~ Destined To Be ~
by Aurelia

DISCLAIMER: This is an original work of fiction. All characters are the property of the author and cannot be used without permission.

This is the seventh installment of the tales of Priory/Jacey and Dylan/Rhea.

THANKS: To Heather, who lets me go out and play in the sandpit while she does grownup Beta stuff. I've decided to practice my sand sculpting skills while I wait.
FEEDBACK: I'm always open to comments, preferably nice ones, so let me know what you think at: aurelia_fan@yahoo.com.au, or visit my Yahoo Group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/aurelia_fan/.

© November 2009

Chapter 1. Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

It was a dark and stormy night.

It was a well-worn cliché but that's how things were. A lone figure stood at the curtained window of a first floor one-room bedsitter and looked out over the deserted street. The lace curtain was moved aside to allow the observer to study the shadowed scene more closely.

There were maybe six cars parked in the street, abandoned to the elements while their owners were inside their homes, probably eating their meals, sitting in front of the fire, listening to the radio, or indulging in far more intimate pursuits.

The figure at the window lifted her hand to her mouth, her lips wrapping around one end of the lit cigarette she had been smoking. The tip glowed for a moment before a curl of smoke drifted upwards, disappearing into the darkness above.

She looked over her shoulder at the fire in the fireplace for a moment from her place beside the window, before returning her attention to the falling rain outside. Tomorrow was going to be a big day. She let the lace slip from her fingers before she moved across the room to stand in front of the fire.

Things had become desperate for her lately and if she failed to secure the job she had applied for today there was only one avenue for her. She had always said that she would die first before she lowered herself to prostitution but the landlord was about to knock on her door and she only had food for another day or so. She looked at the cigarette rapidly burning away between her fingers, taking one last drag on the stub before flicking it into the fireplace.

She moved to the bed and lifted the pair of scissors lying there. Her gaze drifted over the clothes spread out over the bedspread, and she once again questioned the audacity of her plan. Her prospective employer had been uncertain about hiring a woman but he gave her twenty-four hours to come up with a solution.

She took a few steps to stand in front of the cracked mirror and lifted the scissors to her hair, hesitating for a moment to observe the young woman looking back at her. The shadowed face in the mirror was considered by many to be beautiful, but right now to her it was a hindrance. With or without makeup, there was no hiding the natural beauty that she possessed. Her high cheekbones and flawless skin were inherited from her mother's side of the family while her smart mouth came from her father. It was a lethal combination that often got her into trouble.

If her parents saw what she was about to do they'd disown her. But it was too late for that now. Four years too late.

The scissors hovered over a hank of dark hair as she contemplated tomorrow. This was a drastic measure for the sake of a possible job but it was worth the risk. The scissor blades came together and a hand full of hair came away. She looked at the dark locks sitting in her palm. "Goodbye Marisa," she said to the image in the mirror. The scissors moved with great purpose, clipping away the mass of dark hair sitting around her shoulders. "Welcome?" she thought for a moment. It had been difficult trying to decide on a name for her new persona, opting to go with one name only. A surname, she had decided, was too much of an invitation for someone to try and track down her origins. "?Dylan." She spoke the word tentatively, as if trying the name on her tongue for the first time.

The excess hair was gone, leaving behind a reasonable facsimile of a male haircut of the era. Dylan turned her head to one side, then the other, trying to decide whether she could live with it. Not that she had a choice now. Dylan picked up her hair off the floor and put it in the waste basket. Along with the hair went her past, discarded for the sake of survival.

She picked up the clothes scattered across the bedspread and put them on the chair next to the bed. With uncharacteristic grace she dropped onto the mattress. There was so much riding on tomorrow and she was emotionally exhausted. Dylan lay on her back, placed her hands behind her head and looked up at the ceiling.

If everything fell apart tomorrow she had nowhere to turn. Going home was not possible. The fight she had with her father four years ago left her in no doubt that she would not be welcome home ever again. It was only the serendipitous meeting with her cousin in the street two days ago that had given her the opportunity to gain a steady job. Johnny, like her, had been expelled by the family for being the black sheep and, like her, he was forced to survive as best he could.

Dylan would have to put her morals away for another time because this job involved someone who sat on the fence between legality and criminality. She didn't want to be part of the twenty-odd percent of the population out of work and out on the street, and while the papers may have announced that The Great Depression was over, the rest of the world didn't know it yet.

* * *

A dapper-looking gentleman strode down the street in the morning sun, hands in pockets and down-turned head covered by a shabby fedora. Shadowed eyes looked one way then the other, covertly observing life on the street. The mysterious figure stopped in front of a door in a side alley, which led to the first floor above a speakeasy, and rapped on the wood twice.

It took a moment for the door to be answered. "Yeah?" A heavyset middle-aged man addressed the figure standing in the doorway.

"I'm here to see Rocco." The voice was deep and rough.

"He doesn't see just anyone, pal." The goon was about to dismiss him when a hand came up and pushed against the door.

"Marisa sent me." The door was forced open and the hooded figure walked up the steps.

"Who?" The goon tried to catch up with the fast-moving figure traveling up the stairs.

"Marisa. Marisa Conroy. The woman who saw Rocco yesterday?"

"Oh, the dame. Yeah, sure." He nodded in confirmation as he neared the first floor. He reached the top step and stopped to catch his breath. "What's the hurry?"

"None," Dylan said, "unless you plan to throw me down the stairs."

"And if I am?" he asked.

"Don't try it," she warned.

"What's going on out there?" The muffled question came from behind a frosted door across the sparsely decorated first floor landing.

"Nuthin' boss. Some Dapper Dan here wants to see you."

"Get rid of him!"

"Marisa sent me," Dylan called out before the goon had a chance to carry out the order. "She said you needed a driver."

The door flew open, bouncing against the wall and shaking the glass ominously. "Marisa?"

"The dame yesterday, boss," the goon offered.

Standing the doorway was Rocco Rizzoli, would-be gangster. A portly man of five foot ten inches, Rocco was the same height as Dylan but had at least forty pounds extra on her. He looked straight into her eyes and his brow creased in confusion. "Come in," he said quietly. Rocco turned around and went back into the office, expecting the visitor to follow behind. When his bodyguard made a move to join them Rocco announced, "Bobby wait outside, will you?"

Bobby grunted at Dylan as he closed the door, letting her know that he was right outside the door if she tried anything.

Rocco sat down behind his desk but didn't offer the stranger a seat. "What's this all about?"

"Marisa sent me," Dylan answered.

"So you keep saying. What's that to do with me?" Rocco placed his hands together, his fingers meeting and splaying outward.

"You told Marisa to come up with a plan. She did."

"So why isn't she here instead of you? The offer only covered her. An old friend asked for a favor but it didn't include you."

Johnny's involvement suddenly become clear to Dylan. When they had met on the street he had slipped her a few bills to tie her over. Now she knew where that money had come from. Still, without it she wouldn't have been able to buy the discarded suit from a goodwill shop and continue the charade.

Dylan removed her hat and held it in her hands. She let her voice soften to its normal pitch as she spoke. "Well I'm here as requested."

Rocco's eyes narrowed for a moment, then widened as he realized who he was talking to. "Miss Conroy?" he asked tentatively.

"Uh huh."

Rocco stood up and moved around his desk, looking Dylan up and down as he slowly circled her. "That's some getup."

"I was desperate."

"What did you do to your hair?" He inspected the cropped top.

Dylan's hand came up and brushed her collar. "Cut it. I can't be a man with long hair. I could do without this gunk though." She pulled her hand away and wiped away the residual hair gel on her trouser leg.

"First thing to learn, honey, is don't wipe the grease on your pants. It leaves a mark." Rocco informed her.

Dylan looked down and saw what he meant. There was a dark streak up the side of her trouser leg. She brushed at it but it refused to budge.

"That won't help. Carry a rag in your pocket to wipe your hands."

"So does that mean I've got the job?" she asked hopefully.

"What do you know about cars?"

It was a question that Dylan thought he should have asked yesterday but they didn't get past the fact that she was a woman.

"I had a couple of brothers who tinkered around cars. They taught me a thing or two." Dylan remembered only too well what her dad thought about that. Girls didn't fix cars, they fixed dinner. But she wanted to be more than what her gender dictated, and staying at home under her father's thumb wasn't going to change that. "I can handle this."

Rocco looked at her thoughtfully, as if weighing up his options. "You sure got moxie, sweetheart. I'm going to regret this, aren't I?"

"I'll try not to embarrass you Mr. Rizzoli."

"Do you know how to drive a Buick?"

"I suppose I'll find out," she said.

"Bobby!" Rocco called out for his right-hand man.

The door opened and the large man stood in the doorway. "Yeah boss?"

"Take, errrr?" Rooco looked at Dylan for a name.

"Dylan," she replied.

"Dylan down to the car."

"Sure, boss."

"And what am I to do with the Buick?" Dylan wasn't quite sure what was going on. "Does this mean I've got the job?"

Rocco's eyes twinkled in the artificial light of the wall lamp. "Not just yet, Dylan. Let's just say it's a trial period, and if you don't bang up the car then you've got the job." He leaned back in his chair. "Take the car and gas it up at Martelli's down on Washington. Tell them to put it on the tab."

"But, boss-"

"Bobby! But nuthin'. I want to see if Dylan here can handle the car. That's not a problem, is it?" Rocco silently ordered Bobby to remain quiet.

"Sure," Dylan glanced from Rocco to Bobby and back again, "no problem."

Just as she was about to follow Bobby out of the room, Rocco called to her, "Do you have a license?"

"License? Oh, no." Dylan felt that there was no point in getting a license when she couldn't afford a car. That wasn't to say that she didn't know how to drive.

"I'll make a call or two and arrange one." Rocco said matter-of-factly. "What's your last name?"

"I don't have one," Dylan said.

"You need a last name for the license." He replied. "Conroy?" he said slowly. "That's not very Italian."

"I was trying to protect my family from anything stupid that I did." It was as close to the truth as she was going to get. It was more to protect herself from the 'I told you so's' she would be barraged with in the afterlife. No, that wasn't it either. She just didn't want to disappoint them, despite everything that happened right before she left for good. "Corelli. Marisa Corelli. Johnny's my cousin."

"Johnny's a good man. Reliable." Rocco added. "Done me a favor or two in the past so I was happy to do what I could. It's up to you now, Dylan, as to whether or keep that job."

"You can count on me, Mr. Rizzoli."

"Call me 'boss'. Everyone else does." Rocco's head swung to one side to indicate the stairs. "Now get going."

"Sure thing? boss." Dylan raised her hand in farewell as she followed Bobby to the exit. As they descended the stairs Dylan asked, "So what don't I know here?"

"Huh?" Bobby answered over his shoulder.

"You were about to say something when Rocco stopped you." Dylan's gaze stayed on the stairs she was climbing down. The light was dim and she didn't want to start a positive day with a fall.

"Nuthin'," he mumbled. "I had nuthin' to say." Bobby pushed open the door and walked out, forcing Dylan to catch the door and let herself out. He took a left turn and went down the narrow alleyway to the back of the building and a small car park.

"There she is," Bobby said as he pointed to the sedan sitting in the corner.

"Niicceeee," Dylan said before letting out a low whistle. "A 1933 Buick Series 90 Club Sedan." She wandered around the vehicle and studied it with a keen eye. One of the things her brothers taught her was to appreciate a good car, and especially a well looked after one. She had decided a while ago that she could tell the worth of a man by the vehicle that he drove. What Rocco drove wasn't a cheap car by any means but it wasn't ostentatious either. It was a solid, practical car that would give its owner years of good service. "Built-in trunk," she commented as she moved around the back of the car, "It's a 33-ninety-one model with one thirty-eight wheel base." She looked at Bobby waiting patiently nearby. "Top speed of ninety-one?"

"Don't know. Never driven it that fast," he answered. "You better go get that gas."

The intonation in his words made Dylan look harder at him. "Sure." She took the keys from his outstretched hand and made herself comfortable in the driver's seat. Despite being two years old the car was in an excellent condition, apart from the smell of cigarette smoke that permeated the inside of the vehicle.

Dylan sat there for a moment and absorbed the enormity of the situation. She was going to drive a car? alone. One of her brothers was always in the vehicle with her in the past but now she was on her own. She cast a cursory glance over the dashboard, deciding that it wouldn't be any harder to drive than the junkers she had driven in the back paddock of her home.

She slid the key into the ignition and turned it on. The answering rumble from the engine brought a smile to her lips. She loved the raw power of a car and her ability to control it. It was fast, it was dangerous and it sent her pulse racing. Her foot pressed down on the accelerator and the car growled harder.

Before Bobby had a chance to say anything more Dylan put the car in gear, drove out of the car yard and onto the street running alongside the speakeasy. A patrolling police car left her idling at the intersection, waiting for the law to be out of sight before she made a left onto Marshall Avenue. Carefully she maneuvered the Buick up the street. Her future employment depended on not only returning the car full of gas but also returning it in pristine condition.

Dylan watched the side streets pass by. Kensington? Ellis? Masters? Finally Washington Avenue came into view and she turned the vehicle right, and into the side street. The wide avenue was bordered on either side by narrow two-storey dwellings that were prevalent in the area. Not familiar with the area, Dylan hoped that she was heading in the right direction. Just as she was about to turn around and go back to Marshall Avenue a building caught her eye.

'Martelli's' it said. The gas station seemed out of place in the mass of houses surrounding it. Dylan carefully maneuvered the large vehicle into the driveway and up to one of the three pumps out the front of the filling station. She caught movement in her side mirror and saw a mechanic emerge from the large garage attached to the gas station. He reached into the back pocket of his overalls and took out an old rag to wipe his greasy hands. As Dylan sat and watched him in the side-view mirror she saw him hesitate and then call out. She climbed out of the car as a second mechanic emerged from the garage.

"Hello," she said huskily. "Can you fill her up?" She thought she had asked something rather mundane but by the looks on the men's faces she was wondering if she had asked for the moon.

The first mechanic approached her. "You had that car long?" he asked accusingly.

"No. Just borrowed it today. Why?" Was she in trouble?

"You know the person who owns this car?"

"Yeah, I work for him." Dylan looked from one man to another and she didn't like what she saw. "Look, if it's going to be a problem?"

"Oh, no problem." The second mechanic called out, "Archie!"

Dylan held up her hands. "I don't want any trouble."

"Don't worry, it's no trouble pretty boy," the first mechanic sneered as his other hand reached into his other back pocket. He pulled out a spanner and held it in his fist like a weapon.

"Now hang on. What's going on? Do you treat all your customers like this?" Dylan wondered how quickly she could escape. At best, she could probably get inside the car before they jumped her.

"Only those who work for Rizzoli. You tell that scum that he's not welcome here."

"Whoa there! Who said I worked for Rizzoli?" She wondered how they knew.

"I recognize the license plate, smart ass. That piece of crap ain't welcome here."

Dylan's blood boiled. She had been set up. "Fine, I'll tell him but there's no reason for violence," Dylan explained. At that moment the third mechanic known as Archie appeared and he had a large metal pipe in one large hand.

"We want to make sure that Rizzoli gets the right message," the second mechanic said, his fingers curling and tightening into fists.

Dylan barely had time to throw off her hat before the fight began. Mechanic number two threw himself at her, his fist connecting with her jaw. She staggered back and slammed against the car. A jolt of pain crossed her back and knocked the breath out of her, stopping her from blocking another punch, this time to her cheekbone. Dylan brought up her foot and pushed the man away.

Her brothers had taught her a few moves in case someone tried to molest her but she didn't think this was what they had in mind. A sexual predator was one thing but three against one was a little more than she bargained for, especially when the three were armed and intent on beating the crap out of her.

The first mechanic came at her with the spanner, growling and swinging it down over his head and towards her body. She rolled out of the way to safety but the resounding bang left her in no doubt where the spanner ended up. So much for returning the car undamaged... Dylan rolled her body back quickly, squashing the spanner in the mechanic's hand and forcing him to drop it. It clattered to the ground noisily. Without thought Dylan attacked, her fist connecting with the man's nose. He staggered back, his hands closing over his bloody face.

"Get him!" one of them yelled. Dylan was too busy to notice who spoke, but it didn't matter. The mechanic called Archie poked at her with the pipe and knocked her off her feet. She lay on the ground propped up against the white-wall tire of her vehicle. Three pairs of legs came into her view and moved slowly towards her. There was no shuffling or hurried movement, only a slow saunter towards her with purpose. They thought, like she did, that the battle was over and it was only a matter of meting out punishment.

But Dylan was pissed. She hadn't started this fight but she sure as hell wasn't going to go down quietly either. The discarded spanner brushed her fingers and before she had a chance to think about what it was it was in her hand. The three mechanics were a foot away and she struck, swinging the spanner in an arc to catch the six legs across the shins. Three howls filled the sky as she scrambled to stand upright. She took the opportunity and launched her own attack, swinging the spanner down on unprotected heads and arms and finishing them off with a well-placed kick to the groin.

Dylan staggered back to the car and leaned against the hood for a moment to catch her breath. One hand came up and brushed across her mouth. She wasn't surprised to see her own blood on her hand but there was little that she could do about it at that moment. Wiping her hand on her trousers, Dylan deliberately walked around to the back of the car and unscrewed the petrol cap.

"Hey!" the first mechanic wheezed from his position on the ground.

"Shut up!" Dylan growled. She reached for the pump hose and inserted the nozzle into the tank. Blithely ignoring the plight of the wounded men on the ground Dylan filled the car with petrol herself, smiling when the satisfying ding from the pump hit the air as another gallon filled the car. When the tank was full she cut off the pump and put the hose back in its cradle.

Dylan looked at the carnage she had caused as she picked up her discarded hat. The men were sitting up now, taking in gulps of air to get the pain under control. She didn't waste too much time gloating over her victory because that would be foolish. Every moment she waited was a moment more they had to recover. As she climbed back into the driver's seat Dylan commented, "Put it on the tab, will you?" She drove off as a string of epithets filled the air and a small crowd of onlookers watched her drive away.

Dylan drove for a few blocks before pulling over to the curb. She looked at her hands resting on the steering wheel and noticed a slight tremor. The attack had shaken her up in more ways than one. She wasn't sure whether it was the attack by perfect strangers at the filling station or the fact that Rocco deliberately sent her into danger that upset her the most. She reached for a cigarette but found her pocket empty. "Shit!" The expletive came out harshly as she vented her anger. As much as she wanted to just junk Rocco's car it was not a wise idea to piss off a gangster. But oh she wanted to?

She put the car in gear and drove until she found a drugstore, deliberately slamming the car door when she got out of it. She only had a little money left in her pocket from Johnny's generosity, and she knew she should keep it for an emergency, but at this point she didn't care. And that was the problem. When she was angry she got reckless, usually ending up doing something stupid. This time she settled for some antiseptic, sticking plaster and a packet of cigarettes.

Up to this point she hadn't bothered looking in the mirror to see what the damage to her face was. It wasn't excruciatingly painful so she knew nothing was broken but the dull ache of her jaw, the sting of her lip and the tightening over her cheek were all annoying enough to irritate her.

Dylan resisted the urge to look as she drew on the cigarette. She felt a little uneasy standing in the street to light up but she was more than happy to fill the car with smoke. It couldn't be any worse than what she could smell in there already.

The rear view mirror beckoned to her and she gave into temptation, tilting the mirror so she could see herself. Dylan looked at herself with a critical eye, turning her head one way and then the other, and decided that she had been lucky to walk away from the fight with a cut here and a bruise there.

Steadily Dylan worked her way through the cigarette, allowing the smoke to fill her lungs for a moment before exhaling. It was on the last draw of the cigarette that she noticed her knuckles. While she absently inhaled and exhaled the smoke she studied the scraped skin, deciding they would also need attention when she got home.

She had wasted enough time with the cigarette and now it was time to face Rocco. The cigarette had done its job, both to cure the craving she had for one and, maybe more importantly, it gave her a chance to calm down. Lowering the window, Dylan flicked the butt onto the sidewalk before reaching for the key to start the car.

The trip back to Rocco's was short? too short for Dylan's liking. As she walked up the alleyway toward the door to Rocco's first-floor office a number of thoughts occupied her. She was trying to decide how to tackle the problem because it was a problem, and she wasn't sure it was a problem that she could put up with.

Dylan knocked on the door and waited for Bobby to answer it. He opened it and looked at her in surprise.

"What the hell happened to you?" His question seemed sincere.

"I need to see Rocco," Dylan said as she pushed by Bobby.

"He's not alone," Bobby called from the bottom of the stairs.

"I don't care," Dylan growled as she reached the top of the staircase. She didn't wait for Rocco's man to join her, instead striding across the foyer and reaching for the doorknob. As the door opened Dylan began her tirade. "You piece of shit!" she bellowed.

"Get out of here! I'm busy!" Rocco countered.

Dylan pushed the door hard and it closed with a bang, causing the glass to vibrate ominously. "Not until I'm finished!" Dylan gave a cursory glance around the room for whoever Rocco was talking to. A petit blonde sat in one of his chairs by the wall and looked out of place in the sleazy surroundings. The dainty hat on her head completed the demure ensemble that she wore. The woman was dressed more for church than she was for a speakeasy.

"No, dammit!" All the yelling brought Bobby into the room. "You set me up!" Dylan wasn't a smart woman but she recognized a setup when she saw one.

"What are you talking about?"

"Martelli's. You knew damned well what would happen!" She took off her hat so Rocco could see the damage done to her face. "Is this what you had in mind?"

"I don't-"

"Don't you dare say you didn't know!" Dylan couldn't believe the man's audacity.

"Fine." Rocco held up his hands. "I had to know if you could handle yourself."

"And what if they had killed me, huh? Was that the price you were prepared to pay?" Dylan turned her attention to Bobby. "And you knew, didn't you?" Bobby didn't answer but dropped his head instead. Dylan addressed Rocco again, "You can keep your crappy job." She threw the keys at him and hit him in the chest. "You still owe Johnny that favor because you certainly didn't do any for me." Dylan turned on her heel and walked toward the door.

"What happened?" Rocco asked.

Dylan reached for the doorknob and opened the door. She was half-way through it when she answered him. "You owe Martelli a buck twenty." As there was nothing more to be said Dylan left, descending the stairs quickly before anyone could stop her.

She stood on the sidewalk outside the speakeasy and looked up the street one way and down the other. Her emotions were in turmoil and she was exhausted. Her hand automatically went to her pocket and before she knew it a lit cigarette was between her lips. This time she didn't care about the uneasiness of smoking in public. That emotion would have to wait in line behind her anger and indignation.

The scrapes and pains were settling in her body to a dull ache as she walked along the street toward home. Despite the warm sunny weather it was a day that she wanted to forget. Hindsight was a wonderful thing if she could make use of it, but she didn't have that luxury. She resisted the urge to reach into her pocket for the pack of cigarettes.

Dylan was lost in her own thoughts walking block after block until she reached a trolley car to take her the two miles to her neighborhood. When she climbed aboard the car was noisy, crowded and annoying. She pulled the fedora down low over her eyes, sending a silent signal to everyone around her to leave her alone.

Finally her stop came in sight and she was glad for the relative silence of the street when the trolley car continued on its route. Without much thought she stopped in front of her favorite diner and opened the door. She had just sat down when a waitress approached her.

"And what would you like?"

"Ahhh," Dylan took off her hat and placed it beside her. "Coffee thanks?" She barely caught herself from calling the waitress by name.

"Sure thing," the waitress replied as she jotted down the order then walked away.

Dylan gazed out the window, one hand lying across her mouth and her elbow resting on the tabletop. What the hell was she going to do? The job that was going to solve all her problems was now lost. Mouthing off at the boss made sure of that.

"Here's your coffee."

Dylan removed her hand from her face and looked up at the waitress. "Thanks, errr?" Dylan made a show of looking at the woman's nameplate, although she was well acquainted with it. "?Daisy."

The waitress stopped and looked closely at her. "Do? do I know you?"

"Nope. Just passing through." Dylan said casually, inwardly cursing herself for indulging herself in coffee at this particular diner. If she had thought about it she should have found a diner or café where her alter ego wasn't known. After Daisy left, Dylan reached for the sugar, putting in her customary two teaspoonfuls into the cup. That first sip seemed like heaven to her and along with the chance to sit still for a while, it helped to calm her down. Her stomach rumbled and she remembered that she didn't have lunch. Or breakfast. The menu on the table beckoned to her and she decided now was as good a time as any to eat.

She drew the attention of the waitress. "Daisy!"

"Yeah, hot stuff?"

Daisy was flirting with her? errr him? and she wasn't sure she liked it. If she was flirting with her as a woman, well that was one thing, but Daisy thought she was a man so that was a whole other thing.

"A burger and a coffee refill, please." Dylan tried not to look Daisy in the eye as she spoke.

Her meal came ten minutes after the refill of coffee and Daisy didn't bother her again. Dylan knew the woman deserved a tip for putting up with the brush-off. She only hoped that she had something in that empty pocket of hers that would adequately say sorry for her.

* * *

Dylan sat on a chair by the fireplace smoking a cigarette, her gaze fixed on the flickering flames. Her hand rose to her chest and she rubbed the skin slowly. As soon as she had stepped through the door earlier she discarded the clothes, eager to get to the bandage that had been strapped tightly over her breasts. This was one of those few times she wished she had tiny breasts instead of the larger ones God had graced her with. She was not huge by any means but the tight strapping hurt like hell. Maybe it was just as well that she quit the job because she'd have to re-think how to hide them without damaging herself in the process.

There was a shuffling noise outside her door that put Dylan on alert. She flicked her cigarette into the fireplace and grabbed the poker before tip toeing across the room. Her heart was beating rapidly as she prepared to open the door. Her hand had barely touched the doorknob when an envelope appeared on the floor from under the door and it stunned her for a moment. Who knew she was here to even deliver the envelope? She opened the door abruptly and caught the perpetrator in the act.

"Bobby!" Dylan said before she could stop herself.

Rocco's right hand man looked up from his hunched position. He stood up and looked Dylan in the eye. She nearly laughed at the thoroughly confused look on his face. "Miss Conroy?"

Dylan stuck her head out into the hallway, looking one way then the other. "Get in here before someone sees you!" she hissed as she pulled on Bobby's arm. "What are you doing here?" Dylan closed the door behind her unexpected guest.

"The boss asked me to give this to the new driver." Bobby stooped to pick up the envelope off the floor.

"He's not here. I think you've got the wrong address," Dylan hedged.

"Nope." Bobby said confidently. "It's the right address."

"And how do you know?"

"Because I followed him here this afternoon. Is he... with you?" he asked tentatively. Bobby stared at Dylan intently before his hand came up to cup her chin. He tilted her face one way then the other, taking note of the bruises and scrapes on her face. "How did you get these?" he asked angrily.

"Oh, it's nothing," Dylan offered. "Just got in a fight, that's all."

"A boyfriend?" Suddenly Bobby's eyebrows rose in recognition. "Dylan?"

She knew she should deny it but how long could she keep up the charade? Besides, she wouldn't be posing as a man anymore now that she told Rocco to stick his job where the sun didn't shine.

"Am I that transparent?" she said sweetly.

"What's going on?"

Dylan was tempted to tell him to mind his own business but at that moment she was happy for a little company. "Pull up a chair and sit down a spell," she suggested, "Can I offer you a drink? I'm afraid I don't have coffee."

"Sure," Bobby said slowly. He picked up the chair and moved it so it was facing the bed because he could see that Dylan had nowhere else to sit. When the glass was in his hand he tried to satisfy his curiosity. "Why are you dressing as a man?"

Dylan made herself comfortable on the bed, sitting cross-legged and leaning against the wall. She took a sip of her drink and waited for the liquid fire to slide down her throat. "Because Rocco didn't want to hire a woman as his driver, and I was desperate for a job."

Bobby took a swallow of his scotch, his expression thoughtful. "Was it worth it?"

"I thought so at the time."

"Did Rocco know who you were?" he asked.

"Yeah." Dylan watched Bobby's face harden at the news. "But that aside, whether I was a man or a woman he set me up. But you knew that, didn't you?"

"Yeah?," Bobby hung his head, "yeah, I did."

"Was it me?" Dylan asked. "Had I done something wrong?"

"No, he tests all the new guys," Bobby said, "He wants to make sure they can handle themselves if things get tight." He took another sip. "When it was my turn I went to Franco's to pick up a case of hooch." He chuckled gently. "One of them came at me with a crowbar." His hand came up and rubbed a spot on his shoulder. "You got out of it easy, girl," he rumbled.

"Why are you here?"

"The boss wanted you to have this." Bobby handed over the envelope that had been on the floor.

Dylan opened it and took out the piece of paper. A single bill fell from between the fold and onto the bedspread. It was a hundred dollar bill. She read the note then threw it on the bed next to the cash.

"Nice," Bobby commented.

"He's got some nerve!" Dylan growled. She took a mouthful of the alcohol and winced as it flowed down to her stomach. Dylan knew Bobby wanted to know what Rocco had said but he kept quiet. "The money was to get a new suit and then report to him on Friday." Bobby remained quiet but Dylan didn't miss the sly smile on his face.

"He must really like you to give you a C-note. I only got a twenty."

"Yeah? Well, he pisses me off." Dylan looked directly at her visitor. She balanced the glass in her lap and gathered up the paper and money and shoved it back into the envelope before handing it back to Bobby. "Tell him I can't be bought!"

Bobby leaned forward on his chair. "Look, if you want to get ahead sometimes you have to swallow your pride." He looked around her room. "Use the money to buy a few things to make life easier."

"How come you're working for him?" Dylan asked, "You seem a pretty smart guy, Bobby."

"Never finished my learnin', Dylan? or is it Marisa?" he posed.

"Marisa." Dylan answered, but Bobby was working hard to change her mind.

"I have a family to feed and it's too hard to get another job at my age," he explained, "What's your excuse? Wouldn't it be easier to get married?"

"Me? I was no good at school so there was no point in sticking around. And marriage? Uh uh. Not for me." Dylan wasn't going to tell him that she wasn't interested in men. It was a secret that was hers and hers alone.

"Then what's there to lose?" Bobby pleaded. "Didn't you say you needed the job?"

"He sent me into a trap, Bobby. How can I trust a man like that?"

"You don't," he said quietly.

Dylan was surprised by the answer. "Do you?"

But Bobby didn't answer, instead finishing off his drink with a flourish. "I gotta go." He put the envelope and his glass on the bedside table and headed for the door. "I'll see you Friday, okay?"

His hand was on the doorknob when Dylan spoke. "When did he give you this?" She held up the envelope. "Before or after?"

Bobby opened the door. "Does it really matter?" Dylan stared at him. "After." Bobby left her to contemplate her next move.

* * *

Chapter 2. Better The Devil You Know

Friday morning came and Dylan stood in front of the door leading to Rocco's first floor office. She knew Rocco was there because the car was in the yard. She had strolled around for over an hour that morning, changing her mind more than a dozen times about taking up the job. Brushing the dust off her new suit Dylan rapped on the door.

The few days between when she stormed off and that precise moment had been busy. Some of it was spending money. Bobby was right and she used the money for other things besides a suit. Her landlord, for one, was very happy to see the color of her money to not only pay what she owed but three months' worth of rent in advance.

Bobby opened the door and smiled. "Good to see you, girl." He said affectionately.

"I nearly didn't come," she said as she passed him in the doorway.

"Nice duds," he muttered as he locked the door and followed her up the stairs.

"Goodwill," Dylan answered.

He laughed. "Couldn't afford new one?" he asked.

Dylan stopped at the top of the stairs and turned around to face Bobby. "And you said it was a nice suit. I just went to a better class of charity shop." She turned again and headed toward Rocco's office. "Besides, I figure it's gonna get dirty sooner or later so why waste all that money on new clothes that will be chucked out when it's ruined?"

"Good point," Bobby offered.

Dylan didn't tell him that she bought a used suit to insult Rocco. She wasn't going to waste money on that creep. What she saved on the suit she spent on a radio, and what a blessing it had been. Up until then the silence hadn't bothered her, but now there was music in her life. It kept her company and, maybe more importantly, it drowned out the occasional yelling match that could be heard through the thin walls.

Dylan stood in front of the door. She didn't want to do this.

"Good luck," Bobby said.

"If he has a smug look on his face I may just slug him." Dylan grumbled.

"Don't do that. You got away with one tantrum. He won't tolerate another." Bobby spoke in a low voice.

"And what's he gonna do, huh?"

"You don't want to know," Bobby warned. Dylan looked over her shoulder at him and he just stared back at her.

"He wouldn't? would he?" Dylan whispered.

"He ain't no angel, Dylan." Bobby said soberly.

"And neither am I," Dylan said with all the confidence she could muster.

"Just get in there. He's waiting." Bobby put his hand on Dylan's back and gently pushed.

"I'm going! I'm going! Sheesh!" There was a slight tremor in Dylan's hand as she reached for the doorknob. Bobby's friendly warning suddenly made her situation clear. If she screwed up she could be dead.

"Ah! There you are!" Rocco said cordially as Dylan walked through the door. "You look a lot better than the last time I saw you? and in better spirits."

"Yeah, well, someone pointed out that I needed the job." Dylan didn't mention Bobby by name but she knew that he knew who she was talking about. "What am I supposed to do with the money left over?"

"Go and get drunk, send it to your grandmother or give it away? I don't care! If you don't know what to do with money once you have it then maybe you're not the person I thought you were," he argued.

"Oh, I know what to do with it."

"Good," Rocco replied. "Bobby!" he yelled.

"Yeah, boss?" Bobby said as he came through the opened door.

"Take Dylan here and get a bottle of champagne from the club downstairs. I'm expecting a visitor soon and I want to celebrate."

"Sure thing, boss." Bobby waited for Dylan to move, tugging gently on her coat sleeve when she stood immobile. "Come on. I'll show you around."

When Dylan headed across the room to the stairs, Bobby called out to her. "Not that way. We'll use the back stairs." Bobby guided her past Rocco's office and toward the back of the first floor. A set of stairs sat in the corner of the building connecting the first floor and the ground floor.

The club downstairs was locked up and quiet, so their footsteps sounded loud in the silence. As if reading her mind, Bobby said, "This place don't open until midday but on weekends it's open all the time."

While Dylan looked around the dimly-lit club she asked, "And when do I work?"

"Whenever he needs you." Bobby said as he entered the auditorium and walked toward the back of the room where the bar was.

"You mean I have to work all the time?" she asked incredulously.

"If you have to." Bobby left his statement unfinished, chuckling mildly at Dylan's slack-jawed expression. "Nah, just foolin'. You just gotta be, ummm, per-pared to do it. I haven't yet an' I been with him seven years." He wandered around the back of the bar and found an ice bucket and filled it with ice. "Here's your first job." He handed over the ice bucket for Dylan to carry while he grabbed a couple of glasses.

"Who's this for?"

"It doesn't pay to ask too many questions," he said.

"You mean it doesn't pay to ask Rocco too many questions," Dylan qualified.

"Smart ass," Bobby uttered.

"Well you got the 'ass' bit right." Dylan followed Bobby back through the kitchen and the back stairs. He stopped at a wooden crate and removed the lid, taking out a bottle of champagne before replacing the lid.

"Okay, that's it. Let's go." Bobby led the way up the stairs and just as Dylan reached the top floor she saw the blond woman enter Rocco's office.

"Who's that?" she asked.

"The new nightingale," he said. When they reached Rocco's office door Bobby put the glasses on the floor then reached for the ice bucket in Dylan's hands. He pushed the bottle into the ice and twisted it around until it was nearly buried to the neck.

"Go and sit down." His head nodded toward the empty chair against the wall. "Leave this to me." Bobby knocked on the door and waited for an answering "Enter!"

Dylan tried to look into the room from where she sat but Bobby's body blocked the view as he entered with the champagne and glasses. Who was the woman getting the special treatment? From what she had seen of her that first time in the office a few days ago, the woman had looked out of place. Rocco wasn't the lowest of the low in this city but he was pretty close to bottom of the food chain. Was the woman in the same situation as she was, forced to find work in the seedier part of town?

"Dylan." Rocco's voice interrupted her thoughts. "Got a job for you."

"Sure, boss," she said automatically as she stood and walked the few steps to her employer.

"This needs to be delivered to Lizzoni."

"Lizzoni?" Dylan said before she swallowed heavily. "Crazy Louie Lizzoni?"

"That's the one. It's not a problem, is it?"

Dylan looked past Rocco to Bobby, who shook his head. "No, it's not a problem." She took the envelope and read the address written on it.

"Take the car." Rocco threw her the keys. He disappeared into his office for a moment before returning. "You'll probably need this as well." He handed over another piece of paper.

Dylan studied it. It was her driver's license. She looked at the name printed on it. "Accardi?"

"Dylan Accardi sort of rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?" he agreed.

She wasn't prepared to tell him it was a stupid name, instead nodding her head in affirmation.

When she didn't move he added, "Are you still here? Get going."

This time Dylan knew she was walking into danger but it didn't appease her anger any. Was he deliberately baiting her? Maybe more to the point, was it worth the money to risk her life like that? As she descended the stairs to the alley she heard Bobby's voice. "Boss? I just gotta talk to Dylan."

"What for?" Rocco asked suspiciously.

"The car's got a rattle that needs fixin'," Bobby said urgently.

A moment later there was the sound of footsteps behind her. Dylan opened the door and waited outside for Bobby to join her.

"Wait up!" Bobby called but Dylan had already stopped walking.

"Where's the rattle?" she asked.

"No rattle, but I gotta warn you. Lizzoni is dangerous."

"Tell me something I don't know," Dylan answered. The papers reported on Crazy Louie Lizzoni and his "organization" frequently as suspects in murder, abduction and theft. Somehow Crazy Louie was also Lucky Louie because none of the charges ever came to conviction. "He's doing this as payback for telling him off, isn't it?"

"Could be. Who knows what he thinks?" Bobby suggested.

"You know him well. What do you think?" Dylan asked. He hesitated. Dylan could see that he was unwilling to answer the question. "Does this mean that when I knock on the front door I'm going to get my head blown off?" Dylan knew she was dumb when it came to the Three R's, but even she could see this coming.

"You're gonna have to be invin? invor? invective," he stammered.

"Huh?" Bobby was using words she didn't understand.

"Smart, Dylan. The front door may not be the answer."

"Why not just post the damned letter," Dylan grumbled.

"Because that way Lizzoni doesn't see it," Bobby replied. "It's your job to see that he gets it."

"And I'm a sittin' duck," she concluded.

"You can do it, Marisa," Bobby said deliberately. "Just think smart."

Dylan started to walk down the alley toward the car. "If I'd done that I wouldn't be here in the first place."

* * *

Dylan sat on a chair next to an open window looking across at the building next door. Separated by an alley below was another open window and she could see quite clearly a room filled with men, one of whom was Crazy Louie.

The idea came to her on the way over to Lizzoni's when she saw a small boy playing cowboys and indians, and after a visit to a toy store and a change of clothes from her flat she set the plan in motion. Dylan parked the car a block away from her target and walked to the hotel sitting beside Lizzoni's headquarters. A couple of Louie's men lounged in the foyer watching who came and who went, so they didn't suspect a woman booking a room for the night.

Of course the room that she had was useless for her needs so she went in search of the room opposite Lizzoni's office. It was locked but after several minutes of jimmying the lock she had it open.

So here she was, sitting in front of the window about to do something so monumentally stupid that she was beginning to wonder if she had lost her marbles. Before she had a chance to change her mind she raised the toy bow and licked the suction cup on the arrow that held the envelope. She drew back the bow and aimed it at the small square thirty feet away that was her target. The string strained with the tautness of the draw and the bow creaked ominously. Dylan let the arrow fly before the bow broke, and she watched the arrow cross the alley and head through the window.

She could barely make out the arrow as it entered Lizzoni's office and she didn't wait around to see where it landed. Discarding the bow, Dylan was already out the door and running back to the room she was booked into. As the door closed behind her sounds of yelling and running feet could be heard in the corridor. She waited half an hour before leaving the hotel, casually walking down the street to the parked car.

It was only as she drove back to Rocco's place that Dylan wondered what the consequences of her actions would be. Had she just started a gang war? The only thought she had at the time was her own preservation. Various scenarios played out in her mind and none of them was good.

"What the hell did you do?" Bobby accused her as he opened the downstairs door.

"I was being invective like you said," she replied as she climbed the stairs.

"I've never seen Rocco jumpin' up and down like he is now." Bobby called with concern. "Maybe you should lay low for a while."

"And become a walking target?" Dylan called back. "Better to get it over now."

"Are you nuts?" Bobby hurried up the stairs. "Get out of here and let Rocco cool down."

"I thought you said he wouldn't forget a second time." Dylan stated.

"Bobby's right." A third voice joined the conversation. "Maybe you should have listened to him." Rocco stood in the doorway to his office. "You two get in here!" He turned and walked back to his desk without seeing if Dylan was going to follow.

Dylan looked over her shoulder at Bobby and shrugged. "Nice knowing ya," she muttered as Bobby followed her into Rocco's office.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Rocco yelled.

"I was asked to deliver the message to Rizzoli, boss. I did that."

"You could have gotten yourself killed. You know that, right?" Rocco leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his slicked back hair. "Jesus, Dylan, you're giving me a heart attack here." He drew out a piece of cloth and wiped the grease off his hand.

Dylan glanced at Bobby for his reaction. The slight twitch around his eye told her Rocco's response was unexpected. She again faced her boss. "So what happens now?"

"Well, fortunately for you, I managed to convince Lizzoni that it was all part of a security check to test the response of his men to an attack."

"And he believed that?" Dylan asked incredulously.

"For one, he and I aren't at war. Secondly, and more importantly, the arrow you used wouldn't harm a kitten, so it lent credence to my story."

"Cree-dense, boss?" Bobby asked. Dylan was grateful that Bobby asked because she didn't want to appear stupid in front of Rocco.

"Why don't you buy a dictionary?" Rocco questioned him.

"You know I can't spell, boss. It wouldn't do me any good," Bobby pleaded.

Rocco rubbed his eyes with his clean hand in frustration. "It means Dylan firing the toy arrow made my story seem true."

"Oh, okay. Thanks, boss," Bobby said, but the look on his face told Dylan that Rocco's explanation didn't make it much clearer to him.

"Lizzoni wants to meet you, Dylan," Rocco said. "He was impressed by your ingenuity." Bobby and Dylan looked at one another. "Oh, for Christ's sake," Rocco grumbled. "He thinks you're a smart ass worth knowing."

"Does that mean I'm working for him now?" Dylan asked nervously. She didn't like the thought of working for a man who had the word 'crazy' in front of his name.

"Oh, no. You're mine, Dylan Accardi," he said.

Dylan winced when Rocco claimed her, but it was only slightly less painful than hearing the surname he had chosen for her.

"Especially if it gives me a favor from Crazy Louie." Rocco said calmly then smiled. The smile turned to a laugh as the consequences of the situation sank in. He reached into his pocket and took out a wad of cash, pulling out four from under the money clip. "Now, will you go and buy a new suit, or do I have to send Bobby along to make sure that you do it?" Rocco threw the notes across his desk top.

Dylan's eyes widened as she saw the money on the table. Two hundred dollars. He was giving her two hundred dollars. She had never seen so much money all in the one place.

Before she could ask, Rocco added. "Call it a bonus. But next time I send you on an errand, use the front door will you?"

"Errr? sure, boss." Dylan just knew it was all a dream because good things never happened to her in real life. "You sure don't act like a gangster."

"Well, I like to think of myself as an entrepreneur." Rocco said calmly.

"Oh shit! Did I say that out loud?" This was one more thing she held against her dad, the ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. It was just as well that Rocco was in a good mood. She pushed her luck one more time. "What's an enter-poo-ner?"

"He means a businessman, Dylan," Bobby piped in, drawing surprised looks from both Dylan and Rocco. "What? You've said it often enough, boss."

"Business-man?" Dylan asked.

"If you say you're a businessman it keeps the G-men off your back," Rocco explained. "I'm on the up and up? mostly." He then chuckled and Bobby joined in. Dylan settled for a smile at the joke. "So as far as you're concerned, Dylan, I'm legit."

"Okay, boss." It seemed the ground rules were being set for Dylan and for that she was happy. Trying to second-guess someone was not something that she was good at. Since the boss was being accommodating she asked, "May I ask who the blonde is?"


"The dame in your office earlier," Bobby hinted.

"Is she the new squeeze?" Dylan posed.

"And why do you want to know?" Rocco asked suspiciously.

"So I can give her due respect if she is, boss." Dylan held her breath after she spoke, wondering if she had just crossed the line and whether she had appeased him enough to make up for the question.

"She's the new singer downstairs, Dylan, but with a bit of luck she could be." Rocco said solemnly. "In fact," he said slowly as he thought, "You could do me a favor by looking after her for me."

"Look after?" Dylan's voice rose into the female range. "Like how?"

"Drive her where she wants to go. Put in a good word for me now and then. You know, woo her for me."

"Woo? her? You remember I'm a woman, right?" Did Rocco realize what he was asking her to do?

"I'm not asking you to sleep with her. That's my job," he chuckled. "I just want you to keep her firmly focused on me."


"Oh, Jesus Christ! Just keep telling her that I'm a nice guy to have as her boyfriend. Got it?" Rocco explained carefully.

"Why me, boss?" Dylan pleaded.

"Because I say so," he said flatly. "I thought it would have been obvious. I'm not going to have some guy beating on my time with her. You're a woman, Dylan, and I know you can look after yourself. You're about as safe as I can get."

"And where do I sleep?"

"In your own bed I hope. You're only driving her home at night, Dylan, not moving in with her, for crying out loud!"

* * *

Chapter 3. Devil In A Blue Dress

"And why isn't Rocco here escorting the young lady home?" Dylan asked Bobby. She had been asking herself that question since Rocco told her to stick around and take the singer home.

"It's his kid's birthday," Bobby replied.

"He's got a kid?"

"Three of them. And a wife." Bobby added.

"Jesus!" If there was one thing Dylan hated it was male double standards, and Rocco had just crossed that line. He had a wife and was now looking for a piece on the side. She had a feeling that if this singer tried the same thing with Rocco he wouldn't be too happy about it.

Dylan sipped her tall cold soda leaning against the bar while Bobby sat on one of the stools nursing his beer.

"So where is the dame I'm wet-nursing?" Dylan asked.

"She's about to go on," Bobby said, "And her name is Rhea? Rhea Whitman."

The band, if it could be called that, started up with the prelude of whatever song Rhea was going to sing. It was slow and blue, the piano, cornet and drums setting the scene for the small blonde who walked onto the minute stage. There was a shuffle of seats and a gentle murmuring as the customers stirred with the arrival of the night's entertainment.

As Rhea adjusted the microphone in front of her Dylan stared. The shimmering blue dress caught every light in the room and bounced back to fill the dark places with stars.

"Looks like she's not short of a buck," Dylan muttered as she faced back to the bar.

"The boss bought it for her," Bobby replied.

"Why am I not surprised?" Dylan answered sarcastically.

"What's your problem?"

"Let's just say I wouldn't lower myself to live off a sugar daddy." Dylan said disdainfully.

"And you and I are better than that?" Bobby defended.

"Sure. At least I'm working for a living," she retaliated.

"You drive, she sings? what's the difference?" he challenged.

"The difference is that I don't sleep with the boss to get those little extras."

"And you're saying she does?"

"Well, just look at her. That dress must have cost a bundle," she announced.

"Why do you think the boss is having you look after her?" he asked.

And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart-

Rhea began her song, her sweet melodious voice filling the small nightclub.

High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we're apart

Dylan listened to Rhea in the background as she thought about Bobby's question. "He wants me to sweet-talk her."

"Ex-actly. He didn't get to first base so he's pinning his hopes on you." Bobby grinned as he spoke.

"Then why is he saying she's his girlfriend?"

"He's not going to admit that he struck out with a woman. He's got a rep? rap? riputashun to keep."

Dylan turned her head sideways to address Bobby. "And what if she falls for me?"

"She won't fall for you," Bobby said before he thought about it.

"Well, thanks," Dylan tried to sound indignant.

"No. Well?err? I didn't mean that. I mean, you being a woman and all," he stammered.

"But she doesn't know that I'm a woman. Rocco told me to sweet-talk her, so what if she falls for me instead of him? What do I do about that, huh?" All Dylan could see was trouble? lots and lots of trouble. Driving someone around wasn't the problem?

Rhea's song reached her from across the room.

When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration

?Wooing a woman for someone else was.

"Just make sure that you don't," Bobby said with finality. He finished his beer and put the empty glass on the bar top. "I'm going home." He threw the car keys to Dylan. "You're on, big shot."

Dylan drank down her soda. "How about I drive you home?"

"What about Miss Whitman?" Bobby reminded her.

She looked over her shoulder at the stage. "She's still on her first song so she won't be finished any time soon." The glass landed on the counter top with a thud. "Let's go." Before Bobby could argue Dylan made a move towards the front door. "Bobby, the longer you argue the longer I'm away from this joint."

Dylan stepped out into the cool night air, feeling a shiver run through her tall frame. She pulled her jacket close to ward off the cold and looked up and down the dimly lit street. Bobby stepped out of the nightclub and stood beside her. "Let's not keep the lady waiting." Bobby said as he walked along the front of the club and down the side street to the parking lot, with Dylan following close behind. She didn't need to ask Bobby why they didn't use the alleyway because she knew. It was dark, deserted and isolated, and a perfect place for a mugging.

Dylan started the car and drove it smoothly out of the lot. "Which way?" She waited for Bobby's instructions to guide her to his home. They didn't talk much on the trip because Dylan was trying to memorize the route so she could return to the club without fuss.

Once the car pulled up at the curb outside Bobby's house, Dylan asked. "How can I get out of this?"

"Why? What are you afraid of?" Bobby looked at the shadowed figure seated next to him.

"Nuthin'." Dylan said but Bobby said nothing. "Okay, something. It's not right that I have to say nice stuff to her and pass it off as Rocco's."

"And that's scary? Even after taking on Crazy Louie?"

"If it all goes wrong, yeah."

"It won't go wrong-" Bobby said.

"But, if it does then I'm dead," Dylan interceded.

"Then just make sure it doesn't," he announced. Before Dylan had a chance to say anything more, Bobby got out of the car and bade her good night before slamming the car door shut. Dylan watched him enter his home then began the journey back to the club. She didn't have much of a chance to think about anything other than not getting lost. Finally, a familiar corner came into sight and she found an easily accessible parking spot out front.

Dylan got out of the car and looked at the front of the club. It wasn't like the ritzy uptown clubs decked out in glitzy furnishings and high profile celebrities. This was a more subdued setting, a row of lights along the awning illuminating the entrance to the club. The name of the club, Carlotta's, was painted on the large window that was the storefront. She opened the front door and entered, the sound of voices hitting her like a wall while a piano played in the background.

Dylan approached the bar to talk to the barman who she had been introduced to earlier in the night. "Lennie, has the singer finished?"

"A couple of minutes ago. She's probably in her dressing room."

"Tell her I'll wait outside the back door." Dylan said. The air was filled with smoke and it stirred an urge in her to have a cigarette. She stepped once more into the cool night air, her hand already reaching into her pocket for the packet she knew was there. As she strolled to the corner and down the side street Dylan lit her cigarette. She inhaled deeply, holding the smoke in her lungs for a moment before exhaling it into the air.

A single overhead light marked the back entrance to the club. Dylan leant against the wall outside the circle of light, content to stand on one foot while the other foot rested on the building behind her and to finish her cigarette.

Time passed? and passed? and passed. She had already finished her second cigarette and was now thinking about a third. Dylan waited outside for Rhea, deciding that their first meeting would be on neutral ground. She was about to relent and go inside when the door opened. Dylan turned her gaze sideways from her place against the wall and saw a dainty shoe come into view followed by a show of a shapely calf. She felt her pulse jump at the glimpse of stocking. Dylan chuckled to herself as the words of a popular song came to mind, then she remembered the title of the song. Anything Goes.

The woman she was meant to look after finally came into view and she had to admit that Rocco had good taste. Very good taste. A jolt of fear shot through her as she remembered Bobby's warning. Her risk of dying had just increased.

Dylan stepped into the light and introduced herself. "Miss Whitman? My name is Dylan. Mr. Rizzoli asked me to drive you home." She thought it was an innocent enough statement but the scowl on Rhea's face told her otherwise.

"You can tell Mr. Rizzoli that I don't need his help. I'm quite capable of walking home by myself."


"You can tell him from me that I'm not interested." Rhea said firmly then walked past Dylan who stood there dumb-founded.

Dylan wasn't sure what to do because she hadn't expected a flat rejection from the woman she was supposed to protect. She turned around and watched Rhea's silhouetted form walk toward the street corner. Dylan walked after her, stretching her long stride to catch up to the smaller woman.

"Hey! Hang on a minute!" Dylan called. "What am I supposed to tell him?"

"What I just said. I don't care." Rhea said impatiently.

"You do know that he's the one that hired you, right?" Dylan explained.

"And your point?"

"My point is that he can just as easily fire you." Dylan pointed out.

"I was hired to sing, not to go to bed with him." Rhea replied.

"Look," Dylan began. "It's dark around here and it's really not safe for you to be walking the streets alone. Please, as a favor to me, will you get in the car?"

Rhea gazed at her suspiciously. "And what if, by getting into that car, you turn out to be exactly what I was fearing by walking home alone?"

"Huh?" Dylan knew Rhea had said something important but she lost the plot somewhere after 'what if'. "Say that again?"

"What if you're the masher I'm trying to avoid?" Rhea explained.

"Me? A masher?" Dylan tried very hard not to laugh. If the woman only knew. She tried another argument. "You don't want me to lose my job, do you?"

"Oh, come on-"

"He told me to get you home safely and if I go in tomorrow and tell him I didn't do that he's going to fire me."

"Then you better start looking for a new job." Rhea turned on her heel and walked across the side street. She continued her journey along the main street, leaving Dylan standing on the corner.

Left with little choice Dylan ran to the car and jumped in. "Of all the stubborn?," she muttered angrily as she started the engine and put the car into motion. There was a squeal of tires and virulent curse as she did pulled out in front of oncoming traffic. "Screw you!" she yelled back, giving a none-too-subtle signal to the driver behind her.

As abruptly as she had pulled out into traffic Dylan drove the car into a vacant parking spot in the next block. She started to walk back toward the club, meeting up with Rhea walking toward her. "Will you just get into the car?" Dylan growled.

"Why?" Rhea stepped around Dylan and continued walking.

A drop of water hit Dylan's coat sleeve. Then another. "Because it's about to rain," she said as she turned around to face the back of Rhea. "And I'm going to follow you all the way home. So, why don't you make it easy on both of us and just get in the back of the car." The raindrops were hitting her faster until the random drops became rain. "I'm begging you, Rhea, get in the car before you catch your death."

Dylan wasn't sure what was going through Rhea's mind. The woman had stopped walking away from her and her shoulders lifted as she inhaled deeply. Rhea was certainly considering her options, Dylan could see that, otherwise she would have kept walking. Just when Dylan thought she had won the argument, Rhea stepped off again

"Wha? Whoa?. Hang on a min-" Dylan called out. Her words were cut short when Rhea stopped next to the car, apparently waiting for her to catch up.

"You going to open the door for me, lackey?" Rhea taunted.

Dylan was incensed. "My name is Dylan," she said menacingly as she moved into Rhea's personal space and looked down upon her. "Don't you ever talk to me like that again!" She reached across in front of Rhea, brushing her dress gently, to open the back door of the car. "Now get in." As Rhea moved past her to climb into the back seat Dylan's nostrils twitched. The perfume was subtle and enticing, touching something deep within her. It was then that Dylan realized she was in more trouble than merely losing her life. She was now in danger of losing her very soul.

Dylan closed the door once Rhea was settled in the back seat and the intoxicating scent dissipated. She shook her head, trying to dislodge the hypnotic effect of the closeness of Rhea. Dylan tipped her head up and allowed the rain to hit her face. It was cold, wet and a slap to her senses as she walked around the car to get into the driver's seat. She slid smoothly behind the steering wheel, taking off her hat and shaking off the excess water outside before throwing the fedora on the seat next to her. Almost hesitatingly Dylan tipped the rearview mirror so she could catch a glimpse of her passenger. Not surprisingly, she saw she was being watched.

"Where to?" Dylan asked. She kept eye contact with Rhea in the mirror and waited for directions.

"Markham Avenue, ten blocks ahead on the right." Rhea said in clipped tones. She gave Dylan one last glance then turned her attention to the window and the rain falling outside.

Dylan made no comment but pulled out into traffic and drove slowly along Marshall Avenue. The conversational silence was maddening within the confines of the car. The rain hit the roof in a monotonous drumming rhythm, while the windscreen wipers squeaked over the glass in a bizarre symphony with the rain.

From time to time Dylan cast a glance in the rearview mirror. "You know, Mr. Rizzoli is not a bad guy. He could make life for you quite comfortable."

"And why do you say that?" Rhea asked ominously.

"A present here and there would certainly help. I see you didn't have a problem with wearing the dress." Dylan commented.

"What dress?" Rhea was perplexed.

"The blue sparkly one you wore on stage."

"I had no damned choice!" Rhea growled. "That bastard stole my costume and replaced it with that! It was either wear it or go on in this."

Dylan gave a cursory glance to see what Rhea was wearing. While it was an acceptable day dress it certainly wasn't ideal for singing blues in a speakeasy. "You could have gone on in your underwear," Dylan offered. Rhea's jaw dropped. "I was kidding!"

"Grrrrr." Rhea was not amused.

Block after block passed by and Dylan became aware that Rhea's journey would have been long. "I'll pick you up for work tomorrow night," she stated solemnly, making it clear to Rhea that it wasn't a question.

"I'm quite capable-"

"I'm not arguing with you about being capable, Miss Whitman, but walking this distance when you don't have to is silly."

"Silly? Are you saying that I'm silly?" Rhea argued.

Dylan glanced over her shoulder. "Stop putting words in my mouth."

"Keep you eyes on the road!" Rhea ordered.

Dylan returned her attention to driving, allowing the silence to exist for a while. "All I'm saying?," she started then stopped. "I'm offering to pick you up so you don't have to walk. What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing I suppose," Rhea said suspiciously. "What's the catch?"

"There's no catch."

"There's always a catch." There was a hint of world weariness in Rhea's voice.

Another block passed and Dylan was wondering how far Rhea had to go. She looked at the odometer and figured that the singer must have walked about two miles.

"Take the next right."

Dylan did as she was instructed, turning the car into a quiet side street.

"Number seventeen."

The street lights were sparse, so finding the house wasn't easy.

"That's it," Rhea said as she leaned forward, her arm coming over Dylan's shoulder to show her the right house. "The one with the white picket fence."

Dylan didn't want to point out that nearly every house in the street had a white picket fence. To avoid an argument she pulled the car over to the curb where Rhea pointed. She jumped out of the vehicle and opened the back door before Rhea had even moved, Dylan's hand extending into the car to assist the woman from the back seat.

While it was still raining it had petered out to a mild shower. Dylan felt the warmth of Rhea's hand in her own and it resurrected the feeling she had that moment she saw Rhea step out of the club. Once Rhea was firmly on the sidewalk Dylan pulled her hand away abruptly. "This is it?" she said, looking at the small single-storey house Rhea was about to enter.

"Yes, an old couple wanted a boarder so here I am."

Dylan studied the house front and the garden behind the fence. It was traditional and homey, and seemed like the type of house Rhea would live in. "Nice," Dylan muttered.

"I think so," Rhea replied. "Well, thank you Mr?.err? Dylan for the lift."

"You're welcome, Miss Whitman. Until tomorrow."

"You're making it hard for me to say no." Rhea complained.

"That's what I'm hoping for," Dylan said. "I'll pick you up at six." She walked back to the car and opened the driver's door. "You really should give Mr. Rizzoli another chance. He'd treat you right," she lied.

Rhea said nothing, instead lifting her hand and waving goodbye. Dylan stood outside the car, leaning her arms on the roof and watching Rhea until she entered the house safely. She climbed back into the car and drove back to her own one room apartment.

The whole situation stank. She had thought it was a bad idea when Rocco suggested that she look after Rhea, but now having to lie to her about how good Rocco was just stuck in her craw.

* * *

Chapter 4. A Brave Woman Dares To Look At The Devil

Dylan snuggled into her blanket as the cold morning air in her room touched her skin and sent a shiver through her. For a moment she contemplated not getting up at all but the idea was dismissed just as quickly because she had a car to return.

She threw off the covers and gritted her teeth, trying to ignore the rising goosebumps that covered her body. Before she could think any more about going back to sleep Dylan stood up and put on her dressing gown, grabbing her soap and towel and heading toward the communal bathroom at the end of the corridor.

As she stood under the warm water, Dylan's thoughts drifted back to last night. Rhea was the most stubborn person, man or woman, she had ever met. The woman was prepared to cut off her nose to spite her face, as the saying went, which was probably not the best thing to do with someone like Rocco. On the other hand she liked Rhea, and in her book that was even more dangerous than pissing Rocco off. Dylan rubbed briskly with the soap in an effort to as much get herself warm as it was to wash off the dirt. When that wasn't successful she switched off the water, climbed out of the bath and dried herself vigorously. Her skin tingled from the scouring by the towel but she achieved her purpose, at least until the feeling passed and she grew cold again.

Quickly she dressed and went back to her room, almost immediately changing into her suit. This was one time that she was glad to be wearing men's clothes because they were a darn sight warmer than a dress. While her kettle boiled on the tiny single burner she had bought, Dylan switched on the radio for some noise. She was in the middle of making her coffee when there was a news flash.

"Gangland violence erupted again overnight when Club Carlito burned to the ground. It is suspected that a rival gang is responsible for the arson, although no clear evidence has been found as to who the perpetrators were. Police are following leads and hope to make an arrest soon."

Dylan waited for more information but the news reader didn't return. A jazzy big band number came on, filling her room with music. Not that Dylan paid attention to it. There were a handful of mobster gangs in the city and each wanted their piece of real estate. Recently there had been a truce of sorts, leaving the Feds watching and waiting for their next move. Mob business had never worried, or interested, Dylan before because she was not involved in it. All that had changed. Despite what Rocco said she was now involved, albeit on the edge of it, but involved nonetheless. Suddenly she felt a need to talk to Bobby to find out how much of a 'businessman' Rocco was.

Dylan finished dressing quickly, cringing as she applied the grease to her hair. She combed it into place, careful to put the comb away from anything she didn't want smeared with grease. This time she tried something new, adding a bit of dark to her chin to give the effect of a five o'clock shadow. By now Dylan's coffee was cold and rather than drink it she made a quick trip to the bathroom to get rid of it. After locking up she descended the stairs two at a time down to the street and Rocco's car.

On her way to the club Dylan spotted a diner and pulled over. She ordered breakfast to go, eating it hastily in the car as she drove with one hand and two knees. The last piece of food went into her mouth as she pulled into the parking lot behind the speakeasy. What would Rocco have to say about last night? Maybe more to the point would be what would she say? He'd want to know everything and trying to put a positive spin on Rhea's rejection wasn't going to be easy.

Dylan climbed out of the car and collected her rubbish from the front seat. As she walked away from the car her hand slipped into her pocket and took out a cigarette. She looked at it trying to decide whether she needed to smoke it or not, not even realizing that while she was thinking about it the cigarette was already in her mouth and her hand was back in her pocket for the box of matches.

"Ahh, screw it," she muttered and lit the cigarette, feeling the edginess that had been in her ease as she inhaled. Her rubbish found its way into one of the rubbish bins along the back wall of the club. The cigarette slowly burned away as she walked along the alleyway, finishing just as she reached the door. She reached up and knocked, only to be met with silence. She waited a few moments and knocked again.

"What's going on?" she said to no one in particular. Dylan stepped back and looked up the wall to the top of the building, then right and left down the alleyway. Nothing looked different from any other day.

"Hey! Anyone home?" she yelled as she bashed on the door. "What took you so long?" Dylan asked when the door finally opened.

"Things have been a bit busy this morning," Bobby said tightly.

"Did you hear the news on the radio?" Dylan brushed past Bobby and climbed the stairs quickly. "Club Carlito-"

"Burned to the ground. Yeah, I know." Bobby replied.

Dylan walked across the foyer to Rocco's office, knocked on the glass and opened the door. "Where's the boss?"

"Out of town on business." The volume in Bobby's voice rose as he came up behind her.

"He didn't say anything about that yesterday," she stated.

"It was a last-minute thing," he hedged.

"A last-minute? thing?" Dylan wasn't sure she wanted to know what that thing was. "Is it tied to the fire at Carlito's?"

"He doesn't tell me-"

"Oh come on Bobby, he tells you everything."

Bobby looked sheepishly at her. "He's gone upstate on business for a few days. He told me to look after things here."

"And Carlito's?" Dylan asked.

"It may have something to do with it."

"Is?" It was a question that would determine whether Dylan stayed or packed her things and headed for the hills. "Did he burn down the club?"

"Wha- Of all the-? Are you nuts?" Bobby's voice rose to a tight squeak. "Of course he didn't!"

"Then why?" She was trying to make sense of it all.

"Can't you just-"

"No I can't, Bobby. I'm ten-ninths the way to packing my bags and getting the hell out of here," she explained. "When I signed on for this job it was to drive not to get involved in all-out war."

"Rocco is no angel," Bobby explained.

"So you said before, and then it was okay. A little danger is exciting but putting my life on the line, wondering when I'm going to die, is something I'm not ready for," she said, "at least not yet."

"What are you talking about?" Bobby asked.

"Rocco is going to get us all killed." Dylan announced.

"I'm telling you he's not involved," he reiterated.

"Then why did he take off the morning after something like this happens? It looks pretty suspicious, if you ask me."

"Well, I'm not asking you!" he said defensively. "You're just gonna have to trust him."

"Didn't you tell me not to trust him?" Dylan pointed out.

"Look," Bobby sighed as he collected his thoughts, "he does business with them but he doesn't pick sides. Carlito's has put everyone on edge and he's gone to see if he can smooth things over."

"Why didn't you just say that in the first place? So what do I do now while he's away?"

"He told me to tell you to look after the singer. Take her out and schmooze her, he said, on his behalf of course."

"Of course," Dylan said sarcastically.

"Just keep her interested," he added.

"I gotta tell ya this really stinks," Dylan finally admitted.

"The boss sure has a bee in his bonnet about this one. He asked me to give you this." Bobby took out his wallet from his coat pocket and opened it, handing over a fifty dollar bill to Dylan. "That's to cover any expenses in the next few days."

There was a knock on the door and two men entered.

"Dylan," Bobby announced, "this is Gus and Frank. They work downstairs as doormen. Guys this is Dylan, the boss's driver."

Dylan looked them up and down and decided they were the bouncers when things got a little out of hand with a drunken patron. There were certainly built solidly enough to bodily throw out anyone they decided had had enough. "Gus? Frank," Dylan acknowledged, nodding her head at each of them in a gesture of hello. She received nods in return but her words were not reciprocated.

"Marco will be in this afternoon to take over while the boss is gone. Can you get a couple of the guys from McCarthy's to come over to the club for the next few days?"

"Expecting trouble?" the one called Frank asked.

"Just a per? percussion, that's all."

Frank and Gus looked at one another and just nodded. When it looked like the conversation was ended they turned and walked out the door.

"And tell the others to watch out, okay?"

"Sure thing? boss," Frank said, then chuckled loudly as he left.

"Others? How many others?" Dylan hadn't been aware of the extent of Rocco's empire.

"About forty, but they're mostly in his two factories." Bobby explained.

"He has factories?" Now Dylan was confused more than ever.

"He told you he was a businessman." Bobby laughed at Dylan's stunned expression. "McCarthy's is his whiskey operation and Clarence & Sons is his factory for smokes."

"McCarthy's? Clarence? They're strange names. I would have thought it would be more like Guido's or Gambino's, you know what I mean?" Dylan asked.

"He told me once it had something to do with fooling the Feds. I didn't understand it all so I just nodded and said 'okay boss'."

"Uh huh," Dylan said absently. She could certainly understand Bobby's confusion.

"He supplies booze and cigarettes to most of the clubs around here."

"No wonder he doesn't want a war. I get it." Finally, Dylan understood something. "What about the club?"

"It stays open," Bobby said. "That's why the boss picked this place. It's too small and too far away to be a threat to the big guys."

"Smart," Dylan sometimes wished she had the intelligence to think of things like that. She knew a long time ago that some things were out of her reach because she didn't have the learning or the brains to figure stuff out but, if nothing else, she did develop 'street smarts' and on more than one occasion it saved her skin.

"You better stick to Miss Nightingale like gum to my shoe," he suggested.

"Already covered," Dylan replied confidently, "I'm picking her up for work at six. I'll stick around here and take her home when she's finished."

"Good idea." Bobby said as he nodded in confirmation. Reaching into his pocket Bobby took out a key. "Here, you might need this," he said as he put it in her outstretched palm. Before she could ask, he continued, "It's a key to the door downstairs."

Dylan had figured it was about time because every time she came and went poor Bobby had to go up and down the stairs. "What about getting into the club?"

"Just use the back stairs," he explained patiently.

"Fine. Now what do I do?" She still had a few hours to fill in before picking up Rhea for work.

"You can go and wash the dirt off your face."

"What?" Dylan's hand came up to her chin and rubbed. "Oh. Yeah. It's supposed to be a five o'clock shadow."

"It looks rid? red?riddicles? stupid. It would make me want to look twice."

"And?" Dylan didn't get the point.

"And? you should be trying to hide not stand out. Lose the makeup." Bobby suggested.

Dylan shrugged and went in search of a bathroom. There wasn't even a toilet on the first floor, leaving her no choice but to go downstairs into the club and use the restroom there. The lights were on and there were sounds of movement, which she assumed was Frank and Gus, leaving her with a dilemma. She stood outside the restroom door, looking one way then the other, before entering. Dylan removed the fedora and looked at herself in the crazed mirror. Bobby was right. It did look stupid. There was a tiny sliver of soap on the sink and she had little choice but to use it. The sink was less than ideal but she nevertheless filled it with warm water. Dylan removed her coat and rolled up her shirt sleeves before proceeding to lather the soap now in her hands. She watched herself in the mirror as she slapped the suds on her face and rubbed vigorously, her chin covered in a mass of brown bubbles that made her look like she had rabies. Her hands delved into the water and she splashed it onto her face, scraping off the dirty soap to reveal clean skin underneath. Despite losing the facial disguise Dylan felt more at ease without the makeup. She grabbed the towel off the rack and wiped her chin with a flourish. The fedora was once again on her head and one arm was in her jacket when she exited the restroom.

She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Gus staring at her. After a moment's hesitation she finished dressing, buttoning up the jacket over her shirt and pulling the fedora down to partially cover her face. "Errr, Bobby wanted me to clean up." She made a show of rubbing her jaw like she had seen men do, as if checking for errant whiskers on her face. Gus said nothing but continued to stare at her. Dylan looked over her shoulder and saw that she had come out of the ladies. "Oh, that. How many chances do you get to see what's in there, eh?" she said lightly, moving past the scowling man and heading towards the rear of the club.

Dylan could feel the heat of his stare on her back. Not sure that she had convinced him with her lies she did something very un-ladylike, vaulting across a table and letting her hip slide along the wood until she hopped off the other side and onto her feet. Dylan looked over her shoulder at Gus and winked before giving him a wide smile and a whistle as she tried to walk off unconcerned.

Once out of sight Dylan slumped against the wall. She didn't know why it worried her if Gus found out about her or not, but it did. She had one of those 'street smart' moments and she knew not to ignore those.

In the kitchen she pilfered an apple and munched on it while she climbed the stairs to Rocco's office. As she walked down the short corridor a door on one of the other offices was ajar and she saw something shiny sitting in a pile on the desk. Dylan pushed the door open and moved into the empty room, holding the apple in her mouth while her hands reached for the glittery material. She shook it out and saw by the size of it it was Rhea's missing dress.

Carrying the rolled dress under one arm Dylan emerged and returned down the stairs, this time changing direction toward the tiny storage rooms that doubled as dressing rooms. She stood outside a door that had a piece of paper stuck to it with the words 'Rhea Whitman' printed in big block letters. Dylan looked one way then the other before entering the dressing room, reaching for the light switch on the wall. The row of lights around the mirror blazed brightly and blinded Dylan for a moment.

She searched for a coat hanger but the white spots in front of her eyes hampered the search. It took a couple of minutes before the spots faded and she could actually see, finding a suitable hanger and hanging Rhea's dress on the hook behind the door. At least hanging there no one would find it until they closed the door, and hopefully save it from being stolen? again.

For some unknown reason Dylan felt happy about the fact that she had found Rhea's dress. Maybe the woman would ease up on her because of it. At least Rhea didn't have to wear the same dress night after night.

Dylan snuck back to the kitchen then continued on up the stairs back to Bobby.

"That looks better," he announced as she walked into the office.

"Gus saw me," Dylan stated.

"He saw what?"

"He saw me come out of the ladies bathroom." Dylan said sheepishly.

"What did you do that for?" Bobby questioned.

"Surely you didn't expect me to use the men's bathroom, did you?" Dylan was aghast.

"No, but you could have been more careful."

"He was standing there when I walked out, Bobby. What could I do?"

"So what did you say?" he asked.

"I said 'how many chances do you get to see what's in there?'." Dylan explained.

"And did he buy it?"

"I don't know. He was staring at me an awful long time." Dylan felt uneasy again.

"Don't worry about it. You go and look after the dame and I'll take care of Gus."

"If you say so. What if you need me?" Dylan asked.

"Here," Bobby said as he picked up a pencil and began to write on a piece of paper. "This is the office number. Call at three and six to see what's going on, but you may get Marco instead of me." He handed over the number to Dylan, who slipped the paper into her top pocket.

"And who's this Marco?"

"Marco Pirelli. He's Mr. Rizzoli's accountant and he can handle the office stuff. I'm more a hands-on kind of guy. I'll fill him in on you so you won't have no trouble."

"Thanks," Dylan answered. "Is there anything else that needs doing?"

Bobby smiled at her. "Stop putting it off."

She threw the apple core she had been carrying in the waste basket right before turning on her heel and leaving the office. This time she took the stairs across the lobby down to the alleyway. Bobby was right. She should stopping putting off the inevitable.

* * *

Chapter 5. The Devil's Advocate

Dylan had been sitting in the car outside Rhea's home for the last two hours trying to decide what to do. Her first choice was to not do anything but that wasn't an option. Unfortunately, there was only one other option and it was that option that had her stumped. She had been staring into space idly smoking a cigarette when there was a knock on the window. Dylan tried to control the urge to jump but she felt her muscles twitch with the scare. She rolled down the window to face her visitor.

"What are you doing here?" Rhea said accusingly. "It's way too early to pick me up for the club. Are you spying on me?"

"Me? Oh no, no, no, no." Dylan lied? again. To her it was lie upon lie and she just knew she was going to hell for it. Rhea gazed at her as if she knew better. "Okay, maybe I am. I was wondering if you weren't doing anything?"

"Are you asking me out on a date?"

Dylan couldn't tell whether Rhea was insulted or elated with the question. A part of her hoped that Rhea said 'no' so that she could satisfy Rocco's order without feeling guilty about it. "I suppose I am," Dylan tried to say calmly. She was nervous as hell.

Rhea looked off into the distance as if to consider Dylan's invitation. "Then I guess I accept."

"You do?" Dylan's voice rose from male to female, forcing her to quickly clear her throat and start again. "Well good."

"Where are we going?" Rhea asked politely.

Dylan hadn't thought past the initial question because she hadn't expected Rhea to say 'yes'. But it only confirmed her worst fears. Rhea was interested in her. Under any other circumstances she would have jumped at the chance for a date or two, but the threat of Rocco hanging over their heads sort of took the edge off the supposed date.

"I don't know," Dylan said honestly. "We could go to a diner for lunch or maybe a matinee at the local picture palace."

"Fine. Let me get my purse," Rhea turned around and went back inside the house.

Dylan sat patiently behind the wheel, her thumb beating out a steady rhythm on the steering wheel. Time passed without any sign of her date. She climbed out of the car and lit a cigarette, leaning against the hood to watch for Rhea's return. It was a nice day and despite all the troubles back at the speakeasy Dylan smiled. The sun was out and the temperature was warm for that particular time of the year. Life was pretty good.

Through the haze of cigarette smoke Dylan saw Rhea emerge from the house. She had changed from her blouse and skirt into street clothes, a tiny hat perched on her head. It was the same suit that she had worn the first time Dylan had seen her in Rocco's office. She took another inhale from her cigarette as she watched Rhea walk towards her. She was demure, classy and beautiful. Rhea was a class above her and it was just one more reason why it wouldn't work.

"I'm sorry I took so long. I had to change," Rhea explained.

"So I see," Dylan observed. As she was about to take another drag on her cigarette Rhea spoke up.

"Please don't smoke," she asked.

"Sorry," Dylan apologized, dropping the butt and stamping on it.

"Don't be. It's just that the smoke makes me nauseous." Rhea took a step back to let the air clear.

"I don't mind if you're noisy or not."

"No, nauseous. It makes me feel sick." Rhea chuckled.

"Oh, fine." Dylan felt a little embarrassed her ignorance had been shown up so early in her association with Rhea. Without thought she took a step back, putting space between them.

"Look?," Rhea began, her hand reaching out to touch Dylan's arms.

"So where do you want to go?" Dylan made a move to open the back door of the car before Rhea could touch her.

"I'm pretty new to this town. You can choose." Instead of taking the back seat Rhea reached for the front door, opening it and taking her place in the front passenger seat. She didn't close the door but allowed Dylan to do it for her. Rhea watched the woman move around the car and waited for Dylan to settle behind the wheel before she spoke again. "I'm sorry that-"

Dylan cut her off. "Don't worry about it." The engine roared into life and Dylan revved it to stop any further conversation. She wasn't familiar with this end of the city so she cruised the streets to find somewhere suitable to eat. One particular diner that appealed to her sat opposite a small park, so she maneuvered the car into an available parking spot a hundred feet past it.

The journey had been silent and tense, and Dylan was aware that she probably was the cause of it. Her sadly-lacking knowledge had never been a problem for her before but somehow it was with Rhea. She didn't want to appear a fool in front of the woman and she wasn't sure why.

Mechanically Dylan climbed out of the car, put on her fedora and walked to the other side to open Rhea's door. She offered her hand to help Rhea out and closed the door behind her without uttering a word. After locking up they walked down the sidewalk toward the diner. Dylan stopped and took off her hat, running a hand through her slick hair. When Rhea stopped and turned around to look at her Dylan murmured, "I'm not stupid, you know."

"I never said that you were," Rhea replied quietly.

Dylan slipped her hand into her pants pocket and wiped the grease on the rag she knew was there. "No, you didn't say? but you laughed." Dylan let her eyesight drop to the ground and she shuffled her shoes.

"I thought it was cute." There was a moment of hesitation. "I thought you were cute," Rhea amended.

Dylan changed direction and walked toward the park. She stopped to wait for Rhea to catch up to her when she reached the grass verge.

"Who is asking me out on this date? You or Mr. Rizzoli?"

Dylan didn't look at Rhea. "Why do you ask?"

"Well for one, he asked you to escort me home last night. You did that on his order. Is taking me to lunch another one of his orders? Besides you're answering a question with a question. You don't want to answer it."

"And you're too smart for your own good," Dylan retorted.

"Then what's the problem?" Rhea reached for Dylan when she tried to walk away.

"The problem is that I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. You'd hate me if Mr. Rizzoli was involved in this but I can't do this on my own either."

"And why can't you do this on your own?" Rhea asked.

"If you only knew," Dylan said cryptically. "As far as Mr. Rizzoli is concerned you are off limits to everyone else."

"Well you can tell him to forget it!" Rhea growled. "I'll see who I want."

"You can't do that," Dylan explained.

"And don't think just because you're a woman that's going to stop me!" Rhea ranted. "If he thinks he can? can?"

"Whoa! Did you say woman?" Dylan was shocked.

"You didn't think that disguise would fool me, did you?"

Dylan found a park bench and sat down. "When did you find out?"

"I didn't know for sure until this morning. Last night was a little too dark but I suspected."

"Sus-specced?" Dylan asked.

"I thought you might be a woman last night but I wasn't sure. When I saw you in daylight I had no doubt."

"Oh," Dylan leaned forward, put her arms on her thighs and inspected the grass underneath her shoes. It took a minute or two before Dylan realized what Rhea had actually said. "Was this before or after you said yes to lunch?"

"Does it matter?"

"To me, yes." Dylan lifted her eyes to look at Rhea. "Tell me," she murmured.


Did Rhea mean what she thought it meant? "Why did you say yes?"

"Why? Because I wanted to get to know you better," Rhea said.

"Is that a good idea? Mr. Rizzoli could change his mind and send me somewhere else at a moment's notice." Dylan offered.

"Then I'll have to make sure that he thinks you have my attention," Rhea stated.

"But?" Dylan started.

"What's really worrying you?" Rhea sat down next to Dylan and closed the distance between the two of them.

But Dylan couldn't answer it. How could she ask what she wanted to know without either getting her face smacked or hearing something she didn't want to hear? "Nuthin's worrying me."

"And I know Charlie Chaplin. You're not fooling me you know." Rhea tentatively reached over and touched Dylan's knee. "Does that say something?" Dylan's gaze met hers before dropping to the hand resting on her knee.

"I don't know," Dylan hedged. "What are you trying to say?"

Rhea withdrew her hand and leaned back on the park bench. She sighed in frustration. "Alright, you want to know? But if I'm wrong about this it may well destroy any chance of a friendship. Do you want to risk that?"

Dylan had a feeling she knew what Rhea was going to say but she needed to hear it anyway to avoid any future confusion. What Rhea was about to say would set the boundaries for whatever relationship destiny would grant them. She inhaled deeply, filling her lungs with fresh air, before exhaling and allowing the tension in her body to go with it. "Yeah, I think I need to know." She couldn't look at the woman seated next to her so she focused her gaze on the road and the diner about a hundred feet from where they were sitting.

"Then look at me," Rhea demanded.

"I don't think I can," Dylan begged.

"Dylan," Rhea started, "you're dressed as a man."

"So? Tell me something I don't know." Dylan said quietly.

"Why?" Rhea asked.

"Why?" Dylan knew she was taking a chance. "Mr. Rizzoli was worried about his reputation if he hired a woman and I needed the job. It seemed the easiest way."

"And I assume you're not married," Rhea surmised.

"I wouldn't be here with you if I was," Dylan replied indignantly. "You don't think I'd cheat-"

"No! No, of course not." Rhea held up her hand in supplication. "My point is that you are a woman posing as a man in a rather dubious position with a man whose morals are questionable."

"Errr? yeah," Dylan responded in confusion.

"You're working for a mobster dressed as a man," Rhea simplified.

"Oh, yeah. So what?" Dylan tried to grasp the point.

"It's not something your average woman would do. She'd be home married, raising kids and cooking in the kitchen." Rhea pointed out.

"I've never been average," Dylan explained.

"I can see that, but it takes a certain type of woman to do what you do. Do you get my drift?" Rhea hoped so, because she was meandering around the point without blatantly asked the question.

"Maybe you better just tell me," Dylan stated simply.

"Are you not married because you don't like?," Rhea hesitated and gulped loudly, "?men?"

"Like? Men?" Dylan repeated Rhea's words, trying to get an extra moment of freedom before she had to answer. She knew exactly what Rhea was asking but she didn't hear any hostility to the question either. "No."

Rhea barely heard Dylan's response, the word dissipating in the open air.

"Does that bother you?" Dylan inquired.

"No, it doesn't bother me at all," Rhea responded. She turned and looked at Dylan, and could see the silent question on her face. Dylan wanted to know where she stood. "Why do you think I've been avoiding Mr. Rizzoli?"

"Because he's pushy? Rude? A liar?" Dylan just hoped that Rhea didn't repeat the conversation to her boss.

"Well, he is all that. But no, there's another reason." Rhea left the rest unsaid.

"Please, Rhea, say it. I need to hear you say it," Dylan pleaded.

"I like women," Rhea whispered the last word as if the morality police would hear it and arrest her.

Dylan leaned in and whispered back, "Me too". She felt lighter for admitting it but moved away an inch or two anyway. While the 1920s had been liberal about such things, recently in the mid-1930s the general consensus was that homosexuality was some sort of mental disease and in need of medical treatment. The last thing she needed right now was to end up in the nut house for not being married to some guy. "How about we go get that lunch now?"

Dylan stood and offered her hand to help Rhea stand. She dropped the contact and shoved her hands in her trouser pockets. They walked side-by-side across the road and down the hundred-or-so feet to the door of the diner. She held open the door and allowed Rhea to enter before her. All eyes turned to them momentarily as they entered but soon turned back to their meals, conversations and business. A hat tree stood near the entrance and Dylan hung her hat on it before following Rhea and the waitress to their booth by the window. She slid into the seat opposite Rhea, seeking the protection of a piece of wood between them.

"What would you like honey?" The waitress said mechanically, her jaw working the piece of gum in her mouth.

"Can you give us a moment please?" Dylan asked.

"Sure thing," she said and began to move away.

"Could we get two coffees?" Dylan added.

"Sure." The gum in the waitress's mouth popped as she jotted down the order and wandered back to the countertop and the kitchen.

There was silence as Dylan and Rhea studied the limited lunch menu.

"I hope this is okay." Dylan said almost apologetically.

"It's more than fine." Rhea looked up from the menu and smiled at Dylan. "Have you got any ideas?"

Under normal circumstances Dylan would have just ordered a burger, but somehow that didn't seem appropriate on a date. "Not really. Maybe a steak?"


"The boss is paying for this so order up big."

"So he is involved. Then why isn't he here himself?"

"There ya go, honey!" the waitress interrupted the conversation. She placed the two coffees noisily on the formica top. "You ready to order yet?"

Dylan glanced at Rhea who just shrugged. "Two steaks," she ordered, "medium rare?" Dylan looked at Rhea who nodded in confirmation. "And apple pie and ice cream for afters."

After the waitress had left Rhea stared at Dylan. "I won't be able to eat all that!"

"Doesn't matter. He's paying for it so we'll order big." Dylan repeated.

"Speaking of? why are you here?"

"Because I asked you out." Dylan said simply

"You know what I mean. What has that rat got you doing?" Rhea demanded.

"Do I have to?" Rhea's stare never wavered as she sat silently with her arms crossed. She was not happy. "Since he struck out with you, he's hoping that I can woo you for him."

"Woo? Me? That has got to be the daftest? sleaziest thing I've ever heard of." Rhea's eyebrows tilted as the anger overtook her. "Of all the arrogant, despicable?"

Dylan reached for her coffee and tried to drink it. Her hand was shaking and the hot liquid spilled over the sides of her cup. She jumped when Rhea turned her attention onto her.

"And what about you, huh? You go along with this stupid idea?"

"Me?" Dylan's voice squeaked. "I tried to get out of it? a number of times, but he wouldn't let me. It was either do this or look for another job."

"You should have looked for another job," Rhea said menacingly. "So you're just playing me along for him?"

"Oh, no no no! I told him it was a bad idea from the beginning. But he thought I was a safe bet. You know, being a woman and all I wouldn't be trying to steal you away from him."

"A? safe? bet?" Rhea enunciated carefully.

The waitress arrived with the cutlery and put it on the table. She took one look at Rhea's face and decided she didn't want to be dragged into whatever argument that was going on. She backed away quickly and took refuge behind the counter.

"A bad idea? You didn't want to be around me?" Rhea's anger faded and was replaced with sadness.

"Let me explain-"

"Oh, you don't have to explain. I'm so abhorrent that you tried everything to be somewhere else."

"You are not a whore! Don't say things like that!" Dylan defended.

"Abhorrent? unlikeable," Rhea clarified.

"I wanted to stay away, but not for the reason you think."

"Then please explain," Rhea said sarcastically. "I have to know."

Dylan looked out the window to collect her thoughts. "I was afraid that you would be interested in me. Rocco would kill us if something happened between us."

"Go on," Rhea said cautiously.

"He wanted me to tell you what a good man he would be to have as a boyfriend. He wanted me to take you out and have a good time. I thought it was lousy that I would have to lie about that snake in the first place, but having to lead you on that I was interested when it was for him all along? I hated that, I really did. You deserve better than that low-life, Rhea Whitman. I just can't lie about it anymore."

Rhea sat quietly as Dylan spoke. "What happens now?" she asked.

"I suppose that depends on you," Dylan stated.

"And what do you want to do?" Rhea responded.

"I wish I could start all over again because I'm stuck here. Any move I make Rocco will kill me for, but I just can't keep up the lies anymore."

"If Rocco wasn't an issue?" Rhea started, leaving Dylan to finish the sentence.

"Then I suppose I'd be paying for our lunch myself," Dylan surmised.

"That's not what I mean, and you know it," Rhea retorted.

"I know."

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the meal, and Dylan took solace in the food for a while. Rhea tried to maintain eye contact as they ate but Dylan directed her interest toward the steak. She couldn't delay the answer much longer, so she waited until she had chewed the steak and swallowed it. "It can only be a friendship, Miss Whitman."

"I thought it was Rhea," she said quietly.

"It still is? Rhea? and as much as I want it differently, it can't be anything more." Dylan looked Rhea in the eye to try and convince her she meant what she said.

"But you want it?" Rhea asked.

"I want to get to know you better," Dylan qualified. She cut her meat and popped a piece of steak into her mouth, chewing it thoughtfully.

"All right," Rhea conceded. "What do you want to know?"

"Everything, but for now how did you end up here?" Dylan asked before taking a mouthful of her rapidly cooling coffee.

"It began about two years ago when I left home," Rhea began.

Dylan looked up from her meal and spoke. "And your parents let you go? They're very understanding."

"Weelll?" Rhea said sheepishly. "They would be if they thought I was getting married."

"Married, huh? And you didn't invite them?" Dylan chuckled.

"Ricky was a childhood friend and he knew how much I wanted to get out of that house."

"Your dad didn't?," Dylan gave her a concerned look.

"Oh no, nothing like that. I wanted to sing but they were more interested in me getting married and giving them grandchildren. Anyway, Ricky said he would help out and we both knew my parents trusted him. He had just joined the Army and was about to be stationed on the other side of the country. While my mom and dad were anxious about me going, but knowing that Ricky was at the other end of the bus ride was enough for them to let me go."

"So did you marry him?" It was a question that Dylan didn't really want answered, and yet she had to know because not knowing would gnaw at her until she had an answer.

"I didn't get that far because I left the bus before the terminal. But Ricky knew that before I got on the bus." Rhea turned her attention to her meal, pushing a piece of potato onto her fork and feeding it into her mouth. She took the silent moment to observe the woman sitting across from her.

"You're staring at me," Dylan said, even though her eyes were downcast as she spoke.

"Where did you get the bruises?" Rhea asked.

"You're only noticing now?" Dylan looked up from her meal and smiled.

"It's the only time that you've sat still long enough for me to notice," Rhea retorted. "So how did you get them?"

"In a fight."

When Dylan said no more, Rhea prompted, "And?"

"And nothing. It was just a fight. I won," Dylan said proudly.

"What was it over?"

Dylan didn't want to supply details so she merely said, "Gas."


"Yeah, the sort that you put in a car," Dylan qualified.

"The fight was over a dollar's worth of gas?" Rhea asked incredulously.

"Yeah. I said a buck twenty and they said a buck forty. I paid the buck twenty." Dylan put down her knife and fork. "That's it. I'm full." Rhea had finished as much as she would eat and sat opposite her watching and waiting. Dylan turned in her seat to attract the attention of the waitress and found that she was being watched. She turned back to Rhea. "What are they staring at?"

"You," Rhea said calmly.


"They're probably trying to figure you out."

"And what's wrong with me?" Dylan was incensed.

"Nothing, but to them you're either a very effeminate man or a woman dressed as a man. In either case, you're not normal."

"Are you calling me a freak?" Dylan's eyes narrowed. "E-fem-mate?"

"Of course not. I'm just telling you what they might be thinking. An effeminate man acts like a woman, Dylan."

"You mean a pansy?"

Rhea laughed. "Something like that."

"Well, I ain't no pansy!" Dylan wanted to show them all how much of a pansy she was but Rhea rested a hand on her arm.

"Calm down," Rhea asked. "Don't let them rile you."


"They don't matter, Dylan."

"So I haven't fooled anybody," Dylan said in defeat.

"You fooled me? at first," Rhea said gently. "Well, look at yourself!"

"What's wrong with me?" Dylan asked nervously.

"Absolutely nothing." It was the way Rhea said those two words that made Dylan take notice. "You're too beautiful to pass as a man."

"Beautiful? Me?" She took pleasure in the fact that Rhea thought she was beautiful. "Nah, I've got bruises and a split lip."

"You can't hide something like that, Dylan, so they're probably wondering why a woman is dressed like a man." Rhea explained patiently.

"I wish they'd stop looking at me. Let's get out of here," Dylan told her. She was already in motion as she spoke, her hand extending to help Rhea from her seat. She allowed Rhea to go first and followed behind her, stopping at the counter to pay the bill. Dylan stared back at the gawkers before she left, daring them to say something. When no one took up the challenge she grabbed her hat and put it on her head, pulling it firmly down over her eyes with a flourish. With one final look she left the diner to join Rhea waiting outside for her.

"I'll take you home," Dylan said.

Rhea looked at her watch. "There's still a little time," she pleaded. "Can we talk for a little longer?"

"Sure," Dylan looked sideways at Rhea as they walked along the sidewalk. She pulled Rhea's arm and changed direction, leading her toward the park. "Sit." Rhea took her seat next to Dylan on a park bench and they sat for a couple of minutes without talking. Dylan hadn't realized that her hand had slipped into her jacket pocket until her fingers wrapped around the cigarette pack sitting there.

"You can smoke if you like," Rhea said out of the blue.

"How??" Dylan admitted that she was surprised.

"You're playing with the box of matches," Rhea replied.

"But you don't like me smoking. I can wait." Dylan removed her hand and brought her fingers together, leaning her forearms on her jiggling thighs. "You said in the diner that you had a fake wedding. Didn't your mom and dad try to contact you?"

"I telephoned them before they had a chance to contact Ricky." Rhea leaned forward and mimicked Dylan, her fingers locked together and her forearms resting on her thighs. "I come from a God-fearing family, Dylan. My dad would have locked me in the cellar if I had said I wanted to sing. The only singing I was allowed to do was at church each Sunday."

"I suppose the phone call was a little angry," Dylan suggested.

"Angry? Angry doesn't begin to describe my father's wrath. He could have yelled at me all the way from Ohio without a telephone. He cussed me, threatened me and disowned me. And that was before I got the job at the club. If he knew about that he'd send the Law after me."

"What about your mom," Dylan asked quietly, "How does she feel about you singing?"

"My mom has no opinion except what dad tells her." Rhea's brow creased as she talked.

Dylan watched the emotion wash over Rhea's face. She obviously felt some resentment as to how her father ruled the family. "Any brothers and sisters?"

"A couple of older brothers, but dad already had his hooks into them and they now work on the farm. They're stuck there and I got out before I became another victim."

Dylan frowned. Rhea was just like her-both outcasts from their families and living alone. Rhea had the support of the elderly couple she was living with, sure, but that was only superficial support and not the love of a close family.

"What about you?" Rhea asked in return.

"Me? Same as you. I came from a small farm in West Virginia, where we grew vegetables mainly for the local market. I had never considered myself as a proper little girl. I loved to climb trees, fight with my brothers, and when we got older I would tinker around cars with them. Dad hated that. I was supposed to get married and have lots of kids. To him that was my only purpose in life." Rhea gazed off into the distance as the memory of that fateful day returned.

"So what happened?" Rhea rested a hand on her knee for a moment before removing it.

"We had a falling out about four years ago." Dylan said flatly.

"Because he found out??" Rhea asked.

"Oh no. If he found that out he'd shoot me. He was trying to get me married and I didn't want to, so it came down to an ulli? elli?ullamartum," Dylan stumbled.

"Ultimatum," Rhea filled in.

"Yeah that. The order was get out of the house one way or the other. I took the other." Dylan dropped her head. "I haven't talked to them since." She lifted a hand and rubbed the back of her neck. "I sure miss Jake and Andy, they're my brothers, and mom of course. My dad can go to hell." She reached into her trouser pocket and wiped her hand on the rag.

"Is Dylan your real name?"

Dylan waited, trying to decide if she should tell Rhea the truth. "No, I left that name behind me. They can't track down what doesn't exist." Dylan said eloquently. "To you I'm Dylan." She glanced at the woman seated beside her. "Your secret is safe with me, Rhea Whitman."

"And you secret is safe with me, Dylan? errr." Rhea searched for a surname.

"Just Dylan," she hedged.

"And what does your driver's license say?" Rhea asked.

"Some stupid name Rocco picked out for me. I want to forget it." Dylan stated firmly. "I'm Dylan to anyone who knows me."

"Except your family," Rhea qualified.

"Yeah," Dylan said sadly, "except my family."

* * *

Chapter 6. Illusion Is The Dust The Devil Throws In The Eyes Of The Foolish

Dylan stood and offered her hand to Rhea. "I'll take you home," Dylan told Rhea. This time Rhea didn't refuse, instead nodding her agreement. "You should get some rest before tonight's performance."

"And what will you be doing?" Rhea inquired.

"I better get back to the club. A lot has been going on since last night," Dylan commented.

"Last night? Why, what happened?" Rhea's voice had a hint of urgency about it.

"One of the clubs uptown burned to the ground," Dylan informed her. "Carlito's."

Rhea stopped walking, drawing Dylan's attention to her. She looked like she was going to faint.

"What's wrong?" Dylan stepped around in front to face Rhea.

"Carlito's? I used to work there."

"Yeah? Small world," Dylan responded. "As a singer?" She wondered why Rhea would leave such a high-class joint to sing in Rocco's dump of a club.

"No, I wasn't good enough, or so they said. I was a hat check girl? up until last week." Rhea said shakily.

"So this crappy singing job saved your life, huh? And your dad said nothing good would ever come from singing." Dylan tried to be upbeat about the near miss on Rhea's life but she could see the news had scared her. "Come on." Dylan took her place by Rhea's side, placing a hand lightly on her back to guide her to the car.

The conversation had turned and was replaced with silence. Dylan tried to allay Rhea's fears. "You were never in danger you know. The fire was in the middle of the night."

"But still-"

"They weren't targeting you, Rhea." Dylan opened the car door and waited for Rhea to take her seat before closing it. She held off saying more until she had taken her own place behind the steering wheel. "You're making a lot out of this."

"I've never been threatened before," Rhea said quietly.

Dylan turned the key and put the car in gear, driving back toward Rhea's house. "And you still haven't."

"Then what do you call it?" Rhea spat out.

"I call it an attack on a club owned by a mobster." Dylan glanced sideways waiting for Rhea's answer but the young woman stared out the side window. "What are you thinking?" Dylan couldn't stand the silence.

"I don't know what I'm thinking," Rhea muttered while still gazing at the passing scenery.

Dylan reached across to her passenger and squeezed her knee. "Forget about it."

"How can I do that, huh?" Rhea turned her attention to Dylan. "It's already done."

"Exactly," Dylan agreed, "it's already done. Over. You're out of that now." Dylan pulled over to the curb and put on the hand brake before turning her full attention on Rhea. "You've got to move on, Rhea. It was a coin-in-cidence, that's all. If they were after you don't you think they would have struck while you were there?"

Rhea smiled gently. "Yeah, it was a... coin-in-cidence," she said softly.

Dylan smiled and moved out into traffic, driving her back to her house without further conversation. Once the car stopped, Dylan alighted and walked around the car to open the door for her passenger. She leaned her forearms on the top of the door as Rhea sat on the edge of the seat with her feet on the ground. "Now, you rest and I'll be back at six."

"What about you?" Rhea looked up into amused eyes.

"I probably should go to the club. Bobby wanted me to contact him by three." Dylan looked at her watch to see it was ten to three. "I'll be a little late."

Rhea moved onto the sidewalk and walked to the front gate of her house. She turned around to see Dylan close the door and walk around the car to the driver's side. "Until six then!" she called.

"Yeah," Dylan called back, "Six." She smiled at Rhea and climbed into the Buick, watching through the windscreen as she walked up the path to the front door and then disappeared inside.

On her trip back to the club she stopped off to pick up something. She was going to be a few minutes late so what were a few minutes more?

* * *

"So how did it go?" Bobby said from his seat outside Rocco's office.

"Peachy," Dylan replied. "I don't like doing this to her, Bobby."

"He'll grow tired of her soon enough," Bobby predicted.

"And where does that leave me, huh?" Dylan disliked Rocco's games. "Once he's caught her the game's over?"

"Something like that," Bobby said solemnly.

Dylan could feel her blood pressure rise. "He fucks them and then dumps them, is that it?"

"Dylan! Don't be so crude!" Bobby's mouth dropped.

"I'm not feeling in a generous mood, Bobby. That's the most despicable thing I've ever heard." Dylan knew there were probably worse things in life but it was the fact that Rocco was using her to get Rhea into bed for him that really burned her.

Bobby's voice dropped to a whisper. "I don't like it any better than you, but if you don't do it someone else will. He'll get his way one way or the other."

"But she's not interested, Bobby. Why is he still chasing her?" With Bobby's new information Dylan now understood why Rocco was persisting with the romance.

"Miss Whitman has become a challenge to him, and he's not one to back down from a challenge." Bobby sat back in his chair.

"That doesn't mean I have to like it." Dylan muttered under her breath.

"Just don't let boss hear you say that." Bobby said quietly before he stood up and steered Dylan toward Rocco's office. "You should meet the boss's accountant." He knocked on the frosted glass and waited for the 'come in'. "Mr. Pirelli, this is Mr. Rizzoli's new driver." Dylan followed Bobby through the door as he spoke.

Behind the large desk sat a thin, wiry, bespectacled man who, Dylan thought, looked way too comfortable in Rocco's chair. Pirelli looked up from papers sitting on the desk. "The driver, eh?" Even his voice made Dylan cringe.

"Yes, sir. Dylan," she dutifully replied. While she didn't like the weasly-looking man one bit she had enough sense not to insult the man, even as he studied her intently.

He looked away from Dylan and addressed Bobby. "Mr. Rizzoli just called. He'll be back in the morning."

"How did it go?" Bobby asked.

"He didn't say, and you shouldn't speculate," Pirelli said condescendingly. Even to Dylan's fresh eyes she could see he was a stuck up son of a bitch.

"I don't need 'em, sir," Bobby offered.

"Errr, fine. Go about your business." With a wave of his hand Pirelli dismissed them, expecting Bobby and Dylan to leave and find something to do until Rocco returned.

"Why is he so interested in you getting glasses?" Dylan posed.

"I have no idea. I got twenty-twenty." Bobby shrugged his shoulders.

"What do I do now?" Dylan still had a couple of hours before she had to pick up Rhea.

"I dunno. I suppose if the boss is coming back tomorrow you could wash the car?" Bobby asked carefully.

"And what if I don't want to wash the car?" Dylan threatened.

"Then? errr?. I dunno," Bobby stuttered.

"I'm kidding! Lighten up, will ya?" Dylan slapped him on the back. "Do we have stuff to wash the car?"

"In the basement," Bobby told her.

"We have a basement?" This was something new she didn't know.

"Sure," Bobby replied, "but you really don't want to go down there unless you absolutely have to."

"And I have to? Come on Bobby, come and save me from the rats and spiders while we find the washing stuff." Dylan gently pushed Bobby towards the back stairs when he seemed to resist her prodding. "And what are you going to do until the morning?" Dylan asked as they descended the stairs to the kitchen.

"I go no idea," Bobby replied, his voice fading under the sound of noisy dishes and pots and pans. "This way."

Bobby led her along the back wall of the building to a door. He opened it and a set of stairs led down to darkness. The stench of decay wafted up on cold air and hit her nose with all the subtlety of Rocco Rizzoli. The smell was simply awful. "No wonder no one wants to go down there."

"That's part of it. It's just creepy down there."

"Bobby? Don't tell me you're scared of the basement?" Dylan taunted.

"I ain't scared of nuthin'," he said bravely as he reached for the large switch on the wall.

The light barely lit up the basement, casting an eerie low light over the room. "If he got someone in here to clean it up it wouldn't be so bad." Dylan descended the stairs and started to poke around. She didn't have to look too far to find a bucket and cloth. Bobby was still standing at the top of the stairs. "What's the matter?"

"Nuthin'. I'm just waiting for you to get back up here." But he couldn't look her in the eye.

"How long has Pirelli been working for the boss?" Dylan changed the subject.

"I dunno. He was working for him when I started seven years ago. Why?"

"He gives me the creeps," she said matter-of-factly as she walked through the mess to the staircase. "I don't trust him."

"Remember the golden rule, Dylan," Bobby stated, "Don't never trust noone."

"That's why I was asking. He looked very cosy in the boss's chair, like he didn't want to give it up just yet."

"Hmmm," Bobby said thoughtfully. "After today, you probably won't see him again."

"What? You're not going to..??" Dylan's heart pounded. Was she going to see mob justice first hand?

"Hell, no! He only turns up in emergencies, so when the boss gets back tomorrow he'll be gone." Bobby chuckled at Dylan's shocked expression. "I keep telling ya that the boss doesn't do that stuff any more."

"Maybe not, Bobby," Dylan reached the top step, "but we both know he's got the stomach to do it."

* * *

Dylan started on the inside of the car, first cleaning it from top to bottom and trying to get rid of the stale cigarette smell. She took a break or two in the two hours, leaning on the hood of the Buick while she smoked. The events of the last couple of days weighed heavily on her. She was stuck in a situation that had only one exit, and leaving would abandon Rhea to Rocco and his wolves. Even if she didn't like the woman she just couldn't do it. Whether she liked it or not both of them were stuck firmly in Rocco's spider web.

Dylan put the finishing touches on her detailing of the interior and looked at her watch. She decided to leave the outside of the car until the morning then if Rocco returned and she was working it would look better for her. The bucket and cloth were returned to the basement door, leaving them against the wall to collect in the morning. The chef in the kitchen offered her some food and she gratefully accepted it, gulping it down in record time before giving the remnants to the rubbish bin.

Dylan reached Rhea's house with five minutes to spare. All the rushing around had sent her heartbeat soaring, so she stepped out of the car and leaned against the hood to wait. Her hand absently went to her coat pocket and a cigarette mysteriously appeared in her hand, and before she could register what had happened she was inhaling as a lit match touched the tobacco. She had managed two inhalations when Rhea emerged from the house. If it were anyone else she would have finished that cigarette, but this wasn't just anyone. Before the small woman could talk Dylan crushed the cigarette under foot.

"I would have waited, you know," Rhea said.

"It's a dirty habit anyway," Dylan responded. She opened the car door and waited for Rhea to sit down. As she had done in the last two days, Dylan closed the door and walked around the Buick to the driver's side, making herself comfortable behind the steering wheel. Without a word she started the engine and put the car into gear.

"Did I do something?" Rhea asked uncertainly.

"No, why?" Dylan kept her eyes on the road.

"You've hardly said a thing." Rhea was wistful.

Dylan chuckled and cast an easy glance at Rhea. "I just got into the car. Were you expecting a sud? sul? sodidiquilly or somethin'?"

"No, I wasn't expecting a soliloquy. It's just that you seem worried about something."

"Me? Nah," she lied. Dylan couldn't tell her the whole truth. It was something that she would have to figure out herself. "Do you have a matinee tomorrow?" Dylan sought the safety of another subject.

"It's Saturday, yeah. Two and eight at night both Saturday and Sunday. Are you able to pick me up?"

Dylan laughed.

"What's so funny?" Rhea inquired.

"Was it only last night that you refused to get into the car?" Dylan explained.

Rhea thought about it. "I suppose it is." She laughed herself.

"That's a switch."

"Ahh, but that was before I knew anything about you, Dylan who-ever-you-are." Rhea laughed.

"Exactly. Now you can't wait to get me alone," Dylan joked.

"Stop that!" Rhea smacked Dylan's solid shoulder. Her hand returned to the shoulder and squeezed. "Those are some muscles, young lady." Rhea scolded, but that didn't stop her from squeezing the coat again.

"Probably all those carrot sacks I used to carry back home," Dylan mumbled.


Rhea's hum made Dylan look at her. It was a dangerous hum and one that spoke of more than mere curiosity. Luckily, the club came into sight as she was spared the embarrassment of following up on the invitation to flirt. A parking spot opened up out front and Dylan took advantage of it.

"Why don't you park around back?" Rhea asked.

"It's dark and deserted at night." Dylan explained. "It's safer here where there's lighting. In fact, if it's okay with you, meet me at the bar and when you're done we'll leave by the front door."

"Sure." Rhea reached for the door handle but was stopped.

"Ah-ah, that's my job." Dylan jumped out of the car and trotted around the car to the passenger side. She opened the door with a flourish, offering her hand in assistance as Rhea tried to get out of the car. Dylan looked into Rhea's eyes and felt her resolve dangerously slipping away. "Good luck tonight," she said in a low voice. "You'll find me at the bar when you've finished."

"You better be there," Rhea warned. "I'd hate to have to tell Mr. Rizzoli that you were ignoring me."

"You wouldn't?" Dylan felt a spike of fear flow through her for a moment before she realized that Rhea would never do that. From what she knew of the woman so far, Rhea gave the impression that she wasn't a vindictive sort of person. Sadly, she felt that she would probably never find out everything she wanted to know about the woman because their destinies lay on different paths. Once Rocco was over his obsession with Rhea she would be gone.

Dylan steered Rhea to the side street with a hand gently resting on the small of her back. Rhea continued, "When you get to know me better you'll soon realize that when I want something bad enough I usually get it."

"Really?" Despite her own reply Dylan was not really surprised. She knew the woman was stubborn, so determination wouldn't be too far behind. "Are you going to fight Mr. Rizzoli for my attention?" It was supposed to be a joke but when she glanced at Rhea she saw that determination.

"Maybe," Rhea said firmly.

"You're playing a dangerous game," Dylan warned.

"Maybe I like danger." Rhea smiled.

"If you want to see me you'll have to play along." Dylan was cursing inside. Why was she even thinking of encouraging Rhea? Had she forgotten so quickly her promise not to get involved?

"He's putty in my hands," Rhea said confidently.

Dylan stopped and pulled Rhea to a halt. "Don't even think about it! Do not, and I repeat DO NOT encourage him."

"Why? Isn't that the whole idea?" Rhea looked perplexed.

"I'm sure it is but if he thinks you're interested he'll take it as a 'yes' to anything he wants." Dylan was trying hard to warn her without giving away what waited for Rhea at the end of the game. "I don't want you to get hurt, Rhea."

"Believe me I don't want to get hurt either. So what do you suggest?" Rhea looked at Dylan intently.

"Tell him? Tell him I've been helpful and polite." Dylan ignored Rhea as she rolled her eyes. "Tell him that I've been saying lots of nice stuff about him? you know, building him up."

"Is that what you were doing?" Rhea asked cheekily.

"Hey! Not so loud! The last thing we need is for him to find out. You need to be nice to him but, above all, do not flirt with him." Dylan emphasized.

"Why? Don't I want his attention?" Rhea looked confused.

Dylan searched for the right words. "Look?" Dylan pulled Rhea away from the building. "The bottom line is that he wants to get you into bed, with or without my help." Rhea's mouth opened to speak but Dylan held up her hand. "I hated this from the beginning," she said quietly, "but keeping me next to you is your only choice, unless you want to get laid of course."

"Of course," Rhea said sarcastically.

"We have to string him along until I figure a way out," Dylan mumbled to herself.

"We??" Rhea grinned.

"Errr? you. I meant you." Dylan tried to correct herself.

"Why don't we just leave and go somewhere else?" To Rhea it seemed the simplest solution to a convoluted problem.

"First of all, you've known me one day and you want to run away with me?" Dylan asked hopefully.

"Well, maybe not 'run away together' exactly," Rhea hedged. 'It's more like we both run in the same direction and see where it leads us."

"Oh," Dylan sounded almost disappointed. "And two, Mr. Rizzoli would probably track us down. Do you want to be on the run for the rest of your life?"

"So, you're telling me that either I get raped or I go on the run?" Rhea was dumb-founded.

Dylan couldn't find a way to cushion the reply. "Yeah, something like that."

"Neither choice is good," Rhea pointed out.

"No, but we have a bit of time." Dylan nudged Rhea toward the door. "Just be nice without giving him any signals."

"I can do that," Rhea agreed.

As Rhea held open the door and was about to enter the club Dylan added, "Mr. Rizzoli will be back tomorrow."

Rhea stopped and looked at her, the smile on her face dropping.

"I just thought you'd like to know." Dylan tried to keep a straight face as she delivered the news.

"Thanks for nothing," Rhea muttered as she stepped into the club.

Dylan chuckled as she watched Rhea disappear from sight, but she kept her amusement short. When Rhea discovered what she had done the woman would seek her out, and she was not sure she had all the answers. So she did the only thing she could do. She ran.

Dylan hopped into the car and she drove like the devil herself was on her tail. For a while she drove about aimlessly, for the sake of being away from the speakeasy, but her path ended up at her apartment. She hadn't spent a lot of time at her home recently so she took the moment to sit down in her own room and have a cigarette over coffee.

The apartment was cold with no fire in the hearth but she knew she couldn't hide there forever. Maybe she was making a mountain out of a molehill but what she had done was going to complicate things even more. Dylan flicked the cigarette butt into the fireplace and finished her coffee before finding the keys for the car and leaving her room.

As she drove back to the club Dylan made the decision to face whatever Rhea was going to say. The parking spot she had vacated earlier was still there and she gratefully took it. She strode in through the front door into the smoke-filled room. The pianist was playing in the background while the conversation was noisy and incomprehensible.

"The singer's looking for you," Lennie the barman said as soon as she saw Dylan enter.

"Give me a whiskey," Dylan ordered. She knew she shouldn't drink on the job but she needed a shot of liquid comfort. Two heavy-set men approached the bar and glanced sideways as Dylan drank the shot in one gulp.

"This here's Dylan. Mr. Rizzoli's new driver," Lennie said to the two men. "Dylan, this is Archie and Mario. They're here for a short while."

"Is this to do with the fire at Carlito's?"

"Yeah." The one called Archie replied. "We're here just in case."

"Good idea," Dylan offered. If they worked at Rocco's warehouse then she was a nun. They were hired muscle, pure and simple.

At that moment a cornet sounded loud and clear, playing a slow blues that set the mood for what was to come. The crowd cheered as Rhea stepped onto the stage, slowly sauntering across to the microphone. Dylan watched every move she made, studying the dress that she now wore. It certainly looked better on the woman than it did wrapped up in a ball. A white sequined number, it glittered in the array of lights focused on her, sending out shards of white light into the darkened auditorium.

Just one more chance
To prove it's you alone I care for
Each night I say a little prayer for
Just one more chance

Rhea's voice floated across the room, the words tugging at the heartstrings of those present. But Rhea was staring at Dylan, singing the words to her and her alone and dangerously enticing her to respond to them.

Just one more night
To taste the kisses that enchant me
I'd want no others if you'd grant me
Just one more chance

Dylan could feel herself sweating under the intoxicating influence of the siren's song. She forced herself to turn away and look at the six-foot craggy-faced man behind the bar. "Another whiskey," she ordered roughly. All the singing about kisses and romantic nights was testing her resolve. She grabbed the shot glass and downed the whiskey quickly. Even the liquid fire sliding down her throat couldn't block out Rhea's song.

"Where's Bobby?" Dylan asked as she scanned the room for him.

"He's already gone home to the missus," Lennie replied before heading down the other end of the bar to serve a customer.

"Damn," she muttered quietly under the sound of the song. Now she didn't have an excuse to leave the club, leaving her to stand there and wait for Rhea.

Dylan could have easily worked her way through a whiskey bottle but common sense reared its ugly head and stopped her, leaving her to survive on sodas for the rest of the night.

One song after another passed by, with enthusiastic response from the mainly male audience. Dylan knew that if Rhea wanted to stay she would probably get an extended season at the club. The woman was a hit.

Dylan didn't get a chance to talk to Lennie again because he was too busy to stop. But she couldn't ignore Rhea forever. Rhea was watching her because she could feel her gaze boring a hole in her back. Finally, she had run out of excuses to herself and turned around on her stool and observed Rhea singing her last song.

The microphone stand lay across Rhea's palm, tilted slightly as if a man was about to plant a kiss on his lover.

The sky was blue
And high above
The moon was new
And so was love
This eager heart of mine was singing
Lover where can you be

The words she sang called out to her and had special meaning. Was she falling for Dylan? Despite all their efforts to the contrary Rhea felt it was all in vain. Now the woman surprised her with a gift and the stolen dress and her heart just melted. Rhea finally understood their dilemma. She knew the smartest thing would be to walk away from it all and start anew, but this time she knew she wasn't being smart.

Chapter 7. The Devil's Voice Is Sweet To Hear

Dylan's heart beat rapidly as Rhea's songs were finished. She watched her leave the stage to rapturous applause and disappear through a door to the dressing room out back. Soon she would have to explain everything and she wasn't sure she knew the answer herself.

She twirled her empty glass on the counter top and focused her attention on it. One or two of the employees called out to her and she responded to them but the rest of the time she watched the glass go round and round.

"So there you are," Rhea declared, "You are a hard man to find."

Dylan glanced sideways to see Rhea standing there with her hands on her hips. "You mustn't have looked hard. I've been here the whole time," she retorted.

"The whole time I was singing you mean," Rhea stated, clarifying Dylan's poor excuse.

"Whatever." Dylan tried to be nonchalant. She scanned the bar and saw Lennie hovering nearby. "Come on, I'll take you home." Dylan extended her hand but didn't touch Rhea, instead directing her toward the exit.

"It seems I have something extra to carry home tonight," Rhea remarked.

"Really? Do you need a hand to carry it?" Dylan inquired. She turned around and bid her farewell. "Goodnight Lennie."

"'Nite Dylan. Will you be bringing Miss, errr?," Lennie searched for a name.

"Whitman," Rhea supplied.

"?Miss Whitman to the matinee?" Lennie concluded.

"Of course. What else is there to do?" Dylan said cheekily. She returned her attention to Rhea, placing her hand gently on the woman's lower back to steer her toward the dressing room.

The walk through the club to backstage was quiet as conversation was impossible over the din. Rhea was stopped every so often and thanked by the patrons and she graciously accepted their praises. Dylan didn't rush her and let her have her moment with her adoring public.

When they finally reached Rhea's dressing room door Dylan spoke. "You have quite a few fans."

"I can sing but that's it," Rhea said blandly.

"Why are you selling yourself short?" Dylan wondered if Rhea was being sincere or just saying it so she didn't seem a bitch.

"Because if I was any good I wouldn't be singing here!" Rhea blurted out.

Dylan stepped closer to the smaller woman. "Hey," she said gently, her hands cupping Rhea's shoulders, "What brought this on? They love you out there."

"And most of them have had a lot to drink," Rhea added.

"True, but they could have just as easily thrown drinks at you. You must have done something right. Besides?," Dylan hesitated because she knew she was going to say something mushy, "?I thought you sang just fine."

"You did?" Rhea sounded a little lost.


"How could you tell? You were facing the barman most of the time." Rhea stepped away from Dylan and reached for the dressing room door.

"I couldn't watch you." Dylan admitted.

Rhea stopped and turned around to face her. "Why?"

Dylan's gaze lowered to the floor and she scuffed her feet in an effort to buy a little time. Just as she was about to open her mouth the cornet player passed them in the corridor.

"Good night, Rhea," he said brightly as he headed for the backstage exit.

"'nite, Benny," Rhea called back as he pushed open the door. She turned her attention back to Dylan, who had pushed past her and had picked up the gift left for her.

"Let's go," Dylan's head nodded toward the backstage door and the street.

When they emerged outside to the cool night air, Rhea spoke. "Why did you buy me roses?"

"I didn't. Well, I did but you should thank Mr. Rizzoli for them." Dylan was now thinking on her feet.

"Are you saying that Mr. Rizzoli phoned you up and told you to buy roses for me?" Rhea didn't believe that for one minute.

"Not exactly, but I knew that was what he wanted me to do."

They reached the car and Dylan unlocked it and put the roses on the back seat. She opened the passenger side door and, as usual, guided Rhea to her seat. Dylan's hand subconsciously moved to her pocket and she barely caught herself from reaching inside for a cigarette. Finally, she was seated behind the wheel and intent on getting as quickly as possible to Rhea's home before the conversation progressed any further.

"Dylan. Why didn't you watch me sing?" Rhea's voice was gentle.

"Because?." She found it hard to continue. "Because I?"

"Come on, tell me," Rhea encouraged her.

"Because I thought you were singing that song to me." Dylan kept her vision firmly on the road.

"And if I was?" Rhea pushed.

"We can't go there," Dylan stated. "Why won't you just accept that the flowers were from Mr. Rizzoli?"

"Because I know they were from you. Why are you denying it?" Rhea posed.

"Because I have to," Dylan whispered. "The flowers were from Mr. Rizzoli for a successful opening night, okay?"

"If you say so," Rhea mumbled and looked out the side window.

"Please don't be angry. Just accept the flowers for what they were." Dylan was beginning to realize that she had made a horrible mistake.

"You should have bought an arrangement, Dylan."

"Arrangement? What's that?" By now Dylan had decided that there really was no point in trying to appear smart in front of Rhea. After all it would be better to appear uneducated than a fool.

"It's a bunch of different kinds of flowers. It says 'thank you', 'congratulations' or 'happy birthday'. Roses, Dylan, roses say 'I love you', and red roses say even more than that."

"I love you?" Dylan let slip out. "Oh no, no, no, no."

"You don't love me?" Rhea nearly sounded disappointed.

"That's not the point. The flowers were meant as a nice gestation." Dylan stammered.

"Gesture, Dylan."

"Yeah, that." Dylan's hands tightened on the steering wheel. She didn't like where the conversation was heading. "Can we just drop it please?"

"Fine," Rhea said tightly.

"Just thank Mr. Rizzoli tomorrow for the flowers," Dylan suggested. "But I wouldn't tell him that you got roses."

"And why's that?" Rhea turned her head to look at Dylan's profile.

"Like you said, roses are personal. He just might take it that way."

"Good point."

Just as Rhea finished talking, Dylan turned into her street and a moment later pulled up outside her house. Dylan didn't forget her manners and hopped out of the car to open Rhea's door for her.

Rhea accepted Dylan's steadying hand as she climbed out of the Buick. She held it for a moment longer than she needed it to be and waited for Dylan's eyes to meet hers. But Dylan refused to comply, instead going to the back door and getting out the flowers. As she handed them over to Rhea, Dylan spoke in hushed tones. "I'll pick you up around twelve thirty."

"Until then," Rhea said. As Dylan handed over the flowers Rhea leaned in a placed a kiss on her cheek and stayed there a moment longer than propriety dictated. She slid her lips down Dylan's cheek to her chin before stepping back to put space between them. "Thank you for the flowers."

Dylan was about to argue the point when she realized that it was all pointless. "You're welcome." She opened she gate and let Rhea walk through before closing it and making her way back to the relative safety of the Buick. "Good night, Rhea."

"Good night, Dylan," Rhea said breathily before she turned around to make her way to the front door.

"Oh, one more thing," Dylan added as an afterthought, "If you weren't singing at the club I never would have met you."

Rhea remained silent as she walked up the path to the front door of her home. She waved at Dylan, who sat behind the wheel of the car and waited for her to go inside.

Dylan heard the front door close and she started the car. As she drove herself back to her own apartment, Dylan wondered after what she had done if she would need a will.

* * *

The next morning Dylan made sure she was at work on time but Rocco didn't arrive until mid-morning. When he arrived Dylan was washing the car.

"Good to see you working!" Rocco called out as he stepped out of the taxi. He reached inside and pulled out his suitcase before closing the door with a bang.

"Sure, boss!" Dylan replied as she stopped what she was doing. She watched him approach her and it seemed that whatever had happened he was happy with. "How did things go?" she asked in the hope that he would tell her, but she knew he was within his rights to tell her to get lost.

"Good. Good. No one seems to know anything about the fire, or so they say, and everyone agreed to do nothing? for now," Rocco offered.

Dylan breathed a sigh of relief. At least she didn't have to look over her shoulder in case a mobster decided to take retribution. "That's good news."

"We may not be so lucky next time," he answered soberly.

"You got any ideas who it might be, boss?" Dylan would continue to ask the questions for as long as Rocco was willing to answer them.

"I got an idea or two," Rocco hedged.

"Yeah?" she asked hopefully. Dylan had given the incident some thought. "Could it be the Feds?"

"Are you kidding?" Rocco exclaimed. "They're the law!"

"Sorry, boss," Dylan mumbled.

"Don't be sorry, Dylan. That's the number one theory on my list." Rocco stated. "Start a fire, then sit back and wait for the mobs to start pointing fingers at each other until someone starts a mob war. It's a good way to get rid of us without having to lift a finger."

"Mr. Rizzoli!" Pirelli came from the alley and was walking across the small lot toward Rocco.

"Christ! Is he still here?" Rocco complained.

"Yeah, boss." Dylan was surprised at Rocco's reaction. "If you don't like him, why is he still your accountant?" She couldn't stop the question escaping her lips.

""He may be a self-righteous, condescending pain-in-the-ass, but he's very good at what he does," Rocco said in a low voice. "Marco!" he called.

"May I have a word with you?" Pirelli asked.

"Besides, he knows every little dirty secret of mine," Rocco whispered to Dylan. Rocco took a step toward the accountant. "Sure. Let's go upstairs."

"And Dylan? Come and see me when you've finished with the car," Rocco added before he gave his whole attention to Pirelli who waiting for him. Despite his words to Dylan, Rocco showed an easy familiarity with Pirelli, placing an arm around the man's shoulders and giving him a squeeze.

"Yes, sir!" Dylan called out to her rapidly departing boss. Suddenly Bobby's warning came back to her. Don't trust him. Now she could see why. Rocco would be kind to your face while he was stabbing you in the back.

* * *

It was nearly one in the afternoon by the time Dylan had the opportunity to speak to Rocco. She had already picked up Rhea and left her getting ready for the matinee. Dylan finally stood outside the door to the boss's office, painfully aware of what he wanted to ask. She could hear Rocco and Rhea speaking. It was in hushed tones so maybe she wasn't in trouble. Tentatively she knocked on the frosted glass and waited to be asked in.

"Enter!" Rocco's voice rang out loud and clear. "Ahh, there you are!" he said almost jovially when she walked in the door.

"Boss?" Dylan tried to appear unconcerned but she could feel the churning in her stomach.

"Miss Whitman here was just thanking me for the flowers. I'm glad you got my message." He winked at Dylan as he spoke.

"Sure thing, boss." This was one time that Dylan allowed someone to think she was stupid.

Rocco was about to speak when the door opened wide. In the doorway stood a slim, elegant-looking dark-haired woman in her mid-forties who was dressed rather ostentatiously for the middle of the day. A large fur was wrapped around her neck and secured with an ornate clasp. "Rocco!"

"Yes, honey buns?" he answered shakily. Dylan swore that Rocco looked terrified.

"Who is this woman?" Mrs. Rizzoli's eyes bore into Rhea with a vengeance.

"This is the new singer for the club, precious." Rocco held out his hands in a conciliatory manner.

Dylan sidled up next to Rhea and nudged her. "Honey buns?" Dylan whispered.

"Precious?" Rhea answered back. "You didn't tell me he was married." Rhea's whispered words held a hint of menace as she glared at Dylan.

"And what is she doing here?" The woman accused her husband.

"Nothing, my sweet." Rocco pleaded.

"Singers don't visit you for nothing, Rocco." She inched closer to her husband and he flinched.

"I was just thanking him for the lovely flowers he sent me, errrr, Mrs. Rizzoli." Rhea assumed that the brunette was Rocco's wife.

"You're sending her flowers?" The woman's eyes blazed fire as she interrogated him.

"I? I?" he stammered.

"I sent the flowers, Mrs. Rizzoli. They were to congratulate her on her opening night," Dylan offered.

"And who are you?" She turned her attention on Dylan.

"He's the new driver, pumpkin," Rocco supplied.

"And the driver takes it upon himself to send flowers?" The woman gave her husband the third degree.

"If he and the singer are an item then they would," Rocco said desperately.

"Are you?" The woman asked accusingly.

"I? ahhh?" Dylan first looked at Rocco then at Rhea.

"We've only started seeing each other, Mrs. Rizzoli. Time will tell whether we're an item or not. However, if Dylan sent the flowers to impress me? he did." Rhea said as she gave Dylan an unguarded look, which Mrs. Rizzoli witnessed.

"Fine," she said tightly. "Come on Rocco, we have luncheon plans." Mrs. Rizzoli left the room fully expecting Rocco to follow. Dylan could now see who wore the pants in the family.

Rocco stopped for a moment and whispered 'thanks' before dutifully following in his wife's footsteps across the foyer and down the stairs to the ground floor and the open air.

Dylan and Rhea just stood there until they heard the slam of the downstairs door. "What a dragon," Dylan commented. "No wonder he's chasing any dame he sees." She saw Rhea's stunned look and added, "Not that I agree with it, of course."

"Of course," Rhea replied deliberately. "So you finally admit that you bought the roses for me, huh?"

"I think you already knew that," Dylan stated.

"I did, but it's nice to hear you say it anyway," Rhea conceded.

Dylan thought Rhea was going to kiss her so she cleared her throat and began to talk. "What was that all about, Bobby?"

"That's the missus," he said.

"No kidding? I figured that much out by myself. Is she always such a bitch?" Dylan asked. Rhea cleared her throat and Dylan offered her apology. "Sorry."

"She gets a bit jealous," Bobby commented, "but she can also be sweet as pie. I suppose it depends on whether she sees you as a threat or not."

"Then I better make sure to keep away from her," Dylan stated.

"That's a good idea," Bobby said, "but that might be hard. You're the boss's driver after all."

"Oh? yeah." Suddenly being Rocco's driver wasn't such a good idea. Dylan looked at Rhea. "So what do we do now?"

"Nothing. Wait for the boss to return I suppose." Bobby shrugged his shoulders. "But you?," Bobby looked at his watch and then at Rhea, "?have a show in an hour that you'll need to get ready for."

'He's right," Rhea exclaimed and made a move to open the door. As usual, Dylan beat her to it and opened it for her. "Thank you, Dylan," she said demurely.

Dylan looked over her shoulder at Bobby and wiggled her eyebrows, before following Rhea out of the room. She heard his laugh echo across the expanse of floor.

* * *

Rocco didn't return to the office until after Dylan had taken Rhea home and returned to tinker on the car. She was leaning over the engine when she heard the sound of footsteps on the loose gravel.

"Dylan! Rocco called as he approached the Buick.

"Yeah boss?" Dylan hollered from under the hood.

"Get your nose out of that engine," he said jovially.

Dylan straightened up and grabbed the greasy rag hanging over the radiator to wipe her hands. "Yeah boss?"

"I want a word with you." When Dylan made a move toward the office he added, "Where are you going?"

"To the office, boss," Dylan explained.

"We have an office right here." He pointed at the car. "Inside," he said as he opened the door to the back seat.

Dylan's heart rate rose. Had she and Rhea been found out? "Sure thing, boss," she said nervously. She grabbed her coat and put it on before climbing onto the back seat. When Rocco also climbed in and closed the door Dylan it felt like all the air in the car had disappeared.

"First of all, thanks for helping me out with the missus," Rocco said quietly.

"No problem." Dylan was waiting for the bad news.

"And the flowers were a smart move," he continued.

"I thought they might help," Dylan offered.

"Are you making any headway with her?" He sounded a little too eager for Dylan's liking.

"A little, but she's kind of innocent, you know?" Dylan said carefully. "Should you??"

"Don't tell me who I should or shouldn't be seeing. Dylan." Rocco's voice hardened. "Your job is to hook her and reel her in. The rest is up to me."

"But boss-"

"You have a week, Dylan. After that, I'll do it my way." Rocco reached for the door handle and exited the car before Dylan could respond, not that he was going to give her a chance to object. Rocco took a few steps across the lot before he stopped. "You can pick up my wife at Guiliano's in?," he looked at his watch, "?about an hour and take her home."

"Sure thing, boss," Dylan said loudly from her seat in the car. She sat there for a while longer to consider her options as she watched Rocco stride across the lot and disappear around the building that housed the speakeasy. "Shit!" she hissed to herself. Her options had now dwindled to one.

Rhea walked across the lot toward the car. "Hey! I thought you'd meet me at the bar!" Rhea called. She had seen Dylan's silhouette through the windscreen of the Buick. "Is everything all right?" Rhea added when Dylan hadn't responded.

Dylan climbed out of the vehicle wearily. "No," she responded.

"Why?" Rhea trotted to the car. "What happened?"

"Not here," Dylan hissed. "Let me take you home." She opened the front door to the car and allowed Rhea to take her seat. It wasn't until the car was in motion before Dylan said anything more. "We just ran out of time."


"Mr. Rizzoli has given me to the end of the week."

"For what?" Dylan looked at Rhea wryly. "Oh. So what do we do?"

"We? You still want there to be a 'we'?" Dylan asked. "I mean we talked about this before, but that was just talk. This is far more serious, Rhea. If you need help to get out of here I can help but don't feel you have to have me along for the ride. You know what I mean?"

"Are?," Rhea's voice faltered, "are you dumping me?"

"Dumping you? We were never together, Rhea, how can I dump you?"


Rhea's lost look was Dylan's undoing. "Aww, Rhee honey, don't look at me like that."


"Yeah, well. It was a slip of the tongue." Dylan mumbled.

"You can slip up any time," Rhea chuckled. "So, what do we do?"

"Pack a small bag and put it in the boot." Dylan put the indicator on and turned into Rhea's street. "When the time is right we can take off."

The car pulled up outside Rhea's home and the engine cut off. "And when is the time right?" Rhea asked.

"We'll know."

* * *

Chapter 8. The Devil Takes A Hand In What Is Done In Haste

The next few days were uneventful. As usual Dylan picked up Rhea at six and took her home at ten. During the day she was kept busy with driving Rocco and his wife around. It seemed that Mrs. Rizzoli's ire was placated with the promise of redecorating their home and she dragged Rocco around with her as she visited every furniture store within a two mile radius.

Rocco took Rhea home on Wednesday night himself, as much to get out of his home as it was to try and schmooze Rhea himself. Dylan was nervous about the change in plan and eagerly awaited the boss's return. He came back an hour later empty handed but that didn't stop the grin on his face. Asking Rocco what happened was out of the question so she knew she would have to bide her time until she picked up Rhea the next night.

Dylan stood out the front of the club lazily drawing on a cigarette. The door squeaked open and she looked over her shoulder at the person emerging from the club. "Hi," she said casually.

"I haven't seen you smoking for a few days now," Rhea commented.

"I've been trying to avoid it but all this waiting is making me nervous." Dylan took one last draw on the cigarette before throwing it on the ground and stepping on it.

"I'm not complaining, Dylan. You've been more than considerate in that regard."

"Come on," Dylan muttered as she extended her hand in invitation, "I'll take you home." They walked slowly to the corner and then down the side street to the parked car.

"There's only a couple of days left." Rhea's eyes were firmly fixed on the ground of the sparsely lit street.

"Shhhh. Not here." There was only the sound of their footsteps in the silence so any conversation could be heard from a distance. "Is there anything you need a driver for tomorrow, Miss Whitman?"

"Not really, no, but thank Mr. Rizzoli for me for your services. They've been of great help to me." Rhea could play the game.

"I'm sure Mr. Rizzoli will be pleased to hear that you are satisfied," Dylan said in a normal voice.

They reached the Buick and Dylan had opened the front passenger door for Rhea when there was a squeal of tires. A large dark sedan came around the corner too fast and snaked along the side street before the driver re-gained control. The car stopped at the backstage door, which also happened to be where Dylan had parked the car, and a flaming bottle of alcohol emerged from the window. The bottle flew in a slow arc from the idling car toward where Dylan and Rhea were standing.

"Watch out!" Dylan barely had time to grab Rhea's arm and wrench her out of the car before the bottle hit, spraying flaming liquid over the outside of the Buick. Dylan took a couple of steps backward, dragging Rhea behind her, before pushing the woman to the ground and then throwing herself over the top of her. There was another screech of tires as the attacker drove off into the darkness.

The paintwork sizzled and popped as the flames took hold, oozing through every crease and crack on the frame. Dylan could feel the heat and she looked over her shoulder at the car on fire. The flames were now licking the boot and Dylan suddenly realized the danger they were in. She stood and pulled Rhea to her feet. "Run!" she yelled as she pushed Rhea toward safety. They had managed to travel a hundred feet before the fire found the gas tank and exploded, the force buffeting them and sending them crashing to the ground.

The backstage door flew open and six or seven people emerged, yelling and screaming orders at each other in an effort to put out the fire. Dylan was about to signal to them when she stopped.

"What are you doing?" Rhea's muffled voice asked.

"This is it," Dylan whispered.

"What are you talking about?" Rhea asked.

"Shhh," Dylan hissed. "They can't see us. Later." She spread out her black coat to cover them both, remaining invisible to the crowd gathering around the burning wreckage. She continued to watch over her shoulder as nearby residents emerged from their houses and openly gawked at the spectacle from their front porches. Dylan nearly lost her nerve to remain unnoticed when Bobby arrived and shook his head. He picked up Rhea's discarded purse and he lifted a hand to cover his eyes. Maybe one day she would tell him everything.

Rhea and Dylan remained still and in darkness until the crowd had dissipated and the fire department were cleaning up after putting out the fire. Rocco turned up and looked at the damage, Bobby talking animatedly at him and showing him Rhea's purse. However, from where Dylan lay Rocco didn't look as upset as Bobby was. She figured he was probably more worried about the car than the two of them.

"Let's go," Dylan whispered, slowly lifting herself off Rhea and coming to rest in a crouch. She removed her coat and slipped it on Rhea. "This should hide you," knowing very well that Rhea had a light colored dress on.

Dylan allowed Rhea to lead the way while she brought up the rear, her dark suit acting as camouflage against the dark night.

"How much further?" Rhea's voice cut through the darkness.

"Keep going," Dylan prodded. They bent low and hugged the parked cars to keep in the shadows. When they were far enough away Dylan directed Rhea across the street to the other side. They cut through gardens, backyards and fences to put distance between themselves and the club, finally finding refuge in an old shed in the backyard of a disheveled house.

"What was that all about?" Rhea asked as she settled into the straw and Dylan's arms.

"Our opportunity, Rhea. If they think we're dead then they shouldn't come looking for us." Dylan was rather pleased with herself for coming up with such a cunning plan on such short notice. She spread her overcoat over the two of them and snuggled into the straw for warmth. "Time to get some sleep. We'll worry about tomorrow when it comes."


"Later, Rhee. I don't know about you but I'm beat after all that excitement." Dylan had hoped that her answer would put the conversation at an end. The silence was deafening and Dylan was wondering whether Rhea had given up or was working up to an argument.


Rhea had given up? for now.

* * *

"Rise and shine!" Rhea's voice cut through Dylan's sleepy mind.

"Go away," Dylan mumbled.

"What are we going to do?" Dylan felt Rhea's hand on her shoulder and then a brisk shake.

"Do we have to decide that now?" Dylan moaned and tried to roll over but Rhea's body had her pinned in place.

"We can't stay here forever."

"Yeah," Dylan sighed, "I know. How about we get out of here and find breakfast?"

"I thought we were in hiding." Rhea stated.

"We are, and your point?"

"We can't exactly walk into a diner now, can we?"

"Hmmm." Dylan stood up and brushed the straw off her crumpled suit. She looked at her watch. "Let's head toward the bus station and maybe we'll find a deli on the way."

"This is not exactly the escape I had in mind, Dylan." Rhea complained. She pulled Dylan's coat around her body to keep out the cool morning air.

"Well, if you don't like it then go back to Rocco!" Dylan was hurt.

"All right, we'll do it your way," Rhea conceded. But Dylan walked a step ahead of her, obviously upset at the tiff they had just had. So Rhea said the only thing she could. "Dylan?" When there was no response to that, she tried another name. "Lani?" Dylan stopped and turned around. "What? Oh? that. Turn around is fair play." Rhea smiled in the hope of healing the disagreement.

"Sooo?. Rhee," Dylan said slowly as she considered Rhea's silent apology, "let's put some distance between us and the club." Dylan held out her hand and waited for Rhea to take it. They didn't take the direct route, instead sticking to the laneways and back streets. It made the trip a lot longer but it also made the chance of discovery negligible.

They found an out-of-the-way diner and took a moment to eat. The radio was blaring loudly as they had their eggs and hash browns but it was over coffee that a news flash caught their attention.

Violence erupted again overnight with a fire at Carlotta's, a ritzy nightclub in the downtown area. This fire is another incident involving a mob controlled premises in one week. Unlike last week's fire at Carlito's, this latest act of violence claimed two lives. Police have not released names but the victims are believed to be the owner's driver and the singer at the club. There had been no retaliation after the first fire but will this latest incident trigger a mob war? This reporter certainly hopes not.

When the music returned Dylan looked soberly at Rhea, who was deep in thought. "What are you thinking?" Dylan asked.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Rhea said uncertainly.

"It's the best I got. Why?" Dylan had a bad feeling she knew where this conversation was going.

"If we go back now we stand a chance of walking away alive," Rhea offered.

"And it might be the only chance we have of getting away," Dylan countered.

"I don't think I can do this." Rhea's eyes filled with tears.

"But?," Dylan stopped herself. This was supposed to be an escape not a kidnapping. "All right. I'll take you back when we've finished here." Dylan looked at her watch. "Mr. Rizzoli won't be in for another hour anyway." She waved her hand to attract the waitress. "Might as well have something else to eat." When the middle-aged woman arrived she ordered some toast and a coffee refill.

* * *

An hour later found Dylan and Rhea standing outside the door to Rocco's first floor office. Dylan slipped the key into the door and it squeaked open as they entered. The sound of hurried footsteps echoed across the wooden floor above.

"What the hell??" Bobby stood at the top of the stairs, obviously relieved at the sight before him.

"Yeah, back from the dead," Dylan called back as she climbed the stairs.

"Where were you?" Bobby asked. Rocco's office door flew open and he stepped out into the foyer.

"Yeah, where were you? Scaring us to death like that," he grumbled, but he had a smile on his face while he did so.

"It was concushun, boss." Dylan stumbled.

"Yes, concussion," Rhea corrected. "We were knocked out for a while and woke up in someone's back yard this morning."

"That must have been embarrassing," Bobby commented.

"Luckily, it was a deserted house otherwise we'd have to do some explaining," for which Rhea was grateful.

"Well, it's good that you weren't hurt," Rocco responded.

"But I can't go on with this," Rhea said over the top of Rocco's words.

"But Rhea honey, it's probably just shock. Are you sure about this?" Rocco pleaded.

"Just let her go, boss," Dylan interceded.

"It's not that, Dylan. She's been good for business, real good," he explained. "I was thinking of adding more chairs to the club, ya know?"

"I need to see my parents, Mr Rizzoli," Rhea said.

"How about you take the weekend off and then make your decision on Monday?" Dylan offered. She knew she was clutching at straws but maybe she could have a few more days before Rhea left her life.

"That's a good idea!" Rocco heartily agreed. "In fact, I'll even pay for it. Dylan here can get you out of town while you consider my offer."

"What offer?" Rhea's interest was piqued.

"How about a twenty-five percent increase in wages for starters? And? and? I'll redecorate the dressing room." Rocco offered.

"Boss, adding a plant to that dressing room is an improvement," Dylan said flatly.

"I don't know?" Rhea hesitated.

"At least give me the weekend to consider your future. Will you do that for me?" Rocco stood and circled his desk to grab Rhea's hand. "Please?"

"I'm sure you can find someone to take my place." Rhea looked him straight in the eye.

"I'm sure I could too." When Rocco spoke the words Rhea's eyes widened. "But you have that special something Rhea honey that the customers just lap up."

"Last night was just too dangerous for me, Mr. Rizzoli. I nearly died." Rhea stated.

"It was a coincidence," Rocco explained. "I'm sure it won't happen again." He gazed at Dylan standing in the background. "Dylan will see to that."

"I will?" "He will?" Dylan and Rhea spoke at the same time.

"Sure, that's why he will be spending the weekend with you," he said confidently.

"I will?" "He will?" Again, Dylan and Rhea spoke in unison.

Yes, you will," Rocco said slowly for emphasis. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash, peeling off a few notes from the outside and handing them to Dylan. "Thank should cover everything. Now go and relax and I'll see you bright and early on Monday morning." Rocco pushed them out the door and closed the door behind them.

"But? but?" Rhea stammered.

"Well, you sure told him," Dylan muttered aside.

* * *

Chapter 9. The Devil Made Her Do It

"Don't take too long, all right?" Dylan called out as she leaned against the Buick. Her hand reached for her pocket, rummaging around inside for the familiar packet.

"I just need a minute to pack a case," Rhea called back.

"Oh, about that." Dylan looked at the cigarette in her hand. "That bag you packed before? It wasn't lost in the fire because I stored them in a locker at the bus station. I didn't want him to find out."

Rhea grinned broadly and then walked into the house, leaving Dylan to her cigarette and her thoughts. She had barely finished smoking when Rhea emerged, her two honorary parents joining her on the front porch. She gave them a hug and walked briskly down the short pathway to the front gate and Dylan.

As was her custom, Dylan circled the car and opened the door for her companion. When the door closed she looked over her shoulder and nodded at the two people waiting for them to leave. Their right hands rose in a wave of farewell.

When Dylan settled herself behind the wheel she sighed deeply. "Well, here goes?" she muttered to no one in particular as she started the car. "They seemed happy to see you go. I would have thought they would have objected to you spending the weekend with a strange man."

"They were fine once they knew the strange man was taking me to see an aunt out of town." Rhea explained matter-of-factly.

"Ah." Dylan offered no more conversation as she placed the car in gear and looked over her shoulder for traffic.

Rhea waited for Dylan to pull away from the curb before she spoke. "Can I ask why?"

"Huh?" Dylan's head swiveled to Rhea's direction. "Did you say something?" She seemed a little more than distracted.

"Why did you suggest this weekend holiday?" Rhea repeated.

"I didn't suggest it. Mr. Rizzoli did." Dylan defended herself.

"No he didn't. You did," Rhea countered.

"No, I-"

"Stop it!" Rhea demanded.

"All right. I did it because? because?" Dylan could feel the sweat gathering around her collar. "I wanted to spend a little more time with you before you leave."

"What makes you think I'm leaving?" Rhea said nonchalantly. Dylan said nothing but glanced at her wryly. "I can't fool you, can I?" she said sweetly.

"There's nothing I can do to make you change your mind?" Dylan pleaded.

"I was fooling myself that I could make it in this city." Rhea looked out the passenger window. "Maybe I should just go home."

"And what are you going to tell your parents, huh?" Dylan felt the panic well inside her.

"I'll tell them they were right."

Dylan could hear the defeat in Rhea's voice and it sounded pitiful. "Damn it, Rhee! They were not right. You deserve your own life, whatever that may be. Whether I'm in that life or not is not the issue, but making yourself happy is."

"And you are in my life, are you?" Rhea teased.

"No! No? well, maybe. I dunno!" Dylan was confused.

"Then tell me what you want."

Dylan jumped when Rhea's hand rested on top of her own on the steering wheel. "Jesus! Don't do that!" She immediately regretted yelling at her as Rhea's hand pulled away abruptly. "Sorry. You just scared me," she tried to explain as a way of an apology.
"Lani, tell me what you want," Rhea repeated, this time quietly.

"I? I can't." Dylan's jaw twitched after she spoke. She knew Rhea was studying her and she could feel her resolve crumble.

"Pull over."

Dylan did what Rhea asked because if she didn't there would be a car crash.

"Look at me."

The tone was low but demanding and Dylan couldn't stop herself looking.

"For the last time, what do you want, Lani?" Rhea's hand rose to Dylan's shadowed face and gently stroked the long plane of her cheek.

Dylan's heart thumped heavily as she looked into Rhea's eyes. "I want you, Rhee." The words were barely said but they were heard between them as if Dylan had shouted them.

"There, that wasn't so hard, was it?" Rhea cooed.

"Yes. Yes it was," Dylan admitted. "It was like getting hit by a car."

Rhea chuckled. "And how would you know what that feels like?"

Dylan just shrugged. "I'd be in pain either way." She was afraid to ask the next question but she had to know. "And what do you want?"

"The same as you," Rhea said simply.

"We both want you?" Dylan stammered.

Rhea let out a belly laugh. "No silly, I want you too." Rhea's hand moved from Dylan's cheek to circle around her neck. She pulled gently but firmly, closing the distance between their lips and making an almost chaste contact for the first time. Rhea slid her lips enticingly across Dylan's skin, allowing both of them to get acquainted with the softness of the touch.

Rhea pulled back and looked at Dylan, who looked like she'd been hit in the face with a dead fish. A moment later Dylan's arms captured Rhea's body and pulled her in for another kiss. Dylan's emotions were in wild disarray, like a dam finally bursting after years of being held back. She had fought as hard as she could to avoid this moment, but now that it was here she couldn't deny herself any longer.

Dylan consumed her, her lips parting to allow her tongue to explore. Gently at first, Dylan touched Rhea's lips with her tongue, tasting, teasing and begging for acquiescence. Rhea's lips relaxed and parted and Dylan continued her exploration. She wanted to know it all and she couldn't stop herself. The feast before her was exotic and abundant and she wanted her fill.

It took some seconds for Dylan to withdraw, leaving them both panting for air.

"Wow!" Rhea breathed.

"I? I shouldn't have done that," Dylan murmured.

"Are you still carrying on with that rubbish?"

"Rhea, if Mr. Rizzoli ever finds out about this our lives won't be worth a plug nickel." Dylan was trying to be the voice of reason, so why then did her words sound so hollow?

"He won't," Rhea stated. "He's the one paying for this weekend, remember?"

"And all the more reason for it not to go any further." Dylan knew she was losing the battle but she had to try.

"What are you afraid of, Lani? Him? Me?"

"I ain't afraid," Dylan protested. "Up until now my life has been a mess, so I probably deserve whatever he has in mind. But you Rhee, I? I don't want you to get hurt."

"Now listen to me, Dylan." Rhea's hand moved to Dylan's chin and held it firmly. "Don't you ever talk like that again!" she said angrily. "You are a good person. I don't fall for bad people, Dylan Accardi?"

"Fall for?" Dylan interrupted. Her heartbeat now moved from third gear into overdrive. "Fall? for? me?" Her brain was having a hard time making the connection.

"It took me by surprise as well." Rhea kept eye contact with her.

"Hang on," Dylan halted. "Accardi? When did you find that out?"

"Bobby was most accommodating," Rhea explained.

"He gave you a room?"

Rhea sat back in her seat and looked out the side window, her hand rising to cover the smirk on her lips. "No silly, he was quite happy to give me your full name." The words were muffled by the hand across her mouth.

"Ahh, but that's not my real name," Dylan said triumphantly.

"Really, Marisa Conroy?"

"I'll kill him," Dylan muttered. "The only thing saving him right now is that Conroy isn't my real name either."

"How many names have you got?" Rhea quizzed Dylan.

"There's only one that matters," she conceded. "Lani."

Rhea let the conversation go and the trip to the bus depot was traveled in silence. Dylan felt decidedly nervous because she had revealed a lot of herself to Rhea, something she had never done with anyone else before, and it was a strange sensation. It was like a piece of her was now owned by the woman seated next to her.

Dylan pulled the car up smoothly in the car park and switched off the engine. She looked over at Rhea and asked that very important question. "Do you want to go through with this?"

Rhea smiled back. "Of course I do. Are you having second thoughts?"

"Second, third, fourth and fifth thoughts, Rhea. This is so dangerous. If he found out-"

"He won't find out," Rhea said calmly.

"I hope to God he doesn't," Dylan mumbled as she exited the Buick, walking briskly around the car to open Rhea's door. "Come on then." Dylan was tempted to take Rhea by the hand but she restrained herself, instead steering her toward the bus station with a guiding hand on her back. Dylan's other hand reached up and pulled her fedora down low over her face.

Dylan pushed aside the door and allowed Rhea to enter in front of her. She pointed to a nearby seat. "Sit down and I'll get the bags." Dylan left Rhea perched daintily on the seat and she laughed because she knew better. Rhea's demure exterior was all an act.

She reached the row of lockers and slid her hand into her pocket for the key. Despite the fact that the bags were safe she couldn't help but sigh in relief to find them exactly where she had left them. Dylan picked up a bag in each hand and walked back toward where she had left Rhea.

"What are you doing here?" Dylan asked once she was within hearing distance.

"To see you two onto the bus," Bobby replied. He stood beside the seated Rhea and had been talking to her when Dylan approached.

"You don't trust me?" Dylan commented.

"Of course I do!" Bobby tried to sound insulted.

"Uh huh," Dylan mumbled knowingly. "No really, why are you here?"

"I've come to collect the car," he admitted and waited patiently. When nothing happened he added, "the keys please."

"Huh? Oh!" Dylan rummaged around in her coat pocket and took out the keys, casually tossing them to him.

"When are you coming back?" Bobby inquired.

"We hadn't decided," Dylan offered, "but I thought maybe we'd come back Monday morning and get here, say, around twelve o'clock. I'm not sure of the exact time. Hell, I haven't even decided where we're going yet." Dylan gazed down at Rhea for some sort of reaction.

"I don't know this part of the country very well. You better decide," Rhea announced.

"Fine," Dylan clipped the word and walked toward the booking desk, leaving Bobby to keep Rhea company.

"Can I help you?" the young woman behind the desk politely asked.

"I hope you can." Dylan reached into her pocket for money. She looked at the wall above the desk to see what choices she had. North, south, east, west, it really didn't matter which way they went, so she decided on south. "Two tickets south," she stated.

"Where do you want to get off?" the ticket seller inquired.

"We don't know yet. How about two tickets to the end of the line and we'll just jump off somewhere in between." Dylan didn't know what else to say.

"O?kay," the assistant hesitantly replied.

Dylan could see that the woman thought she was an idiot for spending more money on tickets than she needed to but wherever they got off the bus it was going to be a last minute decision. She handed over the cash for the two tickets, pocketing her change without checking it. "Thanks." She gave the woman a friendly smile and received an interested smile back.

She found Rhea in deep conversation with Bobby, but announced on her arrival, "We've got ten minutes before the bus leaves."

"So where did you decide on?" Bobby was being inquisitive and it was making Dylan nervous.

"South." Dylan left it at that.

"Where south?" he pushed.

"You're being awfully nosey, buddy," Dylan said suspiciously. "Why do you want to know?"

"Just in case I need to find you in a hurry." Bobby looked her squarely in the eye as he spoke.

"Look, Bobby, let's cut all this crap and get to the point. Why are you here?" Dylan ordered.

"I just want to make sure that you watch your back, Dylan." As Bobby talked Dylan's attention intensified.

"You mean it's a trap?"

"Not that I'm aware of but do you remember what I said when this all started?" Bobby was being evasive in his answer.

"Yeah, I do." Dylan sighed.

"Well, I don't," Rhea interrupted.

"The first piece of advice he gave me was to trust no one." Dylan smiled at her mentor. It was really sweet that he was taking the time to warn her to keep on her toes. "When Rocco suggested that I woo you for him I was worried that you might fall for me anyway." Dylan smiled gently at the seated woman. "Bobby said to make sure that it didn't happen."

"Woo? You mean to say that you were supposed to seduce me then Rocco would take over once I was cooperative?" Rhea's voice hardened. "I was part of a game? Is that what you're telling me?"

"Well? errr?. Yes? no!" Dylan stammered.

"Whoa! Hang on there, young lady!" Bobby interceded, "Dylan didn't want any part of it but he had no choice."

"You can drop the 'he', Bobby," Dylan responded. "She knows."

"Then why are you doing this?" he urged.

"She needs a break from all that's going on, Bobby. She was nearly killed last night and she's shook up. But she's leaving Monday."

"Really?" Bobby looked at Rhea who nodded.

"I think I need to go home," Rhea answered.

Dylan looked at the clock on the wall. "We better move or we'll miss the bus." She reached for the two bags and lifted them easily. "We'll see you Monday, Bobby."

"Can I talk to you a minute?" Bobby looked at Dylan and then at Rhea. "In private."

"Sure." Dylan hesitated. Bobby looked very serious and it made her apprehensive. "What's up?"

They were huddled in a corner between large potted plants. "I want you to take this," Bobby drew his hand out his pocket and offered it to her.

"Are you crazy?" Dylan's eyes widened. "Put that thing away!"

"You may just need it." Bobby moved his outstretched hand toward her.

"I am not going to carry a gun and that's final!" Dylan said angrily.

"Please, Marisa. For me?" Bobby pleaded.

"What are you not telling me?" Dylan asked suspiciously.

"Nothing's going on but I want you to be prepared if something does happen." Bobby implored.

"You keep it," Dylan said with finality and walked away from him, joining Rhea standing near the exit.

"What did he want?" Rhea asked.

"Nothing. He was just checking that I had everything for the trip," Dylan answered. Her hand gripped Rhea's elbow and steered her toward the waiting bus. As she stepped up the steps Dylan looked over her shoulder and saw Bobby standing there. She lifted a finger in salute at him, continued up the stairs and found her seat next to Rhea. As the bus pulled away Dylan saw the concerned look on the man who had taken it upon himself to be her guardian angel.

Barely a minute had gone by before Dylan spoke. "Why did you get mad at me?"

"I didn't know how much Bobby knew so I pretended not to know," Rhea defended herself.

"Oh." Dylan could see the logic of it but that didn't stop the hurt from being yelled at.

"You're not upset, are you?" Rhea asked with concern.

"Me?" Dylan feigned disinterest. "Nah! Why should I be upset?"

"Oh, no reason," Rhea said. She looked out the window and smiled.

The trip continued for another hour, the conversation between them scarce. Dylan looked forward most of the time lost in her own thoughts. She glanced sideways every now and then to see Rhea's expression but all she ever saw was the back of Rhea's head as she stared out at the scenery rushing by.

They had traveled through three townships on their journey. Dylan glanced at Rhea for some reaction and my silent mutual consent they decided to stay on the bus.

The next stop, however, looked promising. The bus pulled up at a small depot.

"Folks, we'll be stopping here for twenty minutes. The restrooms are inside the building, as well as a newsstand and a takeout diner," the bus driver explained.

The other passengers left, leaving Dylan and Rhea seated alone in the bus. "Well?" Dylan asked hopefully.

"What do you think?" Rhea countered.

"I'm asking you." Dylan said sternly. When Rhea's expression told her that she was supposed to make the decision, she spoke. "I think its fine. This town is too small to be a city and too big to force us into a guesthouse."

"And what's wrong with a guesthouse?" Rhea inquired.

"There's too big a chance of being found out. At least with a hotel that has a first floor," Dylan nodded toward the building in question, "they'll have too many guests to be nosy about whether I'm a man or not." Dylan stood and moved into the aisle, offering her hand to assist Rhea out of her seat.

Dylan waited for Rhea to walk down the aisle before she reached up to the overhead frame to retrieve their two small suitcases. She stepped down out of the bus and was glad to finally be able to stretch her legs.

While it was still light, the clouds were gathering, foreboding a rather wild night, at least for the weather. Was this some sort of sign? Dylan looked at Rhea and saw the twinkle in her eye. If Rhea had her way tonight would be a wild ride for everyone.

A single drop of water splashed across Dylan's arm. She looked up and another hit her on her cheek. "Let's go," she said calmly as she moved out of the way of the passengers clambering back on board the bus.

By the time they reached the front door of the hotel, the errant drops had intensified to a slight rain. The smell of earth and water hit her nostrils and Dylan breathed deep. It was a smell that she associated with home, and it was one of only a handful of memories that she remembered fondly. She put down one bag and opened the door for Rhea.

The small foyer was clean and a little bit old fashioned but Dylan felt it suited their purposes perfectly. She approached the desk and hit the bell on the countertop.

A man in his forties, slim and wearing a suit, entered through a side door. "May I help you, sir?" he said politely but he did give Dylan a strange look.

"We'd like two rooms for the next three nights," Dylan rumbled, trying to put as much testosterone into her voice as she could. Dylan felt Rhea pull on her coat but she ignored it.

"We have two rooms on the ground floor-" he said as his finger traveled down the large book open on the counter.

"Do you have any on the first floor??" Dylan interrupted. She wanted to be as far away from the front desk as possible. "?preferably across the hall from each other?"

The manager looked up for a moment then returned to his book. "Yes, we can do that." He reached around and took two keys off the wall. "Rooms 112 and 122. Let me show you-"

Dylan snatched the keys away and answered, "Never mind. I'm sure we can find them ourselves." The noise of the rain became louder. "Is there anywhere we can get dinner around here without having to go out in that?"

"We have room service?" He reached under the counter and pulled out a menu. "If you can call down with your order in the next hour..."

"Thank you." Dylan turned on her heel, leaving Rhea to retrieve the menu. She found the stairs and was already on the first landing before Rhea caught up with her.

"What was that all about?" Rhea demanded.

"Nothing. I got us a room, didn't I?"

"Two rooms, Dylan. Why on earth did you get two rooms?"

"Because we're not married," Dylan explained. "Do you want him to think we're living in sin?"

"Living in sin?" Rhea chuckled. "I wish?"

Dylan swallowed heavily as she continued her journey up the second set of stairs. She walked down the hallway and stopped at the door marked 112. "Well?" She put down the suitcases and slipped the key in the door. "This can be your room." Dylan placed Rhea's bag inside the room. "Mine's across the hall."

"No kidding?" Rhea joked.

Dylan glared at her. "This is supposed to be a time of rest, remember? No hanky panky."

"Living in sin? Hanky panky? You sound like my father," Rhea announced.

"I'm trying to keep up alive here," Dylan declared. "If Rocco-"

"He won't find out," Rhea assured her.

"You get settled in and look at the menu. When you've decided what you want, come and see me." Dylan backed away and crossed the hall to her own room. Once the door closed behind her, she slumped against it and sighed heavily. "Oh boy."

* * *

Chapter 10. Black As The Devil, Hot As Hell, Pure As An Angel, Sweet As Love

Dinner had gone smoothly and Dylan had thought that Rhea had given up on the idea of ambushing her, at least for tonight. They were both tired from a long and emotional day. The trays had been left outside their doors and removed hours before, leaving both of them seated around a fire in a small fireplace in the larger room. Dylan looked at her watch and decided it was time for bed. She stood and stretched. "Well, it's time for bed. I'll see you in the morning." She didn't dare look at Rhea, instead heading toward the door and sanctuary.

"Where are you going?" Rhea asked. The tone in her voice made Dylan turn to face her.

"To my room and sleep," Dylan replied. "I don't know about you, but I am dog tired."

"If you think I'm going to waste the entire weekend tip-toeing around this, you're mistaken." Rhea stepped forward to touch Dylan and felt a tremor run up her arm. "Are you afraid of me?"

"No!" Dylan denied immediately. But it was a lie. "Yes. I'm afraid of what you make me feel," she whispered back. She felt Rhea's hand rise up her arm and circle around her neck. She resisted the pull for a moment but her resolve melted away under Rhea's intense stare. Their lips met for a second before Dylan withdrew, their gazes mingling as if trying to find the ultimate truth in each other's eyes.

Before Rhea had a chance to catch her breath Dylan's arms wound around her waist and pulled her in. This time there was no tender caress, but an animal hunger borne of a life time of denial. And Rhea welcomed it.

Dylan felt the change in Rhea as her arms swept up her back and flexed to dig into her back, as if trying to maul her. The tinge of pain fanned the flames of her desire and Dylan's mouth began to move, finding the pounding heartbeat at the base of Rhea's throat. She kissed, nipped, bit and laved the undulating skin, worshipping the one square inch of perfection as if it were her lifeline.

Dylan pulled back for a second before burying her face in Rhea's neck, her ragged breathing sending a shudder down the woman holding her. "We can't do this," Dylan said breathlessly, her words muffled by Rhea's neck.

"Can't?" Rhea questioned. Her own breath was ragged from Dylan's touch. "Or won't."

Dylan pulled away and looked directly at her. "Shouldn't," she said soberly. "If we get caught he'll kill us."

"I won't tell," Rhea said as her hand came up to hold Dylan's chin steady. "Do you think you can walk away from this?"

Dylan knew the answer but was afraid to say it.

Rhea saw the uncertainty in Dylan's eyes. It wasn't fear as such but more a concern for their welfare. "I'm not afraid, Lani."

"But I am,' Dylan said. "Not for me, but I don't want anything to happen to you, Rhee."

"I want this, Dylan. I want you." Rhea grabbed Dylan's tie and pulled, guiding her toward the large bed. Rhea shoved and Dylan landed with a flop on the mattress. Rhea's hands had already risen to her blouse and started to undo the buttons. Dylan's gaze moved from Rhea's eyes to her rapidly revealing cleavage. Once the blouse had been removed Rhea moved to the skirt, watching her every reaction as the silky material of her slip came into full view. Dylan's heart pounded as each piece of material came off Rhea. She was right, Dylan thought. There was no way she could walk away from this.

Dylan absently reached for her tie and pulled the knot in her fingers. She didn't remember taking off her jacket or her shoes because her eyes never left Rhea's slow striptease. The woman sure knew how to get her attention, leaving Dylan seated on the bed in her men's underwear of undershirt and boxers, and her socks and suspenders, watching every move that she made.

Rhea's fingers went to the suspenders holding up her stockings, nimbly undoing the clips and feeding her fingers under the nylon to slip them down her smooth legs.

Dylan let out her held breath with a grunt, her eyes never leaving the slow descent of the nylon as it revealed pale silky-smooth skin. Her fingers twitched as her mind imagined feeling that skin under her fingers and her lips. As if Rhea had read her mind Dylan was offered the other leg to undress as nylon-clad toes rested on the edge of the mattress.

She looked up at Rhea, a little bit confused and a whole lot aroused. "We? we? should? stop?" Dylan said haltingly.

"No," Rhea said firmly. "This was inevitable. We both know that."


"You are just so damned cute." Rhea let out a sexy chuckle. "This was going to happen sooner or later, I think you know that." She slid her foot closer to Dylan, brushing her pants leg invitingly.

Dylan had watched everything Rhea did. She had tried to avoid this situation, she really did, but now they were both set on a course that hopefully would not lead to their deaths. It was like she was a spectator watching herself reach for the suspender clasps holding up Rhea's remaining stocking. Her hands touched Rhea's thigh for the first time and it was divine. The skin was soft and smooth and she couldn't stop herself from leaning in and placing a kiss above the line of the stocking. She inhaled and smelled the intoxicating scent that was Rhea.

So intent on removing the stocking Dylan didn't notice that Rhea hands had been busy. She looked up as the stocking came free and her breath caught in her throat. Rhea had removed her bra in the time it took to slide off the stocking. Rhea was not making it easy for Dylan to show some restraint. Her breasts were perfect.

"Ahem!" Rhea said quietly.

Dylan's gaze flew up to Rhea's face. She had been caught staring. "Sorry," she said sheepishly. But Rhea didn't answer, instead grabbing Dylan's hands and lifting them to rest on her chest.

'Don't be afraid." Rhea placed her hand on Dylan's cheek. She smiled benevolently. "Now it's your turn."

Dylan was pulled to her feet and Rhea's hands immediately went to her undershirt, lifting it up over her head.

"So that's how you do it. Doesn't it hurt?" Rhea studied the bandage with a certain amount of sympathy and compassion. She ran a finger over the imprint of the bandage on Dylan's skin.

"Yeah it does, but I just put up with it." Dylan said absently, her thoughts resting on the agile hands quickly removing her clothes. She breathed deeply when the constriction eased, glad to be free of her disguise for a while. The hands that had been roaming over her had stopped. "Ahem." It was Dylan's turn to clear her throat. She chuckled when Rhea's eyes widened in surprise. She knew she was pretty well endowed but by Rhea's reaction maybe she was even more so. "You're staring," she said in a low tone.

Rhea raised her sight and stared into mischievous eyes. "Sorry. I? I'm just surprised."

"Bigger than you thought?" Dylan asked with concern.

"I don't know what I was thinking, but they're beautiful and are just right on you."

Dylan couldn't help but smile at the compliment coming from Rhea. She wanted to things to go right now that by mutual agreement they had crossed the line in the sand marked by Rocco. Dylan didn't resist when Rhea pushed her in the shoulder, allowing herself to collapse on the bed and giving her access to her boxers. But Rhea didn't start there, instead slowly undoing the suspenders holding up her socks and peeling off the footwear. Her body jumped when a fingernail ran along the sole of her foot. "Tickles," she mumbled and the sensation stopped.

She felt every move Rhea made as the socks and suspenders disappeared. Rhea's hands slid up her legs and thighs and paused over the button on her boxers. She lifted her head and looked down the length of her body to see Rhea looking back at her. Rhea didn't look at what she was doing, instead content to watch Dylan's reaction as the boxers slowly traveled down her legs. When they reached the end of their descent Rhea smiled seductively.

"Oh Christ!" Dylan thought the words more than saying them. The exclamation came out more as a grunt on expelled air than actual words. Dylan sat up and lunged for Rhea, grabbing the young woman around the waist and pulling her down onto the bed. Before Rhea could speak Dylan rolled over and pinned her to the mattress. Dylan's stomach nestled between Rhea's thighs, her chin resting on an inviting breast. "What do you want me to do?" Dylan had her own ideas about what she wanted to happen, but this was about Rhea's pleasure and she was interested to know how adventurous Rhea was.

Smoldering hazel eyes told Dylan all she needed to know but Rhea spoke anyway, her voice husky with emotion. "I want it all, Lani. I want you in my heart, in my mind and in my soul." Dylan's hand wandered down her waist, sending a shudder through Rhea's body. "I want you so deep inside me that you'll never want to come out."

Dylan was about to answer when Rhea said something that shocked her.

"Make love to me, Lani. Make me see stars." There was silence for a few moments so Rhea spoke again, "What?"

"I just never thought you were that demanding, Rhee." Dylan said jokingly.

"Is that a bad thing?" she asked nervously.

"No, but I had always imagined you as a wallflower."

"Maybe I am," Rhea said, her breath catching as Dylan's tongue poked out and touched her nipple. "But when I want something bad enough you better not stand in my way." She then chuckled seductively as Dylan's lips took up where her tongue had left off.

"I see," Dylan commented as she pulled herself away from Rhea's breast. Their gazes locked in a passionate dance, Rhea demanding what she wanted and Dylan confirming what she would do. Dylan returned her attention to the protruding nipple, watching in fascination as it hardened and grew. A sly smile crossed her lips as she felt the answering reaction from her soon-to-be lover. Her lips once again attached to Rhea's nipple, her teeth joining in and biting down firmly on the forbidden flesh.

"Ow," Rhea moaned gently, but before she could say more Dylan's tongue laved the abused flesh until she was quivering. "You play dirty," she said shakily. At that precise moment Dylan's hand touched her, sliding possessively through her wet curls to find her.

"That wasn't so hard," Dylan's voice rumbled against Rhea's breast.

"It is now," Rhea growled. "Fuck me. Now!" Rhea's words expressed the lustful abandon she wanted to exist in.

Dylan complied, her fingers drawing circles around the engorged piece of flesh, teasing it, tormenting it and driving the woman underneath her to the brink of insanity. She was drawn out of her lustful haze when Rhea's hand grabbed her hair and pulled hard.

"If you don't stop screwing around so help me?" Rhea's hips were bucking in an effort to move Dylan's fingers to where she wanted them the most.

Dylan hesitated. Rhea's eyes were almost unrecognizable, dilated to the point that there was very little color left in them. She looked like the devil herself had possessed her. Maybe she had. Suddenly Dylan and Rhea were living on the edge and everything became important, this even more so. Rhea was past worrying about life around her and just living for the moment.

Dylan's hand felt the moistness puddle in her palm and she responded with a growl of her own. Two fingers slipped inside, gently at first, but even she could see that it was not enough for Rhea. The woman's hips gyrated, despite her own weight on top of her, searching for that elusive spot that would let her find those stars. But Dylan wanted more. She wanted planets colliding, stars exploding and the sun burning out of control.

She continued to thrust into Rhea with two fingers, wriggling them around inside to touch her, while her other fingers found treasures hidden away from the rest of the world. Treasures that were hers and hers alone. Her damp fingers were everywhere, sliding in a forward motion that moved from her hair at the front, through her folds and to the back. Each place was touched and massaged, slowly claiming more territory with each rotation.

Rhea took Dylan's mouth, her tongue mimicking what Dylan was doing with her hand. She explored and claimed, just as Dylan did, letting her lover know she could match Dylan's obvious sexuality with one of her own. "Oh Christ," she moaned as Dylan finally breached the ring of muscle that protected her most intimate of places.

"All right?" Dylan was uncertain whether she had crossed a forbidden line.

"If you stop now I just may kill you."

"Good, huh?" Dylan wanted her ego stroked and her question was going to prompt that.

"T?too fucking good," Rhea said haltingly. Dylan had uncovered a whole side of her she didn't know existed.

"Tsk tsk," Dylan said teasingly, "Who knew you were such a potty mouth?" Dylan's hand entered her once more, sliding in easily with the copious amounts of lubrication coating her hand.

"Fuck you!" Rhea retorted.

"Oh, I certainly hope so." Dylan withdrew her hand and almost immediately all her digits returned to the safe haven of Rhea's body. Experimentally she moved them around, trying to find one more sensation to send Rhea over the edge. She returned to Rhea's breast and bit down hard as she caressed Rhea's inner depths.

And then it hit. It was like being caught in the eye of the storm. Rhea's body went rigid for a moment before her body lapsed into a series of contractions. Dylan's fingers continued to move, caressing her walls with a loving touch, as Rhea's body squeezed down hard on them.

Coarse words fell unheeded from Rhea's lips as she came as she had never come before. Her head rolled from side to side as the pleasure surged through her and her lips continually moved. But while Rhea had lost control of her body and was in the grip of a higher emotion, she held onto her vocal chords. Rhea wasn't a screamer, and for that Dylan was grateful. Trying to explain what they were doing to the innkeeper would be very embarrassing.

Dylan didn't think that Rhea had even noticed that she had moved as she slipped down Rhea's sweaty body. She nestled her face in front of the soaked blonde curls and parted the folds with her wet hand. Nestled in the crease of the slippery smooth skin was the object of her desire, still swollen as if waiting impatiently for more.

Dylan wasted no time because she didn't want to feel the wrath of an inflamed Rhea. Her tongue darted out and she tasted Rhea for the first time, tickling the swollen bud into life. Rhea hips moved gently, encouraging her to continue. Dylan's attention was firmly focused on her partner's pleasure and she was not aware that Rhea's leg had insinuated itself in between her thighs. Her fingers replaced her tongue so that her lips could wander to find another erogenous zone. Just as her lips found a neglected nipple one of her fingers slipped and brushed the crease at the top of Rhea's thigh.

It all happened so quickly that it took a second for Dylan to register what had happened. Rhea's leg bucked as she touched a sensitive spot on her skin, her knee coming up sharply into her crotch. Paralyzed by the impact, Dylan couldn't stop herself falling off the bed and onto the floor.

Rhea became aware that Dylan was no longer touching her and she opened her eyes. "Dylan?" She looked around the room and wondered where Dylan had gotten to. "Dylan?" Her question was answered with a high-pitched squeak but she couldn't see her. "Where are you?" This time the answer came as an agonized groan. Rhea sat up in bed and tried to get her bearings. When her search came up empty handed she leaned over the edge of the bed and found Dylan holding her crotch with two hands. "You don't look so good," Rhea said as she slipped off the mattress and onto the floor. "What's wrong?"

Rhea was asking a lot of questions and Dylan didn't have the breath to answer them. It would take some time before she could put into words what had happened, which left her no choice but to moan.

"Are you hurt?"

Dylan nodded slowly, her hands jiggling to show where she was hurt.

"How did it happen?" Rhea asked innocently.

Dylan glared at her, trying to indicate who was responsible. She tried to speak and the words came out hoarsely, "Your knee."

"Oh," Rhea said as she tried not to let the tears swimming in her eyes fall. "I'm so sorry, Lani."

Rhea's distressed face was Dylan's undoing. She couldn't stay angry. It was an accident, and in the future when she wasn't in pain it would probably be a funny accident, but for now she put away the accusations and work on getting the pain under control. "Okay." Her voice started to return but she still didn't feel up to moving from where she lay.

"Let me help you up."

Dylan's eyes widened in panic as Rhea's hands came under her arms. Whether she liked it or not she was moving, jostled incessantly by Rhea until she was slumped face-down on the bed. She started to suffocate in the pillow and when there was no help forthcoming Dylan forced herself to roll over. "Oh God!" she groaned. She lay there for a moment trying to catch her breath. Suddenly an intense cold hit her pubis and she sat bolt upright. "Fuck me!" she yelled, her hand reaching for the cold washer slapped against her throbbing skin.

"Leave it there," Rhea instructed.

"Like hell I will!" Dylan complained.

"The cold will help," she explained.

"No it won't." Dylan frantically tried to pull the cold cloth away but Rhea managed to find some extra strength to keep it there.

"Don't be a baby."

"You try it," Dylan retorted. Apart from the knee to her groin, the cold was quickly shriveling everything back to normal. Any chance she had of resurrecting the romantic moment had now disappeared? literally. She was not in any shape to continue anything.

The pain slowly subsided to a dull throbbing and Dylan's muscles finally relaxed. She became aware that Rhea was sitting on the side of the bed watching her with concern. "It's okay," Dylan whispered. "It was an accident and I'll live." She reached out and found Rhea's hand, squeezing it in comfort.

"But? but?"

Dylan could see that Rhea was mortified and she tried to ease the distress. "I tell you what. You check with the desk clerk bout some pain pills or something. After that you can climb into bed and snuggle up with me. How does that sound?" When Rhea smiled Dylan knew she had said something right.

"But what about??"

Dylan knew what Rhea was asking. "Later. We have time." She was in no shape for any sort of activity except sleep, so she would have to settle for Rhea's warm and supple body next to hers.

Dylan watched Rhea dress quickly and leave while she rested on the bed. Shakily she stood up, wincing as her legs brushed her abused pubic area. While Rhea was gone she put on her suit and went in search of the bathroom down the hall. Peeing turned out to be as painful as she expected it to be, however after her relief the ache eased. Maybe she would survive this after all.

By the time she had undressed and climbed into bed Rhea had returned and knocked on the door.

"Who is it?" Dylan called out in her best masculine voice.

"It's me," Rhea called back.

"Come in." It was just as well Dylan knew Rhea's voice because "it's me" wouldn't give the person entry into their room. As a precaution Dylan pulled the sheet up around her chin as the door opened.

"You can be lucky," Rhea said as she studied at the medication in her hand. She looked up and saw Dylan already in bed. The bed sheet dropped and she stood there stunned. "I?errr?," she stumbled. Dylan's nakedness was playing havoc with her concentration and now she was reduced to a babbling idiot. "Here," Rhea moved toward the bed, her hand open with two tablets sitting in her palm.

"Thanks." Dylan accepted the painkillers and gingerly got out of bed to get some water from the pitcher on the table. The tablets didn't go down easy, forcing her to drink a large amount of water to get the medicine to go down her throat. "Bleh." The bitterness hit her taste buds and she reacted, a shudder running through her body in response.

Dylan observed Rhea standing to one side, indecision written on her concerned face. "Are you coming to bed?" she asked brightly. The pain was slowly subsiding so Dylan knew the damage was only fleeting, but Rhea's guilty look wouldn't be as easy to remove. "I'm tired and could use a sleep. Do you want to join me?" Dylan extended her hand in invitation waiting for Rhea to accept.

"I don't think I deserve to," Rhea said shyly.

"Oh tish tosh, stop this nonsense. Get undressed and get into bed," Dylan said a little more firmly. She climbed into bed and sat there waiting for Rhea to do the same. But Rhea was reluctant to join her. "Will you stop worrying? You're not going to hurt me again."

Rhea reached for her jacket and removed it, still uncertain about being so close to her. Dylan showed little concern for what may happen and was patting the mattress invitingly. Rhea put aside her doubts and undressed, sliding in between the cool sheets to join her lover. She nestled into welcoming arms and lay her head on Dylan's chest.

"Come here," Dylan murmured as she pulled Rhea in close to her, her arms encircling the slim body nearly on top of her. "I'm fine? really."

"I'm so sorry, Lani."

"Will you stop apologizing?" Dylan pleaded. "You were lost in the passion, Rhee, and didn't know what you were doing. It was an accident." Then Dylan smiled. "Besides, if you have anything to apologize for is that potty mouth of yours."

"Potty mouth? Me?" Rhea lifted herself up and looked down into Dylan's eyes. "What are you talking about?"

"When we were making love-"

"I don't swear, Dylan." Rhea dropped the loving nickname as she became indignant.

"You certainly do," Dylan replied, her smile widening as Rhea tried to rationalize what she had said. "And more than once."

"You must have heard wrong. I have never sworn in my life!"

"I'd believe that." Rhea had always seemed a bit of a stuffed shirt as far as Dylan was concerned. But she had also seen that when riled, Rhea could be a firebrand. "But I'm telling you the words coming out of your mouth would make your father blush."

At the mention of 'blush' Rhea did just that, burying her face in Dylan's shoulder. "I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything, Rhee. I thought it was kind of exciting you losing control like that."

Rhea pulled away an inch or two from Dylan's skin and looked shyly at her lover. "You did?"

"So don't worry your little head about it anymore, all right?" Dylan's hand came up and her fingers threaded through Rhea's mop, giving them a slight shake to muss her hair.

Rhea muzzled in once more as Dylan pulled up the covers. She sort of liked having Dylan's heartbeat echoing faintly from under the skin, its slow metronome rhythm acting as a sleeping potion..

The room was silent as the two lovers allowed their tired bodies to relax. A faint noise from under the covers broke the silence, leaving an even more uncomfortable silence for a moment or two.

"I am sooo sorry," Rhea mumbled, her embarrassment tripling as she said the apology.

Dylan couldn't speak, her body convulsing as she tried to hold in her laughter. "It just isn't your day, is it?"

"Pleeeezzeee, Lani. Don't tease me." Rhea was mortified as Dylan made a show of airing the bed sheets, flapping them vigorously to dispel the smell.

"There, all better." Dylan stated, hoping that would be the end of it. "I don't know about you, but I'm tired as hell." She tightened her hold on Rhea and allowed the sleep to come.

* * *

Dylan woke to a darkened room. The warmth nestled against her reminded her of the position she was in. Did she regret it? No. Would it happen again? Probably. It was all too late to stop now and she knew she would just have to live with the consequences. Making love to Rhea made her realize what was missing from her life and she wasn't going to have that part of her missing ever again.

As she contemplated what the future would hold for the both of them, the darkness in the room began to fade. The sun's early rays touched the roof of their room, faintly as first as it broke the pre-dawn of a new day. Rhea smacked her lips, brushing them across Dylan's skin, and Dylan chuckled.

Gently Dylan wriggled from underneath her sleeping lover and got dressed. She left the room and stepped across the hallway to her own room. Snatching her fedora and her cigarettes, Dylan walked down the stairs, across the lobby and out onto the street. She walked the few feet to a nearby bench and sat down, her hand already reaching into her pocket for a cigarette.

As she smoked she watched the town wake to a new day. The rain and heavy cloud of the day before had disappeared, replaced by a warm sun evaporating the signs of a wet night. She observed those whose day began with the sun, slowly drawing on the cigarette as her gaze moved up the street and then down.

The rattle of dishes from within the hotel stirred her out of her introspection. She stubbed out the cigarette under her foot and picked up the stub to throw into a nearby trashcan. Dylan sauntered back in, collecting a newspaper from the front desk as she passed by on her way to the stairs. She arrived at her door in time to intercept her breakfast tray.

She was tempted to have her meal in Rhea's room but the young man from room service stood patiently by waiting for Rhea to open the door. Instead Dylan took refuge in her own room to eat her meal. There would be plenty of time later to seek Rhea's company.

She had barely buttered her toast when there was a knock on the door. Dylan knew very well who it was but asked anyway, "Who is it?"

"You know damned well who it is," came the hissed reply.

"Not today, thank you!" Dylan called. She thought she could hear a huff in the hallway and before she got her face smacked she opened the door.

"Keep that up, and it may happen!" Rhea growled as she passed by Dylan. She sat in the chair and reached for the buttered toast in one hand and the hot coffee in another.

"Help yourself," Dylan muttered.

"Thanks. I will," Rhea grinned at the scowling Dylan. "Where did you go? I woke up and you were gone."

"I went downstairs for a smoke. It looks like it's going to be a nice day." Dylan sat on the bed because there was nowhere else to sit. She looked longingly at the tray as her breakfast slowly disappeared. "Where's your breakfast?"

"In my room," Rhea replied.

"Then why are you eating mine?" Dylan's stomach rumbled.

"Because you are here," Rhea answered with devastating logic. "You can't escape me that easily."

"I'm not trying to escape," Dylan exclaimed.

"Uh huh," The words were mumbled around a piece of toast in Rhea's mouth. "How are you feeling this morning?" she asked innocently.

"Fine. Why?" Dylan looked perplexed.

"That's good to hear because I believe that I owe you something." Rhea brushed off her hands and took one final sip of the coffee.

"You do?" Dylan's eyes widened as Rhea prowled toward the bed? and her. Rhea reached for her jacket and peeled it off her shoulders. "Oh." Her tie was loosened and removed, tossed aside without much forethought. Rhea's hand rested on her chest and shoved firmly, pushing Dylan off balance to flop on the mattress. Before the bed had stopped bouncing Rhea was at Dylan's belt, deftly unbuckling it and the buttons on her trousers.

"Have you done this before?" Dylan joked, "Because you're moving pretty fast."

"I have to be," Rhea stated, "otherwise you'd be out the door and long gone."

"I would not!" Dylan replied indignantly. Rhea glared at her knowingly. "Well?."

"Just as I thought." Rhea left the conversation at that and concentrated on getting Dylan naked. When she had achieved her mission she gave Dylan an order. "Strip the bed to the bed sheets."

Dylan did as she was asked then turned around to find Rhea standing there stark naked. "Whoa! That was quick!"

"I came prepared," Rhea cooed as she walked seductively toward Dylan. She again pushed her onto the bed, this time following her and climbing on top to sit across Dylan's abdomen. "Now, my dearest Lani, where do I begin?"

Chapter 11. May You Get To Heaven A Half Hour Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Rhea was so gentle that Dylan almost cried. In a life full of anger, pain and mistrust her lover was the sweetest ache of all. Her lover's touch was gentle and caring and spoke to her soul in a way that words couldn't. Lips and tongue blazed a path across her skin on her way down Dylan's body, finding hidden recesses that hadn't been touched by anyone else.

Dylan so wanted to look but she allowed herself to just feel the sensations without the influence of sight. Her lips parted as she panted and her tongue flicked out to brush her own lips. Her nether lips parted and a moment later she felt Rhea's tongue swipe over her.

"Are you all right?" Rhea's whispered voice broke the silence of the room. "I'm not hurting you?"

Dylan heard the guilt in Rhea's voice. She lifted her head off the pillow and looked down at Rhea hovering over her labia. Dylan smiled gently and whispered back. "Love me, Rhee." One hand that had been lying on the bed sheet rose and caressed Rhea's cheek. "I want to know heaven before I die."

Rhea hesitated, the guilt in her eyes turning to concern. "Wha-?"

"Love me, Rhee? please." Dylan pleaded.

Rhea's head dipped and the pleasant sensation returned. Dylan lay down again and let the feeling wash over her. Rhea was agile and talented in her pursuit of Dylan's pleasure, swiping her tongue wherever she felt her lover needed the attention.

It was an almost lazy seduction, building slowly toward a swell that she knew would float her in a sea of sensual malaise. Dylan's mind floated for a while, thinking of nothing in particular, as Rhea continue to gently stimulate her. Before she was aware of what had happened, two fingers had joined the playful tongue, working in tandem to quicken her slowly building tide.

There was a twinge of pain from a residual bruise as Rhea's fingers slipped inside but the slowly circling digits added to the ache and turned it into pleasure. Dylan bit her tongue from moaning in case Rhea mistook it for a complaint. It was anything but. Rhea's love was warm, wet and sweet.

A whimper escaped Dylan's lips as Rhea's fingertips found a particularly sensitive spot. The sensation pulsed in time to Rhea's fingers brushing her sweet spot, traveling up her body to her breasts and then to her mind.

The sensual sea was building into a tidal wave, rising in intensity with every swipe of a finger or a tongue. Dylan stood in the backflow of her tidal wave, staring up at the mountainous sea ready to tumble her into submission.

"Come for me."

Dylan barely acknowledged the words, but Rhea speaking them was the final push she needed for that tidal wave of hers to overcome her, tossing her around and throwing her onto dangerously sharp rocks. She lay there desperately spent and irreversibly speared by them. The only way to save herself was to accept that she had fallen for Rhea.

An idle arm came up and lay across her eyes as Dylan tried to catch her breath. A warm body nestled in under her arm and she felt the touch of lips on her breast.

"I love you, Lani."

Dylan should have expected the words of declaration but they were words she wasn't used to hearing. No one had come into her life like Rhea had and turned it completely upside down. She had no choice but to admit her own feelings. "I love you too, Rhee."

Rhea stopped wriggling and lay still, causing Dylan to lift her arm and look down at her lover. "What? Did I say something wrong?"

"No! No. You kind of surprised me, that's all." Rhea stammered. "You were fighting this all the way."

"I know." Dylan's gaze turned to the ceiling. "It's a bit late now to be fighting it."

"It's not that bad, is it?" Rhea sounded as if her feelings were hurt.

"Don't be silly. I? I guess? I've never been in love before." Dylan admitted. She had expected some sort of comment from Rhea but got none. "I don't know what to do."

Rhea's hand came up and cupped Dylan's chin, forcing her to look at Rhea. "Don't do anything. It will happen as it's meant to be."

Dylan's reply sat on the tip of her tongue but she didn't say it. Her own thoughts on destiny were not as positive as Rhea's. She grabbed her watch from the bedside table and looked at the time. "The weather has cleared up. How about we go for a walk?"

"Now? Did I do something wrong?" Rhea's face hovered over Dylan's.

"There's plenty of time tonight for bedroom play. Besides, I don't want to return on Monday and not be able to walk straight!" Dylan joked as she moved to the side of the bed and sat up. She shifted slightly and winced. Considering what had happened the night before, her body had survived pretty well.

"O-kay," Rhea said slowly, "If you say so."

By the time Rhea had perched herself on the edge of the mattress Dylan had already put on her boxers and was in the process of attached her socks to her suspenders. "I want to work up an appetite," Dylan saucily stated.

"But you just had breakfast!" Rhea complained as she reached for her corset and bra.

"No you had breakfast, but who said anything about food?" Dylan winked at her lover on the bed. She stepped into her trousers and stood up to fasten them.

"Oh!" Rhea finally smiled and put some energy into getting dressed.

Dylan was nearly fully dressed, except for an undone tie and no coat, when the door flung open, hitting the wall noisily before bouncing back into the face of the visitor. She quickly cast a glance at Rhea's state of dress, pleased to see that she was covered up except for stockings and shoes.

"So! He was right!" In the doorway stood Rocco, behind him Dylan saw Bobby and four other men, all waiting to step into the room.

"Boss, I-" Dylan tried to explain.

"There's nothing to explain, you whore! I can see with my own eyes!" Rocco's eyes blazed with fury.

The six men moved into the room and closed the door. Rocco's men fanned out around behind him as he stood in the middle of the room.

"Don't trust anyone," Dylan muttered as she angrily stared at Bobby.

"It wasn't me," he said, his hands raised in surrender.

"Gus thought there was something wrong, and it looks like he was right." Rocco answered.

"Gus thought I wasn't a man," Dylan explained.

"I got that right, boss," Gus piped in.

"And you discovered a snake in our midst, Gus," Rocco stated.

"Boss," Bobby said as he stepped closer to Rocco. "Can we discuss this alone?"

"What business is it of yours?" Rocco turned his ire on his right-hand man.

"Not in front of the boys, boss," Bobby whispered.

"No!" Rocco responded angrily. "I want all of them to know what happens when they double-cross me!"

"But, boss-" Dylan said before she was abruptly cut off.

"I'm no longer your boss, you harlot!" Rocco shifted restlessly as he thought. The silence was deafening as everyone waited for Rocco's next words. "We're going for a little ride."

Bobby intervened. "No boss, please. Isn't there another way?"

"Do you want to join them?" Rocco declared.

"No boss." Bobby looked sadly at Dylan and shrugged his shoulders.

"Just remember that you have a family to look after," Dylan remarked. "This is none of your business."

"Finish dressing. You have two minutes."

Rocco allowed them considerably less time to get dressed, directing his men to move them along. Quietly they descended the stairs and walked through the lobby to the waiting Buick outside. Bobby stopped and threw a few bills at the terrified desk clerk.

It was a tight squeeze as they all climbed into the car, but Dylan knew this trip had nothing to do with comfort. Her worst fears were coming true. "Where are we going?" she asked quietly.

"It won't matter to you," Gus said morbidly, chuckling at his own sad excuse for a joke.

Dylan glanced at Bobby, who couldn't make eye contact with her. He concentrated on driving the car, his shoulders hunched and his fingers clasped together in his lap. "Bobby?"

"He won't get you out of this one," Rocco assured her.

The ride was a long one. They left the small townships behind them and traveled out into farming country. Dylan reached out and gave Rhea's hand a reassuring squeeze when she saw her tremble.

But the ride was over all too soon. The Buick pulled up in front of an old turn-of-the-century house at the end of a long driveway. As they stepped out of the car, Dylan looked around and could see that civilization was catching up with the surrounding countryside. New houses were springing up some distance away but it would only be a matter of time before they would reach this plot of land and where they would be buried.

"Nice house," Dylan remarked nonchalantly.

"Used to be my grandmother's," Rocco responded.

"I'm assuming that she doesn't live here anymore." Dylan knew very well that she didn't. Rocco wouldn't carry out a killing with his grandmother still in the house.

"No, but you will," Gus took perverse pleasure in stating the obvious. He chuckled when Rhea's legs nearly buckled.

Dylan came to her aid and supported her until Rhea could stand on her own. To Rhea's credit she said nothing. She didn't beg and she didn't cry. Instead, it was almost a sad acceptance of her fate.

Dylan just couldn't let it happen without a fight. Her fists swung down and behind her, catching the two men standing guard in the crotch. As they crumbled to the dirt, her fist moved again, this time slamming into Gus's jaw. The ache traveled up her arm and to her shoulder but she paid it no mind. As she prepared to hit him again, a sharp jolt of pain to the back of her head sent her to the ground and oblivion.

Dylan regained consciousness in what looked like an attic. But she wasn't alone. Rhea sat tied to a chair a few feet from her, her mouth gagged and her eyes wide in terror. Dylan shifted slowly, the ache in her head intensified by the movement. With difficulty, she raised herself onto her hands and knees, her head drooping with the weight of the throbbing headache. After a moment she raised her eyes and observed a number of feet around her. Men's feet. Suddenly it all came rushing back to her. It was the end of the line. All the deception and lies were now over and it was time to pay. She looked up at the faces surrounding her and, in a way, she was glad to see that Bobby wasn't amongst them.

"It's time," Rocco voice was calm and deliberate. Dylan looked over her shoulder to find that he was standing behind her.

"Where's Bobby?" Dylan asked.

"He didn't want to be here." Rocco sounded almost disappointed that his right-hand man begged out of the execution. "Stand up."

Dylan thought of resisting for a moment but the last time she did that she was bashed on the head. But she had Rhea to think of. Dylan didn't want her suffering any more than she already was, so she kept her mouth shut and stood up. Her hand rose to feel the lump on the back of her head and she gave it a gentle rub. "So now what?" It was a stupid question but it filled the uncomfortable silence of the room.

"I trusted you with a most precious thing, Dylan, and you betrayed me." Rocco remarked.

"Thing, boss? Miss Whitman is not a thing." Dylan defended.

"Not her. Loyalty. I'm talking about loyalty to me." Rocco stated.

"And you want loyalty above your girlfriend?" Dylan wanted to make sure both she and Rhea understood where he stood on the matter.

"She's not my girlfriend. Not anymore. You both made sure of that," he said angrily. "Girlfriends come and go, Dylan, but loyalty must remain. Without loyalty I can no longer trust you."

"I'm still loyal, boss. All I did-" Dylan tried to explain.

"All you did?," he yelled, "? was disobey my orders, Dylan! You may as well have stabbed me in the back!"

"Then it's about me and not her. Do what you want with me but let her go, boss." As Dylan spoke she saw Rhea fight her bonds in her peripheral vision. "Come on, boss," Dylan pleaded, "Please just let her go. I'll go quietly."

All eyes were focused on Rocco as he considered her plea. "It's too late for that, and you know it." He moved away from the group and headed towards the door. "It's too late for all of us." Rocco opened the attic door and walked through. "Make it quick," he said before the door closed to sign their death warrants.

Six men faced her. Six men she had only known fleetingly but still considered them brothers-in-arms. "So, this is it, huh?" she said bravely, hoping that her voice wouldn't crack. But it was her façade that was starting to fracture and she only hoped that it didn't shatter into a million pieces before her death. Dylan stepped over to Rhea and undid the ropes around her, allowing her the chance to stand.

Two of the men took a crowbar to the attic wall while the remaining four stood there with guns drawn.

"Dylan," Rhea breathed.

Dylan looked down at Rhea and tucked her under her armpit, pulling her close. "I'm sorry, Rhee honey. I never meant for this to happen." But it was too late for apologies.

"I wouldn't change a minute, Lani. I found myself because of you."

The words touched Dylan, as did Rhea's moist gaze, and she felt a peace she had never felt before. Her turbulent life had led up to this point and it all just seemed right. Even the splintering of wood didn't disturb the moment of clarity for both women. "I won't leave you? ever?, Rhee. I love you."

"I love you too, Lani. Forever."

"Yeah, forever." Dylan affirmed.

They were pulled apart but Dylan refused to look away from Rhea as a rope came around Rhea's neck. She felt the harsh rub of the rope on her own neck and the rapidly increasing tightness as it was pulled taut. "Forever. In this life and the next, Rhee, I'll be with you." The rope began to bite into her skin and her breathing became labored.

For once she didn't struggle, allowing her life to ebb away without fuss. Dylan knew that on the other side Rhea would be waiting for her? for eternity.


For those of you who wanted a "happy ending", here is an alternate ending:

Chapter 11. May You Get To Heaven A Half Hour Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Rhea was so gentle that Dylan almost cried. In a life full of anger, pain and mistrust her lover was the sweetest ache of all. Her lover's touch was gentle and caring and spoke to her soul in a way that words couldn't. Lips and tongue blazed a path across her skin on her way down Dylan's body, finding hidden recesses that hadn't been touched by anyone else.

Dylan so wanted to look but she allowed herself to just feel the sensations without the influence of sight. Her lips parted as she panted and her tongue flicked out to brush her own lips. Her nether lips parted and a moment later she felt Rhea's tongue swipe over her.

"Are you all right?" Rhea's whispered voice broke the silence of the room. "I'm not hurting you?"

Dylan heard the guilt in Rhea's voice. She lifted her head off the pillow and looked down at Rhea hovering over her labia. Dylan smiled gently and whispered back. "Love me, Rhee." One hand that had been lying on the bed sheet rose and caressed Rhea's cheek. "I want to know heaven before I die."

Rhea hesitated, the guilt in her eyes turning to concern. "Wha-?"

"Love me, Rhee? please." Dylan pleaded.

Rhea's head dipped and the pleasant sensation returned. Dylan lay down again and let the feeling wash over her. Rhea was agile and talented in her pursuit of Dylan's pleasure, swiping her tongue wherever she felt her lover needed the attention.

It was an almost lazy seduction, building slowly toward a swell that she knew would float her in a sea of sensual malaise. Dylan's mind floated for a while, thinking of nothing in particular, as Rhea continue to gently stimulate her. Before she was aware of what had happened, two fingers had joined the playful tongue, working in tandem to quicken her slowly building tide.

There was a twinge of pain from a residual bruise as Rhea's fingers slipped inside but the slowly circling digits added to the ache and turned it into pleasure. Dylan bit her tongue from moaning in case Rhea mistook it for a complaint. It was anything but. Rhea's love was warm, wet and sweet.

A whimper escaped Dylan's lips as Rhea's fingertips found a particularly sensitive spot. The sensation pulsed in time to Rhea's fingers brushing her sweet spot, traveling up her body to her breasts and then to her mind.

The sensual sea was building into a tidal wave, rising in intensity with every swipe of a finger or a tongue. Dylan stood in the backflow of her tidal wave, staring up at the mountainous sea ready to tumble her into submission.

"Come for me."

Dylan barely acknowledged the words, but Rhea speaking them was the final push she needed for that tidal wave of hers to overcome her, tossing her around and throwing her onto dangerously sharp rocks. She lay there desperately spent and irreversibly speared by them. The only way to save herself was to accept that she had fallen for Rhea.

An idle arm came up and lay across her eyes as Dylan tried to catch her breath. A warm body nestled in under her arm and she felt the touch of lips on her breast.

"I love you, Lani."

Dylan should have expected the words of declaration but they were words she wasn't used to hearing. No one had come into her life like Rhea had and turned it completely upside down. She had no choice but to admit her own feelings. "I love you too, Rhee."

Rhea stopped wriggling and lay still, causing Dylan to lift her arm and look down at her lover. "What? Did I say something wrong?"

"No! No. You kind of surprised me, that's all." Rhea stammered. "You were fighting this all the way."

"I know." Dylan's gaze turned to the ceiling. "It's a bit late now to be fighting it."

"It's not that bad, is it?" Rhea sounded as if her feelings were hurt.

"Don't be silly. I? I guess? I've never been in love before." Dylan admitted. She had expected some sort of comment from Rhea but got none. "I don't know what to do."

Rhea's hand came up and cupped Dylan's chin, forcing her to look at Rhea. "Don't do anything. It will happen as it's meant to be."

Dylan's reply sat on the tip of her tongue but she didn't say it. Her own thoughts on destiny were not as positive as Rhea's. She grabbed her watch from the bedside table and looked at the time. "The weather has cleared up. How about we go for a walk?"

"Now? Did I do something wrong?" Rhea's face hovered over Dylan's.

"There's plenty of time tonight for bedroom play. Besides, I don't want to return on Monday and not be able to walk straight!" Dylan joked as she moved to the side of the bed and sat up. She shifted slightly and winced. Considering what had happened the night before, her body had survived pretty well.

"O-kay," Rhea said slowly, "If you say so."

By the time Rhea had perched herself on the edge of the mattress Dylan had already put on her boxers and was in the process of attached her socks to her suspenders. "I want to work up an appetite," Dylan saucily stated.

"But you just had breakfast!" Rhea complained as she reached for her corset and bra.

"No you had breakfast, but who said anything about food?" Dylan winked at her lover on the bed. She stepped into her trousers and stood up to fasten them.

"Oh!" Rhea finally smiled and put some energy into getting dressed.

Dylan was nearly fully dressed, except for an undone tie and no coat, when the door flung open, hitting the wall noisily before bouncing back into the face of the visitor. She quickly cast a glance at Rhea's state of dress, pleased to see that she was covered up except for stockings and shoes.

"So! He was right!" In the doorway stood Rocco, behind him Dylan saw Bobby and four other men, all waiting to step into the room.

"Boss, I-" Dylan tried to explain.

"There's nothing to explain, you whore! I can see with my own eyes!" Rocco's eyes blazed with fury.

The six men moved into the room and closed the door. Rocco's men fanned out around behind him as he stood in the middle of the room.

"Don't trust anyone," Dylan muttered as she angrily stared at Bobby.

"It wasn't me," he said, his hands raised in surrender.

"Gus thought there was something wrong, and it looks like he was right." Rocco answered.

"Gus thought I wasn't a man," Dylan explained.

"I got that right, boss," Gus piped in.

"And you discovered a snake in our midst, Gus," Rocco stated.

"Boss," Bobby said as he stepped closer to Rocco. "Can we discuss this alone?"

"What business is it of yours?" Rocco turned his ire on his right-hand man.

"Not in front of the boys, boss," Bobby whispered.

"Get out!" Rocco yelled. When Dylan and Rhea made a move, he pointed at them. "Not you two!"

Bobby pushed the other men out the door. "Go get a coffee or a donut or something, okay?" he said as he closed the door behind them.

"All right. What's so damned important that I had to send the boys out?" Rocco faced Bobby.

"Boss, do you really want them to know everything about the arrangement you had with Dylan? After all, your re? reputashun-" Bobby searched for the right word.

"Fuck the reputation, Bobby! She betrayed me!" Rocco screamed.

"Boss! The neighbors!" Bobby hushed.

"I tell her to look after Rhea and now she's sleeping with her?" Rocco finally realized what he had said. "You two are-"

"Yes, boss, we're lesbians." Dylan said quietly. It sounded harsh even to her own ears.

"I told you I wasn't interested," Rhea interceded.

"I hate to say it boss," Bobby continued, "but you told Dylan to go after her-"

"I said," Rocco emphasized, "to woo her, not to sleep with her."

"Can we help who we fall in love with, boss?" Bobby offered. "I know my Betsy ain't no prize but I wouldn't change her for the world."

Rocco sighed deeply. "I know that Francesca can be a little overbearing at times."

Bobby glared at Dylan, warning her to keep her comments to herself.

"You've put me in a very difficult situation here," Rocco explained as he stared at the two women standing side by side. "I just can't let you go otherwise everyone will think that I've gotten soft."

"But boss," Bobby interceded on Dylan's behalf, "you're trying to go straight, remember? If you stiff them the G-men will be all over you."

"He's got a point, damn him!" Rocco conceded.

Bobby continued, "And you do owe Dylan."

"I don't owe her anything!" Rocco retorted.

"The way things are going boss you're going to need an ally or two, and Dylan put Crazy Louie in your back pocket."

"The way things are going?" Dylan asked.

Bobby spoke for Rocco. "After the attack on the club the rival gangs are ready to go to war. It's time to choose sides."

"All the more reason for us to get out of here," Rhea suggested.

"I can't just-" Rocco tried to say.

"Boss? Do you know that Gus works for the Felucci brothers?" Bobby announced.

"The Felucci's? And I'm just hearing about it now?" Rocco demanded.

"I wasn't sure until yesterday." Bobby shifted from one foot to another. "He's using this to destroy the trust you have with the gangs. With you out of the way, the war can begin."

"And what about them?" Rocco pointed at Dylan and Rhea.

"Let them go, boss. They're not going to be a threat. They just want to be left alone. Am I right?" Bobby asked the two women.

"And to be as far away from here as possible," Rhea responded.

"I don't want to be in the middle of a war, boss. The two of us just want to find somewhere quiet to live our lives." Dylan tried not to sound like she was pleading, even though in actual fact that was what she was doing.

Rocco rubbed a hand across his forehead in frustration. "All right!" he yelled. "All right. But I don't want to see either of your faces ever again. You got me?" he growled.

"Sure thing, boss," Dylan said relieved.

"And don't call me boss!" Rocco added.

"You know, boss?," Bobby began. "Just one more thing?"

"Now what? Bobby, you're testing my patience!" Rocco's face started to turn red.

"They could probably use a bit of traveling money to get as far away from here as possible." Bobby said carefully.

"You want me to not only pardon them but pay them for it as well? You've got some nerve?" Rocco ran out of words as he grumpily stuck his hand in his pocket. He pulled out a wad of cash and peeled off a number of notes from the top, slapping the cash into Dylan's hand. "Bobby? You just used up your last favor. You got me?" Rocco grumbled, leaving the room without so much as a goodbye to the two women.

"I wouldn't hang around here for too long, if you know what I mean." Bobby smiled at them and turned to leave.

Dylan stepped forward and intercepted the man. "Bobby," she whispered. She leaned in a planted a gentle kiss on his cheek. "I'm sorry but I broke the cardinal rule."

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Yeah. I trust you. Goodbye, my friend."

"Yeah? well?," Bobby hand rose and brushed across his nose. "Now get outta here before he changes his mind." Bobby opened the door and left without speaking another word.

"I think that's our cue to leave," Dylan commented. "Get packed." Dylan stepped across the corridor to collect her belongings. When she had finished Rhea was waiting for her in the corridor. The descended the stairs to the lobby where Dylan paid the bill.

"Is there a back way out of here?" Dylan asked. The duty clerk pointed and they followed his direction, finding themselves on a small side street. Dylan peeked around the corner and saw Rocco and his men climb back into the Buick and head out of town.

"Where are we going?" Rhea asked as they headed toward the bus station.

"Where? Anywhere our hearts want to take us." Dylan admitted.


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