~ Cobb Island ~
by advocate


Ownership Disclaimer: These characters originated in the deep dark recesses of my mind, and thus belong to no one but me. Copyright 2000 by Advocate. All Rights Reserved.

Violence/Profanity and Sexual Content: This story contains moderate levels of violence as well as profanity. This is a work of alternative fiction that depicts two women as well as an opposite sex couple in a both physically and emotionally loving relationship.

Thanks: I've got the best beta readers a bard could hope for. These guys (Barbara, kd, Ellie and Medora MacD) simply rock. They kindly supplied any semi-colons, or other such funky punctuation. Kamouraskan, your editing suggestions were greatly appreciated. In addition to my wonderful beta readers, several friends offered me their support and encouragement. To them I offer a heartfelt thank you.

Dedication: This is dedicated to the one I love. If I had more than my heart to give... it would already be yours.

Comments or Questions to: advocate8704@yahoo.com.


Part 1

Part I: and we begin again

Chapter one

HONK HONK!!! A tousled blonde head poked itself out of the window of a black pickup truck as shoulder length tresses were picked up and swirled by the morning breeze. "Where is that fool brother of mine?" Olivia Hazelwood resisted the urge to lay on her horn for the third time, when suddenly a mop-topped teenager flew out of the front door, letting the screen slam loudly, and dragging an OD army duffel bag behind him.

"Thanks, Liv!" he panted as he climbed into the cab. "I didn't think Aunt Ruth was ever going to let me outta there."

Two identical sets of sea-green eyes rolled.

Liv revved the engine but left the car in park, drawing out her younger brother's anticipation. "All set then, Dougie?" she taunted.

"You know it! Let's rock and roll!" he yelled eagerly.

Liv chuckled, allowing some of the teenager's exuberance to rub off on her; it was her vacation, after all. Without bothering to look behind her, she pulled out of the driveway and onto the lonely country road.

After several quiet moments Liv turned back to her brother, studying him in detail as he fiddled with the radio station desperately looking for anything that wasn't a country station. Why does he bother? He already knows exactly what he'll find, she silently mused.

Her eyes drifted over his face and down to his white, high top sneakers. She felt a pang of guilt when she noticed how much he'd grown since the last time she'd seen him. His jaw was starting to square and his wobbly looking Adam's apple didn't seem nearly as prominent as she remembered. God, he's growing up. Heedless of the road, she carefully focused on his chin, then reached over and unceremoniously yanked out a lonely hair amid what appeared to be fair fuzz.

"Ouch! What did ya do that for?" Doug immediately grasped his chin, rubbing the tender spot.

"You're starting to get a beard, aren't you?" she asked, hoping her voice didn't sound as surprised to her brother's ears as it did to her own.

"Well, Jesus, I'm almost 17 years old. What did you expect?"

Liv winced, already knowing what was coming next.

"If you visited more often..."

"I know it's been six months," the blonde interrupted. "I didn't mean for time to get away from me like this." She reached over and patted the teenager's denim covered thigh. "I'm sorry, Dougie. Forgiven?" she asked hopefully.

"It's Doug now." The teenager made a show of sighing before smiling brightly. "And aren't you always?"

Liv shot him a sharply raised eyebrow at the comment, but silently agreed. Doug always forgave her anything. Just like she did him. She couldn't help herself.

"So how did you get Aunt Ruth to agree to this?" Liv wondered aloud, changing the subject. She knew the high school junior probably had to beg, borrow and steal to get this little vacation approved.

"Ha!" Doug snorted. "I brought ass kissing to a new level of excellence for this one!"

The siblings shared a brief, if somewhat rueful laugh. Aunt Ruth was strict. Far stricter than their parents had been. And the older woman and Liv had gone round and round more than once over the proper way to raise Doug. Liv knew he must have pulled out all the stops to wrangle a week alone with her away from Ruth's supervision.

"So, Romeo, this girlfriend must be pretty special for you to go to all this trouble."

"She is," Doug said seriously, making Liv instantly feel mean for the teasing.

"I'm sure she is, Dougie... I mean Doug," she corrected herself with a slight roll of her eyes, laughing as her brother's heated retort was shot down before he could utter a sound.

The slim teenager shifted in his seat and ran a nervous hand through his messy curls.

Dad used to do that to his hair all the time, Liv thought. I do it, too.

"I really miss her. I haven't seen her since spring break, although we do chat every night on the computer. If Aunt Ruth knew we were going to meet her, she'd have never agreed to this visit."

Liv sighed, mentally editing the long string of curse words that sprang to her tongue at the mention of Ruth's name. "Aunt Ruth loves you, Dougie." Just not as much as she should. "But she wouldn't know romantic love if it jumped up and bit her in the ass. I can't wait to meet your girlfriend. I'm already certain she's something special."

Doug beamed. His sister's approval meant more than he ever intended on letting anyone know, well, maybe anyone except Marcy.

"So how does a no account pissant like you manage a girlfriend who still adores you even a full year after her family moves away, and I can't even get a date on Saturday nights? Hmm?"

"Weellll," he drawled smugly. "Maybe you're past your prime, Sis."

"I'm 29 years old! I'm right in the middle of my prime, for Christ's sake!"

"That's almost 30."

"So?" Pale eyebrows rose as Liv mock sneered.

Doug shrugged as if his last statement spoke for itself. "Don't worry. In another couple years you'll be in that really desperate age group, and your biological clock will be about ready to explode, and you won't be so picky anymore. I'm sure you'll get a date then," he added cheekily.

"Shut up, butt-munch! As if I need kids when I've already got you." Liv smacked the laughing young man in the belly, causing him to exhale loudly. "Any more cracks like that and I'll tell Marcy about the time you got sick on the merry-go-round at Wal-Mart."

"Liiivvvvv! That was forever ago!" the teen whined.

"Ten years is not forever. Too bad for you my memory is still sharp as a tack, Sonny," Liv cackled in her best old lady voice, trying not to look her brother in the eye and dissolve into laughter. Then she abruptly sobered.

"Dougie... please tell me that Marcy's parents know she's meeting us at this island. I'll deal with Aunt Ruth if I have to, but I won't go against your girlfriend's parents."

"I'm telling you, Liv, they know everything," the teen explained petulantly. He'd already gone over this a hundred times.

"You swear?" Liv eyed him speculatively, looking for the slightest trace of deception. Doug could lie through his teeth if he had to, and she knew it.

"I swear. And don't be such a granny. Marcy's sister is coming along too, so we'll be FULLY chaperoned," he pouted, wondering if he'd get anytime alone with his girlfriend at all.

"Okay then. Jeeze, Dougie, put your sad lip away."

Mostly convinced that her brother was telling the truth, Liv smiled wickedly. "Has Aunt Ruth talked to you about 'safe sex' yet?"

"Oh God!" the teen groaned as he buried his face in his hands. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea. They pulled off of the gravel county road and onto the highway, leaving nothing but a dissolving cloud of dust in their wake.

********************

"How long y'all gonna wanna leave it fer?"

"A week."

A meaty hand scratched bearded cheeks as the man's eyes swept over the lanky woman in front of his counter, lingering inappropriately on two of her more striking attributes. With a quick turn of his head he loudly spit out his remaining tobacco into a bucket on the floor. Some women, after all, were funny about those things.

She was a beauty all right, even dressed in a plain red tank top and faded blue jeans. Her tanned face was impassive and cut with classic chiseled features. Her thick dark hair was braided in a single braid that flowed between broad shoulders and down to the middle of her back. It was tied off with a simple leather strap.

The man wondered if she was alone or willing and looked out the shop window hoping not to see a husband or boyfriend. What he did see was a younger girl with short dark hair, waiting with arms crossed, tapping her foot impatiently at one of the gas pumps. Mother and daughter? Nah. The woman in front of him only appeared in her early or mid-twenties.

"Well?" she drawled impatiently, her accent not nearly as pronounced as the clerk's, but resolutely Southern nonetheless.

"And yer wantin' a boat fer that entirrr time too?"

Bright blue eyes narrowed behind dark sunglasses. Was she going to have to explain this AGAIN? She took a calming breath. "I want a place to stow my car, and to rent a boat for a week. This is a boat rental store, isn't it?" A long slender finger pointed to a large red sign that proudly proclaimed "Ernie's Boat Rental and Storage. Enjoy the Best Virginia has to Offer!"

"Yes ma'am, shore nuff is." He thought for a second more and considered the nice car parked at the gas pump. "$300.00 fer the boat and I'll store yer car in my garage outta the August heat for another $50.00. I'll even throw in the first tank of gas fer the boat fer nothin'."

The tall brunette bristled but handed over her VISA card anyway. She feared Marcy would simply expire if they didn't have the boat ready to go when her boyfriend arrived.

After running her card through a rickety carbon press the clerk handed it back, rubbing the dark purple ink off his fingers and onto the mostly white T-shirt that barely covered his flabby protruding belly. "You ladies ain't goin' out ta Cobb Island all alone are ya?"

And you care because? "We won't be alone."

"Yes ma'am, ya shore nuff will. There's only three houses out there ta begin with. The Redding place has been empty since ole man Redding died 2 years ago, and the owners of the other two done already left fer the season. Too hot this time a year, I reckon," he added, squashing a buzzing fly with a quick smack of his sweaty hand.

"We'll be fine," the tall woman answered tersely as she opened the shop door and was greeted with a blast of humid summer air that still managed to be cooler than the sweltering heat of the boat rental shop.

"Did you get it, Kayla?" Marcy asked nervously as she approached her sister. Kayla had been in the shop way too long and judging by the way the clerk was drooling over her, it wouldn't be long until he ended up getting a free tour of the emergency room.

"I got it, darlin'. Relax. We'll be all ready for Mr. Wonderful." Kayla was happy for her baby sister, though she didn't quite understand all the fuss.

"Marcy, you watch for Doug," as if I could stop you, "and I'll load our bags and my equipment into the boat. Come on, Ernie," she didn't care whether that was his name or not, "time to start earning that $300.00."

********************

"Turn left here."

Liv pulled the car into a small, dusty parking lot belonging to the rental shop. Before she could say a word or even shut off the ignition, Doug was out the door, running toward a dark-haired teenaged girl. The fabulous Marcy, I presume.

Liv's attention turned to the dock where she watched a greasy looking man set a large metal box into a boat before wiping his hands on his T-shirt and moving into the shop. Exiting her pickup truck, she strode over to her brother, not failing to notice that a woman who looked to be an older version of the one Doug was fiercely hugging had joined them.

The young couple broke apart long enough to share a desperately passionate kiss. Arms wrapped tightly around each other, both teenagers let out throaty moans as they moved closer together in an enthusiastic fury.

Kayla simply stared, shifting uncomfortably, too amazed to even blink. The Virginia sun itself didn't come close to letting off the heat Doug and Marcy were producing. The tall woman's own body temperature began to rise. Too bad she was going to have to murder Doug on the spot. Marcy would miss him... for the 3 seconds of life she had left before Kayla strangled her too.

Finally, when she began to wonder if Doug would ever get his tongue back, Liv interrupted the lip-locked teens. "Ahhem... Dougie... I mean Doug... Wouldn't you like to introduce me to your friend?" Liv fought the urge to fan her flaming cheeks.

Doug reluctantly pulled away and smiled sheepishly at Liv, intentionally not looking over to Kayla, whose intense stare he could feel boring into him at that very moment. The grumpy looking woman was obviously not pleased by the teenagers' admittedly extreme display of affection.

"Sorry," Doug muttered. "Marcy, this is my sister Olivia... Liv." Then he surprised everyone by adding, "Actually, she's sort of like my mom." The boy turned to his sister, hoping he hadn't said anything wrong.

Tears pricked Liv's eyes as she jaw worked silently, a sudden tightness closing her throat. Temporarily ignoring Marcy, she pulled Doug into a tight hug. "Pretty sneaky there, Dougie." Liv swallowed hard as she regained her composure. "Lucky I love you to death or that crap wouldn't work," she whispered in his ear, feeling her brother's smile against her cheek. "We'll talk about that kiss later." Pulling away, she addressed the pretty girl invading every inch of Doug's personal space.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Marcy." Liv extended a hand, which Marcy shook warmly. Then the taller teenager bent down and stole a quick kiss on the cheek.

"I know all about you, Olivia," the girl said excitedly. "Doug talks about you all the time." They weren't strangers after all; Liv just didn't know it yet.

The sweet words managed to make Liv feel even guiltier for her lack of participation in Doug's life over the past couple of years. She vowed on the spot that she wouldn't let so much time pass between visits with her baby brother ever again. Aunt Ruth could go to hell. Maybe when he started college after his in another year she could talk him into attending George Washington University. It was within walking distance of her Washington D.C. apartment. Liv's focused on Marcy who was staring at Doug like he was a walking, breathing God. Then again, maybe I should be talking to her. I have a feeling Dougie's going to be following this girl around like a puppy on a string.

The foursome stood awkwardly for a long moment before Marcy suddenly remembered her manners. "Oh, I'm so sorry! Doug, Olivia, this is my big sister Kayla Redding."

Kayla gave Liv a tentative smile but simply glared at Doug. "I'll go and make sure everything is ready for the boat ride to the island. If you'll excuse me," she offered curtly before turning on her heels and striding purposefully across the parking lot.

"Oh shit," Doug mumbled as Marcy shot him a helpless glance then quickly followed after her sister with a slightly panicked look on her face.

Liv let out a long sigh. "Oh shit is right! What were you thinking with that little display, Dougie? Nevermind, don't answer that. I know exactly what you were thinking, you little shit." Green eyes twinkled, but Liv managed to keep her chuckles to herself. "She's gorgeous." Nearly as gorgeous as taller, darker and far more pissed off.

"Her sister hates me already, doesn't she?" Doug stuffed his hands in his pockets in an adolescent gesture that reminded Liv of the boy who had lived with her until 2 years ago.

"Looks that way." Liv shrugged and clasped Doug's shoulder, giving it a sympathetic squeeze. "I wouldn't worry too much about it right now. We've got a whole week to get to know each other. She'll come around." Liv tugged her sunglasses down to the tip of her nose and gave her brother a disapproving look over the tortoiseshell frames. "Assuming you can control yourself long enough for her to stop glaring at you like she's about to rip your head off, that is."

The boy flashed his sister a toothy grin. "But you'd save me, right?"

"If that was my little sister you just kissed that way..." she let the words trail off meaningfully.

"Hey! More than one set of lips were involved, you know."

"Dougie." It was a warning.

"Okay, okay, I got it. More charming, less alarming."

"Exactly, little brother." Liv wrapped her arm around Doug's shoulder, noticing how small her 5'4" frame felt next to the still rapidly growing teenager. She took a deep breath of the salty air, glad that the light ocean breeze had made a dent in the stifling heat.

The Hazelwood siblings began moving toward the rental office as one. "C'mon, Sis, lets hurry so I can go see what grunt work I can offer in a pathetic attempt to redeem myself."

"Dougie, my boy," Liv laughed. "It appears I've been remiss in your education when it comes to women. First, grunt work is good, but trust me, it's already expected of you so you won't score too many brownie points there. I recommend chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate."

"Really?" the young man asked interestedly.

"Absolutely, why one time..."

Chapter two

The 80-hp motor buzzed loudly as the 16-foot aluminum boat slowly made its way through the choppy, dark waters of the Atlantic. Cobb Island was about 3 miles off the Virginia coast and on clear days was easily visible from the dirty, tree-strewn beach alongside the boat rental shop.

Kayla seemed to know what she was doing, so no one questioned her when she piloted the boat closer and closer to what appeared to be nothing more than a dark blob from the shore. The wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped dramatically after the first few moments at sea. As the boat approached the island, even Doug and Marcy's idle chatter quieted, and the foursome simply stared in awe.

Kayla finally reduced the power to the engine and the loud buzz faded to a constant hum. They were now about 30 yards from the shoreline and despite the constant breeze, the insects had reappeared in dramatic fashion, their steady drone blending with the sound of the motor. "You're sure there are houses on this island?" Liv asked as she swatted a mosquito.

"Papaw's house, yes, although we've never visited it," Marcy answered on a slightly shaky exhale as her gray eyes surveyed the terrain before her.

There was almost no beach. In fact, the lush vegetation stretched beyond the boundaries of the island itself as massive overhanging branches extended a remarkable distance over the water. Several trees even appeared to be growing directly out of the ocean floor. The woods were incredibly dense, almost cruel looking, as the gnarled black tree trunks and limbs fought for space and light above the dense undergrowth. Thick brown vines intertwined with ivy, covering nearly every possible surface, including the jagged rocks that occasionally poked out of the inky soil only to disappear into the salty water below. Leaves and stray branches formed what appeared to be a nearly impenetrable wall around the island's edge.

Doug's eyes widened as Kayla turned the boat eastward and drew it right along the shoreline, following the curves of the island's edge and passing into the long shadows created by the forest and late afternoon sun. "Wow."

Liv could only nod, completely agreeing with her brother's sentiment. Despite the large fawn whose ebony, liquid eyes peeked out at her through the thorny bushes then vanished silently, the island felt harsh and unforgiving... dead even. Well, except for the bugs. Liv mused as she swatted away a dragonfly that seemed to want to nest in her hair. What kind of people would have their summer home here?

"It's not just a vacation home," Kayla offered quietly, breaking into Liv's thoughts. "Papaw lived here his entire life."

"But... But what would a person do on an island this size for an entire lifetime?"

Kayla tugged off her sunglasses and tossed them onto her soft bag resting underneath the boat's steering wheel. She turned her head to face Liv, causing her eyes to glint and pick up the rays of sun. "That's an interesting question," Kayla finally answered awkwardly, fully aware she hadn't satisfied Liv's curiosity.

Liv suddenly stood up, tilting dangerously as the boat listed to one side. The blonde was angry at Kayla's intentional reticence. It was one thing for her to be upset with Doug and Marcy for making a spectacle of themselves with that kiss, but it was quite another to be closed-mouthed to the point of rudeness with her. They didn't even know each other. And yet Kayla refused to answer her questions with much more than a 'yes', 'no', or 'That's an interesting question'.

Doug reached over and tugged Liv's arm hoping to stop her from saying something combative to the older brunette. He failed.

"Is there a reason that you won't answer my questions or are you just plain rude?" The anger and mounting frustration in Liv's voice was obvious. God, what the hell is wrong with me? It must be this sweltering heat. Liv felt an unpleasant nervousness building in her belly as the boat drew closer to the island.

"Liiiv!" Doug hissed. "What are you doing?"

"Be quiet, Dougie. I have the feeling there's something Marcy's sister is not telling us about our vacation destination." Liv pointed an accusing finger at Kayla. "Well?"

Kayla shot Marcy a meaningful look but the teenager shook her head 'no'. Kayla's jaw clenched tightly. "You didn't say anything to them?"

"No," Marcy answered, embarrassed. "There isn't really anything to tell."

"You know that's not true."

Marcy began to get irritated. She never believed those stupid old tales. Why should she frighten Doug and his sister for nothing? "You'll have to excuse Kayla," she pointedly addressed the Hazelwoods. "My sister has a rather vivid imagination for someone who can't manage to pry herself away from her sizemahickies, photo lab, and tape recorders for more than a few hours a day."

A slender, dark eyebrow arched sharply but was quickly followed by a small smile that seemed to tug at Kayla's lips for only the briefest of seconds before disappearing. "Skeptic," the tall brunette shot back at her sister playfully, astounding Liv and Doug who were watching the exchange in confusion.

The small boat made its way around a blind corner and the island seemed to open up before them as a huge wooden home stood proudly on the island's rocky edge. It was three stories high with a large wrap-around porch that overlooked the water below. An overgrown trail led from the front door, down a steep hill and to a rickety wooden dock.

"Is that it?" Marcy breathlessly asked her sister.

"I... I think so. The guy who rented the boat said it was the first house I'd hit if I continued around to the east."

"Holy sh..."

Liv elbowed her brother in the ribs. Hard.

"Cow," he finished lamely, shooting Liv a hateful look.

This time Kayla did smile, albeit discretely, and Liv did her best not to stare. The simple act took years off the taller woman's face and Liv realized for the first time that Kayla was probably younger than she was. Torn between azure eyes and the magnificent, but somewhat dilapidated house in front of her, Liv's trance was broken by Marcy's voice.

"It's just like Daddy said it was!"

Kayla nodded as she pulled the boat up to a rickety wooden dock. The tall woman looked at the house with evident distaste. "I'm sure it was a fabulous looking place? once," she added wryly. "Damn." She shook her head sadly. "You'd think Papaw could have sprung for a couple buckets of paint."

Doug quickly jumped up and onto the dock where he immediately shed the hot, itchy life jacket that his sister had insisted he wear. Kayla tossed him a frayed yellow rope and he tied the stern of the boat to two wooden poles that disappeared below the dock.

"Will this hold me?" Liv asked doubtfully as she reached for her brother's extended hand while he bounced playfully on the unstable wooden structure.

Doug grinned cheekily. "Lucky for us, you haven't eaten dinner yet."

"Ha ha. Dougie, what are...?"

"I called ahead last week and had some food and other supplies delivered," Kayla interrupted. Shit. I did it again. "We should be all set," she finished weakly. Kayla groaned internally, deciding Liv didn't need to know just how much effort and money it had taken to get one of the mainland locals to deliver groceries and gasoline and check on the well.

Liv cocked her head to the side and wrinkled her nose as she studied Kayla. "Are you psychic or something? I never seem to get a sentence out before you break in and answer my question." And that answer was a complete sentence! She can talk!

Kayla studied her shoes. "I didn't mean to interrupt," she apologized quietly. Stupid! Stupid! Keep your damn mouth shut! But it's so strong around her. I think she can feel it too.

Liv laid a hand on Kayla's forearm, feeling the tension running through the other woman who suddenly looked angry or frightened. She wasn't sure which. "I wasn't trying to get an apology out of you. It just seems like..."

"Liv, could you give me a hand with these?" Marcy interrupted quickly as she indicated several large bags in the bottom of the boat. She recognized Kayla's unhappy frown.

Liv didn't turn away from Kayla as she spoke to Marcy. "Just a second. I..."

"Please... they're really heavy."

Reluctantly, Liv let go of Kayla's arm and moved to the end of the dock, but not before glancing back at the woman, who suddenly found something terribly interesting about the boat's steering wheel. With a puzzled shake of her head, Liv began helping the dark teenager unload the bags. Something's going on here, and I won't be distracted forever. Hasn't Dougie noticed how weird Kayla and Marcy have been acting ever since we left the mainland? Liv's eyes drifted to her brother who was gazing adoringly at Marcy, his mouth literally hanging open. She smirked. Oh brother. He wouldn't notice if his own head caught fire.

When Liv looked fully occupied with the luggage, Kayla shot her sister a pathetically grateful look that was anxiously returned. They would talk about this later.

********************

Liv stepped through the front door of the house and stepped back in time. Oak paneling stretched from ceiling to floor. And although wooden floors were in desperate need of refinishing, they looked freshly swept. The sparsely scattered furnishings were covered with yellowing sheets and Liv vaguely recognized the style as colonial. "My God," she whispered reverently, her eyes scanning the intricate but decaying wooden moldings that lined the top and bottom of the large entryway. "How old is this place?"

Kayla set down one of two large metal boxes that she refused to let anyone else carry. "It was built sometime in the late 1600's, I think. By a very distant relative."

Liv nodded, pleased with Kayla's obvious effort at making idle conversation and feeling a little guilty about her earlier outburst. The smaller woman squinted a bit as her eyes adjusted to the dim light. The house looked that damn old. "How has it managed to survived all these years... especially with all the storms and hurricanes?" Without waiting for an answer the blonde impulsively stepped into what appeared to be a library and gazed out of the dirty picture window facing the open Atlantic Ocean. She wrapped her arms around herself, feeling a sudden chill despite the stagnant, moist air. Then, just as quickly as the chill came, it disappeared.

Doug moved to join his sister, watching the darkening sea for a moment before breaking the silence. The young man gathered his courage and decided to try addressing Kayla, who had joined him and Liv at the window, for the first time. "You said something about food?"

The tall woman nodded as she wiped a bead of sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. "You wanna help me find the kitchen and get something started?"

Doug smiled, relieved she was talking to him. He made a mental note to ask Marcy what he could do to get on her good side. He was pretty sure there weren't any places to buy chocolate on the island.

On the way out of the room Doug gave Marcy's hand a quick squeeze. They'd get some time alone together soon; he just might have to beg Liv to distract Kayla who was already evoking images of a guard dog. Doug silently chuckled. Okay, so this guard dog had an ass to die for... just like her kid sister. Things could be worse.

When Doug and Kayla left the room, Marcy shifted nervously from one foot to the other. It was so important that she make a good impression on Liv. As far as Doug was concerned, she was his mother; it didn't matter that she wasn't really old enough for the part. "You want to sit down and just... um... talk I guess?" She tilted her head toward a small sofa covered in a dingy yellow sheet.

Sensing the girl's nervousness, Liv smiled what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "Sure, but let's go outside where it's cooler." Green eyes traveled to the side door where Doug and Kayla had exited. "Will he be okay with her? She seems sort of... well, sort of..."

"Intense?"

Liv nodded, relieved that she wasn't forced to come up with a word to describe Kayla.

"She is." Marcy shrugged. "I mean she always has been. I know it seems like she's off thinking in her own little world most of the time." 'Cause she is! "But she's really great once you get to know her."

Liv didn't look convinced so the teenager pressed on. "She's a genius, you know. A real one."

Two pale brows lifted. "I never doubted her intelligence," Liv assured Marcy as she leaned forward and rested her elbows on the porch railing. Beauty, brains and no personality, what a waste. She looked down directly into the lapping water about 20 feet below.

Marcy sighed. This wasn't going as she had planned. Both she and Doug had hoped their sisters would hit it off. "Listen, Liv, the only way to really know Kayla is to experience her for yourself."

Liv straightened and kicked a pebble off the porch, watching it splash into the foamy water. "Okay, then," she said brightly, determined to make her best effort for Doug. "Let's go help with supper and then we can all get to know each other better. Besides, you're here to see Doug, not me."

The girl opened her mouth to protest but Liv held up a forestalling hand. "S'okay. Believe it or not, I do understand. You're dying for some time alone with Dougie, right?"

Marcy blushed, causing Liv to laugh out loud as she spoke. "I think... no, I know, I'm totally jealous."

"You're not seeing anyone?" Marcy inquired trying not to sound overly eager. Doug had said Liv almost never dated, and she had caught each woman checking out the other when they thought no one was watching.

"Nope. I guess you could say I'm in the 'love free' zone and have been for quite some time."

A happy smile creased Marcy's face. "Oh, that's too bad."

Liv's eyebrows shot skyward. Man, she's a little weird, isn't she? She's so perfect for Dougie.

"Oh, I mean that's too bad," Marcy tried again. Shit. Now she knew why she was understudy's understudy's costume designer in her high school play.

Chapter three

It was nearly midnight, when one by one the house's occupants began claiming rooms to sleep in. Marcy appeared a little apprehensive at the idea of sleeping too far away from the others and shrewdly suggested that they all sleep on the same floor. That way, if anyone needed to go down to the kitchen or bathrooms, which were all on the main floor, they could easily enlist a buddy. After all, the house was a mixture of odd sized rooms and twisting, adjoining hallways. It would be easy to get lost... particularly at night.

Recognizing the girl's fear, Liv immediately pronounced it an excellent idea and claimed the room nearest the stairs and directly across from Marcy. Truth be told, Liv herself thought the house was a little unsettling... Creepy really... especially at night. Disneyland's Haunted Mansion has nothing on this place. The blonde half-expected a ghoul to be residing under the bed, a butler named Igor to show up in the parlor, and bats in the belfry, or whatever the hell lived in a 300-year-old house.

Liv bent down to unzip her suitcase and the floor creaked beneath her feet, instantly causing her to jump. "Jesus," she gasped, taking a step back from her suitcase, her eyes riveted on the dark wood floors. Then she burst into laughter. "Crap, I scared myself." She exhaled explosively and looked around the empty room. "And I'm talking to myself, too. Maybe I should ask Dougie if he wants a roommate before I go completely bonkers?" Green eyes traveled in the direction Kayla and Doug had headed after tucking Marcy in for the night. "Nah... I'd never live it down." Liv smiled wryly, her white teeth glinting in the soft light of a solitary candle. "How old am I again?"

The house did have lights that ran off of a gas generator, which also fueled the refrigerator and stove. But this convenience only extended to the first floor. There were three floors in total, not including a basement and attic, which Liv silently swore she'd never see anyway. Their bedrooms were on the third floor.

Liv pushed away a surge of uneasiness, cursing the numerous horror films she'd indulged in throughout her childhood. They'd always struck her as humorous. Right now, however, she wasn't laughing. Enough. "Okay?" The blonde began rummaging through her bag. "Something to sleep in...."

********************

"This is going to be your room," Kayla said as she pushed open the door to the bedroom that was as far away from Marcy's room as was physically possible and still be in the same house. She only hoped it would be habitable.

"Thanks... for nothing, " Doug mumbled as he walked through the doorway past Kayla, pulling his T-shirt away from his sweaty mid-section.

This room was slightly smaller than the others, and warmer because it overlooked the forest rather than the sea. But it was clean, and far closer to Marcy than he'd been yesterday. Right now, that was all that mattered to Doug. He'd work on winning Kayla over tomorrow.

"Well, then good night, Doug," Kayla offered awkwardly, regretting her rigid stance with the boy, but believing it was the wisest course of conduct nonetheless. A little healthy fear never hurt anyone, did it? "Listen, Doug..."

"Don't worry." The young man let out a long-suffering sigh that made Kayla wince. Was she really that harsh? "Liv already told me that I'd better not come anywhere near Marcy's room... or else I'm fish food. I'll behave."

Kayla smiled. Liv was so right. And although she thought her sister was too young to be in such a serious relationship, she actually did like Doug. While Liv didn't share in Doug's naturally curly locks, Kayla couldn't help but notice that the siblings did share not only impish, fair features, but energetic, friendly personalities that bordered on being outright charming.

Liv had made a special effort to get to know Marcy over the course of the evening. And the older Redding sister was more than a little embarrassed that Liv had drawn out several facts about Marcy that she didn't know herself. Kayla was certain that by the time Marcy had gone to bed, the teenager had a crush on both Hazelwoods.

"I'll see you in the morning, Doug." Kayla took a step down the hall before turning back and poking her head around the corner of the doorframe. The boy had just started pulling some shorts out of his duffel bag. Kayla cleared her throat to get Doug's attention. "Marcy is really glad you're here." Blue eyes dropped to the floor, their expression unreadable in the flickering candlelight. "I... um... I do appreciate that." They didn't have to be supervised every minute, did they? "Maybe tomorrow you guys can go swimming or something?"

"That would be great! Thanks, Kayla." Score one for the home team!

At the other end of the hall, Liv had just slipped into a T-shirt and shorts, glad she'd packed such cool clothing, even if she was likely to be eaten alive by mosquitoes. When Doug had discussed spending the week at Marcy's family's 'summer home' she was picturing something with air-conditioning. Hell, something with lights, television and a phone.

It wasn't like Liv had to have all those things. But a girl could hope.

Liv laid a flat hand against her drenched forehead. The stifling heat made the thought of going to bed unbearable and even though the house was huge, the blonde was starting to feel sluggish and trapped by the stagnant air within its walls. God, why didn't I open the window earlier?

Liv quickly moved over to the window; curling her hands around a tarnished brass handle at the bottom she gave a mighty tug. Nothing. She tried again. Still nothing.

Suddenly warm breath tickled the back of Liv's neck and strong hands covered her own. She opened her mouth to scream as the grip on her hands tightened and the window flew open, extinguishing the single candle and bathing the room in total darkness.

"Are you settling in alright?" a quiet voice burred.

Liv wrenched her hands away and stumbled backwards. "What... what... Kayla?" she finally asked, not even hearing the words over her thundering heart as the voice's likely owner registered.

An eyebrow rose, unseen in the darkness. "You were expecting someone else?"

"That's not funny!" Liv balled her fists. "Haven't you ever heard of knocking?!" Her voice was rising along with her temper.

"Hey, calm down." Kayla held her hands up in surrender, trying not to laugh. "I didn't mean to scare you."

Liv opened her mouth, but Kayla beat her to the punch. "Your door was wide open and I saw you having trouble with the window. I was just trying to help."

The blonde relaxed her hands and forced her breathing to slow. She didn't mean it. It's not her fault you're a big chicken... Relax. "It's okay." Liv moved over to the window, relishing the cooler breeze that was filling the room. "Do the kids...?"

"Yep, both of them have their windows wide open. It'll cool the rooms down considerably. I don't think you have to worry." She is like his mother.

Liv closed her eyes briefly as a sudden gust blew back the thick curtains and dried the perspiration from her neck. "Kayla..." The blonde turned back to face the taller woman. "Would you like to sit on the porch with me? I think I need to cool down before I even try to go to sleep."

Kayla simply nodded and stepped toward the door.

"Wait." Liv motioned to the nightstand alongside the window. "Shouldn't we bring the candle."

The brunette smiled and shook her head 'no'. Then reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out a silver lighter, clicking it on.

Liv stared into the dancing blue eyes gone violet in the faint light.

"Why, you're not afraid of the dark, are you, Miss Hazelwood?" Kayla drawled ominously as her breath caused the small flame to flicker.

Liv's immediate instinct was to shout 'no'. Even though the opposite appeared to be true. Instead, she seriously pondered the question, all the while studying the intense face in front of her. "Should I be?" she finally answered, causing Kayla face to crease into a brilliant smile.

"Nah..." Kayla motioned Liv toward the door and began leading the way down the steep staircase, the sound of the creaking steps magnified by the silent house. "Mostly good things happen in the dark."

Liv blushed. Badly.

********************

"You're kidding!" Kayla laughed.

"Nope," Liv said proudly, lifting her feet just a bit and allowing the porch swing to sway backwards.

"I guess it really pays to be a linguist sometimes, huh?"

"Well, maybe not monetarily, at least not with the Peace Corps. But it did keep me from accidentally eating monkey brains. That alone is worth my monthly student loan payment."

Kayla shifted on the swing and looked up into the moonless, starless sky. Liv was nice. Really nice. If Doug was half this nice, then Marcy was a lucky girl. She leaned forward, elbows on knees, and asked interestedly, "So how long have you been back from Africa?"

"About 3 weeks." It was easy to talk to Kayla, Liv discovered. The woman was an excellent listener, remaining active in the conversation in a passive but encouraging way.

"When I left 2 years ago I only intended on being gone for 4 months. I didn't take Dougie with me because I was convinced it was too dangerous, and, of course, he was still in school." Regret colored her voice and jade eyes, long since adjusted to the night, turned to the lapping water and jagged rocks below the overhanging porch. "Then things got out of hand, and 4 months stretched into 6, and 6 months into a year, and one day I woke up and realized I'd been gone for 2 years, with only a few isolated visits back to the States." Liv was silent for several moments wondering just how much she felt comfortable in telling Kayla. "I could have stayed longer... the work was... is... important. But it was time for me to come home."

"Doug?" Kayla guessed. The bond between the two blondes went beyond brother and sister. That much was obvious and Kayla found herself wondering why.

Liv nodded. "He needs more than Aunt Ruth can give. And I guess... I mean... I guess we need each other."

"What about your folks?"

Liv looked surprised. "Marcy never mentioned the car accident?" It had taken years for her to be able to say the words without her throat closing around them.

Kayla shrugged sheepishly. "I haven't lived at home since I graduated from high school." Marcy and I don't see all that much of each other. I travel a lot. And I think this," Kayla motioned indicating 'everything', "was her way for us to spend a bit of time together, but mostly for her to see Doug without our parents being underfoot." And I have my own reasons.

"Why here?" Liv couldn't help but shiver at the thought of where 'here' was. Some people's idea of a vacation spot was just twisted.

Kayla swallowed. She knew this would come up. But she still didn't like talking about it. "Papaw's estate finally cleared probate and I'm..." Kayla paused and glanced over to find Liv staring interestedly back at her. She'd done her best to steer the conversation toward Liv all night, but somehow the other woman had gotten Kayla talking about herself. "I mean... I'm..."

"Here to check on the property?" Liv offered, unnerved by Kayla's obvious reluctance to answer.

"Something like that. Yes." Shit!

Pale brows furrowed. Conversation was a two way street, and while Kayla was a good listener, it was her turn to do a little talking. "What does that mean, 'something like that'?"

Kayla's back stiffened.

"Something weird is going on, isn't it?" Liv accused.

"You've seen one too many spooky movies, and I'm going to bed," the darker woman offered flatly as she rose to her feet. She didn't have the time or inclination to subject herself to ridicule. "Are you coming in?"

"You're really not going to answer my question, are you?" Liv asked incredulously. What was going on with Kayla? One moment they were having a pleasant conversation... then bam! Nothing.

"No. I'm really not. Good night, Liv." Kayla dropped the lighter in Liv's lap, then disappeared into the dark house.

"Great," Liv muttered. "Now I get to try and find my room... Alone."

********************

"It has got to be here somewhere," Liv softly uttered to herself as she turned yet another corner. "Damn! I can't believe this! Why didn't I just go inside with Kayla when I had the chance?" The linguist had been wandering around the old house for nearly an hour, and still hadn't found her way back to her bedroom. She'd gone back and forth from the main to second floor several times, each time starting up what she knew to be the 'right' set of stairs. That staircase ended on the second floor, forcing her to meander through a maze of rooms and hallways in order to find the next set of stairs ascending to the third floor.

The blonde chastised herself for not paying better attention to her surroundings when she'd gone up to the third floor the first time or when she'd come back down again with Kayla. At the time, however, her eyes had been too preoccupied with the muscular thighs, shifting with each step on the stairs ahead of her, to notice much else. More proof that I'm related to Dougie. We're both as easily distracted as a dog with a bone and unwittingly attracted to weird brunettes. It must be a genetic defect.

The tiny flame managed to cast long, broken shadows down the winding hallways and easily illuminated the numerous alcoves and rooms she traveled through. The blonde had reduced the flame of the lighter to its lowest setting in order to conserve fuel, and was frankly surprised it had lasted this long. Straining her eyes, Liv paused, hoping to recognize the intricately carved oak door in front of her.

Yes, this was it. She'd stopped at this door several times before but never opened it. Now she stood outside it again, feeling the same sense of vague foreboding that she'd felt the other times. The flame from the lighter began to hiss and sputter and she knew that in a few seconds she'd be thrown into total darkness.

Liv reached for the doorknob and noticed her hand was shaking. What's wrong with me? she questioned desperately as her anxiety level rose another notch. What had been a fine sheen of perspiration, transformed into a nervous sweat, causing Liv to wipe her hand on her T-shirt. Suddenly, she had to see what was behind the heavy wooden door. She had to know. The linguist wasn't sure if it was irrational fear, curiosity, or anxiety that propelled her forward. But where she'd turned back before, this time she forged ahead.

The knob turned silently in her hand, and unlike the other doors, this one opened with a barely audible click.

Liv pushed through the doorway, the scent of sandalwood and clean, salty air flooded her senses. The window was wide open and the gauzy curtains were fluttering wildly in the damp night breeze. The lighter's golden flame died in her hands and she tucked the metal rectangle into her pocket, wincing at the heat that briefly stung the tender skin of her upper thigh. Wide, green eyes surveyed the dark room.

It was a simple room, nothing even close to sinister. Both relief and embarrassment welled up within Liv as her energy level plummeted and her heart rate slowed. She found herself fighting to stay awake, even standing up. Liv was simply too tired to be frightened of her confusing surroundings any more tonight. She could always freak out another night, she reasoned. They would be here a week. Besides, things never looked as bad in the daylight. She just had to make it until then.

The backs of her thighs brushed against a smooth surface that she immediately recognized as soft linens. A bed? I never even made it to the third floor. There must be other bedrooms on the second floor we didn't find this afternoon. God, how long ago was that?

The blonde kicked off her sneakers and removed her shorts and bra before settling into the soft bed. It didn't matter where she was. What did matter was that she could finally close her eyes and let the day's tension melt away.

Liv absently noted that the sheets had been turned down as if someone was awaiting a guest. She drew a gentle breath and recognized the linens as the source of the faint sandalwood scent. A pale head sunk into the fluffy goose-feather pillow as the relatively cool breeze washed over her and green eyes slid shut. She could hear the crashing of waves against the rocks below her window and somewhere in the back of her mind she wondered if a storm was moving in.

A faint pressure circled the tender skin on Liv's wrists. It wasn't unpleasant and it wasn't nearly enough to rouse drowsy, impossibly heavy eyelids. A handful of heartbeats later the pressure on her wrists disappeared, only to begin again a little higher. The touch was cool and soothing against Liv's warm flesh, as it slowly moved in a path along sensitive forearms and past her elbows.

Liv began to stir as the delicate fingertips trailed over her neck and cheeks, finally settling in honey-blonde tresses. An easy sigh escaped the linguist's lips when the touch reversed its course, and the pressure shifted from a delicate tracing, to firm massaging. "Mmm... Feels so good," she mumbled, enjoying her phantom masseur's caresses as well as the first twinges of arousal the touch evoked.

Long fingers carefully circled slender wrists, and with a gentle tug, spread Liv's arms wide open. Unexpectedly, the fingers that were wrapped around her wrists disappeared. But before Liv could grumble her displeasure at the loss of sensation, a firm body settled solidly atop her, causing her legs to involuntarily spread to accommodate the warm, naked thighs that were now pressing against her own.

Liv groaned her approval as lips attached themselves to her neck and she wrapped her arms around the lanky, but decidedly female, body. Soft, clean smelling hair spilled across the sides of her cheeks and jaw, and hands that were already becoming familiar by their touch pushed up her T-shirt and gently cupped aching breasts. Thumbs grazed painfully hard nipples and the smaller woman gasped, arching into the sensual touch but never opening her eyes.

A loud bang caused Liv to awake abruptly and jerk upright in the bed. Her breathing was labored and her face flushed a rosy pink. "Bu... but...?" She swallowed hastily as she tried to rein in her wildly coursing libido so she could actually form something like coherent speech. "What in...?" The words died on confused lips.

The gray light of morning was pouring in the window, illuminating the room in an almost foggy, dull haze. Doug was giving the window latch a final tug. The nervous boy actually wrung his hands as he addressed his sister. "It's past 8 a.m. I was trying to let you sleep in, but I noticed your window was open and the floor was getting all wet from the rain," he explained, desperately trying to avoid direct eye contact.

The teenager had been on his way downstairs to scrounge some breakfast when Liv's moans drew him to her room to investigate. When he pushed open the slightly ajar door, she was groaning in a way he found beyond unsettling. There were a great many things a teenage boy didn't want or need to know about his sister. What she looks like in the throes of an obviously erotic dream, just shot up to the very top of that list.

"How did you find me?" Liv sprang out of bed and began to spin in circles. As she looked around the room she saw her suitcase exactly where she'd left it yesterday evening. This was her room. Not the room she'd wandered into in the middle of the night, but the room she'd picked out the day before. What the hell?

"What do you mean 'find you'? This is right where I left you before Kayla exiled me to the opposite end of the house."

Liv ran a frantic hand through her hair, sending the shoulder length shaggy locks into further disarray. "No! No! No! I was lost!" She looked over at Doug, who was plainly confused. "Kayla and I spent half the night talking on the porch." Liv spun around once more, unable to believe she'd been in her room all along and simply hadn't recognized it in the dark. "When I tried to find my room again, I got lost somewhere on the second floor."

"Okaaaay," Doug drew out. "If you say so, Sis."

"You don't believe me, do you?"

"Well, you're here now. How do you explain that?"

A frown. "I can't."

Doug nodded, pleased with his rational argument. He really didn't want to think about what Liv was implying. The house was spooky enough without wondering whether you were going to fall asleep in one spot and wake up in another. This vacation was supposed to be about spending time with Marcy and making out in the moonlight! Not, worrying about a bunch of overgrown bushes and a rickety old house.

"I must have..." Liv blew out an exasperated breath. "I? I don't know what happened last night," she admitted as she noticed her shorts on the floor and bent over to retrieve them. Tentatively, she reached in her pocket and pulled out a shiny silver lighter. The blonde let out a relieved breath. She was starting to wonder whether the entire evening with Kayla had been a dream. But she wasn't about to complain about the last part of the dream. That she liked.

Doug's eyed the lighter appreciatively. "Very nice."

"Here." The older Hazelwood handed the boy the slender device, covered with intricate etchings. "Kayla lent it to me last night."

With a quick flick of his thumb, Doug clicked on the lighter and gazed into its strong blue-gold flame.

"Hey! It stopped working last night!" Liv snatched back the lighter and shook it. It was nearly empty but she could hear a small amount of fuel sloshing back and forth. The crease in her brow intensified. I could have sworn it was empty last night. I even remember the hissing sound when it went out.

"Are you going to wear those downstairs or do you just want Marcy and Kayla to know you still sleep in froggy underpants?" Doug pointed at Liv's white panties peeking out below the hem of her T-shirt. They were covered with hundreds of tiny green jumping frogs.

Liv wriggled her eyebrows wickedly but still slipped on her shorts. "C'mon, let's go." She motioned to the door and Doug eagerly bounded out of the room toward what he hoped would be a hearty breakfast. When Liv reached the top of the stairs, she stopped and glanced over her shoulder into her quiet bedroom.

"Dougie," she called after her rapidly disappearing teen. "I'll be down in a few minutes. I'm going to change into some clean clothes first."

"Okay, but if I eat all the donuts, no whining from you," he yelled as jumped off the last step and onto the second floor.

Liv smiled warmly. She was glad to be back with her family. She hadn't realized how much she missed his cocky grin and easy laugh, until she'd seen him again. Maybe Dougie wouldn't have to wait for college to live with her again? With her background, a decent job wouldn't be hard to find. Then she could afford a bigger apartment.

When Doug's footsteps faded away, Liv turned on her heels and padded back into her room, shutting the door tightly behind her. Her face had lost its warmth and anger darkened jade eyes. She grabbed her purse off the dresser and clutched it tightly as she moved to the bed and perched warily on its edge. Her lips shaped into a snarl as she reached into the small leather bag and removed a slender canister. Then, without warning, she propelled her purse at the closet door. A loud bang rang out in the room and the door shook in its frame.

"Get your ass out here, right now!" she growled.

There was no sound from the closet and Liv clenched her fists, trying to control her anger as she gripped the canister with malicious intent. "Come out NOW!!"

After several more tense seconds, the door silently opened.

Green eyes widened, then narrowed dangerously. "What the hell are you doing here?!"

Chapter four

"You're going to attack me with a travel-sized can of hairspray?"

Liv's fingers tightened around the can. How in hell did she know it wasn't mace?! "It could be mace!" the linguist challenged angrily.

"It could be. But it's not." Kayla turned her back to Liv and shut the closet door, hoping the action would give her heart a second or two to resume its normal rhythm. I must be losing a step. I wasn't even breathing in that closet. She couldn't have heard me. She feels it, too, I know it.

"Why were you hiding in my closet?" Liv demanded furiously as she threw the worthless canister of hairspray on the bed. Then the blonde's movements froze. A tortured groan escaped her throat as visions from her vivid 'dream' came flooding back to her. Oh God... Her eyes raked over Kayla, her mind flashing to a scene of warm bodies pressed tightly together, of roaming hands and tongues. "Last night, or this morning really, it was you wasn't it?" Liv's eyes widened at the prospect. "In my bed?"

A blush shot up Kayla's neck, turning even the tips of her ears a bright crimson. "No. Well, sort of... but not the way you think... I... I... I..." the darker woman babbled as she took a backward step away from Liv who had begun stalking her like a lion with its prey.

A mixture of fear, anger, and an unexpected surge of pure desire left Liv wondering which she wanted more... to smack Kayla upside the head, or take her right there against the bedroom wall. "Was it your hands and mouth all over me, or not?" she ground out, already knowing the answer.

Blue eyes telegraphed guilt, embarrassment and something else... But still Kayla remained silent.

Finally, the younger woman's reticence caused Liv's temper to flare once again. "You think it's appropriate to climb in bed with a total stranger while they're sleeping and then touch them?!"

Kayla winced internally, but outwardly she remained totally impassive as Liv's rant continued.

"Explain! Give me one reason why I shouldn't think you're some weirdo pervert!"

Kayla felt that last statement as though it were a physical blow, the shouted words sending a jagged crack through her rapidly crumbling veneer. As a child the neighborhood kids had taunted and teased her, calling her different, strange, a weirdo. Liv feels the same way, she thought disgustedly. The taller woman pushed off the wall and stared directly in burning green eyes. "I am NOT a pervert. And I was never in your room last night," she hissed.

Liv could feel Kayla closing herself off, once again unilaterally ending their conversation, but still she pushed forward. "That can't be true," the linguist challenged even as her anger was derailed by the almost imperceptible look of pain that swept over Kayla's chiseled features. I hurt her feelings? No! I don't care if I did! "I felt you! You were here with me. When Dougie came in he must have sent you scurrying for cover like a rat trying to find its hole."

Liv's anger hit Kayla squarely in the chest, and she cursed herself again for letting it bother her. The brunette squared her shoulders, then simply walked past Liv to the bedroom door. But before slender fingers could tighten around the doorknob, Liv grabbed her by the arm and roughly spun her around, pushing her back against the hard wooden surface.

"I want some answers, Kayla! You're not just waltzing out on me like you did last night. You're not leaving this room until you explain yourself!" she shouted, having lost any semblance of control.

In the blink of an eye the women's positions were reversed and it was Liv who was pinned by strong hands. They were both breathing raggedly, and Kayla could see Liv's pulse pounding wildly in her neck. Kayla leaned into the wide-eyed blonde until they were touching all along their bodies and spoke in a rough voice tinged with fury and rising passion. "Don't manhandle me, Liv," she growled inches from the shorter woman's face. "I don't like it."

Liv closed her eyes as she was bombarded with more mental images of strong but tender hands roaming beneath her shirt and hot breath tickling her throat. Kayla smelled like Sandalwood, and Liv's mind quickly discarded the obvious reason... that all the linens had been washed with sandalwood soap. Instead, her body refused to believe anything other than this woman had been in her bed.

"I won't push you again," Liv whispered, her voice remarkably calm considering it took nearly all her effort not to melt into the wall. She could hear the sound of her own blood rushing in her ears and if she listened carefully enough, she swore she could hear Kayla's as well. Impossible. "I'm sorry."

Kayla swallowed convulsively, suddenly finding herself with the inexplicable urge to cry. "I'm not some weirdo," she said in an achingly painful tone.

"I know," Liv assured fervently, a bit unnerved by the intensity of her own voice... the intensity of this entire exchange. And even though Kayla hadn't explained herself yet, at that very moment, Liv simply decided to trust Kayla. It was an unexpected leap of faith and Liv wasn't sure which surprised her more -- that she made it, or that it felt so good.

"You don't have to be afraid of me, Liv." Please don't be afraid of me.

Their eyes locked as the sound of the constant rain outside the window filled the silent room until Liv spoke again. "I'm not." It was the truth.

Kayla turned her head toward the bed as she exhaled shakily. "You were going to spray me with your hairspray," she finally chuckled. Blue eyes rolled. "Excuse me, your 'mace'."

Liv felt a grin tugging at her lips despite herself. This was definitely the most disturbingly uncomfortable beginning of -- she wasn't sure what the hell it was the beginning of -- that she'd ever experienced. "I didn't know it was you in the closet."

"Sure you did."

A blonde head shook. "I didn't. I..."

Kayla released Liv's arms, stepping away from the smaller woman. "If you thought a dangerous stranger was in the closet, would you really have shut yourself in the room alone with them, demanding they come out so you could spray them with Aquanet?"

"I guess it would depend on their hair, now wouldn't it?" Liv deadpanned. Then her face took on a horrified expression. "I would never use Aquanet!"

Kayla laughed and the tension between the women plummeted.

As she truly considered Kayla's question, pale brows furrowed. That was an incredibly stupid thing to do. "God, I'm as dumb-assed as those spook movie victims that go into a basement to search out a strange noise. I guess I would do that, 'cause I did."

Kayla frowned. "You're wrong, you know," she said quietly. "You knew it was me... you just didn't know it."

"What?" Liv threw her hands in the air, frustration leaking into her voice. "How is it that I can be fluent in five languages, and still not understand a word you say? And not to belabor the point, but you still haven't explained why you were hiding in my room." We'll get to the touching and kissing part later. I hope.

You know you want to show her. Just do it. "Okay, since I've done such a rotten job of explaining myself, why don't I just show you?" Kayla padded over to the closet and opened the door. A dark eyebrow rose. "Coming?"

"No thanks, I've already been in the closet. I didn't like it."

A second brow joined its twin and Kayla's lips shaped a lop-sided grin. "Do you want to see why I was in there, or not?"

Liv nodded reluctantly. "I've mentioned before that I really don't like the dark, haven't I?"

Kayla glanced over her shoulder and down at Liv. "And do you remember how I replied?"

The older woman swallowed. Oh yeah. She remembered. Liv and Kayla stepped into the long, narrow closet and Kayla reached behind Liv, pulling the door shut behind them.

********************

"Where in the heck are they?" Doug swallowed the last bit of his donut. "Liv said she just wanted to slip on some clean clothes." The young man leaned heavily against the kitchen cabinet as he drained a large glass of milk.

Marcy stood to join him, laying her hand on his still broadening shoulder. "Have you seen Kayla yet this morning?"

"Nope." Not that he minded. He was enjoying this time alone with Marcy. But wondering when Kayla might suddenly walk in on them was making him nervous. And he wasn't even doing anything wrong!

"Maybe they're together," Marcy speculated hopefully.

Doug frowned. "Why would they be together? I told you, Liv's getting dressed." Doug picked up another donut. "Besides, I don't think they're really hitting it off. Yesterday every time Liv said something to your sister all Kayla did was grunt in her direction. And whenever Kayla does say something, Liv practically bites her head off." Doug shook his head. "It's going to be a long week for those two."

Marcy's shoulders slumped. "Maybe you were wrong about Liv?"

"Wrong about what?"

"You know... about that." Marcy emphasized the last word with a seductive purr.

Doug laughed and began choking on his pastry, causing his curly dishwater locks to bounce wildly. "Maybe you were wrong about Kayla. But I know Liv prefers women," he coughed out through a smile.

"How do you know? Did she just come out and tell you?"

Doug bent over the sink and filled his cup with cool water. Taking a long swallow, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand while Marcy gave his chest a small pat, acknowledging that his choking must have been painful. "Yep. I heard Liv and Aunt Ruth fighting about some friend of Liv's named Cindy before she left for Africa. Aunt Ruth was not only loud but... um...," Doug tried to rub the blush from his face with a nervous hand, "...quite explicit." Finally he gave up and dropped his hands. "There was no chance of me misunderstanding. So I just asked Liv if what Aunt Ruth accused her of was true and she said yes."

"You didn't know before? Jesus, Doug, you'd been living with Liv since you were six years old!"

"She never went out more than a few times a year. And when she did, a neighbor would baby-sit me. How was I supposed to know exactly who she was going with!" the teen added defensively. "Besides, thinking about Liv doing it with anyone makes me gag."

"What?!" Marcy exclaimed indignantly. "That is so narrow minded..."

"Marcy..." Doug interrupted his girlfriend. "Picture your parents having sex."

"Ewwwww!!!!!"

He made a face. "See what I mean?"

"But she is still your sister."

Doug shrugged one shoulder. "She's the only mother I remember."

Marcy pulled Doug into a strong hug, sorry she'd brought up the subject.

"So where is this Cindy person now?" she inquired, remembering Liv's comment about the 'love free zone' and wanting to change the subject.

"I think she's still in Africa. Liv stopped mentioning her months ago."

The darker teen nodded. "Good."

"Marrrrcy." Doug meant it as a warning.

"What?" the girl replied innocently, batting long lashes.

"Maybe it's your sister who..."

"Oh puuleezz!" the tall girl rolled gray, laughing eyes. "I may not be as close to Kayla as you are to Liv, but I'm not totally blind either."

Doug's gaze drifted to the window. "The rain's stopped. Do you think Kayla will let us take the boat to the mainland so we can go out this afternoon? Maybe we could go to the movies something?"

Just then, the house let out a settling groan that caused both teenagers to jump and huddle together.

"Nothing scary, though, okay?" Marcy pleaded.

"I was just thinking the same thing," Doug chuckled nervously as he suppressed the immediate urge to find his sister so she could tell him to quit being such a big baby.

********************

"Don't be such a big baby!" Kayla whispered when Liv nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of the closet door closing.

"I'm not!" Liv whispered back, straining her eyes to see the other woman. "Why are we whispering?"

The taller woman blinked. "Umm... I don't know," she offered grumpily in her normal tone of voice.

For the next few seconds the small closet was silent. "Well, here we are in a dark closet together," Liv reminded, tapping her foot several times for emphasis.

"Do you still have??"

With a quick flick of Liv's thumb, a tiny flame illuminated the cramped room. "I was going to give it back today. We don't have much time, it's almost out of fuel." Green eyes darted around the cramped room, then settled on Kayla. "What exactly am I supposed to be looking at?"

"Turn around."

Liv immediately obeyed, spinning to face the back of the closet.

"Push."

"Push what, Kayla? I'm up against the wall as it is." Liv was beginning to feel uncomfortable in the tiny, enclosed space, her breaths coming more and more rapidly. Before she could utter a word of protest, Kayla placed a comforting hand on her shoulder then reached around Liv with her other hand, and gave the wall a strong push.

Nothing happened.

Liv exhaled loudly. "If this is your idea of a joke, Kayla, it is so NOT funny."

Letting go of Liv's shoulder, Kayla added her other hand to the effort, and leaned forward putting her body weight into the second shove.

A sudden blast of cool air tickled Liv's face, blowing her hair over her shoulders as the back of the wall swung away revealing a pitch-black corridor. "Holy shit!" Liv sucked in a breath of stale, dank air. With a slight nudge from Kayla, the blonde took a tentative step into the inky passageway, turning up the lighter's flame to its highest setting and peering out as far as the dim light cut into the darkness. "Where does this lead?"

Kayla shrugged. "I dunno. Our rooms are right next to each other. I discovered a hidden door in my own closet, and ended up in your closet. I had just found this door..." Kayla patted the wall which was really a hidden door to the hallway "...when you yelled for me to get out... NOW." It's mostly the truth. "I haven't gone exploring... yet." Excitement threaded her voice as she inched closer to Liv.

The flame flickered out, and the closet went black. Liv's unhappy moan was interrupted by Kayla's not so subtle push forward. But the smaller woman's feet were firmly rooted to the ground.

"What are you waiting for?!" Kayla asked anxiously. "Don't you want to see what's down the hallway?"

"Hell no, I don't. At least not in the dark." Liv was a little embarrassed by her obvious fear. But even in the midst of her own apprehension, she found herself strangely enticed, wanting to know what lay in the darkness beyond. "I... would..." She paused, firming her resolve. "I'll go with you, but we need a flashlight." You were exploring this alone in the dark? You're nuts. The sound of tiny paws scurrying in the distance sent Liv stumbling backwards, reaching for Kayla. Off balance, the smaller woman ended up pushing them both back into the closet.

"Umfphhh..."

"Oh? There you are." Liv smiled awkwardly as she untangled herself from Kayla, who was pinned against the back of the closet door. "Sorry."

Kayla flexed her trampled foot. "Where else would I be?" she shot back more roughly than she intended, unable to completely let go of the anger and hurt from their earlier argument and frustrated by Liv's reasonable desire to wait to explore the hallway.

Her words were greeted with total silence.

Liv sighed to herself, feeling a pang of guilt about the way she behaved earlier. Since when do I jump to conclusions and call people names? I've been so edgy since we got here. I hurt her feelings and she's angry. I'm sorry, she anguished silently.

"No, I'm the one who's sorry," Kayla said softly, knowing full well what she'd just done, and praying it wasn't a horrendous mistake. It always was. But this time might be different. I need it to be.

Green eyes widened as Liv felt her stomach drop. "Oh my God. You just read my mind!" This time, it wasn't a question.

********************

The late summer rain had brought an abrupt end to Virginia's staggering heat wave; the air was finally on this side of tolerable. Seemingly overnight, the island's tangled, dense vegetation had added a rich shade of green to its muddy russet and ebony hues. The wind had tapered to a light breeze, and several hours of continuous rain and heavy winds caused waves of dark, murky water to break vigorously against the salt stained wooden dock.

"Doug, this is not a good idea," Marcy said, even as she was stepping into the rocking aluminum boat and tightening the straps on her life jacket.

"The rain's stopped. We can't find Kayla or Liv. And we want to go into town." Doug shrugged, trying not to look as guilty as he was already feeling; other than a cursory peek into their room, they hadn't made much of an effort to find their sisters. "We'll have a great time and be back on the island before dark."

"Annnd," Marcy drew out the word. "Don't forget the part where Kayla tears out your liver and uses it as bait."

Doug flashed a smile filled with the indestructibility and arrogance of youth. "Oh, I know they're both gonna have a cow." I am NOT afraid of Kayla and Liv! Okay, I am. But Kayla already hates me and I'll make it up to Liv, assuming I'm still alive, that is. "But we don't have to worry about that until tonight." Doug patted his bulging back pocket. "I took Liv's cell phone. Kayla has one of these, right?"

The dark hair teen nodded.

"We can call them from the mainland so they won't worry."

Marcy's worried, slightly guilty look eased. "Why don't we just call them now?"

"Huh?"

"Kayla always carries her phone with her."

"Excellent!" Doug reached out and grasped Marcy's hand, pulling her out of the boat and onto the wet dock, her sneakers splashing in the long shallow puddles that dotted the rickety structure. He was already relieved that he could 'ask' before taking out the boat without looking 'chicken' in front of Marcy. "What's the number?"

The tall teen winced, biting her lower lip. "That would really help, wouldn't it?"

********************

"Let's talk," Kayla suggested, drawing a disbelieving snort for the shorter woman.

Liv couldn't help but smile when she heard a faintly accented "smartass" mumbled in the darkness.

Kayla maneuvered around the linguist. "We might as well take the short cut to my room." Instead of opening the closet door at her back, Kayla pushed on a side wall that gave way easily. Kayla's closet door stood open, and the dull light from the window beyond caused both women to squint and shield their eyes as they entered the room.

"Here..." Kayla smoothed the already immaculately made bed and motioned for Liv to sit at the foot. The brunette nervously licked dry lips as Liv sat down. Okay. I can do this. Kayla opened her mouth to speak but left it hanging open when the words failed to come. After several uncomfortable seconds she turned away from Liv and began pacing, desperately thinking of a way to tell Liv so that Liv would both believe and understand.

Liv waited, the gnawing deep in her own guts building until she feared she would upchuck from pure stress. With effort, she tore her eyes from Kayla and looked around the room that was identical to her own.

A medium sized bag sat in the corner of the room alongside the two large metal boxes Kayla seemed so protective of. On one box, a map was neatly spread out, its edges being held down by a compass and brass candlestick. In the center of the map were several pencils, a ruler, and a pair of dark-framed reading glasses. I wonder what she looks like in the glasses.

As she turned to face Liv, Kayla opened her mouth for the second time, and once again, when verdant eyes focused on hers... waiting, the words died on Kayla's lips. Shit! I'm a moron!

Finally, when Liv couldn't stand watching the other woman's discomfort for another second, she interrupted Kayla's movements. "Enough!" she abruptly announced. "You're making me so nervous I can hardly stand it! You don't have to tell me anything if you don't want to."

Kayla stopped dead in her tracks. "But..."

"It's okay. Now I know why you were in my closet."

"But..."

"I'm sorry I accused you of hiding in my room. I was... I mean... I was a little disoriented when I woke up this morning and I... um... had an unsettling dream." A pink blush began working its way up Liv's neck.

Unsettling? A faint smirk teased Kayla's lips before she sobered. "You're not going to press me for answers?" she questioned skeptically. She knew Liv was about to go insane from wanting them.

Liv stood and moved to Kayla's window, staring out of the smudged dirty glass, but not really seeing, unable to believe what she was about to say. She was dying to know more about the beautiful woman -- who she was -- what she was thinking when sky blue eyes snapped or sparkled or laughed. But most of all, she wanted to understand the nearly electric energy that somehow poured off the tall woman -- and why, just occasionally, Kayla appeared to be able to meld her mind with Liv's, allowing her to be privy to the linguist's private thoughts. "No. I'm not going to press." Crap, crap, crap!

Kayla cocked her head to the side. "Do you hear that?"

Liv was just about to shake her head 'no' when she heard a faint humming. No, more like a buzzing noise. Her gaze drifted downward and she saw the boat with her brother and Marcy aboard, pulling away from the dock. "Shit!" Liv whirled around, glaring at Kayla as her hands moved to her hips. "Did you say they could take the boat out alone?!"

"Of course not!"

The women locked eyes for a split second before they flew out of the room after their wayward siblings. With each step Liv muttered another angry curse, pausing only when she needed the extra breath to keep up with Kayla's longer strides. The taller woman was taking the steps three at a time.

By the time they reached the decrepit dock, the boat had disappeared under the low hanging branches that framed the island's edge.

"God Dammit!" This time it was Kayla's flashing eyes that pinned Liv. "If anything happens to her?"

"It will be her fault as much as Dougie's!" Liv interrupted. "She was driving the boat, for Christ's sake! So don't go blaming this all on Dougie!"

Kayla's face flushed a bright crimson as she thought of a suitable retort. Problem was, she knew Liv was right.

"Dougie's ass is grass!" Liv said angrily as she turned and slowly made her way back to the house.

Kayla kicked a piece of driftwood out of her path, sending it flying into the bushes alongside Liv. "Trust me. He won't be alone."

The very faint echo of thunder sounded in the distance causing both women to stop and cock their heads towards the barely audible sound.

The taller woman sighed. "Do you think they're smart enough to turn around?"

Liv glanced over her shoulder at Kayla, lifting a pale eyebrow meaningfully.

"I didn't think so." A deep frown creased Kayla's face. "I hope they took enough money for a motel."

Liv stopped so abruptly her feet dug into muddy ground. "What?! Are you crazy?"

Sky blue eyes gazed out to the open sea, then the horizon. "According to yesterday's weather report, we're supposed to have a nasty storm late this afternoon. That?" She pointed in the direction of the thunder, "? was just the edge of the front. It should pass to the east of us for now."

Liv moved closer to Kayla, looking over the lightly churning ocean, a dull worrying ache settling in her chest. She looked to Kayla, hoping she was wrong. "So if they don't come back in the next few hours, they won't make it back at all?"

A jagged flash of lightning pierced the gray horizon. "At least not today."

Continued in Part 2.



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