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My Everything by Alane Hotchkin

 Introduction

By:
Lillith Blackhawk
 
Welcome back to the Blackhawk Chronicles. 
 
Nikki gave me so much, she gave me life again. I learned through her love that sometimes family is not what you were born into but those you gather along your travels. When I lost my own blood family so long ago, I become a tool for others to wield.
 
For every good in the world there is evil, one must just find the balance. She balances me, even when I stray off course. Nikki is my path and my way home.
 
LB 
 
Prologue
 
Many years ago, in a dark place in a second floor closet, an eight year old girl sat on the hard floor crying. Dinner had long since been finished. The  enticing smells of her mother’s cooking had long since faded away.
 
Having missed her evening meal, the little girl’s tummy rumbled and hurt. It was not the first to be missed, nor would it be the last. The same held true for the punishment time spent locked in the dark closet.
 
 “Please daddy, please may I come out? I have to go potty.” The urgent little voice called into the dark.
 
The little girl’s words went unanswered. Knowing what would happen if she had an accident, the frightened reddish-brown haired child held it as long as she could. Tears streamed down her face as pure fear took her.
 
Not able to hold it any longer, she wet her new Easter dress and panties.
 
As Nikki grew so did her abject fear of the dark and of life itself. The punishments grew more severe as the step-father did what he thought any child deserved. He would beat the wicked ways from her body until she submitted and repented her sins.
 
As an adult Nikki longed for love and acceptance. She would do anything, accept any scraps of attention thrown her way, never questioning the outcome. Nikki lived in a fog until a hand reached through and pulled her home. 
 
Chapter One
Relax and Breathe
 
 
It still seemed so unreal to them that they had lived in their new home for more than two  years. It felt as if it was yesterday that Alex’s parents had passed away. Slowly the house felt as if it belonged to them. Yet, it wouldn’t matter if they lived there for the next eighty years, Alex would always think of it as Alice and Tony’s house.
 
Alex had cussed her parents out many times during the past few months, since inheriting the house. She couldn’t understand why her father hadn’t taken care of the little things or why he didn’t call her to help with the bigger items, like painting the exterior. She would’ve been there in a heartbeat, if only he’d asked.
 
Their death had happened so suddenly, so abruptly, and had bewildered all. Tony and Alice were on their way to meet friends for breakfast when destiny intervened. Destiny and a truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel.
 
The accident that morning took more than those three lives. It took the last remaining shred of humanity from one tortured soul. As others sat weeping openly at the funeral service and again at the gravesite, Alex sat frowning, vowing to find their killer in hell and torture him throughout all eternity, to make him suffer the same as she was suffering.
 
Alex dealt with the sudden loss by not letting the sorrow in. Nikki thought of her lover as strong. She never knew the truth. It was self-hatred Alex had truly been feeling and still did. Alex felt it was her fault her parents had been claimed in the accident. That it was the Fates passing judgment on her for cheating on Nikki.
 
 
Prior to moving in, Alex had the hardwood floors refinished and painted several of the rooms. The first room they drastically changed in appearance was the kitchen. It was in dire need of a makeover. The room still had the fifties motif from when Alex’s parents bought it from her father’s parents.
 
Nikki wanted a large kitchen, so they made expanding the current one their main priority. Scott helped Alex remodel the kitchen. However, he recommended someone else do the new cabinets. Taking her design to the cabinetmaker, Alex was impressed when he immediately grasped her concept. It was during that time that she decided to go to her favorite store in Charlotte and purchase all new appliances.  She made sure they were top of the line stainless steel.
 
Alex built a large island with a special built-in knife rack which Nikki thanked her for many nights afterwards. Nikki loved her island and loved Alex more every day. Completion of the kitchen took a week longer when the new counter tops, made of top-of-the-line granite, were late being delivered. Alex spared no expense in the remodeling of Nikki’s studio, as she called it.
After living in their new home for a month, Alex designed a new deck for the back. Luckily for them, the end of April was unseasonably warm. Their good fortune continued when the concrete company was able to pour the footers right away and Alex was able to start construction immediately. When halfway done, she had to have them come back and pour four more footers. Somehow, when she was finished building it a month later, it was twice the size as the plans for it. She had even built into it a special alcove for her massive stainless steel, special-order gas grill.
 
To Nikki it looked more like an industrial size-cooking stove complete with every gadget known to man. She didn’t care though. It had brought such joy to Alex the morning that  the truck had backed up into their driveway to make the delivery. She was like a kid with a new set of Legos® and of course, they had to grill on it that very night. Alex refused to wait, pouting like a two year old until Nikki agreed.
 
While designing the deck, Alex had also worked on redesigning the windows on the back of the house that looked out onto the deck and backyard. That project of course expanded into new windows for the whole house the day Alex heard a loud crash and swearing coming from one of the upstairs bedrooms. Nikki had been trying to close one of the open windows in the spare bedroom when it came crashing down, causing the glass to shatter.
 
The windows were not only ugly, they were misaligned and let in cold air. On top of all that, they proved to be dangerous because in the entire house, only one window locked. Due to the misalignment, the locks were useless.
 
While replacing the deck, Alex came up with an idea for the back room. It took her another two weeks to find the perfect contractor. Alex wanted someone who could not only do the windows, but the structural work needed fora large bay window.
Finally, four months after moving in, the house looked and felt like a home to them. The contractor was a day at most from being finished. 
 
Alex walked from room to room inspecting the work, ending with the room in the back. She found Nikki admiring the large bay window with a bench seat for watching wildlife in the backyard.
 
Both had taken vacation time off and on, to be there during the process. Nikki wanted to be there because she found the transformation fascinating. Alex was there to keep an eye on the work being done and a watchful eye over Nikki. She didn’t trust people she didn’t know alone with her girlfriend.
 
 
Starting with the kitchen being renovated, then the deck, it snowballed out of control. The bedroom – bathroom would be the last project, Nikki hoped, for quite some time. Alex picked out everything from the tile color, right down to the soap dish for the wall in the shower.
 
Before beginning, Alex hired an inspector to make sure everything was secure enough for the new tub. She opened up the bedroom wall between theirs and the one next to it to make one extra-large room. Since it was not a load-bearing wall, they could do the work themselves.
 
Nikki was ecstatic when Scott helped Alex install the Jacuzzi tub in the corner by the new walk-in closet. She was tired of looking at it sitting in the spare room. When they had the windows redone, Alex had gone ahead and had the tub delivered. It made it much easier bringing it in through the second floor windows than trying to go up the stairs.
 
Alex loved doing all the work and Scott took instruction well. She would’ve done the remodel of the back room also, but they were changing the exterior structure. Alex didn’t want to chance it herself.
 
Alex found herself being more attentive to Nikki’s needs and desires. Alex made sure she wanted for nothing. When Nikki mentioned she saw something she liked, Alex would run out and buy it for her. Sometimes she would give it to her the next day, others she’d wait a week or two. Alex only hoped Nikki would never question her on it.
 
Nikki in turn became more attentive toward Alex. Deep in her sub-conscious, she had an inkling that Alex hadn’t told her everything from that night. Nikki felt that if she gave into all of Alex’s whims, she would never have a need to look elsewhere. Since that night, Alex had lost her temper a handful of times, twice leaving several bruises on her arms and then on her neck when the make-up sex became a little rough.
 
 
All had been going well when Nikki’s life was thrown into a spin. She had not expected it when it happened, it was just so sudden. It was true, there was no love lost between Nikki and her sister, but she had never wished Millie’s death. It had been such a shock that Nikki became depressed. Of course, the depression only lasted a couple of days. Yes, she was upset, but why should she waste her life on someone who couldn’t have cared less if she herself was alive and breathing?
 
When she received the call from the doctor asking her to come to the hospital, she was puzzled, asking what it was about. It couldn’t have been Alex. She was in the living room watching a hockey game. When he told her that her sister had passed away, her response startled him, however, he chalked it up to shock.
 
Nikki said the first thing that popped into her mind. “Good, I won’t have to tolerate her hatred any longer.”
 
It saddened Nikki to lose her last remaining relative. What grated on her more though, was she never had the chance to tell Millie how much she truly loathed her. She chastised herself for feeling that way. Nikki told herself that Millie was her sister, so she should love her no matter what. She just couldn’t do it though. During the several days that followed, Nikki’s emotions were a roller coaster, which in turn drove Alex mad.
 
 
Alex tried to understand what Nikki was going through. She, however, couldn’t quite get to that point. Alex hated Millie and what she had done to Nikki. She’d wished Millie dead many times and now that she was, she couldn’t understand why Nikki was upset.
 
Saturday night, two weeks after the funeral, Nikki was supposed to be ready at seven. They were going out to dinner with Scott and Tessa. It was already seven-thirty and she still wasn’t ready. Alex was furious. She hated being late and felt it made her personally look bad.
 
Finally, she’d had enough, yelling at Nikki to, as she put it, ‘get her fucking ass in gear’, or they were going to be even later.
Sitting on the end of the bed, Nikki listened to Alex pace while ranting and raving at the bottom of the steps. “Alex, I’m hurrying, I just don’t really feel like going out. I have quite a bit of work to do still tonight and I’ve got a raging migraine.”
Nikki knew Alex had already been drinking. She was in no mood to deal with a drunken lover this evening. She still had too much work to do before the night was done. 
 
“We already agreed to go to dinner with them, so just get your ass moving. You making us late is going to embarrass me once again, and I won’t tolerate that.” 
 
Alex polished off the beer she was working on and got another one out, as she heard Nikki walking down the steps to the kitchen.
 
“I’m sorry Alex. I don’t mean to make us late. I wanted to wear my red blouse but I think my red bra is down stairs in the dryer, I’ll just go down and get it, and then I’ll be ready to go.” Walking through the living room, Alex grabbed her arm when she passed her.
 
“Finish getting dressed and I’ll get it for you.” She pushed Nikki aside.
 
Following Alex into the kitchen, Nikki touched her arm. “Alex it’s okay, I can get it.”
 
Without a moment’s notice, Alex turned on her. “I said I’d fucking get it!”
 
Nikki didn’t think about what happened next. She took a step toward Alex to try to calm her down. “Alex…” The next thing Nikki knew she was flying down the basement steps.
 
Nikki suffered minor bruises and a broken wrist.
 
 
It had been six weeks since the accident. Nikki was supposed to get the cast off first thing Monday morning and Alex couldn’t wait. The evidence of her injury only added more guilt onto Alex’s already broken spirit. 
 
Every morning when she woke, seeing the cast, was a reminder of what she’d done. Alex still couldn’t remember what happened. One minute Nikki was walking by her, the next she was flying down the stairs. Alex was thankful that it was only a broken wrist, but to her it couldn’t get any worse. She knew she was out of control and needed to do something about it. She just hoped that Nikki wouldn’t leave her because of it.
 
After that night, Alex watched her drinking. She thought if she cut back, she wouldn’t lose her temper as easily. Alex tried harder to offer Nikki the support she deserved. It was after that incident that she started the bathroom project. Alex was doing the bathroom for herself as much as for Nikki. It was her therapy of a sort. If she kept herself busy, she was less likely to get herself into trouble.
 
 
The new bathroom was almost finished. The last step was installing the marble tile surrounding the tub and Alex planned to have it done by dinnertime. Nikki’s sister-in-law Kirstin and her entourage were set to arrive within two hours and she was getting close to being finished. She had surprised Nikki by taking vacation time in order to get the room done.
 
Nikki was under a great deal of stress at work so Alex tried very hard not to add to it. Nikki knew she was on her best behavior. The advertising agency Nikki worked for was expanding every day and there were only so many hours in a day to get work done.
 
At the quarterly partners’ meeting, Nikki requested another body for her department. She discussed it with Mark and he gave her his full support. It surprised her that the owners didn’t even second-guess her. They just approved it outright. Before the higher ups could change their minds, she called the newspaper with an ad for the weekend edition.
 
Nikki was stressing about who to hire as her assistant. She couldn’t have cared less what the person, male or female, looked like. She just wanted them to be able to do their job. She also wanted someone who was tolerant of, not only her lifestyle, but the other little things in the office area.
 
When deadlines were crashing down, it could get more than a little hectic. The office could get downright violent at times. A few times tempers flared and things were flung around the office. No one took it personally and they always laughed about it an hour or so later. They would then all go for drinks, the first round being on the person who had lost their temper first. The agency was a family that just got a little rowdy occasionally was how Nikki looked at it.
 
During dinner, Nikki had told Alex the good news. 
 
“That is great, Nikki. Now you’ll have a full time assistant. I like your idea of hiring someone who has little or no previous experience in the field. That way they have no bad habits that would need breaking. You can train her the way you see fit,” Alex said.
 
“Mark asked if I would consider interviewing his niece for the job. She was laid off from the company she had been with for five years. I felt funny about saying no, so I didn’t. I’ll give her the same shot as the others. I just don’t want to be accused of playing favoritism.”
 
“Baby, everything will work out. Call her in for an interview. It’s not like you’d be giving her the job without one.”
 
Nikki hoped his niece wouldn’t want the position anyway. Nikki wasn’t too keen on family members working together. After a long internal debate, she called her only to receive an answering machine.
 
Nikki left her cell number for the woman to call her back. The voice on the answering machine piqued her curiosity to see what the woman was like. Her friend, Liz, had teased her, telling her that knowing her luck, she would be a mousy, shy little creature, with horn-rimmed glasses and buck teeth. Unfortunately, she received that precise image from the voice on the answering machine.
 
Nikki went back to filling the dishwasher with their dinner dishes. The doorbell rang causing her to jump. “I’ll get it,” Nikki yelled. 
 
Opening the door she found no one there, only an envelope laying on their doormat. Closing the door, Nikki tore open the envelope. 
 
Hearing her name screamed, Alex ran to see what was wrong. She found Nikki leaning against the front door with a sheet of paper in her hand, the envelope lying on the floor. “Babe, what’s wrong?” 
 
Tears in her eyes, she looked up at Alex. “It’s awful, the things in this letter.”
 
Alex took the paper from Nikki’s hand. Reading it, she became angry.  It laid out all Alex’s past liaisons with women. “I’ll take this to Mahoney. There’s something not right about it.” 
 
She kissed Nikki on the lips, picked up the envelope and left for the station.
 
 
The next afternoon Nikki stood in the doorway watching Alex installing the new shower head. She admired her lover’s body. The way her muscles moved.
 
Alex had on an old pair of ratty black shorts, which had seen better days, and a black muscle tee shirt. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail to keep it out of her face as she worked. Nikki could have stood there watching her for longer and would have if Alex had not noticed her presence.
 
Alex looked up and smiled. She could feel Nikki watching her. It was one of the things that made her such a good cop—instinct. You were either born with it or not. If you didn’t have it, more than likely you would die on the streets in no time. Alex believed it kept her alive and out of trouble in many ways.
 
That same instinct helped Alex sort of make friends with Nikki’s best friend, Liz. She still didn’t like her but knew that she and Nikki were close. Scott had reinforced, on several occasions, that it was in her best interest to get along with Liz.
 
Alex looked up at her once again, after setting the tile she had cut.
 
Nikki saw the wetness in her eyes. “You okay? It looks like you’re almost finished with the tile. It’s beautiful.” She put her hand on Alex’s shoulder.
 
Alex leaned into Nikki, resting her head on her lover’s thigh. “I’m almost finally done with this part, about twenty more minutes. Then all that’s left to do is grout. I’ll grab a shower in the other bathroom then I’ll be down.” She looked up at her questioningly, “I have enough time right?”
 
Running her fingers through Alex’s bangs, she pulled them off her forehead. “You have plenty of time love. The only thing left to do is put the steaks on the grill once everyone gets here. The salads and corn are ready to go, so just relax and don’t worry about a thing. It’s all taken care of. I’ll get the plates and stuff ready while you’re finishing up here.” Nikki kissed her on the forehead before leaving.
 
“I’ll be along shortly babe. I’ll start the grill when I come down.”
 
Nikki smiled. “If you want me to start it for you, just yell down and I’ll take care of it.”
 
 
Alex’s sister, Kirstin, stayed in the kitchen to help Nikki with the rest of the food. Tom helped Alex with the grilling. The kids were in the pool. Nikki watched the kids out the kitchen window, thinking for a moment how nice it would be to have their own children. She pushed the feelings back down to where it came from. Alex made her thoughts on that subject very clear. She didn’t want children. End of story. 
 
She felt someone behind her.
 
“Have you tried to talk to her again about having children?” Kirstin stood by her and watched as the little terrors splash one another.
 
“I tried a couple of times, but it was the same answer. No, end of discussion. So that seals that matter closed. It’s okay though, I can always borrow yours when I want to go to a kid’s movie.” 
 
Nikki tried to act as if it didn’t bother her, but Kirstin knew better. She knew she hurt. She noticed that the cast wasn’t off yet.
“And…you’re okay with that?”
 
 “I have to be, don’t I? I really don’t have a choice.” Nikki looked down at the floor.
 
Kirstin shook her head, sighing. There was always a choice. She would try a different approach to get Nikki to open up to her. “How’s the wrist?”
 
Nikki held the cast up to look at it as if she was inspecting it. “It’s healing. The doctor said even after I get the cast off, it will be a while before I get full strength back in it.”
 
Kirstin laid her hand on Nikki’s shoulder. “Nikki, are you sure that everything is okay? Has anyone ever mentioned anything to Alex about post-traumatic stress disorder? I’ve been reading up on it and I think maybe it explains a lot.”
 
Nikki knew what she was hinting at. Kirstin was the first one to accuse Alex of being the cause of her getting hurt, then all the others followed suit.
 
“Kirstin, everything’s fine. Why won’t you believe me when I tell you that it was not Alex’s fault? As for PTSD, I’ve never seen any of those symptoms in Alex. Please let’s just relax and have a nice dinner. Please? For me?” Picking up the bowl of salad, Nikki headed for the door.
 
Her sister-in-law meant well. Kirstin was always the voice of reason. She was the glue that held the family together. This time however, Nikki’s last nerve on the subject was frayed and Kirstin was twanging it like a rubber band.
 
“I’m sorry Nikki but I’m just a little gun shy believing what you told us, knowing what Alex is capable of.” Kirstin followed behind her after grabbing another round of beers for everyone.
 
“No, Kirstin, I’m the one who is sorry. Sorry that it happened in such a boring way as me carrying a laundry basket downstairs and not watching where I was going, instead of what you’re thinking. I know you would love for it to be a juicier story so you could blame it on her, but it wasn’t her fault. Alex loves me like no other ever could. I’ll never find anyone better than Alex. Can we drop it now, please?”
 
Their eyes met. In that split second, Kirstin knew she was lying and Nikki knew that she knew. However, nothing could be done. If anything was said, it would only send Alex off into a rage. “Okay change of subject then, are you doing any interviews tomorrow and any good prospects in them?”
 
Nikki was thankful for Kirstin finally taking the hint. She loved the woman dearly, but a person could only take so much.
“I have three each day for the next three days, including Mark’s niece. It’s really too soon to tell if any of them will work out. I’m looking for a, how do I put it, fresh face. I want someone who comes without baggage. One tomorrow I think already has some and if that is the case, no thanks.” Nikki smiled at Alex, knowing that she was watching them talk.
 
She could feel the eyes on her, always watching, always seeing.
 
Dinner was the usual crazy affair it was when having children and Alex at the same table. Alex was nothing more than a large kid herself at times. 
 
Turning in early, both fell asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Nikki was thankful for the kids wearing Alex out, that way she could not grill her on what she and Kirstin had been talking about.
 
 
The week started off badly when the doctor thought the cast needed to stay on another two weeks. The x-rays taken through the cast showed the break not to have quite healed enough to satisfy the doctor. Nikki knew what the doctor’s prediction would be without hearing it, especially how her morning had started.
 
Before leaving for her doctor’s appointment, she went to the kitchen to retrieve her cell phone and keys. Neither were where she had left them. 
 
“I’m positive I put the phone on its charger last night and my key ring on its hook by the door. I do it every single night when I get home. It’s become a ritual so much that I even reach for the hook when Alex drives. Where the heck are they?” Nikki thought aloud. She searched everywhere, coming up empty handed.
 
“Duh, why don’t I just call the phone?” Nikki heard ringing on the back deck. “Good Lord, I must have been tired last night. I must have taken out onto the deck when I went to find Alex.”
 
When it happened again two days later, she questioned Alex if she had moved them.
 
Alex’s anger flared. “How dare you accuse me of doing something so childish! Maybe if you weren’t so scatter-brained you’d remember where you left things.”
 
A better idea occurred to Alex. This was working out perfectly, she wanted Nikki as a stay at home girlfriend and this was a prime opportunity to make a point. “Maybe you’re working too hard. I think you need to quit this job. Your only job should be to take care of your girlfriend, which would be me.”
 
“Alex once my projects are done and I get someone hired, why don’t we take a vacation? Someplace to relax and do nothing for a week, what do you say?”
 
“I still think you don’t need this job. It’s too much stress on you. I’ll agree to it only if you take two weeks off though.”
 
Nikki smiled. She’d luckily diffused Alex’s anger without much of a confrontation. “Okay two weeks then.”
 
 
To further Nikki’s miserable week, her first interview was a disaster. She caught him lying within the first ten minutes of the interview. He tried telling her he went to the same college that, unbeknownst to him, she had attended. To make matters worse for him, he told her he graduated the same year as she. Knowing everyone she graduated with, Nikki knew he was lying. It was not very encouraging considering he was the one of the three that had sounded the best.
 
Then several of the interviewees were no shows. Wednesday afternoon arrived and the last one was waiting to be shown in. 
 
“Damn this is so frustrating. None of them are looking promising.” Shaking her head in frustration, she continued talking to herself, which she seemed to do a lot of lately.
 
Nikki studied the resume once more before having the receptionist show her in. “Rory Scarpella. It’s an interesting name at least. God, I really hope she’s not a loser like the others. Somehow, I don’t think she will be, seeing as she is Mark’s niece. I’m just not sure I’d feel comfortable hiring her. Damn! 
 
She buzzed the receptionist. “Please show Ms. Scarpella in.”
 
The office door opened and she looked up. Nikki was not prepared, for the door opening so fast. She was momentarily stunned at the first sight of Rory. Nikki covered the shock quickly. She didn’t want the woman to think she was rude for just sitting there and staring at her, or worse, think she was giving her the once over.
 
The woman that stood before her resembled her knight in shining armor. One that had rescued her in many of her nightmares and carried her away from the fires of hell on her metal horse. Only Rory was of a slighter build.
 
The woman before her stood more than  six feet tall. She had midnight black hair, pulled away from her face in a French braid, and the most amazing blue eyes. The woman had an aura about her that said ‘Don’t screw with me, because I can snap you like a twig’. Nikki was sure that under the suit jacket, there was strength to back up that attitude.
 
Nikki extended her hand as she stood. “Hello, I’m Nikki McLoud, please come in and have a seat.”
 
The woman walked across the room as if she owned it. Rory looked at the cast and frowned. Nikki knew exactly what she was looking at and cast her eyes downward. The other woman took her hand. It was a warm, almost hot, yet gentle handshake.
 
“Rory Scarpella. It’s nice to meet you.” Rory looked at Nikki’s arm then their eyes met. She knew by the barren look in Nikki’s eyes that she had more than likely been hurt on purpose.
 
“Why don’t we start out with what you think you can bring to the company.”
 
Their eyes met.
 
“I bring loyalty.”
 
Nikki heavily sat in her chair. One thought screamed through her mind…She knows.
 
An hour later Nikki opened her office door to show Rory to the lobby. She shook her hand once more. Rory’s hand lingered. Nikki looked up to see blue eyes almost turned violet, looking down at her.
 
Nikki cleared her throat before trying to speak. “I, um, I’ll call you by Friday to let you know what I decide.”
 
 
Three hours later Nikki still sat at her desk. She was worried. “Shit, out of all the people I interviewed, Rory’s the only one with any potential. I really don’t think I should hire her though.” 
 
Nikki didn’t want to be accused of playing favoritism due to Rory was the bosses niece and she knew how Alex would react to such a good-looking woman working for her.
 
The second thought plagued her more than the first. She hadn’t been able to concentrate on work after meeting Rory and as a result had accomplished nothing the rest of the day. Nikki noted that she had caught her looking at the cast twice during the interview, yet she said nothing. Rory didn’t even ask what had happened.
 
Rory’s single word kept replaying in her mind all afternoon.
 
Loyalty. It was as if she was looking right through me. My gut instinct says yes, my brain says don’t be that stupid. God, what am I going to do?”
 
Unable to make a decision right then, she would have to think about it for a day or two. Packing up her files and laptop, she headed home to start dinner for Alex.
 
 
Arriving home, she found Alex already at work in the bathroom, completing the final step which was grouting the tiles on the floor.
 
Alex grumbled as she worked. “Shit, this stuff is gross! Give me a fucking bloody crime scene any day. At least that I don’t have to touch. Eww…”
 
Nikki leaned against the door much as she had less than a week ago, watching her. She hadn’t seen Alex since the morning before. Alex called to say they were working a bad case that had just come in and that she would probably be there all night.
Nikki stood admiring her lover, trying to push down the desire that welled up every time she saw Alex’s muscled body. Her eyes traveled down Alex’s body slowly, admiring every square inch of her. The black muscle T-shirt, the boxer shorts…all made her heart race a little faster. Nikki’s eyes landed on Alex’s right arm and hand.
 
 
Alex concentrated on grouting, letting her mind drift. She never knew anyone was behind her until she heard the gasp. Alex swiveled around in a defensive crouch with the trowel in her hand, ready to strike.
 
“Fuck, Nik, you scared the shit out of me. What the hell where you thinking sneaking up behind me like that?” Alex realized she was screaming at Nikki and felt instantly ashamed. She sat back on the floor, letting the anger seep from her body. “I’m sorry babe, you just scared me.”
 
“Alex, uh… your arm. When did you…why did…a dragon?” Nikki couldn’t form a complete sentence. She just stared at Alex’s inked arm.
 
“Do you like it? We had a scene on Main, across from the tattoo place, so Scott and I hopped in while we were there.” She held her arm up for Nikki to see. Right below her elbow, on the inside of her lower arm, started the dragon’s head and body. Its tail wound its way around her arm and hand.
 
“It’s beautiful, I admit, but why?” She seemed not to comprehend why Alex would get a tattoo of a dragon on her arm.
 
“Why not? I’ve always loved dragons. I think it’s awesome.” She saw the puzzled look still on Nikki’s face. “Why did you get the ones on your ass or on your shoulder? Cause you wanted them right? Well, I’ve always wanted one of a dragon. It kind of goes with the sword down the middle of my back, you know.”
 
 
Nikki saw the smile on Alex’s face. She knew she was being teased about one in particular on her rear, of a smiley face. She had always found the little yellow smiley face funny, so she had it tattooed on the opposite side from the yin/yang symbol. Nikki couldn’t stifle the chuckle.
 
Alex looked up at her with a questioning look. 
 
“Sorry, I am thinking of Smiley. Yes, I can understand it I guess, but why on your arm?” Nikki sat on the floor next to Alex. Drawing her finger down the edge of the tattoo, she was careful not to touch it, knowing it was still fresh and sore.
 
She contemplated for a moment before answering, trying to reign in her rampaging emotions. “I’ve always thought of the dragon as powerful. As a protector. God knows I need some protection on those streets out there now.” 
 
Something in her seemed to snap suddenly. Alex bent, put her head in her hands, and sobbed.
 
The sight terrified Nikki. Alex never broke down like this. Something must have happened that she didn’t know about. Rubbing Alex’s back gently, she kissed her temple. “Love, what’s wrong? What’s happened?”
 
She was met with silence. She wasn’t sure which was worse, Alex yelling or the silence. At least if Alex was shouting Nikki would know what was wrong. Nikki moved her arm up to Alex’s shoulders and held her as she sobbed. “Shh…love, talk to me, what’s happened?” 
 
A terrible thought occurred to her. “Alex did something happen to Scott?”
 
Alex shook her head.
 
Nikki was very worried. “What then, help me to understand - what’s going on?”
 
Alex looked up at her. “I love you, babe, you know that? Oh, Nik…” 
 
Nikki could see the anguish on her face. 
 
Alex noticed the cast still on Nikki’s arm. “Your arm, the cast, they didn’t take it off…”
 
“Oh Alex, honey, what happened? I know this isn’t about my arm. What’s happened?” She held Alex’s head between her hands as best she could, and kissed her on the lips. “Tell me please.”
 
“Rachel....”
 
Nikki controlled her nerves. “Honey, did something happen to the captain’s daughter?”
 
Alex nodded. “She stepped into it at a liquor store. She never saw it coming. God, I hope she didn’t. She stopped to get some wine for her date last night. The place was being held up. The guy saw the uniform and panicked. He blew a fucking hole in her. Pete says she died instantly. The shotgun blew a hole the size of a football in her stomach. She didn’t stand a chance.”
Crying along with her, Nikki held Alex’s shaking body. Together they grieved for a lost friend. Seeing her lover sob tore at Nikki’s heart.
 
“They’re still out looking for the bastard. May God help him if they bring him back alive, because he’ll never make it to trial in one piece. Oh Nikki, you should have seen Mahoney when we told him. It was as if someone tore out his life. He was always so proud of her. His marriage almost broke up because of Rachel becoming a cop. Her mother didn’t want her to follow her father’s example. God, this fucking sucks! It’s not right. She was too young, had too much of a life ahead of her. I could understand if it was me or even Scott. We’ve been around the block for a long time now. She just got started. Now it’s all gone. Her life just extinguished. Fuck!” Alex threw the trowel that was at her feet across the room.
 
“Don’t we have enough problems with some psycho out there taking shots at us without this happening? Shit! Mahoney says if we get another letter or anything unusual, he’s going to have to call the FBI. He doesn’t want to do that, he wants to keep this internal. Now this…Fuck. How much are we supposed to take?”
 
Nikki tried to soothe her. She felt the panic rise in her own heart. Someday it could be Alex laying on the ground bleeding to death. She looked down at the tattoo again. Now she understood why Alex felt the need for it. It was defiance against reality.
They sat in silence, neither knew for how long, each drawn back into their own nightmares. Nikki, terrified she would lose Alex in the same way and Alex, afraid once again that she wouldn’t be there to protect Nikki. The ring of Alex’s cell phone brought them back to the present.
 
Nikki stood and motioned that she was going downstairs, knowing that Alex needed to talk to Scott in private. Nikki’s started to cook dinner. Even if Alex wasn’t hungry, it was something to keep her mind off the vision of Alex lying on the ground bleeding, dying.
 
 
Later that evening after a subdued dinner, they were relaxing in the living room when it dawned on Alex that Nikki hadn’t mentioned how the rest of her interviews went.
 
Nikki lay on the leather sofa with Alex stretched out between her legs. Nikki gently stroked her fingers through Alex’s hair, causing Alex to moan. Reaching up, Alex grasped Nikki’s hand and placed a gentle kiss on her palm.
 
“How were the rest of the interviews? Is there any potential among them?” Alex gently kissed her palm.
 
“A couple of real losers, one kinda possible, and one probable. I feel somewhat funny about the probable one. She’s Mark’s niece. I just don’t want anyone to say that is why she got the job.” 
 
Alex muted the television program they were watching. “Love, no one will think that. Everyone knows you are the fairest person around. They all know you would hire the best person for the job and that that kind of thing doesn’t influence you. If she’s the best for it, hire her. They’ll know that’s why she was hired. Have faith in them, the way they do in you. It’ll all work out. When did you tell her you’d let her know?” 
 
Alex turned, sliding up so they were lying face to face.
 
Nikki lifted her head to give Alex a quick kiss on the lips. “I told her I’d let her know on Friday. I just don’t know, I guess I worry too much about things. I mean she is the best for the job and seems like a nice person. I think she’d get along with everyone. I really don’t think there would be any personality conflicts or anything like that.” She smiled at Alex hovering above her. “I know I’m just being a worry-wart.”
 
Alex lowered her head to kiss her and was met halfway. She felt the fire building deep inside her. She needed Nikki, needed the connection it would bring. 
 
“Would you like to retire to our bedroom?” Alex wriggled her eyebrows.
 
In response to Alex’s question, Nikki grasped her head, attacking her mouth with her own. She gained entrance into Alex’s mouth with her tongue and was lost instantly in the feeling it gave her. “No. Here. Now.”
 
With those words, Alex couldn’t hold back. She reached up through the leg of Nikki’s boyshorts, finding what she was aching for. Alex drew her fingers through the wetness and was rewarded when she heard Nikki gasp.
 
Nikki could wait no longer. She felt Alex slowly enter her first with one finger, then two. She wanted more, needed more. Alex pushed up her shirt and found her prize. She greedily sucked on the rigid peak. It was almost more than Nikki could take.
After each slow withdrawal, Alex slowly entered again. She savored each moment of feeling  Nikki under her. She straddled Nikki’s leg. Nikki’s came up off the leather couch every time Alex thrust into her. She needed more.  Alex could feel the fire building.
 
It was too much too fast for both of them. Alex had to stop rubbing her center against her. She needed to focus on Nikki.
Nikki needed to come so badly it hurt. Alex wouldn’t let her though. Just as she was about to drop over  the edge, Alex pulled out of her and whispered in her ear. “Shh, not yet love, not yet. You haven’t said please.”
 
Nikki knew by the tone of Alex’s voice that her face sported a wicked grin. Alex loved to tease her like this, to bring her to the brink of insanity and leave her there until she begged for release.
 
She knew what Alex wanted. Nikki gave herself freely. Alex wanted to feel as if she owned her in every sense of the word. Alex needed that control. It was the only thing that made her feel grounded. Nikki also knew the reason for the rough sex. It was Alex’s way of releasing the emotions pent up from the previous evening, especially the anger. “Alex please…don’t stop.”
Nikki pulled Alex’s head back to her chest. “Please…” Alex ran her tongue around the hardened nipple, but didn’t touch it.  
 
“Alex please, no more teasing.”
 
Alex then switched to the other breast, teasing it in the same fashion. “God, Alex….please!”
 
Sucking it hard into her mouth, Alex squeezed it at the same time with her free hand. She knew it drove Nikki mad when she did that. Sometimes she could make Nikki come just by that alone.
 
Today however, Alex needed more. She needed to feel in control. She wanted to hear her scream…to beg. Alex slowly ran her wet fingertips up the inside of Nikki’s thigh.
 
Alex could move  like lightning. Nikki never knew it was coming until Alex plunged into her hard. “YES! God, yes!”
 
Alex thrust harder and faster. “More baby, please.” Alex pulled out and added another finger. Nikki could feel the orgasm building. She needed more. She wanted all of Alex inside of her. The couch however was getting too slippery. They wouldn’t be able to continue much longer before they slid off onto the floor.
 
Nikki had to stop Alex so they could move either to the floor or to the bedroom. “Darling stop…hold on. We need to move off the couch. It’s getting too slippery. Alex…stop!” She put her hands on Alex’s shoulders to push her away from her breast. Alex’s eyes were glazed over. “Hon, as much as I love what you’re doing we need to move before we fall and one of us gets hurt.”
 
Alex’s hand slowly stilled inside of her. She focused on Nikki’s face in front of her. Her hand leaving Nikki, she put her fingers up to her mouth and licked each one of them. “Mmm, you taste good. Want a taste?” Alex dipped her fingers back into Nikki and brought them to her mouth. Nikki licking them drove Alex wild.
 
Alex watched as Nikki licked the first one slowly, and then greedily sucked them all into her mouth at once. Their eyes met and Alex was lost once more in need. 
 
“Bedroom now…I want you.” Alex stood, picked her up, and carried her into the bedroom.
 
 
The following morning Nikki groaned as she crawled out of bed, then once again as she sat down behind her desk at work. With their lovemaking spanning into the morning and Alex getting rougher as the night went on, she was more than a little sore. Thankfully, the morning was cool so no one would question the long sleeved turtleneck. She needed it to cover the bruises on her arm and neck, along with the bite marks on her neck. Luckily, her cast ended before her elbow, making it easier to put her clothes on.
 
Last night was the roughest Alex had ever gotten. They both knew why. It was what Alex needed to deal with Rachel’s death. When Nikki left for work, Alex was still asleep. She left her that way, knowing that Alex needed the extra time to try to regroup.
Nikki reset the alarm to eight and sent a text message to Scott telling him that Alex would be a little late that morning. Scott sent a message back telling her he was going to be a little late himself. He had only gotten an hour of sleep.
 
 
Nikki sat at her desk sipping coffee, hoping the caffeine would wake her up. She swallowed several aspirin then shifted in her chair to try to get a little more comfortable.
 
Picking up the phone, she muttered, “Okay first things first, let’s call Ms. Scarpella, hire her, and ask her how soon she can start. God, I really hope Alex doesn’t freak out. I want this to work out.”
 
Nikki silently hoped Rory Scarpella wouldn’t answer, that way she could just leave a message. She lucked out when the voice mail answered. “Ms. Scarpella this is Nikki McLoud regarding the position you interviewed for. I would like to discuss the details with you. Please ring me back either here at the office or on my cell phone. Thanks and I look forward to speaking with you soon.” 
 
After hanging up, Nikki remembered she didn’t leave her number. “Damn. Well, hopefully she still has my business card.” 
There was something so disconcerting about the woman that it made her question her decision again. Not able to concentrate on work the rest of the day, her mind kept returning to the striking woman.
 
The return call came later that night as she was taking out the garbage. Usually Alex took it to the curb, however, she was still at the station with Scott. Having very little to go on, they had yet to find the shooter. Nikki had eaten a small salad to tide her over until Alex got home. As she came back into the house, her cell phone rang.
 
“Hello, Nikki McLoud.” Her heart skipped a beat when she heard the voice.
 
“Hi, this is Rory. I’m returning your phone call. I really hope this means I am being considered for the position.”
 
There was a long pause as Nikki found her train of thought. “Actually, Ms. Scarpella, I wanted to discuss when you would be able to start.” Nikki chuckled. “So, yes I guess you could say you’re being considered for the position.”
 
“Please call me Rory. I can start next Monday if you like. As I said yesterday, I’m free to start whenever you would like. Monday though would give me time to get some boxes unpacked.” 
 
Nikki heard the excitement in Rory’s voice.
 
 
She really wanted this job for more than one reason, some of which she would keep to herself. One of the reasons being she wanted to prove that she was not the black sheep of the family, nor the total screw-up they thought her to be.
 
One way or another she would prove to them that she had what it took to do the job. Meeting her girlfriend, Lydia, had, in some ways, helped her along that path. In others, it made things worse. Some members of her family were very bigoted, while others couldn’t have cared less. Those that didn’t hate her for being gay didn’t want her around because of the crowd she hung around with in her youth.
 
When she was young, the police made numerous trips to Rory’s parents’ home with her in tow. When she was very young, the police would return her with just a warning. As she got older, the charges became worse and they started to stick with her. Then she barely graduated high school. After graduation, Rory worked for her uncle’s landscaping business. Her family hoped that would keep her out of trouble but that was not to be the case.
 
For the first year, everything went well until she got bored. Once again, Rory started hanging out with old friends. The final straw with her parents came when the police called them at three in the morning on a Saturday to tell them that their daughter had been arrested for being involved in an armed robbery. She spent six months in jail. All of this had been most embarrassing for her father, to say the least, considering he was a homicide detective.
 
Since that day, she had been trying to prove herself. She needed them to be proud of her, to believe in her.  
 
Plus, she hated to admit it. Something about Nikki pulled at her. She couldn’t figure out what it was, only that she saw deep pain in Nikki’s eyes.
 
“Um, Monday will be fine. If you want to stop by the office for the paperwork before that just let me know. If you do so,  I’ll already have you in the system and your badge will be ready to go first thing in the morning.” Nikki prayed she would say no. She didn’t want to take the chance that Rory would see anything she shouldn’t.
 
“That would be great. I’ll run over first thing in the morning. I then want to go to the mall to pick up a few items. It’s quite handy to have the mall practically next door, especially since I finally just moved in yesterday and need quite a few items.”
 
 
Nikki’s heart rate doubled. She knew she had no right to ask, but she had to. Her curiosity wouldn’t  let her keep her mouth shut. Nikki was unsure where Rory lived because her resume had her old address on it. 
 
“Which mall?” Nikki held her breath.
 
“It’s called Eastview Mall. This place has everything, plus it’s easy to get in and out of. I really hate shopping. I always know what I want before I go, so I just go in, get what I want and leave. Do you live close to it?” Rory was greeted with silence.
 
 “Which street exactly do you live on?” Nikki asked quietly.  Her head started to pound, knowing what the answer would be.
 
Nikki remembered seeing a house for sale on the next street but there were no signs of someone living there. She panicked. She almost dropped the phone when she heard the address. It indeed was the house around the corner.
 
 
Rory noticed she was once again greeted with silence. “Nikki?” She wondered if there was something wrong with her new employer.
 
“Actually you live right around the corner. My back yard overlooks the winery. So ah, Rory, I guess I’ll see you in the morning. I need to finish some things before I relax for the night.”
 
Rory tried to think of something to keep the conversation going. “I guess I should go too, I’ve kept you on the phone for quite a while. It’s late, I haven’t eaten dinner yet, and I’m starving for Italian. Where is the best place to go around here?” 
As an afterthought she added, “Have you eaten dinner yet?” Rory didn’t know why she asked. It just slipped out.
 
 
Nikki thought for a moment. “The best place I know of is at the mall, in the new front section . As for the other, I had a salad when I got home. Thank you for asking though. I really need to get going. I have work to get done this evening. Bye.”
 
When she hung up, Nikki had to wipe her sweaty palms on her shorts. There was something so familiar about this woman. She couldn’t believe it. This was not a good thing. It was a bad thing, a very bad thing, indeed.
 
 
An hour later, Nikki sat at the table putting the finishing touches on her budget for the next quarter when the doorbell rang. “Who the hell can that be?”
 
Then her mind turned another corner. “Oh God, something’s happened to Alex.”
 
She threw her pen onto the table and ran down the hall to the front door.
 
Nikki yanked the door open. “Alex…” There before her stood Rory, holding what looked like a take-out bag.
 
 
Rory stood rooted to the spot gaping at the stunning vision before her. Nikki wore shorts and a  tank top that had only thin spaghetti straps holding it up. That mouth-watering site alone was enough to make Rory’s heart race.
 
Then her eyes strayed to the tattoo on her arm. She found the tattoo interesting, not expecting a woman like Nikki to have one. Then she saw them. Rory felt the anger rise in her. Anger like she had never known before. Rory stared at the bruises and bite mark.
 
Rory started to comment but stopped herself. It was none of her business, not really. Yet something told her to make it her business, to protect this woman. “Nikki…”
 
 
Nikki felt Rory’s eyes travel across her body. She knew where her eyes landed. It wasn’t  on her tattoo or on her large breasts. They settled on what she wanted to conceal the most. Nikki watched as Rory’s emotions played close to the surface.
 
The only way out of the situation was to pretend she didn’t know where Rory’s eyes were fixated. A chill swept through Nikki, causing goose bumps to break out on her arms.
 
“Rory what are you doing here?”
 
“Dinner?” Rory held up the shopping bag.
 
“I, um, well…why don’t you come in? It seems to be getting cooler, let me just throw on a shirt. Why don’t you go on through to the kitchen and I’ll meet you there?” 
 
Turning to the staircase to make a quick exit, Nikki pointed in the direction of the kitchen.
 
Panicked, Nikki raced to the bedroom. “This is bad. If Alex comes home and finds Rory here, especially with dinner, she’ll lose it right on the spot. She’ll blow like a volcano.”
 
Nikki knew she had to get Rory out of there as fast as possible without making it too obvious. Throwing on a long sleeve T-shirt Nikki raced back to the kitchen.
 
“Sorry it took me so long. What brings you here?” Nikki leaned against the island as Rory started to unpack the food she’d brought.
 
Rory paused for a moment, “You need more than just a salad, I was starving, and I hate eating alone. So here I am. I thought I might as well do the paperwork tonight also. That is if you happen to have it on-line.”
 
Nikki looked around the kitchen, her eyes settling on the phone. She could just call Alex to see how long she was going to be. That way she would know how long she had to get Rory out of there, or she could try another approach. She stood by the island in the middle of the kitchen twisting the ring on her finger.
 
 
 
Noticing the nervousness, Rory thought she was causing it. Thoughts raced through her mind. Nikki was not a lesbian like she had thought. That Nikki was actually homophobic and had found out that Rory was a lesbian. It then hit Rory. Alex was a guy.
Rory stood up ready to bolt from the house. She was afraid to know the true answer. For a reason she couldn’t fathom she didn’t want to find out it was a man. She wanted to keep the hope alive in her heart that it was a woman. That revelation alone wanted to make her run all the more.
 
Rory froze. She couldn’t do this. Yet, she looked at Nikki out of the corner of her eye. Nikki was so damn good looking but it was more than that. She watched Nikki raise her head and heard her gasp when their eyes met. Both felt the thread of connection.
 
 
 
Nikki opened her mouth to say no. What came out was, “Yes.”
 
Rory’s dark eyebrow shot up. She repeated Nikki’s words. “Yes?”
 
The trance was broken when she felt Rory’s hand on her arm. She had to regain her composure fast so that Rory wouldn’t think she was coming to work for a flake. “Yes, uh, yes I would love something to eat. Let me get some plates. Would you like a glass of wine?”
 
 
 
Rory finished unpacking the dinners. “Yes, that would be nice, but only if you are going to have some. Don’t open a bottle just for me. I hope you like chicken and shrimp dishes. I got one of each with a couple of dishes of pasta.”
 
She watched as Nikki tried to reach the wine glasses on a shelf that was way too high for her. Stepping behind her, Rory reached the shelf easily. Setting the glasses on the counter, she realized she had unconsciously put her left hand on Nikki’s shoulder. Leaning above Nikki slightly she could easily whisper into Nikki’s ear.
 
Rory could feel the heat coming off the smaller woman’s body in waves. “Mm, you smell good. What perfume is that?” Rory couldn’t help herself. She sniffed Nikki’s neck.
 
 
 
Nikki froze. What if Alex walked in? What if she didn’t? She stepped away from Rory. “It’s Black by Kenneth Cole.” Then without even thinking she added, “Its Alex’s favorite.” At those words, she saw a flicker of sadness wash across Rory’s face.
They ate while Nikki filled Rory in on what would be required of her. She also told her about the project that was starting on Monday. After Rory shared some about herself and what ideas she could contribute, they discussed exactly what Nikki did. Not once did either ask the other anything personal.
 
Before they realized it, three hours had passed, all the while one question still burned in Rory’s mind. Finally, she had to ask it, no matter what the outcome.
 
While Nikki was pouring them another cup of coffee, Rory’s question came unexpectedly. It startled Nikki.
 
“Nikki, if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly does Alex do for a living? When you came to the door, you looked a little worried. Is his job dangerous or is it something else?” Sitting on the sofa, she sipped her coffee. Rory watched Nikki smile, then chuckle.
 
“Ah, Rory I think there is something you should know. Alex is—” The ringing phone interrupted Nikki.
 
Nikki knew without answering who it was. She could feel it. Her stomach flipped and she felt nauseous. “Excuse me while I get that.” Hitting the answer button, she walked into the kitchen. “Hello?” 
 
It was indeed Alex. She sounded tired and miserable. Nikki sighed in relief when Alex told her she was going to be another couple of hours. Nikki watched as Rory walked into the kitchen and set the cups into the sink.
 
Alex heard the dishes clanking in the background. “I thought you were going to wait to eat when I got home?”
 
Without turning around Rory called to Nikki to tell her she was going to head out and that she would see her on Monday.
 
It was too late to cover the mouthpiece on the phone. Alex had heard her. Rory saw the stricken look on Nikki’s face.
 
“Uh, Alex…” She held the phone away from her ear as Alex went off on a tirade.
 
Rory could hear Alex’s shouting across the room. Her mouth dropped open in shock.
 
Nikki’s eyes met hers and pleaded to her-please don’t.
 
Deciding to stay after all, Rory pointed at the living room and walked away.
 
“Alex, please calm down. Remember I hired Rory. Well I thought it would be a good idea to go over all the paperwork tonight so she could just jump into work on Monday. Yes, I’m waiting to eat when you come home. We just had coffee and I was just putting our coffee cups into the sink. Now please tell me what you were going to say.” Nikki hadn’t realized until that moment that tears were running down her face. She knew she would more than likely pay later. Nikki thought about how nice the dinner with Rory had been and she smiled.
 
Rory stood in the living room trying hard not to eavesdrop. Her mind raced. Alex was a woman. She pumped her fist in the air in joy and mouthed ‘YES’. Then just as quickly, she wondered why Nikki lied to Alex about dinner.
 
What outraged her though was Alex’s language. That and she sounded like she was accusing Nikki of something. Rory disliked the woman already and she had yet to meet her. When Nikki came into the room, Rory stopped in her tracks, realizing she had been pacing.
 
Nikki looked up at her, tried to say something then stopped. Rory could tell she was gathering her thoughts so she gave her a moment.
 
“As I was going to say before the phone rang, Alex is a woman.” Nikki then did something she hadn’t done in years. She blushed. “Do you have a moment to talk some more or do you have to be going?”
 
Nikki motioned to the couch. They both sat, Nikki in Alex’s La-Z-Boy™ and Rory on the leather couch. 
 
“Alex is a homicide lieutenant and they’re working a big case right now. She called to say she won’t be home for a couple more hours. If you’d like we could talk some more, if you’re not too tired.”
 
Nikki didn’t know why but she suddenly felt shy. She wanted this woman to like her. What she didn’t want was Alex messing it up. It was bad enough that Alex and Liz didn’t get along. Not feeling comfortable around Alex, she and Nikki usually went shopping or to lunch when Alex was at work.
 
Rory knew she shouldn’t ask but she was curious. “What case are they working on? Is it anything that’s been on the news?” Kicking off her shoes, she gathered her feet up under her while she waited for Nikki to answer.
 
Nikki watched her get comfortable, startled at how at comfortable she looked. She looked like she belonged in Nikki’s home….their home. Nikki knew she had to get her thoughts in check. Damn why did Rory have to be so striking? Worse yet though, why did she feel this connection to her?
 
“Um, they are still looking for the guy that killed Rachel. She was their captain’s daughter and a fellow police officer. It’s kind of made all of them on edge, angry and jumpy. She and Scott have been putting in long hours every day. And then there are the letters Alex has received during the past few weeks.”
 
Rory could see the sadness and loneliness in Nikki’s eyes. She also saw something else—fear.
Nikki flinched inwardly. Why had she told her about the letters? Alex would have a meltdown if she found out. For reasons unknown to Nikki, the words just tumbled out one after another.
 
 
 
Rory moved from the couch to kneel in front of Nikki. Taking Nikki’s hands, she looked at the cast on her arm. Rory felt the anger flame once again in the pit of her stomach. She made a conscious decision to go out on a limb. This woman needed her. Rory knew it deep in her soul.
 
“Nikki, I know we don’t know one another, but if you need to talk, I have good ears. I know a little something about cops. My father was one. He was a homicide detective. He was killed three years ago by a ten-year-old gang-banger. I know, for instance that they work ‘til they drop from exhaustion. I also know they can sometimes have foul tempers.” She looked down at their intertwined hands.
 
“I also dated one for a couple of months. She had a temper to match all tempers and damn did she like…” Rory looked up into Nikki’s eyes, squeezing her hands.
 
“She liked rough sex. She actually craved it. Now don’t get me wrong, I like things kind of wild sometimes, but not brutal like she did. During those six months we were together I was in the emergency room twice.” 
 
She ran her fingertip along Nikki’s jaw line. “If you ever need anything, do not hesitate to call, especially with her receiving threats. Don’t take any chances, please.”
 
“Alex loves me. She is kind, gentle, and one of the most loving people I know. She would never hurt me. I know what you mean about being wound tight sometimes though. This case has them all tied in knots. None of them are getting any sleep or relaxation and it’s starting to take its toll on them. Alex works off her frustration by doing projects around the house. Would you like to see one of her projects?” 
 
Nikki tried to steer them off the subject of Alex’s temper. If Alex knew they were having this conversation, there would be hell to pay.
 
She tried hard to convince Rory that Alex was a good person and not capable of the brutality that Rory described. In a way, she was also trying to convince herself. Nikki knew Alex never meant to hurt her, not really. She just couldn’t control herself sometimes and things happened. Nikki showed her around the house, saving Alex’s bathroom project for last.
 
Rory looked around the room in awe. “She really did this? Wow, it’s wonderful. She’s quite talented. May I look around in more detail?” Nikki nodded and Rory studied the room.
 
“This is just amazing. Do you think she’d consider remodeling a couple rooms in my house? I’m sure she’ll need to work off some more tension. Do you think I could ask her?” Rory was crouching and looking at the ceramic tile on the floor.
 
“Of course you can. I’m sure she’d be flattered if you asked. Why don’t we arrange dinner sometime this week?” Nikki had been leaning in the doorway watching her when Rory stood and walked toward her.
 
“So Nikki, what kind of talents do you have? I am sure quite a few.”
 
Nikki thought for a moment then, shook her head. “Sorry, nope. Alex has all the talent. I’m pretty much just, well…I can cook.” Nikki walked away down the hall, not realizing she was talking aloud. “Just useless otherwise…”
 
Rory was stunned by what she heard, hoping she had heard her incorrectly. She put her hands on Nikki’s shoulders to turn her around. “What did you say?”
 
Nikki looked horrified that she’d spoken aloud. “Nothing…It was nothing.”
 
As they walked down the steps, Alex walked in the front door. The scowl on her face told Nikki she was in a foul mood. Before the situation got out of hand, she tried to diffuse it. “Alex this is Rory. Rory, I would like you to meet Alex.”
 
Alex shook Rory’s hand hard. “Hello, I’m Alex. Nikki’s wife. It’s very nice to meet you. I’d like to thank you for keeping her company tonight. I’m sure it gets lonely for her sometimes.” 
 
Rory noticed Alex put her arm around Nikki’s waist, squeezing tight. She thought it best to change the subject.
 
“I was admiring your work around the house. You are quite skilled, my compliments. I was just mentioning to Nikki that I was going to ask you if you would like to do some work for me. I have a couple of rooms that are in need of some major renovating. I especially love the tile and the glass block shower in the one bathroom.”
 
 
 
Alex looked down at Nikki. She knew that Rory would’ve had to go through their bedroom to see the bathroom she was talking about. She was not in the mindset to entertain tonight. To top it off she was pissed at Nikki for letting anyone into their bedroom when she wasn’t there. Alex wondered what else the woman was doing in their bedroom.
 
An evil grin spread across Alex’s face. She was going to have a little fun at their expense. The other two women saw the look. One was terrified of the look, the other begging her to do something stupid, so she could kick the shit out of her.
 
Alex grasped Nikki’s left breast. “So did Nikki also show you our bedroom? We originally had a queen size bed, but I decided we needed a king size. You know how it is. Those smaller beds are sometimes just not big enough to play reindeer games in.”
 
Alex knew she’d hit on something when she saw Nikki blush and tense up. She then watched as Rory took more of a defensive stand.
 
Wanting to push Rory into making a mistake, Alex egged her on. “I also made the sleigh bed frame. I made it out of ash wood, one of the hardest woods. I wanted it to be sturdy. I hate it when the wood on a headboard splinters from overuse, don’t you?” 
Alex looked directly into Rory’s eyes, challenging her.
 
Rory wasn’t about to back down. “Yes, that is such a bitch when that happens, especially when metal rubs against the wood of an un-sturdy headboard. So, do you think you would be interested?”
 
“Love to, let me know when you want me to look at the rooms. Were you just on your way out then?” Alex moved to open the front door.
 
 
Rory looked at Nikki and saw nothing there, absolutely nothing. That made her even more worried about Nikki. Rory wondered if that was how she coped. If she just shut off everything inside. 
 
“Yes, I guess I was. I’ll call you about the rooms once I get settled in. Nikki, thank you for making me feel welcome in a new community. I guess I’ll see you on Monday then.” She turned as if to leave and hesitated. 
 
She turned back to Alex, deciding to get in one last jab. “Do you happen to know of a good dojo around here? I already have several black belts and was training to be a master in Kendo.”
 
 
Alex contemplated it for a moment. Was Rory threatening her? Was Rory saying she could handle herself and to watch out? Alex’s eyes narrowed and Rory knew the woman caught her meaning. “I’ll ask around the station and let you know.”
 
Alex closed the door then turned toward Nikki and glared. “So did you have a good evening?”
 
Nikki was obviously afraid. “Do you want me to start dinner, sweetie?”
 
Alex whispered in her ear. “No.” She ripped off Nikki’s shirt and threw it across the room. “You belong to me.”
 
Nikki inwardly sighed. She just had to relax and breathe. It would be done soon. She prayed that it wouldn’t go on for hours like it sometimes did when Alex was angry.
 
Sometime later, she looked down. She remembered. Good screaming, then an overturned table. A broken vase, then more good screaming. Bad screaming as Alex carved an ‘A’ with a piece of the vase into her skin, above her pubic hairline. Then blood.
The only word heard from Alex the whole time was one word repeated again and again— “Mine.” And lastly she remembered hearing Alex’s cell phone ringing in the background. Nikki listened to her yell ‘YES!’, when Scott gave her the news that they had found Rachel’s killer.
 
When Alex went to the den to answer her phone, Nikki looked at the shambles of the living room. As she picked up the mess, she chastised herself. She muttered as she cleaned. “Oh Rory, if only you could help me. I’ve lost hope. Now it’s just a matter of helping Alex through this because she needs me.” 
 
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