Tyler Bradshaw was laid to rest on the twenty-eighth day of November. After a brief memorial service, his body was moved to the cemetery where he would spend the rest of eternity in peace. The scent of roses and carnations mingled on the cold air with the smell of freshly dug earth. It was a gray, bitterly cold day. The perfect day for burying a four-year-old.
She watched tiny white snowflakes drift down to melt against the impossibly small mahogany casket. It took every ounce of courage she possessed to stand next to his grave, to listen to the minister inadequately explain why this child was taken away so young and innocent. She knew why he was gone. She knew who to blame.
The minister's quiet words faded away. In her mind, she saw the bright-eyed little boy with the infectious grin. He came to her attention the way all children came to her attention-through a phone call in the middle of the night. An intern at Egleston's called the police when Robert Bradshaw brought his son into the ER. The parents claimed the little boy fell from their car, but his injuries were inconsistent with that kind of fall. The intern called the police, who called the Domestic Violence Intervention Team, who called Dr. Michala Cary.
He was simply another case at first. She saw hundreds of children, all abused on some level, and had long ago built a wall to protect her sanity. She could not do her job if she allowed herself to become personally involved. With most of the children it was easy to stay uninvolved. They were the ones whose spirits had been beaten and defeated by parents who didn't care and a system that could not afford to. She did her best for these children, but she wasn't haunted by the fact that her best wasn't always enough. Then there were the others, they ones who weren't quite so defeated yet, not quite ground down by their lives. These children kept her awake some nights, and then they were gone from her life when their cases were resolved.
And then there was Tyler. A bright, cheerful boy who ran to her for hugs and kisses when he came to her office, who chatted constantly about his friends and his preschool, who was remarkably untouched by the violence his father first directed at him when he was two months old. Perhaps it was because he did not live the same life of poverty and drugs that marked most abusive homes. His father was a successful executive for a computer firm. He went to a private preschool, wore tiny Nikes, romped in Osh Kosh overalls, and never went to bed hungry or dirty. None of that protected him from becoming a memory in one horrifically violent second.
Dark, shattered eyes watched the cool blonde on the other side of the coffin cry delicately into a lacy black handkerchief. The grieving mother. Why she was here instead of sharing a cell with her husband was almost more than Michala could stand. Maybe Rebecca Bradshaw never laid a hand on her son, but the fact that she never tried to stop her husband made her just as culpable for her son's death. Depraved indifference to human life. What else could it be called when a mother watched someone deal such a vicious blow to her child that it was almost instantly fatal? Depraved indifference was the least of Rebecca Bradshaw's crimes.
Reporters rushed forward as they made their way from the burial site. Uniformed officers corralled them and kept microphones and cameras out of their faces. She paused on the edge of the lawn. The photo that would grace the front page of tomorrow's paper was of her looking back, the heartbreaking expression of loss so clear on her pale face.
Now she only saw the media and the police. She used one, relied on the other and both had let her down in the end. She turned away from the small, flower laden casket.
Tyler was dead. Nothing else mattered.
Kelly Pryce looked at her watch in growing frustration. She would give Randa seven more minutes before she trekked back through the lunch rush to her office. All in all she'd wasted an hour she didn't have to spare. She was more than frustrated. She was getting angry. What kind of an emergency could Randa be having if she could leave someone sitting in her office for almost thirty minutes? Apparently not the kind that required immediate attention.
For the third time, she stood up to roam the spacious office. Dr. Miranda Cary is a Psychiatrist who specializes in adolescents. Her office reflects the interests of her teenage patients. The larger right side of the room was a casual conversation area with comfortable navy canvas backed painter chairs and a table covered with popular teen magazines. One wall was a white board with typical teenage graffiti written in a rainbow of dry ink. The remaining walls were a soothing sky blue.
Randa's glass topped desk and leather wing chairs were tucked unobtrusively on the smaller left side of the room. Lush green plants were a discreet demarcation between the teen's side of her office and her personal space. Kelly thought it odd her degrees were not hung with pride behind the desk. There was little to denote the success Randa has achieved in her profession.
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting, Kelly."
Kelly turned to the doorway. Instant concern replaced her frustration. Anger furrowed Randa's usually smiling face and narrowed dark brown eyes. She raked fingers through tousled short blonde hair.
"Come with me. I don't want this to be overheard."
The Cary Center is set up on the spacious ground floor of a gracefully refurbished Victorian house. Kelly followed her down several narrow hallways, through several large conference rooms, to the reception area. She'd only known Randa a few months, but Kelly thought she knew her well enough to know Randa Cary is a remarkably calm and poised woman. As she followed her though the Cary Center, she wondered how the bright yellow envelope crumpled in her fist featured in her loss of composure.
A man and a teenage girl flipped through magazines as they waited for their appointments. Randa walked to the reception window. "Is she here?"
The brunette behind the glass shrugged. "I haven't seen her."
"Lt. Pryce and I are going up to talk. Call there the second she walks in."
The second floor of the Cary Center, like the Center itself, belongs to Randa's twin sister Michala. A curved oak staircase in the center hall was blocked at the top of the stairs by locked sliding wooden doors. Kelly was endlessly fascinated by those doors and cast a long stare up every time she visited. She kept hoping for just a glimpse of her or for a tiny view into her life. Since coming to Atlanta to take over as the police liaison for the Domestic Violence Intervention Team, she has developed a silent obsession over Michala Cary.
Randa paused long enough to unlock the doors and push one side open for them to enter the inner sanctum. "I'm sorry I made you wait, Kelly. I was looking for more of these."
She slid the door shut. "I guess she threw them away."
"What's wrong?" Kelly asked, deciding she no longer cared why she was left waiting in her office. Randa was angry and that was the more intriguing puzzle. Kelly was willing to bet Randa Cary didn't get angry very often.
Randa reached for a dimmer switch located just inside the doors. Kelly blinked in surprised at the casual room revealed by scattered floor lamps. This is not how she imagined Michala Cary lived. She followed Randa across the large room to facing black leather couches. The second floor resembled a very spacious studio apartment. One end of the room was a small kitchen and the other end was an office area with desk and computer. The couches, glass coffee table, and an oak dinette table were the only other furnishings. The white walls and dark hardwood floor were both bare.
She was disappointed. Michala Cary has taken on a mythical aura since her abrupt, although not unexpected resignation from DVIT last year. Her name, when spoken, is mentioned in hushed tones of awe. This room was much too prosaic for a goddess.
"I opened this by mistake. It could be read either Michala or Miranda. Cayla gets very little mail at the office these days." She held out the crumpled yellow envelope.
Kelly reluctantly took the envelope from her and sat. She pulled out the single sheet of matching paper and quickly read the note.
I saw you today. Pretty roses from the pretty lady. Too bad he's still dead.
The words were written with a low-end laser printer in dire need of toner. Randa's dark gaze never left her as she read the brief, creepy note. "Did you get this today?"
Randa nodded. Her brow was creased in worry. "Yes. When I realized what it was, I asked Lynne about it. She said it came with the rest of the mail this morning. She also said Cayla receives about one a week and has for months."
Kelly flipped the envelope over. The letter was addressed to Michala Cary in care of the Cary Center. The canceled stamp bore an Atlanta postmark. The handwriting was scratchy. "Why didn't you call the police?"
Randa stared at her blankly. "I did. I called you."
Her earlier frustration returned with a vengeance. She held the letter out to the other woman. "I'm not a detective, Randa. I'm the police liaison officer for DVIT. I don't handle stuff like this."
Randa looked down at the letter in her hands. She sighed and looked up, her eyes dark with worry. "Are you suggesting I take this to Jim Bates? Regardless of how Cayla feels about the department, the police think of her as one of their own. The police cannot protect those who do not want to be protected. Trust me, Cayla won't cooperate with an investigation."
Kelly knew only the bare facts about Michala's resignation from DVIT. The other officers don't talk about Tyler Bradshaw or the legal nightmare that became Michala's life before his death. What little of the story she knew, she learned from Randa.
"Go talk to-" She broke off to stare at the rumpled robed woman who silently appeared out of the darkness behind Randa. As she walked into the ring of light, Kelly knew she was about to meet Michala Cary. They were identical twins and there was a startling similarity in the heart shaped face framed by shoulder length honey blonde hair. Her dark eyes were sleepy and annoyed.
Randa's eyes widened and she jumped to her feet in surprise. "Cayla. What are you doing here?"
Michala arched both eyebrows and said, "Hmm, let me see. I'm in a robe and I just woke up. Perhaps I live here?"
She walked around the couch. Her short white silk robe was loosely tied and fell open to reveal the tanned curve of full breasts. Kelly tensed as she walked across the room. She smiled and held out her hand. "I'm Michala."
Before Kelly could frame a reply, Randa answered for her. "This is Dr. Kelly Pryce. She's consulting on a sensitive case. We came up here for privacy. Where's your car?"
Dr. Pryce? Kelly did have her doctorate in Criminal Justice, but she never used the title. She preferred Lieutenant. Dark brown eyes slid over Kelly with the warmth of a physical touch. Behind her, Randa crammed the letter and envelope into the pocket of her slacks.
"Body shop, I think," Michala answered absently after a pause. As she met Kelly's eyes, panic set in. She wasn't out at work and her blatant appraisal, as extremely flattering as Kelly found it, was unwelcome. Randa was sure to read something into her gay twin staring at her. Michala read her mind. She winked, amused at the panic. She turned to Randa. With both hands, she ran her fingers through her hair. "Do you often bring people up here?"
"No, this is a special case. Very sensitive." Randa sat and she shrugged when Kelly looked over at her. Their conversation was over here; they would have to go somewhere else. Kelly hoped Randa would not make excuses for them too quickly.
Michala walked into the kitchen. She flipped a switch and the tiny kitchen was brilliantly lit by a single row of track lighting. "Anyone want some coffee? I didn't realize I was having company so I can't offer you anything else."
Randa turned to watch her. "Sure. Both of us. What time did you get in last night?"
Michala moved around the kitchen measuring water and coffee grounds. "Fourish. When I came out of the club last night my windshield was shattered. After the report was made and a cab was called and one more drink with my concerned friends, it was four or later when I got home."
Randa and Kelly looked at each other. Was it a coincidence that her car was vandalized last night? Randa asked in a conversational tone, "Who all was there?"
Cups rattled in the kitchen. "Um, well, Leigh. Valerie. Brenda left after a few drinks. Robbie came later. She and Gaye had a big fight over something really stupid. The garbage I think. Of course she wanted to cry on my shoulder so I pretended to care."
Pretended to care? That wasn't the caring, sensitive response expected from the vaunted Dr. Michala Cary. Randa was good, Kelly knew from her own experience, but Michala was supposed to be an exceptionally perceptive Psychiatrist.
"And you made a report?"
A slight pause, her voice edged when she answered. "While I was checking out the damage, Val called on her cell phone. It must have been a slow crime night last night because that squad car was there in mere minutes. Val is on the top of my hit list."
"Why? You'll need the police report to make a claim."
Michala walked over with a tray of slate blue stoneware mugs, coffee pot, and containers of cream and sugar. She poured the coffee and handed out mugs as she talked. "If I was carjacked and raped before being left for dead on the side of the road, I still would not call the police. I didn't give the report actually. Val did. I went back inside and had another drink."
She shot her twin a wicked grin. "I mean since I was coming home in a cab why leave sober?"
Randa's answering smile was faint. "Yes, why leave sober."
They drank the coffee in silence. Kelly felt Michala's eyes drift over her several times and she refused to meet her interested gaze. She was not going to confirm anything for her with Randa here. She chanced a glance over at her. She seemed very much at home, which of course she was, but few people could carry that off while entertaining guests in only a robe. She caught Kelly's eyes and winked over the rim of her mug.
"Are you coming to dinner tonight? Mom and Dad ask about you every week." There was a chastising tone to Randa's voice.
Michala turned away to focus on Randa. Her tone was chiding. "Subtle. When the guilt doesn't work, are you going to try to elicit sympathy? That might work better. I'm fresh out of guilt."
Randa covered her hand and leaned forward. "They're worried about you. I'm worried about you. Hell, Cayla, everyone is worried. All you do is go clubbing all night and sleep all day. This isn't you. This isn't your life."
Michala stood, her eyes cool. "My life is what I want it to be. I'd apologize for not measuring up to your standards, but I don't seem to care if you approve."
Randa said calmly, "You don't seem to care about much these days."
"Oh I care Miranda, just not about the things you want." She smiled down at Kelly. "It's been a pleasure meeting you Dr. Pryce. Come back any time."
She didn't look at Randa as she walked away from them. "Leave your key on the table Miranda. This isn't part of the Center."
Kelly watched Randa stare at her as she went to her bedroom and closed her door. The frustration she felt at being shut from her sister's life must be a special kind of hell. It's difficult to reach out to someone who isn't reaching back and you can't save those who aren't asking for help. This someone was her twin sister.
"Do you still think I should talk to Jim?" She asked, standing. She leaned down to pick up the tray.
Lieutenant James Bates, like everyone who speaks of her, adores Michala. Kelly shook her head. If she didn't want to report a busted windshield, she would abhor an investigation into the letters. "I think that would be the worse thing to do."
"Are you hungry? There's a Ruby Tuesday's near here."
They took the tray of coffee mugs back to the kitchen before they left. Kelly could hear Michala taking a shower as they left the apartment. Randa locked the doors and pocketed the key. It seemed that not caring about certain things ran in the Cary family.
Kelly got back to her office at two-thirty. The afternoon was shot, but she didn't regret the lost time. They spent lunch forming a plan to protect Michala without her knowledge. They didn't have a lot of options. They decided that talking to Jim Bates would effectively open an investigation and without Michala's cooperation it would be a battle of iron wills. The first course of action was to intercept the letters. Randa would arrange that with the office manager, Lynne. Randa was also going to talk to Michala's friends and quietly suggest the family was concerned about her and would appreciate her friends keeping close tabs on her for them. Randa was of the opinion that her friends, just as concerned as the family about her, would gladly join the conspiracy.
There wasn't anything for Kelly to do, either officially or unofficially. She wasn't in Michala's circle of friends and Randa didn't want her to know about Kelly's association with DVIT. She apologized for the "Dr. Pryce" introduction and explained that Michala refused to talk about DVIT or to the members of the team. If she explained that Kelly was the new police liaison officer, they would have been outside her door within in seconds. Michala would have assumed they were discussing a DVIT case. Certain things are not discussed in her home.
Kelly gave up trying to do paperwork. It was Friday. This week, her week on call, was long and difficult. She received calls five out of seven nights. Three of the calls were after midnight. One of the children was DOA at Egleston. They added six new cases to an already crushing caseload of abused children in need of state protection.
When she joined DVIT three months ago, it was with excitement and a sense of renewed hope in law enforcement. She was burned out from dealing with a system that only picked up pieces after the lives were shattered. The Domestic Violence Intervention Team was formed, by Michala, to respond to any domestic call where children were present. DVIT brought together the police department, Cary Center associates, and caseworkers from the Department of Family and Children services. They had an unprecedented power to protect these children. Kelly would have preferred the power to change their lives.
Michala Cary. She gave up the fight and let her mind wander. Kelly heard her name for the first time during the initial interview for the police liaison position. Randa and Samantha Jones, the DFACS caseworker assigned to the program, gave her a thumbnail background sketch. Michala conceived the idea for DVIT, talked Fulton County, and the state into a partnership, and headed the program for five highly successful years. She resigned last year and Randa stepped in to fill her place.
Kelly was led to believe that Michala resigned because of her demanding private practice. It was after she was on the job a few weeks that she noticed no one, save for Randa, mentioned Michala. She was their founder and leader for five years and her name was rarely mentioned. Kelly found this odd and asked Randa about her resignation from the program. In a tone that warned questions would not be answered, Randa told her about the death of four-year-old Tyler Bradshaw and it's devastating effect on her sister. The nightmare began when Tyler was returned to his parents over Michala's strongly voiced objections. She believed the child's life was in jeopardy and took her fight against the system to the press. The Bradshaw's civil suit for slander never went to trial because ten months later Robert was arrested when his son was admitted to Piedmont. Michala resigned from DVIT three days later after the little boy was removed from life support. Four months after Tyler's death and Michala still has not stepped foot into DVIT's office or her own in the Cary Center. She has effectively retired in the middle of a highly acclaimed career.
How could anyone not find a woman like her fascinating? The fact that she is gay has only made her all the more intriguing. She was a woman who did not bemoan the sad state of affairs or wish she could do something, but had pulled together a program that actually did something. She built the Cary Center into a successful mental health clinic. Kelly had to admire a woman who has the power to make her dreams a reality. So few people have that ability.
Kelly realized unhappily that as much as she would love to get to know her, it was never going to happen. Whatever interest Michala may have had of her in the apartment would vanish the second she knew Kelly was with DVIT.
Dark, soft wavy hair cut chin length. Eyes midnight blue fringed with long, thick lashes. Body both feminine and athletic under oatmeal colored slacks and hunter green shirt. Michala opened her eyes when she was sure that Dr. Kelly Pryce was worth the pain she was currently suffering. She nodded once, satisfied the woman was as sexy and attractive as she thought.
"Darling, will you get the rolls out of the oven?"
Michala plastered a smile to her face. "Sure Mom."
She walked around the butcher's block in the middle of the kitchen and pulled on a pair of oven mitts. She cast a quick glance over the kitchen. Miranda was tossing a green salad while their mother was carving a golden roasted chicken. She was really here, having dinner with family. She opened the oven with the thought that later, she would be at the bar with friends. This night could not last forever, regardless how much it might feel like it.
"Mm, these smell great. Is this the new recipe you were talking about?"
Miranda looked up from the tomatoes she was slicing to stare at her in question. Michala simply grinned and slid the rolls into a wicker basket. She knew Miranda was wondering when she'd talked to their mother. As far as Paige Anderson Cary was concerned, the one phone call she made every Thursday night was a non-call. She wanted several calls a week on different nights that weren't made in guilt. She wasn't going to admit she ever heard from Michala until she got what she wanted.
Paige came over and hugged her from behind. She was taller than both her daughters. Her sleek auburn hair was cut in a short, crisp style. Warm dark brown eyes were her genetic gift to the twins. "Yes. Do you want it? It's very easy to make."
Michala smiled at her sister. "It's been years since you've gotten me confused with Miranda. I'm Michala, the one who can cook. I don't need easy."
Paige laughed and kissed her cheek. She caught Miranda's less than amused expression and kissed her as well. She patted her shoulder as she left the kitchen. "I'm sorry darling, but it's true."
"If had known you were coming, I would've stayed home. You said no this morning." Miranda dumped the tomatoes over the shredded lettuce in the bowl with a little more force than necessary.
Michala slid over next to her. This was just the opening she'd been waiting for. "About this morning. I noticed you didn't leave your key. Planning to bring her back when I'm not there? Susan's not going to like that. You do know, don't you, that she's a very good shot with her gun?"
She watched in amusement as Miranda cast a frantic glance to the doorway. Michala knew she would. For reasons only her sister understood, she wasn't ready for their parents to know both their daughters were gay. Michala came out in junior high; Miranda only admitted her true feelings two years ago when she started dating one of Michala's best friends.
"Kelly is a colleague. That was a professional discussion. Besides, she's not gay."
Michala grinned. "Oh honey, you should have that fixed. You're missing out on a whole world."
"What fixed and what world?"
"Your gaydar. When you have a woman as sexy as that around and you don't know she's gay, it's time for a tune-up. I knew the second I saw her."
Miranda turned to her with a smirk. "You think every woman is gay. You want every woman to be gay. Kelly isn't gay. I think I would have noticed by now if she was."
Michala laughed. "You didn't even know you are. Why do you think she isn't?"
As her sister launched into a list of why Kelly Pryce couldn't possibly be gay, Michala barely kept the smile off her face. This was so easy, she should be arrested. She buttered the rolls and made little noises of agreement. When Miranda was finished, Michala knew Kelly lived with Dr. Danielle Barrett, had just moved from Seattle, wasn't seeing anyone yet, and hated sports. The most telling point for Miranda seemed to be that Kelly had not picked up on her. Michala didn't bother pointing out to her sister that she was so far back in her closet, she didn't see the light of day when Susan slipped in with her. Michala was as shocked as Miranda when she realized she was gay. The fact that someone else didn't pick up on it didn't surprise Michala in the least.
She said with a smile, "I guess you're right. I don't know what I was thinking."
Dr. Danielle Barrett, the orthopedic surgeon of choice for the lesbian community, was a friend of Shannon's, whose girlfriend just happened to be Michala's other best friend. She knew from Jess that they were all meeting at the bar later that night. If Kelly wasn't with them, she was sure Danielle would be. She would get the rest of the information she wanted from her.
"Will one of you go get your Dad?" Paige asked as came back into the kitchen. "We're ready."
Miranda said she would, leaving Michala to help their mother take the dishes into the dining room. Paige launched into more questions. Michala followed her into the dining room with the rolls and salad.
"No," she said and the smiling face of Kelly Pryce popped in her head, "I'm not seeing anyone right now."
Paige smiled at her over the table. "I met this nice young woman at PFLAG last week. Remind me to give you the number before you leave. She was just gorgeous."
Michala closed her eyes briefly. Why, she wondered not for the first time, couldn't she have parents who took a less personal interest in her private life? Didn't they know they were supposed to ignore her orientation, pretend she was happily celibate? She would have to get parents who were comfortable enough with her life to ask those embarrassing questions and try to fix her up with other women. Thank God her mother wasn't giving her number out anymore. That was something.
Paige smiled at her over the table. Michala returned the smile, hoping that hers was at least half as bright. "Her name is Tiffany. She's twenty-two, but that's not really that young any more."
Tiffany? Twenty-two? Dark, soft wavy hair cut chin length. Eyes midnight blue fringed with long, thick lashes. And once again, she reminded herself this night would end soon. If Kelly was at the bar, she had high hopes that when it did, Kelly Pryce would be in her arms.
Dani was already there by the time she got home that evening. Kelly parked next to her white BMW and thought, as she did every Friday that soon she was moving to one of the suburbs north of Atlanta. With teams in all four major sports and other entertainment not offered anywhere else in the state, it seemed that half of Georgia was driving into Atlanta on the weekends. If she lived in the suburbs, she could cruise home instead of sitting in traffic jams.
Dr. Danielle Barrett and Kelly had been friends forever. Legend has it that their friendship, frequently mistaken for a continuous game of one-up-woman ship, began in the hospital nursery when Kelly was a whole day older. Their mothers bonded over a shared terror of new motherhood. They came out together, graduated from Syracuse University together, and then parted for the first time in their lives for graduate school. Dani came south to Emory and Kelly went west to Stanford. Dani remained in Atlanta after getting her medical degree. Kelly began her law enforcement career in Seattle. Three months ago, for reasons that had everything to do with constant rain, she finally made the move to Atlanta. Dani has graciously shared her townhouse without once mentioning that Kelly agreed to live with her "temporarily."
"Hey, come in here," Dani called as soon as she walked in the townhouse.
Kelly found her upstairs in her bedroom. She wore a pair of black slacks and nothing else. Kelly leaned in the doorway with a smile. What is it about a best friend that made them so unappealing as a lover? Objectively, she could admit that Dani was quite a catch. Short jet-black hair and piercing blue eyes, toned athletes' body, and a thriving career as an orthopedic surgeon. The flip side of objective is knowing everything she ever did.
She reached into her closet for a red shirt. "You're not on call tonight are you? Jessica and Shannon have invited us to dinner. Then we're all going out."
Dani and her friends have been trying to get Kelly out for a night on the town since she moved. Kelly wasn't the party animal they are and shamelessly used her job to ward them away. Kelly decided as she watched Dani dress that tonight she wanted to go out with Dani and her friends. A night on the town in the company of beautiful women was just what she needed.
"Sounds great. Do I have time for a shower?"
Dani shot her a look of surprise. "Sure, of course. We're not meeting them until seven-thirty."
Kelly nodded and walked down the hall to her room. Yes, a night out filled with wine, women, and song. Was there a better way to end what had been a particularly bad week? She was used to the late night phone calls because the middle of the night was the time people seemed to lose control of their anger most. What made this week so bad was that the DOA at Egleston was her first fatality. One little girl would never be older than eight for the rest of eternity. That was a hard one for her to pass off as just part of the job.
After her shower, Kelly stood in front of her closet door and debated about her attire for the night. Dani's slacks were dressier than her usual bar clothes. Kelly's seen her leave in faded blue jeans and a sweatshirt. She took her cue from Dani and passed over jeans in favor of black linen slacks and blazer over a white silk shirt. If Dani was dressing up, they were either going to a very nice restaurant or she was trying to impress a date.
The Otherside was crowded by the time they arrived at ten. While Dani and Shannon pushed their way to the bar for drinks, Jess and Kelly scouted the bar for the table of friends they were meeting. They found the rowdy group in the back near the dance floor. Jess left her with the five other women while she went to tell Dani and Shannon where they were sitting.
Dani and her friends play in softball leagues and have tailgate parties before UGA football games. They were Braves fan before the team became winners and they go to every Hawks game in the belief that their faith will do for the basketball team what it did for the boys of summer. Kelly has resisted all attempts at assimilation. She used to think that being gay meant she had to play sports, but she realized that one is not automatically inclusive of the other. Now she limited her sports watching to the World Series and Super Bowl games because those are the only games that count.
Kelly returned welcomes with the other woman and tried to remember their names. Susan was easy for her to remember because she was a homicide detective on the force. Gaye was equally as easy because a gay woman named Gaye is memorable. Gaye was cuddling her young lover, Robin or Robbie or something as equally cute. Next to her was a boyish brunette whose name was a total blank. She was talking about the Falcons with Susan.
Depression hit with a vengeance. So she was out for a night on the town with some people she kind of knew. She only had Dani in common with them. They were strangers and the longer Kelly lived with her the more she realized the same was true of Dani. What they had in common was a lifetime eighteen years ago. They were very different from the young women who set out to conquer the world from Syracuse.
Two beers and a half of bowl of cold popcorn later found Kelly ready to call a cab. She listened politely to the heated conversation over the Braves, tried to care about the Falcons, but drew the line at even pretending an interest in the basketball team. She was trying to catch Dani's attention when silence fell over the table. Suddenly chairs were scrapping and she was pushed to the side to make room for someone else.
Kelly slid her chair closer to Dani and leaned over to whisper, "I'm getting tired. I think I'm?"
Dani wasn't listening as she smiled brightly at someone over Kelly's shoulder. Kelly sat back in her chair, resigned to the fact that she was stuck here for a little while longer. Why did she think coming here would make this miserable weekend on a better note? She closed her eyes and consoled herself with the thought that tomorrow she would sleep until noon.
"Dance with me," a very soft voice purred in her ear. Expensive perfume wrapped itself around her.
Kelly turned to the warm voice and was astonished to look into dark amused eyes. Michala had her arm along the back of her chair. She was dressed all in black and the combination of her blonde fairness against the black made her dangerous and sexy. She took Kelly's hand and kissed her palm. Her half smile was intimate and intriguing. "Dance with me Kelly."
Kelly never took her eyes from Michala as she was led to the dance floor. She went willingly into Michala's arms. Couples swaying against each other to the slow beat of a popular love song surrounded them. Michala felt wonderful. Kelly had not gone out with anyone since the move, but she knew that wasn't why Michala felt so good against her. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to enjoy this unexpected pleasure.
"I've thought about you all day," Michala whispered in her ear.
The words raced through her blood like an electric current. Kelly tried to step back, but the hands on her hips slid around her waist to pull Kelly tight against her. Her thighs brushed Kelly's as they rocked in a slow circle, breasts pressed against breasts. Kelly could smell the exotic scent of her perfume, feel the warmth of her body. Michala Cary was dancing with her. Michala Cary had thought about her all day. Feeling bold by her thoughts, Kelly slid her hands under her oversized black jacket.
Just when she thought nothing else could surprise her, Michala reached up to brush her hair away from her neck. Soft lips began a slow, hot trail from her chin up to her ear. Kelly's breath caught with the first touch of her lips. Swallowing became a conscious act of will. The only sound she heard was the hammering of her heart.
"Come home with me," Michala whispered. Before Kelly could answer, Michala took her ear lobe in her mouth and sucked gently. Kelly was lost. She was hers to take on the dance floor if Michala wanted.
She turned to press a soft kiss on Michala's throat. "I'm ready to leave when you are."
She was wrapped in a pleasant sexually charged daze as they left the dance floor. Michala stopped by the table long enough to retrieve their coats. Kelly dimly heard Michala tell Dani not to worry, she would see Kelly home. Neither mentioned that it was her home and that Dani should not expect Kelly back tonight. She hoped Michala wasn't the type to let a woman leave before sunrise.
Her black Lexus was parked near the front door. She was glad they didn't have far to walk in the cool March night. Michala opened the passenger door for her. Before Kelly could slide inside, she was pulled tight against Michala and cool lips claimed hers in a soft, teasing kiss. She was breathing again when Michala slid under the wheel.
As Michala drove competently through the dark streets, Kelly realized where she was, who she was with, and where she was going. She was stunned by how easily and quickly Michala got her in her car on the way to her house and her bed. She turned in the seat to explain that was happening all too fast. They only briefly met that morning. She did not go home with women she had only briefly met.
Michala reached for her hand and her smile was amused. "I had dinner with my family tonight. I thought Miranda deserved a reward for bringing you to my attention. I would have been spared that excruciating experience if I had only known you know Jess."
Kelly remembered their conversation. It was hard for her not to be impressed that Michala had gone to the trouble to find out more about her. Kelly summoned a smile and shook her head. "I don't know Jess. My roommate, Dani, knows her."
"They aren't friends of yours?"
"No. Dani is the only friend I have here. I moved here three months ago from Seattle. I've borrowed her friends instead of trying to make my own."
As she spoke, Kelly realized the dangerous path she was leading them down. The last thing she needed was for Michala to ask about her life. One little slip was all it would take and Michala was bright enough to put the truth together from just a few facts. Michala kissed the back of her hand. "Well I'm not a friend per se of Danielle's so I guess that makes me your first friend in Atlanta. I shall do my best to make you feel welcome."
Kelly stared at her and their eyes touched before Michala returned her gaze to the empty street. She was going to this beautiful woman's house. That became the only clear thought in her head. Everything else receded to a dark corner. She moved closer and slid her hand slowly up her thigh. "I feel very welcome."
Michala braked for a red light and reached for her. This kiss was long and deep. They broke away when a car honked from behind. Kelly rested her forehead on Michala's shoulder. She didn't know it could happen this fast, be this scorching. She felt electrified, with every nerve ending tingling in anticipation.
She slipped her hand inside Michala's jacket. With one button open, she was able to move her hand inside her shirt. She felt Michala tense under her soft strokes, smiled at the quick breath she took. That she could do to Michala what Michala was doing to her was astonishing.
Michala flashed a quick glance over at her. "If you go any higher, I'll have to park the car right here."
Kelly laughed and pulled her hand from her shirt. "I better be good."
Michala turned into the back parking lot of the Cary Center. The look she tossed Kelly made her anticipation jump a few degrees. "Oh, you are."
Michala watched Kelly wander through her apartment as she opened a bottle of wine. She'd remembered her perfectly. She looked even better in black slacks and white shirt than she had in her earlier outfit. She was taller than Michala would have thought, a few inches over her own five four. She rarely chose to be the shorter partner in a couple. She wondered idly if it would've made a difference if she'd known before going to the club. She caught a shy glance of midnight blue and knew that it wouldn't have. She was too taken to let a few inches change her mind.
"You don't give a lot away, do you?" Kelly was standing at her desk.
Michala walked over and handed her a glass of golden wine. "Away as in?"
Kelly tossed her a curious smile and her gaze skimmed over the room. "You can usually tell a lot about a person by what they have on display in their homes. It's the one place people are free to be themselves. You must be an incredibly private person."
Michala sipped her wine and used the time to frame a reply. That pause, she knew, pretty much confirmed Kelly's impression of her. She shrugged. "I suppose I am. Or maybe I was an incredibly busy person who didn't spend enough time here to make it a home."
She knew by the thoughtful expression on the other woman's face that she gave away much more than she intended with that ill-thought out remark. She pulled her close, ready to move them back to the reason Kelly was here. She turned her head to trail small, light kisses across her throat. "Shall we dance some more?"
She felt Kelly glance over the room. "Can you sing?"
Michala stepped back with a laugh. "Only in the shower."
She linked one hand with Kelly's and led her down the hallway to her bedroom. She turned off the living room lights with the flip of one switch and turned on her bedroom light in another. Kelly tugged her hand free. Michala put her wine glass on her bedside table and walked to the oak Armoire across from her bed. She opened both doors to reveal an expensive television and stereo system. The stereo was preset to a channel that played soft rock songs.
"Nice," Kelly said behind her. Arms came around her waist and pulled her back. "This is the real you."
Michala turned to face her. Kelly's lips were inviting. Slowly, she pulled Kelly's shirt from the waist of her slacks. With a gentle sway to the music, she moved them to the middle of the room. She leaned over to kiss the soft skin above her shirt collar. "You've seen the real me, Kelly. That's all you've seen."
Her skin was warm and carried a faint scent of vanilla. She pressed a soft kiss to that skin as she undid each button. Kelly raked fingers through her hair, then down her back to tug on her shirt. "I keep telling myself that this is too fast. We don't know each other. But my body doesn't seem to care."
"As a doctor you know how important it is to listen to your body."
Michala's breath caught in appreciation as she saw the lacy white bra she wore. She pushed the shirt off her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. She looked up into Kelly's eyes. They were dark and wanting. She slid a finger under each strap. "My body wants this off."
With one motion, she touched her lips to Kelly's and reached behind her to pop the snap. Kelly opened her mouth and Michala deepened the kiss. She tasted the cool, fruity wine on her tongue. She stripped the bra away without breaking the kiss. Her breasts were warm in her hands, the nipples hard against her palms. Kelly gasped against her tongue. All thoughts Michala had entertained of taking this slow, to enjoy this beautiful woman and her wonderful body, fled with Kelly's low, sensual moan. She broke off the kiss. "My body wants this all off."
They tore at each other's clothes until they were standing in a pile of silk and linen. Michala pushed Kelly back to the bed and tumbled down with her. Hands roamed to stroke and caress, lips sought sensitive places to tease and torment. Michala kissed and caressed her way down with Kelly stroking her back and shoulders before all that was left for her to touch was Michala's face and hair. Gentle fingers in her hair became fists as she tenderly, slowly opened Kelly with her tongue.
"Oh yes," Kelly breathed, "Yes."
Michala smiled, a slow satisfied curving of full lips. Kelly watched without breathing as she reached out to touch her with the tip of her tongue. Her dark brown eyes stared into Kelly's, watching Kelly watch her. She held Michala's gaze while her tongue moved up and down in light, teasing strokes. She could not watch and feel at the same time. The sensations were too strong, she would explode if she had to watch. She fell back to the bed to only feel what Michala was doing to her.
She heard a low, satisfied chuckle. Michala was the kind of woman who would enjoy making her beg, would want to hear her ask for release. Without an audience to torment, she turned to press hot kisses on the inside of Kelly's thigh. Long fingers held her in place as she squirmed in anticipation.
"No," she groaned when Michala sat up on her elbows. Michala felt so good, it had been so long, and Kelly was willing do more than beg if she moved away now. There wasn't much she wouldn't do if Michala asked it of her right then.
Michala's answer was to slip her right hand over Kelly's leg to gently stroke her stomach. She gasped when a finger slipped inside her. She was so wet, Michala went deep in one smooth stroke.
"Yes. Oh yes," she moaned. Her fingers were slow and steady. "Yes."
"Yes," Michala agreed, pulling out only to push deep and stopped to move her fingers inside.
Kelly moved under her hands. She was so close. She reached down to touch herself. She was so close to that edge she could see over. She wanted to come, to feel Michala pushing in and out pulling out of her with quick, urgent thrusts.
"No," Michala said firmly and shot a hand out to catch her. When Kelly didn't try to push lower, she let go of her hand. Her hot, wet mouth made Kelly too weak to try again. The thoughts she had of Michala needing her help were washed away in the pounding of blood. Her fingers and tongue found a rhythm and Kelly's hips moved of their own accord to meet her.
She wanted to touch her, hold her as Michala pushed her over the edge.
Kelly heard herself groan over and over again. Michala pushed deeper and sucked harder until she grabbed her hair in a fist and arched off the bed one last time.
When her breathing slowed and the blood flowed back to her head, she was being held. She draped herself over Michala's body and closed her eyes, enjoying the warm, soft body under her hands. Kelly trailed her fingers across her stomach and smiled when Michala's breath caught. She was empowered by the knowledge that she could do to Michala what Michala had so expertly done to her.
"Tell me what you want," Kelly whispered. Full, perfect breasts were tantalizing close to her face. She leaned into the kiss the soft, shallow skin between her breasts.
Michala pulled her face down. "You," she said, in voice husky with desire.
Kelly woke with a start several hours later when the phone rang. She blinked in the darkness and felt the wonderful warmth around her roll away.
"Yes?" Michala answered, calm, and professional. She had perfected this voice over years of answering middle of the night phone calls for DVIT.
Kelly moved behind her to slip hands around her waist. She laid her head against her back. Michala. She was in her bed. The last few hours played over in her memories like a wonderful movie. She never thought Michala would be interested in a woman like her. She thought the elegant blonde was cool and poised. Kelly felt herself to be none of those things. She slid one hand higher. She felt very alive, very awake, and wanting. She was going to sleep until noon anyway.
Her eyes shot open when Michala stiffened under her hands. She stared at her back as she tossed the blankets aside and with deliberate calmness replaced the receiver.
"Are you hungry, Kelly? I think I have food of some kind here."
The phone rang again. She turned on a bedside lamp. The phone continued to ring, but she made no move to answer it. She walked to where her robe hung on the back of her bedroom door. She looked over at Kelly with one eyebrow arched. "Well? If there isn't anything edible, we'll find somewhere open. I'm starving."
She left the bedroom without once looking at the ringing phone. Kelly stared at the open bedroom door in disbelief. Without thinking, she reached for the receiver.
"Hello?" She asked hesitantly.
"You bitch! Don't ever hang up on me again! I will kill you. I-"
Michala took the receiver from her hand and hung up the phone without listening to the screaming bitter voice. "That was rather rude, don't you think? Do you often answer other people's phones?"
Kelly slipped from the bed. Michala was cool and remote. She pointed to the phone. "Who was that?"
Michala sighed and shrugged. Kelly could almost believe she expected the call, or least didn't seem as surprised as Kelly thought she should be. Then she remembered the reason she met her today and she remembered that Michala was being harassed. She was willing to bet that no one in her life knew about the phone calls. She knew Randa didn't or the letter would have been a little more worrisome for her if she had.
"Does it matter? It was nothing. A prank phone call."
The phone began to ring again. She reached down and turned off the ringer. Kelly grabbed a dress shirt from the floor and followed her from the bedroom.
"Prank callers don't usually call back."
Michala glanced over her shoulder. "Really? I didn't realize prank phone calls were your specialty, Doctor. Your dissertation must be quite a page turner."
She walked into the kitchen and began to open empty cabinets. Kelly stood at the bar and watched her with mounting frustration. "You're not going to take this seriously are you?"
She found a box of Corn Flakes on the top shelf. "I don't remember buying this."
She looked over in annoyance. "Why are you making a felony case out of this?"
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell her she knew about the letters. She was sure the calls tonight were not her first. The calls and letters meant she had a more serious problem than Randa knew. They stared at each other and Kelly realized she would not see this as a chance to burden her family and friends with her problem. Kelly could very well find herself outside waiting for a cab.
"I'm sorry. You're right. It's not my problem." It was Randa's and Kelly would make sure that tomorrow she knew about it.
Michala stared blankly for several seconds before saying in a dismissive tone, "It's no one's problem actually. I really should get an unlisted number. There isn't a reason for mine to published any more."
Kelly watched her pour two bowls of Corn Flakes. She meant there wasn't a reason since she was no longer connected with DVIT. Since she was no longer a practicing Psychiatrist with patients who needed her at all hours of the night. Since she was a woman who spent her days sleeping and her nights barhopping.
"Aren't you a Psychiatrist? Like Randa?" she asked, playing dumb. Kelly wanted to see how much she would tell of her own accord. It would be interesting to know her side of the Tyler Bradshaw case.
She took both bowls to the dinette table. Kelly followed her and sat across from her. The only sign that what she was saying still haunted her was the emotionless tone she used. Her eyes did not reveal the nightmare her life became before and after the four-year-old died.
"I don't practice anymore. I'm...retired." The pause was slight, only someone listening closely to her would have heard it.
"Aren't you a little young for retirement?" She was in her mid-thirties.
Her smile was bemused as she stared at Kelly. "Not really. Most people retire when they reach the pinnacle of their career. I reached mine earlier than most."
"Finished?" she asked and took her bowl when Kelly nodded. She watched her go to the kitchen and thought how sad it was for someone that talented to think she had nothing left to offer.
She came back to where Kelly sat and opened her robe so that she could sit on her lap. Without a word, she put both hands behind her neck and brought their lips together. Kelly felt bold. She wanted to take her breath away. With her left hand she held Michala on her lap and slid the right up her thigh to the wet place between her legs. Michala took a quick breath and pushed her tongue deep.
Kelly broke the kiss. "Let's go back to bed."
Michala's answer was to press herself deeper on Kelly's fingers. Her right hand reached for Kelly's left hand and guided her inside the robe. Michala clenched around her fingers as she touched her breast. A low groan came from her throat and she pressed herself closer, driving her fingers inside until Kelly was buried. Kelly opened her mouth, sucked the tongue Michala pushed into her mouth. Movements were restricted, but she pulled away only to plunge herself on Kelly's fingers. She gave in, losing the control that always kept her from going to this place where a little bit of pain only heightened the pleasure.
Michala drew away abruptly, tossed her head, and held herself on her fingers with hands that dug into Kelly's shoulders. Her eyes were closed. She came in bruising waves. Kelly watched her eyelids flutter, saw her name cross her lips on a whispered cry, and felt that first tumble into the big fall.
She held her trembling body close. This time her kisses were slow and gentle, the hands under her shirt were seeking.
"Now I'm ready for the bedroom," she murmured.
"Good morning," Dani called as soon as she opened the door. Kelly stood in the doorway for a second. She knew she should have expected Dani to be laying in wait. Did she really think she could spend the night with Michala Cary and Dani would not
be waiting for her? No, she didn't think that. What she did think, or hope, was that Dani would've spent the night with someone and was still sleeping. So much for that.
Kelly gave into the inevitable. Whether now or later, it really didn't matter. Dani was not going to let this pass without comment. She crossed the living room with a longing glance to the stairway and her bedroom. She was sleepy. Michala was a considerate, inventive lover. The most sleep she got all night was before the phone call. She walked to the kitchen reminding herself to call Randa that afternoon. She decided to skip figuring out how she knew that did not include outing herself for the moment. She had to use what active brain cells she still had for Dani.
Dani was reading the morning paper over a brunch of herbal tea and plain toast. Kelly bit back a grin. Dani had stayed too late at the bar, drank too much, and then left alone. She poured a cup of tea and sat across from her. "Good morning."
She continued to scan the paper. "For one of us anyway. So?"
Kelly sipped her tea thoughtfully. Michala wasn't just some woman she had picked up at last call. She was the woman Kelly obsessed over for months. Last night was a dream come true. It felt callous to discuss her like it was just another one nightstand. Even if that's all it was.
Kelly shook away her thoughts. She sipped the tea and looked across the table in question.
Michala. Kelly closed her eyes. What a night. The woman was simply gorgeous. The night was beginning to take on an unreal, did-it-really-happen dream quality. She stood up with a yawn. "You know I spent the night with her, Dani. That's all I'm going to tell you. Now, I'm going to bed because I am very tired."
She knew Dani would follow her. She was dying to know the details and Kelly knew she was not going to get off this easy. She unbuttoned her shirt as she walked up the stairs. She could feel the soft bed under her. In her high school and college years, she could go to class all day, party all night, and crash for only a few hours before revving up to start it over again. Those days were a distant, rapidly fading memory. Now there was a price to be paid for staying up all night.
She threw her shirt near the vicinity of her hamper. She unzipped her pants. "What do you want, Dani, a blow-by-blow? I'm not going to do it."
She looked over at her. Dani was leaning in the doorway. "You spend the night with Michala Cary and I'm not supposed to be curious? I didn't even know you knew her."
Her pants and bra soon joined her shirt on the floor. She thought about searching for a T-shirt to sleep in, but decided against it. Her skin felt incredibly sensitive. "I didn't know her. I met her briefly yesterday through Randa."
Dani was silent for a beat. She asked cautiously, "She doesn't know you're with DVIT, does she?"
"No, but I don't think it matters," she lied. It mattered. She knew it mattered a lot more than she wanted it to. Michala never would have spent last night with her if she knew Kelly was with DVIT.
"It matters Kelly. You better tell her before she finds out herself. Or last night will be the last night you spend with her."
She glared at Dani. She was right and Kelly wanted to hate her for it. "I'll tell her, when the time is right."
Dani frowned and then shook her head. "There won't be a right time. The best you can hope for is that she's still willing to tolerate you in her home if you tell her yourself. If someone else does, I promise you won't get past her front door. She rarely sees Randa as it. Don't think just because you shared her bed you'll be treated any better."
With that, Dani left her alone. Kelly sat on her bed and stared dully into space. Dani's point hit home with all the sharp precision of a laser. She would deal with this later. If there was a later. Right now she had to sleep. And if she chanced to dream about Michala, who did it hurt?
For the first time ever, Michala skipped Saturday brunch with Jess and Susan. It was the one commitment in her life she had not broken over the last year. She made herself believe keeping that one thing constant in their lives reassured her family and friends that she wasn't drifting too far away. They needed the reassurance desperately and unfortunately, it was all she had left to give.
She skipped the brunch for two reasons. The first was that she had no intention of sharing details of last night with her best friends. She really liked Kelly. She didn't want to spend several hours dodging first the blunt questions she wouldn't answer and then the subtle probing that might trip her up in the end. Better to skip it all and face their wrath later. The second, and more important reason was that she intended to invite Kelly over for dinner and more that night. Her cupboards were bare. If she wanted to wine and dine her, she would have to brave the market on Saturday afternoon. She was positive her efforts would be rewarded later.
Michala dressed in the only pair of jeans she owned, which Miranda dismissed as not real jeans because they were white, and a white sweater. She left the Center through the spiral stairs in her bedroom that led to the kitchen. She was steeled to find her rental car damaged in some manner. When she made the mistake of answering her phone and hanging up on him, he usually retaliated. She was paying a great deal for total coverage because of that.
The black Lexus sat untouched in the parking lot. Perhaps because this was the first time she got a rental car, he didn't realize it was hers. She didn't bother hoping he was bored with her. She'd given that hope up months ago. He would retaliate, in his way, in his own time. She was just glad that she didn't have to deal with it then. She didn't mind later, as long as it wasn't later that night.
As she drove to the shopping plaza near the Center, her thoughts drifted to Kelly. She was an intriguing mystery. Which of her friends could she hit up for information? Susan might know something. Shannon would be a good source since her best friend was Kelly's roommate. Between the two of them, she should be able to fill in a few blanks. She could always tag Miranda again. The only person she was not going to ask a lot of questions was Kelly herself. If you ask questions, you have to answer them. Michala had no plans in that direction. Kelly could pump her own friends.
She wandered up and down the aisles, selecting the perfect foods for a romantic evening. Her last romantic evening was before and with her ex-girlfriend. She hadn't cared enough to make the effort for candles and romance since. They came home with her anyway, stayed until she politely offered to call a cab, left with the promise of calling later. Why make a production of it when to do so made it seem more than a roll in the sheets?
She wanted it to be a production tonight. A long seduction of kisses, touches, and glances that led to her bedroom. She stood in the florist section of the store and thought about adding a bouquet of roses to her cart. She wanted the night to be special. She didn't want it to look like she was trying to send some message. She liked Kelly. She would like to get to know her better. She did not want her moving in next week. She shook her head and decided to skip the roses. Too much, too soon. She would let the fact that she was cooking be message enough.
By the time she was back home and had the bags brought up, she had four messages on her machine. She stared at the blinking light for a full minute. She pushed the button and let the messages play while she walked back to the kitchen. The first two were from Jess and Susan, each demanding to know where she was that morning. She grinned, thinking about all the questions they were dying to ask her and how very annoyed they were when she didn't show. The third call was from her mother. She'd slipped away the night before without getting Tiffany's number. Paige happily left it on her machine. She tensed, standing with frozen shrimp in her hand as the fourth message began to play. The last chance for him to have called her.
"Hey, give us a call when you get in. Susan said you were all over Kelly Pryce last night at the bar. Is that why you were asking me about her? Call, soon."
Michala grinned at the curiosity in her sister's voice. Now she had three people who were dying to ask her questions. She'd have to be creative to put off all three of them. Miranda would be the easiest. She wouldn't ask any questions she didn't want to answer herself. Jess and Susan would ask anything because they would answer anything.
She finished putting away the rest of her groceries before going to her bedroom to return the calls. She sat on her bed and punched in the most important number. If she wanted her days' preparations to be worth her time, she'd better call the guest of honor. Kelly was sleeping, Danielle told her, and Michala took that as a wonderful compliment. She left a message for Kelly to call when she woke.
Michala held the phone and thought about calling her sister and her friends. She knew from experience that if she didn't call them, they would call only one maybe two more times before they came over to check on her. She bit the bullet and called Jess first. She left a quick reassuring apology for skipping the brunch when she got their answering machine.
"Where were you?" Susan demanded before Michala could say more than hi.
She should've known her luck would run out with Susan. Judge Jessica Newhouse knew how to be tactful. Detective Susan Reid only knew interrogation tactics. Michala hated dealing with her when she was in police mode. "I slept in. That is allowed isn't it Detective?"
"Sure," Susan said through her teeth. Michala stared at the phone in surprise. She could see Miranda standing beside Susan with her hand squeezing a warning on her shoulder. "You sleep in every other morning. You might as well make it seven out of seven."
Michala decided her mood was much too good to let Susan ruin it. "I'm not going to do this, Susan. You're angry, that's fine, be angry. Just not on my time. I'll talk to you later, when you're calm. Bye."
She walked into her bathroom with the phone a demanding shrill in the background. She wondered, idly, if it was Susan or Miranda calling. Probably Miranda she decided. Susan would be livid, too busy ranting to make another call. She'd be more likely to come over to finish the talk in person. She also had a key that she wasn't above using. The answering machine kicked on, but she cut off her own voice with the shower spray.
Whoever it was would leave a message. They always did.
Her room was shadowed and the townhouse silent when Kelly woke later that day. Her first thought was that she'd spent the night with Michala. Her second was that she needed to call Randa. The second thought wasn't as pleasant as the first so she went back to that one. Few times in her life has reality surpassed fantasy. The first time she saw the sun set over the Pacific. Walking across the stage to receive her doctorate. And spending last night with Michala. She wanted more nights like that. Kelly wanted weeks and months like last night.
She wanted to damn Randa for bringing the letter to her. She was honest enough to admit she wouldn't have met Michala any other way. Fate hated her. There was no other excuse for the position she was in now. She was egotistical enough to hope that Michala wanted more nights with her. She was realistic enough to believe she would know how her sister suddenly knew about the phone calls.
Hunger forced her from bed. She glanced over to her bedside, surprised to see that she'd slept until three. She should be hungry. After last night, she should be starving. She threw on her robe and went to the kitchen. She glanced outside the windows to the bright sunny Saturday. She knew it would be warm and decided she would eat her late lunch on Dani's tiny patio.
She found Dani's note taped to the fridge. She was at the park and Michala had called. She was at the phone punching in her number before she had time to wonder when it was that she'd memorized Michala's phone number. She waited through three seemingly eternal rings.
"Hello." Her voice was the cool, professional tone from last night.
"Hi, it's Kelly." She felt like a high school freshman calling the most beautiful senior girl.
"Did you just wake up?" Michala asked in a warm, deliciously intimate voice.
"Yes. I didn't get much sleep last night."
Her low, rich laugh sent shivers across Kelly's skin. "How would you like to not get much sleep tonight? I thought I would stay in and cook something that goes with candlelight, wine, and you. You don't have plans do you?'
It wouldn't have mattered what she'd planned. She would have canceled anything and anyone after an invitation like that. "What time?"
"Now. Bring whatever you need for staying over."
"Give me thirty minutes."
Kelly could hear the smile in her voice. "You aren't hungry now, are you?"
The quick electric shock of desire didn't surprise Kelly as much as it did last night. She knew before Michala showed up at the club that she was attracted to her. The fact that Michala was attracted to her added fuel to the fire. The last time she'd wanted someone as much as she wanted Michala was in college. Her name was Emily and she teased Kelly for months. "No and I'll be there in twenty."
She laughed, sending Kelly's normally cautious tendencies up in flames. "I'll be waiting."
Her late lunch on the warm patio was forgotten. She dashed upstairs and changed into jeans and a sweatshirt. She didn't plan on being in her clothes long enough to ruin the romantic meal Michala was planning. By the time they were sitting down to eat, they would be wearing robes. She packed an overnight bag without any real thought to what she needed for staying over. She could always borrow what she forgot. She was throwing her bag in her car when she remembered Dani. She ran back in to write her a note telling her where she was and to call only if 911 was busy.
She pushed away thoughts of Randa and the phone call. She would deal with that tomorrow. Or Monday. For now, she wanted to enjoy every second of this last unexpected pleasure. Besides, how better to keep an eye on her than to be with her? She was a trained police officer. She could be her personal bodyguard. And she planned to guard her body intimately.
Kelly parked in the Center parking lot behind the house. The black Lexus was the only car in the small private area. She noticed the rental plates and remembered that hers was at the body shop. As she stood on the back porch waiting for her to answer the doorbell, she wondered what kind of car a woman like Michala would drive. Something classy and expensive.
"You're late," she said with a warm smile. She wore only her robe. She reached for Kelly's overnight bag with one hand and slid the other around her neck. The kiss was brief and effective. She drew back a step. "I'm glad you came."
Kelly followed her down the dark hallway. "I would have been here sooner, but I didn't want to get a ticket."
She tossed a grin over her shoulder. "Next time don't worry about the ticket. I have friends in high places."
Kelly had to agree with her on that. Lieutenant Bates adored her. She'd only heard him speak of her to ask Randa about her and his whole demeanor changed when he said her name. Her best friends were a State Court Judge and a police Detective. Her mother was a city council member.
The apartment was lit by a single floor lamp near her desk. They walked past the dark kitchen to the bedroom. The bedroom was darkened by mini blinds and lit by several candles. Soft, instrumental music played from her stereo. She put Kelly's bag down by the bed. Kelly slipped her arms around her waist before she could turn and pulled her close. Michala leaned back, her head resting on her shoulder. Michala's greeting made Kelly bolder. She trailed kisses over the soft, exposed skin of her neck.
"Mm, I think you've got me," she said in a low voice. She reached back to run her left hand through Kelly's hair.
"Not yet," Kelly whispered in her ear. She pulled the sash on her robe and reached into the silky folds to cup her breasts. Her nipples grew hard under her caresses. Michala's breath was uneven against her ear. "But very soon."
Kelly wanted to be the one in control this time. She wanted to feel Michala groaning under her hands and lips. With Michala still pressed against her, with her left hand teasing her breast, she slid her right hand down her flat stomach to the soft, blonde curls. She couldn't reach as far as she wanted, she wanted to be buried inside her, but she knew Michala was wet. She knew from the quick breathy gasp when her fingers touched her.
Before Kelly could stop her, Michala turned to her. Her dark eyes were half closed and hot with need. She pushed Kelly back on the bed and fell on top of her. "I don't know why I thought you were shy. You take my breath away, Kelly."
Kelly learned very quickly that she was never in control. Whatever control she thought she had was an illusion Michala allowed her to entertain. She laid back on the bed and gave herself up the demands of her hands, the teasing of her lips. She found that giving up control opened a door to new pleasures.
The candles were flickering in melted wax hours later. Michala was flat on her back staring up at the ceiling. She wasn't sure she could move. Kelly leaned over her, her half smile pleased by the way Michala's breath caught when her fingers brushed over her stomach. Michala enjoyed Kelly's delight in arousing her. She seemed surprised that she could.
She reached up to run one finger between Kelly's breasts. "I should have asked this before. Are you seeing anyone else?"
Surprise crossed her face before she smiled. She took Michala's finger and kissed it. "No. Are you seeing anyone else?"
"No." Since Melissa, there was no one she'd brought home more than once. She told herself it was because she didn't want to be in a relationship. It was true to a point. The last thing she wanted was to put herself at the mercy of someone else's feelings again. To love was to hurt and she was tired of hurting. Kelly wasn't different, she told herself. Kelly didn't know her well enough to want more from her than what she was getting right now. To prove her point, she pushed her back and laid between her legs. Kelly wrapped her legs around her, opened her mouth for another long, deep kiss.
See? All Kelly wanted was her body. Michala could give her that. As long as Kelly didn't have designs on her heart and soul, they could play together quite happily for as long as they wanted. She broke away to stare into her eyes. "Hungry? I have a wonderful dinner planned."
Kelly took a deep breath. She slid her legs from around Michala. "I do remember you mentioning something about providing food."
Michala rolled off of her and to her feet in a single motion. Now that one hunger was satisfied for the time being, she was ready to satisfy the other. She grinned at Kelly. "Not just food. Food that I will prepare myself."
"Am I supposed to be impressed that you're cooking?" Kelly asked.
Michala watched her bend over and rummage through her overnight bag. The view was lovely. "Yes," she said, with a quick caress on her backside. "I hope you like pasta."
She was in the kitchen organizing their meal when Kelly came to lean in the doorway. She glanced over to see the self-satisfied smile on her face. She grinned, reading her thoughts very accurately. "You look very pleased with yourself."
"You would be pleased with yourself if I made the sounds you did when I was touching you."
Michala filled a pan with water and set it on the stove to boil. If that was the benchmark they were using, she was incredibly pleased with herself. She cast Kelly a sideways glance. Her pleased expression faded, to be replaced by nervous speculation. She was realizing very late that she had issued a challenge of sorts. She went to her slowly, excited that Kelly took a step back with every step she took forward. Michala tugged on the sash of her robe and caught Kelly's gaze when she let her robe fall open. Kelly backed herself into the wall. Michala was pressed against her, pulling Kelly's robe open before she could move. She made her kiss gentle, her hands tender as she held her against her wall. She wanted Kelly to come hard and fast. She didn't want her to feel taken or used. She lowered her head the pulse beating in her neck. Kelly fisted her hands on her robe and pulled her closer.
"When you do this, do I do that?" She asked, sliding her leg between Kelly's
She looked up into her eyes, watched her struggled to breathe. Michala stepped back enough to move her hand down, over hip, across her stomach, into the wet curls. Kelly gasped and nodded.
"Say my name, Kelly," she demanded softly, teasing with the tip of one finger.
She tried, she might have succeeded, if Michala didn't push two fingers deep inside. Her name was groaned out in a gasp of air. All thoughts of toying with Kelly left her head. She lowered her head to lick her nipple and push her over in a rush of sensation. Later, they could torment each other. Now, she wanted to satisfy this gorgeous woman again.
She held her until Kelly lifted her head from her shoulder and took a shuddering breath. She kissed her with small, gentle kisses. "You're right. It is very pleasing when you moan my name."
Pleasing and arousing. She retied her robe and walked back into the kitchen. They were going to have to keep their hands to themselves if they wanted to eat that night. The water was boiling for the pasta. "I've got shrimp chilled in the fridge. Will you get it?"
"Sure," Kelly said in a delightfully husky voice. Michala watched her tie her own robe before pushing away from the wall. The kitchen was small. Kelly paused behind her, lifted her hair away to press a single kiss to the back of her neck. Michala supposed she owed her that.
"Here you go."
Michala looked over and reached for the jumbo shrimp with red cocktail sauce. Kelly held it away from her fingers. She moved closer, her eyes bright. "Open up."
Michala hesitated before opening her mouth. Kelly let her bite off half and ate the other half herself. She selected another one, dipped it, and took the first bite herself. Michala let her feed the second bite to her and caught her hand to lick her fingers.
"You're dangerous," she said, her own voice husky.
Kelly stared at her in disbelief. "I'm dangerous? Who had who pinned against the wall?"
Michala smiled with the memory. "Mm, I had you. And if you don't behave yourself, I'll have you again."
She picked up a shrimp, dipped it in the sauce, and popped it in Kelly's open mouth before she could say a word. Michala's grin was wicked. "Behave. I'm starving."
Kelly watched her move around the kitchen. She'd prepared the chicken and Alfredo sauce that afternoon. She didn't think it was egotistical to think Kelly would accept her invitation. She popped the broiled chicken in the microwave to heat. The noodles were ready quickly and she poured the sauce over the noodles, letting them simmer in the pan.
"Do you know what they say about payback?" Kelly asked, feeding her another shrimp.
Michala could only grin at the image that came to mind. "And I can hardly wait."
There was a lot to be said for pay back, Kelly decided. Especially when the person wanted to be paid back over and over again. Michala was laying on her stomach, hands overhead, eyes closed. Kelly leaned over to kiss her shoulder.
"Why," Kelly wondered out aloud, "don't you belong to someone?"
Michala didn't move, only asked in a mild tone, "Excuse me?"
"What's wrong with the women of Atlanta? Why are you just wandering around, getting picked up in bars?"
After the question was asked, Kelly realized she really wanted to know the answer. Michala laughed and turned over to look up at her with merry eyes. "I don't get picked up in bars, honey. The same cannot be said for you."
Kelly opened her mouth to deny that, but Michala jerked her down for a hard, deep kiss. The truth was stunning, and just a little humiliating. She'd allowed herself to be picked up in a bar, in front of her friends, by a stranger. Dani wouldn't need to know anything else about their time together. It was enough that she knew that. She draped herself over Michala. Small, soft hands slid down her back in a slow caress. So what if she was picked up in a bar? Thank you God.
"Do you often let women pick you up in bars? Let them take you home and have their wicked way with you?" Michala whispered the words in her ear.
She laid between Michala's legs. "Oh yeah. That wall thing? Been there, done that."
"Really?" Michala asked softly. Before Kelly could reply, she flipped them. She was astonished by how quickly she found herself trapped against the bed by Michala, with her hands held in vice grips at her side. She could only stare up into Michala's dark eyes. A slow smile spread over face. "I've been gentle with you. I didn't want to shock you with all the things I wanted to do to you, but if you've been there, done that?"
Michala watched her reaction as she reached out with her tongue to lick her nipple. Desire hit hard. She gasped as heat spread down her body. She struggled to free her hands, but the fingers wrapped around her wrist clamped her tighter to the bed.
"I'll have to punish you if you do that," Michala whispered, dark eyes flashing.
Kelly tried to swallow as Michala slowly lowered her head down. She thought Michala would suck on her and was prepared for the rush she would feel. She wasn't prepared for the shock of Michala's teeth closing over her nipple, or the wave of desire that crashed over her. Without warning, she arched off the bed. Michala held her hands down, kept the pressure on her nipple until Kelly thought she would explode. She barely recognized herself as she pleaded, "No more."
She let Michala pull her close. She was boneless against her warm body. She wished she had the strength to open her eyes. "I think I'm gonna die now."
Michala took her hand and slid it down. She said in a voice low in need, "Not until you take care of that you aren't."
Kelly opened her eyes. Michala's eyes were closed and her breathing was ragged. With the tip of one finger, she stroked Michala. She wanted to do to Michala what Michala had done to her. She wanted to make her come in a crashing wave that pounded her against the bed until she was breathless. She sat up on her elbow and slowly pushed two fingers inside Michala. She was hot, tight and very wet. "This? Is this what you want me to take care of?"
"Yes," Michala groaned as she went in deep and hard.
Kelly leaned against her, licked the shell of her ear. "Lift up." She slid her hand under Michala and heard the catch to her breath when she moved her finger up to get wet. Her ass was tighter and Kelly didn't give her any time to not want what she was doing. She went in gently. She matched the rhythm of her hands with her tongue on her nipple. Michala came slowly in spasms Kelly felt deep inside. She held on as Michala groaned and came off the bed. She stayed inside, feeling the aftershocks. She laid her head on her stomach and enjoyed the power she felt. She could make Michala Cary scream in pleasure.
Michala laid her hand on her head. "You can come out now."
Kelly sighed and pulled the bottom hand out first. She turned to look up into Michala's sleepy eyes. She wiggled her fingers a little and smiled as Michala gasped. "I don't want to. I've got you right where I want you."
"Please Kelly," she whispered. "I want to hold you."
How could she say no to a plea like that? She eased her fingers out and laid her head on Michala's shoulder. Michala pressed a tender kiss to her forehead and pulled her against her body. "We should take a shower," she said in a drowsy voice. "We're sweating."
"Later," Kelly promised. She nestled close and relaxed in her embrace. She closed her eyes. Michala's heart beat a slowing rhythm under her ear. Kelly listened to her easy breathing until Michala dropped off into sleep. She stared at the beautiful face relaxed in slumber. Without those dark knowing eyes, she looked incredibly young and vulnerable.
Again, Kelly wondered why she was alone. Someone this beautiful, this talented in bed, should not be picking up women in bars. She knew from Dani that her girlfriend had stayed with her only a few weeks after Tyler's death. Michala's friends were surprised Melissa Davies stuck it out that long. Apparently her main attraction to Michala was her friend's envy. They weren't very envious when Michala was shattered.
Kelly stroked her hand over Michala's cheek. Why would she want to be with someone like that? Was it the shallowness? Her professional life was demanding, Kelly knew that from personal experience. Melissa would've been uncomplicated in her demands and desires. Michala would have had to give her little to make her happy. And now? Kelly backed away from the question. She laid her head down on Michala's shoulder and closed her eyes. She didn't want to know the answer anymore. She didn't want to know what it meant for her being here.
Michala snuggled closer, mumbled something in her sleep. Kelly kissed her on the cheek. She was going to enjoy where she was for as long as it lasted.
Kelly was sprawled over her the next morning. Michala looked down at the arms and legs pining her to the bed. The sheets and comforter were twisted at the foot. She gently nudged Kelly's head off her shoulder and inched her way off the bed. She grinned as Kelly reached blindly for the covers. She hadn't cared about blankets when she was using Michala for warmth.
She pulled on her robe and walked down the hall to the kitchen. She'd start tea and if she felt human after that, she would think about food. While the water was heating, she walked downstairs for the Sunday paper. She'd only just starting reading the paper again. She got bored reading about herself every other day.
She was in the living room reading and sipping hot tea when she heard the click of her answering machine. Sighing, she got up to face the inevitable. She's gotten through last night without it clicking. She turned up the volume before she pressed the play button.
"All right fine. We're coming over and you'd better have food. Bye."
Well that was just great. She assumed that "we're" were Miranda and Susan. What did they want? She sighed and knew what they wanted. She'd skipped yesterday with Susan and Jess, skipped giving Susan a chance to corner her at the bar last night, and now she going to pay for it. Michala guessed she had about twenty minutes before they arrived, less if Susan used her police light.
In an automatic gesture, she lowered the volume again. Damn, she wasn't ready to let Kelly go. She was half way down the hall when she stopped. Why did she have to let Kelly go? Susan was at the bar when she left with Kelly Friday night. Miranda knew about it. Why shouldn't Kelly know about Miranda? She turned around and walked into the kitchen. She'd bought a few basic breakfast items when she went shopping. She went to work on making three cheese and mushroom omelet's. When she thought they were close, she started coffee for Miranda.
She was setting the table when she heard them coming up the stairs. She frowned and tried to remember just how many people had keys to her home. Miranda had to have one to the Center; it was Susan's right as best friend. Too many people, really. She made a mental note to begin a collection of the keys. Perhaps it would be easier, and more amusing, to simply change the lock.
"See? I told you she'd be here," Miranda said as they walked into her apartment. They wore blue jeans and white T-shirts under sweatshirts. Susan's strawberry blonde hair was caught in a jaunty ponytail.
Michala didn't smile at them or wish them a good morning. She didn't invite them over for breakfast. "Coffee's on the stove. Butter the toast when it pops up."
Kelly was laying in the middle of her bed, flat on her back and covered from the waist down. Michala sat on the bed and leaned over, and ignoring her more basic instinct, pressed a single kiss to her nipple. Kelly jerked awake, eyes wide and disoriented.
Michala kissed her, keeping it short and sweet. "Your presence is requested for breakfast. We're having omelet's."
Kelly woke slowly. She yawned and stretched, raking fingers through her short tousled hair. She dropped her hands in Michala's shoulders. "You could bring it in here."
Michala kissed her shoulder. She wished she could do that. She probably would have if the choice had been hers. She stood up and shook her head. "Wear your robe. Susan and Miranda are here."
She left the bedroom before Kelly could voice the question she could see in her eyes. Miranda and Susan were sitting at her table, eating the omelet's she made for them. She sat down and reached for her tea. She looked across the table at her sister. Her smile was a little evil. She should feel bad for not warning her sister. Miranda so hated to be caught outside her closet.
"Can I take this to mean that you've forgiven me?" she asked Susan. "Or didn't you want to brave Miranda's scrambled eggs?"
Susan tossed her a quick glare. "No. Yes."
Michala grinned at her sister. "I would ask how you've kept her for two years, but I don't think I want to know."
Miranda looked up, her fork pointed at Michala and simply stared behind her. Michala smiled. Kelly had perfect timing. She stood up and walked into the kitchen. "I believe I can skip the introductions. Coffee or tea, Kelly?"
She looked over at Kelly. She was disappointed to see that Kelly had skipped the robe in favor of jeans and a T-shirt. Oh well, nothing else about this morning was going her way. She would be expecting too much for that to change. She brought Kelly her plate with a mug of coffee. The silence over the table was thick and embarrassing. The lesson here, should Miranda and Susan want to learn it, was don't invite yourself to someone else's house.
She placed the plate and mug in front of Kelly. While she was leaning over her, she said in a stage whisper, "They're lovers, have been for years." She kissed her on the neck before moving away.
Having Miranda and Susan glare at her and Kelly staring at her plate was not how Michala planned to spend Sunday afternoon. She sat at the table. She glanced over the women sitting at her table in amusement. She reached for her tea. "All right Susan, whatever it is, say it. I have plans for today that don't include you or your girlfriend."
Susan sat back in her chair, her hazel eyes cool and distant. "You always have plans that don't include me or my girlfriend or any of my other friends. Every time I call, I get your answering machine. I think you must flip a coin to decide if you'll call me back. You say you'll be somewhere and you aren't. You don't even have the courtesy to call to say you won't be coming. I don't know who you are anymore. And I don't like who you've become."
Michala sat back in her chair and crossed her legs. She stared at Susan over the rim of her mug. "I'm touched. You miss me."
"I miss my friend," Susan said simply.
Their gazes met, held. Michala saw in her friend's eyes the confusion, anger and pain she saw all too often in the eyes of those who loved her. She wanted to care that she was hurting them. She wanted it to matter. She just didn't have it in her anymore. It was taking all she had just to keep herself together. She wanted to tell Susan her friend was gone. She went away and Michala didn't want her to ever come back again. She might have told Susan the truth if Miranda wasn't sitting across from them, watching every word. If Kelly wasn't pretending not to.
She ordered a bright smile to her face. She held up her hand as if taking an oath. "I promise to never miss another Saturday as long as I shall live. Barring a bona fide emergency. Forgive me?"
"Maybe. You owe us. If you pay up, Jess and I might forgive you."
Michala stood up. She wanted to take a shower. She'd prefer Kelly join her, but she accepted they needed to talk. She leaned over to drop a kiss on the top of Susan's head. "Okay, but I want to do more than hold the camera this time. I'll even let you call me Randa."
Susan merely laughed. Michala grinned over at her twin's dark glare. Miranda was a prude when it came to sex and she despised sexual references to their being identical twins. She and Susan had a lot of fun teasing her. It was one of the brighter spots to Michala's life these days. Or had been until she found a better way to spend her time. She smiled at her newest diversion. "I'm going to take a shower. If they leave before I'm out, come join me."
Kelly watched her walk down the short hallway to her bedroom. Well that certainly added a layer of tension to the silence. She wasn't sure that she'd ever felt as exposed as she did at that moment with Randa and Susan. She picked at her omelet and sent up a prayer that Miranda would choose to ignore this.
"I'm sorry Kelly. Cayla takes a perverse delight in me. That was solely to out me to you. I knew about you Friday."
Kelly glanced over in question at her last remark. Randa slid a quick look at Susan. She said, her voice curious, "Legend has it that you've turned down every woman whose asked you out and that you left with Cayla less than ten minutes after she came into the bar. Apparently there was a floor show."
Kelly wished she could deny it. She would've tried if there weren't so many reliable witnesses. She shrugged inwardly. She left with Michala, had obviously spent more than one night with her. She could hardly claim it was private now. Kelly looked across at her colleague. "I was going to tell you myself. I thought we could have lunch tomorrow. I have something to add to the case we were discussing Friday."
Randa's eyebrows shot up under her bangs and she frowned. "You can't tell me now?"
She should tell her now. Michala was her sister. It was because of Randa's concern that she had spent the last few nights in her sister's bed. Kelly listened to the sounds of Michala's shower. They probably had just enough time for her to relate the phone call. Kelly admitted the truth reluctantly to herself. She didn't want to tell Randa now because she was sure Randa would confront Michala. Was it a jump for her to think Susan, her best friend, would join in? And from that, Kelly would find herself packing up and getting out. She didn't want to leave yet. She wasn't ready for this to end.
She shook her head. "No. Lunch tomorrow? That's if you don't have other plans." She let her gaze move between them in suggestion.
Susan caught her implication and shook with her with a regretful smile. "She's yours Kelly. I'll have to settle for dinner tomorrow night."
"Settle for dinner with who?" Michala asked as came back into the room. She wore her robe. Her wet hair was combed back away from her face.
Susan stood up with her mug. "Randa. They're having lunch tomorrow. Want to have lunch with me? We can...compare."
Kelly turned away from Michala to see Randa grab Susan's arm. Her face was stubborn as she looked up at her lover. "No, you won't."
Michala laughed and sat at the table. Kelly was surprised when she took her hand and linked their fingers. "Don't worry Miranda. That wasn't much of an offer. I'll admit I've lived vicariously through Susan with one or two of her other lovers. You, my dear, are quite safe from my prurient little fantasies."
Susan planted a quick kiss on Randa's open lips. "Maybe I should have lunch with Kelly. You two are so different, I'd be interested to see how alike you are behind closed doors."
Kelly bit down on her smile when she saw Randa eying Susan with distrust. Michala's fingers tightened on hers and she hoped her face was bland when she looked over to her. Michala's smile was wicked and her eyes danced with glee. "Don't mention what we did in her office, okay? She'll never use her desk again."
Randa was speechless. Kelly felt sorry for the brief flash of fear she saw in her eyes. "We never left the apartment, Randa."
Susan came back with her cup refilled. "So, can we take that to mean you have left the bedroom?"
This time it was Kelly who was speechless. Susan smiled at her expression. She looked over and saw that Michala was going to be no help to her. The grin on her face was too merry to be sympathetic to her position. She glanced to Randa, afraid she would have the same delighted expression on her face. Randa picked up her fork and shrugged. "Welcome to my hell, Kelly. It's about time I had a companion down here."
Michala laughed and squeezed her hand before letting go. "We're not that bad, Miranda."
But they were, Kelly soon discovered. The teasing was nonstop and there wasn't a line Susan or Michala wouldn't cross. Kelly chose Randa's position of saying little, and watching all. Their friendship was enviable. It must be nice to know you can say or do anything and it will be understood, forgiven and oftentimes both. She might have had something like it once with Dani.
When Randa and Susan got up to leave, Susan slipped her arms around Michala and pulled the smaller woman tight against her. She whispered something in her ear that made Michala laugh. Their kiss was brief and friendly. Randa made a lunch date for twelve-thirty and they left.
"Well that was fun," Michala remarked in a tone that said she thought otherwise. She began to clean up their breakfast.
Kelly realized for the first time that Michala hadn't eaten anything. She picked up glasses and silverware and joined her in the kitchen. She thought about being diplomatic. She was after all a guest in Michala's home. Michala cleaned up efficiently. Within minutes, the kitchen counters were spotless and the only sound in the apartment was the whirl of the dishwasher.
She followed Michala down the hall to her bedroom. "You didn't eat anything."
Michala turned in the doorway of her bedroom and put both hands on the doorframe. A small frown marred her forehead. Cool eyes met Kelly's. "The people who are allowed to do that just left. If you want to do it, you can leave, too."
Kelly almost asked do what just to hear Michala explain it. She didn't because she saw something weary and resigned in her eyes. People who worried and cared about her were all over her life. She didn't like it, but she understood she had to accept it. Kelly understood she would not accept the same from her. She was just someone Michala picked up in a bar. The fact that they met in her own apartment through her sister didn't change the reality of that. She wasn't ready for the weekend to be over. She didn't want to end like this.
She stepped into Michala's raised arms, slipping her own around her waist. She ignored how stiffly Michala stood in her embrace and began to lightly kiss her neck. When she reached her ear she whispered, "Just remember later that you had your chance for food. Don't think I'll take pity on you."
Michala melted against her. She lowered her arms and brought their faces together for a long, slow kiss that took Kelly's breath away. When the weekend was over, she wanted it to be because they ran out of time. She wasn't going to be the one to let it end any other way than it began. She walked Michala backwards to the bed and fell with her to continue the kiss.
"I'll remember," Michala promised on a whisper and moved on top of her, erasing every thought in her head.
Later, Kelly watched from the bed as Michala tugged on her robe. She looked over and asked with a smile, "Want something for the road? I'm almost positive there's something suitable for lunch in there."
For the road? Kelly sat up among the tangled sheets and realized that she was being asked to leave. Michala left the bedroom without waiting for an answer. Kelly stared at the empty doorway. So the weekend was over. She glanced around the room and saw from the clock on the VCR that it was a little after six. She supposed that wasn't an unreasonable time to ask someone she picked up from the bar on Friday night to move along. She would've thought Michala Cary would do it with a little more subtlety, but this was Sunday after all.
Michala was sitting at the table finishing one half of her sandwich. She grinned as she picked up her second half. "I hope you like tuna."
Kelly stood at the table. A plate was waiting for her. Michala saw her hesitation. "You don't like tuna? Oops, tell me what you do like, and next Sunday, that's what it'll be."
"Next Sunday?" She repeated, sitting at the table. It was pathetic, but the dark mood she felt descending down on her began to lift away. She didn't want to be someone Michala was trying to brush off.
There was a can of Coke next to Michala's plate. She poured the rest of the can into a tumbler and pushed it across the table Kelly. Her smile was slow and warm. "If you have plans, I hope you let her down gently."
Kelly wanted to ask if she only meant Sunday. It was on the tip of her tongue and she took a bite of the sandwich to make sure she did not ask the question. Where was her pride? So she'd spent the weekend with Michala Cary. So.. Oh who was she kidding? She'd spent the weekend with Michala Cary and she wanted to spend more weekends with her. Her pride was for sell if it was going to keep her from that. Her pride, ego, and self-respect could all take a hike for all she cared.
"Actually next weekend I'm free." She wasn't completely free. Randa's week would begin on Saturday and that would put Kelly on call as her backup if there was an emergency. It was rare for a situation to call for two DVIT members, but it could happen. Kelly refused to dwell on how she would explain that if it came up.
"I know you're there. I know she's still there. Tell her to leave."
The voice came from the answering machine without warning. Kelly jumped and dragged her startled gaze from the phone to watch Michala cross the room in quick, ground eating strides.
"Pick up the phone Cayla. You've been very bad. I haven't pun-"
Kelly wasn't sure what she thought Michala would do, especially after Friday night. She thought she would do more than turn down the volume on her machine as she waited for the call to end. Kelly sat back in her chair, watching and waiting. Michala popped the tape out and wrote something across the top. She put the tape in her desk drawer and slid a new tape into her machine. Her movements were efficient and practiced without hesitation. It was a familiar routine for her.
Michala came back to sit across from her. Kelly stared at her in disbelief as she calmly reached for the rest of her sandwich. Obviously, there was not going to be an explanation. "What the hell is going on here?"
She was one hell of an actress, Kelly thought with admiration. She looked up in a very good imitation of surprise. She seemed genuinely startled by the question. Kelly knew she was bright. The act was good, but not that good.
"Excuse me?" She asked in her cool tone.
"You don't seriously expect me to believe that was another prank call, do you? Don't insult me that way."
They stared at each other in a battle of wills Kelly was determined to win. Michala sighed in annoyance. "I don't expect you to believe anything, Kelly. This doesn't concern you. It's not your problem."
"Isn't it? He says he knows I'm here. He wants me to leave. Who is he Michala? An old boyfriend? Someone who wants to be a new boyfriend?"
Michala stood up and threw her napkin on her plate. "I don't know who it is. I don't care who it is. This is not open to discussion Kelly. This is my home. You can respect that or you can leave."
Frustration welled up inside Kelly and she gripped the table to keep from shaking some sense into Michala. She stared up at her in the silence. Michala's eyes were black, her hands clenched into fists at her side. When she was sure she wasn't going to grab her, Kelly stood up. She was taller than Michala. Those few inches gave her a feeling of power. "I thought you were smarter than this. The brilliant Dr. Cary. I bet you want me to think these are all just coincidence don't you? That these phone calls have nothing to do with your car being vandalized Thursday night. I bet you can give me a convincing story about how one has nothing to do with the other, can't you? Come on Michala, impress me. Convince me that I'm stupid to stand here and be concerned for you."
Because she was watching, she saw doubt flash across her face. Kelly knew then that it was worse than threatening phone calls, creepy letters, and petty acts of vandalism. Michala's nonchalance was too conditioned for this to be something new in her life. Kelly was willing to bet she'd been living with this for a while now. Her frustration leapt over anger into fury. Michala was an intelligent woman with, as she'd said herself, friends in high places. She was living with this because she had chosen to live with it. Kelly wanted to know why. She knew Michala wasn't going to offer the reason willingly.
Michala picked up and drained her glass. "Is that your answer? Are you choosing to leave?"
Kelly was torn. She wanted to go to Randa's. She needed to go to Randa's so that something was done before Michala became a statistic. On the other hand, she felt obligated to stay. She had a gun which she was trained to use. She wasn't sure what Michala had for protection other than a mouth that needed to be licensed and a killer glare. Neither of which would actually protect her if someone wanted to hurt her.
"I guess I am." If Randa was truly concerned about her twin, Michala would not be alone for long.
Michala waved her empty glass toward the bedroom. "Bye." She walked into the kitchen.
Fury carried Kelly into the bedroom and had her dressed and packed in minutes. She cast one sweeping glance over the bedroom; saw that she'd left nothing of hers behind. Michala was sitting on the couch sipping wine when she came from the bedroom. Kelly wanted to say something to her, but words failed. What else could she say? She didn't know Michala well enough to know how real her anger was or how unforgiving she might be when crossed.
Michala cut her off with a single glance. Her eyes were cold, remote. She wasn't a lover standing in her living room. She was a stranger Michala had asked to leave. "Goodbye Kelly."
It was over that final and fast. She shouldered her overnight bag. "Bye."
She left the Center with only one clear thought in her head. Randa had to be told and the sooner the better. She didn't think that Randa may not be home or that she and Susan would not be up for company. She couldn't forget the bitter, taunting voice and she couldn't shake the feeling that the danger Michala was already in was about to get worse.
Michala stared across the room and frowned at her answering machine. If she had to pick the person who turned up the volume, she would choose Susan. Her very best friend who apparently detested her machine and resented the fact that she didn't return her calls with God's speed. She raised her wine glass in salute. He wanted Kelly gone; Kelly obliged him. She drained her glass and slipped from the couch. Her night was not going to end this way, she decided. She quickly cleaned up their plates and had the kitchen spotless. She didn't want dirty plates on the table or stacked in the sink if she brought someone home.
After a long, hot shower, she dressed in black slacks and red silk shirt. She threw an oversized jacket on in deference to the cool nights. She felt no fear as she locked the door to the Center and crossed the empty parking lot to her car. She refused to give into the terror he was trying to bring to her life. He was going to have to do much better than phone calls if he wanted to scare her.
It was only when she was walking to the bar that she thought of her friends. She really didn't want to deal with anything else tonight. She steeled herself to blow off more questions and sly remarks and continued inside. Atlanta had other bars and she had other friends. She was not going to spend any more of this day soothing someone else's feelings.
The Sunday crowd was thin. She ordered what passed as white wine. She sipped her first glass while waiting for her second and scanned the bar for friendly faces. She saw Jess' blonde head bent over a pool table in the back corner. She left the empty glass on the bar, taking the second with her as she moved through the crowd to them.
"Hey you," Jess said with a happy, surprised grin. Michala slipped her arm around her waist and returned the tight one-armed hug. She guessed Jess was on her fourth beer. "You owe me big, Cary. I had to eat Susan's Surprise yesterday. I don't love you that much."
Michala shot her a grin. "After last night, I couldn't move until this afternoon."
Jess arched both eyebrows in question then laughed at Michala's single nod. "Val hates you. She's been trying to go there since Kelly moved here. You waltz in and waltz out with her in five minutes flat. Nobody even knew you knew her."
"I don't know her. I'm just that good," she said. She owed Val one for calling the police Thursday. This was an excellent way to repay her. Regardless of whom Kelly went onto next, Michala had her first. She moved away from Jess and dropped four quarters on the table. "I'll play the winner."
Jess closed one eye and looked down her pool stick. "That'd be me. I'll have this game finished by the time you get back with my beer."
Michala stared at her half glass of wine. How much did she drink before she came? She couldn't remember and decided it didn't matter. She would drink as much as she wanted. She didn't want to leave the bar too sober. She let her gaze drift over the room as she walked to the bar. Maybe she'd let one of these women take her home. Maybe she'd call a cab. It would matter little later how she left, who she left with, or how sober she was when she did. Sobriety hadn't mattered longer than she wanted to remember.
She played pool with Jess, won three of the five games they played. She brushed off two women she'd brushed off before and hailed down a cab after she failed to take two steps in a straight line. She didn't mind hurting herself, but she wasn't drunk enough to mind hurting others. The cabbie let her out in the back parking lot of the Center. She hurried through the chilly dark night to the back door. The Center was dark. She was annoyed with herself for not leaving a light on inside. She wasn't usually that careless.
She felt restless, deflated as she entered her bedroom. She shed her jacket and draped it over the bedpost before she walked back to the living room. Her answering machine was blinking. She let it blink. It had to be him. Who else was left to call her today? She doubted it was Kelly.
Feeling tipsier that she wanted to be, Michala went to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of milk. Her fridge was depressingly bare of real food. She stared into the blinding light and tried to remember the last time the shelves were stocked. Before, she realized. The answer to most questions she asked herself was always before. She shut the door, and blocked the flood of memories that threatened to remind her of just what she was before.
She paused with the glass at her lips. Did she hear something downstairs? Straining, she shut her eyes to listen. She almost convinced herself that she was imagining things when she heard it again. And she knew who it was. Without conscious thought she moved to her bedroom. She picked up the portable phone on her nightstand and was relieved to hear a dial tone.
"911. What is your emergency?"
Glass shattered. She thought it came from the front of the house, but from the second floor it was hard for her to know where he was in the Center. She opened the drawer on the nightstand and took out the 9mm Glock. The loaded gun felt heavy in her hand. She was glad for the lessons Susan nagged her into taking. She hoped she wouldn't have to fire the gun. She felt better knowing that if she had to, she could.
Her voice was calm. "Someone is inside my house."
She walked back into the living room and stood in the stance Susan taught her, the gun trained on the sliding doors. She answered the operator's questions and stayed on line with the woman until she was told the police were outside her home. She took her eyes from the sliding doors long enough to glance over at the windows that overlooked the front yard. Blue lights flashed in the black sky.
She unlocked the sliding doors and walked into the middle of the room to wait on the couch. Someone would come soon, she knew. Did they know who she was yet? Would they care that she was Dr. Michala Cary, former head of the Domestic Violence Intervention Team? She was fooling herself if she thought it wouldn't matter. They would care. It would be personal.
The door slid open slowly. Michala watched the uniformed officer edge into her home, service revolver held out in front of his body in rigid anticipation. She had to smile at the irony. Even an hour ago, she would have been furious to have a cop in her home. That part of her life was over; she never wanted it near her again. But then an hour ago, she believed her home was her last safe haven.
"I'm over here officer," she called. She laid the Glock on the coffee table before she stood up. "I'm all right."
The young cop didn't lower his gun. His narrowed gaze moved cautiously over the spaciously open apartment. When he was certain she was alone, he relaxed the gun. "Lieutenant Bates is on the way, Dr. Cary. He said I should ask to call someone for you."
She shook her head. She would make her own calls. She owed them at least that. "I'll be fine, thank you."
He swept his eyes over her apartment one last time. "I'll be out in the hallway if you need me."
"Thank you." She went down the hall to her bedroom. She sat on the bed and stared at the floor for a minute. She knew what she had to do, knew she should have done it months ago. Knowing that she should have done it did not make it easier for her to do it now. With a deep breath, she reached for the phone on her bedside table. She punched in the number quickly before she could take the coward's way out one more time.
Kelly was relieved to see Randa's Grand Cherokee parked in front of her townhouse. She used the time on the drive over trying to find an easy to tell Randa what she thought was happening to her sister. She didn't want to scare Randa because all she really had as evidence was a few threatening phone calls, one letter, and a busted windshield. But neither did she want Randa to dismiss the fear she felt for Michala. In her heart, she knew without doubt that Michala was being stalked. How did she sugarcoat that?
Randa was surprised to see her. Kelly brushed past her without waiting for an invitation inside. "Do you have coffee? I need caffeine."
Kelly walked an unerring path to Randa's kitchen. She'd been a guest here countless times since she joined DVIT. She sat down at the table and waited for Randa to come into the kitchen. "Are you all right?"
"No. I stopped being all right when you showed me that damned letter. Thanks Randa. I owe you one for that." Kelly didn't know what angered her more, that she had the time with Michala or that someone that beautiful and bright could be so stupid. Both were enough to make her blood boil.
Randa walked around the kitchen counter and stared at Kelly for a few seconds. Kelly returned her stare with impatience. She needed coffee and the sooner the better. "You're angry. Why? Did you have a fight with Cayla?"
Sighing, Kelly stood up and walked into the kitchen to pour the coffee herself. She moved around the kitchen until she held the steaming mug in her hand. Randa had turned and was leaning against the counter, watching her. Kelly mimicked her and took a sip before she answered. She had a hope the caffeine would calm her turbulent emotions.
She met Randa's concerned gaze. "She's getting threatening phone calls. Very scary threatening phone calls. I've heard two of them." She paused as Randa stood straight, her eyes wide with shock. "I think she's being stalked Randa."
"Stalked?" Randa repeated dumbly. She shook her head to clear away the daze in her eyes. "That's a jump, don't you think? Why would you even think that?"
Kelly sighed and walked around the counter to sit at the small dining table. "Sit down and I'll tell you."
She finished off two more cups of coffee as she told the whole, ugly scene. Randa was silent over her own cup of cold coffee. She'd taken a sip, maybe two while she listened to Kelly. She didn't ask questions. Kelly was surprised she was silent and now had a moment to wish she could have prepared her better. She had already accepted there wasn't easy way to do this, it didn't stop her from wishing there was.
"I'm sorry Randa." As the other woman continued to stare at her in silence, she was truly very sorry. She reached over her and laid her hand over Randa's. "I'm sorry."
Randa nodded slowly. She blinked several times and the fog began to lift from her eyes. She stood up and walked to the phone. Kelly was surprised when Randa merely punched in another number before hanging up the phone without ever saying a word. That was it? She frowned and took a closer look at Randa's face. She was pale, her mouth set in a firm line, but her eyes were clear with purpose. Why then did she only leave a number?
When the phone rang, she snatched up the receiver. "Is Cayla there...Damn...When did she leave...Was she alone?...Well, do you know if she was going home?...Damn it Susan. I thought you cared more about her than that...Okay, I'm sorry. Can you come here? I need to talk to you. I have something to tell you...If you love her, Susan, you'll come."
Kelly listened openly to Randa's side of the conversation. She knew her twin well it seemed. Why call the Center when Michala wasn't home? So it was Sunday night. Why sit home alone when she could go wherever she'd been. She pushed away the tiny shaft of her hurt. They weren't lovers. She didn't have a right to feel betrayed because Michala wasn't pouting in her home over the fact that she left. To her own mind, Michala must think she gave her a very reasonable choice. Why should she feel bad that Kelly chose wrong?
"Susan's still angry with Cayla. She won't talk to me about it. We try to keep our relationships with her out of ours. It's been incredibly hard since Tyler. Susan and Jess are closer to her than I am. Susan won't tell me things I think she should. If she knew about this?"
She looked up, her eyes bleak and desperate. "It's over. It'll be over if she knew. I can forgive that she didn't tell me. I'm used to that. I won't forgive her doing nothing. I can't."
Kelly bit down on the useless reassurances. Michala wanted to pretend nothing was happening. Would her friends, who knew just how far she'd fallen over the months, push her on something she really didn't want to face? She wanted to think they would, because it was the right thing to do, but she just didn't know. She didn't know Michala before Tyler. She didn't know how much of herself she'd lost with the little boy. Her best friends would know. And they would know how close she was to losing it all.
Kelly reached and linked her hand with Randa's. "You'll do something now."
Wishing for a glass of Chivas, Michala closed her eyes. The phone was answered on the second ring. "Hi Miranda. Is Susan there?"
Her sister paused and her voice had a suspicious edge when she spoke. "Yes. Hold on and I'll get her."
Michala shook her head. "No, don't. Someone broke into the Center. Bring her with you when you come."
"Where are you?" Miranda demanded, the suspicion was gone now and she heard fear in the voice so like her own. "Are you all right?"
Michala opened her eyes to glance around her bedroom. "Home. The police are here. Bates is on his way. I think it's bad, Miranda. There are a lot of cops."
"We'll be there soon, Cayla."
She nodded. "Thanks Miranda. Bye."
She sat on the bed, watching the blue lights slash arcs around her bedroom. Curious she went to the bay window and stared down on the scene playing out on her front lawn. Police cruisers were angled up and down the street in front of the Center. Two officers were busily draping yards of yellow police tape around the perimeter. This is what her life had come to, she thought with only a little shock. Police cars outside her house, calls to 911.
She turned away as another police car and another unmarked car came to a screeching halt outside. Somehow, from somewhere, she had to find the words to explain how her life came to this. She wished she had a clue where to start. She wandered back to the living room to wait. The beginning was always the best place to start, she supposed. If only she could remember when that was now.
"Are you scared? You should be. You really should be Cayla."
The low male voice came without warning from the answering machine. She didn't jump or turn to look in the direction of her phone. She'd stopped jumping at the sound of that voice months ago. She hoped he'd go away. She let that hope die when she heard him inside the Center.
Michala closed her eyes and rested her head in her hands. The door she wouldn't open earlier swung free. It was too easy to go back. She sat back against the couch, letting the memories rush into her mind and it was so much easier than she thought it should be for her slip back into time. To go back to those months when Tyler was alive and she still believed. So very easy to lose herself in the grief those memories brought. The guilt crashed down on her in unforgiving waves and it was so easy to once again let herself drown in the agonizing truth that her best wasn't good enough when it counted most. After all this time, after how hard she'd tried to move on, it really shouldn't have been so easy to go back.
Of all the things she remembered of those months, the only thing she can recall with no effort was her desperation. She'd wanted to keep him from his family, then keep him in the system, then merely keep him alive. She'd done none of those things. She used every resource she had, called in every favor owed, and still in the end, Tyler was dead. Everyone assured her that she had done her best. That was a cold, bitter comfort on those winter nights. She didn't want to know there was absolutely nothing she could do or could have done differently. If that was true, why in hell was she wasting her life in a program that let little children die? What difference did it make what she did if they were going to die anyway?
And somewhere, in all that, he was lurking. How was she supposed to remember when he became part of her life? When your life is turned upside down, when everything is crashing down on your head, how do you know when something begins or ends? She couldn't clearly remember a single day and weeks were passing blurs of activity. Time could be marked not by her own memories, but by the pages in her calendar.
She looked over at the phone as she remembered why she bought the answering machine. Some time in September or October, she had to have DVIT call her beeper when she was on call because of the dozen or so hang-ups she was getting every night. She thought it was Bradshaw, his childish way of interfering with her life the way he imagined she was interfering with his. The messages started when she got the machine.
She stood up and walked to her desk. He was angry about the machine, furious that she was screening his outlet to her. She opened the middle drawer on her desk and stared down at the little box filled with mini cassettes. Each bore a date across the top. She ejected the tape in her machine and wrote the date on it before adding it to her box. His messages grew longer with time, less angry and more conversational as if he enjoyed his one-sided conversations with her. She might not be listening when he left the call, but he believed she would be hanging on his every word later. That seemed enough for him. He would never know that she cut his calls of without listening to his words. Even now, standing with the box in her hands, she couldn't explain why she saved the tapes.
The letters were harder to pin down. She reached into the drawer and took out the stack of letters she never opened. She opened the first few, but quickly caught onto the gist of the letters and simply threw them into the drawer when she got them. Michala never thought the letters were from Bradshaw. It lacked the personal touch of the calls. She dropped the letters into the box of tapes and walked back to the couch. She placed the box next to her Glock. Susan would want the tapes and letters. She was grateful to be able to give her friend something.
Susan. Michala sighed as she realized how much she was about to hurt her. Susan's identity was a cop. It was the first word she would use to describe herself. How betrayed was she going to feel when she was told this and realized that Michala never once asked for her help? She shrugged away the guilt. She couldn't change what she did or didn't do now. She knew all to well the past was beyond change. There wasn't a power on earth that could turn back time. She was going to hurt a lot of people before this over. She couldn't change that either.
The rest was something that would have to be guessed at. There was the first windshield at New Year's. As she recalled, it was the first he knew of her sexual orientation. He was angry over that, too. Miranda would know about the vandalism committed against the Center. She was certain her sister had the police make reports over every incident. The windshield Thursday was her fourth. Her car had also spent weeks in the body shop to repair broken taillights, headlights and repaint long, deep scratches. There would be a record of the damage and the dates of occurrence with the shop. From that, surely the police could get an accurate picture of what happened to her and when. She would help with what she could remember.
Michala decided to have that glass of Chivas after all. If she was going to have to remember more, she wasn't going to do it as sober as she felt right then. She wanted to feel in control. She wanted to at least give the illusion of poise. She took the glass with her to the couch. She closed her eyes and took her first sip, praying to God that the memories would go back to that dark corner in her mind when this was over.
She prayed it would be over soon.
Kelly stood shoulder to shoulder with Randa. Susan flanked her girlfriend on the other side. Light spilled from every ground floor of the Cary Center. A single light burned in an upper floor window. Men and women crawled over the wide porch that circled the Center, dusted windowsills, and doorframes, swept the neat lawn and flowerbeds with flashlights. They would be buried in evidence.
"Are you sure she said she was home?" Susan asked in a voice hoarse in shock.
Randa had not spoken since her single "Oh my God" when Susan turned down the street. They were speechless as they stared over police cruisers, crime scene van and various other unmarked cars parked around the Center. They knew, before they ever saw the house, that it was more than a simple break-in, that it was much worse that Michala's "bad."
"I think so," Randa whispered.
In unison, Kelly and Susan took out their badges and clipped the gold shields to their jeans. The initial shock was fading, leaving Kelly feeling numb and empty. She had felt Michala was in danger and she left her alone to this. Her eyes drifted over the scene cast in neon blue. Did telling Randa really mean more than staying here to protect her from this?
Yellow crime tape warned the curious not to step over the line. The three of them ducked under the tape without hesitation. The warning didn't extend to them. Long strides propelled by fear carried them over the yard to the steps, where they could see up close what they had only glimpsed from the street. The tall windows that washed every room in the Center with warm, comforting sunlight were smashed. Dark red graffiti screamed Dyke
among other obscenities from the white wooden walls. The railing around the porch was broken and jagged pieces of wood hung precariously over carefully cultivated rose bushes. The double front doors, with their beautifully etched oval glass, were laid out on the lawn.
Large clay pots that held colorful, blooming Geraniums were shattered, leaving black potting soil and petals scattered over the porch. Broken wood and twisted brass hinges underlined the reason the front doors were laid on the lawn. Her eyes slid over the graffiti. Kelly wanted to believe it was a hate crime. She wished to God it was nothing more than a right wing extremist. She could understand that. They could fight that. She knew in her heart, just as she had known earlier that Michala was in danger, that it was hate, but not because Michala slept with women.
"Lieutenant Pryce, Detective Reid."
They nodded to the technician dusting the doorframe as they passed to enter the Center. The inside was worse. The long central hallway was littered with large chunks of plaster. Paintings were shredded in their frames. Kelly glanced into the reception area as they walked up the stairs. The perfectly appointed waiting room was destroyed. She saw leather couches and chairs ripped open, magazines ripped apart and thrown around the room like confetti. He was in the Center for a while, she realized in sudden dread.
Kelly looked up the staircase to where Michala waited. Her eyes slid over the guard standing outside in the hall to the open sliding door. She sought some sign that her stalker made it this far and let out a deeply held breath when she saw nothing marring the satin finish of the wood. She took comfort from the fact that Michala would not still be here if she had been physically hurt. Someone would have taken her away if she had been harmed.
"Cayla?" Randa called as she hurried over the threshold. Kelly followed more slowly. She was suddenly uncertain that her presence was wanted. Michala asked her to leave; it was her sister and best friend she called. She would wonder why Kelly was here, how Kelly knew when she wasn't on the short of list of people Michala allowed to care.
Lieutenant Bates was standing across from where Susan and Randa held tightly to Michala. He watched them over the rim of his coffee cup. His face was grim as he watched Kelly walk to the couches. He nodded his head once. "Lieutenant."
"Lieutenant," she returned, just as coolly. She didn't come under his control and she knew that bothered him. He believed that she had been handed the title without having to earn it. She didn't care what he thought as long as he stayed out of her way.
She looked over to find Michala's eyes on her. She watched her gaze slide slowly down to rest on the gold shield snug at her waist. She braced herself when those dark, condemning eyes snapped back to her face. "Shouldn't you be downstairs?"
Kelly took off her jacket and tossed it to the couch. She shook her head. "No. I'm with DVIT, not the department."
Michala took a step back and her face turned a paler shade of white. Kelly ruthlessly shoved the guilt she felt away. Michala had to know everything; she might as well learn it now. Michala closed her eyes and sank down to the couch. She reached for the tumbler on the table and tossed down the amber liquid with the flick of her wrist. She jumped to her feet. "Anyone else want one?"
Bates followed her into the kitchen. He put his cup into the sink. Kelly could see that he was talking to her in a soft voice. He reached out to stroke her hair as she held her glass between them like a shield. She nodded carelessly at what he said, smiled that coolly polite smile and let him kiss her cheek. Distaste flashed over her face as she watched him leave her home.
She sat on the couch Bates had vacated, facing the three of them. Kelly wondered if she felt they were united against her. She noted that Michala still wore her dress clothes. She was dressed as she was Friday night at the bar. Kelly decided she went to the bar that night, that it was from there Susan called Randa.
Michala caught her gaze and said, "He was inside when I came home. He probably watched me come upstairs."
"Who was inside?" Randa demanded. "Do you know who this is?"
Michala shook her head, took a sip from her glass. "No, I don't know who it is. I used to think it was Robert Bradshaw. Then I knew it wasn't him. By then I didn't care any more who it was."
"When did it start?" Susan asked. They had given her a short version of what had happened since Thursday night. By her shocked reaction, Kelly thought it was a safe bet to assume Susan never knew what was happening to her best friend.
Michala sat back with a small laugh. The amusement didn't reach the darkness of her eyes. "I've been wondering that myself. You have to understand that when it began, I had other things on my mind. But I've been thinking and I really do think it was in September. Yes, I'm sure it was then."
Kelly didn't expect the flip answer. She was prepared to learn it was months. Michala was too conditioned for it to be brand new. She never would have thought it was at least eight months. She stared at Michala in disbelief. At least eight months and she said nothing to those closest to her. She had done nothing to protect herself. Was she that devastated over Tyler? Did she really fall that far that fast?
Susan stood up slowly, her hands clenched into fists at her side. "September? You've been stalked since September and you're just now telling us?"
"I had to Susan. This is going to be in all the papers. Bates would have called you himself if I hadn't. I could hardly keep this from you, too."
Randa grabbed Susan's arm before she stepped over the table. Kelly narrowed her eyes at Michala and saw the glaze of alcohol behind her carefully indifferent poise. Randa pulled Susan down to the couch. "What she meant is-"
Michala waved her sister's sharp words away with the hand that held her glass. "I know what she meant, Miranda. You forget, I know Susan much better than you do. I know she wants to know why, over these past eight months, I never said a word to her about this. The answer's simple. I didn't want to deal with it."
"Didn't want to deal with?" Susan repeated in disbelief. "So you just waited until he was in your home before calling the police. What in the hell were you thinking?"
Michala looked down into her glass and watched the golden liquid swirl in the light. Kelly braced herself when she looked up. Michala's face was expressionless, her voice empty as she said, "I guess I was thinking I deserved it."
The words echoed in the silence. The soft words, words Kelly didn't doubt Michala meant absolutely, sucked the anger from the room. Randa didn't try to stop Susan as she stood up and walked around the table to sit next to Michala. Michala allowed herself to be pulled against Susan and held. She allowed Susan to take her drink and finish the alcohol. She laid her head on Susan's shoulder.
"I killed him." She spoke in a voice so full of uncomprehending hurt it tore at Kelly's heart. Her eyes stared sightlessly over their heads into nothing. "I should've walked away. He'd be alive if I had. He would be a little more battered, a lot more bruised. But alive. God, if I had just walked away?"
Susan squeezed her eyes shut and rested her head against Michala's. "I'm sorry you believe that honey. I wish I had the words that could change your mind. I wish to God I could take this away for you."
Michala nodded her head slowly. "So do I."
Susan pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead. "You know this head in the sand routine is over, don't you?"
Michala sighed and nodded. She snuggled deep in Susan's arms. "Yeah."
"Okay then. Tell it all now. Maybe you won't have to say it again." Susan caught Kelly's eye and made a writing motion with her hand. Kelly understood. She reached for her jacket and pulled out the notebook she'd grown accustomed to keeping on her. She sat back and propped her foot over one knee, hiding the notebook from Michala.
Susan held the glass up in front of Michala. "Do you want another one?"
Randa stood up and took the glass from her hand. She walked into the kitchen without a word. Michala peeked over her shoulder and watched her sister move around her kitchen. She turned around, saying in disappointment, "She's making tea."
"Pretend its scotch," Susan advised. She crossed her feet on the coffee table. "Now, start at the beginning."
Michala put her feet next to Susan's and laid her head against her shoulder. Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap. With a voice low in remembrance, in a tone that conveyed more than her words the anguish she still felt all these months later, she took them down the road that brought them to this night and her call to 911.
They might as well have been alone, Kelly thought as Michala talked. Randa did nothing more than refill their cups. Kelly unobtrusively wrote down the story Michala told. Susan asked some questions, but mostly she did what best friends have been doing since the dawn of time, she simply listened. The telling was hard as Michala stumbled over the memories. Her voice faltered as she used the words before and after as euphemisms for Tyler's death. She never said his name. When she reached the end, Kelly understood why this bright and beautiful woman allowed this to happen to herself. She was devastated over Tyler's death, more Kelly knew, than even her friends and family realized. The letters and phone calls began during the worst time of her life. Her memories of one necessarily meshed with her memories of the other.
Michala sat up and carefully placed her teacup on the table. She picked up the box from the table and handed it over to Susan. "These are the messages he's left. They'll be the last ones on the tape. Some of the other messages are personal. Use what discretion you can."
She stood up and yawned, raking her fingers through her hair. Susan held up the sealed envelopes. Michala shrugged carelessly. "I read the first few. They were all the same. Short and not very sweet."
Kelly palmed the notebook as Michala stepped over Susan's legs. She said in a weary tone, "I have to pack. I don't want to stay with my parents, Susan. Anywhere else but there."
They watched her walk down the darkened hallway to her bedroom. Kelly was amazed by the cool poise, by her calm acceptance. Could she really be this steady? Was she really this strong? Kelly didn't want her to be either. She would have preferred tears to her stoicism, jumpy fear to her poise.
She reached for the Glock on the table. The gun was heavy with a full clip. "Who bought her this?"
Susan turned to see what she held. "She did. A Christmas present to herself."
"Does she know how to use it?"
"Yes. She's very good with it." She reached into the box and began to search the contents. Kelly felt better for leaving Michala earlier. She had not left her unprotected and at the mercy of her stalker. Michala could protect herself. Maybe she could be faulted for some of the decisions she made, but when it counted most, she armed herself and she called the police. She didn't just sit and wait to be taken. Kelly took that as a positive sign.
"Mom and Dad are going to want her," Randa said. She sat beside Susan. "They have a right, don't you think?"
"They're certainly welcome to stop her allowance," Susan said archly. "Or ground her."
Kelly bit back a grin at Susan's none to subtle reminder that Michala, for all her very wrong decisions, was still an adult. She looked down the hallway. Light fell from the bedroom to the hallway floor. She didn't stop to think that Michala wouldn't want to talk to her right then, if ever. She slipped from the couch and walked towards the light. She didn't know what she would say when she got there. She only acknowledged the possibility that Michala would not let her say anything at all.
Time is supposed to heal all wounds. Michala knew that for the comforting lie it was, but she hoped for her friends and family that it would be true for them. She hoped to never sit with her sister and her friends and do what she had done that night. She disappointed them. They expected better of her than this. There was a time when she would have expected better of herself. As she listened to herself, some part of who she used to be was appalled. How could she wait until he was inside her home before she said enough? How could she let it go so far? Why did she let it go so far?
A movement in the doorway caught her eye. She wasn't surprised to see Kelly standing one step inside her bedroom. She was too tired to be surprised by anything else. Her gaze rested briefly on the shiny gold badge. Kelly was a cop. That's what she got for not asking questions.
Kelly held her Glock in one hand and the ammo clip in the other. "I'm not sorry I didn't tell you I'm with DVIT or that I'm a cop. I could say it, but I wouldn't mean it."
Michala dropped the shirt she was folding. "Then say what you mean."
Kelly walked the few feet to her bed and leaned over to slip the gun and ammo into the side of her suitcase. Michala watched her and recognized stall tactics when she saw them. Kelly crammed her hands into the pockets of her jeans. The eyes that met hers were steeled with defiance. "I didn't know. I mean, I knew who you were. I knew what happened. Dani told me Saturday that it would make a difference with you that I'm an officer. She said Randa is barely welcome in your home and that you wouldn't make an exception for me. I didn't think it mattered because I was just someone you picked up in a bar."
Michala would have smiled at the unpleasant truth if she had the extra ounce of energy the effort required. She reached for the shirt and began to carefully fold the soft silk. Even now, after she knew all the steps that brought her to where she was standing, she was still stunned by the place she found herself. How? It was the one question her friends wanted to know more than anything and it was probably the one she would never be able to answer to anyone's satisfaction. Certainly not her own.
"And later, when you did know?"
She thought for one moment that Kelly would give her what they both knew was the truth. By Saturday, Kelly didn't want it to make a difference. By Saturday, Michala wasn't so sure that it would have. She couldn't remember the last time someone caught her interest so quickly. She sighed and laid the shirt in her suitcase. She couldn't remember the last time anything caught her interest at all. Because Kelly couldn't take that step, Michala moved them away from it.
"I'm sorry you got pulled into this Kelly. If I had known he was so close, I would never have had you here. I never meant to involve anyone else."
"You didn't involve me. You made the fact that it didn't involve me very clear. Randa brought me into this. She got one of your letters Friday. She opened it before she knew it wasn't for her. You were the sensitive case we were discussing up here."
It would be ironic later. Tonight was going to be her last night of living with it whether he did anything or not. Kelly's behavior over the phone calls made sense once she knew Kelly knew about the letters. She said with a small smile, "You were at Miranda's when I called. You told her about the phone calls didn't you?"
Kelly nodded without hesitation. "I was afraid for you. I was almost sure you were being stalked. I never would have guessed to this extent, or for this long."
Michala laughed at the censure in her tone. "Ah, I've disappointed you. The line is long for that right now."
And not all the people who were on it knew it yet. Most of the people who were on it didn't know it yet. Her parents, who were sleeping snug in bed without a clue the plunge their life was about to take. Other friends, those kind souls who had left her alone and would now bitterly regret that kindness. Her colleagues, people who had trusted her professional judgment and who now would question her sanity. The line was long and would only grow longer as the word spread.
Susan walked into the bedroom. "Ready? Jess is waiting for you."
"Waiting, hmm?" She zipped her suitcase shut and watched in amusement as Susan reached around her for the bag. She turned to face her friend. "Why do I feel that this isn't voluntary?"
Susan gave her a light kiss on the lips. "It's as voluntary as you make, babe."
The four of them left the house through the spiral stairs that led from her bedroom to the back of the house. Susan led the way, Miranda fell in behind her, and Kelly took up the rear. Michala was aware, as they hustled her from the house, that they were a shield around her. The quick trip down the back stairs left her no time to see what exactly he did to her home. She was grateful to be spared that right then. She was also grateful for their solid support as she stepped out into the pale light of dawn. Her brief hesitation on the threshold was known only to Kelly.
She let them talk around her on the drive over to Jess'. She couldn't remember how long she'd been awake. She closed her eyes and let go. It would all be waiting for her in the morning. And she knew nothing would change.
Less than an hour later, they were driving back to Randa's. Michala was tucked safely behind the security controlled walls of Jessica Newhouse's gated community, snug and hopefully asleep in her guest room. Kelly shook away the image of Michala, pale and exhausted, being led upstairs like a little child. After the night she had the fact that she walked into the house under her own power said much about her strength. Kelly harbored no illusions that Michala would be pale and exhausted the next time they saw her. She would be the poised, arrogant Dr. Cary.
Kelly wished for her sunglasses as she blinked from the rising sun. She shook her head as she realized it was officially Monday morning. They had a staff meeting planned for ten. She glanced over at Randa. Her head rested against the seat. Her eyes, if they were opened, stared out of the passenger door window. Kelly made a mental note to call Sam and bring her up to date. The meeting would have to be canceled. There was no way Randa was in any shape to handle other people's problems right then.
She closed her eyes against the glaring sun. God, but she'd give almost anything to already be in her bed. She could feel her own exhaustion weighing her down. The last thing she wanted to do was make the drive to Dani's. She knew she wasn't alert enough to negotiate the NASCAR race that masqueraded as morning rush hour traffic in Atlanta.
"Wake up, Kelly."
She snapped awake and stared up into Susan's solemn face. Susan held out her hand. "You were sleeping. Come on, you can crash in the guest room."
Kelly shook her head to clear her jumbled thoughts. "No, I need to go home."
Susan pulled her from the car and caught her as she swayed slightly. She slipped her arm around Kelly's waist. "The only thing you need is sleep. You're staying here. It'd be criminal to let you drive like this. You can't even walk a straight line."
Kelly opened her mouth to argue and closed it when she stumbled. Susan held on to her to keep her from falling on the sidewalk. She tossed her a wan smile. "Thanks. The citizens of Atlanta owe you one."