Fire and Ice
Part 1 of 4
Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
LOVE/SEX WARNING DISCLAIMER:
This story graphically depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If depictions of this nature cause you distress, this story is not for you, stop now, save your time: life is short, enjoy. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal where you live, please do not read it.
Though not graphically, this story does depict violence against women and attempted rape, both of which are pivotal to the plot. If scenes of this nature disturb you, please be forewarned.
B L Miller - As always, an invaluable help.
Lunacy - Her input and encouragement rescued this from the recycle bin.
Pam, my partner - One of my strongest motivations in writing is knowing Ill get to read the numerous comments she scrawls in the margins. I smile, I groan, I laugh and I continue to write. Thanks love.
I welcome comments or constructive criticism at email@example.com
The figure scaled the wall effortlessly, dropping silently on the other side. A small hand-held electronic device took out the globe illuminating the rear entrance with a soft pop. In minutes the security alarm was disabled and the intruder was inside, moving seamlessly though the shadows of the mansion.
The safe was not a problem. It was a clean job. Things were going according to schedule. The dark figure moved slowly toward the exit. The narrow beam of the flashlight scanned the open door halfway down the hall. It was a small den. A quick glance revealed nothing of interest and the intruder started to turn away, when something on the floor glimmered in the soft light.
The thief bent to examine it. The gloved hand gently fingered the object. It was a writing nib, the tip of an old fashion fountain pen. The intruder paused momentarily and set it on the desk. Beside it lay a leather bound book. It was old, unique, covered with intriguing symbols. With little hesitation, the thief deposited the book in the bag of stolen goods and exited the room, continuing down the hall. But the brief stop proved costly. Soft footfalls warned of someones approach.
The intruder ducked into the closest doorway, a bedroom, and listened intently. Someone was steadily approaching. The thief pressed against the wall behind the door and firmly gripped the handle of the razor sharp knife. A woman entered and set a plate of food on the table by the bed. The intruder edged forward, preparing to take her out. Unexpectedly the woman changed direction, walking to the adjoining bathroom. The thief slipped back into the shadows and watched as the woman closed the bathroom door behind her.
The dark figure waited a beat and slowly came out of hiding, moving cautiously to exit. Suddenly, the bathroom door opened. The woman was framed in the doorway against a backdrop of light, her golden hair now clearly visible. The thief froze, mesmerized. Although the reappearance of the woman presented a problem, it wasnt concern that the thief felt, but wonder. The blonde was strikingly beautiful, almost ethereal in the pale light.
The intruders trance was broken when the young woman shut of the light, shrouding the room once again in darkness. The thief leaned against the wall, motionless, hoping to escape notice. It seemed that the woman would walk past, but at the last moment she stopped as if sensing a presence. Just as she was about to turn and face the intruder, the thief clasped a hand over her mouth and pressed the cold blade to her throat.
Startled, Danielle gasped. Her heart pounded wildly as adrenaline rushed through her veins. She tried to move but the thiefs hold was firm, the strength of the arms daunting. She was powerless. Danielle tried desperately not to panic as she was pushed forward, toward the dressing table. The blade tightened against her neck as the assailant released her mouth and reached for something on the dresser. She inhaled, about to cry out when she felt the cool silk of her own scarf pressed to her mouth. Purposeful fingers parted her lips and pushed against her teeth. A sense of dread flowed through her as she realized what was to be done. The blade pressed insistently at her throat. Her resistance withered and her jaw went slack. She tried desperately not to gag as the scarf was pushed into her mouth.
Before she had time to think about her situation, she was turned and pressed back against the dressing table chair. Her eyes instinctively sought out the intruders face, hidden by a black ski mask. The dark form of her attacker melded with the blackness of the room, making it difficult to get a clear view. The coolness of wide blade burned against her skin, forcing her attention to return to the knife at her throat.
All at once, Danielles terror was doubled as she watched the gloved hand reach for the tie at the front of her robe. She froze, holding her breath as the tie was unfastened and pulled from the loops of her robe. The sensation of it gliding slowly across her hips made her shiver in dread. Her flimsy robe hung open, revealing her nakedness. A fear induced sweat coated her body, causing the cool air to sting her exposed skin. She was utterly vulnerable.
A shuddered passed through her as the gloved hand reached for the opening. She held her breath. Her heart beat wildly as she watched agile fingers grasp the edge of the thin material of her robe, lightly brushing her abdomen. Danielle closed her eyes, preparing for the worst. She would have begged for her assailant to stop but the gag prevented all but a guttural moan.
Before she had a chance to react further, the robe was pulled tightly closed around her. Her eyes sprang open in surprise. Startled by the small act of kindness, she risked a glance at her captor. The gentleness she saw in the brown eyes deepened her confusion.
The intruder quickly put the belt to use, tying her hands behind her back. With firm pressure, she was guided to sit and the belt was secured to the chair. The loose end bound her feet.
Danielles mouth and throat were dry, scratchy. She tried to swallow, but the scarf made her cough, causing the silky material to shift in her mouth. She gagged and inhale deeply. The forceful intake of breath drew the scarf to the back of her throat, blocking her windpipe. Her eyes watered and her chest heaved as she fought for air. She struggled desperately against her restraints. Just as panic overtook her, she felt the gentle touch of cool leather under her chin. The intruder quickly removed the scarf and looked into her eyes.
"Shhh....shhh." The voice was calming, vaguely familiar. Soon, her breathing leveled off and her body relaxed. A leather-clad finger pressed to her lips indicating that she should remain quiet. Danielle did not utter a sound. She was entranced, lost in her thoughts as she tried to recall the melodic whisper.
She watched the intruder pull a roll of tape from the backpack and tear off a small length. The soothing eyes watched her intently while gentle fingers wiped her tears and pushed several loose strands of hair from her face. Danielle thought she saw the eyes sadden as the tape was placed over her mouth. She met their gaze for but an instant before the thief backed away, in a movement so fluid it seemed an apparition.
Alex Lord stood at the bathroom sink. Tonights job had come close to ending badly. Too close. The old man was supposed to be the only resident. Her information had been wrong. There were too many mistakes on her part, enough to warn her that she was losing her edge. She removed the brown contacts and looked into the mirror. Her blue eyes reflected the concern she felt.
She stripped out of her dark work clothes and slipped into her robe. The experience had shaken her. She had allowed her emotions to rule over her better judgment. Her steely control was slipping, something she could little afford.
She poured herself a scotch and walked across the room to the fireplace. It was the one thing she required of her temporary residences. This one was magnificent. Sitting by a fire calmed her, made her focus on the present and push back memories of her past: things better not remembered.
Tonight the brilliant flames reminded her of the golden highlights in the young womans hair. She sipped her drink and tried to concentrate on the problem at hand. She had broken Julians number one rule: leave no witnesses. Yet from the first moment she laid eyes on the blonde, killing her had been out of the question.
She tried to rationalize her decision. The woman had seen nothing. She would not be able to identify her. Unlike Alex, who sensed she would never forget this woman. The blondes image was seared in her minds eye. She felt a pulling deep inside as she pictured the woman bathed in soft light and tried to dim the image with a long sip of scotch. She grimaced. Letting the woman live hadnt been her only breach of his rules.
Something about this woman had thrown her off balance. Although they had never met, there was a familiarity that unnerved Alex. It was as if part of her awakened when she first looked into the blondes emerald eyes. It distressed her beyond her understanding to see the womans confusion and fear as she had bound and gagged her. To Alex she seemed the embodiment of innocence, completely naive and uncomprehending of the treachery that necessitated such an act.
Alex became increasingly uncomfortable as she recalled the young womans panic as she struggled for breath. What a stupid move that had been. Knocking her unconscious would have been more logical and certainly kinder, but it had never even occurred to her. The mere idea of striking this woman was disturbing. Rubbing her eyes, she finished her drink and refilled the glass. Ten years was too long for anyone to be in this business.
Danielle sat motionless after the thief had gone. Her heart pounded furiously. This was the closest she had ever come to real danger. She felt utterly charged. The adrenaline rush lingered, making all of her senses more acute. Danielle listened intently for any sign of her uncle, silently praying he was all right. She tried to wriggle her hands free but the belt held her securely. She was considering tipping the chair over when a noise down stairs caught her attention. Her heart thudded loudly as footfalls approached.
She watched the door anxiously as two police officers rounded the corner into the room. Relief washed through her. They had responded so quickly that she wondered if the thief had been caught.
A young officer peeled the tape back from her mouth.
"My uncle, is he okay?"
"We havent found him yet maam." He began working on the knots binding her hands.
"His bedroom is the last on the left."
The officer motioned to his partner to check and continued untying her. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, I think so."
"It was fortunate that a neighbor noticed something suspicious and called us." Danielle rubbed her wrists and moved toward the door to check on her uncle.
She released an anxious breath as she watched him rush down the hall toward her. "Honey are you all right?" He hugged her tightly.
"Im fine. Are you okay?"
"Im embarrassed to say that I never even woke up."
The police officer interrupted him. "Sir, can you show us where you keep your valuables?"
"Certainly, the safe is located down the hall." He lead the officer to the large study.
Danielle went back to her room and sat on the bed, her relief was followed by a sudden weariness.
"Can I get you a drink of water?" the policeman asked politely.
"No thank you. Im just a little shaky, Ill be fine."
"Maam, were you hurt... in any way?" His question was awkward, tentative.
"No, he didnt hurt me." She thought back to how gentle he had been.
"You were lucky. These things can be very nasty sometimes."
A short blonde man walked into the room and stepped forward to introduce himself. "Ms. Stafford is it?" She nodded.
"My name is detective Bowin, I know this has been a trying evening but I need to ask you a few questions. Do you feel up to talking about what happened?"
"Yes." But even as she began answering his questions, she felt a heaviness settle in her limbs.
"The style of this robbery is similar to other cases Ive been following." There was one glaring exception that he didnt mention. Until now, the thief he had been tracking had been too clever to leave witnesses. The jobs had been well planned and perfectly executed. He hoped he finally had the breakthrough hed been looking for.
"Anything you might remember would be helpful."
Danielle spoke about her brief interaction with the thief as the detective took notes. Confused by the robe and choking incidents, she purposely left them out.
Detective Bowin tried to establish as many details as possible while they were still fresh in her mind. His questioning went on for nearly forty minutes before he noticed her exhaustion and finally eased off. He ended by asking her to come by the station the next day to finish her statement.
Her uncle circled her like a mother hen. He was appalled that she had to endure such a thing and kept wandering into her room to make sure she was all right. Fianlly realizing there wasnt anything more he could do he let her rest.
Although tired, Danielle was too keyed up to sleep. Her mind was flooded with conflicting emotions. The police had handled her with care, as if she were in shock, and maybe she was. Why else would she have purposely misled them about his height and the color of his eyes? Although it made no sense, she felt reluctant to see him captured. There was something in his manor that had been almost apologetic. She blushed as she remembered how her skin had tingled when he touched the tip of his finger to her lips.
Danielle berated herself for these irrational thoughts. She could have been raped or killed. She was being foolishly sentimental. Still, somehow deep inside she knew that she had never been in danger. She was certain that he never would have harmed her, even though it defied all logic. Danielle shivered as she thought of his eyes riveted to hers, his gentle touch and soothing voice. Her senses had been keenly alert through the whole experience. She remembered the aroma of his leather jacket and something else, something that tugged at the edge of her memory. Danielle glanced around the room for an item that might have held his scent. There was nothing, even the scarf he had used to gag her was gone.
She scolded herself for romanticizing. He was a common thief, who had broken in, tied her up and taken what didnt belong to him. The safe had been cleared out. Over two million dollars in jewels and cash were stolen.
Even so, the loss was minor in scope of her uncles wealth. But there was one item among the contents of the safe that could never be replaced: her mothers medallion. It had been handed down through the generations to the eldest daughter on their twenty-third birthday. In a couple of weeks it would have been hers. Now the tradition would end. The thief had taken a piece of her birthright along with the jewels.
The thought distressed her. Feeling too edgy to sleep, she decided to write in her journal and discovered it wasnt where she had left it. An exhaustive search of the house turned up nothing. A chilling thought occurred to her. Maybe the thief had taken it. The idea seemed ludicrous but she had no other way to explain its disappearance.
Her pulse quickened as she thought of him reading her private thoughts. What could he want with her diary? Was he hoping to find information, secrets? Her mind jumped to a variety of unpleasant conclusions. Luckily she had only recently inserted new pages, filing the old entries away.
She tried to recall what she had written in the last few weeks and groaned as she remembered the park. Was she allowing her vivid imagination to get the best of her? Surely if he had taken the journal, he would throw it out, probably without even reading it.
Alex poured herself another drink. Her behavior this evening was worrisome. She was indeed slipping. How else could she explain her phone call to the police? She squeezed her eyes shut. God, what had she been thinking?
She grabbed her leather jacket from the chair and pulled the colorful scarf out of the pocket. Her mind flashed back to the fear she had seen in the young womans eyes and she winced. Remembering the womans suffering distressed her. Hoping to erase the vision, she stuffed the scarf deep into the pocket.
Her reason for alerting the police was simple. The thought of the innocent woman bound and uncomfortable had been unbearable. She had to call.
Her actions were completely out of character. She never allowed herself such sentimentality. It was too dangerous in her line of work. But there was more to it than that. She couldnt shake the feeling that she knew this woman from someplace. Looking into those emerald eyes had felt like coming home. She had wanted to kiss her, to take her in her arms and protect her from the world. A ridiculous thought, considering she was probably the only one to ever pose a threat to the young woman.
Alex couldnt explain her feelings, but it was clear that her heart wasnt in her work anymore. She would have stopped years ago, but the decision was no longer hers to make. He was calling the shots now and she knew it would never be enough. He owned her.
She walked to the table and dumped out the contents of her bag. It had been a good haul. There was approximately $500,000 cash and an additional two million in jewels. They were high quality, many antiques. An unusual medallion caught her attention and she pulled it from the pile. It was oval shaped, made of gold with an intricate spiral pattern engraved on the front. It was obviously very old. Alex turned it over in her hands, examining it closely and felt a tingling sensation in her fingertips. She set it down and took another drink.
Her attention was drawn to the leather book. She picked it up and sat next to the fire, gently running her her fingers over the cover. This was old too. The spiral design on the front was similar to the one on the pendant, and there were symbols she couldnt decipher. Its pages were held in place with leather ties. The cover was beautifully cured and oiled. It must have meant a great deal to someone, as it was well cared for. She leafed through the pages and smiled. She loved the scent of ink. Ever since she was a kid she associated the aroma with pleasant memories.
She glanced at the first page. The handwriting captured her attention right away. It was written with an old fashion fountain pen. The strokes widened and narrowed with artistic flair. Looking at the page as a whole, the script formed a beautifully abstract design. The penmanship was flowing, pleasing to the eye. As she looked closely it became obvious that it was a journal. She took another sip of scotch and began to read.
It was another sleepless night in an unending chain. The darkness calls to me. Im drawn to the risk, the mystery. The element of danger promises fulfillment, an escape from my ordinary life. I hunger for adventure.
I chose to walk through the park even though my uncle had warned me how dangerous the city was as night. The air was warm. I walked quickly, trying to cool myself with the breeze my movements created. I was lost in my thoughts, as I so often am.
A noise to my left caught my attention. I turned and listened. It was a deep moan. Curiosity drew me to the sound. The area was dimly lit and I had to strain to see two people in the distance. I edged closer. I was only twenty feet way when they came clearly into view. The woman was leaning with her back against a tree. Her lover was pressed tightly against her, their mouths locked in a steamy kiss. The woman was delirious with pleasure, her moans escaping the seal of their lips.
I felt like an intruder, but I was transfixed. My feet wouldnt move. My eyes were locked on their undulating bodies. I stood frozen, watching his hands glide up the outside of her thighs, raising the light weight skirt above her hips. His lips were moving against her neck and I could see the intensity of her need in her expression.
The raw sensuality of it, stirred something in me, bringing me to my senses. I stepped back, intending to leave, when the unthinkable happened; a twig snapped loudly under my weight. I quickly glanced up to see if the couple had heard me.
They had, both were facing me now. I willed myself to run, but a realization settled over me and I hesitated. They were both women.
I ran. Flushed with embarrassment, feeling like a common voyeur.
My reaction to these women confuses me. My interest in this couple makes me more aware than ever that I need to get a life. I havent been out with anyone in over a year. Dating has always been awkward for me. Im uncomfortable in intimate relationships. There is no desire.
I thought for a long time that the sexual part of me was dead, but tonight, for the first time, I felt... something. Maybe I am capable of those feelings, maybe they are lying dormant, waiting to be awoken. For the first time in my life I have a flicker of hope that I might be capable of falling in love.
Its time I took the initiative, and tried another date. John, one of the sports reporters at work, has approached me several times. Hes friendly and attractive, maybe the time is right. Tomorrow I will ask him out for a drink.
Alex was captivated. She felt like a bit of a voyeur herself. But the young womans words drew her in and she couldnt resist. She smiled and took another drink. Closing her eyes she tried to picture the blonde woman coming across the couple in the park. Instead she found herself fantasizing about the young woman leaning against the tree while she kissed her. The image was so vivid it was like reliving a memory.
She frowned when she thought about the sports reporter. Something told her this date idea had disaster written all over it. Reluctantly she put the journal down. She needed to contact her fence. It would be dangerous for her mother and brother if she were late with her payment.
Alex walked through the dimly lit lot to the back entrance of the pawn shop. She rapped lightly on the door and within minutes Sal answered and ushered her in. He hit a button under the counter revealing a hidden panel. Upon keying in his code the wall behind him slid to one side. There was a metal door behind it. Alex stepped past him and walked in. Once inside he hit another button causing the wall to slide back into place.
He grinned at her. "The wonders of modern technology." He loved gadgets, anything and everything electronic fascinated him.
Alex frowned. "You always did have a flair for the theatrical."
She had known Sal since the early days. He had a bubbling personality, that, while on occasion grated on her nerves, she also found endearing. Their relationship was not built on trust, for Alex trusted no one. Rather she viewed their association as mutually beneficial. He had been fair in his dealings with her and was discrete. It was in his best interests that she not be caught because their association was very profitable for him.
Although the nature of her work demanded that she relocate frequently, she did business with Sal whenever possible. There was a familiarity with one another that gave her comfort. He represented consistency in a life riddled with change.
He carefully emptied the bag she handed him onto the table. "This stuff from the Palanos heist?"
"Didnt think that one was yours." He eyed her curiously. "Ive never known you to have any witnesses. What went wrong?" She shrugged in response. Silently wishing she knew the answer. He sorted through the pile of jewels and continued to make small talk.
"You made the front page of the early edition."
She looked at him with sudden interest. "What did it say?"
"Seems the witness is Palanos neice, his sisters kid, ...Danielle something" The mention of the woman made her pulse quicken.
He picked up the paper from the chair and scanned the article "Yeah, her name is Danielle Stafford." He tossed the paper on the table. "Evidently she was just visiting for the weekend."
He looked up and smiled. "Guess she picked the wrong time to visit." Noting Alexs lack of reaction, he continued.
"Anyway she wasnt hurt and, if she saw anything, the police arent disclosing it. She works for the newspaper. Thats probably how they got the story so fast. I had to laugh though. The article says the man got away with about 2.5 million in cash and jewels." He saw Alexs uncharacteristically troubled expression and tried to cheer her.
"Hey, if she thought you were a man, she didnt get a very good look. My eye sight isnt exactly twenty-twenty but its a mistake I would never make." He grinned at her.
"Dont be so sure. I wasnt dressed in typical feminine attire." She grabbed the paper and read through the article as he examined the jewels.
"These are nice pieces. Shame to remove them from their settings. Hmm... this is interesting." He picked up the medallion and examined it closely.
Alex looked up from her reading and took it from him abruptly. "Im keeping this." She pushed it into her pocket. "How much for the rest?"
"Ill give you 1.5."
She shook her head. "And they call me a thief. Havent you made enough to retire yet?"
"Alex, you know Im not in it just for the money." He winked. "I get to meet such interesting people."
She ignored his comment and handed him a piece of paper. "Have the money transferred to this account by Friday."
Danielle arrived at the station early and waited outside Detective Bowins office. There was something about the place that made her nervous.
Marisa Sands walked past Danielle and entered the office.
"You wanted to see me?"
"Yeah, It looks like we might have a lead on the Palanos case. It seems our man left a witness this time.
"Well thats good news."
"Ill tell you though Marse, something about this doesnt feel right."
"You always look a gift horse in the mouth." She smiled and shook her head.
"Why after all these robberies would he slip up? It just doesnt make sense." Bowin puzzled.
"They all make mistakes eventually. Maybe this isnt one of his?"
"No, Id bet money it is, too many similarities. I can feel it in my bones. And if Im right, we dont have much time. If he holds true to pattern hell be moving on soon ."
"Okay, so whats our next move?"
"I want you to sit in on this one. Keep an eye on her while I do the questioning". She nodded and looked towards the door.
"You think shes involved?"
"Im not sure. Evidently she doesnt visit often. Makes me wonder if its just bad luck on her part or something more."
Marisa shrugged. "Want me to call her in?"
"Yeah, lets see if she can tell us more."
Marisa led Danielle into the office. Detective Bowin stood politely to greet her.
"Ms. Stafford, thanks for coming down so early. I hope youre feeling better today.
"Yes, thank you."
He shook her hand gently. This is my assistant, Detective Sands."
"We wont keep you long. I just had a few things I wanted to clear up." His tone was casual but he watched her carefully.
"You say the thief grabbed you from behind and held one hand over your mouth while he put a knife to your throat?"
"Do you remember which hand held the knife?"
Danielle thought of a moment. "It was the right."
"I would like to try a little experiment. See if we can trigger any memories, if thats okay with you?"
Detective Bowin stepped behind and put his hand over her mouth pulling her back. It felt wrong to Danielle: his short stature, the body type, the grip, the very presence was different.
"Marisa give it a try." Marisa positioned herself behind Danielle.
"Shes a bit taller than me. It will give us a different perspective." Bowin explained.
Marisa pulled Danielle against her, covering her mouth. A shiver went through Danielle. The detective was strong, forceful. She hadnt expected that from a woman. There were definite similarities and it unnerved her.
Danielle pulled away, obviously a little rattled.
"Are you okay?"
"Yes, just brought back some unpleasant memories I guess."
"Please have a seat."
"So, was he closer to my build or Marisas?"
She hesitated only a moment and lied, "closer to your height and stature, I think." Both detectives watched her shift nervously.
"When the thief was tying you up did you notice anything about him? You said his eye color was green.
"Yes, green I think." Her voice quavered slightly. But she recovered quickly. "Its kind of hazy and I was frightened."
"Of course, thats completely understandable. Was he white then?"
"I think so. He wore gloves and a mask. I never saw his skin."
"Hmm, but the eye color would indicate someone of light skin."
"Yes" Danielle was feeling uncomfortable with her lies. Why was she protecting the robber?.
"Did he speak to you at all?"
Danielle hesitated again. "No."
Bowin cast a quick glance at his partner, wondering if she had noticed Danielles eyes lower. "Anything about him that was unusual? Mannerisms, walk?"
"Nothing I can remember."
There was something strange going on. Bowin could feel it. He decided not to press the woman too hard. He could always call her back later.
"Well, thats all I can think of for now. Youll be available if we have further questions?" He stood and smiled. Danielle nodded, wondering if he was asking or telling her.
She was relieved to be leaving. Her head was pounding. She could not imagine what had caused her to lie, but she had done it with barely a thought. It had almost been instinctive. Uncomfortable with her fabrications, she wondered if her face may have revealed her discomfort. She took a deep breath as she exited the station. It was over now and she would just have to deal with the consequences.
It was early morning by the time Alex arrived home. She poured herself a cup of coffee and settled on the couch. The journal lay on the table where she had left it. She ran her hand lightly over the smooth leather, her fingers tracing the curious design. Okay Danielle, howd the date go? Turning the pages to the point she left off, she began to read.
The date was disastrous. We went out for drinks and then back to his apartment to see his autographed sports collectibles. God, how do I manage to get myself into these things? I knew
early on it wasnt working out, but I wanted to give it a fair shot. After the second drink, his subtle advances escalated to heavy groping and forceful kisses.
He did all the things that make for effective love scenes in movies, the same things others before him have done. I felt nothing. Fortunately, he was oblivious to my disinterest and seemed genuinely reluctant for me to leave. At least, I didnt hurt his feelings. He even asked me out again. At least one of us had a good time. Of course, I declined. It wouldnt be fair to him. Whats the point, Im hopeless.
Whatever triggered the sensations in me last night in the park, wasnt there tonight. Was I attracted to the forbidden, the voyeurism, the sense of danger? Maybe it was the simple fact they were both women? But, my body had reacted long before I knew their sex, or had something deep within me known it all along? Im curious.
"Ill bet you are." Alex smiled. Something told her that the young woman was far from hopeless. She had seen the fire in those green eyes. It was clear to Alex that the right person would have no trouble stirring the passion she sensed was smoldering below the surface. She got up to pour another cup of coffee, then sat back down to continue reading.
I made plans to spend the weekend with my uncle. He is such a kind and lonely man. I feel a little guilty for not making more of an effort to visit him since Ive lived in town. He was so supportive of my decision to move here. Without his help, my parents would have made it even more difficult for me. They were dead set against me coming out here.
If it werent for my grandmother, I would think that I was adopted. I have nothing in common with my family. They are appalled by my need for adventure and will never understand why I broke my engagement to Paul. It was the right decision. As nice as he is, I knew we werent right for each other. I like him, but I could never love him, not the way he wanted.
My father will never forgive me for the embarrassment I brought to the family, breaking the engagement and leaving town. But, my leaving was hardest on my mother. It made the memories of my grandmother surface. When I left, I could see the pain in her face. I knew she was remembering my grandmothers scandalous affair.
It took all my courage to leave what was safe and familiar. I could have spent my entire life trying to fit in there. I never would have. I had to find myself.
I went to see the fireworks with some women from the paper. They were spectacular. Ive always enjoyed looking up at the night sky. The stars fascinate me. My friends seemed much less interested in the fireworks than the men that passed by.
I feigned interest in their observations. Puzzled by what they found so alluring. None of the men we saw interested me physically. But then, they never do.
After the night in the park, I find myself thinking about women, wondering if thats where my attraction lies. Im more aware of women since that night. I appreciate the beauty of the female form. The soft sloping curves of a womans body are pleasing to me. Still, there is no physical attraction except for that glimmer of feeling I had watching the women in the park.
I will be twenty-three in a couple of weeks. That has been a milestone year for women in my family. My grandmother was that age when her life changed. Maybe it will be my year for self discovery, too.
Six years of journalism and Im stuck writing obituaries. If only I could get a shot at writing a real story. Ive only worked at the paper for five months but Ive got some great ideas. I wish they would let me try one. I sent the outline for the domestic violence story to Liz, the editor of the womens section. I wonder if she bothered to read it. Its just the kind of story I have dreamt of doing. An opportunity to help people through my writing.
Elaine encouraged me to follow through with my idea for the story and agreed to talk to the women at the shelter about setting up a meeting. She has been the director for a number of years. They have come to trust and respect her. I hope we are able to get a few to participate. She thinks it might give some women in abusive situations the courage to leave.
I owe Elaine a phone call. We havent gotten together in a couple of weeks. She has been a good friend to me, but lately her attempts to set me up with her male friends have made me uncomfortable. She only wants me to be happy. I guess Im going to have to work up the nerve to discuss it with her.
I have been trying to avoid John all week but today he caught up with me at lunch. I dont know how to let him down easy. Although hes a nice guy, I dont think that he has any close friends. I should have left things as they were. Now, our friendship seems strained. Ill have to talk to Elaine. She usually knows how to handle these relationship things. Who knows, maybe she could set him up with one of her female friends.
Maybe I should ask her to set me up with one of her female friends.
Since the night in the park, I havent been sleeping well. I am restless. Until that night I thought little about sex. Now my dreams are filled with longing. I chase a stranger whose face eludes me.
I walk the park nightly, secretly hoping I will see the lovers. I cant stop thinking of them. They haunt me. I cant shake the feeling that they hold the key that would unlock my heart and end my loneliness.
I believe the answer is linked with this incident. I dont know what Im searching for, only that I cant give up trying to find it. I feel on the verge of discovering something I once knew and have now forgotten. There is a piece of myself that is missing. Without it, Im incomplete.
Its a promise of something wonderful, something I have waited my entire life for. My eyes linger on each woman I pass and I wonder if they are one of the lovers from that night.
An odd thing happened at the hair stylists today. I was waiting to have my hair trimmed when I glanced at the woman seated in front of me. It wasnt the woman herself that caught my eye, but her hair. She slid a towel off her head, revealing long dark hair. It was wet and hung in tangles down her shoulders. I felt a shiver run down my spine.
I watched entranced as she ran her fingers through it, shocked that I wanted to do the same. I dont know how long I stared at her. Time had stopped for me. My heart was pounding furiously. She turned to pick up a magazine from the counter and faced my direction. She was beautiful, but somehow I felt disappointed. What had I expected? Who had I expected? Did the woman against the tree in the park have long dark hair? I cant remember. Im not sure that I even noticed. I only know since that night I have changed.
Alex put the journal down and stretched. She wondered for a moment what Danielle would think of her long dark hair. She ran her fingers though it and laughed at herself. What an unlikely pair they would be. They were as opposite as night and day.
Although they were worlds apart, the similarities in their circumstances hadnt escaped her. Something was lacking in her life too. Loneliness was a pain she had learned to bear. Like Danielle, she had never been able to commit to a relationship. She took care not to let her guard down. It was the one valuable lesson Julian had taught her. But, unlike this innocent woman, not committing hadnt stopped her from using lovers of both sexes. In her short life, she had slept with numerous men and women. But, for her part it was always a manipulation, she had never opened her heart to anyone. She never felt love for them.
Reluctantly, she closed the journal. There were many things she had to take care of and she needed to rest. Her fingers slowly caressed the journals surface. The spiral design on the front fascinated her. Hesitantly, she laid it down and walked to the bedroom.
When Danielle arrived at work their was a message for her from Liz, the editor of the womens section. She could barely contain her excitement as she made her way to her office. As she approached the door, Liz motioned her in.
"Dear, Im so sorry to hear about the robbery. Im glad you werent hurt."
"It wasnt bad really, just a little excitement."
"Do the police have any leads on the robber yet?"
"No, I dont think so. When I stopped this morning to give them a statement, they didnt mention anything."
"Im sure youre tired of the whole thing." Liz paused and smiled. "I have some news that should make your day. I like your idea for the battered womens story."
"Really?" Danielle brightened.
"Yes. Its a fresh approach on an old topic. The idea of following up on a story done five years ago to see how the shelters program may have changed these womens lives is intriguing. Its a good human interest piece. Im giving you the go ahead to do a small three part series."
"Thats great! Thank you."
"This is your chance. I want part one on my desk by next Tuesday."
Danielles thoughts were racing. This was the crack in the door she had been waiting for. If she could make this series a success, she would be given the opportunity to do more writing.
She hurried back to her desk to contact Elaine, the director of the Domestic Violence Program. When she had first arrived in town, she had made an appointment to see Elaine to discuss her idea. They hit it off immediately and quickly became friends. Elaine was a rather petite woman with long curly hair. What she lacked in stature she made up for in her serious no nonsense demeanor. Having been abused herself she was the perfect role model to guide these women into safer lives. Danielle dialed excitedly. She could hardly wait to tell her friend the good news.
"Hey, Ive been trying to reach you all morning. I read the paper. Are you okay?"
"I couldnt be better. Listen, Ill tell you all about that later." She paused unable to keep the excitement from her voice. "You arent going to believe this, but I got the go ahead for the series we discussed."
"Thats terrific! I thought you had something there."
"Have you had any luck setting up a meeting?"
"Yes, of the 35 woman who were in the program when the last story was written, nine agreed to be interviewed by you this evening at the center."
"Danielle, I assured these women that their identifies would be kept confidential. I cant stress how important that is."
"I understand. Elaine, thanks for your help with this."
"You bet, I think it can be a positive thing for the center." From Elaines first meeting with the young woman, she was touched by her need to help others. Danielle was genuinely interested in the program and enthusiastic in her desire to inspire battered women to seek help. Elaine felt that printing the stories of women who had been successful in turning their lives around could only encourage others.
"Okay, Ill see you tonight then."
"And Danielle, tonight I want to hear all about this robbery thing."
Danielle was still smiling when she hung up the phone.
Elaine walked Danielle to the small conference room and stepped up to the podium in the front of the room to introduce her. Danielle glanced at the nine rather anxious women seated before her and touched Elaines arm, stopping her introduction.
"Im sorry Elaine, I dont mean to interrupt but this isnt exactly what I had in mind." She spoke to the women before her. "Is there some place more comfortable we can sit and talk? A lounge or kitchen maybe? I dont know about the rest of you but I would love a cup of coffee."
Elaine lead them to the kitchen, where they all gathered around the large table. Danielle sat on the counter facing the others. "My name is Danielle Stafford, Elaine has probably explained why I wanted to meet you here. I was hoping you would be willing to share your stories."
"Arent you going to tape us or something?"
Danielle smiled. "I dont use a recorder. I like things informal, besides I have a knack for remembering details. Ever since I was a child I loved hearing people talk about their lives. Id like to keep this casual if its okay with all of you." There was a perceptible shift in the room as the women relaxed.
A woman with short red hair spoke up. "Why do you want to hear our stories? None of us are important."
"I think everyone has a story to tell. But in addition to that, all of you are in a unique position. You have faced difficult times and made it through them. I believe that other women in similar positions might find hope for themselves in your stories. My intention is to reach out to them and show them theres a way out."
"What about confidentially?," a tall willowy woman asked. "Some of us are worried that our husbands might track us down."
A woman with short cropped dark hair interrupted. "I come back to the shelter to help out when I can. I know Danielle. She spends a lot of time here. I trust her."
"Thanks Spike, I dont intend to use any names and I will keep details from the stories that would disclose too much. Ill give each of you the opportunity to look over what Ive written before its printed. If there is anything you object to or are uncomfortable with, Ill change it."
"That sounds fair enough." A woman with long blonde hair commented. The other women nodded in agreement.
"Great, Id love to hear your stories. Anyone feel comfortable starting things off?"
The dark-haired woman spoke. "I think Ann should start." She turned to face a plain looking woman with straight brown hair. "If you feel up to it?
Ann looked up shyly and cleared her throat. Her hands trembled as she clutched them in her lap. She nodded.
"My name is Ann. I got married when I was sixteen. There were nine children in my family. My leaving meant one less mouth to feed so my folks didnt care. My husband was in training to be a police officer and I felt pretty lucky that a man in such an important position would marry me. The men he worked with really liked him. His friends nicknamed him ice because he never lost his temper, at least not around them. What they didnt know was that he saved up all his anger for me."
"Anyway, that lucky feeling I had didnt last long. In the fifteen years I was married to him I lost track of the number of times I was knocked unconscious. He hit me nearly every day. Any problem at work was reason enough to come home and beat the tar out of me. My nose has been broken so many times I forget what it used to look like." She shook her head in frustration, "But I stayed with him."
"I had four miscarriages. I think my body was worn out from all the beatings. Probably had a lot of bruises inside too. After I lost those four babies, my husband decided he wanted one for real and the beatings lessened. I ended up giving birth to the son he wanted."
"I was happy during those months when I was carrying my son. It was the most peaceful time Id known in my marriage. I thought the baby was my salvation. But, shortly after his birth the beatings started up again. I didnt mind so much cause I had Josh. He was the sweetest little boy, so shy..." she paused and looked down at her hands. The woman to her right lightly touched her shoulder, bringing her out of her thoughts."
"One time, not long after Josh turned seven, my husband had to take me to the hospital. I was broke up pretty good that time. Im sure I should have gone to the hospital for a lot of the injuries I had over the years, but it was hard to explain to the doctors how I got that way, so most times I suffered alone at home."
"This time when I peed, I could see red. I knew it was bad. The doctors said it was good I came in. They had to sew me up inside. My husband told them I took a bad fall and, since he was a police officer, they believed him."
"I knew I came close to dying and after I got home I began to think about my son and what would become of him if something happened to me. After a while I worked up the courage to ask my parents for help. My father didnt believe me. He said I should stop complaining and count my blessings, my husband was a good provider and they didnt grow on trees. My mother, who had always born her suffering privately, thought I should do the same."
"It was five months after my parents turned me and Josh away that I got the worst beating of my life. He came home one night drunk and mean. I think I would be dead, but Josh stepped between us to protect me. Ill never forget his small body twisted in a heap on the floor. The doctors told me he died instantly. Those few minutes play over and over in slow motion in my head. Six years later and I still see them."
The room fell completely quite as if they shared a common memory. Although her face and voice showed no trace of emotion, Danielle could see the loss reflected deeply in her eyes: a pain so great that she would forever be marked by it.
"Even though my husband didnt mean to hurt Josh, he meant to hit me, he ended up going to jail for it. I can only hope he will be there a good long time." She took a deep breath. "Anyway thats how I found my way here. I remember how strange it seemed to go to bed without pain and wake up without new bruises."
"At first I almost missed it. That must sound funny to you, but for nearly fifteen years the pain was there, proof that I had survived another day, reminding me I had to be careful not to set him off." She sighed at the irony.
"This place saved me. They got me the medical help I needed and kept me safe. Its been five years, Ive been on my own. I have a job working as an clerk in the county morgue. I dont like being around people much, so the work suits me. Its quiet and kinda peaceful."
There was an awkward silence. An attractive woman with brown hair tied in a pony tail spoke up. The shorter redheaded woman next to her was holding her hand. "God, we all knew how to pick em didnt we." The women laughed in agreement.
"By the way, my name is Nikki" She looked at Danielle. "Our stories are similar except for a few different twists here and there. All of us..." She waved her arm to indicated everyone in the room. "we are the fortunate ones, we survived. Many women dont." She looked lovingly at the woman seated beside her. "Kate and I met here. We both had feelings for women from the earliest time we could remember but we got trapped in loveless, abusive marriages trying to fit in and be normal. Whatever that is." She rolled her eyes. "Anyway, after several years of being close friends we realized that we loved each other. Weve been together as a couple for over two years. Its the happiest Ive ever been."
Her partner nodded and squeezed her hand. "We went to school to become Emergency Medical Technicians. In fact, we work for the same ambulance company, usually on the same shift. The jobs different everyday. We like that. Both of us are kind of adventurous. But the best part of our work is being able to help people when they need it most."
"I think everyone here would agree that Elaine, deserves the credit for giving us a second chance in life. She works hard helping women like us. Your story should really focus on her and the good she does." Everyone voiced their agreement. The bond these women shared was tangible. Danielle could almost feel the aura that surrounded them. It was a wonderful thing.
The brassy young woman with the spiky hair and vibrant eyes chimed in. "For those of you who dont know me, my name is Tara, but my friends call me Spike." She ran her hand through her shortly cropped hair for clarification and smiled. "I used to be a hooker. I was in an abusive relationship with my pimp, but only for three years. So I was luckier than some. But like the rest, I never knew what was going to set him off. I blamed myself, thought it was my fault. I wonder to this day why I stayed as long as I did. But you know, in spite of it all I cared for him. After a bad attack he would be so attentive and loving. At times it seemed almost worth the beating."
Several of the women nodded in understanding.
"You see, they break you down over time. Its not only physical. There is mental abuse too. Anyway Im a survivor, thanks to the support of Elaine and the women from the shelter. Believe it or not, Im a stunt woman in television now. I figured I been thrown around enough that it seemed right down my alley." The women laughed softly.
"Yep, life experience gave me most of the training I needed." She smiled wryly. "The best part is that now, they pay me for it and pretty well I might add."
Rachel, the long-haired blonde sitting on the end was the next to speak. "Yeah, its ironic the path life leads us down. I was completely dependent on my husband. My life revolved around him. Leaving was the farthest thing from my mind.
The neighbors used to call the cops when they heard him ranting. When the police came, they never did anything. So after I got my life straightened around. I decided to become a cop."
"I found my own power. The kind that comes from deep inside. There were so many times I prayed for someone to be there to help me. In the end, I had to take that first step myself. The rest would not have been possible without Elaine. I want to make a difference, like she has. I want to help women like me. And the best part is, I think I have. At least Ive tried."
"Although Im new on the force, I make an effort to see that the police are more aware of the problems abused women face and why they are reluctant to press charges and ask for help. I try to stop by the center on a regular basis to encourage the new women. When they first get here they are so down on themselves. All the good feelings have been beaten out of them."
"I know Danielle too. Shes a good friend. I wanted to be interviewed, the story is a good idea. Battered women need to see that theres still hope."
Danielle smiled, "Every now and then we all need to be reminded of that."
They talked until late. Each woman elaborating on her tale. Danielle listened intently to their stories. They were compelling and often heartbreaking. She was amazed by their strength and courage. They had found their places in life and were making their unique contribution. If only she could find hers.
Danielle stirred, her mind deep in the throws of a dream. She was in the park. Looking for the lovers that she had become obsessed with. They were not there. She walked to the tree and ran her fingers against the rough bark. A soft sound behind her made her turn. It was him, the thief. His face covered by the mask. He took a step toward her, raising a gloved finger to his lips. Her heart raced as he came closer, leaving only a few inches between them.
Strong hands settled firmly on her waist, easing her back against the tree. His eyes met hers, silently questioning. She placed her hands over his and guided them down over the curve of her hips. She moaned as she felt the cool fabric of her skirt caress her skin as he lifted it. Her heart hammered. She prayed he wouldnt stop. She slipped her hands under his leather jacket and froze as they came in contact with the gently sloping curve of breasts. Her eyes snapped open.
It took her some time to fall back asleep.
A loud crash woke her the second time, something breaking. It was followed by a male voice raised in anger. It sounded like her neighbors were fighting. So much for the joys of apartment living. She tried to block out his angry voice. She was ready to grab for a pillow to cover her ears when she heard a womans scream, followed by a loud bang. Something was wrong. She picked up the phone and called the police.
The ranting continued. She quickly dressed in sweats and went to the door of their apartment. She could hear a muffled voice through the door.
"You bitch, what did I tell you about staying out of my things!"
A womans voice pleaded in the background. "Not the stomach... please." There was a sickening crack.
Danielle knocked loudly. It became quiet and she heard footsteps approach. A very handsome man opened the door. She was rather taken back by his appearance. The expression on his face was so casual that she felt she had made a mistake.
"Yes?" His voice was calm. His look questioning.
"I heard... screaming, I was concerned that someone might be hurt."
"Oh that, Im sorry. We must have had the television too loud. I apologize."
"Of course, Im sorry I bothered you." Danielles face colored. Embarrassed for jumping to a rash conclusion. She guessed it wasnt too surprising since she had spent the evening listening to stories of abuse.
She was about to leave when she noticed blood spattered on the front of his shirt. Danielle tried to keep a neutral expression on her face. Her mind searched for a way to stall him until the police arrived. "I live across the hall." She put her hand out in greeting. "Danielle Stafford." He took it awkwardly.
"Drake Morrison". His hands were cold, clammy, not nearly as composed as his face.
"Its nice to meet you ." He smiled warmly. His voice was so charming compared to the raging she had heard moments before that it caused a chill to run through her.
"I promise well keep the noise down in the future." He began to close the door when she heard a low groan and a terrible wet coughing sound. She held her hand out stopping the door and looked at him questioningly.
"My wifes got a cold. Bad time of year for that kind of thing."
"Ive had some first aid training. Maybe I could take a look at her?"
"Thanks but thats not really necessary, shes seeing our family doctor." A small cry for help came from behind him.
His expression hardened and he glanced over his shoulder. Danielle pushed past him. About ten feet in front of her she saw a woman sprawled on the kitchen floor. She hurried toward her and nearly slipped in a pool of blood. Danielle had never seen a face so savagely brutalized. She knelt on the other side of the woman, careful not to turn her back to him. She watched him cautiously as he approached. His face stricken.
The terrified woman whimpered like a wounded animal. Danielle laid her hand lightly on the womans shoulder, in an attempt to calm her. The comment didnt even rate an answer. Her contempt for this man rose like bile. "You can tell it to the police. Theyll be here any minute."
His mouth opened in confusion. He ran his fingers through his hair nervously. Then without a word he turned and headed into another room.
The woman grabbed Danielles hand. "Hes going for his gun... hes going to kill us." Another violent cough brought up blood. Danielle had no reason to doubt her. She pulled the woman to her feet and struggled toward her apartment. They made it into the hall before he caught up to them.
Danielle leaned the woman against her door and stepped in front of her protectively. "Dont make things worse for yourself. Put the gun down."
"You should have minded your own business, bitch!" The change in his expression was terrifying. Like Jekyll and Hyde. Danielle tried to keep her composure. She had to buy them time.
"Your right, I have a real problem that way. But this can still be fixed." She paused gauging his reaction. "When the police come we can say she fell down the steps. That would explain the noises I heard. I know you didnt mean to hurt her. She knows that too." She could see that he was considering her words. She just needed time.
A car backfired outside. He spun around to look, startled by the noise, when he turned back to face them, Danielle drove the palm of her hand into his nose. The gun flew from his hand and rattled down the stairs. He buckled and clutched his nose painfully. She used her momentary advantage to push the woman through the door to her apartment, locking it behind her.
The man pounded so violently that Danielle feared the door would give in. She grabbed for the phone and dialed 911. They calmly assured her help was coming. Danielle hung up the phone and shoved a chair under the door knob. Slipping her arm around the trembling womans back she moved her to the couch. The woman looked about eight months pregnant. As Danielle watched a trickle of blood run down the inside of the womans thigh, she silently prayed the police and ambulance would arrive in time to save the woman and her child.
In the distance she could hear the sirens approach. She took the womans hand in her own. "Hold on, its going to be all right. Help is coming."
Alex finished dinner and settled in for the evening. She sat by the fire, curling her legs underneath her, she paged to the next journal entry.
Faceless women with raven hair haunt my dreams. My obsession has prompted me to do something that had previously never occurred to me: I decided to go to a lesbian bar.
I fretted for an hour over what to wear, finally deciding on black jeans and a T-shirt. The club I picked was a small smoky little place. I stopped at the bar to get and drink and found a seat in the back where I could watch without attracting attention.
It wasnt much different from other bars I had been in, with the exception that there were only women there. I watched them as they danced, talked, held hands, and kissed. Many of the women were very attractive, but I felt nothing. I finished my drink intending to leave, when a tall woman walked by me, headed toward the bar.
I inhaled and my head reeled. The scent of her leather jacket sent a rush of excitement through me. I watched her take a seat at the bar. My eyes were riveted to her back. With a shake of her head, her dark hair cascaded down her back. My heart skipped a beat. I watched with interest as she shifted in her seat, amazed at the sensations I was experiencing. My entire body tingled. She stood, her hips swaying as she pulled money out of her pocket to pay for the shot.
A pleasant fluttering in my abdomen nearly caused me to gasp out loud. My arm were covered with goose bumps. I gently ran my finger over them, thrilling at the sensation. When I looked up she was gone. A panic swept over me as I quickly scanned the room. I caught sight of her heading for the door. She was leaving.
Without thinking, I jumped up and hurried after her. Just as she was about to exit I reached out, grazing her lightly on the shoulder. When she turned to face me, my heart fell. She looked at me puzzled. I lamely apologized and told her she looked like someone I used to know. As I heard my own words, I felt that somehow they were true.
She was nice, but I left the bar alone. Unfortunately, I still felt nothing. I had no desire to be with her in a sexual way.
I am more desperately lonely than before. I could deal with the fact that I might be a lesbian. What truly depresses me is the fact that no one of either sex holds any attraction for me. Im confused. But, these occasional bursts of sensation leave me hopeful. I feel Im on the verge of a breakthrough. Its both exciting and frightening.
Mother called today to remind me about the medallion. She wanted to make sure my uncle remembered to give it to me next week on my birthday. It surprises me how much this tradition means to her considering how strained her relationship was with my grandmother. She never got over the hurt and embarrassment of her mother leaving my grandfather for a woman. She felt abandoned and could never understand how my grandmother could put a mysterious woman before her own child.
I never knew my grandmother. She died before I was born. Mother never talked about her. I understood even at a very young age that the subject was not to be brought up. My mother only discussed her with me one time and it was very brief. The day my grandfather died I found her in the backyard burning stacks of papers. Her face was wet with tears. In a fit of anger she had burned the letters my grandmother had written to her throughout the years.
I never understood the magnitude of this loss until I was older. Now, I would give anything to have those letters. A sense of my heritage has always been important to me. I have recorded my thoughts since I was a child. Writing is a life line. I find solace in it no matter how alone I feel. Its sad that we never knew each other; somehow I feel connected to her. I think her thirst for adventure is in my blood.
Of grandmothers belongings, mother kept only two: the leather journal I have used since childhood and the medallion. As the eldest daughter the medallion will pass to me on my twenty-third birthday as it did to my mother before me. Mother never wore it that I knew of, but family is very important to her. I think the medallion represents a link to her mother. I will treasure it.
Alex set the journal down. The enormity of what she had taken from this young woman flooded over her. She knew somehow she had to set things right.
The ringing of the phone interrupted her thoughts and she moved across the room to answer. It was Sal.
"Thought you might be interested in the late news on channel seven tonight."
She clicked on her set. Danielle appeared on the screen. Alex watched intently as the cameras panned first to the woman on the stretcher and then to the concerned face of Danielle Stafford. At the corner of the screen she could see a man being directed into the squad car. She recognized the look in his eyes and knew immediately that Danielle was in trouble.
"Sal, I need you to do a favor for me."
He was surprised by the request. In all the years hes known her, Alex had never asked anything of him. "Sure Alex, what can I do?"
"I have a package I need to have delivered to this Danielle Stafford at the newspaper on Monday. I cant have any connection to it. If I drop it by tomorrow morning, can you find someone reliable to handle it?"
"It shouldnt be a problem."
"Make sure the delivery person cant be traced."
"Okay..." He hesitated. "Alex, tell me its not a bomb."
"Thats hardly my style." She smiled and shook her head. "And besides, what makes you think Id trust you with a bomb?"
He laughed "I had to ask."
"Sal thanks, I owe you one."
After hanging up, Alex couldnt get the young woman off her mind. She sensed danger and she was rarely wrong about these things. She could think of a hundred reasons why she shouldnt get involved but none of them mattered. The instant she had sensed trouble her mind had been made up. She had a few days before she needed to leave town, enough time to follow this woman and make sure everything was okay.
The next evening, after visiting the hospital, Danielle went for a long walk. Her mind was swimming. In the past few days she had experienced more excitement and danger than she had her entire life, but it still left her wanting.
She walked through the park, stopping by the tree where she had seen the two women. Her fingers brushed the rough bark. She leaned against it, closing her eyes. Her mind flashed back to her dream. She could feel the strong hands moving down her hips, the warm breath against her neck. When she opened her eyes the fantasy faded. She felt empty, alone.
Danielle headed back to her apartment, taking a short cut through a rather deserted neighborhood. Gradually she became aware of someone behind her and increased her pace. The footfalls behind her quickened, matching her own. She tried to calm her racing heart, sure her imagination was getting the best of her.
As she turned the corner, she stopped to listen. It was quiet. She took a relieved breath and was about to continue home, when a hand grabbed her from behind, pulling her into a dark alley. He pushed her roughly into the corner.
It was the Drake, the wife beater, and he had two friends with him. She looked around quickly for a way to escape. There was very little gap between the men. She was effectively trapped in the corner.
"You never should have interfered in my life, bitch." A coldness settled in the pit of her stomach. His confidence surged as he sensed her fear. He smiled menacingly.
"Go ahead, scream." He taunted her. His voice filled with hate. "No one will hear you." She tried to break past him but one of the men caught her and threw her back against the wall.
"Im going to teach you to mind your own business." He glanced back at his friend.
"Joe, watch the entrance." The heavy set man turned and walked toward the street. That left two. She knew this might be her only chance. She had to act quickly.
As Drake reached out to grab her, she struck out hitting his bruised nose. He stepped back wincing in pain. But, before she could run, the other man punched her hard in the face. Her head snapped back and hit the brick wall. She reeled from the blow.
The wife beater wiped a trickle of blood from his nose. His eyes filled with rage. He swung at her face but she managed to dodge the blow. She tried once again to get past him but he threw her back, punching her savagely in the stomach. She doubled over with pain. Taking advantage of her weakened state, he grabbed her hair and forced upright. He hit her several times in the face, splitting her lip. She fought to stay on her feet but her legs were too wobbly to hold her up and she slumped to the ground.
"Grab her hands."
The large man pinned her hands above her head, while Drake positioned himself between her legs. "Youre going to pay for that."
Danielle struggled to free herself, but the man above her was too strong. She felt Drakes hands slide under her skirt, pushing it up and knew he meant to rape her. She kicked wildly with her feet as he tore at her underpants. When she cried out for help, he punched her repeatedly.
Pain flooded her body, draining the strength from her limbs. She lay helpless, praying for unconsciousness.
Her vulnerability excited him. He unfastened his belt and unzipped his pants. His callused hands grabbed her thighs and forced her legs farther apart. "Here it comes bitch."
He leaned forward preparing to thrust into her, when a loud thud behind them prompted him to turn. "Joe?"
A tall figure illuminated by the street light, walked slowly toward them. He squinted, struggling in the dim light to see who approached. It was a woman.
"Joe cant answer you, I broke his jaw." Something about her manner and confidence unnerved him. He stood up quickly, haphazardly zipping his pants.
Alex glanced at the man holding Danielle. "Let her go... NOW!"
He released Danielle and rushed Alex. She threw a round house kick to his chest knocking him to the ground. He came at her again. This time, she stepped to the side and grabbed his arm, twisting, while jerking it upward, neatly dislocating his shoulder. He dropped to the ground screaming in pain. A single punch to the temple knocked him unconscious.
Drake looked at her fearfully, not sure what he was up against. It was one on one and he didnt like his odds. She turned to face him. He saw her face for the first time and his blood ran cold. She was smiling.
"Your fun is over. And mine, is about to begin." She moved in deliberately slow, giving him time to think about his predicament. He back up fearfully, but quickly ran out of space.
"Looks like your luck just ran out." She grabbed him by the neck and pressed him viciously to the wall. He looked at her in horror as he felt his feet leave the ground. She lifted him like a rag doll. Slowly he felt her grip tighten, shutting off his air.
Disoriented and in a great deal of pain, Danielle could think of nothing but escape. She began a torturously slow crawl toward the street. As she got closer her eyes focused on the back of the tall woman strangling her attacker. The gurgling sounds he made as he gasped for air sickened her.
"You are a dead man." Alex snapped, her voice filled with menace. His feet flailed helplessly as he struggled for breath. His face was flush, an ugly purple color.
"Wait, please." Danielle tried to get up but her legs failed her. "We need to call the police." She pleaded as she crumpled back to the ground in pain.
The tall woman eased her grip, sliding him down the wall, back on his feet. His lungs burned as he took in desperately needed air. He looked into her eyes. The coldness he saw there terrified him. He prayed the girl would go for the police. Alex grabbed his crotch and twisted savagely. He released an agonizing cry as the pain tore through him in an excruciating wave. He feared he was seriously injured.
"No police" She growled.
The words sent a chill through him. Her face was poised only inches from his, her expression feral. He tried to turn his head away, but she grabbed his face and glared at him. His fear doubled when he saw the predatory look in her eyes. Understanding he was the prey, his body shook uncontrollably.
"I take care of my own problems. No loop holes. No juries."
There was something in the tone of the womans voice. Danielle knew without a doubt that she intended to kill him. She spoke again. Her voice weak and filled with pain. "Please dont do it... not for me."
Alex paused and breathed deeply. She leaned into his ear and for one chilling moment he thought she might bite it off. Instead she tightened her grip on his neck and whispered. "If I ever lay eyes on you again or hear that youve come within a hundred miles of her, I will kill you... slowly."
She glared at him. He nodded, tears streaming down his face. "If anything happens to her, Im coming after you." Her knee ground into his groin and he nearly passed out from the pain. She released him, letting him collapse to the ground, his pants soiled by his own blood and urine.
Danielle clutched her stomach, and tried to rise. Alex went to her side and gently picked her up, carrying her out of the alley. Danielle squeezed her eyes shut as her stomach spasmed and ripples of pain rolled through her. "Im going to be sick..."
Alex eased her to the ground and held back her hair as the she vomited, her bruised muscles clenching painfully. Alex untucked her own shirt and used it to wipe the young womans mouth.
"Easy... its okay." She held her, speaking softly. Her soothing voice had a wonderfully calming effect. Danielles body relaxed in response. She slowly opened her eyes and looked at the face of the woman who had saved her. A gasp escaped her lips.
Alex misunderstood her reaction. She tightened her hold on the young woman, cradling her in her arms. "I wont let anyone hurt you."
Danielle knew without question that this was the one, the soul she sought. Fate had brought them together. She stared into Alexs blue eyes and prayed she wasnt hallucinating. "Are you real? Am I dreaming?"
Alex smiled softly. "Im real." Danielle closed her eyes as a wave of pain rolled through her. Alex gently pushed her hair from her face, taking a quick inventory of the damage. The young woman grimaced in pain as Alex ran her hand over the bruised ribs. Her injuries didnt seem life-threatening but she was reluctant to take unnecessary chances.
"Im going to take you to the hospital."
"No, please." Danielle knew if her family found out it would be impossible to convince them she would be safe remaining in the city. She tried to get up but dizziness toppled her back into Alexs protective arms.
"Do you live near here?"
Danielle could not make out her words, but she listened, finding comfort in the steady voice. Finally, the picture was complete: the voice, the hair, the eyes. The last thought to cross Danielles mind before she lost consciousness was leather, the biting scent of leather. She knew she was safe. A weariness descended on her and she gave into it without a struggle.
Alex made the decision to respect the womans wishes. She would take her home with her and they could talk more about it in the morning. She carried Danielle to her car and settled her gently into the passenger seat, buckling her safety belt. Danielle was in a world of hurt, even in unconsciousness her body reacted to every bump in the road. Alex drove carefully trying to spare her discomfort. Twenty minutes later they pulled up in front of Alexs cabin.
She carried the young woman in and laid her on the waterbed. Alex used a damp wash cloth to wipe the dried blood from Danielles face. She took great care not cause her further pain. When she had finished she allowed herself the luxury of lightly running her fingers through her soft blonde hair.
Danielles lashes flickered and her eyes opened. Her body ached. As the horrors of the night flooded over her once again, her stomach rebelled. She raised her hand weakly to her mouth. Alex carried her into the bathroom, where Danielle dropped to her knees. She retched into the toilet, her stomach long ago empty. Alex knelt beside her, an arm supporting her shoulders and gently wiped her face with a cool cloth.
Danielle went limp in Alexs arms and the tears came. "God if you hadnt come..." She cried for her helplessness, her vulnerability. For the first time she had an idea of what the women at the shelter had faced. " I... I need a shower."
The sight of the battered young woman broke her heart. "Are you strong enough to stand?" Danielle nodded. Alex started the water and went to get some clean towels.
When she returned Danielle was in the shower. Alex set the robe, towels and toothbrush down and left, gently closing the door behind her. Much later Danielle emerged from the bathroom. She staggered, exhausted from her efforts. Alex carefully lifted her and carried her to bed. When she pulled the covers over her, Danielle grimaced. Every breath, every movement tormented her bruised ribs. She closed her eyes tightly and tried not to cry out.
"Im going to give you something for the pain."
Alex removed a medical kit from the closet. She pulled out a hypodermic and quickly unwrapped it from its packaging. She inserted the needle into a small vial. Carefully eyeing the dosage, she pulled back the covers and injected the Demerol into the fleshy part of Danielles hip. "This will ease your discomfort and help you sleep." She gently tucked her in. "Ill be in the next room, if you need anything just call." Alex stood to leave.
"Please..." Danielle reached out, imploringly. "Can you stay with me for a while?" Alex pulled a chair next to bed and took the young womans hand. Danielle squeezed tightly and closed her eyes. In a few minutes the pain eased. She felt marvelously lightheaded, as if she were floating. She curled on her side facing Alex. Her eyes flickered open not quiet fixing on anything. She pulled Alexs hand under her cheek and inhaled deeply.
Just before sleep claimed the young woman, Alex heard her whisper "I always knew you would find me."
She seemed so frail. It was all Alex could do to look at her bruised face. If she had only gotten there a few minutes sooner, but she had lost Danielle in the park when a drunk delayed her. Alex wished suddenly that she had killed all three men. They were monsters. Her anger began to surge but dissipated when she felt the womans warm cheek snuggle against her fingers.
Normally nothing would have prevented her from taking their worthless lives. Alex thought of the young womans appeal for mercy on her assailants behalf. She had glimpsed something she hadnt believed existed, something she had long ago stopped fantasizing about: forgiveness. A calmness enveloped her.
She took a deep breath, allowing her body to relax. Why did this feel so right? The need to protect this young woman was almost instinctive. She watched over Danielle for a long time, until, at last, she too fell asleep.
Danielle awoke the next morning disoriented. Memories of last night, came flooding back. Her body ached from the beating she had received, confirming that it hadnt been a dream. She looked in wonder at the woman asleep in the chair beside her. She was the most attractive woman Danielle had ever seen. It was as if this dark beauty had stepped out of her dreams. A warrior sent to protect her, she fantasized. A calm washed over her, when she thought of this woman staying with her the entire night, insuring her well-being. She had never felt so safe, so protected.
Her muscles complained, stiff from being stationary. She needed to shift her position, but hesitated, not wanting to awaken the woman. As if sensing her thoughts, Alex opened her eyes. Danielle was momentarily stunned by the blue she saw there.
"How are you feeling?" Alex asked.
The sound of the womans voice was like a balm to her soul. He mind went blank for an instant. The troubled expression on the womans face brought Danielle back to her senses. "Im better. I... I dont know how to thank you."
"I was just in the right place at the right time."
"I dont even know your name."
"There wasnt much time for formal introductions last night." She smiled warmly. "Alex, Alex Lord."
Alex gently pulled her hand from under the young womans cheek. Danielle flushed with embarrassment. It had felt so natural against her skin that she hadnt realized she was still holding it.
Alex smiled. Flexing her fingers, "Ill need these if Im going to fix breakfast."
Danielles stomach perked up at the mention of food. It felt abysmally empty. When Alex went to the kitchen, Danielle gingerly made her way to the bathroom. She was shocked when she looked in the mirror. Her nose was swollen and both of her eyes were back and blue. She opened the robe and winced at the ugly bruises on her abdomen and ribs. It could have been a lot worse. She had been incredibly fortunate.
Enticed by the aroma of chicken soup. She made her way to the kitchen. "Mmm, something smells wonderful."
"Chicken soup out of a can. Im sorry, but Im not much of a cook." Alex apologized, placing a bowl in front of the woman.
"This is great, thanks." Danielle began eating with a fervor that warmed Alexs heart. It was clear she relished every bite. Alex passed her the bread and watched while she finished the entire pot of soup and half a loaf of bread.
"Good to see you have an appetite." She was fascinated by the way Danielles eyes sparkled when she smiled.
"Im always able to eat, believe me." Danielle commented, flashing her beautiful smile again.
"Yes, I see." Alex lifted a brow playfully. There was something completely disarming about the young womans demeanor. Alex found herself looking at her longer than was appropriate. She stood up and began cleaning the dishes.
Danielle stretched cautiously. Amazed how much better she felt. "That miracle drug you gave me last night really helped. Are you a doctor?"
Alex hesitated. "Not really, I hope youre not going to turn me in for practicing without a license."
"Are you kidding? It would have been a rough night without your help." Danielle shivered involuntarily as she thought how close she had come to being raped. "Where did you learn to fight like that?
"Its just something I picked up." Alex replied and tried to shift the direction of the conversation. "Why were you walking alone in that part of town?"
Danielle blushed. There was no way she could explain the park thing. "Its a long story. But this wasnt a random attack, he knew me. I called the police the night before last when he nearly beat his wife to death." She frowned. "I cant believe hes out walking the streets already."
"If its any consolation, he wont be walking that well this morning." Alex smiled, rather pleased with the vision.
"I found that the police arent very effective in dealing with these situations." Danielle was puzzled by her friends reluctance to get the police involved, but after all Alex had done to help her she didnt press it.
"Its hard to understand what drives a person to such violence. I went to see his wife at the hospital last night, shes in pretty bad shape. They had to deliver the baby early and werent sure if the child would make it. Its so tragic. What a way to come into the world."
Alex couldnt meet her gaze. "Violence is all some people understand, they dont have any good in them. One way or another this baby is better off without that kind of father, believe me."
"I dont agree. Everyone has good in them, deep down. Even he deserves a second chance, an opportunity to get help."
Alex decided not to argue the point and wondered if she needed to believe just a little of what Danielle had said. "Its sunny outside. Feel like having a cup of coffee on the porch?"
They sat out on the deck that wrapped around the back of the house. It had a magnificent view of small lake only a hundred yards off.
Danielle sat back in the wicker chair, letting the sun warm her achy muscles. "This is a wonderful place you have."
"Thanks, actually Im only renting. I wont be staying much longer."
Danielle tensed at the news. "Youre moving?"
"Yeah, I never stay in one place very long. I get restless."
Danielle tried not to let her anxiousness show and changed the subject. "What do you do for a living?"
Alex hadnt prepared herself for a conversation with the woman. She used an old standby. "I just got out of the service. Im between jobs."
"That must be where you learned to handle yourself so well, huh?"
Alex nodded. Uncomfortable with the lie. She stood, attempting to divert the focus of the conversation. "Im about ready for a refill. Can I get you one?" Alex walked inside effectively avoiding further questions.
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