By: Stoley



ITALIAN TRANSLATIONS: NOTE: Some translations will be rough as their use doesn't always equate with the exact definition. Some words may also be slang or dialect sensitive.

Cara Mia - Loved one or Dear one Un Momento - One moment (wait)

Bene - Good Che Brutte - What Ugly (slang)

Basta - Enough said, enough of whatever (dialect slang) Stupido - Dumb

Capisce - Do you understand? Perche - Why?

Andiamo - Let Us go (to leave) Che Cosa - What is



The author can be reached at






Shayne awoke to a blinding light in her face and a killer train wreck occurring in her head.  Groaning she sat up and swayed for a moment as her stomach decided what it wanted to do.  'I did it again.  I've got to stop this overindulgence before I really do some damage.' She groaned to herself and tried to convince herself to stand up.  As her head spun she decided she'd wait just a few more minutes for the ride to come to a complete stop before she tried to disembark.


Suddenly, she felt a hand run up her back and she spun around to find an unfamiliar blonde in her bed.   "Good Morning love!" the woman purred and continued stroking Shayne's backside. 


'Oh Shit! What the hell have I done?' Shayne thought and closed her eyes hoping that when she opened them, this would all be a sick nightmare.  Peeking one eye open she realized that the nightmare was a reality. 


"Who are you?" Shayne asked moving away from the woman's touch. 


The woman started fully awake and narrowed her eyes at Shayne; "I take it you don't remember last night?"


"Nope, not a thing!" Shayne responded annoyed and feeling sick.


"Wonderful!" The woman muttered and got out of the bed and began picking up her clothes that lay scattered around the room.  Shayne looked over and realized that even drunk she had pretty good taste.  Quickly shaking off these thoughts she replied, "I’m really sorry.  I didn't mean for this to happen."


The blonde paused at the bathroom door and half-smiled; "It's o.k.  Do you mind if I take a quick shower?"


"No, go right ahead.  There are towels in the closet and…. go ahead." Shayne finished lamely.  The blonde nodded and closed the door behind her.  Shayne got up and threw on her robe and headed towards the kitchen.


"What the hell were you thinking?" She muttered under her breath and began to make a pot of coffee.  She measured out two scoops and then, after a second thought, she dumped another one in the basket.  "I think I need maximum strength this morning."


Waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, Shayne stood looking out the window at the skyline from her condominium.  In the beginning, she had liked the bright lights of the big city and that it teemed with people going about their daily lives.  Now, it was just a very lonely existence and her mind instantly went to the house she had seen last weekend.  The property had offered solitude and peace and it was far away from the city.  She could sit on her patio or walk in the woods without seeing anyone.  It was two miles from a small, quaint little town.  Dragging herself away from the window she pulled her favorite mug down from the cabinet and poured herself a cup of coffee, adding a splash of cream she moved to stand back in front of the full length window looking out over the awakening city.  Lost in thought, she didn't hear the woman approach from behind. 


The blonde stood at the counter and looked at the tall raven-haired beauty that had made a play for her last night.  Sighing, she realized that nothing was going to happen and she at least had one night to remember.


Shayne heard a noise behind her and turned to see the blonde standing in the kitchen watching her.  She couldn't even remember her name.  "Hi, would you like a cup of coffee?" Shayne offered.


"No, thank you.  I have to get to work." She replied and laid a card on the counter.  "Here's my number if you ever want to get together again.  Thanks for last night."


"Oh yeah." Shayne replied and followed the woman to the front door and watched her walk down the hallway toward the elevators.  Shayne went back into the apartment and looked at the card on the counter.  "Marie Jenkins, Attorney at Law.  On wonderful Shayne, I can just see the lawsuit now!" she berated herself and tore the card in half and put it in the trash.  She knew that she wouldn't be calling the woman, nor would she ever see her again.   Making up her mind, she moved to pick up the phone and punched in the numbers.



CHAPTER 2      


Alea unlocked the door to her shop and went inside.  It was going to be another beautiful day and she wished that she didn't have a new shipment coming in today. She would rather be outdoors enjoying the first of the spring sunshine than re-stocking the shelves.  The only consolation was that she loved the feel of new books and being the owner she had her pick of all the new publications.   By mid-afternoon she had all but one box unpacked and ripped into with relish as she could see the end in sight.  She heard the front door open and she looked up to see a tall raven-haired woman enter.  She had never seen this woman before but had a weird sense of déjà vu.  Shaking it off, she called out, "Hello".   Shayne looked up and saw green eyes peeking at her over a bookshelf.  "Hi" Shayne replied.  "I'm looking for books on gardening."  


Alea smiled and pointed to a small alcove toward the back of the shop and directed, "all the way to the back".


"Thanks" Shayne replied and moved toward the indicated area.   She needed some books on gardening so that she could get to work on the outside of her new home.  Shayne easily located the shelf and delved through the variety of titles.


The door chimed again and this time when Alea looked up there was no smile on her face.  "Damn" she muttered under her breath and tried to hide behind the short bookcase.  She knew it was an exercise in futility because where else would Alea be when her store was open.


"Hey, honey?" Dale called out and headed toward the blonde. 


"Hello, Dale".  Alea did not like Dale and his roughness, she had done all she could to keep their relationship as friends, but lately, he was pressing for more.


"So, when should I pick you up tonight?" Dale asked cockily.


"I didn't realize we had made any plans Dale."  Alea replied keeping her voice smooth and friendly.


"We do now." Dale smiled and Alea's skin crawled. 


"I'm really busy Dale, now's not a good time." Alea tried to side step the question and get rid of Dale.


"I'm not asking you to go right now.  I'll pick you up at 7 PM."  Dale answered in a manner that sent off warning bells in Alea's head.


"I really can't." Alea tried again.  "I think you can." Dale replied strongly.  "Come on, one drink won't hurt you."


Alea knew that she needed to resolve this issue with Dale and agreed, "One drink Dale and I will meet you at The Woods."


"7 PM!" Dale called out and left the store.


"Damn!" Alea shouted out and kicked over the box of books she had been working on.  "Just what I needed right now.  Like I don't have enough problems and now him!" Alea ranted out loud and moved to pick up the box she had kicked over.  Her finances were precarious at the moment and she didn't have time for trouble.   She knew that is exactly in the direction she was headed.  After her parents died Alea had to make a life for herself and had moved to this town to get a fresh start.  She thought the prejudices would be less this close to a big city, but she had been wrong.  "Narrow minds flourish everywhere!" she muttered.  Righting the box, she heard a cough from behind her and spun around to face the bluest eyes she had ever seen.  She had totally forgotten that the woman was in the back of the store.


Shayne hadn't heard the entire conversation as she had remained in the back not to intrude.  When she heard the woman's conversation to herself, she had known that she wasn't very happy with her recent visitor.   Shayne told herself it was none of her business and moved to the register to pay for her books and leave.


"Oh hi!  I had forgotten you were back there." Alea replied embarrassed.  "Did you find everything you were looking for?"


"Yes, I'll take these." Shayne replied and dug in her pocket for her wallet.  Alea rang up her purchases and watched as the woman left the shop, and sighed thinking, 'I got to get out of this town.  I need to have a real life.' 


Shayne decided to go down to the store to pick up a few supplies to start her gardening project in the morning.  It was 6:30 and the store was still opened and she quickly went inside to see what she would need.   Loading the back of her car with her purchases, Shayne's stomach began to growl and she didn't really feel like going home and cooking.  Looking around for somewhere to eat, she saw the only place was a bar and headed across the street toward it. 





Entering the bar she headed toward a back table and took a seat.  It was a typical small athlete hangout, but it looked clean and they served hot food, which is exactly what Shayne wanted.  She picked up the menu and ordered a burger with fries and a beer and sat back watching the patrons.  She looked around and noticed a guy sitting across the room checking her out.  He wasn't in the least bit subtle about it either.  He continued to look at her and grinned when Shayne pointedly looked back at him.  He was typical for this area, dressed in too tight jeans and a hockey jersey from the local team he obviously played for.  She then yawned and then looked away bored.  She knew that would sent the message she wanted. 


Alea locked up the bookstore and began to walk slowly down the street toward The Woods.  It was the local sports bar, actually the only place in town to get something to eat or drink outside of the 24-hour diner down by the interstate.  She entered the darkened bar and saw Dale waiting for her.  Sighing she walked toward his table and sat down.


"You're late!" Dale said without so much as a greeting.


"Dale, I tried to tell you that this wasn't a good idea.  I have work to do." Alea replied.  She was really getting tired of walking around on eggshells around him.  She was just plain getting tired of this whole town.  She loved her bookstore, but she was tired of being hit on by the men in town and Dale was no exception.  He had the small town mentality about women and she just wasn't in the slightest bit interested in becoming a homemaker to any man, but she didn't have the guts to reveal this bit of news.


"Why do you need to run a bookstore anyway?"  Dale asked and Alea groaned inwardly because she knew where this conversation was headed and she definitely didn't want to go there.


Shayne watched as the blonde entered the bar and headed directly toward his table and thought, 'Oh, bad choice lady.'  Shayne diverted her attention to her food and the hockey game on the screen over the bar.  


"Dale, we've been over this before.  I love having my own business and a career."


"Well, I just think you might be happier doing something else." Dale replied.  Alea knew exactly what he was hinting at and she was tired of the cat and mouse game.


"Such as?" she asked directly.


"Such as marriage and kids." Dale replied sitting forward ready for a showdown.


"I don't think so." Alea replied chuckling.


"What's so funny?  The idea of marrying me or of marriage in general?" He asked angrily. 


"Both!" Alea said responding to his attitude.  "I'm just not interested in a proposal from you or anyone else for that matter."


"What the hell is that suppose to mean?" he shouted over the noise of the hockey game. The few patrons that were in the bar looked over in their direction and then went back to what they were doing except, for the blue eyes that watched from the corner of the bar.  Shayne didn't like the body language that was coming from the blonde's table and began to watch the guy, as he grew steadily aggressive towards the bookstore owner.


Alea sat back at his latest burst of anger as she felt her temper begin to rise to match it.


"You want to know what I mean?"


"Yeah, I do!" he demanded.


"O.K.  I mean I am not interested in you or any other man in this town.  I don't want to be anyone's little woman!" she blurted out angrily.


"What, do you think you are too good for the guys around here?"


Alea laughed and retorted quickly, "I'm too good for men anywhere!"  A sick feeling entered her stomach as she watched the look on his face change to one of recognition.  Alea sat back, cringing at what she had just let out in anger.


Dale's face went from red to white as he fully realized what the woman was saying to him.  "You're a…. Dyke?" he said loudly, causing everyone to turn to look at her.


'Shit!' Alea exclaimed to herself and closed her eyes to the scene unfolding before her.


Shayne dropped her burger at the shout from the other table.  Part of her cheered, but this was quickly overshadowed by the surge of adrenaline that always accompanied the threat of danger.


"You bitch!  You played me for a fool!  Who do you think you….."  Shane was out of her seat before Dale even finished his sentence as he stood up over Alea.  But, Shayne couldn't get across the room in time to stop the slap that whipped Alea's head backwards.


Alea opened her eyes quickly as the pain exploded in her face and Dale stood screaming at her.  She had expected the verbal assault but not the physical and scrambled backwards out of her chair.  Her hand instantly went to her burning cheek as her eyes watered.  Dale advanced on her, but before he could reach Alea, she felt someone slide in front of her and back up against her.  The figure was blurry and she quickly tried to wipe the tears of pain away.  Alea stopped when she heard a familiar deep voice.


"Back off asshole!"


"Who the hell are you?" Dale asked halting his approach.


"Someone who doesn't like to see women get hit!"


"Get out of my way.  This is between me and Alea!" Dale shouted, the spittle flying from his angry mouth.


"It stopped being just between you two when you hit her!" Shayne replied and began to move the woman behind her toward the door.  She kept her face to Dale as she grabbed the blonde and pushed her along.


"Why don't you just go back to your table and have another beer."


"I'm not through with you yet Alea.  Your girlfriend here won't always be around!" Dale threatened.


Shayne stopped in her tracts as her eyes narrowed and asked, "Are you threatening her in front of all these witnesses?"


"Stupid move!"


Dale looked around at everyone staring at him and blew them off in his anger.  She had made a fool of him and he had his honor to protect.


"Come on Dale, be smart.  She's not worth it!" One of the patrons called out from the bar.  "Come on, I'll buy you a beer, leave the women alone."  Dale looked over at the bar and Shayne motioned to Alea to move toward the door.


"Get out of here!" Dale hollered and walked over to the bar saying something Shayne couldn't hear, but the men erupted into laughter and she could just use her imagination.


"Let's go!" She told Alea and pushed her out into the night.


"Where do you live?" Shayne asked her once they had gotten outside.


"Over the bookstore." Alea replied shakily and gingerly touched her already swelling eye.


Shayne took her arm and walked the blonde back up the street toward the store.  "Give me you keys."


Alea didn't say anything and handed them over and watched the tall woman unlock her door and hold it open for her. 


Closing the door behind them, Shayne locked it and followed Alea up the stairs to her apartment.  Alea let out a shaky breath and Shayne pushed her into a kitchen chair and went to get ice out of the freezer.  Putting it into a towel hanging from the stove she brought it to the woman.  "Hold this to your eye.  Do you have any aspirin?"


Alea nodded and pointed to the bathroom.  Shayne quickly went in search of the pills.  Looking through the cabinet she realized that the possibility was high that the woman was indeed gay.  Grabbing the bottle of Tylenol, she went back into the kitchen.


Alea rested her head against the table and through the throbbing thought, 'I've really messed this up big time!  I should have just said no thank you and walked away, instead of loosing my temper like that.'


Shayne crouched down on her heels in front of the woman.  "You O.K.?"


Alea looked over into warm blue eyes and tried to smile.  "Sure, why not.  It isn't every day you tell a town of narrow-minded bigots that you're gay!"


"Yeah, well it happens." Shayne replied and shook out two white tablets and handed them to Alea before standing up.


Alea got up and went to the sink for water and downed the aspirin before turning and saying, "Thanks for sticking up for me."


"No problem.  You going to be alright here alone?" Shayne asked.


"Yeah, I guess I have to start facing the music soon enough anyway."


"Yes well, if things get out of hand or you just need someone to talk to, call me."  Shayne offered and wrote her new number on a scrap of paper.


Alea looked up curiously at the woman and asked, "You heard the conversation right?"


"Yes, I did." Shayne replied and walked to the front door.  "Lock the door behind me when I leave."


"Sure" Alea replied totally confused.


"Good night!" Shayne said and smiled briefly before leaving.


The door closed quietly behind the tall, dark woman and Alea leaned back against the counter shaking her head.  "What's up with that?" she asked herself outloud.


Shayne walked down the quiet street and kept one ear and eye on the bar entrance.  Too many years of living in the city had made her overly cautious.  When she slipped behind the wheel of her car, she breathed a sigh of relief.


"Shayne girl, trouble just seems to follow you doesn't it?  You don't need any more right now.  Just get yourself on home!"





Alea awoke to a loud noise and instantly sat up in bed.  Her heart pounded as she decided what to do.    Before she could make a move she heard another loud noise and the sound of breaking glass.  She ran to the stairs and opened the door to the bookstore.  The sound of crashing shelves could be heard loudly and Alea knew exactly who was responsible.   She closed and locked the door and ran back to her bedroom doing the same to that door.  Looking around she knew the only way out was down those stairs and through the bookstore.   She ran to the phone and hesitated, 'Who do I call?' panicking, she sat on the bed when her legs gave out.  Thinking for a moment before she threw the phone down on the bed and grabbed her purse off the chair.  Rummaging through it she pulled out the scrap of paper she had tucked in there earlier that evening.  Quickly dialing the phone she waited as it rang.  The sounds downstairs were getting louder as the bookcases were being sent toppling over.   "Oh, please be home."  Alea whispered into the phone.  The ringing finally stopped and was replaced by a very sleepy voice.  "Hello?"


"Oh thank God!  Shayne?"


"Yeah, who is it?"  Shayne asked, her senses coming fully awake as rush of adrenaline coursed through her.


"It's me Alea.  You've got to help me.  I don't know what to do!"  Alea whispered frantically into the receiver.


"Alea?  What's wrong?" Shayne asked sitting up on the edge of the bed, she cradled the receiver between her chin and shoulder as she struggled to pull on her jeans. 


"I'm trapped!  He's destroying everything!" Alea cried suddenly losing her cool.


"Slow down Alea!  Who is destroying what?"  Shayne asked sharply to get Alea attention.


"Downstairs… the store…. someone's tearing the place apart!" Alea stuttered.


"Where are you?"  Shayne asked pulling on her warm-up jacket over her T-shirt as she slipped her feet into her running shoes.

"I'm up in my bedroom."


"Are the doors locked?" Shayne asked grabbing her keys off the dresser.


"Yes, I've locked the door to the shop and my bedroom door." Alea replied.


"Good Girl!  Now I want you to push a dresser or anything you can in front of your bedroom door and no matter what you hear…. do not come out of your room, until I get there.  Do you hear me?"  Shayne ordered and went to her bedroom closet and pulled out a shoebox and walked toward the kitchen.


"Yes." Alea answered nervously.  "Please hurry!"


"I'm on my way, now hang up the phone and go do what I say and I'll be there in no time!"  Shayne replied in a calming voice.  "Don't worry I'll take care of everything."


When she heard the connection break, Shayne dropped the phone on the counter and sprinted for the door.  Revving up her engine she sped out of the driveway toward town sending stones and dirt flying as she raced down the road.    As she drove she flipped the top off the shoebox and took a deep breath before reaching into the box.  She had never thought she would need this again, she had thought that part of her life was over.   'I guess some things are just meant to be.' She thought to herself and pulled out the 45 automatic.  It gleamed with a well cared for shine and Shayne easily slid the clip home with one hand while fighting to keep the speeding car straight on the dirt road. 


Finally turning onto a paved road she squealed around the curve and knew that she would reach the center of town in ten minutes.  Pulling in front of the bookstore, she cautiously exited the Mercedes, her one concession from her past that she had kept.  She was an Accountant by trade, but now designed websites and software for companies from her home.   Her family name had all but destroyed her first career, and the second offered the anonymity that she desired to live. 


Alea quickly did as Shayne requested and then got dressed in a pair of jeans and long-sleeve shirt.  She grabbed her wallet off the dresser and stuffed it into her jean pocket and waited, listening to the destruction occurring below.  After what seemed like forever, the noise stopped and there was silence.   Alea listened carefully and hoped that they had left.  She walked to the barricaded door and debated whether she should go out and look.  Her decision was soon made when she heard the crashing of the outer door and footsteps pounding through her apartment.   'Please let that be Shayne.'  She begged silently.  All of a sudden something hit her bedroom door with enough force to push the dresser foot from the door.  Alea quickly pushed against the dresser and tried to wedge herself between it and the wall, pushing until her legs burned.


Shayne got out of the car and walked cautiously toward the open door and stepped into the shadows of the bookstore.  She could see the overturned shelves and the piles of books scattered everywhere, and then she smelled the acrid scent that sent her running for the stairs.  Pounding up the flight of stairs, she saw the door to the apartment hanging on a splintering hinge and felt a deep pain sear her chest.  Her unconscious begged, 'Please be all right Alea.'.  Moving toward the bedroom door she twisted the handle and it resisted.  She could see the footprints someone had left in their attempt to kick down the door.  Pounding on the door, she called out cautiously, "Alea?  Can you hear me?"


A shuffling sound came from within the room and Shayne spoke up louder.  "Alea.  It's me Shayne, please open the door."


The scrapping sound got louder and just as Shayne was reading to start battering the door down, it flung open and the blonde flew out into her arms.    "You came!"


"Yes, I said I would.  Are you alright?"  Shayne asked trying to look down at the woman who was clinging to her tightly.  Alea nodded as the acrid scent got stronger and Shayne looked back toward the door to the stairs and saw the first flickering of light. 


"Come on, we've got to get out of here fast." Shayne replied and pulled the blonde toward the stairs.  They ran down the stairs into the thick smoke. 


"My books!" Alea cried as they saw that the bookstore was quickly becoming engulfed in flames.


"Forget them!" Shane shouted and began to cough.  Pulling on Alea, they made their way through the heat to toward the front door.  Shayne tugged on the door to find it blocked.  Someone had blocked the door from the outside and no amount of force would open it.  Shayne looked around quickly and knew that their only avenue of escape would be through the large glass front display window.  She also knew that breaking that window would suck the flames quickly toward them in their pursuit of oxygen to fuel their fiery tendrils.   Lacking an alternative, Shayne pulled Alea to her and shouted in her ear. "Hang on to me and don't let go no matter what happens.  Do you understand?"  Alea's green eyes looked up trusting and she said.  "Don't worry about me."


Shayne nodded and picked up a chair and sent it crashing through the front window as she grabbed the woman and dove through the shattering glass. 





Landing on the sidewalk, Shane rolled Alea and herself as fast as she could from the flames that erupted through the empty window.  They came to rest past the sidewalk onto the street.  Shayne looked down at the body beneath her to find those same green eyes looking back up at her.


"Are you O.K.?"


Alea nodded as the green eyes filled with tears.  "Why?"


"Because they can." Shayne simply replied and pulled the crying woman into her arms as they lay on the pavement. 


"It's all I had." Alea sobbed against Shayne's body.  


"You're not alone, I'm here." Shayne quickly said and caught herself, wondering what she was doing lying in the middle of the road in some backwoods town telling a complete stranger that she could actually help her.


The woman had finally stopped sobbing and Shayne loosened her hold to look down.  "I think we should really get out of the road before someone decides to finish the job with their John Deere."


The comment brought a grin from Alea and she nodded and the two women untangled themselves and stood up.  Shayne did a quick once over on Alea and noticed only cuts and bruises, Alea on the other hand gasped and grabbed Shayne's arm where the blood had soaked through her sleeve. 


"You're bleeding a lot." Alea remarked and opened Shayne's shredded sleeve to get a closer look.  Shayne looked down and shrugged, "It's just a cut."


"Trust me, I know a cut when I see one, this is a little bit more than that." Alea replied sarcastically.  "It needs to be cleaned, I can see a bits of glass and stone in it."


"Later." Shayne replied as the sound of sirens could be heard approaching and Shayne walked over to retrieve her revolver where it had fallen during there tumble.  She quickly brought it to her car and put it under the seat.  Alea watched curiously and then turned her attention to the approaching fire truck.  The old building was engulfed in flames and everything was a total loss.  The firemen put out the fire and what was left of the building was nothing more than a burned out shell.  The Sheriff questioned Alea and Shayne to great lengths and seemed particularly interested in Shayne.


"So, you just moved here from the city?"


"That's correct." Shayne replied.  She gave him no more information then was necessary and it seemed to infuriate the man.


"You don't work?"




"Nice car." He indicated the Mercedes that she was leaning against.  "Thank you."


"I take it you don't have to work." He tried to get her to talk, but Shayne was a pro at keeping secrets, it was a family trait.


"No, I don't."


"Did you win the lottery or something?" He finally asked, running a hand through his thinning hair.


"No, a trust fund."


"Oh, and will you be living her permanently?" He questioned.


"I haven't decided that yet.  You don't have a bookstore anymore, so I'll have to weigh my options out."  Shayne replied dryly, she was tired of the questioning and wanted to go home.  Her throat burned from the smoke and her arm was beginning to throb.


The Sheriff bristled at the comment and it was Alea that came to rescue Shayne.  "Sheriff, I think you have all the information that will be of help.  You first visit should be to Dale.  He is the only one who would have been mad enough to pull this stunt." Alea answered harshly and then softened her approach and asked, "Do you mind if go now, It's been a long night?"


"Sure Alea, I'm sorry that this had to happen.  My wife liked to visit your store.  Do you have a place to stay?"  He asked looking over at Shayne as she watched Alea amused.  "You can stay with my wife and I until you can get on your feet?"


"Thank you, but I have somewhere to stay." Alea answered quickly.


The Sheriff nodded and walked back over to the fire truck to talk with the chief about his report.


Alea let out a tired breath and walked over toward what was left of her store.  She could still smell the gasoline that was used to start the fire and felt the tears sting her eyes again.  She didn't realize Shayne had approached until she felt a hand on her arm and the woman stood next to her.


"You ready to go?" Shayne asked quietly.


"Go where?" Alea asked, "that's all I have left."


"Come on, you're staying with me." Shayne simply replied and began walking back to her car.


"Excuse me?" Alea asked, she wasn't sure what surprised her most, the offer or the manner in which it was made.


Shayne had never had to explain herself before; women were always coming on to her.   Someone at one time had called her a 'Babe Magnet' and the description had stuck ever since.  She had never had a problem picking up women, but that was just what there were pick-ups.  She longed for something with substance and when she looked at the green eyes, something made her care about this woman for a moment.


"I'm sorry." Shayne replied, her tired shoulders sagging, as the pain in her arm seemed to increase.  "I have plenty of room, if you'd like to stay with me.  If not, at least let me drop you somewhere safe.  You can't stay here."  Shayne attempted to point to the building, but winced involuntarily when she moved her arm.


Alea moved toward Shayne and took her good arm and led her toward the black Mercedes.  "Let's go so I can take a good look at that arm."  She said it so matter of factly that Shayne wasn't sure if the first bit of their conversation had actually taken place.  Alea walked toward the car as though this was what she had planned to do all along.


Shayne unlocked the passenger door and let Alea into the car before walking around to the other side.  She shook her head amused at the young woman's attitude.  "What am I getting myself into?" She asked herself quietly as she opened the driver's door and slid behind the wheel.





They arrived at Shayne's house, Alea couldn't see much in the darkness, but it didn't seem as large as she had expected from Shayne's conversation with the Sheriff.  Shayne dug out the revolver from under the seat and carried it into the house with her.  She set it gently down on the kitchen counter top before opening the refrigerator to pull out something cold to drink.


"Would you like some something to drink?  I've got soda or juice."  Shayne's voice was getting dry and raspy from the smoke and it sounded extremely sexy to Alea.  Alea smiled and looked past her into the refrigerator, "Dr. Pepper please?"  

"You got it." Shayne replied and handed a bottle to Alea before pulling a diet Coke out for herself.  Shayne tried to twist the top off with her arm, but it was still bleeding and she was making a mess of herself wiping her hand on her shirt.  Alea took the bottle and twisted off the top handing it to Shayne before taking her by the elbow and requesting, "First-Aid stuff?"


Shayne headed down the hall with Alea in tow.  The blonde kept her hand on Shayne's elbow as they walked toward the bathroom.  Shayne was more than capable of making it under her own steam, but she kind of liked the feel of Alea's hand on her arm.


Shayne pointed to the cabinet next to the shower and Alea began to pull out what she would need. 


"Sit down." Alea requested.   Shayne sat down on the end of the vanity and waited for Alea to assemble her supplies.


"Do you know what you are going?" Shayne asked nervously as she saw Alea pull out a pair of tweezers.  Alea looked up with a smirk, "Don't tell me you are squeamish?"


"No, I just don't like people poking around in me…unless I invite them." Shayne retorted right back and watched Alea blush slightly. 


"Ooh, don't get cute with me honey, you haven't seen what I have to do to you yet!' Alea thought smugly to herself and looked up clicking the tweezers slyly, "May I?"


Shayne took a deep swallow of her Coke and nodded.  Alea started laughing and put down the tweezers and reached for some gauze and alcohol.  "Don't worry I use to be in nursing."


"You were a nurse?" Shayne asked surprised.


Alea nodded with a ghost of a frown on her face and said, "Yes, a long time ago.  You need to take off your jacket."  She waited until Shayne had unzipped her jacket before helping her pull it down over the cut.  Picking up the alcohol and gauze again she said, "It won't look so bad when I get it cleaned up."


"So, why are you running a bookstore now?" Shayne asked and winced when Alea dabbed a little too roughly.


"I'm sorry."


"No, my fault, I have to remember not to upset you when you're working on me." Shayne replied grimly.


"It's not that…it was just a long time ago and it wasn't what I wanted to do with my life.  I always wanted to own a bookstore and when I got the chance, I jumped at it." Alea explained as she gently cleaned up the blood.


Shayne watched the concentration on the young woman's face and she could also see the familiar sadness of a dream that's been violently snatched away.


"O.k." Alea sighed.  "This is the part that's going to sting a little.  I need to get out some pieces of glass."


Shayne nodded and gritted her teeth for the first prod.  Alea got herself into a better position, which put herself in front of Shayne so that she could get the right angle.  Shayne could feel the woman's breath on her arm as she leaned in closely with the tweezers.  Shayne felt the heat shoot directly to her center followed by a stabbing pain.   She had never felt anything like it, a cross between arousal and pain.  Trying to concentrate on the pain she thought, 'You've got a one-track mind Shayne…. knock it off!  You don't need to get involved with anyone. Especially, someone with as many problems as this one has.' 


Alea tried to be as gentle as she could and when she saw Shayne's breathing become erratic, she felt sorry for the woman and stopped to look up at her.  "You O.K.?"

Shayne nodded and let the pain flow through her, replacing any of the earlier emotions.  Gritting her teeth she replied, "Just keep going."


Alea nodded and continued to work until she had pulled out the last piece of glass.  "I think that's it."


Shayne took a deep breath and released it.  She had gotten through that part, now she just needed to figure out what to do with this woman.


Alea finished bandaging Shayne's arm and yawned as exhaustion and stress finally got a hold of her.


"Is it the company?" Shayne asked with her dry humor.


"Sorry." She grinned. "I guess everything just beginning to hit me."


"I think we could both use some sleep.   Why don't I show you the guestroom and we can figure everything else out in the morning."  Shayne offered and hopped down off the counter.


Alea nodded and followed Shayne down to the end of the hall.  She turned on the lights and stepped back for Alea to enter.  The room was equipped with the bare essentials, a bed, nightstand with a lamp, and a dresser.  There were boxes stacked in the corner still unpacked.


"I haven't had a chance to unpack everything and I've been using this room as storage." Shayne explained.  She looked over at the tired woman and realized that Alea didn't have anything but the clothes on her back.  She felt a twinge of sadness at this thought, but quickly stilled any further emotions. 


"Let me see if I can't find you something to sleep in too." Shayne offered and went back down the hall.  Alea sat on the side of the bed half-asleep as she waited for Shayne to return.  She bent over and took off her shoes and the effort was more than she could handle and lay down on the bed and fell instantly asleep.


Shayne returned with a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt to find Alea sound asleep leaning sideways on the bed.  She laid down the clothes at the end of the bed and pulled the covers out from under the sleeping woman.  Alea didn't even stir as Shayne tugged to put her feet up on the bed and pulled the covers over her.  Shayne wasn't surprised, Alea had gone through a lot in such a short period of time, and her body was just shutting down to cope with everything. 




Pulling the covers straight, she moved to shut the light and looked back at the woman in the bed.  "I wish I knew what the hell is going on here." Shayne mumbled as she closed the light and the door to Alea's room.   'She isn't even my type!' 





Alea awoke confused and disoriented, nothing was familiar until she caught the lingering scent of smoke and the events of the previous night came back to her.  Closing her eyes she realized that everything she had accumulated, everything she had fought for was now gone.  She lay back and weighed her options.  She could always go back to nursing, but she would have to take classes to get re-certified.  In the meantime, she could work as an aide or in a bookstore chain, but that would mean moving into the city, and she didn't have a car.  She could also get a job at the diner and find a place to live, until she could get back on her feet.  She thought about how much money she had in the bank and decided that she had just enough to make one decision and stick with it.   Sitting up on the side of the bed she looked out the window at the sunshine and made the decision to go for a walk outdoors to think it all through.  Getting out of bed she saw the neat little pile of clothes that Shayne had left for her on the foot of the bed.  Embarrassed, she remembered that she had fallen asleep last night while Shayne had gone to get them.   Alea was happy to find that the guestroom had its own bathroom complete with a shower.  She saw that there were towels on the shelf and decided to try to wash the smell of smoke off of her, but she knew the smell would linger in her memory for a long time.


Shayne sat on the patio with the crisp morning air sipping her coffee.  She had her feet up on the railing of the deck and enjoyed the morning sun as it began to warm the earth.  She needed to get started on the yard work, but it was just too peaceful right now to move.       


Shayne thought about the events of last night and about the Sheriff and hoped that nothing would happen to destroy her little haven.  She really didn't need anymore trouble in her life.   She was dressed in her sweatpants and sweatshirt and didn't have any more excuse not to get up and get started on her work.  Sighing she put her mug down and walked around to the front of the house to decide where to start first.  She walked around through the side gate and came out next to the driveway.  The first thing that Shayne noticed out of place was that her car seemed to be very low, looking more closely she saw that all four tires were flat.  A sense of dread filled her and she began to take a closer look around.   Someone, Dale most likely, hand cut all four of her tires and boxes of trash that she had stacked near the road were scattered throughout her front yard.   Shayne felt the anger in her rise and when she looked back at her car she swore and determinedly walked toward the house.   Yanking open the door she went straight to the telephone and began to punch in numbers.  She tapped her foot as she waited for the other end to answer.


"Uncle Sal?  This is Shayne." And she proceeded to relate the events thus far. 


"I need to know if I have any legal recourse?  No, I can't really prove anything.   Yes, I'm positive it was him."  Shayne listened to the discourse on the other end, agreeing and nodding on occasion.


"No, Uncle Sal...I don't want him involved...You know why I left...My father died because of that business, and I just don't want to be a part of it anymore."


You could feel the tension coming off of Shayne.   "Uncle Sal, you know I haven't turned my back on the family, no matter what Michael says.  When he took over the business I told him that I wouldn't do anything that wasn't above board.  He made his choice and I've made mine.  Now, I'm doing something I'm good at and something that can't be used to hurt the family in any way."  Shayne listed to her Uncle tell her what her options were, none of them were anything Shayne wanted to do.


"Well, I will be needing four new tires for my car, if you can order them for me and get them sent here.  Send me the bill and I'll reimburse you."  Shayne replied.  "No insist on paying my own way."


Shayne nodded her head and her face broke into a rare smile.  "Tell Aunt Rita, I said hello too.  I miss you both."  Concluding her conversation on the telephone, she headed outdoors to begin cleaning up.






Alea felt a little more human when she came out into the kitchen.  She looked around but didn't see any sign of Shayne until she looked out the window to find her working in the front yard.  She hadn't remembered seeing so much garbage lying around last night and thought that maybe the house hadn't been occupied in a long time.   She decided to forestall her decision walk and go and help Shayne with her work in thanks for letting her spend the night.


"Good Morning!" Alea called out causing Shayne to jump at the sudden sound.  Alea could see the tension in Shayne's face before her mask slipped back into place and wondered what was going on.  Alea looked around nervously and her eyes fell on the car and she gasped when she saw the flat tires.


"What happened?"


"Cheap tires." Shayne replied and turned away to continue her work.


"Is everything always a joke with you?" Alea snapped at Shayne.


Shayne's head popped up and before she could respond a car pulled into the driveway and Shayne knew that she had more problems to deal with than to worry about telling the blonde off. 


Sheriff Rawles got out of his car and approached the two women.  He could tell that they were both tense and were taking great pains to avoid looking at each other.  He looked around the yard and then to the car and asked, "Is there something wrong here?"


'No, I always like to flatten my car tires and spread trash across my front yard!'  Shayne thought sarcastically but kept her tongue silent.  But, Alea had other ideas and she turned toward the sheriff and replied, "Ask Dale!  I'm sure this is h is handy work too!"


Shayne looked at Alea and her eyes told the woman to be silent.  Alea returned the look with one of her own and continued, "What are you going to do about him?"


Sheriff Rawles looked at the car and at the two women.  He could see that Shayne wasn't going to be to forthcoming with any information and wasn't really thrilled with Alea opening her mouth.  He had done some background research of Shayne.  He had found out about her family, but had also found that she had turned her back on her family when her father died over a year ago, at the same time her brother had taken over the family business.  Since then, she had basically kept a low profile, running her own website company.  She seemed to genuinely want to disassociate herself from them and after the word on her brother got out, he knew she had nothing to do with that side of the business.   Her father had kept her respectable and the money she received from her trust came from legitimate business dealings.  As long as the young woman caused no trouble, he didn't have a problem with her.  Her attitude was understandable given her background, but he wasn't sure if he liked Alea's association with her.


"Can you prove it?" he asked Alea.  He was pretty sure that Dale and some of his friends had, had a hand in everything that happened last night, but he also knew that he wasn't going to be able to do anything about it either.  He needed proof to confront Dale's father.  He hadn't liked when she had gotten involved with him in the first place.  Dale's father was very influential in the county and his son could do no wrong in his eyes.  Dale was basically a nice kid, but when the boys were drinking, anything was bound to happen.

It didn't make it right, it was just how things were in small towns.


"You know I can't!  What do you have to do wait until he hurts someone?"


"Alea!  There's nothing he can do, let it go!" Shayne replied in clipped tone. 


Alea turned to Shayne and just stared at her in disbelief.  "So, you're just going to be like everyone else and let people like him get away with this shit!"


Shayne shrugged her shoulders and replied, "If the Sheriff can't stop him, how can I?"  She looked pointedly at the Sheriff and turned her back and continued cleaning.


The Sheriff tried to let the comment slide and motioned for Alea to walk with him back to his car.  When they were out of earshot of the tall woman he asked, "Are you staying here with her?"


"I haven't decided that yet." Alea replied, actually she wasn't sure if she was even welcome here.  Shayne wasn't the easiest person to get to know.


"I'm not sure I like you out here by yourself with her.  You don't really know anything about her background."  He didn't want to say anymore, but he knew he had said enough.  Alea looked up questioning, "What about her background?"


"What do you actually know about her?  She comes from a very powerful family." He answered her without really telling her anything. 


"I really haven't made any decisions yet." Alea replied and looked away.


"Well, my offer still holds if you want to come stay with us.  Just give me a call."  The sheriff got back into his car and Alea nodded stepping away from the car.  "I'll let you know."  The sheriff pulled back down the driveway and Alea looked over at Shayne.  Shayne continued working without looking back.


"Have I done something to make you mad, or do you just not like me period?" Alea asked watching Shayne's back stiffen but without responding.


"That's what I thought.  I'll send your clothes back as soon as I get settled." Alea replied and turned to walk down the driveway.


"Where the hell do you think you are going?" An angry voice called out from behind her.


"Back to town!  What's it to you?" Alea threw over her shoulder without pausing.


"Why didn't you just get a ride with the Sheriff if you wanted to get away so badly."  Shayne yelled after her, the blonde exasperated her to no end.  She wondered why she had ever felt the need to help her in the first place thinking, "She is so full of herself, it isn't funny!'


"Well, you've made me feel so warm and welcome...I just hated to leave." Alea turned sarcastically and stood with her hands on her hips.


"If you wanted warmth and welcome, why didn't you stay with Dale last night!"


"You are a piece of work!" Alea shouted.


"I'm a piece of work?  Have you looked in the mirror lately?"


Before any more insults could be traded, another car turned into the driveway followed by a truck.  Shayne promptly threw a box and exploded with a colorful phrase.  Alea turned to watch the expensive car pull up toward them as she edged back toward Shayne.


Shayne stood with her hands on her hips and waited for the two men to get out of the car.  The driver opened the backdoor of the car and a young man got out.  Alea looked up surprised at the male version of Shayne standing before them.


"What are you doing here?" Shayne asked without any emotion.




"Is that anyway to greet your brother?" The smooth voice was a bit deeper than Shayne's but every bit as sensual.  Alea watched the exchange between the two siblings and knew that there was no love lost between them.


"I take it Uncle Sal called you." Shayne replied coldly.  "I asked him not to."


"No matter what's between us Shay we are still family and family takes care of its own." Shayne's brother replied.  "Are you going to introduce us or what?" He asked motioning to Alea.


Shayne turned and replied, "Alea this is Michael, my brother."  The last part she said more as a fact than anything personal.


"Alea, what a beautiful name.  My sister has good taste." Michael replied and shook Alea's hand firmly, holding it just a little longer than necessary.


Shayne snorted and replied, "Unlike you Michael, I don't own people!"


Michael looked coldly at his sister replying, "No, you just bring a reproach on the family with your life." He then turned his blue eyes on Alea, "You have to forgive my sister, she has forgotten about manners since our father died."


Alea looked between the two and wished that she had just stayed in the house and didn't have to be the middle of this.  The men from the truck were quickly changing the tires on Shayne's car with new one's they had brought from the city.


"Don't forget to send me the bill for those tires, if not, I'll just ship them back after you leave." Shayne told her brother.  Michael glared back at his sister, their body mannerisms mimicked each other so much that it would have been humorous, had there not been so much hatred between the to.


Michael looked away from his sister and back to Alea and smiled.  The smile didn't make Alea feel any better about the situation and she quickly looked toward Shayne.  "I heard about what happed to your store.  I'm sorry.  I'd like to offer my help if I may."


Shayne quickly moved toward Alea and pulled the woman back toward her.  "She doesn't need anything from you big brother.  She is well taken care of." Shayne kept her arm around her for emphasis and Alea was silently relieved.


"Well, unfortunately, you don't have a say this time.  The situation has already been handled.  I just wanted to offer my help in the rebuilding." Michael replied gallantly.


"What have you done?" Shayne demanded to know.  She tightened her hold on Alea and pushed her a little further behind her body.


"Taking care of business, something you've obviously forgotten about!  Does family honor mean nothing to you?  I won't let people cause trouble for family, no matter how much you invite it!"


"I didn't ask for your help or your approval!  Stay out of my life Michael!" Shayne answered stiffly.  Alea could feel the anger building in the tight grip the woman had on her.


The men had finished with the car and were getting back into their truck.


Michael's hand clenched at his side and he coldly replied, "Father treated you like a princess while I had to work hard to keep this family going.  So, don't you even start to tell me how to run it, do you hear me?" He turned to get into the car and stopped, turning back to Alea he said, "If you decide you want to rebuild your store, I'd like to help."  He pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to the cute blonde.


Alea took the card and felt Shayne's arm tighten around her.  "Thank you." Alea murmured barely able to breathe.


"She doesn't need your money Michael.  Whether you like it or not, I'm more than capable of taking care of my own!"  Shayne told her brother smiling through her anger.


Michael gave Shayne a brief look and shook his head, and got into the car.  When the car had pulled out of sight, Shayne removed her arm abruptly and Alea stumbled.  She hadn't realized she had been leaning on Shayne until them.  Without a word, Shayne went back to picking up the debris.


Alea looked at Shayne in utter amazement and rising anger before she exploded.  "Just what the hell is it with you lady?  Do you just use people when it benefits you and then walk away when you have something better to do?"


Shayne turned around and leveled a look at Alea.  "I thought I was helping you!  You don't need my brother in your life!"


"How do you know what I need, you've never asked!  One minute you come cruising in all supporting and helpful, and the next you act as though you with I didn't exist."


"I don't know what you are talking about.  I thought you wanted my help, so I helped.  I don't know what I was thinking." Shayne was quickly cut off.


"That's right, you don't know.  You don't even know what you want period!  When you figure it out, let me know!"  Alea turned and stormed down the driveway.


Shayne watched the blonde walk away, her anger slipping a little, but she quickly recovered and thought, 'Yeah, we'll I guess I don't need you!'  Turning back to her work, she let Alea walk away.


Alea walked back toward town, fighting the angry tears that burned her eyes.  "What the hell dos she want from me?" She began to talk to herself.  "I don't get it, one minute she is all caring, and then boom...I'm knocked to the side like nothing ever happened."  Tired of everything, she sat down on the side of the road to rest.  Alea didn't even know where she was anymore.  Her options were beginning to look pretty limited.  She pulled Michael's card out of her pocket and looked at it.  Finally, deciding what to do, she threw the card on the ground and stood up.  "I don't know why I thought I wanted the friendship.  I've been doing just fine on my own, and it's definitely less stressful," turning, Alea headed toward the interstate.


Shayne picked up the last of the boxes and looked at her watch.  Over an hour had gone by and she wondered how far Alea had gotten.  IF she stuck to the main road, she should have been in town by now.  The phone started ringing and Shayne went inside.


"Hello?  No Sheriff, Alea's not here.  She should be in town."  Shayne told him casually.


"You haven't seen her?  She left over an hour ago." Shayne listened getting a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.  "When did this happen?"


"Will he be alright?"


"No, I have no idea who could have done that." Shayne lied.  Her brother had done a number on Dale and a couple of his buddies.


"No, she was walking...Hey! It washer choice!" Shayne replied sharply.


"Well, if you don't find her, let me know." Shayne offered before hanging up.


"Damn!" Shayne blurted out.  "Where the hell did you go Alea?"


Shayne looked around for a moment before grabbing her car keys and heading out the door.


"This rescue stuff is beginning to become a bad habit!"





Shayne drove through town and saw the Sheriff's car outside of the bar and turned around to follow the route back toward her house.  Almost home, she had a strange feeling and turned in the opposite direction.  She pulled up next to the diner and went inside.  Shayne let out her breath when she spotted the back of a familiar blonde head.  Walking toward her, she told herself, 'Just remain calm and get to the bottom of this.'


"May I join you?"


Alea almost jumped out of the booth when Shayne appeared next to her.


"What are you doing h ere?"


"Looking for you.  Can I sit down?"


"Go ahead!" Alea motioned to the seat across from her and toyed with her empty coffee cup.


"Just coffee, please." Shayne replied when the waitress came to refill Alea's cup.


"So, why are you looking for me?"


"The Sheriff called and said you never made it to town." Shayne answered, not really sure herself why she went searching.  She knew Michael wouldn't have done anything to the woman.


"Oh well, you can tell him you found me and I'm fine.  I’m waiting for my bus." Alea replied thinking, 'I should have known it was the only reason.'


"Where are you going?"


"To look up some old nursing contacts and see if I can find a job or something."


"But, I thought you didn't want to be a nurse?" Shayne replied confused.  She didn't understand why it bothered her so much.  'At least the woman would be settled and out of trouble.'


"Well, my options are pretty limited at this point." Alea replied and looked at her watch.


"What time are you leaving?"


"In about twenty minutes."


"What if you had another option, would you stay?" Shayne wasn't sure why she was actually saying this.  She had no suggestions, but she didn't like the idea of Alea going to the city on a bus.


"Such as?"


"Didn't you have insurance on the building?" Shayne was grabbing at straws now.


"No, I rented."


"How much would it take to start over?" Shayne asked curiously, it could be an investment opportunity.


"More than I have." Alea simply replied.


"That's not what I asked." Shayne snapped out of her musing a little harshly annoyed at Alea's habit of always avoiding questions by replying in some vague manner.


"What does it matter, either way I can't afford it!" Alea snapped back and got up, throwing a dollar on the table, she moved toward the exit.


Shayne Followed Alea outside and confronted her.  "What do you mean either way?"


Alea stopped around the side of the diner near Shayne's car and turned around to face the woman.


"I don't have enough money of my own and I don't think I could afford your brother's terms!"


"Who said anything about my brother?" Shayne retorted losing her patience rapidly.


Alea stepped into Shayne's face and shouted, "Enough!"


Shayne shut-up instantly and her eyebrow arched as she looked down into a bright pink face.  She could almost reach out and touch it, and the thought made her mad.


Alea could see that Shayne was quickly becoming angry and she had no idea why, let alone why she was standing there and going through this anymore.


"What do you want from me?" Alea asked calmly.  "I just don't understand and I can't keep going through this."


Shayne looked down at the questioning face and hastily replied, "I don't want anything from you, but a simple answer to a simple question."


"You just want to know how much it costs to start a bookstore, is that it?" Alea asked befuddled and tired.


"Yes!" Shayne replied realizing how stupid this conversation was beginning to sound.


"Rent, inventory and furniture ran me around $50,000, the last time.  Satisfied?" Alea replied and turned to walk away.


"Don’t go!" Shayne whispered before she could stop herself, she didn't know what she was doing anymore.


Alea spun back around at the urgent request and looked at Shayne.  The woman looked nervous and uncertain, two characteristics Alea had never seen her display before.


"Why?" Alea asked softly.


Shayne looked up into green eyes, confused for a moment before her brain took over her heart, and her cocky bravado returned.


"Well, because...umm...I was thinking about investing in something in this town, and this seems like a good bet."


Alea's heart sagged as she watched Shayne's exterior visibly change back to her old self.  "It wouldn't work."


"Why?  Unlike my brother, it would be a business arrangement, no strings attached." Shayne replied honestly.



Alea watched as the bus pulled up in front of the diner and knew she had to make a decision fast.  Sighing, she turned to Shayne to give her the only answer she could give."






Shayne couldn't believe she had heard Alea right.  "So, you're set on getting on that bus and running away from the bookstore that you've always wanted?"


"I'm not running away…. I'm trying to make a life for myself!" Alea replied.   She couldn't believe that this woman was saying these things, and added before thinking, "Unlike you, I don't have the luxury of family money."


Shayne stopped cold and for the first time in over a year, she felt a stab of familiar pain when she remembered her father.  He had fought hard to keep her out of the loop of the family business and everything he had worked for with her had been legitimate from the very beginning, but it hadn't changed the fact of who he really was.  Growing up Italian and raised around different customs and traditions from the other kids, she hadn't thought anything of the strange parade of men and the meetings that regularly took place at her father's office.  He had never brought any of this home to his family.   He had always seemed nothing more than a devoted husband and father.  Her brother had known early on, but it wasn't until her father's last year that she had found out about the family's connections to organized crime, or as the newspaper's liked to call it, 'the mob'.  That was when she had given back everything, but her car and started her own business.  Even on his deathbed, she knew her father hadn't understood why she had done it, but he had forgiven her.  Even how she had felt about herself had been affected.  It was a deep blow to find that people were attracted to her not because of what she was personally, but who she was.  She felt the tears stinging her eyes and she looked directly at Alea and quietly replied, "I can't believe you said that.  You don't know anything about me!"


Turning, Shayne walked to her car got behind the wheel and drove away leaving Alea standing in the parking lot wondering, just who was Shayne Tuscano.


Shayne drove toward her house, letting the tears fall where they may. 


"Oh papa, What do I do now?" she whispered outloud and wondered how she had let anyone get close enough so that simple words could hurt her so deeply.  She hadn't even noticed this woman at first, yet, somehow something about her had caused Shayne to react so opposite of her usual 'devil-may-care' attitude, and to keep pushing Alea away.


Pulling up into her drive, Shayne saw that the Sheriff was waiting for her.  Quickly wiping her face, she set a defiant attitude and got out of the car.


Sheriff Rawles noticed the stony expression immediately and took offense until he saw the blood-shot eyes and puffy cheeks.  Shayne Tuscano had been crying.  He was surprised to realize this until he also noticed the fact that Alea was not with her.  He had a good suspicion that one had something to do with the other.


"Ms. Tuscano….Where's Alea?"


"On a bus to the city by now." Shayne replied coolly, walking toward her house.  "Is there something you need from me?"


"No, not unless you have anything further to add about what happened at The Woods earlier today?"  He knew she wasn't involved but that she also knew more than she was telling.


"Unless you think I did it, then how would I know anything?" Shayne asked belligerently.  She was getting angry at the constant intrusion into her life.


"Listen to Ms. Tuscano, I know who you are and where you came from.  I have no problems with you at all, but there are others who will not be welcome around here.  Do you understand my meaning?"  Sheriff Rawles wasn't the type to take any lip from anyone, especially not some young thing like Shayne.


"Perfectly, and I suggest that you go tell that to the party himself.  I'd rather not have to deliver any messages or anything else to my brother ever!  I stuck my neck out once to help someone in this town and all it's gotten me is grief from you, from my brother, and from her.  I guarantee that won't happen again.  I moved here looking for peace and quiet to live and do my work.  I didn't ask for anyone to be my friend or anything else.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."  Shayne replied and walked into her house.


The Sheriff stood for a moment thinking before he headed for his car and quickly turned toward the Interstate.  He pulled up in front of the diner as the 2 o'clock bus was pulling out.  He reached to flip on his sired when he noticed a blonde figure sitting on a fence looking away from the parking lot, out over an open field.  He smiled to himself and he knew that his suspicions were correct and thought, 'Guess they both feel the same thing.'  The Sheriff chuckled to himself and said, "You old dog…playing matchmaker at your age, to a couple of women to boot!"  Shaking his head at the irony of it all, he got out of his cruiser and walked toward the slumped shouldered woman.  He remembered when he and his wife first met.  They fought like cats and dogs, but it had been 30 years now and he wouldn't trade a moment of it for anything in this world or the next.


"So, is this where you run off to when things get too tough?"


"Oh Sheriff…hello…I didn't hear you coming."


"Are you going to sit on this fence all day?" He asked leaning on the top rail and looking out over the meadow before them.  It was a peaceful here, even with the sound of the Interstate behind them.


"Haven't decided yet." Alea replied.


"Why didn't you get on that bus and get away while you could?"


"It would have been the side thing to do!" Alea replied shaking her head at herself.


"I'm not so sure." The Sheriff replied calmly.


"You don't understand…" Alea began, but let it drop.


"I understand more than you think young lady.  Just let me tell you this…. The things you regret in this life are not the ones you tried and failed at, but the things you never try.  If you run away before you ever give this a chance, you will regret it for the rest of your life."


Alea looked up at the Sheriff and answered sarcastically, "And what do you expect me to use for money?  Dale has effectively wiped me out in one night!"


The Sheriff turned quickly at the tone of voice and replied, "I wasn't talking about the store!"


Alea stopped cold and looked into the older man's warm brown eyes.  She saw the reflection of love there and quickly looked away.  "I don't know what you are talking about."


"Oh, I think you do!  The two of you are some pair.  I don't know which one is running faster, you or her!"


"She's made her position clear and it's not what you think!" Alea answered and jumped down off the fence.


"It's not huh?" He asked, his anger rising at these two and their stupid pride.


"No, its not!" Alea snapped.


"Then tell me this and I won't say another word…. Why did I just see her crying not two minutes ago?" He asked wit his hands on his hips looking down at Alea.  He would like nothing more than to take them both over his knee if he thought it would do any good.


"She was?" Alea asked surprised for a moment.  "It was probably just because I hurt her feelings."


"Yeah right!  Shayne isn't the type to get all broken up about something like that!" The Sheriff announced.


"And, how would you know?"


"Why don't you get in the car and I'll tell you on the way home."  Sheriff Rawles replied and turned to walk toward his car.


"Where exactly would that be?" Alea asked stubbornly.


"Well, you listen to my story and then you tell me."




The Sheriff drove slowly as he related what he knew about Shayne's background and the life she had been confronted with a year ago.  He concluded with who Shayne was today, or at least, who she was trying to become. 


Alea had a deeper understanding of Shayne's attitude toward things but she still didn't understand the woman's attitude toward her personally.  What had she done to cause Shayne to dislike her so intensely?    When the Sheriff pulled into Shayne's driveway, Alea looked up asking, "What are we doing here?'


"I think you two need to talk."  The Sheriff simply replied and smiled at the young woman.


"Oh, I'm not so sure.  I don't think she really wants to see me." Alea hesitated, suddenly feeling very nervous and scared.


"Listen, talk to the woman and if things get too much for you, call me and I'll come and get you.  You can stay with me and Mary for as long as you like."  The Sheriff gave her an encouraging pat on the shoulder and gently pushed her toward the door.  Alea got out of the car and he pulled away before she could have a second thought.  Turning toward the house, Alea walked slowly up to the door and knocked.


Shayne was listening to a CD of soft jazz and trying to meditate in an effort to relax.  Neither was working for her when she heard the tapping at the front door.


"Damn! Now what?"  Shayne replied and got up off the floor to answer the door.  Opening the door, she was surprised to come face to face with Alea.


"Oh, it's you…are there some more insults you need to hurl?" Shayne asked quickly before biting her tongue and almost drawing blood.  What was it about this woman that made her blood rise so quickly.


"I guess I deserve that." Alea replied but keep her focus on the blue eyes before her.  She hadn't really noticed their deep color before, nor the sadness that was etched around them.  She knew what it was like to have everything change overnight and find that what you thought was real, was just a sham.


"Well?" Shayne asked softly, wondering what was going on in that little blonde head.  She could see the emotions flitting across her face and something in her stirred.


"Oh, I'm sorry…. I was daydreaming." Alea replied embarrassed.


"Yeah, I have that affect on people!" Shayne replied and again bit her tongue.  This time she almost drew blood and winced.


Alea turned a deeper shade of pink and looked down at her feet.  "Well, I…. I was thinking about what you said about not knowing you and, you were right and…. I…want to apologize."


"You came all the way back here to apologize?" Shayne asked warily.


"Not, just for that.  I was wondering if you still wanted to invest in a new bookstore.  It would be purely a business venture.  I would pay you back every cent, unless you wanted to be partners or something…in the business I mean."  Alea concluded shakily.


Shayne's eyebrow raised up on the last line, but she let it slide and stood back motioning for Alea to come into the house.


"Have you eaten anything yet today?"


Alea thought for a moment before shaking her head no.  "Guess I was too busy being a jerk."


Shayne smiled slightly and replied, "I guess we are both guilty of that today."


Alea took courage in Shayne's offering of peace and nodded enthusiastically when Shayne suggested she whip them up something to eat.


Working together, the two women prepared some dinner and sat down talking and eating.  Shayne was amazed at how much talking Alea could do while she was eating.  But, it was nice to finally have a civilized conversation with her, without it ending in a big fight.  They discussed plans for the new bookstore and what it would take to begin.  Shayne began to make notes and they finally concluded that a partnership would be the best solution.  Shayne would bring the financing and Alea would bring the expertise to the actual set-up and running of the business.  This would leave Shayne free to continue her website work.


"Wow, that meal was fantastic and we got a lot of work done tonight." Alea replied looking up at the clock.  She hadn't realized that it was already 10 PM.


"I guess I had better call the Sheriff to come and get me."


"Are you going to stay with him?" Shayne asked.


"Yes, until I can find my own place."


"I could drop you off there if you want to stay with them or, you could just stay here." Shayne offered, surprising herself how easily she gave up her solitude to this woman.


"Oh no, it would be too much trouble."


"No, I have plenty of room and since we are going to be together a lot getting the store up and running, it kind of makes sense." Shayne rationalized to herself and to Alea.


"Well, if you don't think it will be an intrusion?"  Alea asked concerned.  She knew that Shayne was a very private person.  Their conversation tonight proved that fact.  Alea has told her all about herself, but Shayne hadn't said anything about herself, outside of a few brief comments of childhood memories.


"O.K., then it's settled." Shayne replied.  "But, I do think the first order of business tomorrow is to get you some new clothes."


Alea looked down at the too-long outfit she wore and laughed.  "I think you are right."


"In the meantime, let me find you some more clothes."





It was a weekday and the streets were teeming with people.  Shayne saw Alea speculatively watching her out of the corner of her eye and quickly diverted the blonde's attention.


"It's going to be tough to find parking.    Keep a watch for an open lot or something on the street."


Alea began to look out the window as requested, and let the conversation slide for the moment.  She made a mental note to bring it up again.


After circling for what seemed like hours, Shayne gave up and finally pulled into a familiar parking lot.


"Ms. Tuscano, it's been awhile!" The parking attendant called out as he hurried over to open her door.


"Hello Teddy.  Do you have any open spaces?" Shayne replied.


"For you, always!"


Shayne smiled up at the man and handed him her keys.  She had parked in this lot for almost five years while she worked for her father.  "Thanks, Teddy."


Alea watched without comment and knew that Shayne wouldn't appreciate any questions right now.  It was confirmed by Shayne's short responses.


Shayne looked over quizzically at  the silent woman and saw her watching her.  Frowning, Shayne remarked to her, "Let's go."  She didn't want to have to explain anything and she hoped that Teddy wouldn't be in a talkative mood today.  Turning, she quickly walked toward the street.


Alea tried to follow Shayne's lead until they had gone a couple of blocks.  Shayne's long legs cover ground twice as fast as Alea's and it was becoming hard for her to keep up.  Alea finally pulled up and placed a hand on Shayne's arm asking, "Could we slow down a little?"


Shayne looked over at the out of breath blonde and realized what she had been doing.  She smiled apologetically and replied.  "Sorry, I get moving and forget how fast I can god.  My mother use to complain about it too."


Alea was surprised at the mention of Shayne's mother, but didn't let it show on her face. She adjusted her step to Shayne's slower gait as they continued walking in silence.  Turning into a shopping complex, the next few hours were spent trying on clothes and making purchases.  Shayne insisted on paying with the comment that when the business starting making a profit, Alea could pay her back.  Alea tried to stick to the bare essentials, but noticed that Shayne kept slipping in a few things here and there.  Loaded down with packages, they headed back to the car.  Driving home Shayne asked, "Hungry?"  They had stopped for a light snack while shopping, buy it had been quite a while ago.


"I could eat." Alea replied grinning.


Rush hour traffic was in full swing and they debated where they should eat.  Finally, deciding to just go to the diner on their way home when they would be well clear of the traffic.


Arriving at the diner, Shayne looked over and realized that Alea had fallen asleep.  The blonde's face looked so peaceful, she hated to wake her.  Shayne sat watching the blonde for a moment, a strand of hair lay across Alea's face and Shayne almost leaned over to push it away before she caught herself.  Instead, she called out softly, "Alea, wake up.  We're here."  Alea popped an eye open and stretched contentedly.  Shayne watched amazed at how quickly the woman had bounced back from her troubles.  'Maybe I should take some lessons!'  Shayne thought enviously.


"Worked up an appetite with your nap?" Shayne teased lightly.  A blush and nod was Alea's response as they walked into the diner and took a booth.


"Sorry about falling asleep.   There just something about a moving car that always does me in."  Alea offered.


"Self-preservation with my driving?"


"No, not at all.  It was my father's driving that started it!"  Alea confided laughing.  "You drive very well and your car is so comfortable, you could resist!"


"Thank you." Shayne replied and handed Alea a menu.  After placing their orders, the two women chatted amicable, and Alea noted that they had actually spent a pleasant day without arguing.



Shane smiled at the obvious joy in Alea's face today.  It had been a good day between them and, after the parking lot, Shayne had made a conscious effort to keep the mood light and relatively question-free.





Shayne opened the door to be assaulted by the scent of roses.  She cautiously moved into the kitchen to find a vase of red roses with a card propped up against it.  The envelope was addressed to Alea and Shayne couldn't mistake the handwriting.  "Damn him!" Shayne exploded and threw her keys on the counter top.


Alea reached for the envelope and opened the card.  As she feared, they were from Michael.  Part of Alea was thrilled at getting the flowers.  She hadn't received flowers since well…she couldn't remember when.  Alea just wasn't thrilled about who they were from.


"Well, that was nice of him, but…" Alea replied hesitantly.


"Oh sure, just special!" Shayne spit out angrily at Alea.


"Hey, why are you getting mad at me?  I didn't ask for him to send me flowers!" Alea snapped back.


"I didn't say you did!  I'm just telling you now, he is not welcome in this house ever!" Shayne replied facing Alea.


"Well, it looks like he's already been here, now doesn't it!" Alea answered sarcastically.


"He wouldn't have been, if you hadn't encouraged him!"


"I encouraged him?  How did I accomplish that?  Was that before or after you were making a point the point of telling him I was your property?"  Alea accusingly retorted.


"I did no such thing!"


"What are you jealous or something?" Alea asked bitingly.


"Ha!"  Don't flatter yourself!" Shayne answered trying to control her anger.


"Oh, don't worry on my account.  I don't want either one of you!" Alea screamed grabbing the vase of flowers and carrying them to the front door.  She opened the door and threw the vase as far as she could.  Shayne heard the sound of breaking glass as the vase landed in the middle of the front yard, and watched speechless as Alea stormed off to her room.  Shayne couldn't believe that Alea had just done that.






Alea paced her bedroom floor furiously until she was too tired to think anymore.  She changed for bed and her last thoughts before nodding off to sleep were, 'this isn't going to work unless something drastically changes.'  What that would be Alea didn't have the slightest clue.


The next morning Alea awoke to find Shayne gone.  The roses and the vase were no where to be found and the coffeepot was still on.  Alea poured herself a cup and sat sipping it as she wondered what to do next.  Finally, she grabbed her sweatshirt and went for a walk in the woods.


Shayne arose just after sunrise and took her coffee outside.  She walked around the house to check and make sure all was in order.  Coming around to the front, she saw the broken vase and roses strewn across the front walkway.  Setting her mug down, she proceeded to clean up the mess wondering, 'What was it about the woman that makes me react the way I do around her?'  One thing was certain, she didn't like her brother nosing around Alea.  Shayne stopped suddenly as a thought popped into her head, 'Could she be right?  Am I jealous?'  Shayne laughed and shook the thought from her mind as she walked to dump the shards of glass into the trashcan.  An annoying and nagging feeling continued to follow her. 


Shayne stood looking out over the woods, deep in thought.  'What it is that draws me?  Yeah, Alea's cute in her own way, caring, great personality, but that doesn't mean I'm attracted to her!'  Shayne turned to walk back to the house as images of Alea flashed through her head.  They had done that on other occasions and Shayne hadn't really given it much thought before.  'Although, she does have a nice face and her hair is silky and soft….'  Shayne shook herself abruptly to stop where her thoughts were headed and walked back to the house.  'Knock it off, you are just feeling guilty about the flowers!'  Shayne decided that she needed to resolve that issue and grabbed her keys off the counter.  The nearest florist was 45 minutes away and if she hurried, she could be back before Alea woke up.


Alea walked down the path, following along the stream.  It was quiet and peaceful back here and she sat down on a log to relax and listen to the soothing sound of the wind and water.  Alea closed her eyes and tried to meditate to get her mind off of her current problems.  Instead of clearing her mind, it kept filling with images of a tall raven-haired woman.  'What is it about her?  Why do I set her off so much?  It's almost like I purposely antagonize her to get a response!'  Alea scolded herself at these thoughts.  'I want her attention!'  Alea sat up quickly on this self-revelation.  The more she thought about this, the more she tried to tell herself no.  "Alea you have a penchant for impossible relationships!  Why are you always drawn to women you can't possibly have?" She asked herself outloud.  She knew she had to get past this if she were going to continue in this partnership.  "Keep yourself focused on the task at hand!" She said softly to the wind.  "You can get past this infatuation."  Slapping her hands on her knees in final conclusion, Alea stood up and headed back toward the house, chanting a silent mantra.  'Just friends!  Just friends!'  She wasn't sure who she was trying to kid and pushed that thought away sharply.




Shayne quietly let herself into the house and set the new roses on the table and propped the card next to them.  She hesitated leaving the card, but it said what she needed it to say.  Shayne sensed that she was alone in the house and worried, she went to peek into Alea's room.  Alea's clothes were still there and Shayne let out the breath she had been holding.  Walking through the house, she exited out the back door and went in search of the woman.


Alea let herself in the front door.  Shayne's car was back and she was curious as to where the uncommunicative woman had gone.  Walking into the kitchen she was confronted by two dozen red roses and an envelope with her name on it.  Opening the envelope, Alea pulled out the card.  It was a simple apology card from Shayne and for some reason brought tears to her eyes.  She quickly blinked them away as she heard Shayne come through the back door and looked up into startling blue eyes.


Shayne stopped suddenly in the doorway when she saw Alea and their eyes locked for a moment.  Shayne could see the teary expression on Alea's face and it stopped her dead in her tracks.  She hadn't expected such a response from the woman.  "I just wanted to say I was sorry for yesterday and for reacting like I did." Shayne stammered.


"Thank you but, you didn't have to.  I'm the one who had the temper tantrum and threw them out the front door."  Alea replied slightly smiling.  "They are beautiful though, thank you very much."


"Yes, well, your welcome." Shayne hesitated and answered.  Suddenly, she was embarrassed by her display of affection.  They stood mutually uncomfortable grasping for what to say next.

Alea looked into deep blue eyes and asked, "What do you want from me?"


"Nothing!"  Shayne replied and moved a little closer to the woman.


"I don't believe you!" Alea's voice quivered, but she defiantly stared back at the tall woman.


"You can believe whatever you like!" Shayne retorted angrily throwing up her hands.  "I don't need you!"


"You are so quick to push everyone away, but the truth is you are so needy that it scares you!"


"Whatever!" Shayne replied coldly and turned to walk away.  Alea's words had cut her deeper than she had expected.  Shayne was having trouble breathing and her anger was to a point that even she couldn't understand.


"That's it! Run away, you're always doing that!"  Alea's voice cut through Shayne's heart like a knife.  She spun around and quickly approached the blonde and backed her to the wall.


"Don't you even go there lady!  You don't know anything about me.  I've never run from anything in my life!" Shayne knew the latter wasn't totally true, but did want to hear it.  Alea wasn't sure where her courage or strength of conviction came from, but she couldn't stop herself.  She didn't want to stop herself!  Alea looked up into blue eyes and steadily replied, "you've been running from life for so long that it's become second nature to you.  What are you afraid of?  Feeling?  Or me?"


Shayne didn't want to hear the words that came out of Alea's mouth.  She knew the truth in those words, but wanted to close her ears and heart to anything this woman had to say.  She slammed the woman against the wall and she was caught in the depths of the green eyes beneath her.  Shayne roughly pressed her lips against Alea's, forcing her tongue into the woman's mouth.  Was it in an effort to stop her from saying anymore or to just taste the woman that has haunted her thoughts since they first met?


Alea struggled briefly before groaning and submitting to Shayne's questing tongue.  She left her hands on Shayne's shoulders but no longer tried to push the woman away.  Shayne grabbed Alea's wrists and pinned them to the wall over her head as she moved her lips down the woman's neck, blazing a trail of bites and ending the journey by biting roughly on the tender skin at the base of her neck.  Alea's mind registered the pain, but her body responded to a darker need and she moaned as Shayne switched to hold both wrists with one hand and tugged roughly at Alea's shirt.  Buttons flew as the shirt was violently pulled open and Shayne pressed her face between the creamy breasts before her. 


Shayne had never felt feelings so intense before, she wanted to take this woman, to consume all that was Alea.  Warning bells went off in her head and she knew that this was wrong, but she craved Alea's touch like nothing before.  Each moan of the imprisoned woman fueled Shayne's desire higher and she tugged down on the woman's bra to free the prize that awaited her.  Shayne pulled a nipple into her mouth and it hardened instantly.  She sucked strongly on the orb until she got the desired response out of Alea.  Shayne desperately needed to hear Alea's voice; it was a drug to her soul.  Releasing Alea's hands, Shayne quickly striped the woman's pants and undergarments to pool down around her ankles.


Alea's arms went around Shayne as the woman, once again, captured her lips and invaded her willing mouth.  Tongues vied for dominance as Shayne trailed her hand through Alea's wet curls, and dipped between the wet folds.  Alea gasped into Shayne's mouth and her tongue renewed its passion-heightened battle.


Shayne groaned inwardly at how wet Alea was.  The blonde's mouth tasted of sweet honey and she wanted to claim every part of it as her own.  Tongue slipped over tongue as Shayne's hand slid through the wet nether lips and circled a rapidly swelling nub.  She slid her fingers around and around the nerve ending until she could feel Alea's legs grow weak, and she pressed the woman's body harder to the wall.  Shayne's mouth moved down, nipping roughly at Alea's neck and locked onto the soft flesh of her neck to suck deeply as she plunged two fingers into Alea's body.


Alea's breath quivered as her body responded to Shayne's handling.  Her breath coming in short gasps as her vision began to cloud.  A sharp pain registered on her neck, but was quickly forgotten as Shayne entered her body.  Alea almost passed out as her senses went into overload and she mindlessly rode the questing fingers.  As the fire breached her core, Alea cried out.  "Oh my God!" before letting the waves of ecstasy descend upon her.


Shayne felt Alea tighten around her fingers and sucked harder on the neck as she worked them faster, reaching deeply into Alea's body in an effort to touch her soul.  Alea's shout and release brought Shayne to an orgasm along with her.  Shayne collapsed against Alea as their breathing rasped in each other's ear.  Alea's hands dropped to her side as Shayne withdrew from her body and leaned against her with just her body.


'What have I done?'  Shayne's heart cried out to itself, disgusted that she had forced herself upon Alea.   Even thought she had responded, it was not excuse and Shayne could not get past the horror of what she had just done.  'I've turned out no better than my brother, maybe it is in the blood.' Shayne thought despondently.  Pulling back from Alea, she whispered, "I'm so sorry.  I'm so sorry," before turning and running from the house.





Alea slid down the wall to the floor and leaned her head against her knees trying to get her breathing under control.  'Oh, my God!  What have I done?'  She thought as the tears burned behind her eyes.  Once again, Alea had let her emotions overtake her good senses.  "Damn you Alea!  Why couldn't you just shut your mouth and walk away!"  Alea berated herself for her lack of control.  She knew Shayne had not really wanted her, at least not in the way she needed to be wanted.  Gathering herself up, she went to her room and shut the door.  Removing her disheveled clothing, she stepped into the shower to try to remove any trace of Shayne from her body, her heart was another matter.  She closed her mind to the thoughts of Shayne's touch on her body and the desperation that had fueled them.  Stepping from the shower, she looked at herself in the mirror.  Green locked with green and she quietly said to herself, "These infatuations are going to kill you one day.  You just don't need this right now."    Alea climbed into bed and pulled the covers over her head as a tear slipped down her cheek.  "Alea, you sure have a knack for finding impossible relationships."  She chuckled falsely trying to ignore the gnawing pain in her chest.



Shayne walked along the bank of the stream cussing to herself before dropping down onto a log.  She ran a hand over her face and caught the essence of Alea and groaned.  Rising quickly, she moved to the water and grabbed a handful of slit from the bottom and rubbed her hands together briskly before rinsing them in the cold stream.  Returning to her log, she looked over at the swirling water and lamented.  "I can't believe I just did that!   I should have just walked away and not let what she said get to me!  What in the hell could I have been thinking?  She isn't some one-night stand!"  A little voice spoke up and asked, 'Then what is she?'


"A business partner, nothing more!" Shayne retorted growing agitated as the voice persisted.  'Are you sure?'   "Yes!  Yes!  I don't need her or anyone like her in my life!"  Shayne stomped down the trail shouting to the trees, "I'm doing fine by myself.  No more lies, no more deceit, and no more pain, end of story!"  Shayne closed her mouth and her heart with a snap, and headed back toward the house.  She entered the house and didn't see Alea; her bedroom door was closed.  Lightly rapping, she received no response and breathed a sigh of relief, and headed to the Den.  Flipping on the television, she half listened to the ballgame as her mind whirled with what she needed to say to Alea. 


Shayne wasn't sure how long she sat there staring at the screen before she felt someone else in the room.  Her heartrate increased as she stared intently at the figures on the screen.  She wasn't sure who was playing or what the score was, but she watched as if in total concentration.


Alea stepped into the room and noticed the far away look in Shayne's eyes before they snapped their attention to the television.  'O.K., I guess it's my move, huh?' She thought to herself before moving further into the room.


"Shayne?  Can we talk?"


"Huh?" Shayne feigned inattention and looked up briefly before diverting her eyes back to the screen.  "Sure, I guess we should talk."


"Yes, I think we need to clear the air." Alea replied and took a seat across from Shayne, causing the tall woman to look directly at her.


Shayne looked over with a controlled expression on her face and replied, "First, I'd like to apologize for earlier.   I don't know what got into me, but it's no excuse.  I will understand if you don't want to continue as partners but, I can promise you it wouldn't happen again."


Alea nodded, the last remark touching a cord deep within that she quickly cut off and replied, "I want to apologize too for what I said.  I had no right to say those things to you.  I definitely want to work this out…as partners."


Shayne nodded and stated, "Anything else would cloud the issue and wouldn't be beneficial to either of us."


"I agree!" Alea replied too quickly.


There was an uncomfortable lag in the conversation as each woman struggled with what to say next.  Finally, Shayne asked, "I'm hungry and I was thinking of running out to get some dinner, want to come?"


"Sure, sounds good." Alea replied and went to retrieve her jacket.


"Tomorrow, I need to get some groceries.  There is nothing in the house." Shayne replied smiling.  "There's only so much Diner food I can handle!"


Alea laughed trying to keep up with the lightened mood and agreed, "I hear that!"





Bud Shape was headed out for lunch when he saw the two women exit their car and approach his office.  "Great just what I need." He mumbled under his breath before plastering a smile on his face and opening the door for them.  "Good afternoon ladies.  What can I do for you today?"


Shayne motioned for Alea to take the lead and stood back.  "I'm Alea Archer and I owned the bookstore that was burned…" Alea paused as Shayne jabbed her in the back to keep her from following that train of thought. 


"Anyway…" Alea added giving Shayne an unfriendly look.  "We are in the process of looking for another site to rent."


"Yes, I was really sorry to hear what happened to your store.  Your store was a definite plus to the town." Bud replied as his assistant looked on skeptical of her employer's sincerity.  She had worked with Bud long enough to realize that he didn't get involved with anything that happened in town.  It was his philosophy that a realtor needed to remain impartial in order to conduct his business.  What he meant was that it made good business sense to play both sides of the fence.


"We were wondering if you had any rental listings that would be suitable for another bookstore?" Alea asked.


The realtor pulled out his book of listings and flipped through the pages before replying.  "I do have an excellent location opening up shortly.  It's in the new strip mall by the interstate, the traffic should be quite good through there."


"Well, we were really hoping to stay in town." Alea added.


Bud scratched his chin.  He knew what the talk around town was, and he also knew that the strip mall was far enough out of town to not cause any trouble for him.  "I'm sorry, but there really isn't too much available right now."


"You mean you have absolutely no rental property in town?" Shayne spoke up, her voice bordering on aggression.


"Currently, no."  Bud replied defensively.


"Then what do you have for sale?" Shayne snapped back quickly.


"I have two properties currently on the market, but both would require substantial renovations to bring them up to code for a retail store.    Frankly, the sale price the sellers are asking is a bit high for what type of work still has to be done to them."


"How much?"  Shayne fired back.  If she had to, she would purchase the property just to prove a point.  She didn't like the man and knew that he wasn't going to be very cooperative towards them.


"One is listed for $260,000 and I'd estimate approximately another $75,000 to make it inhabitable.  The other is listed at $190,000 and needs more in the line of another $100,000 to be able to get a certificate of occupancy."  Bud replied smugly.  He knew that those two properties would never sell, they had been listed for over three years as it was. 


Alea sighed and looked at Shayne shaking her head sadly.  Shayne shook off her look and turned back to the realtor until she felt a tugging on her arm.


"Well, that's a bit high for us.  Thank you for your time, Mr. Shape." Alea replied pulling Shayne toward the door.


"Are you sure you won't reconsider the new mall.  It's almost at full occupancy right now." Bud pressed, after all, he was still interested in making a sale.


"We will let you know." Alea called back.  


Bud didn't wait for them to get to their car, and he was running out the back door.  "I'm taking my lunch now, Rita.  See you in about an hour."   Rita watched until he was gone and grabbed a slip of paper and headed to the front door.


When they exited the door, Shayne pulled her arm out of Alea's grasp and stood staring at her.


"Just what the hell was that about?" She asked angrily.


"I didn't want you to do or say something stupid in there." Alea replied and cringed when she realized how her words had sounded.


"Excuse me?"


"What I meant is that I didn't want you to get mad and spend that kind of money." Alea tried to explain.


"He was lying through his teeth and it would have been worth it to call him on it." Shayne barked and threw up her hands.


"Well, you may have that luxury, but I can't afford it!" Alea shouted back.


Shayne looked over at Alea and opened her mouth to reply when the door to the real estate office opened up and a woman poked her head out.  She looked up and down the street before coming out and approaching the two women.


"Hello, my name is Rita and I'm Bud's associate."  Rita introduced herself.  "I know you are looking for a place to rent to start another bookstore and I might be able to help you.  I just received two possible listings today for storefronts over on Avery.  Bud doesn't even know about them yet.  I also know that Ed Martin will consider renting them too. "


"Do you know how we can contact him?" Alea asked growing hopeful.


"Yes, I wrote down the particulars on the buildings and you can reach Ed at Martin's pharmacy over on First.   But, you're going to have to hurry on this one.  When Bud gets back from lunch and finds out about these listings, he will trip over himself to get Ed to sign a sales commitment." Rita remarked and handed Alea the information.


"Well, thank you.  We will head over there right now." Alea replied as Shayne got behind the wheel.  Rita went back into the store and hoped that Bud didn't find out what she had done.  She couldn't afford to lose this job.


Shayne and Alea went to see the owner and thirty minutes later they walked out of the pharmacy with a rental agreement in their hands.  The two women spent the next month immersed in setting up the new bookstore.  There wasn't much time to interact or relax and when they did it usually ended up in an argument.  Finally, both women decided to keep pretty much to their own tasks.  Nothing further had been said about the incident, but it didn't stop either from occasionally catching themselves watching the other.





Opening day arrived and Alea was excited and Shayne nervous.  Shayne had promised to help out, but would have preferred remaining in the background.  They had scheduled their opening to coincide with the town's Summer Fair.  The crowds were a bit overwhelming to Shayne, but the business was good.  Alea handled customer inquiries and stock while Shayne manned the register and wrote up orders.  As the afternoon progressed, Shayne found that her line was getting longer and longer and many of the customers were asking questions that Alea should have been handling.  She scanned the store to find Alea standing and talking with a tall blonde.  Shayne began to get annoyed as she watched Alea laughing and casually conversing with the woman.  The blonde put her hand on Alea's arm as their laughter reached Shayne.


"Excuse me, but do you have the book or not?" The customer asked impatiently.


"I'll have to check." Shayne replied stiffly.


"Well, while you are checking on that, can you check something for me too?" Another questioned.


"I'll do the best I can." Shayne answered and tried to get Alea's attention.


"You should get more help!  I've been waiting 15 minutes already!"


"You're right!" Shayne snapped and left the register, walking toward the couple.


"I don't mean to break up your little party, but do you think you can help out?" Shayne sarcastically asked Alea, who looked up into angry blue eyes and didn't like the attitude she was receiving.


"I'm helping this customer!" Alea snapped back without moving to help Shayne.  The blonde looked a little startled as she looked back and forth between Shayne and Alea.


"Fine!  I'll just tell them we don't carry the books!"  Shayne spun around and walked back toward her growing line at the register.


"Excuse me.  I'd better go straighten this out." Alea told the blonde.


"No problem.  I'll stop by next week sometime when you are less busy and check to see if those titles have come in yet.  My name is Barbara, by the way."


"Alea, and it was nice to meet you.  I'll put your order in today."  She informed her and smiled warmly.


"Thank you.  Well, until next week then."


Alea watched appreciatively as the woman walk through the crowd to the exit before moving toward the register and an angry Shayne.


'Hmm, things are looking up!'  Alea thought with a smile. Barbara was new to town and Alea found they had similar reading interests.  'It will be nice to have someone around to share new books with.'  Alea thought.  This town definitely wasn't a boon of cultural intelligence.


Shayne watched Alea approach smugly and it angered her even more.  She turned to the customer and loudly stated, "Sorry, we don't carry those titles."  The woman was the typical city dweller with a superiority complex.  She considered herself to be 'slumming' today as she spent the day browsing through the quaint small town shops.


"You've got to be kidding!"   The woman replied.  "They are classics!"  Shayne looked up and smiled, "No, sorry."  And watched as she bustled out of the store muttering something about backwoods inadequacies.


Shayne looked up grinning and came eye to eye with flaming green eyes and her grin quickly disappeared.


"Why did you do that?" Alea asked quietly over her shoulder as she stepped behind the counter next to Shayne.


"Because I didn't like her attitude and I'm busy here!" Shayne replied back.


"Well, I was coming over to help.  You could have waited until I could talk to her."


"Whatever!" Shayne didn't want to spend the afternoon bickering and waited on the next customer.


"You're answer to everything!" Alea hissed in her ear as she moved from behind the counter to help a customer.  Shayne's hair stood on end from the contact.  Shayne took a deep breath and pushed all her emotions away and thought angrily, 'Bite Me!'


The weekend was a smashing success and the store was well on its way to recovering their initial investment.  Shayne's presence wasn't needed as much and she went back to her work at home.  The next week she stopped by the store to pick up Alea and help close up.  Shayne entered the store to find Alea with the blonde from opening day, huddled over a book talking like old friends.  Alea hadn't begun to close up shop and again, Shayne felt her temper begin to simmer.


"Oh, hi Shayne.  Sorry, I guess I wasn't watching the clock and I haven't totaled out the register yet."  Alea called out to her.


"Obviously." Shayne replied coldly and went behind the counter and began to roughly push the register buttons.  Alea could sense Shayne's mood and just ignored her.


"Well, I've kept you long enough.  I'd better be going." Barbara replied looking back at Shayne's stiff figure.


"Let me help you carry those out." Alea offered and followed Barbara from the store.


Shayne sighed when the women had left and kicked herself for getting so easily angered by Alea.  "Get a grip Shayne. Why do you let her get under your skin?"


Piling the books on the seat next to her, Barbara decided to take a shot at things.  "I was wondering if you'd be interested in dinner this weekend?"


Alea was startled for a moment and almost refused until she looked into blue eyes and instantly replied, "Why, yes that would be wonderful."


"Well, why don't we say Saturday evening around 6 p.m.  I'll pick you up and we can drive into the city."  Barbara suggested.


"Sounds great!"


"Shall I pick you up here or at home?" Barbara asked uncertainly.


"Oh…." Alea began and paused.  "Why don't you pick me up here so we don't waste any time."


"Until Saturday then."


Alea walked back into the bookstore, as Shayne was finishing up and put the receipts in the bank bag with the deposit.  Shayne looked up with an annoyed expression and Alea walked past and began shutting off the lights.


"All set?"


"Yes." Alea replied and walked out the front door.  Shayne set the alarm and followed her.  They drove in silence to the house, Alea wasn't sure what she would tell Shayne about Saturday.


"We're going to have to see about getting a car for you." Shayne announced as they pulled into the driveway.


"O.K." Alea replied feeling awkward that she was putting Shayne out by having to drive her to and from work all the time.


Alea made a conscious effort the rest of the week to keep out of Shayne's way and not antagonize the woman.  Saturday morning rolled around and as Shayne dropped Alea by the bookstore, she knew she couldn't put the knowledge of her date off any longer.


"You won't have to bother picking me up tonight." Alea began and paused to think her words carefully. 


Shayne's eyebrow went up in response as her heart skipped a beat before she regained control and let the wall fall back into place.


"I'm going out tonight.  I don't know how late I'll be." She finished and waited for Shayne's response.


"Oh, O.K." Shayne replied disinterestedly.  She wasn't sure exactly what she was feeling about this turn of events, but at least the woman would be out of her hair for one evening.






Alea was surprised at Shayne's silence; she at least expected a sarcastic comment or questions about her date.  Shayne pulled up to the curb and waited for Alea to get out before pulling away without saying another word.


Shayne spent the day outdoors working on the landscape and didn't quit until her muscles were stiff.  She took a shower and perched herself in front of her monitor and tried to concentrate on the pile of work in front of her.  The house was peacefully quiet, but she still couldn't concentrate.  Finally, Shayne gave up and went to bed to watch television.


Barbara picked Alea up promptly at 6 PM and they drove into the city.  As they traveled they talked comfortably about their mutual interests.  Barbara had an easy-going gentleness about her that Alea really liked, and the ride seemed to go faster than usual.  Alea also had to admit that the blonde looked pretty good tonight.  Her blue eyes were her most striking feature and Alea loved the way they sparkled when they looked in her direction.  Barbara parked the car and as they walked toward the restaurant, she put her hand lightly on Alea's back to guide her.


"I hope you like Italian food?" Barbara asked holding open the door for her date to proceed her through.


"Absolutely love it!" Alea grinned inhaling the spicy aroma of the restaurant.


"Good, because they have the best here."


The two women sat across the candlelit table and Alea was once again mesmerized by the deep eyes and how they crinkled at the edges when she laughed.  Alea wondered if Shayne's eyes ever did that, she couldn't remember when she had last heard or seen the woman really laugh.


"Penny for your thoughts?" Barbara asked quietly reaching out to touch Alea's had as it rested on the table.


"Oh…." Alea stammered blushing. "Noth..nothing special," she grinned to cover her embarrassment.  Barbara smiled in return and kept her hand lightly resting on Alea's.


"Interested in some dancing after dinner?"


"Sure." Alea accepted readily.  Her hand tingled where the woman was touching her until the food arrived and the hand was removed.  Throughout dinner they conversed like old friends and on more than one occasion, the tall blonde winked at Alea causing her to blush deeply.  'God, I feel like a teenager on my first date!' Alea thought to herself and then realized how long it had been since she had actually had a date.  It had been a long time since anyone had paid this much attention to her.  Dinner went smoothly as the Merlot dulled her senses and the food warmed her body, and she began to relax a bit.  Barbara had been right, the food was excellent, and she was enjoying the stressless evening.


After dinner, they crossed the street to the club and settled into a booth above the dance floor.   Alea remarked, "You know your way around this city.  I take it this is where you moved from."

"Actually, with my job, I've lived in a few different cities."


"What exactly do you do?" Alea leaned forward with interest.


"I was an insurance software trainer.  Now, I just develop the software and I don't have to travel so much." Barbara explained as the waitress approached to take their order.  "What would you like?"


"Vodka Tonic with lime." Alea replied.


"Make that two please." Barbara nodded to the waitress.


"Wow, so you actually develop the software, that's impressive.  I can maneuver my way around a PC, but you and Shayne really have the knowledge.  She has a business that designs websites." Alea explained.


Barbara leaned forward, closer to Alea and asked, "Are you two anything?"


"Oh no!" Alea stammered, "we are just business partners".  'And we share the same house' she added silently.


"Good." Barbara purred.  "Would you care to dance?"


"Yes." Alea was anxious to get past the awkward moment and let the woman lead her onto the crowded floor.


"I'm not really good at this, I hope I don't crush your toes." Alea laughed nervously when the tall blonde pulled her closer.  Barbara leaned down and spoke in her ear, "Don't worry about it.  Just stay close and follow me."


Alea inwardly groaned and thought, 'she is pushing all the right buttons.'  The woman held her close and lightly pushed her hips against Alea's as she moved to the slow sensual rhythm.  She lowered her hands to rest on Alea's hips and held her firmly.


Alea could feel the heat rising from their bodies and waited for that deep burning of desire, but it was more a feeling of excitement, and she reasoned that, 'It's just new.  I don't know her that well yet.'   Alea challenged her feelings by placing her head on the woman's shoulder and let her guide their bodies.


Shayne flipped through the channels bored, finally getting up and going back to work.  She surfed the net for awhile and then decided to work up a webpage for their bookstore.   They had named the bookstore, "The Browser" as a joke, but the name had finally stuck.  Shayne scanned in a picture of Alea that she had taken outside the store on opening day.  She had caught the blonde's unaware and the expression on her face had been priceless.  Even looking at it now made Shayne smile in remembrance.  Alea had been so excited that day and Shayne had been able to capture the look without her knowing it.  Looking over what she had up already, she stretched satisfied with the work, and looked over at the clock.  '2 AM.  Where is Alea?'


The tall blonde pulled the car into the drive and walked around to open Alea's door.  "I had a wonderful time tonight, thank you." Alea offered getting out of the car.


"Me too!  I'd like to see you again."  Barbara replied.


"I think I would like that."


"How about lunch on Monday?" Barbara inquired.


"O.K., It will have to be around 1:30 PM though.  We get people coming in on their lunch hours and I can't close the store until afterwards."


"That's fine, I'm flexible." Barbara replied and leaned down to place a soft kiss on the shorter woman's cheek.  "Sweet dreams."


"Same to you." Alea replied smiling.  She watched as Barbara pulled out of the driveway before entering the house.  The place was quiet and dark until she neared the study and heard a low murmur of voices and the soft flicker of the television in the darkened room.  Alea tiptoed in and found Shayne asleep on the sofa.  She quietly turned off the TV and pulled the throw from the back of the sofa to cover the sleeping woman.  Alea looked down at the relaxed features of Shayne and her peaceful countenance, and sadly thought, 'I wish you could find such peace in your waking life too.  What is it that makes you so on guard all the time?'  Knowing she would receive no answers tonight, Alea turned and quietly went to bed.





Shayne awoke stiff and cramped, and realized that she had fallen asleep on the sofa.  The television was turned off, an indication that Alea had finally come home.  Stretching her body out, Shayne decided to go for a brisk jog to loosen the kinks in her body and her brain.  She went to her room and quickly changed into sweats and followed the path along the stream.  Setting up a steady gait, she focused on her breathing and tuned everything around her out except for the sound of her heart beating in her ears.  Halfway down the stream, she crossed over and began to circle back to the house.  The sweat glistened on her skin and she was feeling good with her workout.  At the end of the stream, she crossed over again and ran toward the house.  As she neared, Shayne broke out into a full run and pushed her legs and lungs as far as they would go.  Her chest heaving, she slowed to a walk and went around the house in an effort to cool down.


Alea watched as Shayne gracefully began to pick up speed on her full out run.  'The woman sure has the legs for it.' She thought enviously and continued to watch Shayne as she cooled down.  When the raven-haired woman stepped out of sight around the corner of the house, Alea resumed her breathing and headed down the path Shayne had just vacated.  She wasn't ready to answer any questions about last night and decided a little exercise wouldn't hurt her either.


Shayne showered and made a pot of coffee, and was sitting on the patio enjoying it when Alea returned from her walk.  The sun glinted off her golden highlights and then Shayne noticed she was soaking wet.


"What happened?" Shayne grinned knowingly.


Alea frowned and replied, "I slipped and fell in!" 


Shayne nodded, "Yeah those rocks at the cross-over are pretty moss covered and slippery.  I've fallen in a few times myself."


"That was cold!" Alea complained pulling the wet fabric from her body.


"A hot shower should do the trick."


"Yeah, I'm headed there right now!"  Alea walked into the house and headed for her room thankful that their conversation had been cordial.  'Why is it that we always end up fighting?'  She asked herself for the millionth time.


They spent a quiet leisurely afternoon in separate pursuits.  Alea sat in the den reading while Shayne worked at the computer.  Alea noticed that, on more than a few occasions, she would look up to catch Shayne absently staring out the window with a look on her face that she just couldn't read.  It was at these times that she really wanted to know what was going on within this woman, but she knew better than to pursue it.  Shayne was a very private person and Alea had learned early on, that if she pried too deeply, Shayne would withdraw deeply into herself and they would end up fighting.


Shayne was aware that Alea was staring at her and looked back to her monitor and added a few entries to the site she was working on when the telephone rang.




Alea looked up in time to see Shayne's face turn to stone and her heart skipped a beat as she thought, 'Oh no, What now?'


"What do you want?"  Shayne answered gruffly and turned her back to the blonde and looked out the window.  Alea could see the stiffness in the erect body and the tension that radiated from her.  Trying to calm her breathing, Shayne listened to her brother talk about an upcoming family meeting.


"I have no desire to be involved.  I've told you this before."


Alea looked down at her book, unsure if she should leave the room or not, and decided, that if Shayne had wanted privacy she would have walked out with the cordless phone.  Shayne rested her head against the cool glass of the window as her brother ranted about her duties and her obvious lack of respect for the family.


"Michael, I don't really care what you think about me.   Papa knew how I felt and I'm telling you, I don't want anything to do with you or the family business.  You can have it all."  Shayne's clipped tone alerted to Alea to am impending storm brewing.


"You can send ten cars for me and I still won't come to the meeting.   Bullshit!   Uncle Sal understands how I feel, so don't even try to use that tactic!"  Shayne's shoulders were bunching up and she banging her head against the glass pane.  Alea had never seen her so agitated and she began to worry that Shayne would end up hurting herself. 


"No Michael that is your life, not mine!"  Shayne's fist bunched at her side and she really wanted to hit something, anything, especially her brother.


"Is that a threat Michael?" Shayne asked and felt a tingle run up her spine.  She knew what her brother was capable of, she had seen his handiwork in the past, and some of it had been at her expense.


"What I do in my life and who I choose to include in it is my business.  It has nothing to do with you; can't you get that through your head?  We have the misfortune of being brother and sister, nothing more!"  Michael wasn't letting this one go and he began to bully Shayne about the family hierarchy and his duty to that tradition, which he took seriously.  She supposedly had no choice, he, as head of the family now would call all the shots.

"Michael, listen to me…. I'm only going to say this one more time…what I do with my life is no concern of yours.  You don't have a say so, just stay out of it."  Alea didn't know what Michael was saying to Shayne, but she could see the woman visibly grow weary.  Instead of erupting into her usual anger, her shoulder's sagged and rubbed her eyes tired.  Whatever it was, Alea realized that her blue-eyed partner wasn't so immune after all.


Shayne listened to her brother as he spoke the truth about her.  As much as he had no right to delve into her past or her life, everything he said about her was the truth.  She had allowed herself to stop caring about everything and everyone when their parents had died.  She no longer wanted to feel connected to anyone and yes, she probably would die alone, a sad pathetic individual.   She could feel the tears burning her eyes and knew that she needed to end this conversation quickly.  'Damn you Michael, why can't you just leave me alone.'


Alea arose from her chair and went to stand behind the tall woman, hesitant to touch her, but sensing a breakdown in her usual stoic demeanor.  


"Good-bye Michael." Shayne finally just hung up the phone cutting him off in mid-sentence.    Shayne rested her head against the cool glass and felt the pain of the past reach in and grip her heart.  She just wanted it to stop somehow; she wanted to feel something other than pain.  Shayne started when she felt arms wrap around her from behind and the darkness began to lift.  She felt a calming begin in her soul before she realized what was happening.


Alea held Shayne from behind, at first she felt tension and then she felt a slight tremor, and Shayne begin to relax against her.  'Maybe?' A glimmer of hope flew through Alea's body and then reality was once again slapped in her face.


"Please, don't touch me."  Shayne's raspy voice begged and she jerked herself away and walked out of the room.




Alea hesitated in front of her closet looking at her meager supply of clothing. "I really have to do some shopping." She grumbled and chose an outfit. She was having lunch with Barbara and wanted to dress decently. Barbara always seemed to be put together so perfectly that Alea sometimes felt like a poor relation. Not that Barbara ever made her feel that way, just the opposite, Barbara had a knack for making Alea feel like she was really someone special. Alea couldn't believe that someone like Barbara would be interested in her. 'You sound just like your mother now!' She scolded herself and quickly moved on to other, more pleasant, thoughts. Combing back her long blonde hair, she gave herself a once-over in the mirror and headed out to see if Shayne was ready to take her to work. She hadn't talked to the raven-haired woman after last night's incident, she had disappeared into her room leaving Alea standing alone and confused, once again.

Alea walked into the kitchen to find a note with a set of car keys lying on the table.


Take my car today. I'm not up to going out anywhere.


Alea frowned surprised, Shayne usuallly didn't have a problem getting over things quickly, her brother must have really gotten to her. She scribbled a note saying she hoped she would be feeling better soon and would be home right after work. Alea felt nervous driving the flashy car, but it was such a great ride that she was actually enjoying herself as she pulled up in front of the store.

Shayne heard the car pull out of the drive and looked back into the mirror, "You coward!" She spat at herself before turning on the shower until the water steamed and stepped under it grimacing.



Alea busied herself with a new shipment between waiting on customers. After the lunch crowd had thinned she rushed to unpack the last of the week's shipment as she waited for Barbara. In her haste, Alea tried to overextend her reach and balance on the step stool in an attempt to catch the books that were sliding from the shelf. Before she could compensate, she felt herself sliding sideways along with the books and knew that both she and them would be on the floor soon. All of a sudden arms caught her from behind and wrapped around her waist. Sliding slowly down, within the circle of these arms, Alea came eye to eye with Barbara's piercing blue ones.

"Oh my....thanks." Alea stammered as she clung to the tall woman in an attempt to regain her balance.

"Mmmmm, I think I like this greeting." Barbara drawled huskily as she looked deeply into green eyes.

Alea blushed as the woman leaned in and gently captured her lips. The kiss was gentle, yet demanding as Alea allowed her to deepen it. She felt her cheeks flare with the heat of the kiss and when they broke, she sucked in a deep breath of air.

"Wow! I've never been rescued quite like that before!" Alea replied.

"Hmm, maybe you just haven't met the right hero before." The tall blonde chuckled and lightly kissed her again.

"Maybe." Alea replied grinning.

Barbara made sure Alea was steady on her feet before releasing her and asking, "Are you ready for lunch?"

"Lunch? Oh..yeah, let me just lock up." Alea quickly began closing up for lunch, grateful for something to change the mood of the moment. Barbara watched the shorter woman's nervousness and smiled satisfied with the response.

Shayne had no sooner sat down at her computer when she heard a car pull up out front. Looking out the window, she felt a tight pressure begin in her chest. Taking a deep breath, she moved to the door and opened it.

"Uncle Sal what's wrong?"

"Does anything have to be wrong for an Uncle to visit his favorite niece?" He asked walking toward the woman. "Shayne, it's good to see you." Her uncle added and hugged her tightly.

"What's this all about? You've never just dropped by for a visit before." Shayne had never known her uncle to venture far from his office let alone out of the city. She stepped back to allow him to enter the house before looking up at his driver who remained leaning against the car fender. Jimmy had been her uncle's driver for as long as she could remember. He nodded at her without comment. Shayne had also never heard him say more than two sentences in the entire time she had known him. She smiled in reply and turned to follow her uncle into the house.

"I need to talk to you, but I want you to promise you will listen to me before you say a word." Her uncle looked at her seriously and waited for her response. Shayne reluctantly nodded and only then did he sit down at the kitchen table.

"Sit..sit." He commanded with authority and Shayne did so without comment.

"O.K., first of all, you know Michael has called a family meeting?"

"Yes." Shayne replied tersely. She knew exactly where this talk was headed and she didn't like it at all. The tightening in her chest was making it difficult for her to breathe and she needed to calm herself.

Sal saw the immediate tensing in his niece and reached across to gently grasp her hand. "Shayne relax. You know I will no longer allow anything to happen to you or anything be said about you, right?" He replied in a calming tone.

"I know." Shayne admitted and took a deep breath.

"Bene. But, you also know that he has made a big issue of your attendance at this meeting. He's even gone so far as to ask your aunt to be in attendance with you."

Shayne's head shot up and her eyes turned a dark blue at the mention of the woman. "He has no right!"

Sal squeezed her hand at her reaction and replied, "Don't worry. Your aunt and I have discussed this and she is fine with it. Actually, she said she wanted to be there if your were being forced to attend." They both shared a smile at the picture of the fiesty little woman going up against Michael.

"Yes. Even he doesn't stand a chance against her." Shayne admitted chuckling and relaxing slightly.

"I'm not exactly sure what Michael has up his sleeve, but I have a good idea and I can handle whatever it is." He assured her.

"I'm not going!"

"Basta! You have to." He replied stalling any argument from Shayne.

Shayne got up and began to pace the kitchen floor. "Why? Why can't I just live my life without his interference? I'm not threat to him or anyone else for that matter!" Shayne replied in frustration.

"I know this and so does the rest of the family, but Michael is in charge for now and we have to do it this way for the time being."

Shayne looked out the window thinking. Her life would never be her own until Michael let her go. One way or another, she had to be free.

"So, I'll send a car for you Friday morning and you come to the meeting, and then have something to eat with your aunt and me afterwards. Don't worry I will handle Michael this time." Her uncle said and stood up, effectively finishing the conversation.

Shayne turned to face him and a ghost of a smile flickered across her face. She wished she could feel as confident as he did. She knew her brother and he had an agenda all his own, it didn't always mean playing by the rules. She nodded and hugged the elderly man before walking him to his car.

Jimmy opened the back door of the car with a slid nod to Shayne before walking around and getting behind the wheel.




"Friday, 9 AM capisce?" Her uncle called out the open car window.

"Yes, I understand." Shayen replied defeatedly.

"Good...andiamo Jimmy."




Alea returned home that evening to find an even more subdued woman going through the motions of life. After repeated tries at interaction, she finally gave up and left Shayne to her own thoughts. Alea continued to see Barbara at the store almost every day and today the woman had asked her over for dinner on Friday night. She accepted and when she mentioned the date to Shayne, she was met with a stony silence and the woman just walked away.

Shayne's week dragged by as she waited for the inevitable on Friday. Alea's date for that evening had sent her into orbit and she used every ounce of her self-control to walk out of the room without saying a word. Shayne retreated to her room and kicked her shoe against the wall thinking, 'One thing at time, let's just get through Friday and then figure out how to deal with Alea. Who was this woman anyway?' With that last thought on her mind, Shayne threw her lanky body onto the bed and waited for sleep to rescue her from her troubles.

Friday morning dawned and Shayne drove Alea to work as if it were any other morning. She hadn't told the blonde of her impending meeting and reasoned that she would be home long before Alea so she wouldn't need to know anything.

"O.K. I guess I'll see you later tonight. I don't know how late though." Alea replied breaking the uncomfortable silence. This current uncommunicative attitude was starting to wear Alea thin.

"Yeah, whatever..." Shayne replied absently.

"Right! Whatever!" Alea retorted sharply and slammed the car door pulling Shayne out of her cocoon. Looking up confused, she watched the angry retreating figure. Shaking her head at the blonde's reponse, she quickly drove home and changed for the meeting. She chose black slacks with a silk crème blouse followed by a black jacket. She chose somber, yet with a hint of softness to insure that she would not be seen as disrespectful in anyone's eyes. Although officially, her year of mourning her father was up, some older family members would still expect this respect from her.

At promptly 9:30 AM the car pulled into the driveway and Jimmy got out. Shayne walked to the open door and got in, and began the silent ride into the city. Jimmy pulled the car to the rear of an office building. Shayne got out of the car and entered the building through a back entrance. There were already quite a few other cars parked in the small area with their drivers milling about talking and watching. Shayne hadn't been to Michael's office since the death of her father, when she told him she was leaving. She stepped into the private elevator and caught the scent of a familiar perfume, but was too preoccupied to do more than file it away in her memory. When Shayne entered his office, Michael looked up with a slightly victorious smile until he saw the look of utter hatred on his siblings face.

"I'm glad you finally came to your senses." He called out in greeting.

"I haven't changed my mind Michael. I'm only here because Uncle Sal asked me to come." Shayne replied coldly. Her cold blue eyes bore into equally hostile blue in a stand off until Michael smiled arrogantly.

"Whatever!" He shrugged moving toward another doorway. Shayne winced and realized just how annoying that one word could be, and felt a momentary feeling of repentence toward Alea.

"I think they are ready for us." Michael announced and opened the door leading to the conference room. Shayne entered and greeted the various family members before moving quickly to the one bright spot in the room, her Aunt Rita. She hugged the smaller woman tightly and sighed feeling safe.

"You are too thin, cara mia." The older woman acknowledged and kissed Shayne on both cheeks.

"I've missed you." Shayne murmured hugging the frail woman again.

Rita pulled back and looked up into the haunted blue eyes. "You are coming over for dinner after this wretched meeting, right?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world." Shayne replied smiling. If anyone in this room knew Shayne, it was her aunt. She had taken her mother's place when she had died and accepted everything about the girl. Rita was the first person she had gone to when she needed to talk, and it was to her that Shayne had revealed the truth about herself.

The two women took their seats at the end of the table as Rita watched Shayne closely. She saw the tired lines and dark circles that mared the otherwise beautiful woman. So much like her brother, yet so different where it counted. Michael's beauty went only skin deep but, her Shayne was capable of such a deeper beauty. It saddened her that Michael had been able to bury that beauty in his sister. He had hurt his sister deeply more times than she cared to count. Today, she wanted Shayne free from him and agreed to come to the meeting to make sure she was not hurt again. She had loved this child from the first moment those little blue eyes had looked at her. Her sister-in-law had not had the chance to see the beauty in this woman. As any good Italian mother was suppose to do, she had doted on her son. The elderly woman was afraid that this might be Shayne's last chance to find herself.




Michael called the meeting to order and proceeded to go through the traditional formalities of introducing each member of the family. He also didn't waste this opportunity to flatter those of importance in the hierarchy. He wanted as many in his corner as possible today and when his Uncle Sal motioned for him to proceed, he felt a brief flare of anger before quelling this and smiled at the old fool.

"Well, as you all know we are in the middle of a critical period in our family's history. It is imparative that we send out a message of support and unity. There are many who think that we are fragmented and weak. So, for this reason, I have invited my sister today to welcome her back into the family business. I think it is time that she resumes her duties once again and show her loyalty to the Tuscano name.

Shayne sat up at this announcement and looked at her brother as though he were the devil himself. Her aunt grabbed her arm to keep her in her seat as voices murmured across the table, few in agreement but, most opposed. At this point, Sal stood up and slammed his hand on the table. The room instantly silenced in respect for his authority as senior member of the family. When his brother had died he had pursuaded the rest of the family to allow Michael to take charge. He had reasoned with them that they needed to give the young blood a chance to prove themselves and learn while the elder members were able to watch and train them. At this moment, he knew he had made a serious mistake.

"Michael...Shayne's loyalty and love for this family is not in question now, nor has it ever been. Her love for her father was proven in the care that she took of him and his business over the years. She is no longer interested in being an accountant not for you or anyone else. I see no reason to force her to do so. She has a very good business and a new life that is very good for her. There is nothing about her that would lead anyone to question her love or loyalty to this family." Sal looked directly at his nephew as he spoke and never once broke eye contact until he finished speaking, and only then did he turn to address the members of the family asking, "Am I right?"

Heads began to nod until Michael interrupted and said. "Uncle Sal, what you are saying is that she wants no part in this family anymore. If this is the case then there is a serious question of loyalty and liability." Michael looked back at the old man smugly. He was sure there were others who would side with him, especially as paranoid as they were with the question of security.

"Yes, how can we trust that she won't be forced to talk to individuals she shouldn't. How can we protect her from this action if she isn't part of the organization?" A voice spoke up from the other end of the table. Carlo was Shayne's second cousin and she wasn't surprised to see him support her brother. He had idolized her brother since they were kids. He did everything Michael asked and, even as children, had taken responsibility for more than a few of Michael's actions.

"This is very true. There are many sensitive issues involved here. The Feds are..." Michael began.

"Carlo....Michael. Un momento." Sal raised a hand cutting off any further talk and turned to Shayne. "Shayne, I need you and your aunt to excuse us for a moment. Maybe step into Michael's office, o.k.?" Shayne looked into his eyes and nodded respectfully before leaving the room with her aunt.

As the door closed Sal turned back from the door, the smile on his face replaced by cold, quiet anger. "Now we talk!

What do you think you were doing here? You both know that Shayne has never had any knowledge about anything other than the business your father set up for her. Did you think that I would allow you to trap her into something today?" Sal's face was turning bright red as he controlled his controlled his angry voice. 'Hoodlums, pure and simple.' He thought sadly to himself. 'My brother should have reigned his wayward son in sooner, and not let him run wild as he has. Now, it would be done.'

"Michael, we have allowed you take over the operations without any interference, but I'm warning you on this one. Let it go! You are not to interfere in your sister's have done that too much in the past and I'm putting a stop to it right now. You capisce?" The elderly man leaned across the table glaring at his nephew. Michael quickly looked around the table and noted the support his uncle drew and tried to defend his position.

"Uncle, I'm only interested in the welfare of this family and Shayne. I have only her best interest at heart and I don't think it is wise for her to be alone."

"That's the problem, you don't think!" Sal blurted out before catching himself and calmly continuing. "Michael leave her alone."

"But, she has proven that she is not capable of making good decisions. I feel that this will ultimately hurt the family." Michael's voice bordered on obnoxious and Sal quickly raised his hand to cut off any further discussion on the subject of Shayne's life.



"She is no threat to this family at all! Her work is legitimate and what she does now bears no reflection on us. Do I make myself clear on all counts?" He would not have Michael cause any further trouble for Shayne. "And....If I find out that you've gone behind our backs on this, you will not just be answering to you capisce?" Sal waited to make sure that Michael responded his acceptance of the decision before looking around to take a silent vote. As the last head nodded in ascent, Sal called the meeting adjourned and motioned for one of his employees to approach. He whispered instructions for him before getting up and going out to the two women that waited for him. On the drive home, he explained to Shayne what had been decided. Shayne wasn't sure whether she should be relieved or angry that they could have this type of control over her life. But, she also knew this was her fate and, had resigned herself to that fact a long time ago.




"So, tell me about this new partner of yours?"

Shayne sat on the stool cutting up tomatoes for the salad and watching her aunt bustle about the kitchen. The woman's movements were like a well-synchronized dance when she cooked. Shayne had learned a long time ago it was best to stay off the dance floor when her aunt was in form.

"Alea?" Shayne replied surprised.

"Is that her name? Pretty." Rita acknowledged and watched her niece, patiently waiting for her to answer. She had seen the emotions that briefly flutter across the dark features and then the stone wall that came up to cut them off. Sighing, her fears were confirmed when the girl began to speak.

"She's just someone I'm in business with. Her first store had a fire and she lost everything, so I'm letting her stay at my house until we get the business off the ground and show a profit." Shayne replied matter of factly.

"Is she old?" Rita asked calculating her next question.

"No, not at all. She's probably a little younger than I am." Shayne replied as she continued her chopping.

"Oh, che brutte?"

"No. She's actually quite attractive." Shayne looked up at her aunt puzzled.

"Then what's the matter?" Rita asked grinning.

"What do you mean?" Shayne was beginning to see the trap she had fallen in, but decided to play dumb until the small woman stood in the middle of the kitchen pointing a wooden spoon at her in mock threat.

"Shayne Tuscano! I know you are not stupido! What about the two of you?"

"No." Shayne's reply was brief and to the point as she kept her head down concentrating on her work.

"Che cosa, 'no'?"

"'s not like that."

"Perche?" Her aunt persisted gently.

"Because...I'm doing just fine on my own. I don't need anymore entanglements in my life." Shayne replied firmly without looking up at her aunt. She could feel the woman's warm eyes looking her and she knew exactly what she would see and couldn't face them.

"Oh, so love is an entanglement now!"

The dark head shot up at that remark and Shayne replied, "Yes!"

Rita put down the spoon and approached her niece wrapping her arms around the taller woman's shoulders. "Honey, when are you going to stop letting the past hold you back? You've got to let it go."

"Oh...I'm over that."

"Cara mia. I love you or I wouldn't be saying this to you." Rita began and paused to tug on Shayne's chin to make her face her. "You've closed yourself off to life. I can see it in your eyes. What happened is over, you have got to try again. You've got to learn to trust again and let someone in. It is no good living all closed up like this."

Shayne closed her eyes to the memories her aunt brought back. "I can't." She whispered.

"Yes, you can."

"You don't understand!"

"What happened was bad yes, but, she wasn't worth what you have put yourself through these past two years." Rita answered.

"Aunt you have any idea what it is like to have the one person you so totally trust with everything about you to betray you?"

"I've known betrayal in my lifetime. Do you think you are the only person to be hurt?" Rita asked trying to reason with Shayne.

"Aunt Rita how many times did I let someone in, only to have them end up in my brother's bed?" Shayne cried, the tears beginning to spill down her cheeks.

Rita wrapped her arms around Shayne tighter and replied. "Your brother is a pig! Not all women are the same. Maybe the next one will be different."

"That's what I thought about Rachael. She hated Michael, which was probably why I was attracted to her in the beginning. But, in the end he won out. I just can't compete with him."

"You can't let him win either!" Rita pushed firmly.

Shayne sat back and wiped the tears from her face. "Maybe, it's just not important to me anymore."




"Love...not important? Who are you trying to convince? We all need someone to love us and for us to love in return. It is what makes" Rita finished at a loss for another way to put it. Shayne looked at her and chuckled, it wasn't often she saw the woman flustered. Her aunt smiled at Shayne's enjoyment and gave her a light swat on the arm. "That was not suppose to be funny."


"I don't like to see you so withdrawn Shayne. You have a lot to offer someone and I don't like hearing you give up on yourself. So, what about this partner? You must like her if you invited her to live with you." Rita brought the conversation back around to Alea.

"I don't think so...she is seeing someone right now." Shayne replied which started to sadden her until she focused on Barbara and the nagging of her subconscious.

"Well, maybe it isn't anything serious. Does she know how you feel?" Rita took the chance and asked the obvious.

"Oh, no...she's not my type at all. Actually we fight like cats and dogs all the time." Shayne replied instantly. "She's probably everything I'm not looking for...if I were looking." She clarified.

Rita had seen what she was looking for and thought, "oh have just haven't realized it yet.' Satisfied, she patted Shayne's cheek and said, "Basta..enough talk, let's eat. Go get your Uncle and tell him dinner is ready.

Shayne went in search of her uncle and found him in his study watching a ballgame. "Uncle Sal?" She called out from the doorway. He turned and looked up at her and smiled. "Come...come, sit..I want to talk to you."

Shayne sat on the sofa facing her Uncle's chair. She never realized before how much her father and her uncle looked alike. His black hair was now sprinkled thickly with gray, but the dark brown eyes were as sharp as ever. It was almost like talking to her father again. She and her brother had gotten their dark looks from their father, but their blue eyes had been an added gift from their mother. She smiled at the clear brown eyes and waited for the elderly man to begin.

"So, did you and you aunt have a good conversation? You listen to her...she is a wise woman." He said.

"How did you know?" Shayne asked curiously.

Sal chuckled. "I've been married to that woman for 45 years, you don't think I knew exactly what she would do when she got a hold of you?"

Shayne laughed. "You are right, and yes, we had a nice conversation."

"Good. I just want you to know that your brother will not have free reign to trouble you like he has had in the past. I think it's time he devoted his energies to some projects that I have planned for him. He will be out of town a lot in the future." Her uncle replied with a twinkle in his eye. Rising from his chair he asked. "Now, we eat, right?" Shayne nodded and linked her arm with his and went into the dining room.

Dinner was a festive affair and Shayne laughed until she cried as they related tales about her parents and their childhood. All too soon it was time for Shayne to leave and she hugged each of them tightly. Her uncle went out to have Jimmy pull the car around while his wife said her good-byes.

"Now, you won't stay away so long again, right?"

"No, I promise I will visit more and call too." Shayne replied. She felt like a different person after only one evening with her aunt and knew that in her attempt to stop the hurting, she had cut herself off to the wrong people.

"Next time you bring Alea with you so we can meet her." Her aunt instructed her.

"Well, I'll ask her, but I can't make any promises." Shayne answered and got into the back seat of the car. The ride home was equally as silent and Shayne lay her head back against the seat and rested. She was exhausted, she hadn't had this much excitement in her life in a long time. She was pulled out of her musings when she thought she heard a voice.


"I said you got company." Jimmy repeated and pointed to a dark blue Cadillac in her driveway.

"Ah...oh, it must be Alea." Shayne answered uncertainly and got out of the back seat before Jimmy could get around the car and open it for her. He followed her as far as the front walk and watched as she rounded the bushes to the front door.

Shayne turned the corner of the bush and almost ran right into Alea in the arms of the tall blonde woman. So intent in their kiss, they hadn't heard Shayne approach until she replied startled. "Oh, I'm sorry...I didn't realize anyone....I'll just go around the back." Shayne quickly turned on her heels and went back the way she came. The look on Shayne's face alerted Jimmy and he instantly shadowed her as she moved to the back of the house.

"Is everything o.k.?" He asked quietly, looking around.

"Yes, it was my roommate's company....thank you Jimmy." Shayne replied without acknowledging that he was following her. He watched as she let herself in the backdoor and moved back to the front of the house and the car. As he passed the Cadillac he noted the license number and was on the phone before he backed the car completely down the driveway. Getting the information he needed, he hung up the phone and parked down the street and waited.




"I guess my coming in is out of the question?" Barbara asked after Shayne had departed around the corner.


"Yes." Alea answered shakily.  Shayne's sudden interruption had upset Alea more than she thought it should have, 'embarrassing maybe, but upsetting?' She wondered to herself.


"Hello?"  Barbara reached out to bring the blonde's attention back to her.


"Oh, I'm sorry…. it's not my house, I wouldn't feel comfortable."  Alea haltingly explained.  She wasn't ready for any of this right now.


"Don't worry about it." Barbara replied smiling.  She pulled the woman closer and leaned down to recapture her lips, but she could tell that Alea wasn't into her attentions and pulled back.


"Are you O.K.?"  She asked frowning, she didn't like the fact that Shayne's brief appearance could upset her so much.


"Yes, just a little tired I guess."


"Sure, I understand.  Why don't you go and get some sleep and I'll see you tomorrow?" Barbara asked.


"O.k. and thank you for a wonderful dinner.   I'm sorry things ended the way they did." Alea offered apologetically.


"No problem and thank you for a wonderful evening too." Barbara pulled Alea back to her and kissed her passionately.  Alea let the kiss take her but, the feeling wasn't the same anymore, her thoughts were on another dark-haired woman and this troubled her.


Barbara let her hand brush down the smaller woman's backside as she stepped away thinking,  'Darling, we must move this along.'    "Sweet dreams, I'll talk to you tomorrow."  She whispered seductively and turned to walk to her car. 


Alea smiled at the blue eyes that winked at her and watched as she walked away.  'Ooh those eyes, I must be a fool to let her go tonight!'  She thought in frustration.


Barbara got into her car and was too keyed up to go home to bed and picked up her mobile phone and headed the car into the city.  Jimmy followed from her from a distance all the way into the city, and watched as she entered a familiar apartment building before turning his car around and heading back to his employers.

Alea entered the house and peeked into the den, it was dark and quiet so she moved down the hall toward the bedrooms closing lights as she went.  She passed Shayne's closed door and didn't hear any sounds coming from the room and sadly went into her own room and got ready for bed.  In a way, she had wanted to talk with Shayne tonight, but she wasn't sure what she wanted to tell her.


Shayne lay in the dark waiting for the sleeping pill she had swallowed to take effect, wondering what it was about Barbara that bothered her so much.  She couldn't get the image the woman out of her mind.  She could still visualize the possessive way in which the tall blonde had held Alea.  Shayne flipped over angrily in bed thinking, 'Why do I care?  Why can't I just be happy that Alea has someone?'  Shayne shut her eyes to the thoughts flooding through her mind, especially the one that kept threatening to surface.  "Because I want that someone to be me!'   "Bullshit!" Shayne said outloud and shoved her head under the pillow in an attempt to run away.   'Don't even get started down that road!'  She forced herself to relax and began her meditation techniques of deep breathing.  Soon the strong medication began to take effect and Shayne fell into a restless sleep. 


Jimmy's late night conference with his boss did not make Sal a happy man.  If Sal Tuscano was not happy, then Jimmy was not happy because it meant he would get no sleep tonight. Jimmy took his instructions without question and headed back to where he had left the blonde and waited.  He had worked for Sal for the past thirty years, beginning as a ten-year-old running errands for the man.  He had steadily risen up through the ranks to his present position.  He had gained Sal's trust the hard way, he had earned it through years of loyalty and self-sacrifice.  Tonight would be no different, he would keep his vigil faithfully and report back to his boss in the morning.   It was 4 AM before the blonde came out of the building and drove back out of the city, and Jimmy was right behind her.   The light of dawn saw Jimmy finally returning to the city, but it would be awhile before he headed home, he had a report to make to Sal first.





Alea searched the kitchen and couldn't find the keys to Shayne's car.  After repeated knocking on the woman's door, which went unanswered, she was angry enough to just take her car again.   "I've got to get a car of my own!"  Alea fumed and debated how she was going to get to work.  'What is her problem?  And where had she been last night?  Her car had been parked in the driveway but come to think of it, she had been returning home from somewhere.  Who had she been with?  Not that it mattered, obviously…or did it?'  Alea shook of her thoughts and grabbed the telephone and called Barbara for a ride to work.  The woman agreed readily and Alea debated leaving Shayne a note and then decided against it and went outside to wait for her ride.


Shayne awoke with the sun streaming through the windows directly into her overly sensitive eyes this morning and loud music playing.  Groggily, she rolled over to hit the snooze button on her alarm.  Looking at the time, she instantly sat up.  "Big Mistake!" She groaned and held her swimming head.   It was almost noon and she hadn't heard her alarm go off.  "Oh God, that's the last time I take those pills."  She had forgotten how they affected her in the past; she had just wanted to sleep deeply for one night.  Well, she had accomplished her goal; she had slept deeply for the night and half the next day.  "Alea!"  Shayne barked when she remembered.  She jumped out of bed and made her way down the hall.  The blonde's room was empty and she moved on into the kitchen but didn't see anything.  Looking out the window, Shayne noted her car was still in the drive and remembered she had put the keys on her dresser when Alea had returned them and thought, 'I really need to get a spare set.'   Shayne realized the Alea must have gotten a ride into work and went back to her bedroom to take a shower and try to clear out some of the cobwebs. 


Feeling better after a hot shower, Shayne dialed the bookstore and a strange voice answered.


"Ah…is Alea there?"  Shayne asked hesitantly.  She didn't recognize the deep, smooth voice on the other end. 


"Ah, no she has stepped out for the moment.  She will be right back, can I have her return your call?"


'Barbara!'  Shayne realized who it was and wondered how much time the woman actually spent at the bookstore with Alea.


"Yes.  Could you tell her that Shayne called and that I'm really sorry about this morning?  I'll explain everything when I pick her up tonight at closing."  Shayne replied and then thought about it for a moment.  "Or just have her call me, if she wants.  I'll be home all day."


"O.k., I'll give her the message Shayne." Barbara replied and hung up the phone smiling thinking; 'Oh this is too perfect.'


Alea returned from the bank to find Barbara sitting behind the counter with a devious smile on her face and grinned asking, "Do I want to know what you are plotting?"


Barbara didn't miss a beat and slipped off the stool and walked seductively toward the blonde. "Oh, I can tell you that it involves you."


"Oh, it does, does it?" Alea replied as Barbara slipped her arms around her and pulled her in close.  There was something about this woman that drew her instantly in every time she was near, and Alea couldn't put her finger on it, but she liked it.  Their time together was getting more intense and Alea knew soon that Barbara would not just be content with kissing, although the woman did that quite well.  Alea smiled and pulled the tall blonde down for a warm kiss to remind herself of just how good it was.


Pulling back after the kiss, Barbara purred, "My thoughts exactly.  What do you say to locking up an hour early tonight and coming home with me?"  She cupped Alea's face and looked deeply into green eyes and knew that she had the woman cold, and went in for the kill.  "I really want to be with you.  I need to be with you."  Barbara pleaded before capturing the smaller woman's lips, gently stroked her tongue just along the outer edges before requesting entry, which was readily granted.


Alea's emotions were conflicted, her thoughts went briefly to Shayne, and she saddened because she knew that she didn't even know she existed.  After Barbara's plea and kiss, she shook off all negative thoughts and looked back into the mesmerizing blue eyes before her and whispered huskily,  "Yes".


Shayne arrived at the store to find it dark and locked.  "What the hell?"  She said and unlocked the door with her set of keys.  Shayne saw the flashing light from the alarm and quickly deactivated it before turning on the lights and looking around.  Everything seemed in order and the register was empty.  "Son of a….she left. Damn her!"  Shayne spun around and reset the lights and left.  'We are going to have this out, once and for all, tonight.'  Shayne thought as she sped home and her heart whispered, 'I've got to know'.






Barbara's hand moved down Alea's thigh as she kissed her deeply.  Alea's heart began to race and she felt the woman's hand move up and begin to unbutton her blouse.  Her breathing was becoming erratic as Barbara's hand slipped inside her bra. 


"I want you so much." The tall blonde murmured in her ear as she nipped Alea's earlobe lightly and ran her tongue seductively down her neck.  Alea looked up into blue eyes and felt a rush of heat through her body and pulled Barbara back to her for a kiss.  Barbara took the action for assent and pushed Alea backwards onto the sofa and began to work her way down the blonde's neck to her breast, pushing the bar out of the way and capturing a nipple between her lips and taking it into her mouth.   Alea groaned and closed her eyes and let the sensations ripple through her body.  She could picture the lips that gently kissed and sucked on her nipples and the hands that stroked her body causing it to burn with desire.  She pictured the deep passion in the blue eyes above her and reached down to run her fingers through the long raven hair.  'Oh Shayne!' Alea moaned and her heart stopped cold. 


"Oh my God!" Alea cried out as Barbara continued and began to unsnap her jeans in response.   Alea felt like she had a weight on her chest and couldn't breath and panicked.  She began to struggle against Barbara. Which only caused the woman to misinterpret the Alea's signals and intensify her movements.  Finally, in a blind panic, Alea pushed at the Barbara and cried out.


"No, please…I can't do this!"


"Whaa…"  Barbara huskily replied and pulled back to look down into frightened, teary green eyes.  "What's wrong?"


"I'm sorry…I just can't do this."  Alea looked up as the tears began to fill her eyes.


"I'm moving to fast..we'll take it slower." Barbara replied and tried to kiss Alea.


"No, I can't do this at all." Alea whispered and looked away.


Barbara felt a brief flare of anger and quickly stilled this emotion and moved to sit up.  'Damn, I had her and now this.' She thought in frustration.  She forced herself to smile and looked over at Alea as she shakily pulled her bra and blouse back into place.  She leaned over to stroke Alea's face, but Alea pulled back and whispered, "Can you take me home, please?"


"Sure, no problem." Barbara replied stiffly and got up off the sofa and turned toward the small blonde and waited.


"I'm sorry." Alea said softly and looked up.


"Was it something I did?"


"No, it was something I did." Alea whispered and stood up.  "I just need to go home right now."


"It's O.K., I'll take you."



Alea let herself in the front door and didn't see Shayne sitting in the dark until the woman spoke.


"Well, it's about time!"


"What?" Alea asked startled.


"Where the hell have you been?" Shayne demanded.


"I don't see where it's any concern of yours!" Alea replied tensing angrily.  Her earlier emotions and Shayne's uncaring attitude toward her at war with one another causing her to lash out.


"It would have been nice had you had the common decency to call and tell me you didn't need a ride home!" Shayne retorted.  She couldn't believe Alea was acting so defensively after what she had done.


"Well, how was I to know you would pick me up….you neglected to get out of bed to take me to work this morning!"


"I know, I'm sorry." Shayne replied quietly before adding,  "I called to apologize and tell you I'd be there for closing, but what?  I get there and you've already gone.  Wasn't that a bit childish?"


"Me childish, just what do you call your attitude lately.  You walk around here with a chip on your shoulders, angry at the world and then you jump down my throat because I didn't read your mind tonight!"


"Oh…like you've been around to notice my attitude!" Shayne replied with a sarcastic snort.


"Like it would have mattered to you what I do.  I could walk around here on fire and you'd just say, 'whatever'."  Alea sniped right back and began to leave the room.


"That's bullshit and you know it!"


"What do I know?  I have no idea why you asked me to move in here, or why you seem to hate me so much!"


"I don't hate you." Shayne replied and ran a hand through her hair in frustration.


"You sure have a funny way of showing it!"


"Yeah, that's why I asked you to move in here, huh?" Shayne replied.


"Let's face it, you did it out of some misplaced sense of obligation….you don't care about me." Alea tiredly replied.  It had been a long, emotional evening and she just wanted to go to bed.


Shayne stood looking at the woman without reply and watched as Alea walked out of the room before whispering, "I care."


Alea walked down the hallway and thought she'd heard Shayne say something, but shook her head and figured she had been mistaken.







Shayne tossed and turned until the early hours of the morning.  Her thoughts would not let her mind rest and sleep was something that she knew wouldn't be hers that night.  She got up and finally grabbed a pad of paper and decided to write her thoughts down to get them out of her system, and maybe then, she would be able to stop torturing herself.


'When did I start allowing myself to feel again?  That emotion I had so securely locked away so long ago.  When did I start looking into eyes that made me take down those barriers?  Barriers constructed to keep me safe from this pain I feel.  When did I let hands get close enough to actually feel their touch?  When did I lose control of what I thought was real?  When did I know that I wasn't what I portrayed?  When did I realize I needed more?  When did I realize I wanted what I could never have?  When did I start asking when?


How can I bear to be near eyes that look at me with trust, for if only they knew the thoughts that raged within.  How can I look at life that I want to hold me, and know never will, without feeling a tearing deep within my soul.  It is killing me to be in the same room and feel a presence so near, yet so far.  I stare into that darkness and wish it could quench this burning in my mind.  I can no longer bear to hear the quiet breathing of life.  I scream from within but, only hear the silence echoed in return.


Where do I turn when my soul is being torn from it's anchor and lost?  What do I do when I have searched for answers that just aren't there.  What do I do when my world is coming apart and I'm helpless to stop it?


I close my eyes, but still see the vivid images that are seared into my very conscience.  I close my eyes and still hear that warm voice that speaks to me and wish for nothing more than the darkness of unfeeling….of peace once again.  I close my eyes but only dream of things that can never be.  I close my eyes and fear the sleep where I have no control.  I close my eyes and fear these emotions that play scenes of life before my sleeping eyes.   I close my eyes hoping it will be for the last time, but it never is.


I wish I could convince this heart that it was just circumstances of the moment and not a storm that has been brewing all along. I wish I could just wake up and find it was just a bad dream.  I wish I didn't feel this way.  I wish I were strong enough to bury it down deep and keep on going.  I wish I didn't have to feel like I've lost the only love I've ever known.'


"Where the hell did all this come from?" Shayne asked herself as she re-read everything she had written.  Shaking she set the pad down and climbed into her bed and curled onto her side in an effort to hug herself as the tears streamed down her cheeks.  "Oh, God…"  Shayne clutched her pillow and rocked herself into an exhausted sleep.






Jimmy watched the blonde exit the same apartment building as before and looked over his shoulder.  "What do you want to do boss?"


Sal Tuscano, watched the blonde get into her car and drive away before responding.  "I think it's time we paid a serious visit to my nephew.  Let's go!"


Michael went to answer the door thinking Barbara had forgotten something.   He hadn't been happy earlier with her report, but she did have a way of making it up to him.  Smiling in remembrance, he opened the door and the smile quickly vanished.


"Uncle Sal?  What's wrong, it's late."   Michael stuttered nervously.  It had to be something serious for his uncle to be out this late paying him a visit.


"Michael, do you remember our meeting last week?"  Sal asked quietly as he took a seat in Michael's elegantly decorated living room.  Michael tended to live extravagantly and liked the good things in life.  His brother had done Michael a great disservice giving his son too much freedom too soon.


"Yes, why?" Michael replied innocently.


"I don't think you do.  Did I or did I not ask you to leave Shayne alone, and did you not promise in front of the entire family that you would do so?"  Sal asked patiently as Jimmy stood next to Michael. 


"Uncle, I haven't even spoken to Shayne since the meeting!"


"Who is the blonde?" Sal asked without missing a beat.


"What blonde?" Michael asked looking away.


Sal looked at Jimmy and, without blinking, the driver backhanded Michael across the face.  Michael rubbed the side of his stingy cheek and looked at his Uncle with fear in his eyes.  His Uncle had never allowed anyone to strike him in the past and knew that the man meant business tonight.


"Now, once again.  Who is the blonde?" Sal asked patiently watching Michael for his reaction.


"She's nobody…..Just someone I see every now and then."  Michael lied.  "I don't understand what she has to do with Shayne?"


"Michael, Michael will you never learn to do what you are told?"  Sal asked and stood up.  The conversation was concluded.  "Tomorrow, you come to my office.  I have a project for you and you should expect to be out of town for awhile."  Sal stood up and looked down at the little man, "You do realize that if you had been anyone other than my nephew, this conversation would have been concluded this evening?  Consider yourself a lucky man and don't do anything stupid tonight."


"No, I won't.  I'll see you tomorrow morning."  Michael answered as he saw his Uncle to the door and collapsed against it after he shut it.  Pacing the floor, he debated what to do about this turn of events.   "This is all Shayne's fault!" He said outloud in anger and picked up the phone.  Even if his Uncle was an old fool, this was personal now.  Shayne has always gotten everything and he had always had to fight to make his father proud of him.  Well, now he would make her pay for every time he had to sit and listen to his father rave about his 'beautiful daughter'.  If he were going down, he would make sure that before he did so, Shayne would be reminded of what it felt like to be betrayed and to be alone.   Barbara was just about to her driveway when her mobile phone rang. 






Alea awoke early, she hadn't slept that well.  She was confused and frustrated over her emotions. She knew what had attracted her to Barbara in the first place, but was had she fallen for the woman behind the eyes too.  She didn't think so, because then why would Shayne be the one that came to her mind when it came time to make love to Barbara.  Shayne had made it obviously apparent that she held no interest for the blonde woman and, Alea had to decide what was real and what wasn't.   She paced the kitchen floor, waiting for Shayne to wake up when the telephone rang.




"Alea?" The smooth silky voice asked.




"Yes, I just wanted to check and see if you were alright." Barbara voice was filled with concern and Alea felt a weakening.  'Maybe, I do feel something.'


"Yes, I'm fine, thank you.  I'm sorry about last night.  I don't know what got into me."  Alea responded.

"Well, I'm just glad that you are not mad at me." Barbara answered relieved.


"No, I was never mad at you."


"Can I see you today?" Barbara asked keeping her voice sincere.




"How about I give you a ride to work then."  Barbara suggested.


"That would be great." Alea replied.  It would solve the problem of having to face Shayne right now.



Shayne's alarm went off, with a groan she rolled over and looked up at the ceiling.  She knew she couldn't avoid seeing Alea this morning, and after last nights revelation, she knew she needed to find some answers for herself.  Pulling herself together she showered and dressed and went in search of her partner to give her a ride to work.  Entering the kitchen, she saw that it was empty and instead of feeling her usual anger, she felt a pang of regret that Alea didn't want to see her this morning.  Grabbing her keys, she decided to go to the store and help out today and maybe sort things out.  Shayne had to admit that her attitude of lately had sucked royally.  He Aunt and Uncle had shown her how wrong she had been.  In her fight against her brother, she had given him power over her.  That would have to stop and today seemed like a good day for it.  Smiling, she backed her car out of the driveway and headed to town.


Barbara followed Alea into the shop and waited as she turned off the alarm and got things ready to open. "Can we talk now?"  The tall blonde asked, gently touched Alea's arm.


"Yes, I guess we need to." Alea replied with a half smile.  She wasn't sure what she was feeling anymore.  When she looked at Barbara it seemed so clear, but when things got serious, it was Shayne that always came to her mind.  But, Shayne didn't want her.  The woman had made that clear last night.  'Do I take the chance of losing someone who actually cares about me, for the dream of someone I may never have?' She asked herself seriously.  Looking up into blue eyes decided, 'yes, the eyes are the same, but they are not the same person and I need to find someone who wants me.'  Turning into Barbara's arms she looked up and smiled.


"I'm sorry about last night.  I guess I just panicked."


"Hey, it's o.k.  Maybe I came on a little too strong." Barbara replied and gently pulled Alea closer into her arms.


"I'm kinda confused and torn right now and it wouldn't fair to you, if I didn’t explain."  Alea began.  She at least wanted to be honest with the woman and see if they could go on from here.


"It's Shayne isn't it?" Barbara asked quietly and looked deeply into expressive green eyes.  Those eyes told the whole story and Barbara quickly calculated what she needed to say. 


Alea nodded and looked away, she didn't want to look into those familiar blue eyes. 


"Do I even stand a chance?"


"I think so." Alea replied and took a deep breath.  She thought she loved the woman before her, but she wasn't sure that she was "in" love with her.  Or was it just different things about her that she loved.  Sighing she realized that it might be just the idea of being loved that attracted her.


Barbara watched the uncertainty of emotions as they flickered across Alea's features.  Reaching up she gently tugged the woman's face up to look at her.


"I want you to know that I care a lot about, in fact, I think I'm falling in love with you." Barbara began.  "I really want a chance to prove to that to you."


"There is so much going on and I'm really confused right now." Alea replied.


"Can I be honest with you?"


"Yes, please."


"I know that your circumstances right now are rough.  You are in debt to Shayne for just about everything you have and I was wondering if that is what is confusing you.  Do you think that you owe her something more and are confusing it with love?" Barbara asked.


"I..I..don't think so?"  Alea replied, the beginnings of doubt creeping into her.  Barbara saw the opening and took advantage of it. 


"I think maybe you are confusing your relationship with her because of this.  You don't owe her your love just because she has let you stay with her.  You are working as your part in the partnership, maybe working harder than she is.  It's easy to put the money out, but you are the one that is here all day making everything work."  Barbara continued to foster the doubt she saw creeping into Alea's face. 


"I guess it's possible that I feel I owe her a lot, but she has done so much for me….more than she needed to." Alea began to feel defensive about Shayne and wasn't sure she liked her talking about her partner.


"I have to tell you this and you might not want to hear it, but I think she treats you horribly.  I don't think you deserve the attitude she has toward you.  It really makes me angry sometime to see you take that abuse.   Let me love you the way you deserve to be loved."  Barbara was playing on every emotion Alea had and she knew the woman's insecurities and desire to be loved and used it to her advantage.


"Shayne has been through a lot in her life and she just has a different way of dealing with stress." Alea explained.  


"Does that include treating you like shit?" Barbara's frustration was beginning to show.  She needed to win this woman.




"Then let me show you how you should be treated.  Let me love you."  Barbara asked and leaned in to kiss Alea.


Alea wasn't ready for this and tried to push Barbara back.   "I'm not ready to make any type of commitment to you."


"Commitment…you've been leading me on since we've first met.  You don't know what you want, let me show you how it could be between us." Barbara replied and tightened her hold on Alea.  She forcefully began kissing the smaller woman and deepened the kiss as her tongue forced its entry against Alea's will. 


"No…" Alea struggled with the blonde.  "Please, let me go."


"You heard her…she said let her go!"  Shayne's voice cut through the silent bookstore.  Neither woman had heard the tall raven-haired woman enter and now she stood angry, her blue eyes flashing in Barbara's direction. 


Barbara tightened her hold on Alea and smiled.  "I don't think this is any of your business."


"I'm making it my business.  Are you O.K.?"  Shayne replied and looked toward Alea.


Alea nodded and tried to pull back from Barbara, but the woman held her and asked, "Please come with me."


"I can't."


"Yes, you can.  I can give you more than she every could." Barbara replied angrily.  She was beginning to lose her edge as her hold over Alea waned.


Alea shook her head in confusion as the tears sprang to her eyes.  She didn't know what to do or to say.  Shayne was acting strangely and now Barbara was asking her to choose.  'How can I chose?' She thought to herself.  'Especially when there is no choice to make.'  Alea turned to look at Shayne who began to walk toward them.


Barbara saw that she was losing the battle and took one last stab at, and began to laugh.  "You are truly pathetic Shayne.  Do you think for one moment that you can be what Alea needs?"


"What do you know about what she needs?" Shayne asked pulling her away from Alea.  She could smell the cloying scent of her perfume and the missing pieces began to fall into place. 


"You and Michael?"  Shayne's voice was ragged with anger and surprise.  By the sneer that reached the tall blonde's face, she knew she had guessed right.


"What are you saying?" Alea asked looking between the two women.


"This is all Michael's doing isn't it?"  Shayne took a step toward Barbara who instantly retreated in the reaction to the anger she saw in the familiar features.  She had seen the same look on Michael's face and it had never meant anything good. 


"I don't know what you are talking about!"  Barbara replied and looked over at Alea for support.


"Oh, I'll just bet you don't.  What did he offer you to seduce Alea?" Shayne replied sarcastically.


"Oh please, unlike you…I like Alea.  I don't need to have anyone bribe me."  Barbara replied and moved to touch Alea's arm.  "Come with me, please."


Shayne grabbed the tall blonde's arm and pulled her away roughly.  "Don't touch her!"


"She's not your property!  She's a woman with a mind of her own." Barbara spat shaking off Shayne's grasp.


"She's not you're property either!  Alea doesn't need anyone like you in her life!"



"Stop!  Shayne, just stop it!  I'm no one's property!  I can make up my own mind!" Alea screamed and looked at Shayne.


Shayne stepped back at Alea's reproach and the smile that crossed Barbara's face angered her.  "So, I see.  My mistake."

"It would seem." Barbara murmured and stood next to Alea.  Alea took a step toward Shayne when she saw the hurt register on her face.


"Shayne, I didn't….."


Shayne cut off Alea with a wave of her hand and replied, "Whatever!" before turning on her heels and storming out of the store.


Barbara confidently put her arm around Alea and murmured, "I'm sorry you had to go through that, but it is for the best.  You needed to break free of her."


Alea looked up into blue eyes that once held her captive and saw them for what they were, nothing but empty orbs.  They didn't hold the same desire or need that Shayne's had.  They didn't have the promise of life spark in them when she walked into the room.   There color was the same and the woman could use them to her advantage, but deep down, they were nothing like Shayne's.  "Take your hands off me!"




"Please leave."  Alea asked quietly.


"You don't mean that." Barbara asked surprised.  She had thought she had won this one.


"I just realized that you are right, I am no one's property.  I thought I saw in you something I needed, but I realize it was just a substitute for something I couldn't have.  However, I do know that I'm not going to allow you to use me as some pawn in Michael's game.  Go back to Michael and tell him that I don't want you or him in my life either!"  Alea answered and walk toward the door and held it open for Barbara to leave.


Barbara walked past the small blonde and paused.  "You have no idea what you are in for, she is just like her brother."


"No, that's where you are wrong.  Shayne is nothing like her brother."  Alea replied and closed the door locking it, she turned the closed sign out and went to sit in the back to think.






Shayne drove her car as fast, swerving in an out of traffic in her attempt to reach her brother.  She pulled into the back of the office complex and parked wherever there was space and ran into the building.  She took the elevator up and found that Michael wasn't there.  The secretary shrank back at the hostility in the woman before her.   The female version of her boss was just as intimidating and frightening, and she told her everything she wanted to know.  Watching the retreating figure leave the office, the secretary grabbed her purse and locked up the offices mumbling,   "I think it's time I found another job."


Shayne burst into her Uncle's office to find it empty except for Michael sitting calmly on the sofa. "Michael!"


"Shayne!" The tall man replied and stood up.  He had been left waiting for his uncle for over an hour and was getting ready to walk out on the old fool when his sister arrived.  "What are you doing here?"


"I'm looking for you!  I've come to tell you to call off your whore and leave Alea alone!"  Shayne answered as she walked toward her brother.

"Watch your mouth little one.  I won't have you talking disrespectfully." Michael warned.


"And what do you think you are going to do to me, huh?  I'm not going to roll over anymore Michael.  I've spent my last day living in the shadows because of you!" Shayne replied and stood face to face with her brother.


"Then do what you are told!" Michael spat.


"Go to hell Michael…you don't own me!" Shayne shouted.  Instantly, her face exploded in pain as Michael slapped her.


"I told you to watch your mouth.  You have always gotten away with everything, but now you will learn your place in this family." Michael replied and raised his hand to hit Shayne again.


Shayne watched in surprise as Michael's hand was grabbed from behind and twisted around behind his back. 


"Hey…" Michael roared.


"Shut up before I break it!" Jimmy simply replied and smiled over at Shayne.


"How dare you touch me!"


"He told you shut up!"  Uncle Sal called from the doorway.  "I'd listen if I was you!"


"Uncle Sal…."


"Michael, now is not a good time to say anything more.  I will deal with you in a minute." Sal said and turned to Shayne.  "Are you O.K.?" 


Shayne nodded her head as her eyes teared.   "Uncle Sal, I just can't take any more of this.  If this how my life is always going to be, then I don't think I can do it anymore."


Sal walked over to his niece and engulfed her in his arms and spoke in her ear.  "Shh, Shayne it's going to be o.k.  I know all about what's going on.  I know what Michael's been up to, I know about Barbara and your partner.  I putting a to put a stop to everything today.  Go home and let me care of this."


Shayne stood looking at her Uncle, unable to believe that anything had changed.  She looked over at her brother who smiled back in response and said, "Leave this to the men Shayne.  You might try to act like one, but that doesn't make you one."


Shayne lost whatever vestige of control she had left and moved to her brother before her uncle or Jimmy could react. and punched Michael as hard as she could.  Her knuckles stung from their contact with her brother's face and Jimmy let go of Michael as he doubled over grabbing his nose.


"She broke my nose." Michael whined and Jimmy chuckled.


Uncle Sal moved to Shayne and pulled her back with the ghost of a grin on his face, "Basta!  Enough Shayne, go home now, it's over.  You have my word that Michael will not trouble you again.   I think you have something more important to take care of at home right now."


Shayne nodded rubbing her hand and walked out of her Uncle's office and drove home.  She reached the house to find it empty and wondered what Alea had decided about Barbara.  Walking into the den she sat down grabbing the remote and turned on the stereo.  The song that began to play grabbed Shayne deep in her chest and she listened to the words and the tears poured down her cheeks.  If she could have whispered a silent prayer of her own, these are the words she would have spoken.  She kept her finger on replay and played the song over until the tears stopped flowing.  She lay her head back on the chair and closed her eyes letting the words pour through her soul as her smooth, smoky voice pleaded in a prayer of their own.


"I wasn't searching to end this hurting, but out of no where you made me feel.

 I cried about it.  I lied about it.  I tried to doubt this could be real.

You've touched me far too much, I'm letting go of all the pain.  

I'm into you in every way. 

Send me a lover…..someone to believe in….

Please send me someone that I can hold. 

Send me a lover…..a new beginning.

Someone to take away the cold and give me back what I've been missing.

All the love that lies and waits inside your heart.


It still astounds me the way you found me.  It's almost too good to be true. 

From our first meeting, I had the feeling the rest of my life I'd spend with you.  Now, I just can't turn my back on everything I heard you say.

I'm into you in every way. 

Send me a lover….someone to believe in. 

Please send me someone that I can hold.

Send me a lover, a new beginning. 

Someone to take away the cold and give me back all that I've been missing. 

All the love that lies awake inside your heart.


I thought that love was only a word I'd never feel.

All the passion I hold inside is simply just a dream.

Because out of your heart you gave to me.

I know it's real because I've fallen so in love with you. 

Send me a lover someone to believe in.

Please send me someone that I can hold. 

Send me a lover, a new beginning.

Someone to take away the cold and give me back all that I've been missing.

All he love that lies awake inside your heart….."



Alea stood in the doorway listening to the record play over for the third time. She didn't know how long Shayne had actually been sitting and listening to the song.  She could see the raven-haired beauty was crying and didn't know if she should say anything, or if Shayne would rebuff her once again.  She wanted to stop the pain she saw etched in the profile before her and felt helpless in her need to be close to Shayne.  Did she love this woman? 


'Oh God! Yes, more than anything.'


When Shayne began to sing, Alea body trembled as the voice that touched a cord deep within her.  She listed to the pain and need that came from Shayne.   Before Alea realized what she was doing, she was walking toward the woman and knelt before her, with tears in her eyes she asked the only question she could.


"What about me?  Will you let me be your lover?"





Shayne opened her eyes when she felt a presence and a touch on her knee.  Looking down, she saw Alea's green teary eyes looking up at her.  Then she heard the soft voice answer her prayer.  She continued to look into the pleading eyes and sat up pulling Alea up onto her lap.   Green eyes locked on blue and saw that these were the blue she remembered, they held a deeper meaning to life and she lost herself in them until she felt joined somehow with the soul behind them.


"I'm so sorry." Shayne offered.


"Sh-h-h,  let's not think about yesterday or the past, let's begin right here, right now." Alea asked. Shayne nodded and leaned in to capture the lips that haunted her dreams.  Alea deepened the kiss and Shayne moaned at the contact.  They broke with a need for hair as both chests heaved in desire.  Alea moved down and began to nibble on Shayne's neck and worked her way up to the woman's ear lobe and began to lightly nip the edges as the heat rose.


"Wait!" Shayne called our hoarsely.


Alea pulled back with a questioning look of  part fear.


Shayne smiled to lessen the tension, "I don't want to do this here.  I never forgave myself for our first time and I don't want to rush this.  I want to love you for longer than just this moment.  Come to my room?"


Alea got up and reached down to pull Shayne up out of the chair and led her down the hall to Shayne's bedroom.  Standing next to the bed, Shayne cupped Alea's cheeks and leaned in to kiss the lips before her.  "I want you so much." She whispered into the woman's ear.


Alea ran her hands under Shayne's shirt and tugged.  "Take this off."  Shayne stepped back and removed her shirt and then her bra before waiting for Alea to reciprocate.  Alea didn't stop there, but continued and removed the rest of her clothing.  She stepped forward and began to undo Shayne's jeans as she began kissing her way down the taller woman's chest.  Capturing a nipple between her lips she tugged Shayne's jeans and underwear down.  Shayne stepped out of her pants and kicked them aside, lifting Alea she turned to lay on the bed pulling the smaller woman on top of her.  Alea continued her attention on Shayne's breast and ran her hands down the length of Shayne's body.  Shayne quivered at Alea's touch.  Her nipples hardening as her cheeks flushed with desire.   Alea kissed down Shayne's abdomen to her belly button and dipped her tongue into its recess.   Looking up Shayne's long body, Alea smiled and kissed the dark patch of hair at the apex of her thighs.  Shayne's body burned with a need that she hadn't felt in along time, she didn't think she had ever felt it this strong.


"Please, I need to feel you touching me."  Shayne rasped.  Alea kissed Shayne's thighs and settled between them, lightly stroking the moist lips as they opened to her until she could see the glistening flesh that waited beneath them.  She groaned at the warm fragrant scent that met her nostrils.  Alea gently ran her tongue up and down the length of Shayne with longer strokes until she reached the hardened nub that protruded through the glistening folds.  Alea gently licked around the nub it was freed and set her lips, gently sucking while she dipped a finger into Shayne's warmth.  She worked her tongue and finger in a synchronized dance of passion, slowly increasing the speed and pressure until she felt Shayne tightening around her.  Tears began to form in Shayne's eyes as she felt herself close to coming.


"Come on honey…its o.k.   It's just me loving you." Alea whispered and felt Shayne explode around her and moved her tongue to replace her finger and helped her lover truly give of herself for the first time.  When Shayne was spent, Alea moved up to hold her tightly in her arms and kissed her sweaty temple and whispered to her.  "I love you."


Through tears in her eyes Shayne looked into the green eyes that she knew she wanted to see for the rest of her life.  Rolling Alea over, she kissed the woman deeply, tasting herself on the woman's lips and tongue.  She felt a ripple of desire spread through her body and the feel and taste of this woman.  She nipped and sucked the tender flesh of her neck and worked her way down to the small breasts and nipples already hardened in anticipation and need.  Shayne lavished her attention on both orbs until Alea was writhing with desire.  Shayne moved between the blonde's legs and gently parted the soft hairs before her.  She blew gently on the overheated flesh beneath and felt Alea quiver.  Leaning in she gently warmed the chilled flesh with her tongue and stroked across the smooth, soft flesh.


"God, Shayne please, I've waited long enough.   Don't make me wait any longer, love me." Alea begged.


Shayne gently stroked her thumb across the hardened clit and moved her finger slowly through the glistening flesh and into the warm recess of Alea's body.  The woman instantly tightened around her and she could feel the fire burning as she gently and slowly worked her finger and thumb in circular motions.  Alea's hips rose to meet the Shayne's quest and felt herself giving in to the feel of the love of this woman.  With only one woman and one thought in mind, she let herself go free as Shayne took her to new heights.


Breathing deeply, Shayne snuggled closer to the warm body of her new lover.  That night they had given each other their deepest insecurities and ended showing their greatest love.   Aunt Rita had been right, "This one was different."




Michael had not forgotten the cause of his misery. For the past year he had been continually reminded by being consigned to this hellhole by his uncle. He pushed back his Panama hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead as the South American sun beat down relentlessly. Entering the dark café he looked around before moving further into the stifling room. Sal had sent him down here to oversee the family's interest in the financial market, which I plain terms meant moving money through various channels until it couldn't be traced any longer. 'It is a job for a fool, well beneath his standing and intelligence.' Michael thought angrily. He knew he had been exiled to this place because of Shayne, always because of her. He unconsciously touched his nose and felt the slight bump, instantly reminded of what she had left behind to mar his looks. The overhead ceiling fan did little more than disturb the stagnant air of the room as Michael moved toward Carlos who waited for him at a back table. At his cousin's arrival, Carlos jumped up and kissed Michael lightly on both cheeks in the traditional greeting.

"It's been a long time." Carlos offered.

"Yes, so what brings you down to paradise?" Michael asked sarcastically.

"You've been hard to reach Michael. You don't check in very often." Carlos replied.

"Yeah, I've been busy."

"It's about Uncle Sal." Carlos explained. "He's pretty sick. The doctors don't think he has much time left."

Michael's eyes lit up at this news. "How much longer?"

Carlos snickered; he knew exactly what his cousin was thinking. "Maybe six months."

"What a shame!" Michael stated in mock concern.

"Yes, and soon you will be able to come home." Carols replied grinning.

"Perfect! Maybe we should make sure it's sooner rather than later." Michael thought for a moment and decided that Carlos could be useful, once again. "Carlos, you are the only one I can trust and I need your help. Here's what I need you to do." Michael leaned forward and laid out his plan as to what he wanted Carlos to do for him. After a brief visit Carlos left and he sat back confidently waiting until he eyed the woman approaching him.

"Darling, I have the most excellent news." He called out to her. Barbara fixed a smile on her face and moved toward Michael. The biggest mistake she had ever made was agreeing to come to South American with this man. 'No, the biggest mistake was ever getting tied up with him and doing his bidding.' She thought sadly. He had taken his rage and frustration out on her for the past year, and kept her a virtual prisoner in this town. She had no money, no passport, and he had seen to it that the locals were loyal only to him. She loathed the sight of him, but she did whatever it took to survive these days, including pleasing the devil himself.

"Soon my dear, you will get your wish. We will be returning home." Michael said as she took a seat next to him. A glimmer of hope sparkled in her eyes causing Michael to grin. He reached for her hand and gently kissed the back of it and held it thinking, 'Or maybe not.' He was tired of the blonde and she had served her purpose well, except for the one failure. He squeezed her hand tightly at the thought of that one failure.

Barbara winced but knew better than to cry out. She also saw the look in Michael's eye when he talked about there going home. She felt the icy grip of fear constricting her chest and making it harder to breathe. She realized that Michael had no thought of including her in his return plans. Frantically, she listened to his scheme for a triumphant return home and tried to figure a way out for herself.

Michael dropped her off at the house on his way to a meeting with his business associates. He had used his time here to further his own interests and had gone against the family's wishes, and sidelined some of the money into drug trafficking. This was totally against what the family would have wanted, but Michael was getting rich and he didn't care.

Barbara paced the living room debating her fate and finally went to the telephone and placed an overseas call. Hopefully, by the time Michael found out about the call, she would be long gone. She had to take this chance.

"Hello?" The voice that answered sounded far away, but Barbara sighed in relief at the familiar timbre.


"Yes?" Alea could hear a familiar voice through the static but she wasn't exactly sure who it was.

"It's me Barbara." The voice continued and although the connection was bad, it was not bad enough for Alea's breath to catch in her throat when she heard who it was.

"What do you want?" Alea asked forcing herself to breathe again.

"I need your help. Please, just listen to what I have to say before you decide?" Barbara begged. She needed the blonde's help and had nothing to lose by groveling if necessary.

"I'm listening."

Alea listened to the woman's story about Michael, his abuse and his plans to return to the States. More importantly, his plans to see that Uncle Sal's last days were shortened. Alea wished Shayne were home right now.

"So what do you want me to do?" Alea asked warily. She didn't want anything to happen to Uncle Sal. She had grown quite fond of the couple over the past year, but she knew that Shayne would not like any of this.

"I need you to get in touch with Michael's uncle so that I can tell him. I don't know how to reach him and it is hard for me to get to a telephone. Michael can't know that I am calling. It's life or death Alea!" Barbara cried.

Alea thought for a moment, she didn't want anything to happen to Shayne's uncle and she definitely didn't want Michael coming back into their life either. The couple's past year had been hard enough, trying to break down the walls that Shayne had build around herself, let alone bringing the reason for them back into the picture.

"O.K., I'll see what I can arrange. When can you be alone?" Alea decided she didn't have a choice but to help.

"Michael is going away in two days to meet with some buyers, he will be gone overnight and I can talk then." Barbara replied. "Alea, I'm really counting on you. I need your help badly. I know now what Shayne has been through."

Alea closed her eyes to the thought of what that actually meant. She had held Shayne through the many bouts of uncertainty and untrust, and answered, "I'll see what I can do Barbara. Please be careful." Alea knew that no matter what the woman had done to her, no one warranted the abuse Michael was capable of inflicting. Alea wasn't sure if Barbara's physical abuse wasn't easier than the mental abuse that Shayne had lived with.


"I can't believe you actually believed her! How can you trust her after all she did?" Shayne snapped at the blonde. At the mention of Barbara's name, Shayne's judgement became clouded. Her Aunt had called and told her that she had given the message to her Uncle and when Shayne didn't know what she was talking about, she explained Alea's call to the house. Shayne heart instantly sank and the old fears began to creep back, by the time Shayne had arrived home, her painful insecurities were replaced with a protective anger.

Alea saw the pain behind the anger and tried to explain. "I agreed because of you Shayne and Uncle Sal. I don't want anything to happen to either of you."

"You should have come to me first. I thought I could trust you. Did you even think for a moment what effect this would have on my Uncle's health? Or, was that your intention?" Shayne added as an angry after thought. She wished she hadn't, but it was born of a fear that Alea still had feelings for the tall blonde woman.

"I can't believe you just said that!" Alea replied, her eyes stung with unshed tears.

"I can't believe you did what you did either!" Shayne replied angry and now feeling guilty for hurting Alea. Her emotions were so jumbled that she hated feeling guilty, but felt guilty for being angry. Frustrated, Shayne spun around and stormed out of the house and got into her car, peeling out of the driveway she raced down the street to no where in particular.

Alea stood quietly in the now silent room and felt the first of the tears roll down her cheek and turned and walked down the hall to her old room and closed the door behind her.

Shayne ended up driving into the city to her Uncle's house. Rita opened the door not surprised to see her niece alone. She had a feeling something would happen by the tense sound in Shayne's voice when she explained Alea's call to her uncle.

"What happened Cara mia? Where is Alea?'" Rita asked, already knowing she wouldn't like the answer.

"What does it matter. In the end she really wasn't any different from rest was she?" Shayne replied fighting her desire to cry. Rita reached out and pulled the woman into the house and into her arms.

"Shayne, you know that's not true. What Alea did, she did out of love for you."

"Love…for me? How could helping that woman be any kind of love for me?" Shayne replied pulling herself out of her aunt's arms. "She's helping her destroy my family!"

"Shayne, you know that isn't true. She warned your Uncle of Michael's actions because she cares about him and you." Rita replied grabbing Shayne's arm to keep her from pacing and calm her down.

"Oh right! It's so convenient that Barbara called Alea to help her isn't it. Alea didn't even wait to ask me, she just jumped right in and called here! How's that for love. She's no different then the rest, I should have known better than to trust her too!"

"Basta! Enough Shayne! You stop right there! Have you thought for one moment why Alea did what she did? Do you know what she's been through this past year? She has hurt every bit as much as you have, if not more, because she has had to break through your walls." Rita angrily pulled Shayne to face the smaller woman. Shayne didn't fight her Aunt, she never could. She looked down into the warm brown eyes and her tears fell unchecked.

"Cara mia, Alea is so afraid that Michael will do something to destroy everything you two have accomplished in this past year. Until right now, you were a different person. Now, you are beginning to close yourself off again. Don't let this happen. Go to her and talk. You need her, just as much as she needs you. Your Uncle is doing fine. He is already taking action to stop Michael and Carlos. "

Shayne listened to her aunt and saw the truth in her words. Even if she wanted to stay angry, she knew it was an exercise in futility. She had once again let her brother destroy something she cherished. Looking away, she felt ashamed of herself and scared that maybe she wouldn't be able to fix this one.

"Shayne look at me. If what your Uncle says is true, Barbara is in danger. Do you really want to leave her to Michael after what she told Alea? What she did to you and Alea was wrong, but does she deserve what will happen? You've got to trust Alea and go talk with her. You two need to talk about things you've been avoiding." Rita explained, saying things that Shayne had tried to avoid telling herself.

"God, it hurts!" Shayne took a ragged breath.

"I know honey, but no one said that love was easy. If it is to be any good, you have to work at it. You have to really want it." Rita whispered softly and kissed Shayne's cheeks.

"No go wash your face. Have you eaten anything? Probably not…you eat and then you go talk to that woman of yours!" Rita instructed and pushed Shayne toward the hallway.

"Eat! That's the remedy for everything huh?" Shayne smiled jokingly.

"Yes, food is good for the soul, especially good Italian food!" Rita smiled and gave her a gentle shove.

It was dark before Shayne reached home and found the house dark and silent. She didn't bother turning on any lights and, with a fear in the pit of her stomach, went looking for Alea. 'What if she's left?' Shayne asked herself and the fear grew. She looked in her bedroom, which was now theirs, and saw that it was empty. Looking down the hall she saw the door closed to Alea's old room and felt a lessening of the tightness in her chest. Hoping, she opened the door and saw the blonde lying across the bed asleep. Shayne hesitated waking her, but she didn't want to anymore time or useless fears to come between her and Alea. Shayne approached the bed and climbed in next to Alea and pulled her gently into her arms. Alea struggled briefly as she woke and then became stiff.

"I need to talk with you." Shayne whispered into the darkness, afraid to voice her fears loudly in case they might come true. Alea remained silent, but Shayne knew that she was awake by the rapid rise and fall of her chest.

"First, I'm sorry for getting angry and not listening to you, or giving you a chance."

"You still don't trust me." Alea replied, her voice hoarse from sleep and crying.

"I'm learning to because I do love you, more than anything I have ever loved in my life." Shayne replied and nestled her face in Alea's hair. Breathing in the fresh scent that was her lover's alone, she continued talking.

"I never thought about how hard this past year has been on you too. I was so wrapped up in working with my own emotions, I didn't think about the effect they would have on you. I also never voiced my fears about your relationship with Barbara. I thought that if I avoided the issue, it didn't exist. But, it does exist." Shayne concluded and waited for Alea to say something.

Alea thought for a moment and absorbed all that Shayne had said. She hadn't really thought about explaining her relationship with Barbara because she had dismissed it as soon as she had admitted that Shayne was the one she loved. Sighing, she turned in Shayne's arms and faced her lover in the darkness.

"First of all let me tell you that there is NO relationship with Barbara, I don't think there really ever was? What I mean is that all I really ever saw was her blue eyes and the attention she paid to me. When I realized that I was attracted to her because her blue eyes reminded me of you, there cease to be any appeal in Barbara for me. Does this make any sense?" Alea stopped to ask.

"I think so…I wasn't very nice to you." Shayne replied sadly.

"Maybe then, but I have no regrets how it all turned out." Alea answered. "Well, except for tonight".

"The night isn't over yet if you will accept my apology." Shayne replied, her voice velvety in the darkness.

"Depends, might take a lot of apologizing." The blonde chuckled teasingly.

Shayne leaned down and found the lips she sought and kissed them passionately. "Is this a good beginning?"

"Oh, I'd say you're on a roll….continue."

Shayne chuckled and rolled Alea under her and began to assault the woman's lips and neck with numerous kisses and nips until the blonde was giddy. "Damn, you're good at this apology stuff."

"Practice makes perfect." Shayne muttered against her earlobe.

Alea pulled back slightly. "Are you saying you’ve been apologizing to some else like this?"

"Heaven's no!" Shayne answered quickly, her voice thick with worry. "I just want to practice a lot tonight!"

"Oh, that's better because I'm the only one I want you practicing so intently with…. O.k.?"

"You got it babe!" Shayne replied and licked the Alea's neck before gently sucking on the tender flesh. Alea shivered in response and groaned, "No, I think you've got it!"


Jimmy entered the office and noted how tired and old his friend looked. Sal had been like a father, brother and friend all rolled into one. He never treated him like and employee, but more like a member of the family because Sal was the only family Jimmy had really ever had. He would do anything for this man, including sacrificing his life if it would help, but he knew there was nothing he could do except make sure that things went smoothly. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case at the moment and things were going to get messy.

"Sal, we have a problem." Jimmy informed his employer.

"Didn't Anthony pick up the woman?" Sal asked sitting up.

"Yes, but it seems that Michael got wind of what was happening and left the country. He may already be here." Jimmy replied.

"I need you to go keep an eye on Shayne until we can find him." Sal told him. Jimmy nodded and headed to the door before Sal called back to him, "Bring me Carlos first."

Jimmy turned and nodded with a ghost of a smile on his face. It was house cleaning time and went to collect the first of the garbage. Carlos hadn't been in the room more than ten minutes before he told Sal everything he needed to know.

"Get Anthony in here to take care of this and then go do like I asked earlier."

Jimmy nodded and headed out the door as Carlos hung his head and waited, he knew that his betrayal would not go unpunished. When Anthony arrived, Sal looked up at the short, squat man and asked, "Did you pick up the package and deliver it where I instructed."

"Yes, everything went just like you ordered." He replied. "Good, thank you. Now, it seems that my nephew has too much time on his hands, see to it that he is kept busy and out of trouble." Carlos looked at his uncle in shock and breathed a sigh of relief. He knew that it could have been far worse for him, and quietly got up and followed Anthony out the door. 'Maybe it was time he stayed away from his cousin Michael, it never led to any good for him anyway.' Carlos thought as he followed his new mentor.

Sal sat back exhausted, only when he was alone did he let his guard drop and show exactly how weary he was. This illness had taken a toll on him and he knew that it was only a matter of time before he wouldn't be able to do much of anything. Right now, his priority was making sure that Shayne and Rita were protected and taken care of. Michael would have to be dealt with severely this time, family or no family, there was a line drawn and it had been crossed.

Shayne spent the day with Alea helping with the inventory and were just closing up when the door opened. Shayne looked up and the smile of her face vanished instantly when she saw who it was.

"What are you going here?" She asked tersely. No matter how much she knew Alea loved her, Shayne's insecurities were still deeply entrenched. Alea looked up at the sharpness in her lover's voice and whispered, "Barbara?" Alea could see that Barbara had changed. She looked old and tried and the blue of her eyes had dulled to a quiet gray. She could only imagine the life she had been leading with Michael.

"I know I made a deal and promised never to come here." The blonde offered as she walked toward the couple.

"Yeah, well we know the kind of deals you make." Shayne retorted sarcastically. Her little green-eyed monster was rearing its ugly head, but she didn't care. Alea touched Shayne's arm to her to keep her from saying anything further. Shayne looked down at her partner and saw the request for trust in her face and reluctantly nodded.

"I'll be in the back locking up if you need me."

Barbara held out a hand to stop the raven-haired woman. "No, wait. It's you I really need to talk to."

Shayne stopped and turned around and raised her eyebrow in question.

"I know I'm the last person you want to see, but I couldn't leave for California without warning you that Michael is back in the country." She dropped the bombshell on the two women and Shayne could feel her knees grow weak for a moment. The nightmare was continuing, would they ever be truly free? Alea reached out and wrapped her arm around Shayne's waist and stood with her.

Barbara watched the two and realized that she was jealous. There was an obvious connection that went deeper than just a physical attraction between these two women. They were equal opposite halves of light and dark, yet whole in their being.

"Do you know where he is?" Shayne asked stiffly, trying to keep down the fear rising in her throat.

"No, not even your Uncle has been able to find him. Michael is very good at not being found." Barbara replied, the smile that crossed her face held no joy or merriment. Shayne could see Michael's handiwork etched in the lines of the woman's face and her heart softened slightly.

"Are you going to be O.K.?" Shayne asked quietly. She no longer viewed this woman as a threat to her, but as a co-survivor. Barbara nodded and replied, "I'm leaving for California right now, I want to get as far away from here as possible."

Shayne nodded and replied, "I understand."

"I know you do." Barbara said and moved toward the door before turning. "Shayne, be careful. He's not the same man of a year ago, he is worse." Shayne looked up and nodded, she knew exactly what the woman was trying to say. "Good-bye Alea, I know this doesn't make up for what I did but, I hope one day you can forgive me and put all of this behind you."

"It's O.k., it's in the past." Alea replied and squeezed Shayne's waist in affirmation. Shayne smiled down at Alea and they walked Barbara to the door and watched her get in her car and drive off. Turning to each other, Shayne leaned down and kissed the short blonde lightly and looked into green eyes with concern. "No matter what happens, I want you to know that I love you."

"Shayne, what's going to happen?" Alea asked, fear edging her voice.

"I want you to go and stay with my Aunt and Uncle for the time being."

"No!" Alea sharply replied.

"It's not up for discussion. I'll stay and take care of the store." Shayne replied as Alea pulled away angrily.

"I can't believe you are even suggesting this, let alone practically ordering me to go!" Alea retorted angrily.

"Listen, you don't understand what lengths Michael will go to….I do!" Shayne replied and moved to lock up the store. Alea didn't respond again until they were home in the driveway..

"I'm not going anywhere Shayne." She told Shayne firmly. Shayne kept her focus ahead of her and simply answered, "Yes, you are."

Alea's final nerve blew and she got out of the car slamming the door closed. She stormed up the walk to the house and began unlocking the door when Shayne caught up and pulled her backwards.

Alea shook off Shayne's hand and said, "I don't know who you think you are talking to, but I will not take orders like some child!" Alea moved to enter the open doorway before Shayne could pull her back again. Shayne pushed her way past the woman into the house in front of her and looked around, something seemed wrong.

Alea didn't like the way Shayne was acting and just wanted to go to bed. When the woman shoved past her, she diverted her direction and went through the living room and headed down the hall to the bedrooms.

"Damn!" Shayne blurted out and ran through the kitchen trying to head off the stubborn blonde. She didn't like the feel of the house, someone had been there, she was sure of it. She pushed Alea away from the bedroom door and entered the room, she looked around and didn't see anything wrong. She moved out of the bedroom and looked at the angry blonde and said, "Don’t move!"

Alea had been watching Shayne search the house and fear began to erase her anger until the tall woman ordered her to stay put like a well-trained pet. Angrily, Alea continue to watch as Shayne checked out the rest of the house making sure everything was locked tight. When Shayne finally returned to Alea she simply stated, "Tomorrow, I'm taking you to the city."

"Bite me! I'm not going!" Alea shouted in return.

"You can't stay here!" Shayne's attitude was of controlled fury, but Alea saw it as an act of selfishness. She pushed Shayne against the bedroom wall and got into her face. "You are being a selfish bitch!"

Shayne body was stiff with anger, the adrenaline coursed through her veins. She looked at her stubborn lover and replied, "Whatever!"

Alea strangled off a scream and launched herself at Shayne. She wasn't sure what she had originally intended to do, but when she touched the woman her body instantly molded against the tense frame and she kissed her rough and hard. Shayne was taken off guard for only a moment before wrapping her arms around the smaller body, the adrenaline rush fueled the lust that she felt for this woman. Alea was driven by a force greater than she could explain, maybe it was out of fear or sense of loss that she crushed her lips and body against Shayne's. Shayne felt the heat building between her legs. A war of tongues turned to hands that desperately sought out the flesh of their lover as they pulled any cloth barriers that lay between them. Alea continued to attack Shayne's neck with kisses and light teasing nips and then sucked the tender flesh into her mouth. Alea moved her hand down to clasp a waiting breast and rolled the hardening nipple between her finger and thumb, and pinched lightly causing Shayne to gasp. This time Alea was in control as her hands roamed down the long body until they reached the wetness between Shayne's legs. Alea cupped the heated sex and ran her finger through the wet curls and dipped between the folds, slipping through with ease over the engorged nub. She continued on until she reached the destination and pushed into Shayne's overheated core. Alea didn't want to take this slowly, she wanted her lover to feel the desperation she felt and the need for connection she was fighting to keep.

Shayne's legs began to quiver from the onslaught of Alea's finger as it plunged deeper and deeper into her body. She braced herself against the wall until her arms trembled along with her legs. Her hips rapidly moved in time with the questing finger and Shayne knew that she could not hold on much longer. When Alea's thumb push hard against the pulsing flesh, Shayne let go collapsing against the waves that over took her, letting the smaller woman hold her pinned against the wall. Speechless, she buried her face in the neck of her lover and waited for her breathing to return.

"O.K…..O.K. You can stay!" Shayne rasped.




Shayne awoke in the guestroom confused for a moment and then remembered the night before with a smile. Her partner had undoubtedly surprised her with her aggressiveness. They both knew that it was driven out of fear and a need to hold at bay the danger that lay ahead. 'I guess I deserved that one.' She thought and rolled over looking for the woman in question only to find the bed empty.


"Yes?" Her voice came from the bathroom followed by a blonde head peeking around the corner.

"Oh, I was just wondering where you went." Shayne replied smiling at her lover. Alea walked out of the bathroom, dressed for work and stood before the bed. "I've been trying to figure out a way to cover these." Alea retorted and pulled the collar back on her shirt to reveal two purplish-red marks.

"Oops!" Shayne replied and grinned sheepishly.

"Yeah! Oops, is right!"

"Come here and I'll kiss them an make them all better." Shayne offered suggestively.

"No way! That's how I got them in the first place!"

Well you started it!" Shayne replied.

"Yeah, I think you're bad habits are rubbing off on me!"

"Oh, I hope so!" Shayne laughed and reached out to grab the blonde. Alea stepped just out of her reach and teasingly laughed. "Oh no you don't, I've got to get to work. Are you going to drive me or not?"

Shayne fell back on the bed with a sigh and finally answered, "Yeah, let me grab a shower and I'll go to work with you today."

"Shayne.....I don't need a babysitter." Alea tried to keep her voice even and not get angry again. Shayne sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed and stood up. "Give me some slack on this, O.K.? It's bad enough you are staying against my better judgement, please don't fight me on this too."

"O.K., O.K. A compromise." Alea knew that Shayne was really worried about what her brother intended to do. 'Maybe I should be too.' She thought with a pang of fear. But, she also knew that she would never leave Shayne to face this alone, no matter what the outcome.

"Thank you." Shayne quietly replied kissing Alea's pouting lips before heading to take a shower. Alea watched the naked figure of her partner and had second thoughts about going to work. 'Oh, how she loved the feel of that long body against her.' She mused about how that body would feel against her surrounded by rows of books at the store. Flushed, she shook her head too clear it of lustful thoughts, and quickly went to make coffee. "I don't think the locals could handle that one!" Alea chuckled as she walked into the kitchen.

Arriving at the bookstore, the first thing they noticed was the Sheriff leaning against his car out front. Parking behind him they got out and saw the front of the store for the first time, sprayed in red paint across the front window were the words, 'DYKE WHORE!' and strewn on the pavement beneath it were a mass of wilting red roses. Shayne knew immediately who the message was from. The Sheriff moved toward the woman and Alea turned to Shayne and whispered, "We need to tell him what is going on." Shayne nodded her head and stepped up onto the curb to meet the man halfway.

"Now, before you two say anything.....I know for assurity that Dale had nothing to do with this."

"We know." Alea replied and looked to Shayne.

Shayne looked at Alea and knew that she was the one who would have to explain everything to him. "This decorative effect is courtesy of my brother Sheriff."

"Your brother? I don't understand." He replied looking back and forth between the two women. There was obviously more to this story and he needed to find out exactly what that was.

"Can we go inside and talk?" Shayne asked, not wanting to talk in the street for everyone to hear. She could already she a few businessmen looking out their windows in curiosity. Swinging wide to sidestep the roses, she couldn't get herself to touch them just yet. Shayne unlocked the door and the three of them entered the bookstore, nothing had been touched inside and Shayne sighed, momentarily relieved until she realized, 'he is just warning me of what's to come.'

"O.K., now will someone please tell me just what is going on here?" He asked looking between the two women.

Shayne took a deep breath and began to tell a brief story of her life and her brother's penchant for trying to manipulate and control every facet of it. She didn't go into details or specifics, but there was no need, the Sheriff was being painted a pretty good picture of just what was at stake. Shayne hesitated at a couple points and Alea quietly laid her hand on the taller woman's back in silent encouragement to continue.

"So now, he is back in the country and he knows that the family will be looking for him and blames me. So, you can say he has a personal vendetta against me and I'm afraid that might include Alea now. I tried to get her to go to my Uncle's for safety, but...." Shayne spoke until Alea interrupted her.

"I'm not going anywhere, so just forget it !"

Despite the seriousness of the moment, Sheriff _______ had to smile at the tenacity of the little blonde. 'She was a spitfire all right. Shayne has her hands full with this one!' He thought to himself wryly. 'There sure make a good pair, different, but good.' Somehow along the way, he had come to care for Alea and now, for Shayne. There was something about her that he respected, a quiet strength of character born of disappointment and personal hardship. She was fighting to free herself and in the process seemed to be finding herself. 'And I'll be damned if I'm going to let anyone interfere.' He concluded allowing his anger to surface and asked Shayne gruffly, "Just when were you planning on tell me all this? How can I help if you don't talk to me?"

"Well, you can't expect me to come running to you, after all, my popularity isn't that high around here you know!" Shayne retorted defensively.

"You're popularity is just fine with me and no one in this town really knows anything about you're background. Well, at least not until lately." He replied trying to ease the tensions.

"O.K., so now you know. What can you do think you can do about it?"

"I don't suppose I could pursuade both of you to go some place safe?" He asked and watched as they both shook their head in unison. "I didn't think so. O.K., then the only recourse is to watch you're house and this shop until he makes his move or your Uncle finds him."

"Sheriff, if my Uncle does find him, my best advice is to leave him to my Uncle and walk away." Shayne replied as a serious warning and looked the man straight in the eye. He understood her meaning quite well and nodded saying, "Don't worry, I'm no fool." Shayne let out her breath relieved. The last thing she needed was for some small town cop to get himself killed because of her family. He was no match for them.

"You girls need to take some precautions too. Keep indoors as much as possible and the doors locked. If you see any strangers around the store, call me. I don't care if it's some 90 year old lady carrying a poodle under her arm, I want to know!"

Both women chuckled at this vision and nodded in agreement. "I'll continue to stop by periodically to check out both your house and the store on my rounds."

The Sheriff left and Shayne and Alea got down to the business of cleaning the mess out front and running their business. Shayne got passed her disgust at touching the roses and took care of the clean up while Alea handled the customers. There seemed to be an extraordinary amount of traffic through the store during the course of the day, and Shayne thought, 'Maybe I need to paint the front window more often, if this is the result.' She couldn't help looking over her shoulder periodically wondering if Michael was watching her. She shivered at the thought and quickly finished the work and went inside to help her partner.

Michael indeed had been watching and smiled when he saw the look of concern on his sister's face. "Yes, my dear, you should be afraid...very afraid. You will pay for every moment of my exile, of that you can be sure!" He turned his car around and went in the opposite direction of the Sheriff to circle around the outskirts of town, and headed toward Shayne's home. Parking a ways away from the house, he slipped through the woods until he reached the back of the house. He knew his uncle would have someone watching Shayne at all times and took all precaution. The heavy sack that he carried began to stir and he quickly moved toward the patio door. It had taken some doing to get this little gift for his sister and he didn't want anything to disturb its drug-induced sleep, just yet. Getting into Shayne's house had been easy before and the sliding patio door proved to be even easier. He slid open the door just enough to dump the contents of the sack into the room before slamming the door closed, effectively trapping his present inside. Whistling, he headed back toward the trees and plotted his next move. This was just another teaser, tonight his sister would know what it finally meant to cross him, and his retribution would be sweet. Walking back toward his car, his thoughts drifted to the small blonde with green eyes and he couldn't wait for the party to begin.



"Well, I don't know about you, but I am definitely ready for some lunch." Shayne replied turning the closed sign over, there had been a lunch hour rush, more out of curiosity than any desire to buy books. Alea had to admit that Shayne had behaved herself very well. She was sure, at one point, when an elderly customer was eyeing her intently that she would do something to scare the old woman, but Shayne had just politely smiled and asked if she could help her with anything. Alea had felt like an oddity at the local circus the way everyone had looked at them. Well, if anyone hadn't known they were gay before with Dale, the town certainly knew it now, and except for the curiosity, everyone seemed to handle the news fairly well she thought. Alea wondered how long it would take the town to find out about Shayne's background, and then thought about what can of worms that would open.

"Well? You eating or not?"

"Oh....yeah, where are we going?" Alea asked coming out of her revere and looking at her raven-haired partner. Shayne stood impatiently waiting with one hand on the door and the other on her hip. Alea walked toward her smiling, "did anyone every tell you that you look sexy when you're impatient?" Shayne snorted and swatted her on the butt as she scooted out the door.

"You want to see sexy?" Shayne taunted wiggling her hips sexily as she strolled toward the car. Alea breathed caught as she watched her lover move so seductively, and then covered up her emotions by rolling her eyes at the woman's antics.

"Come on...we have enough trouble with gawkers. Don't give them any more to look at!" Alea replied laughing. Shayne's cheeks flushed as she thought about everyone watching her and scooted into the car quickly.

"I didn't think about that."

"Don't worry about it. I just like the idea that I get to say 'eat your hearts out, she's with me'! Alea replied and lay hand on Shayne's thigh as they pulled away from the curb. Shayne placed her hand over Alea's and kept it there.

"O.k., we have two is we can go to the Diner for a quick bite, or...we can go home for a quick bite." She emphasized the later bite by wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.

"Oooh...tough choice...umm..." Alea drew out her response tauntingly and finally replied, "Let's go home!"

"Oh yeah!"

Shayne fumbled trying to unlock the door as Alea nibbled intently on her earlobe. She found Shayne's ticklish spot on her neck and went in for the kill, causing Shayne to drop the keys and grab the blonde and pinning her against the doorframe.

"Oh so you want to play that game huh?" Shayne murmured against her lips and began nipping and licking the edges of Alea's lips, teasing and tormenting the woman as she kept moving to try and catch Shayne's mouth.

"Stop that and kiss me!"

"No!" Shayne replied and continued with her game of keep-away.

Alea's lips ticked and her mouth yearned for the taste of Shayne's. She wanted to kiss her fully and deeply, but the taller woman kept teasing her. Alea struggled to free her arms in order to pull Shayne closer, but she wasn't strong enough to break free.

"Shayne!" The blonde whined in frustration causing her lover to chuckle and finally give in. Shayne deepened the kiss as she pushed Alea against the door and poured everything she had into her exploration of the smaller woman's mouth. The door began to move and the two found themselves tumbling into the house and onto the floor. Shayne landed on top of Alea who began to giggle until she looked over coming nose to nose with two angry yellow eyes, and screamed. Shayne quickly rolled them over pushing Alea behind her and saw the threatening stance of the frightened animal. It looked like an overgrown cat, but it also looked like it could rip her arm off it felt so inclined.

"Shh....don't move!" Shayne instantly froze and warned the scared woman behind her.

The animals lips were pulled back into a snarl as a low growl rumbled from its chest. Shayne could see the muscles bunched in the animal's shoulders as it coiled in defense, ready to spring at the slightest provocation.

"What the hell is it?" Alea whispered harshly from behind her.

"I don't know, but I don't think he wants to be in here with us." Shayne replied cautiously.

"What are we going to do?"

"Slowly stand up and back up away from the door and maybe he will just leave." Shayne suggested and reached backward grabbing Alea's hand. "Ready?"

"Do I have a choice?"

Shayne grimly smiled and squeezed her hand. "No."

"O.K., slowly now..." Shayne instructed and began to move her legs around. The frightened animal took the movement as a threat and swiped out at Shayne's leg, ripping its claws through her khaki's and into her leg. "Shit!" She screamed in pain and scrambled away pushing the blonde backward behind her as the animal scrambled toward the open door.

Shayne jumped up and slammed the door on the departed animal and hopped around on one foot as the rush of blood to her lower leg caused the burning of the injury to intensify. Sucking a deep breath she breathed out, "Damn...damn!"

"Stop jumping around and let me look." Alea ordered grabbing Shayne's arm and tugging it toward her. Shayne responded and gripped the edge of the kitchen counter and leaned against it, keeping her weight of the one leg.

Alea knelt down and pulled open the ripped pants to see three even gashes in the side of Shayne's leg. The blood was quickly absorbing into her pant leg as it ran down the calf.

"It doesn't look too bad, but I need something to clean it up with." Alea replied shakily. She had no idea how deep they actually went because of all the blood. She helped Shayne hobble toward the bathroom and began opening cupboards to pull out whatever Shayne had in the way of first aid supplies. Alea hands shook as she undid Shayne's belt and pants and began snickering nervously.


"I've thought about doing this all the way home, but for a different reason!" Alea replied smiling up into worried blue eyes.

"I'd rather it were!" Shayne replied wincing as she stepped out of her pants and scooted up to sit on the edge of the vanity.

Alea gently wiped away the blood and got a good look at the cuts. "They don't look too deep, but I think you need to have it check out. I don't think you'll need stitches, but you might need a rabies shot." Alea insisted as she swabbed the cuts with peroxide. Shayne bit her tongue at the burning pain and shuttered, "Jeez!"

"Let's just wrap it and go into town to see the doctor, O.K.?" Alea was concerned. "We don't know what kind of animal it was."

"I have a feeling it was my souvenir of South America from my brother. " Shayne replied trying to lighten the situation.

"Couldn't he have just gotten you a T-shirt like any normal person?" Alea asked dryly, she wasn't quite ready to laugh this one off.

"You forget, my brother isn't normal!"

"How true." Alea replied as she finished taping a temporary bandage in place. She leaned down to retrieve Shayne's pants. "Hop up and let's try to put these back on."

"Think anyone would mind if I just went like this?" Shayne asked teasingly. Alea looked her lover up and down and couldn't hold back a smile. "Personally, I prefer you this way, but I don't think the town is ready for you to be so 'out and about', just yet."

Shayne grabbed Alea as she slid off the edge of the vanity and pulled her in closely. "Yes, a great body and a sense of humor! I knew it was in their somewhere."

"Very funny! Some wild animal attacks you and you want me to do comedy!" Alea groaned and quickly added, "and don't even think about making a comment about 'doing' anything else."

Shayne just chuckled mischievously and struggled back into her Khaki's with Alea's assistance. After she was dressed again, Alea hugged Shayne closely to her and could feel her heart still beating fast. She tried to calm herself and kept her head on her lover's chest for a moment. Shayne shifted and looked down at Alea who asked, "It's going to be o.k. isn't it?"

"Yes, no matter what. I'll find a way." Shayne replied and kissed the top of the blonde head and held Alea tightly in her arms and thought, 'Even if it kills me, you will be safe.'

Alea drove them back into town to the clinic. As a precaution, she called the Sheriff and informed him of what was happening. At the clinic, Shayne was pleased to find out that the only shot she would have to get would be for tetanus.

After the clinic they decided to go back to the store where they waited for the Sheriff. Bandaged and hobbling, Shayne made her way behind the counter and propped herself up on the stool and looked back at Alea making a face at the blonde.

"Just stay there!" Alea ordered and stuck her tongue out at Shayne.

"Oh...promises, promises!" Shayne taunted.

"Oh yeah? We'll rest assured, I keep my promises!" Alea threw back over her shoulder and moved to work on a new shipment that had arrived.

Shayne was about to reply when the Sheriff opened the front door and entered. "Well, I can't leave you two alone for one hour and you find yourself trouble to get into!"

Shayne just shrugged her shoulders and replied, "It comes with the territory", which brought a gruff bark of laughter out of the older man and Shayne smiled in response.

"Are you alright?" He asked looking seriously at Shayne.

"Depends on if you mean the injury or my brother?"


"That remains to be seen." Shayne replied quietly. She didn't want Alea to hear this conversation or worry anymore than she already did. "Today, was just his idea of a warning to let me know that he is back and hasn't forgotten."

"Where is she?" The man asked leaning on the counter to keep his voice low.

"She's in back with a new shipment."

The Sheriff nodded and asked quietly, "What do you think his next move will be?"

"Hard to say with my brother, but you can rest assured that there will indeed be one." Shayne answered and felt a cold shiver of fear run through her body. She quickly looked to the back of the store and listened until she heard the familiar shuffle of boxes and relaxed a little. Looking back at the Sheriff she smiled at the look on his face.

"It's becoming a habit now." She explained. He nodded in understanding and asked, "Do you think she's in danger?"

"Oh yeah, my brother is a big fan of torture first, and what better way to hurt me." Shayne replied sarcastically and smiled, but the smile did not reach her eyes and the big man put his hand over her's and squeezed. "I'll do everything I can to help you."

Shayne blinked her eyes at the sudden rush of emotions that she felt and the unshed tears that burned her eyes. "Thank you."

"I'll check in on you two just before closing. I want to go look around your house right now, if that's alright with you?"

"Yes, thank you." Shayne replied readily and watched as the Sheriff walked out the front door. She sat staring blankly after him thinking, 'What if Michael can't be stopped this time? There isn't much more he can do to me, but...' she thought letting her mind wander to thoughts of what he could do, the one thing she knew she would never recover from. Quickly jumping down from the stool, she made her way to the back of the store where Alea was unpacking a crate. Reaching from behind she hugged the standing woman and kissed her on the cheek and murmured in her year, "You do know that I love you?"

Alea grasped the hands around her waist and pulled them tighter replying, "Yes, and you know that I love you right back?" Shayne turned the shorter woman around to face her and nodded smiling before leaning down to taste from lips that never failed to quench the raging fire that burned within her.



They got through the rest of an extraordinarily busy day without mishap. By closing time they realized they hadn't eaten anything all day. "God, I'm starved!" Alea announced as her stomach rumbled in reply. "See!"

Shayne smiled and opened the car door for the hungry blonde. "Do you want to grab something at the diner or eat at home?"

"I'm hungry, not desperate. Let's go home." Alea answered grimacing at the thought of another meal there. "I'll whip something together."

"I'm getting sick of their food too, maybe we can just reheat some leftovers. This own needs another restaurant." Shayne replied.

They arrived home and Shayne looked around the darkness before letting Alea get out of the car. They hadn't seen the Sheriff since the bookstore and hoped he would still be in the area. Entering the house Shayne was satisfied that Michael had not been back since this afternoon. She sensed everything was undisturbed, but could feel something in the air and knew that their peace could change at any moment.

"Why don't you go get off your leg and relax. I'll just heat up the leftovers, O.K.?" Alea asked and pointed Shayne toward the den. She had caught the tired look on her lover's face and knew that it was more than just fatigue that etched the lines around her favorite blue eyes. Shayne was reaching the end of her strength against Michael, and Alea was more afraid that she would give up than she was at whatever Michael had planned against them.

"Yes Ma'am!" Shayne smiled and saluted before limping off to watch some television. Propping her leg on the coffee table she surfed through the stations until she found a movie that was just beginning.

"Do you want to eat in here?" Alea popped her head around the corner questioning.

"Yeah, right here!" Shayne replied and padding the empty sofa next to her. Alea's head popped back out and moments later she appeared carrying two steaming dishes of lasagna. She handed set them on the coffee table in front of them and plopped down next to Shayne, leaning her body against the tall frame for comfort. They hungrily ate dinner as they watched the movie and, by the end of the movie, the dinner plates had been pushed aside, and they lay spooned together on the sofa. Shayne peeked down over the side of Alea's face and saw that she was still awake, and began to nibble on her earlobe.

"Mmmm." Alea purred and pushed pack against the taller woman.

"Want to continue where we left off this morning?" Shayne whispered seductively in her ear. Alea groaned and shifted to face her lover. "But, of course."

"I was hoping you would feel that way." Shayne leaned down and captured the lips before her and tucked the smaller woman under her on the sofa. It wasn't the most comfortable position, but both quickly forgot about this fact as Shayne kissed her way along Alea's cheekbone and down her neck. She gently kissed and licked the bruises from this morning before working her way across to the other side. She sucked in the smooth flesh on Alea's neck as her tongue grazed over the surface in a circular motion sending waves of heat to the blonde's core. Alea moaned and ran her hands down to Shayne's behind pulling her sex tightly against her own. Shayne could almost feel the heat through their clothing and felt herself getting wetter.

"What do you say we take this to the bedroom and get comfortable?" Shayne asked huskily.

Alea looked up and just nodded as her breathing began to quicken. Shayne got up and reached down to pull Alea up to stand in front of her. She planted a deep kiss on her lips before leading Alea from the room toward their bedroom.

A pair of eyes watched from the cover of the trees as the lights of the house went out one by one. "Soon...very soon." Michael said to himself smiling and waited.



Alea lay nestled against Shayne in the warm afterglow of their lovemaking. "Did I tell you I loved you today?" Shayne asked kissing the top of Alea's head.

The blond turned her head and rested her chin on her her lover's shoulder, and peered down at her pretending to be thinking. "Yep, twice I believe."

Shayne smiled up and tickled Alea in the side causing the woman to squirm and lay full on top of her, resting her chin lightly on the taller woman's chest. With their lips barely touching, Alea whispered, "And I love hearing it because I love you so much it hurts."

Shayne could feel Alea's warm breath on her lips as she spoke and reached out to lick the edges of them, causing the blonde to groan at the sensations Shayne could evoke in her with the slightest of touches.

"Oooh!" Alea shivered and Shayne pulled her in for a deep kiss. Passions ignited, Shayne rolled Alea over and took the lead as one kiss turned into two and three. Breaking away and breathing heavily, Shayne looked down into green eyes and smiled.

"You do realize we may never leave this bed today." Shayne murmured huskily as she lightly kissed the edges of the blonde's lips.

"And that would be a bad thing?" Alea replied sarcastically.

"Only if you didn't want this to happen?" Shayne retorted and moved her lips to capture an erect and hardening nipple and pulled it into her mouth.

"Not...bad...." Alea moaned as the tip of Shayne's tongue slowly licked across the edges and down the side of the tender nipple. Shayne smiled as her mouth lingered around the orb and pulled it farther into her mouth and sucked lightly on it before moving to kiss her way across to the other side.

"Or this?" Shayne murmured against the soft flesh of Alea's breast. She could feel the rapid breathing of her lover and knew that it matched her own at this moment. She loved the way Alea responded to her and the way it made her body crave the touch of her lover. It was as if they were one experiencing everything together.

"Oh yes..." Alea breathed out as she felt the blood rush to her core, spreading out in waves of heat and desire. She ran her hands through the silky raven hair and tenderly cradled Shayne's head to her breast. "Come back up here...This time I want to see you when you touch me." Alea asked softly. "I want to feel your body against mine."

Shayne placed a kiss on the tip of each nipple and then moved back up to capture Alea's lips in a deep soulful kiss. Shayne lay fully on Alea and ran a hand down between them until she could feel the soft curly patch and lightly drew circles teasing the sensitive flesh. Shayne continued to kiss down Alea's neck and nip a sensitive earlobe to whisper huskily in her ear, "I want you more than I've wanted anyone in my life."

"You're killing me Shayne, please!" Alea pleaded in the woman's ear as her body began to tingle. Shayne moved her hand to part the moist flesh and found the interior hot and wet, and rubbed her finger along the engorged nub. Shayne moved up to look directly into smoky green eyes and smiled whispering, "You are so beautiful, honey."

Alea looked deeply into blue and felt her body begin to quiver. "You make me feel that way." She replied and sucked in a breath as Shayne entered her. She could feel herself getting close and looked deeply into Shayne's eyes.

Shayne saw the laden look of passion as she stroked Alea's body and whispered, "I love you". The walls around her fingers began to tighten and she kissed Alea deeply using her tongue to mimic her hand.

Alea knew she couldn't hold on much longer and finally gave herself to Shayne in every sense of her being until the last wave of passion rolled through her body. She hugged Shayne's body to her and thanked whatever God sent this woman into her life as she slowly slipped off into sleep. Shayne lay content listening to the rapid heartbeat as it slowed to deep pulse and she could feel Alea breathing deepen and knew that she had fallen asleep. She lay listening to the life beneath and knew that she would do anything to keep this safe from her brother. This was one thing she would fight for and lose to her brother. She had always given up easily and let the hurt and betrayal push her farther behind her wall, but this time, it would be different. Her brother would not win this time, not with Alea, she would fight this time. It was fight for her life.



It was early afternoon before they woke and lay in the bed just holding one another. "I know we should get up, but I'm just so comfortable I don't want to." Alea whispered softly.

"Then let's not." Shayne replied and snuggled closer to her lover. "There is nothing we need to do, so let's just stay here."

"Okay, you twisted my arm." Alea replied smiling and kissed the shoulder where she rested. "Why don't we just lay here and talk then."

"O.K., what would you like to talk about?" Shayne asked, normally she would be troubled by this request, but with Alea, there was no fear.

"Tell me about growing up...that's if, you want to." Alea asked allowing Shayne a chance to decline.

"Sure, I'll tell you." Shayne replied and kissed her blonde head and began to tell her story.

"I guess you could say my life wasn't the norm, but to me it seemed the only way there was. My father was the typical father that went to work and came home to spend time with his family. I didn't know what kind of work he really did until a few years ago. I can only remember a handful of times when he actually brought his work home. He was a firm believer in keeping the two separate. In Italian families it's the custom for girls to stay home with their mothers so, I guess it was pretty odd when my father set me up in his business. No one made a big issue about it, so I didn't think much of it at the time."

"You were his accountant, is that when you found out about his business?"

"No, the work that I did for my father was for al legitimate company. From start to finish, I found out that he set it up cleanly and kept it separate from the family businesses. He started the company with money my mother had inherited from her family, so there was no connection to anything corrupt about it. " Shayne explained quietly. Alea could tell that this was hard for her and tighted her hold on Shayne and looked up into her face waiting for her to continue. She would listened forever if that's what it took for Shayne to unburden herself and move out from behind her self-imposed walls.

"I didn't really find out about the rest until my father died and my brother took over. He began to make subtle changes and, at first, I didn't say anything. But, when he wanted me to start changing the books to hide his new ventures and cover for unexplained cash flows, I confronted him and he told me everything. At first, I didn't believe him and I went to talk with my Uncle and that's when I learned most of the truth. I still don't know everything about my father's business or how my family is all tied together, which is probably why I am where I am today. But, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it all out. My family is what you read about in the papers, organized crime, the mob, call it what you will, it's still the same in the end." Shayne broke off bitterly and took a deep breath to calm herself. "That is why I walked away from everything and everyone. My brother's hand in my personal affairs didn't help at that time either, and I had just had enough of everything and new I had to get away if I were to survive."

"Someone hurt you a lot didn't they?" Alea asked quietly hoping that she hadn't crossed the line with Shayne. She knew she kept everything very close to her heart and didn't want to upset things. Their relationship had turned for the better and Alea didn't want to change that for anything in this world, not even her need to know about Shayne's past.

Shayne looked deeply into the questioning green eyes and saw only compassion and love. She reached down and tucked a wisp of hair behind Alea's ear and smiled softly. "Her name was Rachael and I thought she was the one. Boy, was I mistaken." Shayne voice held a bitterness that belied the pain the memories invoked and her thoughts began to wander back.

Alea reached up and gently touched the side of Shayne's face to bring her focus back to the present. Shayne winked at the gesture and kissed the hand that rested against her cheek. "Rachael hated Michael and they always seemed to fight whenever we were together. She knew that Michael has taken away two lovers in the past and spurned any advances by him. I guess Michael finally found the soft spot in Rachael and showed her all the possibilites he could offer her that I couldn't. I came home one night to find her gone with a note that Michael would pick up her things the next day. "

"So, that's why you acted the way you did when Michael came here with the roses and everything. I guess I understand better now." Alea replied and scooted up to kiss Shayne. "Listen, no matter what you believe in this life, believe this....Not now, or not ever will I leave you for Michael. I'm here because I love you and all that entails. If I go, it is because you ask me to leave." She looked sincerely into Shayne's eyes and told her as much with that one look as any words could ever say.

Shayne felt her eyes sting from unshed tears and replied, "That's not about to happen ever. I won't ever ask you to leave. I love you too much to ever do that" Their kiss was deep and full of meaning as each poured their hearts into the message that was being relayed.

Shayne held Alea closer as they lay in silence reveling in their new found closeness until the rumbling of a stomach broke their quiet. Alea chuckled and asked, "Was that you or me?"

Shayne laughed, "I think this time it was me."

"Jeez, maybe it was both of us." Alea returned laughing along with Shayne.

"What do you say we get dressed and go down to that nasty diner and get something to eat and then just go for a drive or something?" Shayne offered.

"Sounds like a plan to bad can they mess up breakfast?" Alea replied. Shayne chuckled deeply in response and Alea said, "Point taken, but I'm hungry."

"Then let's get a move on it." Shayne replied and got out of bed to run the water for a shower. Alea watched her lover walk away and said, "You have the sexiest behind of anyone I know."

Shayne turned surprised and blushing, "Why thank you....want to join me in the shower? I just might let you wash my back."

"Oh, just your back?" Alea asked in mock disappointment. Shayne smirked and said, "Well, if you are really good......" She turned and headed into the bathroom with a flair and Alea scrambled out of bed quickly to join her lover in the shower.



They sat across from each other in the booth and ate breakfast, occasionally making eye contact and smiling. Alea slipped off her shoe and ran her foot up the inside of Shayne's leg causing her to drop her fork in surprise. Alea giggled and Shayne whispered, "Ohh, remember paybacks are a bitch!"

"Promises, promises." Alea replied teasingly and rested her foot against the seat edge between Shayne's legs. Shayne squeezed her knees together trapping the foot between and looked deeply into green eyes replying, "Bank on it! I keep my promises."

Alea shivered with renewed excitement at all that look and the words implied. "Stop teasing me!"

"Who said I was teasing?" Shayne replied coyly and released the hold on Alea's foot.

"Dessert ladies?"

Alea jumped when the voice sounded next to their table. She looked up blushing and just shook her head. Shayne was grinning at Alea's reactions and said, "No thank you, just our check thank you."

Shayne followed Alea out of the diner and occasionally put her hand on Alea's back sending shivers of desire through the smaller woman. Finally, they were outside and headed toward the car when Alea reached back and took Shayne's hand in her's and held it as they walked toward the car. She didn't give a rat's butt who saw them and what they thought anymore.

Michael watched this display of public affection and slammed his hand on the steering wheel in anger. 'She is destroying our family and making us a laughing stock to everyone!' He continued to watch them as his rage boiled deep within. As the women pulled out of the parking lot, he followed them from a distance, watching and waiting.

"I've got an idea. Why don't we go visit your Uncle and Aunt." Alea asked Shayne as they pulled away from the diner.

"Sure, why not. Let me give them a quick call to make sure it's allright." Shayne replied and picked up her cell phone. After a brief conversation, she hung up and turned to Alea.

"I hope you are ready for this? Get ready to be overtaken by my Aunt Rita. She was so excited that I was brining you over, she is starting to cook already. Guess we will be eating again." Shayne groaned and rubbed her full stomach.

Alea smiled and replied, "I can always eat something." Both women broke out laughing at this comment knowing the truth in that statement.

Michael watched as they headed toward the interstate and into the city. He knew where they were headed and continued to follow them. 'Uncle Sal's little pet.' Just like his father, Shayne was his Uncle's favorite too. Michael's anger continued to grow as they got closer to the city. "There's going to be a lot of changes my dear sister. Once Sal is out of the way, you will have to deal with me directly." He angrily said to the car in front of him. He picked up his phone and placed a call, after a few brief moments, he smiled and as they entered the city he moved around and sped off past his sister's car. He had finally heard the news he had been waiting for and it was time to make his move.

No sooner had the women entered the house and they were engulfed in the short woman's arms as Rita hugged them tightly. "I am so glad you two came to visit." She looked up at Shayne and patted her cheek and winked causing Shayne to blush.

Alea giggled and replied, "I don't think I've ever seen her blush before."

"No, not my cara mia, she thinks she's tough." Rita replied and motioned for them to come into the kitchen with her.

"You guys aren't going to pick on me all day are you?" Shayne asked sarcastically. Rita and Alea looked and one another and in unision replied, "Yes!" Shayne groaned and took a seat on a stool at the counter, pulling Alea over to sit on another in next to her. Rita chuckled to herself and moved to stir the sauce on the stove.

"So, you two are friends again?" Rita asked slyly with her back turned to the two women.

"You could say that." Shayne answered quickly tweaking Alea in the side causing her to gasp and jump. Alea looked back and Shayne reprimanding her with her eyes as the woman looked around innocently before mouthing, "Pay backs remember?"

Alea rolled her eyes and knew that she was in for a long afternoon and smiled at the thought. She loved the fact that Shayne felt so open and comfortable to display affection in front of her family. She thought back at her own family and sadly she knew that they would never have been able to be like this around them. As bad as it sounded, she was glad that she had no family to have to worry about anymore. Alea broke out of her revere to hear Shayne tell her Aunt about Michael's last two presents.

"Madre mia!" Rita exclaimed, "That boy has come to no good. Are you two safe being alone? Maybe you should come and stay here."

"No, we have already discussed this and we will be just fine." Shayne replied looking over at Alea with a sly grin. Alea couldn't help but stick her tongue out at Shayne. "Ooh, I'll hold you to that." Shayne whispered softly causing Alea to blush. Rita watched the interaction and smiled to herself content in what she saw. 'Buona, cara mia has opened her heart once again.'

The three women turned when they heard a throat being cleared to find Jimmy standing in the doorway hesitantly. "Excuse me, where is Mr. Tuscano?" He asked quietly.

"He went down to the office. He should be back shortly." Rita answered.

"Alone?" Jimmy asked trying to keep his concern hidden from the three women.

"Yes. Why is something the matter?" Rita answered, suddenly she had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something was not right.

"No, I was just asking. Everything is fine. I think I'll go down to the office and join him." Jimmy answered and turn to leave before Mrs. Tuscano asked questions he didn't want to answer.

Michael waited for the car to pull out of the office parking and followed it until it made it's way out of the city and into the less populated suburban area. He looked around to make sure that conditions were right and they weren't being followed. As they drove trough the heavily wooded area, Michael ascelerated the car and moved to go along side of the black Cadillac. Looking over at the driver he smiled at the surprised look on his face when he saw who was next to him. Michael fired one bullet and the car instantly swerved into the trees coming to a loud crash as the car slammed into the trees. Michael's sickly grinning face was the last thing that he saw before he felt a sudden pain and then felt nothing more after that. The other car sped away and headed back out of town. There was one more thing Michael had to take care of before he would get back to the business of running his family.

Jimmy's car few down the road heading the short distance into town. Slamming on his breaks he saw the car and knew instantly that he was too late. Running, he pulled the door open to have his boss slump dead into his arms. For the first time in Jimmy's life he felt truly alone. A tear worked it's way into his eye before he brushed it away angrily, and gently lay his boss, Sal Tuscano back against the seat. He moved back toward his car and picked up his phone and made a couple of calls before getting back in his car and blindly driving away.

Rita dropped the phone and turned to Shayne who rushed to reach her Aunt. Her face had instantly gone white and Shayne held her as she picked up the phone. Alea quickly ran to help and Shayne relinquished her hold to talk on the telephone.

"Hello? Who is this?" She asked into the receiver.

"This is Officer Clemens. Who are you?" The gruff voice asked.

"I'm the niece. What happened?" Shayne replied equally sharp. She didn't want to be questioned, she wanted answers. What had this man told her Aunt to cause her to collapse like that. She looked over at Alea who held her Aunt tenderly as the frail woman sobbed against her shoulder. Alea's glassy eyes looked up in fear at Shayne and they locked on each other searching for strength.

"Ma'am, I'm sorry to inform you that we found your Uncle's car about in the woods, he'd been shot. I'm sorry to tell you and your Aunt that he was pronounced dead at the scene." The officer's voice softened as he relayed this information. "I'd like to send an officer over to ask you all a few questions."

"Sure, whatever." Shayne replied and hung up the phone. The tears began in earnest and her shoulders heaved. Michael had done this was sure of that. Once again, he had taken something from her life, leaving a gaping hole in its place. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she turned to face her aunt and Alea and knew that she had to be the strong one now. There was a lot to do. She walked over and took her aunt in her arms and led her to her bedroom. She looked up at Alea and said, "I'll be right back." Alea nodded and saw the red-rimmed eyes of her lover and knew that something had happened to Sal. Shakily she grabbed the edge of the table and lowered herself onto a chair to wait for Shayne.

Shayne lay her aunt on her bed and kissed her forehead. "Rest, I'll take care of everything right now." They had both known things like this could happen in this family and had seen their share of relatives die in the same manner. They were no hysterical theatrics, just numbing acceptance that their lives would never be the same. Shayne walked back into the kitchen to find Alea. Alea heard Shayne enter the room and sprang up and ran to her, engulfing the taller woman in her arm she held Shayne tightly as she cried. It was the only time Alea had ever seen Shayne so open and so vulnerable. She held her and rocked her gently, not knowing exactly what to say.

The officers arrived and asked questions of everyone and left. Shayne called the family and made the arrangements for her uncle's body. Finished, she took Alea into her old bedroom and they stripped and climbed into bed and held each other tightly, falling into an exhausted and restless sleep. Shayne called out during the night and each time, Alea comforted her and rocked her back to sleep whispering in her ear.

The funeral was a long and drawn out affair with many in attendance. Shayne caught sight of Jimmy standing off to one side alone. He looked like he hadn't slept or eaten since everything had happened. She looked away momentarily in response to a question and when she looked back, he was gone. The funeral finally came to an end at the graveside. Shayne watched as they lowered the coffin into the ground and felt a sliver of cold enter her heart. It would always remain there as another reminder of what her brother had taken from her. 'How much more could she bear to lose before her heart was completely cold?' She thought to herself. She felt a hand in her's and looked over at Alea, who had stood at her side through this entire ordeal and felt a warmth infuse her. Her greatest fear was that Michael would target her next. She squeezed the hand in her's and held it as she stepped forward to place a rose on the coffin as it descended. Holding Alea's hand, she put her other arm around her aunt, she led them back toward the cars. The next few days were filled with traditional mourning rituals and Shayne protected her aunt fiercely and when she saw her tiring, she lead her to her room and put her to bed before returning to the wake.

Shayne returned to the living room and found Anthony and pulled him aside. "Have you seen Jimmy?"

"No, not since the funeral and he hasn't check in either. He's taking this very hard." Anthony replied solemly. "Don't worry Miss. Tuscano we will find who did this."

"Thank you Anthony." Shayne replied and looked at the short man, they both knew who they were talking about. Anthony nodded before moving away. Shayne felt a hand on her back and looked down to find Alea smiling up at her.

"How are you doing?"

"I'm O.K." Shayne replied and put her hand on Alea's shoulder briefly before letting it drop. Although her family was aware of their relationship, Shayne knew that didn't include being disrespectful under the current circumstances. "Can you help me in the kitchen for a moment?"

"Sure." Alea replied and followed her lover through the crowd to the kitchen. Shayne continued through the kitchen and walked into the bathroom off the back hallway. Alea followed confused until Shayne closed the door and pulled her into her arms and kissed her deeply.

Shayne broke the kiss with another light kiss on Alea's lips and whispered, "I've wanted to do that all day."

"I've missed you too." Alea whispered resting her head on Shayne's shoulder. Shayne's hands tighted around her and she signed contently. After a few moments of quiet comfort Shayne pulled back and looking down said, "Thank you for staying with me."

"There isn't anywhere else I want to be." Alea replied reaching up to kiss Shayne. "This is where I belong." Alea indicated the arms that were wrapped around her that was her whole world now.

"Ready to go back in there. It shouldn't last much longer and then I need find out what Aunt Rita wants to do." Shayne informed her.

"Shayne....if you're aunt wants to live with you, I will understand." Alea offered quietly. Shayne smiled down, her eyes instantly burning with emotion and she answered, "you mean live with us." Alea nodded and smiled, "yes."

After everyone had left and Shayne and Alea had cleaned up the mess, they moved to the Den and sat together on the sofa. They were comfortable in their silence as Alea rested her head against Shayne's shoulder within the arc of the woman's arm. A sound alerted them to Rita's entrance and they both looked up to find the woman smiling as she watched them. "You don't know how this warms my heart cara mia. I've always hoped you would find someone to love."

"Thank you Zia." Shayne replied feeling her cheeks flush in response.

"I have something I want to talk to you about." Aunt Rita added as she moved to sit across from the couple. Shayne watched her aunt in anticipation.

"I've decided to sell the house and go live by my sister in Florida. She is alone and has been bugging me to come down for a long visit. I think now would be a good time to make a fresh start." Rita looked up at Shayne to see her response. Shayne smiled and looked at her aunt with love. "I'll miss you desperately."

"You can always visit and now, I think you have found someone to keep you from getting too lonely." Rita replied grinning at the two women as they tried not to look at one another in response.

"Are you sure you want to do this? You can always come and live with us Aunt Rita." Shayne offered. She knew her aunt needed to let the past go and make a new start, somewhere she didn't have to constantly be reminded of the violence that had always surrounded their lives.

"Thank you but, I really would like to be by my sister right now." Rita replied firmly and looked seriously at Shayne. "Do you really think your brother did this?"

Shayne looked back without blinking and softly said, "Yes."

Rita nodded her head sadly and got up and walked to the doorway, she paused resting her hand on Shayne's shoulder. "Shayne don't let him win this time." She turned and walked out of the room as Shayne and Alea sat quietly absorbing what her aunt had meant. She knew that she didn't mean for Shayne to stop Michael, but for her to stop letting Michael control her life anymore. Shayne nodded her head in silent agreement and pulled Alea to her tightly. They stayed this way until it was time for bed and then quietly they walked down the hall to their room.

It took a week for Rita to pack up here things and put the house on the market. Shayne promised that she would take care of things. During this time they hadn't heard anything from Michael. Shayne knew that it was only a matter of time, but this time, she would be ready to fight him. This time he wouldn't win, no matter the cost to herself. The family continued to search for him and Michael knew that he had miscalculated his power and now was sought after. There would be no grand homecoming for him.

Shayne and Alea watched as Rita's plane lifted off before turning and walking through the terminal to Shayne's car. Everything was packed in the car that Rita had given them and they pulled out onto the interstated as the sun began to descend. After a long stressful week, they were finally heading home.



They unloaded the car and left everything in the living room, tomorrow was soon enough to deal with it all. They sat on the sofa and unwinded, finally in their own home away from eveything that had happened. Shayne leaned over and kissed the side of Alea's jaw and worked her way down the womans neck. She murmured in her ear, "I've missed you."

Alea turned to kiss Shayne deeply as the woman pulled onto her lap and she fell backwards on the couch. "Me too."

There need to connect fueled the kiss and hands soon began exploring the planes of each other's bodies, followed by kisses on skin as it was exposed from it's cloth barriers.

Shayne pushed Alea shirt and bra up in an effort to free her breasts. Taking a hardening nipple into her mouth she reverelty ran her tongue along the edges and sucked softly.

Alea did not want to be left out and she pulled Shayne shirt up in an effort to run her hands down the woman's bare back. She needed to feel the taller woman's flesh on her own. Shayne releasted the throbbing orb and blew a gentle light breeze across the puckered flesh causing Alea to shiver uncontrollably. 'God, how does she know exactly what to do to make my body respond?' She thought trying to control the raging fire that burned dangerously close to her core.

"I love you Shayne" Alea whispered hoarsley as she let the sensations of her soulmate soar through her body. "I love you too." Shayne replied and kissed Alea deeply. how cute! I'm not interrupting anything am I?" Michael asked standing in the doorway. He leveled a 45 automatic at the two women, just in case they had any funny ideas.

Shayne stood up pushing Alea off her lap and pulled her behind her. Shayne tried to use her own body as a shield in an attempt to protect Alea as she looked at her brother half in anger and half in fear.

"What are you doing here? Get out!" Shayne shouted at him. Her anger was quickly overcoming her fear and good senses.

"Is that any way to talk to your long-lost brother?" Michael made a 'tsk-tsk' sound shaking his head.

"Listen Michael, you don't need any more trouble then you are already in. Why don't you just leave." Shayne tried to reason with her brother as she reached to close her open blouse as Michael watched on amused. Shayne looked back at Alea and Michael focused his eyes on the blonde for the first time and his amused smile turned to a sneer.

"You two are disgusting! You are nothing but a whore to sleep with my sister." Michael said coldly looking at Alea as he approached the bed. Alea's hands shook as she pulled her T-shirt down from their interrupted encounter.

"Shut up Michael!" Shayne shouted angrily. She was quickly getting tired of her brother and his domination over her entire life and the death of her uncle. Her fear was being replaced by an anger that went deep.

Michael stepped forward toward the sofa and backhanded Shayne across the face with his free hand. "I won't have you disrespecting me! Do you understand?" Shayne fell sideways onto the sofa dizzy and grabbed her cheek in response to the blow.

Alea reached out to see if Shayne was alright when Michael grabbed her wrist and dragged her away from his sister. "Maybe I should see just how good a putanna you are." He pulled her toward him as she struggled trying not to scream. Shayne did all she could to maintain her control and rose from the sofa moving toward Alea.

Michael leveled the gun at Alea and looked at his sister. "I wouldn't if I were you."

"What do you want Michael?" Shayne asked and stopped to looked directly at Alea and maintain eye contact with the frightened blonde. She poured her heart into that look, to tell Alea just how much she loved her, and hopefully pass on a sense of courage.

"What do I want from you?" Michael mimicked his sister as he held Alea by the wrist and waved the gun back at his sister. "I want you to pay for everything you've done to me my entire life!"

"What have 'I' done to you Michael?" Shayne asked in amazement. "It's more like the other way around!"

"The little princess! All my life I've had to live in your shadow for our father's affections. Nothing I did was every good enough for him...but just had to smile and he would be boasting for days!" Michael spat angrily at her.

"So this is all my fault?"

"Even this!" Michael replied and pulled Alea roughly to him. "It was o.k. for you to have your putanna's, but no woman I ever brought home was good enough for him." He pulled Alea too him roughly and grabbed roughly at her breast as she struggled against him and began to cry out in pain.

Shayne's reasoning shattered at that one act and she moved to intercept her brother. She struck out at her brother punching with all her might. Michael dropped the gun and released Alea in an attempt to protect himself from the fury of his sister's onslaught. Shayne connected with Michael's face and felt the blood on her knuckles and continued hitting out as her hands slipped off his face from the bloody mess of her hand and Michael's face. Michael finally pushed her off and reached for the fallen pistol. He turned and leveled it at his sister as the shot rang out and she fell in a crumpled heap onto the floor.

"Shayne!" Alea screamed at the sight of her lover lying motionless. Michael looked from his sister to Alea and shook her. "Shut up! Or you will get the same!"

Through the bloody mess of Michael's face, Alea could see the blue eyes, she once thought matched Shayne's, but they were like cloudy pools of stagnant water, no life would ever survive in them. Michael looked at his sister's body and moved to turn the gun on the blonde. He was sorry it had to be this way, but he needed no loose ends.

The sound of glass shattering and splintering wood drew Alea's attention to the blur that flew into the room and tackled Michael, causing the gun to fire. Alea felt a burning pain in the side of her head and then darkness took over and she slipped to the floor motionless next to her lover.



Michael began to turn at the sound of the sliding door crashing into the room, but didn't see the intruder until he felt a solid blow to his back sending him sprawling forward. He squeezed the trigger in reflex before it was knocked from his hand and went skidding across the floor. Michael flew forward and landed with a thud and quickly crawled forward in an effort to retrieve the weapon. He felt a driving kick to his side as he grasped the handle of the revolver and rolled with the kick. He came up pointing the gun at his attacker and felt the first of three bullets as they ripped through his chest, sending a searing pain through his lungs. Suddenly, he found it hard to catch his breath and he lifted the barrel of the gun one last time before a bullet shattered his forehead killing him instantly.

Jimmy stood over Michael's body and said quietly, "That's for Sal", before turning to check on Shayne and her friend. Checking Shayne's pulse he lowered his head in silent prayer and went to the blonde. Touching the side of her neck, he moved to the telephone and placed a call and did what he could while he waited.

Alea awoke with a blinding headache; the lights in the room burned her eyes as she tried to define her surroundings. Turning her head to the side she saw blue eyes looking back at her.

"Shayne?" She whispered trying not to intensify the pounding in her head.

"Yeah, I'm here." Shayne lay in the bed next to her. The medications they had given her had dulled her senses as she just lay watching Alea, waiting for her to awaken. The pain in her side had subsided and she felt only the numbing in her brain.

"You o.k?" Alea asked trying to focus her eyes on Shayne.

"Depends." Shayne replied trying to remember what the question was.

"On what?" Alea replied smiling at the woman's confusion.

"What are we talking about?" Shayne asked totally oblivious to the conversation.

"Nothing honey, why don't you just go back to sleep."

"Okay." Shayne replied and closed her eyes letting the fuzziness in her brain overtake her as she listened to the voice and smiled.

"I'll be here when you wake up." Alea whispered to her.

Alea closed her eyes to the pounding behind them until she heard a quiet shuffling between the beds. She opened her eyes and saw Aunt Rita standing between her and Shayne.

"Hey, go back to sleep." Rita whispered when she saw Alea open her eyes. When Jimmy had called, she had thought the worst and gotten the first flight out this morning.

Alea slowly shifted her head to the side to look at Shayne' s aunt, worry lines etched her smooth face and circles marred her otherwise sparking eyes. "Shayne's going to be o.k." Alea softly told her.

"I know and so are you." Rita smiled and reached over to smooth Alea's creased forehead. "Now, don't worry about anything and go back to sleep. I'll be here."

Alea smiled and looked over at Shayne' s sleeping form before closing her eyes and drifting off, somehow the pounding in her head didn't seem as bad now.

Shayne walked through the darkened house and couldn't find Alea. She could feel the fear coursing through her body as she searched from room to room frantically. She heard a noise behind her and turned to find Michael, he smiled at her and she looked at him in confusion. He beckoned her to come with him and she turned to walk toward her brother as she neared she could she the moonlight glittering of the metal barrel of a gun. Shayne looked from the gun to her brother and saw a look of pure evil on his face before she heard the explosion. The pain rip through her side and her heart, and then she was falling into nothing. Suddenly arms surrounded her and she jerked awake to look up into two of the most beautiful green eyes she had ever seen.

"Shayne, wake up! It's o.k, it's just a dream." Alea called out and then her voice drifted down to a murmur as she engulfed her lover in her arms. Shayne buried her face in Alea's shoulder and the tears began to form as the reality of what had happened hit her.

"Michael?" She sobbed into Alea's shoulder. The blonde sat on the edge of the bed and rocked Shayne and held her as tightly as she could. "I don't know Shayne, I'm sorry." Alea whispered and felt the sobs that racked the body in her arms. She continued to soothe and rock Shayne as she cried and when Rita poked her head in the door Alea looked up with tears streaming down her face, Rita smiled and nodded and closed the door quietly leaving the two women alone again.

Shayne finally got control of her emotions and just lay in Alea's arms, acknowledging the loss that she felt. He was her brother, no matter what he had become. She also knew that this feeling was nothing compared to the loss she would have felt if anything had happened to the woman that held her. Shifting she looked up in to the beautiful tear blotched face above her and leaned up to kiss her. She poured her soul into that kiss; words just didn't seem to be enough at that moment.

Alea felt Shayne shift and calm and just held the woman until she was ready to move. When Shayne finally looked up, Alea heart leaped at the look in dark woman's eyes and when they kissed, she knew that nothing meant more to her than what she had right here, right now. If she were to loose all she had and still had Shayne, then she would have everything.

"I love you." Alea whispered against Shayne's ear.

"Anche io mi'amore." Shayne replied softly and kissed Alea once more.

Rita looked into the room later to check on the women and found Alea seated in the chair, resting her head next to her nieces sound asleep with her arm draped across Shayne. She smiled and slipped back out the door and decided to go get some coffee. 'They will be just fine.' Rita thought to herself and moved to the waiting room where Jimmy waited for her. Jimmy rose as soon as Rita entered the room and looked at her with concern, she hadn't been gone that long.

"They are sleeping. Why don't we go get some coffee." Rita suggested. Jimmy nodded and asked, "Would you like to go the café across the street instead of staying here?"

"That would be lovely." Rita replied slipping her hand through Jimmy's arm and letting him escort her out of the hospital. They were the same age and had known each other for many years. Their friendship was one born in the knowledge of how fragile life really was, especially in their circumstances. Jimmy's job with the family was completed, but as far as he was concerned, his duty was to take care of Rita now.


Alea awoke and quickly looked up to find Shayne sleeping peacefully. The nightmares seemed to have abated for now. She reached up and pushed the stray locks off the beautiful face and stood up stretching. Alea leaned over and lightly kissed Shayne on the lips before moving off to the bathroom to assess the damage. The throbbing in her head had slowed to a full pain behind her eyes and she squinted when the bright vanity light clicked on. There was a bandage at the top of her forehead where her hairline began and she touched it wincing at its tenderness. "Guess it could be worse." Alea muttered to herself and attempted to fix her ruffled hair, before giving up and closing the light. She stepped out of the bathroom just as Rita re-entered the room.
"Are you suppose to be out of bed yet?" Rita demanded putting her hands on her hips in mock severity.

Alea smiled and replied, "I feel much better now."

Rita took the young woman by the arm and led her back to her bed without listening to Alea's protests. "You just stay there until the doctor tells you to get up."

"O.K., O.k., I promise." Alea chuckled at the small woman's tenacity.

"How about Shayne? Has she woken up yet?"

"She was pretty out of it earlier and then had a couple of nightmares, she has been sleeping quietly for awhile now." Alea explained as they looked over at Shayne. "She is so pale." Alea remarked worriedly.

"Si, Jimmy said she lost a lot of blood before the ambulance arrived." Rita explained. "He did the best he could to stop it but, she still lost quite a bit."

"Where is Jimmy now? What happened to Michael?" Alea finally asked, she was pretty sure she already knew the answer but Shayne would need to know eventually.

"Jimmy is out in the waiting room. He's been here since he finished talking with the police." Rita answered, avoiding the last question altogether.

"Aunt Rita?" Shayne mumbled trying to sit up. Both women rushed to push the taller woman back down onto the bed.

"No Shayne, stay down." Alea ordered.

Shayne fell back against the pillow as her side began to throb. She looked under her gown to see her side bandaged and a tube hanging out for drainage. "How bad is it?"

Alea turned to Rita for help and the elder woman reached out to grasp Shayne's hand and replied, "You had a bullet wound to you side, but the damage was minimal. Right now they are keeping the tube in to prevent infection."

Shayne nodded and tightened the hand that held hers. She looked up at Alea and asked, "Michael?" Alea looked at Aunt Rita again looking for an answer.

"He's gone. I'm sorry Shayne, he died last night." Rita relayed quietly and watched as her niece nodded and the tears welled up in her eyes.

"Somehow I knew…I had a dream about him…and I knew." Tears began to run down Shayne's face and Alea put her hand against the side of her face in comfort. Shayne turned her head and kissed the palm that cupped her face.

"Are you two hungry?" Aunt Rita asked trying to give Shayne a moment to recover. "I'll go see what I can get for you." Rita turned and left the room. Alea sat down and scooted her chair close to Shayne so that their heads were only inches apart.

"I'm sorry it turned out this way Shayne." Alea whispered and kissed Shayne's temple, letting her lips linger against the warm skin.

"It was the only way it could have." Shayne simply replied and wiped at the tears that coursed down her cheeks. "He did everything he could to hurt me, but he was still my brother."

"I know." Alea leaned down to gently hug Shayne, cautious of the wound on her side.

"But, if he had hurt you. I would have killed him myself." Shayne answered soberly and looked at Alea.

"Let's not think about that now." Alea replied and kissed Shayne lightly on the lips. "Let's just concentrate on getting you better and out of here."
Shayne reached up and gently brushed the bandage on Alea's forehead as a look of sadness washed across her face. "I'm sorry you had to go through all this"

"I'm not!" Alea replied firmly and when Shayne looked at her puzzled. "Because it made me realize how much you really meant to me. Oh, I knew I loved you…. I just didn't know how much I was 'IN' love with you."

"I am so in to you Alea that I don't know where I end and you begin." Shayne confided in Alea. She had never been able to express her feelings as she could with this woman.

"Does that frighten you?"

"It did in the beginning, but not anymore. Now, I can't imagine feeling any other way." Shayne confided.

Alea smiled and joked, "In the beginning I didn't think you could stand the sight of me!"

Shayne grinned and blushed. "Well in all honesty, I didn't think you were my type. I seemed to have this misconception of what type of person I was attracted to, boy, am I glad I was wrong!"

"Me too!" Alea leaned down and captured the waiting lips in confirmation of all that was right and true between them.


Alea returned home the next day with Rita and Jimmy, Shayne wasn't going to be released for a few more days until they could be sure that no infection was present. Alea walked into the hospital room to find Shayne sitting up in bed smiling.

"You're pretty cheerful for someone who hates hospitals." She teased the smiling woman.

Shayne pulled back the covers and remarked, "Look no tube! Do you know what that means?"

"You've been a good girl?"

"Ah, no…" Shayne hesitated briefly before grinning, "It means I go home tomorrow!"

Alea sat down on the bed beside her lover and scooted closer. "That's good because I've been missing you. Seems I can't sleep in bed by myself anymore."

"You haven't been afraid have you?" Shayne pulled Alea up to face her concerned that this ordeal had, had a greater effect than she had originally thought.

"Oh, no…just miss my security blanket!"

Shayne burst out laughing at the joke and pulled Alea into her arms and held her contentedly.

"Yeah, this is more like it." Alea murmured against Shayne's neck sending goosebumps down her body. "Yes it definitely is."

The following days were filled with Shayne's homecoming and recovery, and Rita's announcement that she would be staying and not moving to Florida after all. Shayne looked at Jimmy's smiling face and then looked at Alea winking. Alea just giggled and looked away. She knew what Shayne was thinking and she hoped it was true,

After Jimmy and Rita had left, the two women relaxed on the sofa watching television. "Shayne do you think Rita and Jimmy are really interested in each other so soon?"

"They have known each other for many years and I think right now they have a terrific friendship. Down the road, who knows what will happen." Shayne responded.

"But, what about your uncle?"

"Oh, I know my aunt loved him and still does, but you have to understand Italian culture. Women don't always get to pick who they marry. There was a big age difference between my aunt and uncle, it was sort of an arranged marriage that just happened to work out." Shayne explained as simply as she could. It was a complicated affair and Shayne was just glad that it wasn't as popular today. She wryly thought about who she might have been stuck married to and shuddered.

"Let me guess, you were thinking about an arrangement for yourself?" Alea smirked knowingly.

"This is all the arrangement I need." Shayne responded and pulled Alea into her lap and kissed her.

"I guess I wouldn't have been your families first choice, huh?" Alea teased seductively as she nipped lightly at the edges of Shayne's lips.

"Probably not, but you are definitely my first choice." Shayne replied looking sincerely into green eyes.

"Then that makes it unanimous because you are my only choice." Alea answered and lay her head against Shayne's chest within the warming circle of arms. They lay contentedly for awhile until Alea heard a sigh bubble up from Shayne's chest.

"What are you thinking about?" Alea picked her head up and peered into deep blue eyes.

Shayne kissed the tip of Alea's nose and replied, "I was just thinking about what will happen in the family now that Michael and Uncle Sal are gone."

"Whose next in line?"

"My cousin Carlos, but after what has happened and his part in it, I doubt they will let him take over anything. He's just lucky they didn't do worse to him." Shayne answered, her brow creasing at the conflicting emotions she felt.

"Hey, I think it's time for you to be in bed. You've done way too much today. You are still suppose to be taking it easy." Alea stated and stood up pulling Shayne after her. She didn't want her to start worrying about things that she had no control of, as a women, she also had no say in matters either

About a month later Rita called and invited Shayne and Alea to dinner, she had something she needed to discuss with the two women. As they drove toward her aunt's house Shayne mused, "I wonder what she needs to discuss? I bet it has something to do with Jimmy." Shayne smirked looking over at Alea and winking.

"Do you really think so?" Alea's eyes widened and she started chuckling along with Shayne. "Well, I think it would be wonderful."

"Yeah, me too." Shayne replied and grasped Alea's hand into hers. She missed her uncle, but she also knew what it was like to be alone and she didn't want that for her aunt.

They arrived just in time for dinner and the four of them sat around the table. Shayne had to admit it felt strange to have Jimmy at the table, he usually stayed on the fringes of everything in the past. The women actually found him to be quite personable during the progression of the meal. He was actually quite the conversationalist when brought out of his shell. Shayne had an idea that her aunt was responsible for this metamorphosis. She watched the two interact and knew that her aunt would not be alone long once her mourning was over.

When they finished the meal Shayne and Alea cleared the table and brought in the coffee. "Okay, now, what did you want to talk to us about?" Shayne asked getting anxious.

Rita looked at Jimmy who just nodded for her to continue. "Well, I wasn't sure how to tell you this before, but there is something you never knew about your family."

Shayne looked up nervous and felt Alea's hand grasp her thigh under the table and rest there. She put her hand down over it and squeezed it gently in thanks.

"O.K., tell me."

"You're father and Sal had another brother, well to be more specific, a half brother. You see your grandfather had an affair after your father was born that produced a son." Rita explained.

Shayne sat back dumbfounded at her aunt's news. "But, why were we never told?"

"Because being illegitimate is not something that is readily accepted in our circle." Rita replied.

"So where is he?" Shayne asked curious.

"Right here." Jimmy replied quietly watching Shayne to judge her response.

Shayne looked at Rita and then Alea in shock. Alea gently pushed up on Shayne's jaw closing her mouth. Shayne blushed at the gesture and looked back at Jimmy. "I never knew."

"Not many did until now." Jimmy replied. "I didn't have the trademark blue eyes because those were from your grandmother. I took after my father instead."

Shayne nodded; leaning forward she searched Jimmy's face and finally saw the resemblance. She knew that they were telling the truth.

"Wow!" Shayne exclaimed and sat back.

"Does this news bother you?" Rita asked unsure of how her favorite niece was taking this news, let alone what she needed to tell her next.

"No, not at all. Actually, I've always liked you." Shayne responded, directing the last part to Jimmy.

"Thank you, you were a favorite of mine too." Jimmy smiled and Shayne couldn't help but respond in kind.

"That's good cara mia because there is more." Rita softly spoke up.


"The family wants Jimmy to take your Uncle Sal's place." Rita answered sadly.

"Do you want to?" Shayne could sense that her aunt was not really happy with this event-taking place.

"No, which is why I told them no today." Jimmy replied and looked at Rita.

"You said no?" Rita looked up surprised. "But, I thought you were obligated?"

"My obligation ended when Sal died and I told them as much. I said that there are plenty of others who could do the job gladly, I just wasn't one of them. I'm retiring." Jimmy explained placing his hand over Rita's folded hands.

Rita's eyes watered and she looked from Jimmy to Shayne embarrassed. "I don't know what to say?"

Shayne smiled and leaned over kissing her aunts cheek and replied, "There isn't anything to say. I think it's fantastic."

"Yes it is, isn't it?" Her aunt looked back at Jimmy meaningfully.

Shayne put her arm around Alea and pulled her close and whispered in her ear. "Well, looks like my aunt will be remaining near the family after all."

Alea nodded and kissed Shayne's cheek, "Guess that makes two of us!"

"Oh yeah!"


The End.


ÓK. Stoley,  June, 1999