"You can't be serious. This is the best assignment you can give me?" Kenya Babineau sat across from her boss, fiddling with his name plate on the old, steel desk - Jeff M. Treng.
The owner of the name plate stared back at her, a deep frown forming over his Asian eyes. "Look, Babineau. It's not like you can have your pick right now, not after the last fiasco with your client's boyfriend."
"That was just a misunderstanding," Kenya said.
"Yeah, so you say. Just a communications issue. Well, it landed the guy in the emergency room with a broken nose." Jeff leaned on his elbows. "It's just a temporary assignment. A couple of months to ease this new client's nerves and get you a good recommendation. Then, you'll be back in the thick of it."
Jeff pushed a yellow folder across the desk. Kenya picked it up and opened it. A black and white photo fell into her lap. She studied the picture for a few moments, fascinated by the dark, spiked hair and wide-set eyes of the woman in the photo. The woman had not smiled for the picture, and something in her expression told Kenya that the woman did not find much to smile about. Kenya stuffed the photo back into the folder and scanned the info sheet. She summarized the situation in less than a minute and slammed the folder shut again. "She's rich and paranoid, but that doesn't mean she needs Chicago's finest body guard at her beck and call."
"One of Chicago's finest," Jeff corrected. "And the rich part is a good thing. It pays the bills. You remember bills, don't you, Babineau?"
Kenya folded her arms across her chest, refusing to answer the obvious. "It's lame, and you know it. Look at the sheet yourself? She claims to be stalked by some woman." Kenya leaned over to open the folder again and re-read the sheet. "Lois Kirst. But she can't even convince the La Grange police department to help her with a restraining order against this woman. We'd just be taking Roslyn's money for no good reason."
Jeff grinned. "I fail to see the problem with that."
"The problem? How about it's a waste of my time? How about I'm better than this." Kenya felt her temper rising, but she didn't try to hide it. Jeff had seen her at her worst, and still they were best friends. She looked at Jeff, seeing anew the subtle signs of aging on his face, the creases around his dark brown eyes and the gray streaks taking over his short, salt-and-pepper hair. Kenya was ten years younger than Jeff, but already the fear of what age would do to her in her physically demanding profession crept into her thoughts. Especially after she blew the last assignment by mistaking a boyfriend for a mugger. She reacted without thinking, and that had nearly gotten her arrested.
Jeff leaned back and propped his boots up on top of the desk. "You're right. You are better than this. Hell, you're better than this whole business I'm running here, and I've told you that before. So why are you still here?"
Kenya shrugged, not wanting to get into the old argument again, but Jeff had other plans.
"The NSA job is still open, you know," Jeff prompted. "My brother-in-law could have you in there in a flash. You've got all the right credentials. Masters in Criminology and Investigation, top security clearances, and an ace recommendation from your's truly."
Kenya held up her hands. "No, thanks. I may be forty, but I'm not ready for early retirement, yet." And the thought of a desk job scared her. Kenya needed the physical activity and requirements of being a body guard. She reached over and scanned the yellow folder again. "Two months, you promise."
"Two months. Then you're back on the real cases," Jeff said. Something about the half-smile on his face made Kenya think that her boss had pulled out the NSA trump card just to convince her to take the lame assignment. And it worked.
Kenya read the cover sheet again. Roslyn Hullet, age twenty-eight. Occupation - self-employed. Too much money and not enough sense, thought Kenya. But, for two months, she could handle it. She had to handle it and get a recommendation out of the rich brat.
Roslyn sat in her cluttered office, staring at the technicals for Hansen's Natural on her laptop screen. A fast-growing stock with good fundamentals and a rising 200-day moving average, but it just didn't hold her attention. She'd made a fortune big enough to support twenty women her age during the high-tech boom, and unlike alot of her former associates, she'd pulled enough profits off the table before the big bust that she could live on Dow Jones dividend companies for the next three hundred years.
But where was the thrill in that? she pondered as she scanned the key stats for Hansen's. The company was good, no doubts, but it had none of the thrill of an early Ebay or even the fun of Google's IPO. Roslyn slammed the lid down on her laptop and pushed back from her desk. She looked at the clock - three hours until the market closed. Maybe she'd come back in the final twenty minutes and play some options, just for old time's sake. Meanwhile, she had an appointment in a half hour, and she hadn't showered yet.
Roslyn padded up the wide staircase to the second floor and her master bedroom. Opening up the white oak doors to the walk-in closet, she scanned for just the right outfit to wear. Blue was out of the question, so she grabbed a fushia sweater and a pair of black jeans and tossed them on her king-sized bed. She stripped off her clothes and stepped into the bathroom, tip-toeing across the cold tiles to stand on the plush white bath mat and turn on the shower. As steam filled the expansive bathroom, Roslyn mentally noted that she'd have to get a contractor in to install heated pipes under the tiles. A waste of money, her mother would say, but Roslyn didn't care. She and the old bitch were back on speaking terms since Roslyn had made her first million. And Roslyn heard from her mother when she had something new that she wanted Roslyn to buy her. As the hot water massaged her shoulder muscles, Roslyn began to relax and forget about her homophobic mother. She had a minor interview to hold and then maybe she'd visit the shooting range she had installed under the back yard. She finished up her shower and dressed with enough time left over to grab an energy drink from the fridge.
At 1:30pm, the security system buzzed. Roslyn walked over to the video display and saw a black SUV waiting at the gate. "Who is it?" she asked.
"Kenya Babineau from Treng Security."
The voice sounded deep, almost sultry, piquing Roslyn's curiosity. She pressed a switch and watched as the steel gate slid open automatically. "Please park by the side entrance Ms. Babineau, and I'll meet you there." Roslyn waited for the SUV to proceed beyond the range of the video camera and then walked through the diningroom and kitchen. She opened the side entrance door to a blast of cold air, just as the SUV pulled to a stop in the covered drive, parking just behind her silver porche.
A tall, darkskinned woman wrapped in a heavy leather jacket stepped out, her short tightly-curled black hair framed an angular face, but the most startling feature was the woman's sea-green eyes. She paused in front of Roslyn, holding out her hand. "Hello. I'm Kenya Babineau."
Kenya wrapped her hand around the offered pale, pink hand. The firmness of the handshake startled her, considering the owner of the hand was a head and shoulder shorter than she was, and not at all what Kenya had expected, based on the woman's info sheet.
"Nice to meet you, Ms. Babineau. I'm Roslyn Hullet."
Kenya followed Roslyn back into the mansion, trying not to stare at the smaller woman's spiked electric-blue hair or the incomprehensible artwork that lined the hallway. They walked past a wide, stainless-steel kitchen, through another long hallway and into what Kenya assumed was the living room. A pair of matched white leather sofas formed an L in the corner of the room. A wide, flatpanel screen hung from the opposing wall and between the two was a series of long picture windows looking out over an indoor swimming pool encased in a glass room.
"May I take your jacket?" asked Roslyn as she paused in front of one of the sofas.
Kenya handed over her jacket and straightened out her off-white turtleneck. She felt as if she'd melt into the background compared to Roslyn's brilliant sweater and hair. Way too much money, thought Kenya as she took a seat on the opposite end of the sofa from Roslyn. Feeling out of her element, Kenya compensated by controlling the conversation. "Let's start with the basics. What household security do you have?"
Roslyn sat with her legs folded under her, twirling the ends of her spiked hair as she spoke. "You saw the access gate as you entered. The fence surrounds the full fifteen acres here. Besides that, I have an alarm system installed in the house. Every window and door has sensors attached to detect when it's opened. Also, these picture windows and the glass doors off the kitchen and my bedroom balcony have glass shattering sensors."
Paranoid much? thought Kenya. "I see. And you live here alone?"
"Yes. I have a cleaning staff in twice a week, and a gardener for the external maintainence. They each have special access codes for the gate and the internal alarm system."
"Okay. In your request, you said you've had problems with a potential stalker. What can you tell me about that?"
Kenya watched as Roslyn's easy attitude shifted. The woman pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around them, staring into the distance. What little color there was in Roslyn's pale face drained as described her situation.
"Lois Kirst." Roslyn gave a weak half-smile as she turned to Kenya. "I realize the police department doesn't believe me, but she is dangerous."
The intensity in Roslyn's eyes pulled at Kenya, despite her doubts. "Go on," she urged.
"She came to one of my seminars. I hold classes in the basics of stock market analysis. I guess I spoke with her after the seminar, but I can't remember. She thinks I did anyway."
"And what has she done since then?" Most of the information was already in Rolsyn's report to Jeff, but Kenya preferred to hear the story from the source. There was always more than could be covered in a few paragraphs on paper.
"She's been at every seminar I've had in the past two years. Not actually in most of them anymore, because I've blocked her admissions. But she's always there at the hotel or convention center. Every seminar, every city across the US."
"And?" Kenya asked. She could feel the tension surrounding Roslyn and knew whatever the issue, this woman had gotten under Roslyn's skin.
"And she's been here. I think she moved here about six months ago. I looked up her original registration, and she came to her first seminar in Tulsa, Oklahoma."
"So she looked up your home address."
Roslyn shook her head. "No. I'm unlisted. My business address is in Delaware. The only way she could have found out where I lived would be to follow me."
Kenya wasn't convinced that was how Lois had found Roslyn. Private information always had a way to be discovered by those with the drive to search for it. But still, nothing suggesting Roslyn was a danger. There had to be more. "What has she done since she's been here?"
Instead of answer, Roslyn stood up and walked to the mantlepiece above the fireplace and picked up an envelope. She handed it to Kenya. "It's all in there. The letters she puts in my mailbox. Not sends in the mail, but drops off herself. There's never a postmark or a seal on the envelopes."
Kenya slid a few of the letters out of the larger envelop. She opened one and read it.
You left your blinds open last night. Do you know how dangerous that can be? Anyone on the street can see you walking around. What if someone had a rifle? You'd be an easy target.
"Gardian?" Kenya asked.
"It's what she's called herself since she started leaving letters. When I see her at the seminars, she uses her real name, but I know it's her."
Roslyn's hands trembled, and she tucked them underneath her legs. Kenya rested a hand on Roslyn's shoulder, feeling the other woman relax under her grip. "I understand. Anonymous letters are never really anonymous. The writer always puts hints in there so you can figure out who's writing them."
"Yes, but just try to convince the police of that."
Reluctantly, Kenya let her hand drop from Roslyn's warm shoulder. She could smell the other woman's perfume now, an alluring, light scent that made Kenya want to lean closer, but she resisted the urge. This was work, not play time. "You've convinced me and Teng Security. We should be able to convince Ms. Kirst to take her attentions elsewhere."
Roslyn clasped her hand around Kenya's. "Thank you. I can't express how much of a relief it is to have someone who just believes me."
Roslyn's cheeks turned pink, and Kenya felt the heat rising in her own face, but she didn't pull away. "How about you show me the house and surrounding area to start and then we can go over your normal routine?"
Standing up, Roslyn let go of Kenya's hand. She lead the way through more rooms than Kenya had ever seen in one house before. But the walk around the property beyond the house proved even more fascinating. Besides the indoor pool with a retractable roof, there was a small outdoor icerink, kept frozen by Illinois' harsh winter, and a complete private gym in the basement. The most startling feature was accessed from a long hallway in that basement. When they'd walked longer than Kenya thought the house was, Roslyn opened a lone door and flicked on a light. Kenya couldn't suppress a wide grin when she saw a vast underground shooting range, complete with retractable targets and multiple side-arm selections. She didn't question Roslyn's choice of hobby, but obviously, the other woman had deep-set feelings of insecurity. People like Lois Kirst used those kinds of insecurities to prey on their victims.
When the tour ended and Roslyn finished listing her regular and semi-regular activities, Kenya summed up what she saw as Roslyn's physical security needs. "I recommend that you hire out for short term personal security during your seminars for sure. You could also contact us when you have other public events to attend."
Roslyn sat beside her on the sofa again, close enough that their legs touched. Kenya ignored the warmth that flooded her because of Roslyn's proximity and focused clarifying her assignment. "What are your thoughts?" she asked.
"I'd prefer that you provide fulltime coverage." Roslyn's brown eyes held Kenya transfixed.
"Excuse me?" Kenya asked. She could not comprehend what Roslyn wanted.
Roslyn looked down at her hands, which played at the edges of her sweater. "I'd hoped you would stay with me for a time."
Kenya didn't know how to take Roslyn's offer. She was sure that Jeff had not contracted for twenty-four hour survellience. But if Roslyn was going to ask for that level of security, it would certainly be easier to do it from within the house than alternating security agents from outside. "Are you certain you want that? You seem to have a more than adequate alarm system here."
"But they aren't infallable, are they? I mean, I can't have it turned on all day when I'm going in an out."
"No, I suppose not." Kenya considered the amenities that would be available to her, assuming Roslyn would let her use the shooting range and pool. But did she want to dedicate every hour of her next couple of months playing babysitter? Kirst might be a nut, but she was a harmless nut. Still, the pleading look in Roslyn's eyes made up Kenya's mind. "So, do I understand correctly that I would stay here in the house?" she asked.
"Yes. There are ample spare bedrooms you could choose from. And you would of course be compensated appropriately."
Way more money than sense. "I see. Well, it will take a few days to make the appropriate arrangements," Kenya said, unsure why she was giving in so easily. It would be a hell of an imposition to move out of her apartment for two months. And how could she stand sitting around a rich woman's house day in and day out, pretending to be a bodyguard? She envisioned herself spending hours in the gym and shooting ranch. Not for the first time, she cursed herself for losing her temper on her last assignment. This was karmic payback for that slipup, she thought as Roslyn went over the details of moving Kenya in the house for an extended stay.
Roslyn watched the black SUV leave her driveway. She leaned against the doorway, ignoring the cold blast of wind blowing into her house. She wasn't sure why she'd changed her plans and asked Kenya to move in for a time. It was out of character for her to have any longterm guests. Her home was her private refuge. How would she handle living with a veritable stranger? But something about the dark woman pulled at Roslyn, and she wanted time to explore that feeling. She would also feel much more at ease having a qualified body guard living with her.
She'd let Kenya take all of Lois's letters when she left, but Roslyn hadn't passed over the photos that Lois had taken of her. There was something too personal about some of them. The pictures proved just how unaware she was of Lois's presence at times. Her vulnerability gnawed at her. Having Kenya around all the time guaranteed that Lois would never find her alone again. At least for a time.
Kenya settled into a comfortable rountine a lot faster than she'd imagined she would. Roslyn kept a very active schedule, enough so that Kenya had to squeeze in enough time to keep fit in the gym. For a tiny woman, Roslyn was a bundle of frantic energy. Her work schedule had them out of the house for multiple hours a day, but Kenya had yet to catch her first glimpse of Lois Kirst. Survellence of the house provided photos of Lois driving by at least three times since Kenya had moved in, but the stalker hadn't made any contact with Roslyn in that time.
For lack of any real, mental stimulation, Kenya got in the habit of interrupting Roslyn's work by the afternoon. Roslyn seemed to welcome the disturbance, to the point of explaining her work to Kenya. But that wasn't enough to keep Kenya occupied for long. Eventually, she turned to Jeff for ideas, and Jeff started passing her some analysis work. To Kenya's surprise, what she considered dull paperwork turned out to be more interesting that she'd thought. By the evening dinner, she'd had her fill of mental stimulation. But she still needed physical activity.
And being in close proximity to Roslyn wasn't helping. Unlike Kenya, Roslyn was a physically attentive individual. If the other woman had a personal bubble, it was deflated. She seemed to find any excuse to touch Kenya. If Roslyn were a man, Kenya would have smacked him down long ago. But Roslyn's attention excited her, and she couldn't deny the chemistry they shared.
After seven weeks, Kenya relaxed her insistence on keeping a professional distance from Roslyn and asked the woman to go to a dance club with her. Not that Kenya wasn't certain about Roslyn's sexuality, but she made sure Roslyn understood that it was a lesbian club that Kenya wanted to go to.
"This isn't a date," Kenya added.
Roslyn laughed, ignoring Kenya's discomfort as she looped her arm through Kenya's. "Of course not. Shall I drive, or you?"
Kenya chose to drive. It might not be a date, but she wasn't in the habit of letting another woman drive her around. It just wasn't right.
The flashing multicolored lights on the dance floor rattled Roslyn's already frayed nerves. She hadn't been out on a date, or non-date as Kenya insisted it was, in over a year. She'd let the situation with Lois Kirst turn her into a recluse. Part of her reason for agreeing to go out with Kenya was to prove that she could still function in a social environment outside her work. The other part was of course that Kenya had asked her at all. Roslyn hadn't been subtle about her attraction to her stoic bodyguard. And the opportunity to see Kenya relax was something Roslyn relished.
Unfortunately, the dark club, combined with flashing lights, left Roslyn incapable of seeing the faces around her. More than once, she thought she'd seen Lois in the darkness. But each time, it turned out to be a different dirty-blond butch woman with glasses. Kenya must have sensed some of Roslyn's discomfort, because she asked twice if Roslyn wanted to go home. But Roslyn had a stubborn streak that wouldn't let her give up so easily. While she refused to drink, she did accompany Kenya to the dance floor multiple times. Watching the lean woman's rythmic movements caused a rush of heat through Roslyn's body.
Roslyn used the excuse of the crowded dance floor to slide her hands along Kenya's biceps. She felt the muscles flex beneath her fingers. Taking that as a sign of encouragement, Roslyn maneuvered closer. She felt Kenya's hand slide to the small of her back, pulling her closer. Roslyn's heart pounded as she inhaled the scent of Kenya's cologne. The music slowed, and the dance floor openned up, but Kenya didn't let her go. Instead, she wrapped both arms around Roslyn and rested her head on top of Roslyn's. Roslyn was never so glad for her two inch heels, giving her just enough added height to place her lips on Kenya's collar bone. She thought she felt the other woman shudder. The room and the lights disappeared for Roslyn as she shut her eyes and focused on the sensation of Kenya's body touching hers. Kenya's strong thigh slid between her legs, and Roslyn felt as if a fire burned there. She bit her lip to stifle a moan. How long had it been since a woman had held her like this? And how long would it last before something or someone broke the spell around them?
Kenya felt the intense heat of Roslyn pressed against her thigh. All thoughts of professional distance melted away with the sensation of the smaller woman wrapped in her arms. Kenya wanted her. She hadn't let herself fall for a client before, but Roslyn touched her like no other. When the music switched back to a fast beat, Kenya leaned down to press her lips to Roslyn's ear. "Can we go home?"
Roslyn turned her head to look into Kenya's eyes. "Yes, please."
Taking Roslyn's hand, Kenya led her off the dance floor. She retrieved her leather jacket and Roslyn's long hunter green coat, and they walked out into the cold, wintery night. Light snow flurries greeted them as they walked hand in hand to Kenya's SUV. Kenya unlocked the passenger side and opened it for Roslyn. Stepping close to Kenya, Roslyn looked up into Kenya's eyes and moistened her lips. Kenya took the hint and leaned down.
The feel of Roslyn's warm lips on hers sent a rush of desire through Kenya. She cursed the cold weather that forced heavy jackets to separate their bodies. Kenya cupped Roslyn's head and flicked her tongue across Roslyn's lips. The other woman moaned, then opened to Kenya. The wintery breeze couldn't penetrate the heat growing between them, but the need for air forced them apart. Puffs of steam escaped Kenya as she tried to catch her breath. Roslyn smiled up at her, but then her expression changed as she looked past Kenya's shoulder.
"What's the matter?" asked Kenya.
"It's her," Roslyn said, her hands tightening on Kenya's arms. "Lois. She's in the blue Taurus idling in the next row."
Kenya moved to turn around but Roslyn held her tightly. "No, don't go over," Roslyn said. "Let's get out of here."
"Nonsense," Kenya said, brushing off Roslyn's grip on her. "It's about time Lois and I met, don't you think?"
"Kenya, no!" hissed Roslyn. But Kenya was already walking toward the car in question. She could just make out a driver in the older model car, but as she approached, the driver shifted the car in gear and pulled out of the parking spot, heading in the opposite direction. Kenya tried to peer inside the dirty window, but all she saw was a caucasian woman with glasses. While it could have been anyone, Kenya knew from the survellence photos that it was Lois's car. Or to be more accurate, Lois's sister's car. Kenya hadn't told Roslyn yet, but Jeff had run a trace on the car after the first series of photos were taken, and they knew that Lois lived with her sister in an apartment complex in Chicago.
When the car left the parking lot, Kenya turned around and walked back to Roslyn, who stood with her arms crossed and her face in shadow.
"She's gone now," Kenya said. Roslyn wouldn't look at her, but plopped down on the passenger seat and slammed the car door shut.
Kenya shrugged and walked around to the driver's side and let herself in. She started the engine and flicked on the heat, though it would take a few blocks before it warmed up. Roslyn stared out the side window, not saying a word as Kenya drove back to the house in silence. It wasn't until they were both inside and Roslyn had turned on the alarm system that she spoke, and the anger in her voice shocked Kenya.
"Don't ever do that again," Roslyn said, standing before Kenya with her fists clenched at her sides.
Kenya could see the smaller woman trembling, but she wasn't sure if it was from leftover fear or anger. "What did I do wrong?" Kenya asked.
"You've just pissed her off, you know."
"It's about time someone confronted the weasel."
"No, you don't understand." Roslyn was nearly in tears.
Kenya wanted to hold her, but the icey look in Roslyn's eyes kept her away. "Then explain it to me."
Roslyn's fists loosened, and she walked away. Unsure what to do, Kenya followed her until Roslyn slumped into one of the sofas in the back living room. Before Kenya could sit down again, Roslyn jumped up and pulled the blinds shut to all the windows in the room. Kenya waited until Roslyn sat down again. Then she risked reached out and covering Roslyn's hand in hers. She was grateful both that Roslyn didn't pull away, and that the trembling in Roslyn's hand lessened. "Can you tell me what's going on?" Kenya asked.
Roslyn shifted so that she was closer to Kenya and rested her head on Kenya's shoulder as she spoke. "An old girlfriend of mine confronted Lois once, about nine months ago. Things got... worse after that for a time."
Kenya frowned. This was new information. "Worse how?"
"She went after my friend. I mean, we can't prove anything, but my friend's tires were slashed the next night, and her windshield was smashed. That's when Lois, she started leaving pictures. Photos of me in the mailbox."
"What kind of photos?"
"Pictures of me whenever I was alone. And, pictures of the house."
Roslyn shook as she spoke, and Kenya wrapped her arms around the frightened woman. "From outside?"
Roslyn shook her head.
"Inside? She's been inside the house?"
"Yes. It was before I had the alarm system installed. I've also changed all the locks since then."
"Why didn't you tell me about this before?" Breaking into the house was an escalation in Lois's behavior. If Kenya could prove it, the creep could be tossed in jail.
"I don't know. It was such a personal invasion. I mean if you can't feel safe in your own home, what have you got?"
Kenya had no real answer to that question. She brushed her fingers through Roslyn's short hair.
Roslyn looked up, her brown eyes glistening in the lamplight. "Promise me that you won't go after her again like that?"
"But, isn't that why you hired me? To get rid of Lois?"
Roslyn's voice shook as she spoke. "Don't you see? If you antagonize her, she'll go after you next."
"Good. Then I'll get rid of her for good." Kenya hoped Lois would come after her. She had more than a little agression to work out on that sappy, weak face.
"No! Please. She's not that bad. It's not like I'm in danger or anything."
"Come on, you don't believe that, do you?" asked Kenya.
Roslyn looked down. "She hasn't done anything to hurt me directly."
"Yet," Kenya added. "She's got all the signs of an obsessed stalker. Sooner or later, she'll escalate. And she has no right to control you as it is."
"She's never been violent to me, but I don't know what she'd try to do to you. Especially after seeing us together in the parking lot."
"Do you regret that we kissed?" Kenya's heard pounded as she waited for the answer. It had all felt so right at the time, but did Roslyn object to the change in their professional relationship?
"No, but it changes everything," Roslyn said, brushing a tear from her eye. "I can't bear the thought of you in danger."
"This is my job, hon. To take on the risks."
Roslyn pulled away from her. "Not anymore."
"Excuse me?" The conversation continued to twist in ways that left Kenya unbalanced and unprepared.
"What do you mean, I'm fired?" Kenya felt an different kind of heat in her face now. The heat of her unchecked temper.
"I can't have you in danger. It's too much," Roslyn pinched the bridge of her nose. "I'm sorry. I just can't handle this."
"Fine." Kenya, pushed off the sofa. "I guess that means you can't handle me right now either." She turned away from Roslyn and stomped across the livingroom. She heard Roslyn calling to her, but Kenya needed to get out of the house. To go from being so close, to having her actions thrown back at her was too much for her. It was her job to get rid of Lois, she raged silently.
Kenya slammed the door on her SUV and kicked it into reverse. A grim satisfaction trickled through her angry mood at the sound of her tires screeching in the driveway as she spun around and drove out, barely giving the auto-sensing exit gate a chance to open before she was past it. Then she sped down the isolated street and onto the main intersection leading to the highway. It wasn't until she was a few miles away that it even registered she was heading to the office and not her apartment. She hadn't been in her own apartment for two months, and it held no comfort for her right now. Not that the office would, but at least she expected it to be a cold, austere and most importantly, neutral setting.
Roslyn slumped back down in the sofa after watching Kenya's car escape from the driveway. Alone again, the silence in the empty house suffocated her. She got up and turned on the stereo, letting a wave of classical music wash over her. How had she screwed up so dramatically? And with such finality, she thought, remembering the cold glare in Kenya's brown eyes. Eyes that would never turn to her again with the darkness of desire in them. Roslyn felt tears forming, but she refused to give in to them. It was her own fault, she thought, driving away her chance for love because of her paranoia.
No, she thought. Because of Lois. For once, she didn't blame it all on herself. She never asked for Lois's attentions. And how much had she already compromised on or given up on because of the other woman's obsession. A simmering anger brewed inside Roslyn as she realized she'd given up again. That by letting Kenya go, Roslyn had once again let Lois run her life.
She got up off the sofa with a sense of renewed purpose. She'd call Kenya up and apologize. Hell, she'd do anything to get Kenya back. Including letting the other woman decide how to get Lois out of Roslyn's life. She leaned over the arm of the sofa to grab the phone off the side table. She punched in Kenya's cell phone number and waited for the first ring. But when she heard the back kitchen door open, Roslyn hung up the phone.
"Kenya? I'm so glad you came back." Roslyn stood up and tossed the phone on the sofa as she rushed to the kitchen. At the doorway, she froze.
"Hello, Roslyn." Lois Kirst pushed the kitchen door shut behind her.
Kenya was surprized to see a light on in Jeff's office when she unlocked the front office door to let herself in. At well past midnight, she wondered what was keeping her boss hard at work. Kenya debated going in to talk to him, but instead, she went to her own cluttered desk and flicked on the desk lamp. Sitting in the chair, she stared at the mountain of paperwork waiting for her. She wanted to kick it all to the floor and to hell with it, but she didn't. Her temper had gotten her into enough trouble, and it was time she learned some self control. Past time, she thought, remembering her outburst in front of Roslyn. Kenya rested her head in her hands, cursing herself. Why did she have to fly off the handle like that? During the drive, she'd calmed down enough to see it all from Roslyn's perspective. Kenya had compromised her position as security guard, and she didn't regret that. But Roslyn had a point that Kenya could no longer maintain the degree of professional detatchment that was necessary to do the job. And confronting the stalker at night without a weapon was a dumb move. Kenya padded her side, realizing she'd left her gun in her bedroom at Roslyn's. Another stupid mistake to berate herself for. What else could go wrong?
Kenya's pity party was interrupted when Jeff's head popped out of his office door. "Kenya? Dammit girl, don't you ever answer your cell phone?"
She pulled the small phone out of her jeans pocket and looked at its dark face. "Sorry, Jeff. I turned it off before I went out with Roslyn."
Jeff rushed to her side with an urgency he reserved for emergencies.
"What? What's wrong?" she asked.
He grabbed a piece of paper off the top of her desk and waved it at her. "This is what's wrong. Read it."
Kenya scanned the fax sheet. When she saw Lois Kirst's name in the same line as the alarm company that Roslyn used, she threw the paper down. "Lois works for the same company?"
"Yes. Hell of a coincidence, isn't it?"
"Okay, let's be rational here. I mean, it doesn't necessarily mean Lois has the access code. It's a top notch system." Kenya's rationalization felt weak. Roslyn's alarm system could be compromised, and Kenya had left her alone.
"Did Roslyn change the default access code for the alarm?" asked Jeff.
Kenya flicked on her phone. "I don't know, but I'm going to find out."
"You think she's still up?"
"I hope so." Kenya ignored the flashing message light and dialed Roslyn. Come on, pick up, she urged as she listened to the second and third ring. After the fourth, she gave up and hung up. "No answer," she mumbled.
On impulse, she scanned her phone log and saw that she'd missed a call from Roslyn not more than ten minutes before. She jumped up. "I'm going back."
"Is something wrong?" asked Jeff. "Do you need backup?"
"No, it's probably nothing. But I don't want to leave her alone if that alarm system is useless." She didn't add that she'd pissed off Roslyn's stalker already that night. She hurried out of the office building and hopped into her car. Pulling out of the parking lot, she turned and sped down the dark streets to the highway.
She'd be alright, Kenya thought. But as she raced down the highway, she couldn't remember if she'd locked the back door or not. Cursing, she drove faster, determined to shave off as much of the fifteen minute drive as she could.
Roslyn stood in the hallway, her heart and mind racing. How did Lois get past the alarm? And what could Roslyn do to get the frightening woman out of her house? She'd never felt so lost and helpless.
"So who is she?" asked Lois, sitting on the edge of the livingroom sofa. Roslyn's thoughts were a gray fog. Nothing registered but the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears.
"Well?" Lois pulled off her glasses and cleaned them on the edge of her gray shirt.
Lois's interest in Kenya jolted Roslyn out of her shock. "She's gone," Roslyn said. She wouldn't let Lois get to Kenya. No matter what. Her mind churned on what Lois wanted from her, and slowly, a plan formed. "She's gone for good. I fired her."
Lois raised her pale eyebrows. "You employed that woman?"
Roslyn nodded. "Yes, but she overstepped her bounds by making a pass at me." The look of relief on Lois's face encouraged Roslyn. "So I got rid of her." Roslyn forced herself to take a seat next to Lois. She needed to convince the other woman that Kenya wasn't a threat.
The phone rang, making Roslyn jump. Lois dug the phone out of the sofa cushion and handed it to Roslyn. Roslyn scanned the caller ID and recognized Kenya's cell phone number. She couldn't answer it, but she held the phone in her hand, just incase Kenya started to leave a message. It stopped just before the answering machine clicked on.
"It's nobody important," she said to Lois's inquiring look. Thank God, thought Roslyn as she put the phone down again. She gave Lois what she hopped was a convincing smile. "I don't think you've ever really seen this place. Do you want the grand tour?"
Lois stood up and offered a hand to Roslyn, who forced herself to place her hand in Lois's. She couln't suppress a shudder at the sensation of the other woman's clammy hand wrapped around hers. It felt cold and weak So unlike Kenya's warm, solid hand. Roslyn had the flimsiest of plans, and they depended on getting Lois to relax and trust her. Maybe she'd ask Lois to join her for dinner some time. Anything to gain her trust and keep her from Kenya.
Tires squealing in protest, Kenya came close to spinning out as she raced off the highway exit ramp. Three blocks to go, she thought, resisting the urge to call Roslyn's number again. She tried to convince herself that it was just a minor glitch, that Roslyn was saftely in bed and asleep. Kenya considered how she would explain coming back after the fight that they had. But she'd think of something. Probably something involving a lot of apologizing and grovelling for forgiveness. Hell, she'd let Roslyn fire her and give the assignment over to someone else. Jeff had multiple contacts that could take over from Kenya and deal with Lois. Her professional pride would not get in the way of exploring what she and Roslyn shared. Assuming Roslyn would take her back, that is.
Kenya pulled up to the security gate and punched in her entry code. The gate slid open slowly, but Kenya saw no sign of a blue Taurus. A sense of relief flooded her, and she felt foolish for her earlier panic. She could see the lights on in the house, and even a light in the room she stayed in. She prayed that Roslyn was in there because she missed Kenya, and not that she was packing Kenya's bags for her.
She pulled into a stop outside the front door. Pausing, she contemplated whether she should ring the doorbell, or just enter. In the end, she decided to do both.
"The upstairs has three bedrooms besides the master bedroom." Roslyn led the way down the narrow hallway, regretting her decision to show Lois the house. They'd walked through the first floor, some of the outdoor gardens, and part of the basement already. Roslyn hadn't shown the gun range, but now all she had left to show were the bedrooms. Her hand was opening Kenya's bedroom door before she had time to realize the affect it would have. But she couldn't change direction without raising Lois's suspicion. So she pushed the door open and flicked on the light.
The bedroom had a definite lived-in look. Roslyn bit her lip as she tried to control her frayed nerves. Seeing Kenya's clothes tossed across the base of the bed, including a sweater that Roslyn had given her threatened to crumble Roslyn's facade. Then she caught sight of Kenya's gun halter peeking out of the half-closed top drawer in her bureau. Roslyn spun around and gave the room a casual wave. "All of this will be returned or tossed out," she said with a fake smile. "Depending on my mood."
Lois laughed, but it was cut short when the doorbell rang. The both froze for an instant, then, as the sound of the door opening downstairs registered, Lois shoved Roslyn into the room and closed the door behind them.
"Roslyn. Roslyn!" Kenya's deep voice drifted up through the closed door, and Lois cursed. She wrapped a hand that stank of old garlic across Roslyn's mouth and dragged her to the back closet. Fear gripped Roslyn, crippling her ability to think. Before she could react, Lois pushed her into the dark closet, hissed at her to keep quiet, and then shut the door. Roslyn's heart pounded. She heard Lois drag something across the carpet and push it against the closet door, then Lois turned off the light and left the room.
Roslyn pushed against the door, but something blocked her. She was terrified of what Lois would do to Kenya. Had the other woman seen the gun, too? Roslyn pushed harder. She had to get out. Kenya had no other weapon, and who knows what Lois might have. Roslyn lowered herself to the floor, braced her back against the door and her feet on the back wall of the closet and pushed harder.
Kenya went to the kitchen first and checked the back door. It was locked. Relaxing, she went back into the livingroom. She picked up Roslyn's phone and placed it back in the recharger. Turning to head upstairs, she looked straight into Lois's pale blue eyes.
"I don't think you are welcome here anymore," Lois said, her voice sickly sweet.
Where was Roslyn? ThoughtKenya. She took a steadying breath. She had to force herself to relax, to think before she reacted. Instinct told her to dive at Lois and beat the woman senseless, but she had no idea what Lois had done to Roslyn or if she had a weapon.
"I just came to get some of my stuff," Kenya said. Her words had the opposite affect than she'd expected when Lois pulled out a gun from her jacket and pointed it at her. Kenya exhaled slowly, shifting to the balls of her feet. She had no weapon, no idea where Roslyn was or if she was injured, and Lois stood in the way of her finding out.
Her first priority was discovering Roslyn's wearabouts. "Hey," she said, holding up her hands. "I'm not here to give you any trouble. Just let me see Roslyn."
Lois laughed. "You can't protect her. You never could."
"But you can." Kenya played to the other woman's pride. "You beat me at my own job."
"Job?" Lois's smile waivered, and Kenya regreted her words. Maybe Lois didn't realize that she was a security guard. Was Lois just jealous that Kenya had kissed Roslyn?
"Look," Kenya said, changing her tactics. "I don't know what's up with you and Roslyn."
Another voice interrupted their conversation. "Nothing's going on with me and Lois." Roslyn emerged from the dark, aiming Kenya's gun at Lois.
Lois looked between Kenya and Roslyn. She kept her gun pointed at Kenya but spoke to Roslyn. "Put that down, sweetie. You don't know how to use it."
"Yes, I do." Roslyn's voice held an icy certainty that Kenya was sure Lois would pick up on.
Lois frowned, her gun hand lowering slightly. "But that's not right. You don't need a gun to protect you. I can do that."
Kenya bit her tongue. She had to trust Roslyn now. There was nothing she could do to help the situation, but being useless grated on her. She kept alert, waiting for an opportunity to act.
Roslyn's gaze flicked to Kenya and then back to Lois.
"I see." Lois lifted the gun again. "She told you to get a gun. It's her fault."
"No!" Roslyn shouted, but Lois ignored her.
Kenya felt as if time slowed to a crawl. Lois's face twisted in anger as she turned to Kenya again. Instincts took over, and Kenya dropped to the floor, rolling to the side as a shot rang out, followed by three more in rapid succession. Pain laced across her shoulder as she looked up. She watched red blotches spread out on the front of Lois's tan jacket. Then Lois collapsed to the floor.
Roslyn kept the gun pointed at Lois's falling body. The bang of the gunshots rang in her head, but it wasn't until she saw Kenya rise up on one knee that Roslyn let go of the gun and ran to Kenya. Had she been shot? Roslyn dropped to her knees. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine." Kenya cupped Roslyn's face in her hands. "Did she hurt you?"
Roslyn placed her hands over Kenya's. She couldn't control the tears that spilled down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
Kenya pulled her into her arms, ignoring the pain in her shoulder and rocked her back and forth. "Shh, honey. It's over now. It's all over."
Roslyn sank into the embrace, letting the scent of Kenya's cologne calm her. When she could breathe normally again, she lifted her head. Kenya brushed away the tracts of her tears. Roslyn held Kenya's hand and kissed the open palm. Then she saw the red stain on Kenya's shoulder. "You are hurt!" She moved too fast, causing Kenya to wince. "I'm sorry," Roslyn said. "How bad is it?"
Kenya showed Roslyn the tear in her sweater, where the blood was already drying. "Not that bad," she said. "Just barely nicked me."
"I'm sorry," Roslyn repeated.
"That's enough of that," Kenya said, a smile lifting her full lips. "If you hadn't acted, I'd be dead now."
"It's not just that." Roslyn started to shake. She wasn't sure if it was from Lois or seeing Kenya again. Maybe both. "I'm sorry about earlier. About upsetting you."
Kenya covered Roslyn's hand in hers. "So am I. I should never have left like that. I thought you were mad at me for kissing you."
"Never," Roslyn said, staring into Kenya's brown eyes. She heard the distant sound of police sirens as she continued. "I was frightened and confused. But not about us. Just her." Roslyn tried to look past Kenya's broad shoulder to see Lois, but Kenya pulled her close.
"Don't look," Kenya said. "It's just better if you don't."
Roslyn nodded. The reality of the night was taking hold of her. She wanted to stay more, to tell Kenya how important she was to her. The sirens screamed closer. Kenya stood up, helping Roslyn off the floor. "Please," Roslyn said. "Don't go. I don't want you to go."
Kenya wrapped her good arm around Roslyn, leading her into the kitchen. "It's okay, babe. I'm not leaving you ever again." Kenya led them to the alarm panel and keyed open the gate. Red and blue lights flashed harsh patterns through the side door windows. Kenya felt a heaviness come over her. She just wanted to sleep, but she knew they had a long hours to go before the police would be satisfied. She prayed that her solid presence at Roslyn's side would calmed her. She wouldn't let Roslyn face the future alone. Not anymore. They had a second chance together, and Kenya wouldn't let that slip away. She looked down at Roslyn's sleepy eyes and knew that they'd both fight for that second chance and a future that promised far better days than this one had been.