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Two Steps Forward One Back

The early evening was drawing in, darkening the skies as winter approached. Daylight savings had made the mornings much brighter, for a short time anyway, although the evenings now quickly brought the veil of dark nights like a thief catching you out unexpectedly. From her position on the decking, Jace gazed off toward the horizon north of the property. As dusk merged into evening, the faint scent of winter grew stronger, and the stars that speckled the night skies held that magical appeal that only came with this time of the year. Now all she needed was a special person to share the wonderful ambiance with, and as usual, her special person was involved elsewhere. Placing a tender hand to her swelling belly she smiled gently, twins…what a surprise for them both, though she couldn’t think of anything more wonderful than to give birth to two lives at the same time. Wondering what thoughts went through the minds of those who had carried and given birth to multiple births before. Maybe she should find out if bringing up twins would be considerably different to one child. Elena had been a handful in some ways, but she put that down to inexperience and…well…the other traumas that had followed them around for a couple of years. Now there was a quiet confidence around the home and the people who shared it. Things could be different, and different they would be. If she didn’t make it happen, Catherine certainly would. 

Her thoughts drifted to the one person on the planet that could make black appear white to her, which was no exaggeration; not if anyone knew how strongly she felt about her partner. The very thought made her chuckle. Gee, if anyone heard her they would think she was going mad, similar to talking to oneself. A wide grin refused to budge as she continued to stare out onto the ever-darkening skies, her thoughts far away

Somehow they had managed to survive misunderstandings, irrational hatred, old and new foes, kidnappings…hers and worse, Lisa’s. Murder, intrigue, distress, jealousy and prejudice, all this over a period of five years had been tempered with happiness, understanding, compassion and the most wonderful of all, lashings of love that held the ever increasing family together. Through it all she and Catherine had almost died, cried, smiled and generally did everything and anything possible to remain together because they had the one ingredient no one could diminish, they loved! A precious gift that had its own particular method of payment and these days, with the ‘demise’ of their most ferocious enemy, Clarissa Hudson, who hadn’t been heard from or seen since the events in Greece, life was meeting out a marvelous dollop of good fortune their way. Each day was reverently accepted, knowing that with the turn of a page like a biography, or sand that trickled through old father time’s hand, it could change without notice and the joy of sunshine in their lives could change to dramatic dark scenery, bringing trouble with a capital T. Though what else could possibly befall them, she really didn’t know. Ordinary everyday problems would be bliss in comparison to what they had been through in the past and that’s all she could hope for, for the future, that any trouble would be domestic like most everyone else in the world. 

“Jace, would you like tea, dear?” Faith asked as she popped her graying head out of the door to check on the young woman who had left the kitchen and the children at dinner to take some much needed air

Turning at the considerate question, Jace smiled at the woman. Faith was part of the family in a very big way now, not that anyone dare say, but Grace’s mother was everyone’s idea of the eternal grandmother and all the children at Destiny loved her, not to mention most of the adults too. “I’ll wait a while longer, thanks.”

“As you wish, dear, want me to bathe Elena?” 

She grinned at the request, because Faith took every opportunity to take over in that department, well, any department that she could really. Grace didn’t know what she was missing not having her mother stay with them. “Sure, I’ll be along soon to read her a story and say goodnight.”

“Jake needs help with his math, though he’ll not tell you and Lisa…”

Quirking an eyebrow in puzzlement at the vague mention of her eldest daughter, who always managed to end up the center of attention without really trying, “is there a problem with Lisa?”

“Boy trouble I think.” Faith answered as she closed the door and retreated back into the house. 

“Boy trouble, she’s only twelve!” Jace’s face was a picture as she considered that option. No, it couldn’t be, her mind grappled with the possibility, failing to notice a rider cross the sight of the horizon and canter down to the stable area. 

Jace felt a hundred as her mind considered all kinds of possibilities with Lisa, not that it was a problem, and it wasn’t…really. After all, she was only twelve and what did kids know at that age? Precisely, what did they know…everything probably! Was this the time for the talk about the birds and bees, or was it less subtle these days with sex and procreation as the terms? Whatever, it didn’t matter…she’d have to speak with Catherine and together they would solve the problem. As her mind wandered, it literally overstepped lines as she wondered about Jake. Who was going to tell him about the facts of life? Somehow, no matter how strong-minded Catherine was, she didn’t see her doing that. Her lover was a real softy when it came to the crunch, at least with her and the children. Jake, yes Jake…now maybe she should talk with her dad and see what he had to say, good call! 

“Hey there, am I late?” 

The wonderful resonance of the voice she loved throbbed through her as she closed her eyes relishing the emotions and …just being here.

Catherine Warriorson smiled indulgently, removing her gloves while stepping surely up on the decking, walking toward her love. As she did so, she took in the wonderful glow of a woman seven months pregnant, and this time, she could see it with her own eyes, well, one anyway. With Elena it had been a heightening of other senses, but this time she was going to be around to see the birth come hell or high water! Maybe water wasn’t such a good term, especially with Jace. Her smile grew wider as she looked at her lover, she was…great. Stupid kind of word under the circumstances. It didn’t cover half of what she felt, but what did you say when all the words you needed had already been said and all that mattered was that you could hold the person you loved close every night and say I love you? Simple, sure, but so very right. Who could ask for more? She certainly didn’t. 

“So, am I late for something? You look anxious.” Kneeling at the smaller woman’s feet, she was rewarded with a wonderful smile that lit every electrical circuit in her body. Particularly  so when lips captured hers and she was allowed to indulge in the most basic, but fantastic expression of human desire, passion and love, with a simple kiss. 

“No, never late. Not you, Catherine. Heck, you wouldn’t allow it, would you?” 

Grinning widely, Catherine pulled at her chin and winked, “Not if it had anything to do with you.” 


“Of course, would you expect anything else?” Tracing a gently finger over Jace’s lips waiting for her reply.

“No, not from you anyway. How was the ride?”

“Good, but I need to remember that the nights are drawing in. It’s almost black for me at this time of night.” 

“What do you mean?” She was concerned that the blindness that still afflicted one eye wasn’t coming back in the other, causing total blindness again. 

Holding her hand up beseechingly, Catherine laughed, “Don’t worry, it’s just darker out than I thought. I’ll take Tralargon out earlier in the future, or better yet, I’ll have a chaperone.” 

“Chaperone, yeah right!”

“Now what do you mean by that, Jace, I wonder?”

“You hate riding with anyone else. It’s a chore when you go with the kids.”

“Says who?”

“Says your expression,” Jace grinned at her. She didn’t want to upset her partner but it was true.

Giving her a strained look, Catherine considered the comment, “Maybe you’re right, perhaps you’re not, I could change.” 

“In everyone’s dreams, you love to ride alone.” 

“I’d give it up for one thing.” 

Laughing at the comical expression on Catherine’s face, Jace knew she was being teased, “What would that be?” 


“Me? What do you mean?” 

“When you finally ride with me, it will be like the fairy stories. The curse of riding alone will be removed and I’ll be happy to ride with anyone ever more.”

Giggling at the description, she gazed lovingly into the blue eyes she loved, “One day perhaps. Not yet.” Her eyes strayed to her bulging belly indicating her incapacity; at least she chose to conveniently think so. Riding wasn’t on the top of her list of activities, ever!

Placing a gentle hand on the wonderful bulge, Catherine smiled tenderly, “One day it will be then, for now, how about dinner?”

“Okay, but we need to help the kids with homework first at least…”

“At least?” 

“Which one do you want to help, Jake with math, or Lisa with…social studies?”

Placing her arm around her lover’s swelling body; Catherine considered the choices. “You choose. I’m easy.” 

Glancing up at the strong chin and the innocent remark, Catherine didn’t know the full facts. Dare she play it to her advantage? Yeah, pregnancy gave you certain strategic advantages. “You take Lisa and in an hour we’ll have dinner while the kids watch TV before bed.” 

“Right there with you, babe,” dropping down to snatch a quick kiss as they entered the house.

Jason Bardley wasn’t sure how to tell his wife, never mind his eldest daughter and her partner about another dilemma that had occurred as his eyes looked out onto the teaming mass of scurrying figures traveling speedily to their next destination. He was so caught up in his own thoughts he failed to hear the rap-tap at his office door or it opening at the lack of invitation.

Clearing her voice a fraction higher than normal to drag the chairman’s attention to her presence, Constance Waverley stood patiently waiting for the man to turn, “Are you okay, Jason?” 

Spinning on his heels, the older man gave her a surprised but warm glance and stroked his chin seriously for a moment before answering. “I’m okay, not so sure about others though.” He pointed to the leather sofa in his office and motioned for her to sit down as he crossed the room and sat down opposite her.

“Can I help?” 

The company was doing pretty well, she knew that, and to the best of her knowledge there wasn’t anything untoward happening in the industry and she should know, being the President of the corporation. 

“I wish you could but it’s a family matter. Not sure anyone can help at the moment.” The man softly remarked as he hung his head a fraction, so not like him. He was a wonderful figurehead and always full of beans. Catherine had been very astute to have him take on such an ambassadorial role on behalf of the company. She knew she was grateful for his support as he did all the backslapping she hated. To her, it was the perfect collaboration and one that was reaping immense benefits. These days they had actually diversified out into the record business. That had been Jason’s call and a very lucrative one at that.

“I’m a good listener, if that will help?” Constance smiled warmly at the man. He did look down in the dumps. Normally, he was a very placid kind of guy but if something disrupted his family in any way, he was apt to worry like any loving head of the family unit.

“Let me think on it. Did you need me for anything?” Turning his attention to why the president was in his office unexpectedly.

“Sure, anytime. I wanted to be the one to tell you this, Jason, rather than it coming from inter-office gossip.” Looking down at her hands clasped tightly together on her lap.

Eyebrows rose at the term ‘gossip’. It couldn’t be anything to do with the fact that the woman opposite with him lived with her PA, which had been a seven day wonder at the time over ages ago. “Go ahead, you have me intrigued. Want a coffee?” about to stand and ask his secretary to do the honors.

“No! No thanks, Jason. I’ll give you the low down and get out of your hair. I’m sure we both have better things to do than commit valuable time to office rumors.”

“Then by all means tell me and we’ll do just that.” His grey eyes grew serious as he waited for her to begin. 

“It’s about Lucy.” She looked up. The man gave her a startled look but motioned for her to carry on.

“She hasn’t been at work for over a week. Her superiors thought she was sick but there hasn’t been any communication and there’s some unrest that since she’s your daughter, she can do as she pleases.” Constance shook her head at the comment. You had to nip this kind of rumor in the bud before it flowered into a dangerously weed choking sensible thought. 

“A week you say. I didn’t know that. I thought she’d only been gone a day.”  At his absently spoken words, Constance wondered if this was the family problem. It seemed likely. 

“I see. You have word from her?” 

Standing up, his manner wooden, he walked slowly over to the desk, “I guess, in light of what you are saying, I need to talk with you. I received this letter in my mail this morning.” He opened his drawer and took out a small envelope and slowly returned to the woman and held it out for her. 

Constance gave him a sympathetic stare, “If you’d rather I didn’t read it, that’s fine with me…”

“Please, Constance, I’d welcome your input. I’m wondering how to break this to my family.” The man allowed the envelope to be taken from his listless hand and he sat heavily back down on the sofa.

Opening the envelope and taking out the single piece of paper, she scanned the content of the simple letter quickly and then turned compassionate eyes on the man. 

“What do you make of it?” 

Staring at the contents again before committing herself, she then placed it back in its envelope and dropped it on the table between them. 

“Do you think it’s true?” 

Pushing his hand through his thinning head of grey hair, the man gave her a close look and finally nodded his head. “I thought she’d settled down and was ready to go back to college. How wrong I was. I couldn’t have imagined her doing this; it’s so out of character. She’s the sensible one. Now, if it were Jace…” He trailed off as they considered the ramifications the mention of his eldest daughter brought with them, or more to the point, her partner…Catherine Devonshire Warriorson.

“Jace wouldn’t have considered this kind of action. She seems so sensible.” 

Jason mused that for a moment before he replied. “Don’t be taken in by my eldest child’s innocent face. She could have taken this action. In fact, she has done worse in her time.” He wasn’t being reproachful, merely pointing out a salient fact about his daughter.

“I guess she’s changed since she met Catherine. I haven’t seen that streak.” 

“Don’t bet your last dollar on that. My little girl has deep waters running, Constance. Fortunately for her, they are for the good of other’s usually. Catherine and she make a fine pairing, believe me.” 

Constance smiled as she considered that, and it was probably true. The two women they knew had very deep waters. This wasn’t the issue here though. They had another daughter who had gone and done her own thing. “What are you going to do?” 

Sighing heavily, Jason stood up again. To keep moving meant he had something else to take up a little of the stress sitting around created in him. “I have to tell her mother and then there’s the matter of Jace. I don’t want to upset her at the moment. It’s only a couple of months before the twins are due and Catherine said she was suffering from high blood pressure, which she was being particularly belligerent about.” He smiled as she recalled that conversation. Catherine had been pulling her hair out because Jace was being awkward, so like the women in his family.  

“You don’t say. Have you thought about getting in touch with someone who can help in this kind of thing?” Constance knew just the person for the job and she did owe Catherine a favor. What better way to pay up.

“You mean not tell my family and try to sort it out without them knowing?” Jason hadn’t considered that but now that Constance mentioned it, it was a good idea. 

“Sure, why worry them. Initially it could all be one of those spur of the moment things and she changes her mind.” Constance stood up ready to do whatever he wanted. 

“You have someone in mind…that can be discreet, mind you.” 

“Discreet is her middle name, and anyway, you know her.”

“I do?”

“Absolutely. Serena Dusterly!” Constance grinned as she saw the recognition dawn in his eyes.

“Will she take this on though? It isn’t exactly her kind of thing anymore.” He remembered the private detective. She was the one who helped when Lisa had been kidnapped, though from what he recalled, these days she was a busy and selective detective. 

Giving Jason a warm smile as she opened the door to leave his office, “She’ll be only to happy to help, trust me.” 

Nodding his head wearily, he watched her exit his personal space. He then turned back to the outlook below him, his mind churning over not only the contents of the letter but the fact that his youngest child hadn’t been at work for a week and he hadn’t known. Alison was going to kill him for that, he knew it! He couldn’t help himself, however, as he muttered to the turmoil of human energy below him.

“For god’s sake. Why, Lucy, why, why, why did you need to take off and elope and with him of all people?”

Faith Thornton watched the animated features of Lisa explaining her current predicament to her adopted mother, who had the most endearing quizzical expression she had ever seen on anyone, especially someone like Catherine, who appeared to be in total control most of the time. Jace had taken the easy option, it looked like, and she suspected that the other half of the Warriorson partnership hadn’t enlightened her partner to the subject matter. Should be an interesting showdown when Catherine finally found out that Jace had duped her into this one. Turning, she smiled, shaking her head, as Jace waddled toward her. It had been a constant source of amusement with the rest of the family that the blonde had put on excessive pounds over and above what her obstetrician recommended. Not that anyone would dare say that to Jace. She had the hormonal instincts of a bull after the matador waving a red flag if anyone dare touch on the subject. No one dared!

“Hi, Jace. Have you solved Jake’s mathematical problems?” She walked toward the smaller woman, who was heading for the kitchen in search, she had no doubt, for a snack and dinner was ready too!

Jace grinned, giving a thumb’s up sign, “Piece of cake. He knew it already, but I had to convince him of the fact. Catherine finished with Lisa yet? I’m starving.” 

Faith pursed her lips at the question and shot her a knowing wry glance. “You didn’t tell her what the subject matter was, did you?” 

Grinning, Jace winked, “She volunteered, the subject was irrelevant…at least, why? Is she struggling?” 

Opening the door to the kitchen Faith laughed softly, “Yes, she is, and my dear, you might have to pick up the pieces later and those pieces, I might add, will not be from Lisa.” 

Rolling her eyes at the thought, but chuckling since she could picture the consternation on her partner’s face, they entered the kitchen and Jace’s stomach growled incessantly at the delicious aromas that attacked her senses. “I’ll save her from Lisa’s clutches in a few minutes, heck; she has Elena and the twins to consider. We can call this…a trial for the future.”

Why was she such a pushover when it came to Jace and the kids…oh yeah, she loved them! Could she take a rain check on that at the moment, pondering Lisa’s new problem.  Her question, what was making love?

“Catherine, you haven’t answered me yet. I’ve been waiting patiently, like you said.” The red-haired child stood next to the chair Catherine was thankfully sitting in, her arms now obstinately crossed over her chest.  

Closing her eyes for a fraction of a second, wondering how to answer her eldest daughter, didn’t they do this kind of thing in schools nowadays? “Well, it’s like this, Lisa. You fall in love, your hormones kick in and…then you get married. There, how is that?”

Lisa scrunched up her face at the reply, her eyes giving her Mother a strange stare and opened her mouth to ask another question, “That’s not what Tommy Cambridge at school said! I’m gonna tell him he’s wrong and that you are right because you’re older and know these things.”

Catherine gave the redhead a cagey glance, “What did Tommy say…exactly?”

“Oh, you don’t want to know that, Catherine, he was being yucky!” Lisa looked longingly toward the TV. Her program was on soon and she was now bored with this.

“Princess, I do. Please tell me.”

“Okay, he said that people who liked each other got naked in bed and had sex, which made babies. I don’t know exactly what he meant by sex though, Catherine, but I understand what love is; I like your answer better.” The girl replied her innocent appreciation of the explanation made Catherine gulp back a chortle of laughter.

“Thank you, Lisa,” closing her eyes as she realized she’d been let off the hook - though she’d find out what this kid, Tommy, was doing spreading stuff like that to little girls.

“Are you tired, Catherine?” Lisa leaned into the chair and stroked the bang that had fallen over her mother’s eyes and smiled gently at the older woman. You had to take care of her tall mom because she couldn’t look after herself sometimes. That’s what she’d decided because her mom got into lots of trouble, even more than she did!

Opening her piecing blue eyes, they softened to a warm, loving gaze as she winked at her little princess, “I’m hungry, princess, why don’t you watch your TV program and I’ll read you a story when you go to bed. What do you say?” 

The delight that crossed the child’s face made Catherine glow inside. The simplest of actions you did for this child had the most amazing effect. She was always so grateful and loving, yes, loving was the word. “Cool, I’ll look forward to it.” Tugging at the woman who obligingly stood up and smiling kissed her head and made for the door. 


Turning back reluctantly, hoping she didn’t have to answer another sensitive question, “Yeah?” 

“I love you, Catherine. That’s why I know you are right.” Lisa grinned and switched the TV on, her attention now on the flickering images on the screen. 

Chuckling softly Catherine left the room and entered the kitchen area, her face still wreathed in the tender smile she had upon leaving the child. 

Jace and Faith watched the tall woman enter and both women were amazed at the expression on her face, Faith in particular, who had seen her struggling earlier. 

“Hi, love, how was the social studies lesson?” Jace asked, tongue in cheek, trying desperately to stop the grin that threatened to burst out on her lips. 

Hearing the mirth in the tone, she looked at her partner suspiciously, “You knew!”

“Me? I knew what,” Feigning ignorance, however unable to stop the wicked teasing gleam entering her eyes.

“Forget it, I’ll explain later.” Catherine knew that would irritate both women in the room, since she saw them giving each other secret glances and wry smiles. That’ll teach you both! 

“Oh, come on, Catherine, please, that’s unfair.” Jace pleaded and knew she had given herself away as her partner gave her a long interested stare. 

“I told her that your hormones kicked in, always a problem when you’re growing up and that they work themselves out when you’re fifty…if you’re lucky!” the nonchalant way she spoke had the other two women in the room shaking their heads. 

“Catherine! What did she ask you?” Jace waddled around the table to stand as close as possible to the woman who she was sure was teasing them...then again…this was Catherine and serious was her middle name. 

Tapping the end of her own nose gently, Catherine gave her a serious expression, “Now that’s between me and our daughter. If you wanted to know, you should have been there. Faith, something smells wonderful and I’m starving.” 

A low groan emanated from Jace as she glared at the woman sitting patiently at the table, her head turned away. She was unable to see the teasing smile on Catherine’s lips while she winked at Faith, who shook her head and opened the oven door with a smile. “A casserole, beef in Guinness, one of your favorites.” 

“Marvelous! Jace, are you going to sit down and join me?” Catherine switched her profile to look directly into the green eyes of the woman she loved. Grinning at her slowly, she reached out to tenderly touch the swelling belly next to her, “the twins will be hungry.” 

Grinding her teeth as she sat opposite her lover, her mind now trying to work out if Catherine really had explained to a ten year old that hormones were the answer to the birds and the bees…on reflection, maybe they were. As the food was placed before them, Faith joining them to enjoy the meal too, Jace looked up and felt her own hormones take a sudden trip on a merry go round as the all-seeing blue eyes of her mate gave her a sensual appraisal that had everything else disappearing rapidly into the background. 

Oh, what it was to be in love and be loved, absolutely awesome! Bring on the birds and bees anytime.

Constance waited patiently for her call to be transferred to Serena Dusterly. The person who had answered the call had tried to have her call back or leave a message, which she wasn’t prepared to do. Her schedule today was hectic and the chances of her being free when Dusterly returned her call was a long shot. Clare would see to it that the call was diverted to her but three of her meetings today needed her total attention, her mind elsewhere with the Bardley domestic problem wouldn’t go down well at all. 

As she waited, her fingers flicked through the personnel file of Lucy Bardley. She was wayward in many respects; this new stunt showed that clearly. However, she did have a natural business acumen that her line manager commented several times on in her monthly progress reports. There was even mention of a particular innovation she’d brought to the department that had saved the company money. Not a vast amount but a savings nonetheless, probably why no one wanted to rock the boat at first, especially since she had the family contacts. Even if they had proved useless, Jason was on the same wavelength as his daughter-in-law…no preferential treatment for family. You gained recognition by your own endeavors not because you were related to the owner of the company. Though it could be said that Catherine hadn’t followed that route as she had been left the Xianthos Empire in her father’s will. 

Staring at the personal details of Lucy’s file; the woman was over twenty-one and hadn’t finished college. Though sometimes that happened, it didn’t always mean you could get on in life. It did throw a spanner in the works for certain professions. Strangely enough, according to this information, she had been studying physiology and physics, a far cry from what she was doing at Xianthos. 

“Ms. Waverley?” the voice at the end of the phone pulled her attention back to her call. 

“Yes, Ms. Dusterly?” 

“Yes, what can I do for you? It’s been a while since we last spoke.” The calm but interested voice asked, straight to the point. 

“Yes, it has. I wasn’t sure you would remember me.” 

“How could I forget you, or, at least, the situation we were all in? It changed my life, as you know.” Serena Dusterly glanced around her office space. It was comfortable and friendly, allowing people to relax when they entered and not feel intimidated, as she knew many did who sought out a private detective. The last two years had allowed her to help people she never thought she could and have a very prosperous business. Her reputation for solving cases the authorities had long since given up on had grown enormously, largely because she was backed by a wonderful monetary legacy for people who couldn’t afford to hire someone under normal circumstances, from this woman’s boss.

“Yeah, I guess. I have a problem…at least someone I know does. We need your help.” Constance didn’t want to beat about the bush either. This woman had proved she could be relied on to do a good job in extremely difficult circumstances, albeit this wasn’t a kidnapping but it did affect the family in other ways equally as important. 

“Do you want to arrange a meeting or…”

“My life at the moment is one long meeting, unfortunately. How about I courier you some details and you make the call to set up a meeting when you’ve read the file?” She carefully slipped all she had on Lucy Bardley into a special envelope ready for a messenger, along with a note detailing the problem and with hers and Jason’s personal numbers enclosed. 

“That’s perfectly okay with me. Send it over and I’ll make sure I get to it today.” Dusterly didn’t consider the problem critical, as the woman seemed more interested in her business meetings. It was probably a fact-finding mission for an important deal or something like that.    

Constance realized she wasn’t giving the matter her best and shook her head at the phone cradled in to her cheek. “Sorry I’m a little vague. Would you look it over immediately when you receive the information? You’ll understand when you do and why I’m not happy about talking over the phone.” 

Hearing the urgency creep into the voice at the other end of the line, Serena changed her tack, “Sure, I’ll do it immediately.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that and so will others; the file will be there within the hour. I will speak with you soon and thanks again.” Constance heard the reply as she replaced the receiver. 

Sighing heavily she pressed her internal intercom.

“Yes, Constance?” 

“Clare, I have an envelope on my desk to go by special courier. I need it at the destination within the hour. Are they here for the first meeting in my conference room yet?” 

Claire heard the importance laced in the tone, noting down the request. She would find out later what the problem was, “Yes, all in there. Do you want me to arrange for a break in an hour?” 

“No, I have to close this deal quickly; I have another meeting across town in two hours. Make sure the envelope gets there. It’s vitally important.”

“Sure, right away.” Claire replied as the intercom was shut off abruptly. When she was less than polite, or abrupt would be a better term, it meant that Constance had a lot running through her mind and some of it hard to handle. Calling the courier service and arranging the collection, Claire went inside her boss’ now empty office, picked up the A4 manila envelope and walked back to her office. Pulling out the log sheet, she filled it in for such a transaction. As she did so she read, with astonishment, the recipient; 

Ms. S. Dusterly, SD Investigations

Her mind began to race…Oh no, not more trouble!

Luke Cruisal looked over his shoulder to the young woman in the jeep in the garage forecourt. As he did so, the woman looked up and caught his gaze; a wicked glint appeared in her eyes as she winked provocatively at him. He knew he attracted women, lots of them, and in America he found it quite the feast of glorious luscious females to entice him. He’d not been without female company since he arrived a month ago. Having arrived in L.A. from Auckland, his first port-of-call had been the hotel bar and within an hour was the proud possessor of three phone numbers and the chance for a quick one with the waitress in his room when her shift ended, which he’d taken up with pleasure. His days of being a lowly sheep hand at the beck and call of everyone on the farm were a thing of the past. If he could get his plan to work, and so far it was working out perfectly. Besides, who was to know about his indiscretions, no one knew him in this town and who the hell would care…this was the hive of anything goes, wasn’t it? 

He watched as the woman, a leggy blonde, stepped out of her vehicle and slowly made her way over to the payphone, which was no more than three yards from where his vehicle was parked. As he watched her he was sure she exaggerated the wiggle of her walk just for him and if she walked like that all the time, she should have a ‘danger’ sign placed on her for all red-blooded males. This was one gorgeous chick and he wouldn’t mind a piece of her action. Dare he take the chance of striking up a conversation with her? She stopped beside his door and adjusted the strap on her sandals. Her rear attribute, now positioned for his appreciation, was a come on if ever he saw one. Glancing toward the restroom he smiled, noticing the coast was clear and wound down the window of the car, grinning at her. 

“Having a good day?” His accent drew the young woman’s attention immediately. She appraised his blonde good looks and the natural looking tan, making him look even more handsome than his facial features already were. Someone had been good to him in the good looks department. 

“Yeah, and you?” Her voice was nasal and at odds with the rest of her, but that was a mere detail and ignored in the situation. He wasn’t out to have a conversation with her, his thoughts definitely only of a carnal nature.  

“I am now, nice…vehicle you have there, is it new?” He smiled at her although his words belied the smoldering expression in his topaz eyes. 

A tinkle of laughter was his answer as she smiled wickedly back at him, “yeah, my daddy is generous.” 

Raising his eyebrows a fraction he wondered if this was a chance at an heiress.

“Nice daddy. You live around here or passing through?” His eyes never left her face as she delicately licked her lips, obviously knowing the effect this would have on him. 

“I’m a typical L.A. brat. What about you?” Her eyes flicked over his broad muscular shoulders, thinly veiled in a T-shirt accentuating his physique.

“Arrived here last week on my way to see a friend,” he replied amiably. It was true he was going to see a friend, not that they knew it yet. 

“I see.” Stepping away from the car the woman looked toward her jeep and gave a slight frown.

“Want to have a drink sometime?” Luke had learnt that allowing chances to slip through your fingers wasn’t in his remit. Worse case scenario was you got rejected but the compensations were usually better odds. 

The woman laughed at the invitation, “I thought you were going to see a friend?” 

“It can wait. What do you say?” He was given a once over then he saw the frown again on her face as her eyes strayed toward her jeep. Luke smiled slowly as he turned and gave the restroom area a quick glance. Yep, her companion was back. 

“Another time maybe,” she turned to walk away then quickly fished in her pocket throwing him a small gold lettered business card.

Luke picked up the card that landed on his lap. The woman quickly moved back to her own vehicle and before he could comprehend what to do next the vehicle sped out of the forecourt.

As he glanced down at the gold lettering it made him laugh. Taking chances could be worth it on occasion.  His eyes once more took in the details of the card before tossing it into the glove compartment. Reversing out of the parking area, he decided to delay his trip to see a ‘friend’ who was more like a meal ticket. If he played his cards right, and he would since he was certain she was smitten and easily manipulated, it was going to be like leading a lamb to the slaughter. 

Babe, do you mind if I go to bed? I’m bushed. I can hardly keep my eyes open.” Jace smiled weakly at Catherine, who was holding her gently on the sofa as they watched a murder mystery together. It was only eight thirty but her energy levels were at their lowest ebb and she really couldn’t do much more than have a quick shower and drop into bed. As much as she adored the woman who held her tenderly, the bed was definitely more comfortable. 

Glancing down at the small blonde held snuggly in her arms, Catherine pouted for a few moments and then winked, “Want me to come too?” 

“Don’t be silly, love. I know you won’t sleep. Thank you though.” Jace reached up and kissed her lover gently. Her support and devotion had been second to none and nothing was too much for Catherine if Jace asked her for something or to do anything.

“Are you sure?” Her eyes strayed for a second to the program they had begun watching half an hour earlier. 

Jace smiled slowly, “I want to know who did it. You watch the program and you can tell me tomorrow, okay?” She levered herself up awkwardly then chuckled delightedly as she was virtually picked up out of the sofa and placed lightly on the floor as she was surrounded by the long arms of her lover. 

“Got that, lover, want me to tuck you in?” Catherine placed a delicate kiss on Jace’s lips and the pressure changed within seconds to a deep passionate encounter that had both women breathing heavily. 

Placing a hand to move the bangs out of Catherine’s eye, Jace grinned at her, “Hold that thought, my love. Who knows, I might surprise you and be awake when you venture to bed.”  

Both women knew that wasn’t going to happen, however the image it created was a wonderful prospect. “Okay, I’ll tuck you in later after your shower.” Bending her head she snatched a quick kiss and turned Jace toward the door. They both knew the leave taking could and had, in the past, taken longer than any program they’d watched.  

“Goodnight, love. Don’t forget the alarm when you come to bed.” Jace blew her a kiss as she waddled out of the room.

Smiling at the remark, yeah when had she ever forgotten the alarm? Sinking back down into the sofa, Catherine felt bereft without Jace in her arms; it really wasn’t the same without her here, no matter how interested she was in the program. Her eye strayed back to the screen quickly becoming engrossed in the mystery again as another murder was committed.    

Fifteen minutes later, at the interval, Catherine silently opened the door to their bedroom and smiled tenderly when she heard the slow breathing pattern of Jace, who was fast asleep. Padding over to the bed she pulled the duvet closer to her love and stared down at her, glorying in the wonder of having this special woman in her life, in all their lives. Bending down she kissed Jace’s forehead and turned back to the hall, softly closing the door behind her then quickly checked in on the children. Needless to say, Jake was prostrate on the bed with most of the bedding on the floor, which was his habit. The kid was always warm and they’d had to ask him to wear shorts to bed on the odd chance that one of the girls might turn up unexpectedly at his door. He hadn’t liked the suggestion but had complied eventually, especially when Lisa had flown into his bedroom one night scared of a lightning storm. No one was sure who was more embarrassed, Jake or them, when Jace had to explain to an inquisitive Lisa that boys were slightly different body wise. Closing the door she walked past it to Lisa’s. Their princess was tucked up tight holding onto her old and tattered rag doll, which was about the only thing left of the personal possessions from her biological mother. What a tragedy that the child’s mother wasn’t able to experience this wonderful kid growing up, troublesome yeah, but the benefits they gained from her in their life far outweighed that a thousand fold, or so she thought anyway. Closing that door she made her way to Elena’s room and peered inside. Their youngest was a light sleeper, which was why she had the room farthest from the others. It made sense as they were growing up and went to bed later. Disturbing the child when she’d gone to sleep was a fate far worse than death. Even Faith was apt to agree, which was something since Elena was, although she wouldn’t admit it openly, her favorite. Elena could be the most irritable kid on the block for hours afterwards. Now looking at her peacefully asleep, Elena looked like a picture of serenity, until tomorrow when her boundless energy made them all look like the most unfit family on the planet.

She made her way toward the stairs where she saw Rio waiting patiently. He was Lisa’s constant companion when she wasn’t at school and even slept at the foot of her bed. But after a certain time, the dog changed allegiances for a few hours and came to sit with Catherine until she took him out for a short walk before bed and he would then quickly and remarkably silently leave her for Lisa’s room.

“Come on, Rio, let’s see whodunit.” She tweaked the dog’s ears gently as they both disappeared down the stairs to the comfort and peace of the sitting room. Life was remarkably domestic bliss and long may that last.

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