pulled the folder towards her and flipped it open. "Please, have a seat." She murmured, as she studied the contents. "Maria, here are the reports so far.. and the project Dar was working on." She reached out and lifted the stack of papers and offered them. "I think she wanted these requisitions cleared before lunchtime."

"Si." Maria took the stack. "We are making special order today for lunch…the Chinese food.. you want?"

Kerry paused. "Sure…. Yeah, that would be great. "She pulled a paper out, and keyed up one of her sessions. "Hang on a minute.. I need to request these real-time." She rattled her keys, then turned. "Um… I'll take a beef with snow peas, and you can order Dar a Szechwan shrimp." She took a guilty bit of satisfaction in saying that while Michelle was sitting there, and she didn't miss the narrowing of those little beady eyes.

"Is good." Maria scribbled a note, then left, abandoning a tense silence behind her.

Kerry returned her attention to the screen. "This utilization report shows you're losing packets."

Michelle clapped her hands twice. "Very good." She remarked sarcastically. "I'm impressed.. did she train you on all the little blinking lights, or just the most important ones?"

Kerry felt an insidious urge to make an inappropriate gesture, and stifled it. "No.. actually, I learned that in college." She answered the question at face value. "Have you made any changes to your internal network?" She asked, politely.

"No." Michelle answered. "It's not on our end, and my people have been complaining about it for two weeks, and nothing's been done. I want it cleared up, or you can tell your … boss… the next contact will be from our legal department to terminate the contract."

Briefly, Kerry wondered why Michelle had found it necessary to fly all the way from Orlando to tell her that, then figured it was probably just an excuse. "Hold on." She started a routine running, watching the results and ignoring the impatient woman across the desk. Now what. No matter what I do here, she still not gonna walk out of here happy.. and it's mostly my fault. Well, not directly, but still.

Well, Kerry… if you're going to even think about doing Dar's job, better start here. She watched a gauge, then dialed a number. "Mark?"

"Yessup?" The ever-present sound of rattling keys came through clearly. "And what can I do for you, Ms. K?"

"Um… " She gave him a circuit number. "Can you sniff that for me, please… they're losing one out of every three or four packets."

"Sure." Mark busied himself for a moment. "Okay.. it'll take about ten minutes to run the analyzer over it. I'll get back to you."

"Thanks." Ten minutes. Hoboy. She glanced up, meeting Michelle's eyes. "Would you like some coffee?"

"I'd like my problem solved." The executive answered shortly.

"I'm working on that." Kerry told her. "And if you don't mind, could I have the name of the person your group talked to in support? I"d like to follow up to find out why this wasn't handled."

"You should have record of that." Michelle replied. "It's not my job to keep track of your people."

Kerry checked a screen. "Mm.. that's true, but we don't have record of anyone calling in from your operations center…and I'd really like to check on what happened." She waited, but Michelle didn't answer her. "Look, Ms. Graver.. you obviously came here for some answers, and I'd like to give them to you, but I need some help."

"And I don't want excuses.. just fix the problem." The other woman answered. "I'm not here to help you fix your internal screw ups."

Stupid, stuck up, obnoxious bitch. "Okay." Kerry reviewed the data, then typed in a request and waited for it to come back. You're just jealous because Dar won't give you the time of day, arentcha? Not even way back when, before we were even that close. Nyah nyah. She punched a number into the phone, and waited. "Hello, this is Kerry Stuart in Operations… can I speak with a supervisor, please?"

A moment of rustling, then a voice. "Yes, ma'am?"

"I need to know who there's been troubleshooting with the Disney Orlando account." She requested quietly.

Keys rattled. "Um… there's no record of them calling in, ma'am."

"I know." Kerry replied. "But they say they have, so I need to know who's handling the problem they reported."

The man sounded confused. "Okay.. I'll get the leads to ask each tech… can I call you back?"

"Sure." Kerry hung up the phone, then she folded her hands on her desk and regarded Michelle in pensive silence. "You sure you wouldn't like some coffee?"

Graver didn't answer at once. She stood, and wandered around the office instead, peering out Kerry's window at the placid Atlantic, then she turned and leaned her back against it, studying the back of Kerry's head.

It took everything she had not to turn around, but she did it, examining the next thing in her inbox instead.

"You're not just a bit of good looking fluff, are you?" Michelle finally asked, in a speculative voice.

Now she turned, and crossed her legs, leaning on the arm of her chair. "I'm not sure I understand the question." She replied. "I'm here to do a job, Ms. Graver…not for any other reason."

The shorter woman laughed. "Oh, come on now… you're not going to deny it at this late stage, are you? Your whole little building here is talking about you and your boss, honey… wake up."

Kerry stood up and walked over, making the most of her two inch height advantage, a complete luxury for her. "I'm not denying anything." She replied softly. "But my relationship with Dar has no bearing on whether or not I can do my job." She paused. "And while we're at it, don't you think you'd better take a look at your own motives, Ms. Graver?" She'd caught the woman offguard, she could see. Good. "You know, when I met you, that first time, I really admired you, because I saw how you looked past the surface bullshit in those meetings, and I appreciated how you made your decisions based on what was good for your company, not on a personal agenda."

The gray eyes watched her warily. "Thank you. I do try to do that." She replied, a little uncertainly. "I just don't like to be jerked around." A pause. "So to speak."

Kerry mentally flipped a coin, and took the plunge. "You weren't being jerked around." She replied quietly. "We were just starting to become friends, in Orlando… she was my boss, nothing more than that."

Michelle's brows lifted. "You're joking…. Honey, have you seen those pictures?"

Kerry folded her arms. "Yeah, I have… and I look at them and it seems so obvious.. but it wasn't obvious to me." She pursed her lips. "And I think Dar was going along business as usual, except she got to a certain point and she just couldn’t go any further, because of me. Because she didn't want me to think badly of her. " She looked up "Don't hate her for that."

Now, Michelle looked a little amused. "You poor kid." She shook her head slowly. "You had no idea what you were getting into, did you?"

Kerry glanced at the carpet. "Not really, no." She replied, frankly. "But I don’t regret a minute of it." She lifted her eyes and gave Michelle a direct look. "And to answer your original question, no. I'm not just a piece of fluff. I'm a professional who does this for a living, and I got this job by telling Dar to go to hell, and calling her a son of a bitch."

"Did you?" Michelle drawled. "Well, well."

The phone beeped, and Kerry crossed back over to it, hitting the answer button and trying not to let her shaking hands show. "Yes?"

"Port's crapping out." Mark replied succinctly.

"Thanks." Kerry hung up and dialed the networking office. "John, here' s a router name.. "She rattled it off. "Serial port 0 is intermittently bad.. can you hot swap it, please?"

"Yes, Ms. Stuart.. we can do that. " The man answered. "We're still researching that trouble call for you.. should have an answer back shortly."

"Thanks… bye." Kerry hung up, then turned to face Michelle. "That should solve your problem." She was glad they'd isolated it, but really, really ticked off that she'd had to do it.. it was a basic step anyone should have done in the networking group. Someone was going to hear about it, that was for sure. "Sorry you had to bring it to this level."

"I'm not." The older woman chuckled, then shook her head. "Sometimes it's good just to clear the air." She sauntered over and picked up her folder, then she slapped Kerry lightly on the shoulder with it. "And don't bother trying to track down that trouble call… there wasn't one."

Kerry blinked at her. "What?"

"We thought it was us." Michelle told her cheerfully. "Thanks, kid." She strolled out, leaving Kerry standing there with her jaw slack.

"Son of a bitch." She exhaled, sitting down hard in her seat. "You little wiener schnitzel."


Pace pace pace.

Dar paused near the far wall, and regarded the credenza with an evil look. Even the pretty flowers didn't help her mood.

Pace, pace pace.

Now she was on the near wall, and contemplating the closed door for the hundredth time.

Pace, pace, pace.

Her initial charge had lead her right up to Kerry's door, and she'd actually had her hand on the knob, ready to fling the door open and barrel in, when her conscience had stopped her cold.

Kerry was supposed to be thinking about doing her former job. What message would her rushing in there like some god damned half assed knight in frigging rusted armor send?

That she didn't trust Kerry, that's what. That she figured she couldn’t handle one measly little Michelle Graver, without big, bad Dar coming in and taking over.

Pace, pace, pace.

So she'd come back here, to her office, and decided to wait and see what happened. Unfortunately, she'd forgotten just how much she hated waiting for anything. "Guess I'm just an instant gratification kinda gal." She muttered to her reflection in the window. She'd tried to concentrate on her email, but had found herself reading the same one six times, and that was a personnel advisory from Mariana.

She sighed. Maybe I should go take a walk.

Pace, pace pace.

I am walking.. it's not helping. She drummed her fingers on her thigh, curiosity almost driving her insane as she wondered what was going on down the hall. Damn it, Kerry.. you've got sense enough to yell for help if you need it, right?

Right. Yeah, sure…

Pace, pace, pace.

What if Michelle was making a play for her? Dar stopped in her tracks, and pressed her fingertips against the glass of the window, her breathing suddenly tight. What if Kerry….She shut the thought down savagely. Don't be stupid, Dar. Don’t start that crap. Don't even insult her by thinking it. She loves you. Dar let her head rest briefly against the sun warmed glass. Just go over there and sit down before you drive yourself crazy.

But she didn't move. Instead, she just watched the waves for a few minutes, letting the calm blue of the sea soothe her.

Until her hearing picked up a soft, rhythmic footfall in the back corridor. About damn time. She cursed, bounding across the room and getting into her chair moments before the gentle knock came. She took a deep breath, and leaned her chin on her fist, picking up a report at random and studying it. "C'mon in."

The door opened, and Kerry entered. "Hey."

Dar forced herself to wait a few seconds before she looked up, drinking in the sight of her lover with quiet relief. "Hey, yourself." Kerry appeared calm, and unflustered, definitely a good sign.

The blond woman crossed to her desk, and took her favorite perch on the corner, laying a hand flat on the wooden surface and leaning on it. "I ordered you lunch… Maria's doing a Chinese run."

"Mm.. wondered where she went." Dar mused, putting her report down and giving Kerry a smile. "Thanks."

Kerry smiled back. "Anytime… listen, Michelle Graver was here."

Dar nodded. "I know.. Maria told me." She replied casually. "But she said you were handling her so I figured it was under control."

"Oh." Kerry felt a quick jolt of surprised pride. "Well.. yeah, it was." She confirmed. "I mean.. she had a problem, but I figured it out, and we got it fixed, so.. everything's great." She gave a satisfied sigh. "I was worrying about dealing with her a little.. but things turned out … okay.. and it all um.. it's fine now."

Dar smiled back. "Good job." She patted Kerry's' knee. "I knew you could handle her."

Kerry nodded a little, folding her arms across her chest. "Yeah.. it was.. it felt good." She confessed. "And I think we sort of came to an understanding… maybe she wont' be so nasty now."

A dark brow lifted. "Really?"

"Yeah.. I talked things out with her.. straightened out a few misconceptions she had." Kerry replied.

"You did?" Dar asked, curiously. "Like what?"

"Uh." The blond woman scratched her jaw. "Well, that whole Orlando thing.. you know." She replied offhandedly.

"Oh.. right.. that." Dar replied, at sea. "Well, I'm sure you cleared everything up."

Kerry remained contentedly silent for a moment, drinking in the warm confidence. "Thanks for trusting me.. I was half expecting you to come in at some point just to make sure she was behaving herself."

Wide, innocent blue eyes gazed up at her, as Dar nibbled her lower lip. "The idea never crossed my mind." She told her, sincerely. "I just came back here, and studied my reports without a care in the world."

Kerry's eyes dropped to her paper. "Really?"

"Yep." Dar smiled.

The blond woman gently reached down and turned the paper right way up., then she affectionately patted Dar's cheek. "You are so busted."

Dar glanced down, then back up at her, like a six year old caught in the cookie jar. "Uh oh." Then she laughed, leaning back and relaxing in her chair, shrugging her shoulders with a look of endearing helplessness. "But I stayed right here, doesn't that count?"

Kerry tried to hold her scolding look, but lost it, and started laughing as well. "Yes, that counts." She leaned over and kissed Dar lightly. "And thank you."

The taller woman sighed, giving her a sheepish glance over dark eyelashes. "For being a nervous worry wart?" She replied. "Even though I know better??"

Kerry put a hand on her cheek. "For caring." She answered. "You weren't worried I couldn’t solve the problem, were you?" She waited for the head shake no. "You were worried she'd be nasty to me." Now the head nodded yes. "Well, she sort of was, but we got things worked out."

Dar scowled. "Bitch."

"Dar, she thought you were playing with her." Kerry told her. "I'd have been a bitch, too."

"Mmph." A grunt of grudging agreement. "Yeah, all right… I can see her point." Dar sighed. "Anyway… listen, about this Valentine thing."

Kerry blinked at the sudden change of subject. "Um… yeah?"

"Does it all have to be on one day?" Dar inquired. "I used some of my pacing time to try and come up with… well, anyway… I couldn’t decide between a couple of things, so I thought maybe we could do all of them."

"Uh.. okay.. sure." A pause. "What'd you have in mind?"

'Well.. " Dar leaned back, tapping her chin with a pencil. "The first thing involves a hot tub, a bottle of massage oil, truffles, and candlelight."

Kerry's' eyes had gotten steadily wider as she spoke. "Oooo….can we do that tonight?"

Dar grinned seductively. " You betcha."


So much for that idea. Dar leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, letting the argument over the speakerphone travel past her. The moon shone in her window, and she half turned to regard it, as she lifted a hand and rubbed the back of her neck.

Board meetings, when your board was international, were a pain in the ass. But Dar hadn't been able to wriggle out of this one, since Les was using the opportunity to introduce her to the rest of the board members.

She sighed. Kerry had gone home hours ago, dropped off by a cooperative Mark, and she wished she could just hang up on the group and go join her lover.

"Don’t worry about it. " Kerry had said. "We've got all week.. and besides, it's been a really long day."

Yeah, yeah, yeah… Dar grumbled silently, closing her eyes and wishing she had some aspirin. She tried to put the headache out of her mind, and think about something more pleasant instead. Hot tubs, for instance… Kerry had definitely mentioned hot tubs for tonight… and a spicy chicken stir fry with noodles that was very, very tasty….

"Dar? What do you think about that?" Les' voice interrupted her daydreaming.

Oh shit. "What I think about that is…that it's ten o clock here in Miami, and we're going rapidly nowhere. Why not schedule a meeting when everyone has their acts together?" There. Throw a few insults.. see if that gets things moving. "That's what I think." Dar added, for good measure.

She took a contented sip of chocolate milk as the soft hiss from the phone indicated a shocked worldwide silence. Another Dar Roberts legend in the making, I bet. She rolled her eyes, regarding her bare feet resting on her desk, crossed neatly at the ankles. Regretting your decision already, Les? Next time, you'll ask first, huh?

A gentle clearing of the throat. "Well." Les responded. "That would be a novel idea." He sighed. "Okay… so Monday after a disaster was a bad choice of times… let's reschedule for Friday, same time?"

Fine. She'd call in from her cell phone, while floating on the Atlantic. "Sounds good to me." She agreed, stifling a grin. "I'll have the proposal for the new networking center by then."

"Good.. good… all right then, good night, ladies and gentlemen." He paused. "And Dar."

It hit her unexpectedly, and she burst out laughing, hearing a rustle of sound as the rest of the group belatedly joined in. "Good night." She sighed, hitting the release button, and shaking her head. So much for my first board meeting… But at least it was more productive and less antagonistic than their usual staff gatherings.. so maybe that was a good sign.

It was very quiet in the office, with only the soft hum of the air conditioning, and the gentle, sporadic clatter of her hard drive to break the silence. With a sigh, she slipped her shoes back on and stood up, pulling her jacket over her arms and shouldering her briefcase.

The elevator ride was quiet also, and she was conscious of her own footsteps as she crossed the long, empty lobby and headed for the door. The security guard met her and opened it, touching his head in a military type of manner.

"G'night, Ms. Roberts." He remarked, politely. "Late night, eh?"

"Night, Pete." Dar gave him a smile. "Same old, same old.. you know how it is.:"

"Yes, ma'am, but we haven't seen you here at night for a while.. I was wondering if you'd changed offices."

No, just priorities. "I've been here… just not late." She commented. "Take care."

She walked across the parking lot and unlocked the Lexus, dumping her briefcase inside and getting in, exhaling as the cool, soft leather surrounded her. She closed the door and sat for a moment, resting her hands on the wheel, before she started the car up and pulled out of the parking lot.


Kerry was curled up contentedly on the couch, her head resting on the arm, and Chino tucked up in a ball against her belly. She let her eyes follow the action on the television screen, though she found herself watching the clock almost as much. Darn it, Dar… what kind of stupid meeting can you have this late at night?

C'mon, Kerry.. it's her job, remember? Don’t make her feel bad for doing it… there are going to be times when you're stuck at work too, so there.

Oh well. She snuggled down further into the couch and watched the crocodile man try to trap a crocodile. He was just stringing his net up when the phone rang. She picked it up immediately. "Hello?"

"Hey." Dar's voice sounded quietly over the dull roar of boat engines. "I'm on the ferry."

"So I hear." Kerry responded. "How'd the meeting go?"

"Bullshit." The executive replied. "It was mostly Les just blowing hot air across three continents.. I finally called him on it, and he rescheduled for Friday."

"Ew." Kerry replied. "That's no fair."

"Nah..we'll be out on the boat…that's why god made cell phones." Dar chuckled. "How'd your night go?"

Kerry rolled over, and let her head rest on the sofa arm. "Well.. I got home.. and put together a little dinner for us… then I stuck that in the frig and took Chino for a nice long walk."

"I could live on Frosted Flakes, you didn't have to do that." Dar protested gently.

"You can not live on Frosted Flakes, Dar Roberts… so hush." Kerry shot back. "So then I went over to the gym and worked out for a couple of hours.. that's a nice gym, Dar." They'd been using the work gym a lot, and Dar hadn't gotten around to showing her the island one before.

"Yeah.. I haven't seen much of it lately." Her lover responded ruefully. "But it's pretty well stocked…they've got a circuit there I really like.. the gym by work doesn't have it."

"Mm.. yeah.. so then I got home, and took a shower, and now I'm just watching Steve Irwin, and waiting for you." Kerry concluded.

Dar couldn't help the silly little grin that crossed her face at Kerry's words. "Waiting for me?"

"Yep." Kerry confirmed. "Chino and I are right here, watching the door."

A soft laugh. "Well, I'm pulling into the parking space right now, so.. guess I'll see you in a minute." She hung up and got out of the car, closing and locking it and heading for the condo entrance. At the door she paused, reflecting.

How many times had she come home, just like this, to a quiet emptiness? How many years had it been? The idea that someone was in there…god.

Thoughtfully, she keyed in the lock and opened the door, stepping inside as a scrambling puppy and a smiling blond greeted her. "Hey guys." Dar dropped her briefcase and knelt, playing with Chino for a moment before she stood and faced Kerry.

"Hey.. here, let me take your jacket.. you look wiped." Kerry reached for it, only to have her hands caught and held, as Dar stepped closer to her. "Wh… "

Dar released her hands, and let her arms rest on Kerry's shoulders, gently interlacing her fingers behind the smaller woman's neck. She gazed into the puzzled green eyes, and wished she had the words to fit the emotion she could feel balling up inside her. She tried, but nothing would come out, so she merely drew Kerry's head forward, and gently kissed it. "Thank you."

"Dar?" The blond woman asked, softly, pulling back and little and giving her a worried look. "Are you okay?"

There was really no way she could explain. "Yeah.. " She managed a smile. "Just been a long day, that's all." Awkwardly, she dropped her hands, then backed off a step. "I'm going to go change… I think I need some coffee."  She rubbed the back of her neck wearily. "Haven't had a headache like this in a while."

Kerry cocked her head to one side. "Mm… let me help." She gently drew Dar into her bedroom, and peeled off her jacket, draping it neatly over the back of the chair near the dresser.

"I am capable of taking my own clothes off." Dar protested mildly, finding herself intrigued by the absorbed look of concentration on her lover's face.

"Well, sure.. I know.. but it's a lot more fun for me if I do it." Kerry replied, working the buckle loose on the thin, ornate belt then reaching around to unbutton Dar's skirt. "Because if you do it. it's just like.. well, you know, changing. But if I do it.. " She slid the zipper down, and removed the skirt, leaving Dar in her silk blouse.

"If you do it.. " Dar repeated softly, tracing the line of her jaw. "It becomes a lot more interesting."

"Right." Kerry agreed, slowly unbuttoning the shirt and letting it fall open, releasing a scent that was mostly Dar, and a touch of perfume. She slid her hands under the fabric and let her fingers slide up the smooth, powerful back, clucking softly at the tension she felt there. "C'mon, lie down." She gently peeled the shirt back, and Dar let it fall down her arms to the floor, feeling the slight chill as the conditioned air brushed her skin.

It felt like a dream, really, but Dar couldn’t find it in her to protest. She allowed herself to be led over to the waterbed and gently pushed down onto it, feeling the surface give under her weight. She rolled over and spread her arms out a little, feeling the cool air suddenly warm on her back as Kerry settled over her, straddling her hips. 

Fingers slipped under the hooks of her bra and released it, then smoothly rubbed the area. Kerry's hands were warm, and strong, and Dar felt the stiffness relax almost immediately as her companion started to work, kneading her shoulders and wringing tiny murmurs of appreciation from her. "Ungh."

"God, you really are tense." Kerry commented softly, sliding her hands up Dar's back to her neck and shoulders, which eased grudgingly under her touch. "We've got to get you a recliner for your office or something.. " She felt Dar chuckle, the vibration felt through her fingertips as they eased around the taller woman's ribs.

"Hey." Dar chuckled again.

"Whoops.. sorry.. forgot you were ticklish there." Kerry teased, hitting the spot again on purpose, just to hear the laugh. She reached over and got a small bottle of oil from the night stand and uncapped it, putting a little on her fingertips and rubbing them together before she started back to work. "How does that feel?"

The oil left warm traces across her skin, and Dar let out a long, satisfied breath. "You're the best."

Kerry regarded the smooth, tanned back with a distinct feeling of pleasure. "I am?" She queried. "The best what?"

"Everything." Dar mumbled. "The best assistant.. the best cook.. you give the best massages… "

The blond woman chuckled delightedly. "That's really cool.. I've never been the best at something before.. except debating." She amended. "But that doesn't really count.. all it means is I can win arguments."

Dar folded her arms, and rested her chin on them, glancing back quietly. "You're my best friend." She added, with a touch of wistfulness. "I never thought about having one of those until I met you."

Kerry gazed down at her, then she leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on the center of Dar's back. "I'm glad you feel that way." She moved up and put another kiss a little higher. "Because you're my best friend… and the best thing that's ever happened to me in my life." She uttered softly, right into Dar's ear.

A gentle smile in return. She rubbed Dar's shoulders lightly. "Turn over.. so I can get the front."

That got her a saucily raised eye brow, as Dar twisted under her, and she was suddenly face to face with those amazing blue eyes, and a bare, powerful body trapped neatly under her own.

Whoa. Kerry put her hands down lightly on the flat belly, spreading her fingers out and starting a gentle, rhythmic massage. God, Dar was so strong. She could feel it, as she moved up across her collarbone to her shoulders, feel the thick, powerful muscles just under the skin that flowed into her upper arms. Kerry leaned forward to get enough pressure, and found herself looking almost straight down at those twinkling, amused blue eyes. "You know.. " She paused, holding Dar down, and feeling the faint motion under her fingertips. It was almost scary. Almost intimidating.

"What?" Dar asked, watching her face.

"I think I know how Steve Irwin feels when he's on top of a crocodile." Kerry told her.

Both dark brows shot up. "Gee, thanks." Dar drawled.

"No no no.. I don't mean you look like a crocodile, Dar… " Kerry laughed. "It's just that they're always so much stronger than he is, and you get the feeling that at any moment, the croc might.. whoa. .. yeow!"

Kerry felt the room whirl, then a heavy, warm weight settled over her. She cracked one eye open to see a blue orb inches from her. "Uh oh."

"Might turn the tables?" Dar asked, with a seductive grin, as she leaned forward and pinned her lover down, taking a gentle nibble at her neck. "Like that?"

Kerry felt her breathing go ragged. "I'm pretty sure a croc nibbling his neck doesn't make old Steve feel like this." She responded, swallowing a few times. "But yeah."

Dar rolled back over, and allowed the blond woman to resume her place. "I kinda liked it this way. " She reached a hand down and stroked Kerry's calf. "Where were we?"

Kerry slid up and found her lips. "Right here." She felt Dar's hands start to roam, lifting up the light t-shirt she was wearing and letting the cool air brush against her skin. "I was just about to say.. " She tasted Dar's lips again, then slowly lowered herself down, feeling the instant heat as their skin touched. "That I love you."

Dar soaked the feeling up in quiet wonder. "I love you too." She responded, on an irregular breath. "And I always will."


Dar woke abruptly, disoriented for a minute as she caught her bearings, and shook the sleep out of her eyes. "Wh… " The bed next to her was empty, though she could still, faintly, catch Kerry's scent on the sheets, and she put her head back down, wondering what had woken her up so violently.

The fragments of a dream faded out of her consciousness, something dark and vaguely frightening, and she thought she remembered walking down a long, dusty road at night, all alone, in tears.

Ugh.. what was that? Dar shook her head to clear it, then put the thought aside. Can't blame it on dinner, since we skipped it…just one of those weird ones, I guess. She exhaled.

Then she cocked her head, and listened, expecting to hear Kerry moving around in the bathroom, or maybe coming back from the kitchen. She heard neither, and her brows contracted. She's a big girl, Dar.. she can probably handle getting milk by herself. She sternly told the niggling anxiety.

It didn't help. An uneasy tension in her guts sent the covers flying back, and Dar rolled out of the waterbed and padded off in search. The bathroom was empty, and so was the quiet, dark living room. She stuck her head in the kitchen, then she exhaled, and made her way up the stairs to the second floor. Kerry's door was partially ajar, and she poked her head in, spotting her lover curled up in the large bed, her arms wrapped around her pillow.

For a long moment, Dar froze, unsure of what to do. Surely Kerry had the right to sleep wherever she wanted to, without being questioned on it right? Dar nibbled a fingernail, running her mind over the evening's course, and trying to figure out if she'd done something wrong.

No. Not unless her understanding of 'right' and 'wrong' when it came to Kerry was way the hell off base. Kerry had been in a very good mood when they'd dropped off to sleep.. so…

Just then, the figure on the bed shifted, and Dar heard a sharp intake of breath, and a tiny sound of pain. Without further thought, she bolted across the floor and knelt at the bedside, putting a hand on Kerry's tense arm. "Hey… "

Green eyes gone silver in the moonlight blinked at her. "Wh.. oh, Dar.. god.. you startled me."

"What's wrong?" The taller woman asked, softly. "Are you okay?"

"Oh." Kerry sighed. "Yeah.. it's… I've got cramps, really, really bad." She gave Dar a wry look. "I was expecting it this week, but it just got me a lot worse than usual." She curled her fingers around Dar's hand. "I didn't want to wake you up."

"Mm." Dar gazed at her. "Sorry about that.. did you take something?"

"Yeah.. a handful of Advil." The blond woman muttered. "They'll work, eventually." She reached over and pushed a lock of dark hair out of Dar's eyes. "Go back to sleep… I'll be fine."

Dar hesitated, finding herself unwilling to leave Kerry, but not having any good reason to stay. "Um.. all right.. I guess." She paused. "Can I get you something? Hot tea, maybe?"

"No.. I'm fine… really, Dar.. go on.. you need to get some sleep." Kerry told her.

Reluctantly, Dar stood up. "All right." She agreed, unhappily. "Call me if you need anything, okay? I've got some muscle relaxants left… if those Advils don't help after a while." She stroked Kerry's upper arm in attempted comfort. "Or maybe a hot water bottle…that usually helps me."

The blond woman smiled at her. "All right, Dr. Roberts." She teased her companion gently, feeling a little better just to have her nearby.  She wished she could just ask Dar to stay with her, but that would be totally irresponsible, since the poor woman had to work tomorrow, and there was no sense in both of them being zombies. Right? "I'll call you if I…" She stopped, seeing the worried look in Dar's eyes. "Boy, that's so stupid."

"What is?" Her lover knelt again, and rested a forearm on the bed.

"Like I ever stop needing you." Kerry admitted, with a smile.

Dar's face, though thrown into shadows, appeared quite pleased with that. "Actually.. " She cleared her throat a little, embarrassed. "Waking up downstairs was um… " She paused, searching for the proper word. "Strange."

"Alone, you mean." Kerry clarified.

"Mm." The dark head nodded.

Kerry considered that. "Big bed." She indicated the surface she was resting on. "It's kinda empty and cold up here."  She added. "I'd go back downstairs, but I sort of have to move around a little, because of the pain, and… and I didn't want to bother you." She sighed. "Which is kind of pointless, I realize, because here you are, right?"

"Right." Dar agreed. "Mind some company?"

"No." Kerry curled up a little tighter as a spasm hit her. "Ugh."

A solid weight settled behind her. "Here.. " Dar spoke quietly. "Let me try something.. "

Kerry felt fingers touch her back, and start a slow kneading rhythm down her spine. Maybe it was the warmth, or just Dar's presence distracting her, but the cramps paused, and seemed to lessen a little, and she stretched her body out to allow her partner better access. "Ooooo…you have magic fingers."

Dar chuckled softly. "No I don't…I've just been here, and done this… I had to find a way to get rid of the pain before competition, because taking a lot of aspirin when you're doing contact sports is not a good idea."

"Really?" Kerry murmured. "I thought… "

"It's a blood thinner." The dark haired woman explained. "I used to get a lot of bruises."

"Oh." Kerry nodded. "Right…that makes sense… they made us use contact analgesic when I was doing gymnastics.. but the serious girls played around with the pill so they wouldn't get it during meets."

"Mm… yeah, I tried that." Dar worked her hands lower, getting to the tense knot she could feel right along the end of Kerry's spine. "But the stuff made me sick… I had to quit using it."

"Ummm…. "Kerry let her head drop to the pillow. "You are so good."

A dark brow lifted saucily, unseen in the murky darkness. "Oh really?"

"Oh yeah… your hands are poetry in motion." Kerry murmured. "Spreading little bolts of wonderful all over me."

Dar's eyes widened at the phrase. "Little bolts of what?" She leaned over and nibbled Kerry's ear. "You're the poetic one, kiddo." She rubbed her thumbs in little circles above Kerry's kidneys, then slid an arm around her waist, and began a slow massage of her belly.

"Ohhh… " Kerry felt the tension slowly relaxing, and she leaned back against Dar's warm body in utter relief. She wasn't sure if it was the aspirin finally kicking in, or her lover's attentions, but she frankly really didn't care, since she'd been tied  up in knots for over an hour and a half, and it was just nice to not be in agony for a while. She felt guilty about bothering Dar, but not guilty enough to make her leave, especially since the taller woman didn't seem to be minding too much. "Sorry I wo… wait, I didn't wake you up, Dar.. what are you doing awake anyway?"

Dar put aside the memory of the nightmare. "I dunno.. .I just woke up.. maybe the ac clanked or something." She temporized. "You weren't there.. but I figured you went to get a drink or whatever… but I couldn’t hear you, so I decided to go see what was going on." She glanced at the bedside clock. "It's almost four.. how long have you been up?"

Kerry sighed. "Since two…I was having trouble sleeping anyway." She exhaled, blinking a little as the gentle massage continued. "So I thought it would be better if I just came up here…I usually don't get it this bad."

"I know." Dar pulled her a little closer, and felt Kerry's body relax against hers. "You're one of the luckier ones… doesn't last long for you, either."

"Mm… we're both lucky that way." Kerry remarked, biting her lip to stifle a yawn. "Though.. I was contemplating the other day how choosing an alternative lifestyle ought to bring a magic pill to eliminate this stuff at the same time."

"Heh…. If we advertised that, the one in ten would be two out of three." Dar snickered. "Besides, lots of gay women want, and have kids, Kerry."

The blond woman sighed. "Yeah,  I know…but they can be selectively fertile, if you know what I mean.. they don't have to worry about accidents." She couldn't stifle the yawn this time, and gave into it. "Mm… think those pills are getting to me now."

Dar rocked her gently, and watched the pale green eyes flutter closed. "Good….get some sleep." She told her lover, as she settled her arms around Kerry's body, feeling the breathing deepen as she did so. "Atta girl."

"Mm." Kerry mumbled sleepily. "You're the best."

Dar sighed happily, and put her head down, gazing out over her now sleeping companion through the window. The stars winked solemnly at her, and the trees outside swayed in a silent wind, as she reflected on a simple change in her viewpoint.

She'd never wanted to be responsible for anyone. That's why she'd never considered kids, never gotten a pet…she'd been very, very damn sure she didn't want the hassle, or the headaches of all that.

So how come taking care of Kerry felt so damn good?

She rested her cheek against the soft, pale hair and peered out at the lapping waves. Tell me it's a long suppressed, deeply skewed maternal instinct surfacing. Right? She glanced down as Kerry stirred a bit, then snuggled closer to her, with a contented little sigh. God, what in the hell is happening to me? Dar felt a surge of protectiveness wash over her. I don't even recognize myself anymore.

Another sigh. But is that good, or bad? Dar considered thoughtfully. Well. She finally decided. Something that feels this good can't be bad, and not be illegal. So I guess it's good. She yawned, and closed her eyes, letting a peaceful sleep take her.


Kerry pulled her pale blue terrycloth bathrobe around her, and sipped at her tea, trying to muster up the energy to go and take a shower. The drugs had worn off after she'd woken, and even taking more wasn't really helping at the moment. The ache was making her cranky, and tired, and she wished she could just crawl back into bed. "Well, no time for that, Chino… I'd better get moving." 

Bare footsteps made her look up, to see Dar ambling into the kitchen, a towel tucked neatly around her damp body. "Hey." The taller woman glanced at her, then put the cup down she'd been reaching for and stepped closer. "You still feeling lousy?" She inquired.

Kerry shrugged. "I'm okay… just a little sore.. give me a minute and I'll get going." She eased off the stool in the kitchen, then paused, biting back a grimace. "Jesus."

Dar took her cup out of her hand and grasped her by the shoulders. "I think you better stay home." She decided, speaking in a firm voice.

The blond woman straightened, and shook her head. "C'mon, Dar… don’t be goofy… I'm not calling in sick for a dumb stomache ache.. that's crazy." A cramp hit her, and she leaned on the counter. "I'll be fine."

Dar put her hands on her terrycloth covered hips and gave her a look. "You listen here, Kerrison Stuart… you are not going to develop all of MY damn bad habits, just because we live together, got me?"

Kerry peeked up at her, speechless.

"You are staying right here, in that cute little bathrobe, and watching Oprah all day." Dar stated. "That's an order."

"B.. "

"Ah ah!" Dar put a hand over her mouth. "You can logon from here if you have to.. that's why I have a damn ISDN in the house."

Kerry kissed the palm of her hand, and smiled as it was withdrawn. "Okay." She felt a huge wave of relief, knowing she didn't have to wrestle into her business clothes and put up with how that would feel all day. "Thanks, boss." She added, gratefully.

That got a frank, open grin from Dar. "That's better." She leaned over and kissed Kerry's forehead. "Play with Chino, munch on ice cream, and relax…all right?"

"Nice prescription." She stuck her hands in the pockets of her robe. "And I do have some things I need to take care of.. so maybe it's a good idea anyway." She butted Dar's arm with her head. "G'wan… you're going to be late."

With a satisfied chuckle, Dar turned, and walked out, humming lightly under her breath.


The sun poured into Dar's office, painting the carpeted floor and warming her back. She took the paper she'd been reviewing and marked on it, then tossed it into her outbox and flipped the pen she'd used in her hands. "I may be a quarter of the way through this crap." She commented to her fish, who wiggled their fins at her. "Oh.. that's right.. I have to feed you today, huh? Your best buddy's not here."

Her phone buzzed. "Yes?"

"Dar…I have Jason McRae for you on numero dos."

Dar glanced at the phone in surprise. "Really? Okay.. I'll take it." She hesitated before picking up the line, wondering what her family's lawyer wanted. "Jason?"

"Hello Dar… long time no talk to." The cheerful voice echoed slightly. "Haven't seen you in quite some time… how are you?"

Ten thousand answers to that question.. "Fine, thanks… and you?" Dar replied, recalling a mental image of the forty something lawyer, a former college football tackle who still retained his bulldog physique and almost military crew cut. "Yeah, it's been a while." Her father's funeral, to be exact.

"Oh… doing all right… listen, it's a small thing, but… seems your aunt May had a lock box over at People's First National that nobody knew about."

"Yeah?" Dar leaned back in her chair and nibbled her pen. "And?"

"There's a trunk, and two boxes of stuff in there, and by the terms of her will, it goes to you." Jason advised her. "The bank's closing down, and the called us to tell us, since we were her executors of record."

"Oh." The dark brows knitted. "All right… have it sent down, I guess.. I'll sort through it.. if it's stuff that can be donated somewhere, I'll do that in her name."

"Grea.t… great.. so, how've you been, Dar? I saw your mother last week.. she's doing okay.. her stuff's being shown at a gallery up here in a little bit."

Dar exhaled, feeling the usual stab of pain thoughts of her mother brought. "I'm doing just fine, Jase… glad she is too." She got out civilly. Then an idea struck her. "Listen.. I'm glad you called… I need to ask a question."

"Shoot." The lawyer responded briskly.

"First off.. I um… I need to modify my will." Dar interlaced her fingers and regarded them. "And second.. I need to know what kind of… I'm not sure what you call it, but something that would legally give someone the right to make certain decisions for me.. if I wasn't able to, for  instance."

"Uh." Jason stuttered. "Is everything all right Dar? I mean..with you? You're not sick or.. "

The executive chuckled. "No no… I'm fine..never felt better, in fact."  How true that was. "Just send me over the draft of the will, and I'll amend it… I need to leave everything to someone other than the Humane Society."

"Oh." He sounded relieved. "Well, sure.. and the other thing.. there's a couple ways you can go with that, depending on how much power you want the person to have." He paused. "How much you want to trust them, that sort of thing."

"All the way." Dar replied softly. "What do you need from me?"

"Just their name." Jason answered. "Dar, are you sure about this?"

 A slow smile appeared. "If I've ever been sure of anything in my life, it's this." She confirmed, giving him Kerry's name. "Make sure you spell it right."

"Okay.. but, listen, Dar… it's awful sudden of you.. and you've got quite an estate here, are you really sure about this? You're sure it's not someone looking for treasure, or anything like that?"

Dar regarded the mantel for a long moment, considering his words. "I'm sure." She finally said. "She has no idea of the size, or that I'm doing this."

"Okay." Jason surrendered amiably. "Just keeping your best interests in mind, Dar." He cleared his throat. "I'll draw up the papers and send them down to you… end of the week okay?"

"Perfect." Dar smiled. "Thanks, Jason."

"Anytime, Dar… and watch for those cases." The lawyer added. "Knowing May, it could be anything."

Dar acknowledged that, and hung up, feeling a quiet satisfaction. Yeah. It was time.  She turned to her computer and called up a session, then entered into the employee files, and called up her own records.

A few keystrokes, and the contact information was changed for emergencies, and then a few more, and her insurance beneficiary was likewise edited. She paused, watching the blinking cursor for a moment, then she hit send.

Update Complete. It said. Dar nodded, and retrieved a cashew from her trail mix, munching it contentedly. Yeah.


Concluded in Part 9