~ New Cuts, Old Wounds ~

by Shea K.

Disclaimer: Welcome to another original story by this lunatic. This is the sequel to Scarred for Life. The story and the characters are mine. Do not use them without my permission. Also, any and all characters, events, and situations found in these stories are fictional. If there are any similarities between these things and real people, events, and situations, it is purely a coincidence.

General warning: eventually there's talk of child abuse and there is some mild violence and lots of extreme language. I'm sure you know there will be a sexual relationship between two women, but if you don't know this is me warning you. There will be a sexual relationship between two women in this story. Get out while you still can!

Special thanks to my betas, RevSrVixena and Ken-zero.

Find yourself wanting to see more from this lunatic? Probably not, I know. But, if you are, then you can find more of my insanity here for fanfics: http://www.fanfiction.net/u/932292/ and for more original work here: http://www.fictionpress.com/u/576301/

Contact the lunatic at: starving.lunatic@gmail.com and lemme know what you think of the story. Thanks and enjoy.

1: Rebirth

The spring was back, bringing warmth and promise along with it. For the first time in a long time, Dane Wolfe-or Danny as she was called more often than not now-found that she could feel that vibe. For the first time, she could understand why people enjoyed the spring. It was simply delightful. The renewed energy, as if new breath was breathed into everything. There was a sparkle and shine to the whole world as if everything was touched by a fond, loving hand. Love surged through everything and floated from all things. She could even feel that sparkle flow through her and there was no question to her why that was.

She could hardly believe that it had been a year since she first met Nicole Cardell. Her life had changed so much since then and she would not change anything about it. No, she would not even change her ill-fated decision to leave Nicole a few months ago, despite all of the pain it caused. That decision taught her and Nicole just how much they meant to each other. It made them stronger, individually and as a couple. And, now, spring brought them more enthusiasm and energy.

Today they had decided that they would use that vigor and take a step forward as a couple: Nicole was going to introduce Danny to her mother's side of her family. Dane was nervous, mostly because Nicole's mother, Kate, still detested her. She imagined that the rest of Kate's family would be the same. After all, they had raised Kate, so she had to get her personality from somewhere.

"Come on, Danny, you can't keep pretending that you forgot something. We need to go now," Nicole ordered, standing by the front door, but looking into the room off to the right. I just got her out of the living room, searching for nothing and now I have to deal with this. She shook her head and sighed. And I thought the fact that I got her downstairs in decent clothes would be the most difficult thing today. Shows how much I know.

Danny had fled into the den after Nicole had managed to get her out of the living, claiming that she forgot something. That was the same excuse she used when she sneaked into the living room. Nicole could not imagine what might be in the den that her girlfriend needed. Impatient green eyes glanced down at her watch and a foot covered in a stylish golden-rod pump tapped against the floor.

"I really forgot something this time!" Dane insisted.

"Oh, yeah? What did you forget?" Nicole asked skeptically.

Just as the question left her mouth, Danny hobbled out of the room holding her guitar across her back. Nicole arched a perfectly curved auburn eyebrow, not sure why her lover was taking her guitar with her. The only time that Danny left the house with the guitar was to go teach her music lessons.

"Danny...?" Nicole's face said much more than anything else.

"Trust me, it's a good ice breaker. If all else fails, I play a few chords on my guitar and I'm pretty sure your family won't hate me so completely and totally like Kathleen does," Dane answered with a confident smile.

Nicole's agitated expression softened and she reached out a gentle hand to put on Danny's shoulder. "You won't need to do that, Danny. You're the kindest and sweetest woman on the planet. My family will see that," she tried to assure the younger woman, caressing Dane's arm a little to help put her at ease.

Dane glanced down at Nicole with just about the most dubious look her grey eyes could muster. "Have you been missing these last few months? Your mother hates my guts and this is her family. I would like someone with your similar genetic makeup to like me," she replied. Never in her life had others opinions mattered so much to her until she started dating Nicole. It was a little daunting, but she was going to try her best because she was certain it would help their relationship.

"Daddy likes you," Nicole reminded her.

"No, he tolerates me. There's a difference and you know it. Chem, just let me bring the guitar. It'll make me feel better," Dane replied, somewhat pleading. She figured her pet name for Nicole would help put her over the top.

Nicole sighed, but conceded with a slight nod. Dane grinned and took that as a great excuse to embrace her lover. Giggling, Nicole returned the embrace before stepping up a little to give Danny a tender kiss on the lips. Dane took that as an invitation to fondle Nicole, who was wearing a flowing, deep yellow sundress, so it made it easier for Dane to touch her bare skin. Nicole was not surprised when she felt knowing fingers snake underneath the dress and she had to suppress a shiver. She pulled away and shook a scolding finger at Danny.

"We don't have time for this, baby. We need to get moving right now," Nicole stated in a stern tone.

"But, you look so hot!" Danny complained, reaching out and brushing her lover's deep red hair from her shoulder. She loved seeing Nicole in dresses. The cloth always seemed to hug every inch of her luscious form in a way that made Danny close to envious of the fabric. Sleek, toned legs that went on for days made her almost drool whenever she thought about them and whenever she saw them all she wanted to do was touch. Plus, Nicole always wore dresses that seemed to be made just to tease Dane's senses-at least Dane's mind anyway.

"Yes, but I'll look just as hot when we get back home. Right now, we need to leave because my grandmother will not be happy if we're late for Easter dinner," Nicole said, knowing that would get her lover moving because Danny was not trying to displease any of the family even before they met her.

Danny practically flew out of the door, which was quite a feat considering the fact that her right leg was lame and she had a limp. Nicole had to double check to make sure her lover had not gone through it. By the time Nicole was sure the front door was all right, Danny was in the car and had the nerve to honk the horn for her. Nicole chuckled as she locked the door and went to the car, sliding into the driver's seat.

"You know, if you only sat on this side, you'd be halfway there by now," the auburn-haired woman teased as she hit the button to start the engine.

Dane stuck her tongue out at her girlfriend. A year ago, such behavior would have been beyond unheard of for her, but Nicole brought it out of her. She did not mind it one bit. It felt freeing. Being with Nicole made her feel so right and at peace with herself. She never wanted to let that feeling go.

"You have been cleared to drive if I recall," Nicole said as she pulled out of the driveway.

"But, I so much enjoy having a chauffeur," Dane remarked with a smile.

Nicole snorted. "Stop smiling at me like that. It makes it so damn hard to mad at you for being a smart ass."

The grin that Dane sported made it even harder to be upset with her. She did not give Nicole much time to be even pretend-angry with her. After turning on some classic jazz, Dane leaned over and took Nicole's right hand into both of hers. She gently caressed Nicole's hand with her own and smiled fondly at the redhead.

"I really want your family to like me," Danny confessed as she held on tightly to her lover's hand. She knew how much family meant to Nicole and was certain that if she could make a good impression on half of Nicole's family, then it would help their relationship somehow. She wanted to minimize any problems that she could cause between Nicole and her family. It was bad enough that she was a source of trouble between Nicole and Kathleen. It bothered Danny because she knew how close the mother and daughter were. She hated the thought being a reason for them to drift apart and she did not want to do that with Nicole and anyone else in her family.

"Danny, I promise, they will like you. My mother's family is not that scary," Nicole assured her.

"How can they not be? They raised your mother!" Dane pointed out with a laugh.

Nicole chuckled too, even though she felt somewhat bad for doing it. Her mother had been extra-hard on Danny since the day they met. Nothing that Dane did was good enough for Kate's little girl-as far as Kate was concerned anyway. Of course, Nicole begged to differ, not that it ever changed her mother's mind. Her mother was just set on making Danny's life difficult and needed little prompting to do so.

"Danny, you know I would never knowingly subject you to anything bad," Nicole said, glancing over at her girlfriend to make sure that Danny believed her.

"What? Every freaking Saturday you do that!" Dane countered, teasing a bit, even though she honestly felt like her Saturday mornings were a form of torture.

Clicking her tongue, the redhead shook her head. "Baby, physical therapy does not count."

Grey eyes narrowed, showing that Dane believed it very much did count. She had been in physical therapy for four months now, working on her injured hand, knee, and leg. It was working wonders for her hand, which meant a lot to Danny since she was musician. Her leg was not coming along as quickly, but Nicole told her to be patient and it would work out, but Danny hated going and swore up and down that her therapist was a sadist. Having sat in on several sessions, Nicole knew that her lover was very much exaggerating.

"Baby, being serious, you do know I would never knowingly subject you to something bad or put you in a bad situation, right?" Nicole asked, worry coloring her emerald eyes.

Dane smiled a little and kissed her lover's knuckles. "Of course I know that, Chem. I'm just nervous and that's why I'm being so difficult. I'm sorry for acting like this."

"I understand why you are, but I promise you, my family is not that bad. In fact, they're pretty normal."

Little did Nicole know, but hearing that they were "pretty normal" did not help Danny in feeling better. For Dane, normal meant against same-sex relationships, like Kate. Normal also meant disliking the fact that Dane was pretty much unemployed, lacked a college education, and still dressed like a teenage bum more often than not. Well, at least they would not see her "bum-gear," as she now thought of her casual wear.

Danny had dressed in her Sunday best, as she jokingly referred to it. Nicole had to help her pick it out, but she was dressed in black slacks, dark blue sweater vest, and a sky blue shirt underneath. She felt a bit preppy, but Nicole liked the outfit and how she looked in it. Nicole liking something was just about the easiest way to get Dane to do something, except go to physical therapy. Added to that, Danny was not completely uncomfortable in the clothing, having dressed in such a way a few times when going out with her lover.

Dane tried to take her mind off of things by staring out of the window. A smile worked its way on her face as she saw the greens of the season arriving, reminding her again that she had known Nicole for a year. Emerald eyes took note of the smile.

"What're you smiling at, Big Dog?" Nicole inquired curiously, playfully taunting Danny with one of her nicknames.

"Just thinking about how it's been a hell of a year," Dane answered.

Nicole nodded in agreement. "It certainly has. I mean, this time last year I was just realizing what a bastard Tyler was and then you drifted into my life. Danny..." It took her a moment to get herself together and she squeezed the hand that was still holding onto hers. "Danny, I want you to know that living with you has been one of the best times of my life. You have improved my life in so many ways. I'm happy you're here."

Grey eyes seemed to brighten thanks to that news. "Me too, angel. Being with you is the best time of my life."

Nicole smiled, loving it when her sweetheart got so mushy. It touched her because she knew that Danny was sincere and that was not something that she was used to from a lover. Her honesty and openness were two of the many things that made Danny special to Nicole. She hoped that Danny remained that way.

The ride was not too long, a little over thirty minutes. Danny was shocked when they pulled into a middle class neighborhood, not too different from their own neighborhood. Danny thought that Kate's parents would live in a gated community like Kate and Raymond did and thought that the house would be massive, but quickly found out that was not the case.

Nicole pointed out the house as she parked across the street from it. Dane stared at it from across the way and she could hardly believe her eyes. The music teacher had to resist the urge to say, "this is it?" She could not believe that Nicole's grandparents lived in a modest sized, middle-class house. There were even toys on the front lawn.

"Chem, are you sure this is the place?" Dane asked, a raven-colored eyebrow arched high in disbelief as she exited the car.

The redhead giggled as she got out. "I think I know how to get to my grandparents' house, baby. Just like most people, my grandparents are regular people and they have a regular house in a regular neighborhood. Just because my mom is rich doesn't mean her parents are."

Dane nodded as if she understood, but she really did not. "Sorry, Chem, but you know where I'm from riches are inherited, so I just assumed..."

Nicole shook her head, her auburn locks swaying a little. Instead of correcting her lover, she wrapped her arm around Dane's and led the confused musician into the front yard. Dane looked around, as if she was suspecting everything to change at any moment. Her expectations were not met as they made it to the front door and everything was still as ordinary as they were before.

"Hello?" Nicole called into the house as she opened the door. Dane was not surprised that the door was not locked, often seeing that people did not lock their doors when they expected a lot of company. It was something that she never noticed until she started going places with Nicole.

"Nikki!" a couple of childish voices called.

Dane was surprised when two little kids charged into the small foyer, hugging Nicole around the waist. Dane correctly guessed that these were Nicole's cousins. Nicole had explained to Dane that on her mother's side she was the oldest of her cousins by a decade. This was because her mother was the oldest of three girls, also by a decade.

Nicole hugged the children back before directing their attention to Dane. "Guys, I would like you to meet my friend, Danny. Danny, these are my cousins I told you about, Sabrina and Eddie," she introduced them.

"Pleased to meet you," Dane said, extending her hand to both children. Thanks to some prep time Dane knew that Sabrina was eight and had dreams of being a dancer. She had the biggest brown eyes, just like Nicole swore. Dane could not believe it, but she thought the little girl was cute as a button and she looked downright adorable in her powder blue dress.

"I'm gonna be ten," Eddie informed Dane, shaking her hand with more force than necessary. She expected that because Nicole told her that Eddie wanted to be like his older cousin, Philip, who was an athlete with a very strong hand shake, among other things.

"That's amazing," Dane said, as if she was really impressed. She was more impressed with his deep dimples and ruffled dark brown hair. He looked very much like a cherub and he was way too cute in his little black suit, which was complete with a vest and dark red tie.

"You're really tall," Sabrina commented with awe in her voice, staring up at Dane.

The musician shrugged and smiled a bit, not too sure what else to do. She ran her hair through her unruly ebony hair and glanced off to the side. Nicole smiled because her lover seemed shy. She could not help wrapping her arms around Dane's arm.

"Excuse me, guys. I want to introduce Danny to Grandma and Papa," Nicole explained to her young cousins.

"Okay," the pair agreed and charged off.

"Just to warn you, they're going to bug you later. I'm surprised they didn't have their little sidekick with them. Wayne is adorable, but he's probably sleeping. He takes a million naps during the day. It drives my aunt Katrina insane," Nicole informed her lover.

Dane nodded for lack of a better thing to do. Mentally, she was matching the names with things that Nicole already told her. Wayne was the youngest of the cousins, coming in at four years old. Nicole suspected that he was a vampire from the way her aunt spoke about his sleeping habits; Dane had laughed long and hard when Nicole told her that because she just pictured a tiny four-year-old with fangs.

Katrina was Nicole's youngest aunt and Kate's baby sister. Dane was not too stunned to find out that Nicole and her aunt were very close in age. Katrina was in her early thirties and the three younger children were hers. She recollected that Nicole said Katrina was in advertising, but she doubted that would come up in a conversation, so she tried to think of some other relevant information. Dane recalled that Katrina was married, but she could not remember the husband's name. Shaking it off, she figured it was not a big deal since she was about to meet him anyway.

It did not even register to Dane's mind that Nicole was leading her deeper into the house. It was a straight run from the front door to where they needed to go. Sounds of conversation floated through the house, but it seemed like garbled noise to Dane. Things only got worse when they got to the kitchen and she spotted an elderly woman sitting at a table in the middle of the room. She knew that was Nicole's grandmother and-worse still-she appeared to be speaking to one of Nicole's aunts.

Dane anxiously tugged at the guitar strapped across her back while her eyes seemed to scan the room as if she was seeking an escape route. Nicole took hold of her arm and continued to lead her. Before Dane could process the level of fear that she was feeling, she standing in front of the two women.

"Hi, Grandma. Hi, Auntie," Nicole said, leaning down to give her grandmother a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She then did the same with her aunt.

"Hey, sweet-pea, glad you could make it," her grandmother said with a smile. Dane had expected an accent for some reason, even though Nicole explained that her grandparents both lacked accents. In fact, her grandparents did not even speak Spanish, despite their Puerto-Rican ancestry. Nicole joked that her grandparents ancestors were probably rolling over in their graves because her grandparents were Puerto-Rican by blood and that was about it.

"You know I wouldn't miss it for the world. Last year was a fluke, I assure you," Nicole replied. Last year was more like turmoil and she just could not bring herself to show up last year with Tyler on her arm. She knew that he would have ruined the gathering and the holiday for everyone.

Her grandmother smiled more and patted Nicole's arm. "I know you were under a lot of stress. Now, who is this young lady with you?" the elderly woman inquired, eyeing Dane.

The guitarist resisted the urge to gulp when twin sets of brown eyes turned to her. She wanted to study her feet or find an interesting tile, but she knew that would not help her. She needed to appear strong and confident, even though she was so nervous that she would not be surprised if her teeth started chattering. Her hand was trembling, aching to go through her hair, but she managed to keep it at her side and ready for when she had to shake hands.

"Grandma, Aunt Kimber, I would like you to meet my girlfriend, Danny Wolfe," Nicole introduced them with a proud smile on her face. "Danny, this is my grandmother, Alicia Torrez and my aunt Kimber Johnson."

"Pleased to meet you. Nick has told me so much about you both," Dane said, shaking both women's hands. She hoped it did not sound like she rehearsed those lines, even though she had done just that. Mentally, she patted herself on the back for not stammering or messing it up, though.

"Nice to meet you too, Danny. We've heard a little about you too," Kimber commented, an amused smirk on her face.

And that made Danny gulp. She had a deep inkling that they heard about her more from Kate than from Nicole. Looking at them, she could almost see Kate looking back at her, looking down on her. In fact, Dane could see the strong resemblance between Kate, her sister, and her mother. The brown eyes, the similar facial structures, and full lips matched up almost perfectly between the three women. Kimber's hair was longer and appeared more of a dark brown than a black like Kate's hair. Alicia might have had black hair, but it was all white now.

Danny hoped that the resemblance was only skin deep. Despite the fact that Nicole had tried to assure her everything would be fine, seeing that everyone looked like Kate just made her feel a sense of dread. Not only did they all look alike, but their names were similar, so in her nervous mind that meant they probably all thought alike. Great, now one side of her whole family is going to hate my guts.

"Good things I hope," Dane muttered, sincere in that.

"Some," Alicia replied, glancing at her granddaughter. "Make sure you introduce her to Papa quickly, okay, Nikki?" she instructed Nicole, patting her on the arm again.

"I was going to. I just wanted her to meet you first," Nicole answered.

"Okay, but you know that old man will complain if he thinks you've forgotten him," Alicia commented with an amused smile. She then turned her attention back to Danny, who was looking down and off to the side because she was not sure what else to do. The older woman laughed a little. "You've certainly picked yourself a pretty one, sweet-pea," she remarked, making her granddaughter blush.

"Grandma!" Nicole pretended to huff, glaring at the elderly woman.

Dane was a bit surprised by that. She did not expect Alicia to be so comfortable with Nicole being in a same-sex relationship. Alicia seemed totally fine with everything; she had not even blinked when Nicole said the word "girlfriend." She considered that Kate might have gotten her attitude about same-sex couples from her father then and she was about to find out.

"Come on, you. You don't want to hang around these two old ladies anyway," Nicole said to her lover, taking Dane by the hand and leading her out of the kitchen. They turned around, back in the direction that they came. Going into the living room, where an elderly man was sitting in an armchair and there were three other guys on the couch. They were focused on the television.

Nicole glanced over to see what they were watching. She was not surprised to see an old football game on TV. Her grandfather was a football fanatic and was grateful that two out of his three sons-in-law were the same. Raymond watched football, but not to the same degree as the others.

"Papa, could you pause that for a second?" Nicole requested in a sweet tone.

"What?" the elderly man said and then he turned to see Nicole standing before him. A grin spread across his face. "Nikki! I'm so happy to see you!"

Nicole's grandfather slowly climbed to his feet and wrapped Nicole into a tight embrace. Dane took a moment to examine the old guy. She doubted that he was ever tall, but since he was in his seventies now, he was probably a bit smaller than he was in his heyday. Like his wife, he had a head of white hair, but his was much shorter than hers. His tan skin was darker than his wife's too. His dark brown eyes glanced her way, but Dane did not feel as nervous as she did before.

"Who's this with you, Nikki girl?" her grandfather inquired.

"Papa, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Danny Wolfe," Nicole replied. "Danny, this is my grandfather Benito Torrez."

"Nice to meet you, sir," Dane said, holding out of her hand to shake his. He had a strong grip and hurt her hand a little when he shook it. She suspected that was done on purpose if the glint in his eyes meant anything. Okay, so maybe Kathleen does get her attitude from him...or he could've just been warning me that he could break my head if I piss him off.

"And these guys are my uncles," Nicole said, motioning to her aunts husbands. "This is Jarred. He's Kimber's husband," she motioned to a muscular, well-dressed, middle-aged black man. He leaned over and shook Dane's hand. Nicole then motioned to the man next to Jarred. "This is Eduardo. He's Katrina's husband," she said. The Hispanic male with very messy, short black hair and wearing a midnight blue suit leaned over next to shake Dane's hand. Nicole then turned her attention to the last one. "And this is my cousin, Philip. He's Jarred and Kimber's son," she said, motioning to the teenager.

"Nice to meet you," Dane informed all three men, shaking Philip's hand. He was just as well dressed as the other men, wearing a fine tan suit. Dane guessed that the family took Easter dinner seriously.

"Philip's got an older sister, Jodie, somewhere around here," Nicole added, glancing around in case she spotted the other teenager.

"Probably in the back, trying to get Papa's ancient computer running again," Philip commented, nodding in the direction of their grandfather's office.

Nicole chuckled a bit and pulled Danny away to introduce her to Jodie. The teenage girl did not seem too interested in meeting Nicole's lover and she hardly turned her attention away from the old computer that she was inspecting. Dane did not take it personally as Nicole warned her that Jodie tended to be a bit antisocial, especially compared to the rest of their family.

With all of the introductions made, Nicole left Danny to fend for herself. Dane did not mind, thinking that she might be able ease her way into things and carefully feel the family out without making a complete jackass out of herself. Besides, she would rather Nicole enjoy her family instead of trying to babysit her. She made her way back to the living room, figuring watching television with the guys would be easier than socializing with the women. Football was not really her cup of tea, but she assumed it would be better than gossiping in the kitchen, where they probably wanted to talk about her anyway. Besides, when Kate finally arrived, Dane was sure that the last place the powerful lawyer would be was watching a football game from twenty years ago.

Dane did not socialize with the guys, mostly because she did not know enough about football to chime in the conversation they already had going on. Her saving grace came in the form of Sabrina and Eddie. They trotted over to her, wanting to know what was in the pack that she was carrying. Dane was all too happy to show them her guitar. Once they saw it, of course they wanted to know if she could play it.

"I play a little," Danny answered modestly.

"Play it, play it!" Eddie commanded her with an eager grin.

Danny ran her hand through her hair, not sure if she should. It could be seen as a disruption to game time. Glancing over at the adult men in the room, she could tell that they were a little curious about her playing too. She played a short melody, earning looks of awe from her small audience. After the short concert, Eddie and Sabrina decided that Danny was "cool" and she was going to hang out with them for the day. They took her by the wrist and pulled her off with them. No one stopped them and Danny did not resist.

Nicole laughed some when she noticed that Danny was the "hostage" of her two younger cousins. She did not move to help Danny, especially since the musician did not seem bothered by them. The children dragged Dane out into the backyard, wanting her to see their puppy. They had a small golden retriever puppy, who was overly friendly, but Danny did not mind all of the puppy kisses that she was given.

Laughter from the backyard filtered into the house, so every now and then an adult had to go look outside. What they usually saw were the kids and the dog chasing Danny, who did not seem to be trying hard to get away. Nicole smiled from the sight whenever she glanced in the backyard.

When Kate and Raymond arrived, the couple was scolded by Alicia for being late. They cried work as their defense, but she would hear none of that. When the matriarch was done reprimanding the late couple, the kids were called in, so that they could all do a family tradition. Everyone was expected to paint Easter eggs. They gathered in the kitchen and Dane tried to move close to Nicole, but Eddie and Sabrina were not ready to let go of their new friend.

"Come down here with us!" Eddie ordered while Sabrina yanked Danny down to the end of the table next to their mother.

"Guys, don't pull on Danny like that," Katrina gently scolded her children. There was a warning look in her warm, chocolate eyes. She, like her other sisters, was a short brunette. They all seemed like clones of Alicia.

Dane shot the mother a grateful smile, even though she did not mind the overzealous children. She just wanted to show that she appreciated the effort from Katrina, whom she noticed had been watching her closely all day. She knew it was because she was hanging out with Katrina's children, so she understood. She was thankful that the concerned mother had not said anything to her, silently giving her a chance.

"Okay, guys, I need you to take it easy on me. I've never made Easter eggs before," Dane informed her two, young companions. That news not only shocked the children, but the adults too. Nicole was the only one that was not surprised that her lover had never made Easter eggs. She doubted that Danny had much of a childhood at all.

"You never made 'em before?" Sabrina asked as if she thought that was totally and utterly impossible. Her large, sienna eyes were mixed with disbelief and sorrow.

"No, I never did," Danny answered.

"You ever been on an Easter egg hunt?" Eddie asked.

"I've seen 'em before," Danny replied. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Nicole looking at her. She knew that she was going to have to explain that one later. A hand went through her short sable locks and then she turned her attention back to the children.

"We'll show you how, Danny!" Sabrina promised.

That declaration got a large grin from the musician. "Thank you."

Making Easter eggs proved to be quite an enjoyable experience. Nicole had to help Danny a little because Eddie and Sabrina were not the best of teachers; not to mention they were having trouble with their own eggs. After everyone was done, they went around and showed what they had done to the eggs. Dane was a little surprised that even Kate and Raymond participated and enjoyed the activity. They were even proud to display their creations.

"My Honest Abe egg," Raymond remarked with a laugh, showing his egg that looked like Abraham Lincoln...if you squinted...and had an eye infection...and did not know what the sixteenth president looked like. He would readily admit that after many years of participating in the family egg painting tradition, he never got any better, but it was fine.

"I think Danny's egg looks more like Honest Abe than yours," Jarred remarked, nodding toward Dane's creation. All attention turned to her.

"Dad, are you blind? That's not Lincoln," Philip commented, motioning to the egg in Danny's hands.

"Then who is it?" Kimber inquired, siding with her husband.

"A blind man could tell that's only one of the rock gods-Slash," Philip declared.

Dane shot the young man an impressed look. "It is Slash!" she said with a smile. She guessed that she did pretty good for her first time if at least one person knew who the egg was.

That moment helped Dane get to know Philip because after that, they started talking about rock music. He was very interested in rock music and confessed to her that he was trying to learn the guitar. He had wanted to ask her for advice when she was playing before, but the kids were occupying her time then. Danny walked off to talk to him and Jarred followed, curious as to how much lessons would cost and things like that.

"What do you think of her so far, Grandma?" Nicole asked Alicia once Dane was away from them. She had already checked with her grandmother a couple of times that day on Alicia's opinion of her sweetheart, but she just wanted to make sure everything remained positive.

"She seems very nice. Polite, trying to get along with everyone. It was great that she jumped right in on the egg painting, even though she's never done it before. You clearly like her and she clearly likes you, which is a plus," Alicia commented.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Nicole inquired, forehead wrinkled a bit in confusion.

"Your grandmother means that in the past when you've brought partners here, you seemed into them, but they did not seem so into you," Kimber explained.

"Danny does seem very interested in you and in your family, which is also good. She's also happy to mingle with the children. In the past, your partners act like they're too good for the kids. Sometimes, they acted like they were too good for us altogether," Alicia added.

Nicole nodded and smiled. "Danny was surprised that you lived in this type of house, but not in a negative way like others have been. She's not as materialistic as the people I've been with before."

"She even jumped right into our little tradition, which isn't something many of your partners have done in the past, Nikki. I can't believe she's never painted Easter eggs," Katrina commented, shaking her head incredulously.

Nicole sighed a bit. "Danny's had a very difficult life, but she's sweet and kind and understanding."

"We also hear she's the spawn of Satan, who has ruined your life," Kimber said with a light laugh, looking off in the direction that her elder sister walked off not too long ago.

"Mommy's never going to forgive Danny for talking me into going back to school," Nicole said, shaking her head.

"How is school?" her grandmother asked with great interest in her voice. Her two daughters nodded, also interested in the new chapter in Nikki's life.

A spark went through green eyes and a bright, satisfied grin settled onto Nicole's face. "I love it! I have a month to go before I'm finished with my first semester. I love the labs and the classes. The only thing that bothers me is that it takes away from my time with Danny, but she's okay with it. She just keeps pushing me to stay the course and get my degree."

"Sounds like a keeper to me," Alicia stated with a smile.

"Me too, but don't tell Mommy that," Nicole said with a grin.

"Don't tell me what?" Kate asked, coming back into the kitchen after having left to use the bathroom.

"We think Nikki should just marry Danny and call it a day," Kimber proclaimed, teasing her older sister.

Kate frowned. "Nikki will be doing nothing of the sort. Danny is just a passing fancy, isn't she?" she seriously demanded, eyeing her daughter.

"No, ma'am," Nicole replied, continuing to grin. "I told you, Mommy, Danny is the love of my life. You really should get use to her being around."

"Katie, you should let Nikki live her life. Besides, Danny is very different from anyone else Nikki has ever brought over here. She fits in and doesn't act snobbish like most of Nikki's partners. Think about giving Danny a chance," Alicia urged her eldest daughter.

"I'm not giving her a chance, Mom. She's out to ruin Nikki's life and Nikki is all too happy to let her. As her mother, I have to make sure that Nikki does the right thing and lives her life as best she can," Kate argued.

"That's a lot of bull," Kimber chimed in and Katrina nodded.

"You're just trying to control Nikki. You're always trying to do that. You always want things to go your way and if they don't then everyone else on the planet is wrong and you think you're right. Nikki's a grown woman, Kate. Leave her alone and let her make her own decisions. Besides, Danny is by far the best girlfriend or boyfriend we've met from Nikki and we haven't even been around her that long," Katrina stated soundly.

"You three don't know Danny, so don't try to defend her," Kate replied sharply.

"Can we not argue about this? It's been so long since we've all been together. Let's just enjoy each other and save the arguing for when it's been less than a whole year since we've last seen each other," Nicole requested.

The older women all agreed with that, so there was no more discussing Danny...at least while Kate was around. The rest of the day went smoothly and they sat down for a huge family dinner in the evening. Nicole and Dane were not used to eating so early, but that did not stop them from pulling up to the table like everyone else.

"All right, let's say grace and then dig in," Benito declared with a smile.

Dane watched as the family all joined hands. She copied them, taking Nicole's hand in hers and also Sabrina's hand since the child was sitting next to her. Dane was a bit surprised that the family seriously said grace. Nicole never seemed particularly religious and neither did Kate, so this was the first time that she saw a hint of religion from them. It then occurred to her that Nicole's family-at least her mother's side-was Catholic. Now, some of the stories Nicole told her about her childhood made sense, especially stories about her getting in trouble at church.

Dinner was full of conversation with everyone speaking, even the youngest among them-Wayne. The toddler actually tried to dominate the conversation, which everyone seemed to think was cute-Dane included. But, in between Wayne's four-year-old rambling, Danny was able to learn more about the family and the family was able to learn more about Danny. The best thing about it was that Nicole could tell her lover was having a good time and she could also tell that her family genuinely liked Dane.

It was a first for Nicole's whole family to all like someone that she brought to a family function. Usually, only a particular group in her family liked someone she brought-if anyone liked the person at all anyway. Perhaps her uncles would like her partner, then her aunts would like another partner, and on rare occasions her grandparents might like one. The children never liked her lovers and tended to complain before Nicole and her lover were even gone. But, this time, everyone seemed to find something that they enjoyed about Danny. At the end of the night, her grandmother and grandfather ordered her to keep Danny happy because "that one is a keeper."

"I'm so glad you like her, Grandma and Papa," Nicole said as she was hugging them, trying to leave. It seemed that she was trying to leave by herself because Danny was lost in the backyard with the kids.

"She is a doll, just like you promised," Alicia replied.

"She could stand to learn a bit more about football, but I'll teach her the ropes," Benito remarked with a small smile.

"I'd appreciate that, Papa. My poor baby has had very bad family experiences, so I know she's happy that everyone here accepted her. So, you hold those football lessons for one of the family Sunday dinners because we will be back," Nicole promised.

"You might never leave. I think Eddie and Sabrina have adopted your girlfriend," Alicia joked.

Nicole tried to look out into the backyard, figuring that Danny was out there with the kids and the dog again. She was surprised to find out that she was wrong. Dane came walking down the stairs with Philip and Jarred, explaining how she ended up learning other instruments aside from the guitar.

"Hey, love, I'm sorry to cut your conversation short, but we need to get going," Nicole informed her girlfriend.

"Oh," Danny said, glancing at Nicole and then turning her attention back to the two guys. "Guess I'm being abducted. I hope I can talk to you guys again. If you're serious about the guitar lessons, I can give them to Philip or I can get you in touch with a lot of people that will, so you're not paying for super expensive lessons," she explained to them.

"All right," Jarred agreed. "Me and Philip will talk it over and get back to you. You're staying with Nicole, right?"

"Yup and most days you'll find me at home, no matter what time you call. My lessons schedule isn't really a schedule," Dane explained.

Jarred nodded. "Okay. Well, Danny, it was great to meet you. You make sure you take care of Nicole."

"Don't worry. I've got that all taken care of," Danny replied, shaking his hand. She then turned her attention to Nicole. "Just let me go say bye to Eddie, Sabrina, Wayne, and the puppy, okay?"

Nicole smiled and nodded. Dane shot off as best she could, limping quite a bit because of her lame right leg. The others noticed the limp and wondered if it was polite to ask about it. Well, most of them wondered.

"Hey, Nicole, what happened to Danny's leg? Why does she limp like that?" Philip inquired.

"A couple of years ago, she was involved in a horrible accident," Nicole answered. She figured that would cover things without anyone asking for details.

"Is that why her hand is messed up too?" Philip asked, earning a glare from his father.

"Yes. Did you notice it when she was playing the guitar?" Nicole inquired curiously.

"Yeah, and she said she can't play too long because of her hand. Plus, when she was making her Slash egg, I could see her hand shaking," the teen explained.

"Yes, sir, it was all a part of the same accident," Nicole answered.

She did not have to go into detail as Danny returned and they were able to live after some very long goodbyes. The couple left grinning, very happy with the way the evening had gone. Nicole felt confident and comfortable with keeping Danny around for a very long time, glad it would not cause any friction with her family. Danny was just glad to feel accepted.

"Nick," Dane said.

"Hmm, baby?" Nicole asked, keeping her eyes on the road as she drove.

Danny took her girlfriend's hand. "You were right. I had a great time and I'm glad I went. I like your family a lot and I had a lot of fun with all of them. I just have one question."

"Which is?"

"How the hell is your mom related to them? Is she adopted?" Dane asked with a giant grin. This earned her a laugh from Nicole.

The day went much better than expected for both of them. They hoped that was a good sign of things to come.


2: Two steps forward...

Night blanketed outside and the bedroom of Nicole and Danny was covered in a warm darkness. The couple was lying in bed, snuggled together as they tended to be when reclining. Nicole claimed that she wanted to go to sleep since she had work in the morning, but her fingers were telling a different story. She was tracing lines around the tattoos of paw prints that were on Dane's torso. Danny was fighting down a giggle because the attention tickled a little.

"Chem, for someone that has work in the morning, you're certainly acting like you don't want to get any sleep at all tonight," Dane commented, slowly dragging her knuckles down Nicole's bare arm and knowingly driving the redhead crazy.

"I rather spend time with you than sleep any day," Nicole replied with a small, delighted smile.

"I like the way you think," Danny said with a laugh.

"I'm serious, baby," the lawyer stated, pushing herself closer to Danny. A deep exhale escaped the musician.

Dane smiled broadly. "You mean you're not sick of me after a whole year?"

"Never that, babe. You drive me crazy sometimes for sure, but more often than not, I enjoy every single moment with you. I love you so much," Nicole declared.

"I love you too, Nick," Dane said.

The proclamations of love led to deep, passionate kissing and heavy petting, but nothing more. Nicole did have work in the morning and Dane was not going to be responsible for taking sleep from her busy lover. The little activity was enough for Nicole and she fell asleep with a smile on her face. Danny stayed awake for a little bit longer, reflecting on the day.

Smiling, she thought about meeting Nicole's family. They were normal, as Nicole promised. She liked them quite a bit. They had even liked her. She hoped that gained her a lot of points in the girlfriend area and helped ensure that she would be the partner that Nicole spent the rest of her life with. It would be great to have nice in-laws and just about the most wonderful woman in the world as her spouse.

Nicole opened her world to Danny and shared it with her wholeheartedly. That was something that touched Dane and blew her mind each time it happened, which was what kept her awake at night after any such events. The first time that Nicole did this was when she had her parents over to meet Danny.

Dane had never met anyone's parents before, not as a girlfriend anyway. She had been very nervous, but lived through the night, even with Kathleen harping on her for no reason other than sheer and intense dislike. After that, Nicole introduced Dane to her best friends, Mina and Clara. They were coworkers as well as friends. They liked her much more than Nicole's mother did, which was not very hard to do. Dane was sure that rabid dogs liked her more than Kathleen did. Mina and Clara often told Nicole to bring Danny with her whenever they were hanging out. Dane enjoyed their company, finding them to be very amicable and fun-loving. They made sure to include her whenever she was around, letting her know that they approved of her being with their friend.

Danny had not expected to like them as much as she did or for them to like her as much as they did. For one, it bothered Dane that Mina used to take advantage of Nicole at work, like some of their other coworkers. But, Mina had cut down on that when it was brought to her attention and she also tried to shield Nicole from people at work that tried to use her. It helped that when Danny met Mina, one of the first things that Mina did was thank her for getting Nicole to stand up for herself. From there, Mina easily offered her friendship and praised Danny whenever she thought the former rocker did something good for Nicole. Danny liked Mina a lot and considered her somewhat of a friend rather than thinking of her strictly as Nicole's friend.

Clara was just as easy to get along with. Danny did not have anything to hold against Clara, who as far as she knew was just a very supportive friend that Nicole had. Danny immediately noted that Clara had a nurturing sort of nature to her, which was fine. Clara liked offering advice and from what Dane could tell it tended to be good advice. Clara liked Dane enough to tease Nicole about showing off her girlfriend.

Nicole seemed to take the teasing to heart because she took Dane with her to a couple of firm parties. Dane recognized that as a large step as far as relationships went. Nicole was showing the world-her world-that Danny was a part of her life and thus a part of her world. Dane started to wonder if she should do the same.

"I don't have much of a world to share. Nick deserves better than coming down to some drug-filled club that I frequent just because it has good fucking music," Dane huffed quietly into the night.

Giving Nicole a gentle squeeze, Dane wondered if there was anything about her life worth sharing with her girlfriend. She did not have much of a life outside of Nicole and she liked it that way. She liked waking up early to get breakfast going, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, and cooking dinner. She liked being domestic. She doubted that anyone from her old life would ever understand that.

Plus, she did not want to subject Nicole to the people that she used to know. Many of them were degenerates or low-lifes, just like she used to be. She had no doubt that they would offend her beloved. Still, she figured that she needed to be more open with her lover, to show Nicole that she wanted Nicole to be a part of her world as well.

"I guess I should try it out. See if she likes it or not," Dane decided.

With that in mind, she felt safe to go to sleep. Leaning down, she kissed the top of Nicole's head and then she closed her eyes. Sleep came easily.

The next morning was business as usual for the couple. Dane was up first and breakfast was made by the time Nicole came downstairs in her work clothing. They sat down for breakfast at the table in the kitchen.

"Hey," Dane said out of the blue. For all intents and purposes, she was going to propose that they go out next weekend. Now, usually, she never made such suggestions, but she thought it would be a good time.

"Yes?" Nicole asked, looking at her lover.

Suddenly, Dane felt shy and went with something else. "What do you think about getting a dog?" she inquired. Fuck, why did I say that?! Why else? You're a chicken!

Nicole blinked hard. "I haven't thought of it at all. You had that much fun with Puppy?" she asked. Yes, her cousins had named their dog "Puppy." She suspected the name would change when the pup grew a bit more, but she hoped the name was not changed to "Dog."

"I did. I like dogs, if you haven't noticed," Danny remarked with a smile while silently cursing herself for chickening out. She could not believe that she honestly could not ask Nicole out just because it was not something that she generally did. She guessed that she did not want to make the suggestion out of fear that she might be expected to go out more often. Going out was no longer her thing, but she knew that she would not be able to turn Nicole down if the redhead wanted to go out on more dates.

"No, I think I missed that one, Dane," Nicole teased. "But, as I said with the dog, I hadn't thought about it at all."

"You never wanted a dog as a kid?" the younger woman inquired, now actually interested in conversation. She supposed that she thought it was weird that her lover never thought about having a dog.

"Well, of course. What child doesn't? My parents never gave in to the desire because they didn't have the time to take care of a dog."

"You could've done that."

Nicole laughed and shook her head to disagree. "I was a child, Danny. I couldn't walk a dog on my own. I wouldn't have been able to feed the dog on my own. What about trips to the vet? I couldn't do that and my parents certainly were too busy to do it. I was lucky that they made so much time for me."

Dane nodded. "I guess I get that."

"Do you want a dog?" Nicole asked curiously.

The musician shrugged. "I'm not sure. I had fun with the puppy and I had always wanted a dog before. I figured I was never responsible enough for one. I was sure after I got out of my parents' house, I would get one, but I quickly realized that I could barely take care of myself, so I damn sure couldn't take care of a dog. I wasn't mature enough and I doubted that I'd care about a dog much anyway."

Nicole nodded to show that she understood, but she did not add to the conversation. She needed to get moving or she would be late and there would be hell to pay. With breakfast done, Dane sent her lover on her way after a passionate goodbye kiss.

"Love you," Nicole said on her way out the door.

"Love you too," Dane replied.

Once the younger woman was alone, she flopped down onto the sofa and sighed. She mentally scolded herself for being a coward. She then reminded herself that she would get nowhere with Nicole by running away. In fact, the last time that she had run away, she had nearly ruined the best thing in her life.

"Okay, no more running away. Tonight I'm going to talk to her about going out on Saturday. We could hit a few of the clubs and then just go home if she doesn't like it. If she does like it, then we can go some other places. There are plenty of places to take her without having to worry about really crazy shit happening and we should just go," Dane ordered herself, speaking aloud as if that was going to make it do.

With that decided, Dane got up to go about her usual day. She did the dishes and then had to go see her only client for the day. After that, she went home and did the laundry. Making her usual noontime phone call to Nicole, they spoke for almost all of Nicole's lunchtime. Once Nicole had to get back to work, Dane bid her farewell and then ended up falling asleep on the couch.

When Dane woke up, her head was in Nicole's lap. Nicole was quietly reading a packet for school. Dane snuggled into Nicole's stomach to show that she was awake.

"Welcome back to the land of the living, Big Dog," Nicole remarked, caressing her lover's head.

"Hey, Chem. When did you get in?" Dane inquired, letting loose a low yawn right after the question.

"Not too long ago."

Dane chuckled as she sat up and gave Nicole an adoring kiss. When the show of affection was done, the ebony-haired woman returned to her resting place, sighing as she settled in. Nicole smiled and went back to rubbing Dane's head while reading. They stayed like that until Dane got up to make dinner. Over the evening meal, Dane steeled herself and started the conversation that she meant to have that morning.

"So...I was thinking we could go out on Saturday..." the guitarist commented, throwing it out there as if it was no big deal.

Nicole blinked hard in surprise and turned her attention completely to her girlfriend. "You want to go out?" she asked in disbelief. Sometimes, it took all sorts of begging and promises of sexual favors to get Danny to go out. Most of the time, she was aware that Danny was just teasing, but sometimes she was certain that Danny just did not want to go out. Danny certainly never submitted plans to go out.

"Yes, I want to go out."

"Where?" Nicole inquired, leaning forward with interest.

Dane waved off the question. "A surprise." Until she figured out which club would be the safest to introduce Nicole to her former life...that she still indulged in every now and then. She just could not stay away from the music. She did not desire to take Nicole somewhere that might imply her few ventures out were deprived or dangerous, even though some of the clubs that she went to were rather wild.

"All right. Just tell me what to wear," the lawyer replied with a small smile.

"Doesn't matter."

Nicole wanted to say something, but she let it go. She decided to just go with the flow and revel in the idea that Danny was actually taking her out on a date. A smile did not leave her face as she realized that Danny was taking her on a date instead of the other way around.


Saturday came all too quickly for Dane. While Nicole went to get ready for their night out, Dane had to talk herself into staying the course. She needed to convince herself that letting Nicole in was not going to frighten Nicole away. We're both in this for the long haul. She loves me and I love her and I need to do this to show her that she's part of my world like I'm part of hers.

Despite those thoughts, Dane continued pacing the living room as best she could, not thinking about her leg or knee at all. Her usual chain that hung from her shorts clanged against her thigh as she moved. The slight noise did not hit her ears as she tried to calm down and convince herself that everything was going to be all right. It's not like I do anything wrong. It's just about the music. It's not about the scene and Nick knows that.

"Big Dog, you trying to wear a path in the floor?" Nicole asked with an impish smirk from the entrance of the living room.

Dane whipped around and focused on her girlfriend. Grey eyes went wide when they caught sight of Nicole. Oh, god, she's wearing a dress! Look at those legs. Damn it, everybody's gonna be looking at those legs! And her breasts! They're begging to be looked at and touched! Why does that dress dip so low?!

"Ready to go?" Nicole asked.

"You sure you wanna wear that?" Dane inquired, as if she did not even hear the question.

Emerald eyes glanced down, taking in the sight of the black dress. Nicole did not see anything wrong with it. In fact, she thought that she looked damn sexy. She wanted to look sexy for Danny.

"Is there something wrong with it?" Nicole asked curiously. Maybe she was overdressed, she thought. Dane was wearing her usual clothing of dark jean shorts and a tee-shirt.

For a second, Danny considered saying that there was something wrong with it. The something was that everyone in the club would be staring at her girlfriend! But, then she noticed the sorrowful expression in emerald eyes. Walking over to Nicole, she embraced her. Nicole's shoes put her at almost the same height as her tall lover.

"No, there's nothing wrong with it. Just got a little worried because I know everyone's going to be checking you out later on," Dane answered honestly.

"Well, they can look all they want, but at the end of the night, guess who gets to take me out of this dress?" Nicole commented with an almost wicked smile that made her lover's knees feel weak.

Dane grinned, going so far as to point to herself. "Me?"

"Yes, you, silly pup. But, you only get to take me out of it if you show me a very good time," Nicole teased.

"That's damn good incentive to show you a good time. Warning, though, this is going to involve lots of music."

A laughing smile danced across her face. "I would expect nothing less of you, Danny. You do know that most of the time I expect you to just break into song for no reason. If you were cut, I'm sure musical notes would pour out."

Dane let loose a monster grin that Nicole was used to seeing now. It was an expression that Dane was unaware she was capable of until she came to live with Nicole. In fact, the expression generally only came out when it was directed at Nicole. The redhead had done so much for her, she silently realized. And because of that, she owed Nicole everything.

The couple went to the car and Nicole drove into the city with Danny giving her directions. Danny figured that they would start off small, so she directed Nicole to a club called Silversmith's. Danny paid the cover and placed an arm around Nicole's waist, leading her into the club.

"I used to play here a lot," Dane explained, scanning the smokey area for a free table. There was one in a corner, which was fine by her.

"So, you really like this place?" Nicole asked curiously as Dane pulled out a chair for her.

"Sure did. Still do. Guys here really know music and they really appreciate good music. It's always about the music here. I actually thought of this place as a little haven for a while," Danny replied.

Green eyes sparkled with interest. "A haven?"

"I came here by myself, not with my band or anything. I used to play by myself. It wasn't about women falling in my lap or people trying to party with me. It was just music. Here, I could feel the music, you know?"

Nicole smiled, mostly because she really did not know. She knew that music was her lover's passion and her escape. Music was everything to Dane and the club that they were in seemed to be a big part of that music. She did not understand the experience that Danny went through when it came to music, but she respected it. She suspected that music for Danny was similar to what chemistry was to her.

"So, do you still come here often?" the redhead asked.

"This is usually the place I end up when I can get away from Crow. She likes busier, louder places with lots of people, among other things," Dane answered.

Nicole nodded, figuring that sounded more like Crow. Crow was Dane's friend, even though it took Dane a while to recognize her as such. Right now in her life, Danny might concede that Crow was her best friend, if she did not count Nicole. Crow was often the one person aside from Nicole who could drag Dane out of the house, but it took a lot of patience, guilt-tripping, and sometimes even blackmail. More often than not, Dane had fun once she made it out of the house, but it just took a lot to get her there. Crow put up with it because she liked being around Dane and she thought that Dane's presence made things much more fun.

"I like this," Nicole said, tapping to the rhythm of the smooth jazz coming from the band on stage.

"Jazz freak," Danny teased with a smile.

"It's your own fault. You should've just left me to think that classical was the only form of music on the planet."

"Can't do that. Wouldn't've been able to bring you here if I did. I like that you like the music." In truth, she loved it whenever anyone enjoyed good music, but it hit her even more so whenever Nicole savored good music. It made her feel all the more closer to her girlfriend.

Nicole chuckled a bit. Dane ordered them a couple of drinks, just soda for both. After all, Nicole had to drive and Dane was done with drinking. They enjoyed the music for over an hour before Danny decided to try another club since Nicole seemed so interested.

"Where are we going now?" Nicole asked, slipping her jacket back on as they came out into the cool night air.

"Another surprise. Just go with the flow, please, baby," Dane requested with a smile.

"How can I say no to a face like that? Besides, I'm enjoying myself so far. But, you'll be in trouble the moment I stop having fun," Nicole teased, putting on a mock angry face and shaking her index finger at her lover.

Dane just let loose a lop-sided grin, smoothly sliding her arm around Nicole's waist. The couple wandered down the street until they came to a long line. Dane eyed the line for a moment, as if taking the length into consideration, and then walked right to the front. Nicole was going to object to skipping the line, but she remembered that she was in Dane's element. She trusted that Danny knew what she was doing.

"Hey, Ares!" Dane greeted the huge man at the door.

"Dane!" the man let loose the most girly squeal that Nicole had ever heard and she almost could not believe her ears. Surely the sound did not come from such a colossus.

"Hey!" Dane put her hand out as the man was about to sweep her up into a crushing hug. "No inappropriate touching tonight, buddy. Got my girlfriend with me and I don't want her to kick our butts," she remarked, motioning to Nicole.

"Girlfriend?" Ares echoed in a puzzled tone with an expression to match. His expression did not clear up when he laid eyes on Nicole. She certainly did not look like Dane's type, he thought. "Uh...nice to meet you," he said in an unsure manner, reaching out to shake her hand.

"Nice to meet you too," Nicole replied with grace as she took a moment to shake his hand. She noticed his bewilderment, but she did not mention it. She already aware that people her lover knew seemed to think that she was some kind of anomaly in Danny's life. Such opinions did not mean anything to her as long as Danny continued to enjoy her company and love her.

"Dane, you certainly are moving up in the world, eh?" Ares teased.

"Shut up, you big queen, and let us in," Dane huffed, even though she knew that she should have expected the taunting.

Ares pouted a little, as if his feelings were hurt. Dane ignored him and led Nicole into club, checking Nicole's jacket at the front. The music was thumping and Nicole understood immediately what her lover liked about the place. The bass from the live rock band assaulted her system and hummed through her body. It unsettled her a bit, but glancing at Danny, she could tell the taller woman was completely immersed in her element.

"Want anything to drink or something?" Dane asked, leaning down to shout in her girlfriend's ear.

Nicole shivered because of how close the musician was to her. For a few seconds, she just got lost in that feeling and then she recalled that Danny asked her a question. Shaking her head, she declined the drink.

"Is it all right to dance?" Nicole asked.

Dane grimaced. "You know how I am with dancing, Chem. I look like a monkey high on acid!"

The redhead giggled from the mental image, even though she knew it was close to the truth. "Please, Danny?" She then hit her lover with sad green eyes.

"That look should be against the law!" Dane complained with a forced frown, running her hand through her messy hair.

Nicole grinned and dragged her lover out to the dance floor. Reluctantly, Dane moved along with Nicole, but nowhere near as lively as the lawyer was. The redhead thought it was strange that someone like Danny, who was so passionate about music, had almost no coordination at all when it came to her own body on the dance floor. But, Dane tried her best to dance. She was never very graceful and that always came through when she tried to dance. Even if she stayed on beat and moved loosely, there was just something about her motions that were off. The thing that she found most strange about it was the fact that if she was alone, like moving on stage or something, she was fine, but when she was with another person, her inadequacies showed. As the curvy graduate student moved against Dane, the taller woman started to consider that she was definitely going to have to take her lover out more. She was also going to learn to move better to keep up with Nicole and take her out more often. Now, all she had to do was figure out who she knew that could and would teach her to dance without wanting something outrageous in return for the lessons.

"Lighten up, Danny," Nicole said, watching as a serious face overcame her girlfriend as they moved together.

"Huh? Trying to keep up," Dane admitted, her voice tense with concentration.

"Here, let me help," Nicole said, taking Danny's hand and placing it on her hip. She swayed close into her lover, who groaned and tried her best to continue moving. Even though, the guitarist really just wanted to sit down and let Nicole dance against her.

"Like this?" Danny actually asked, trying to move just like Nicole.

"Not bad. We might have to practice at home before I'm comfortable with letting you do this in public again," Nicole remarked with a teasing smile.

Dane laughed a bit before concentrating on the supple body pressed against her. They danced for a while without any trouble, but Dane could see complications brewing. Other people on the dance floor were watching them. Well, more was watching her very sexy girlfriend as if she was putting on a show just for them.

In the past, if Dane had been dancing with a girl-something that was extremely rare-and she had an audience, she would have just started feeling the girl up. She would have put on a real show to entertain the masses, but that was in the past with a girl that she would not have cared about. This was her girlfriend, the love of her life, and she really did not want to people checking out her girlfriend like they were watching a porn.

"Sit down?" Dane proposed, sounding out of breath. It was partially due to dancing, but mostly due to the fact that Nicole's body just felt so good against her and it was driving her mad.

"Already? Your leg hurt?" Nicole asked, reaching down to gently stroke her lover's knee.

Grey eyes glanced away. She loathed to admit that her leg did hurt a little. Beyond the fact that she was apparently not built for dancing, but her injury made it hard to just stay on her feet for long periods of time.

"Not that bad," the musician lied.

"Come on, baby. Let's find a table and sit down for a little while," the redhead suggested.

Dane just nodded and searched for a table, but nothing seemed to be open. She took Nicole by the hand and led her to the bar, which did have spots open. Exhaling, Dane settled on the bar stool. Nicole reached over and kneaded Dane's knee, hoping to soothe away any pain.

"Something to drink?" Dane asked, nodding toward the refreshments before them.

"Just some water," Nicole answered.

The taller woman waved at the bartender, who smiled coquettishly at her. Dane rolled her eyes and ordered the water. Nicole noticed the brief exchange, but did not say anything. When the bartender returned, handing Dane the water, her fingers lingered for a little too long in Nicole's opinion. Dane acted like it did not happen.

"Old girlfriend?" Nicole guessed as Danny opened the bottle of water and then handed it to her.

Dane gave her a look. "You know better than that. I never had a girlfriend until I started living with you. Weird, I've had three girlfriends in the past year, but none for the first twenty four years of my life."

"Well, I better be the last one, Big Dog."

"That is my intent," Dane commented with a grin. "But, no, she isn't an old girlfriend. Slept with her a few times, though."

"But, didn't you once say that pretty much made a woman your girlfriend back then?" Nicole asked, smiling a bit to show that she was teasing.

Dane chuckled a bit. "I plead the fifth, your honor."

The redhead laughed too. They quietly enjoyed the company and the music until someone wandered over. A young man openly flirted with Nicole, acting as if Danny was not even there. For a moment, jealousy and anger flared in Dane, but the gentle hand on her knee kept her from losing her temper at such disrespect. After all, Nicole knew who she was with, even if the guy did not.

"Excuse me, sir, but you're interrupting the conversation between myself and my girlfriend," Nicole informed him with a smile. Dane smiled too, loving how easily Nicole called her "girlfriend."

The young man turned and looked at Dane. For a second, it seemed like he was going to just dismiss her, but got the idea that she was somewhat of a big deal when a group of women came out of nowhere and flocked to her back. Their chatter and excitement over Dane's presence perplexed him, but he decided against challenging her.

Danny eyed the young man as he left and did not pay any attention to the women on her back. Nicole watched the women, saw how they tried to talk over each other, trying to get Danny's attention. Dane did not even look at them, even as they yanked on her, trying to get her to move in their direction, and practically hollered in her ear.

"Ladies, do you think you could leave? I'm with my girl," Dane informed them in a semi-annoyed tone, motioning to Nicole, so they knew just who she meant. Goddamn vultures.

"Since when do you have a girl, Dane?" one of the women asked with pure skepticism in her voice and in her eyes.

The former rocker pretended to think on it. "About seven months now," she answered.

Nicole watched as their faces all fell into disbelief. They then turned their attention to the lawyer, wanting to size her up. She gathered that they did not like what they saw as frowns conquered all of their faces. She resisted the urge to smirk. That's right, ladies. Danny is all mine!

Dane noticed the amused glint her lover's eyes and laughed a bit. With a shrug, she glanced back at her "fan club." As she took in their expressions, she laughed a little more.

"Come on, Dane. You know you can handle more than one woman," one lady said, reaching over to fondle the musician.

Dane shook her head and caught the sneaky hand before it could touch her. "Sorry, chicky. Only got eyes for my baby now. So, you guys are gonna have to go find another willing participant," she informed them.

"Bye." Nicole had the nerve to give them a very friendly smile and wave.

The women glared at her and waited a moment, as if they expected Dane to object. No words came and they stormed off. Dane had to laugh a little more before turning her attention completely to her lover.

"Should I start worrying about the Big Dog when she goes out to play?" Nicole teased.

"Never that. You're always on my mind, angel. I would never stray," Dane promised, taking hold of Nicole's hand as she spoke.

"I know, baby. I can't believe a group of women just flocked to you like that," Nicole said. She had never seen anything like that, but she would see more of it before the night was over.

Over the next hour, women came over to Dane in waves, trying to feel her up or get her to feel them up. They seemed content to share her in any way too, but she would not have any part of it. Danny made it perfectly clear that only was she taken, but she was there with her girlfriend. They all seemed shocked to know that she had a girlfriend, but she never bothered to explain. She just pointed to Nicole and let them see that she was truly spoken for and no longer wanted any part of them.

As boredom set in and Nicole was tired of seeing women hit on her girlfriend, she convinced Dane to dance again for a little while. That time, Dane was not too upset with everyone staring. The whole club either knew or would soon know that Nicole was her girlfriend and that was enough for her.

"Ready to go?" Dane inquired, leaning down to called into Nicole's ear.

"To another club?" Nicole hoped. She was having a good time. It had been such a long time since she had been out clubbing.

"Maybe," Dane answered with a playful smile. There was a spot close by that she would like to take Nicole to. They could easily end the night there.

"Lead the way, pup," Nicole replied.

The ebony-haired musician chuckled and did as she was ordered. Taking Nicole by the hand, she started making the track for the front of the club. She was held up by quite possibly the last person that she ever wanted to see. He ran right into her-literally.

"Hey," Dane grunted.

"You should watch where you're going," the perpetrator had the nerve to respond. Glancing up, he jumped back in shock when he saw whom he had hit. "Dane?" His voice broke from saying the short name. His deep brown eyes held a certain amount of fear, which gave her immense satisfaction.

Grey eyes flashed with anger. "Bryan," she growled.

Ever since she had started going out more often, Dane had been able to avoid her former best friend. She was thankful for that mostly because she was not interested in going to jail for second-degree homicide. But, now that she saw him again and there was not a stage between, only space and opportunity, she found that she did not care. The bitterness and fury of two years ago was gone, left in its wake was a cold indifference to him.

"I heard you've been coming through these places, but I haven't seen you. How you doing?" Bryan asked, able to recover quickly from his fear and act like they were still friends. The look in his eyes told a different story, though. It seemed like he was gloating on the inside, happy to have gotten the better of her.

"I'll be better when I get out of range of the lightning," Dane remarked dryly.

Nicole almost laughed, but kept that in check since she figured it would be rude to do so. She was quite aware that Bryan was the enemy and hoped that he would be smote, as Dane's words implied. He was the reason her baby had such a bad limp and could not play her precious guitar the same anymore. Nicole almost hated this man for Danny.

"Don't be that way, Dane," he commented, flashing a charming smile.

Nicole frowned; she had seen smiles like that before. They ran a dime-a-dozen from her ex and Danny's cousin, Tyler. The expression was enchanting and flattering, making him look dashing, like the harmless boy-next-door. Nicole knew better than to believe it.

"Bryan, I have nothing to say to you," Dane stated, moving to push past him. She was not going to give him the power to ruin any more of her life or even ruin her time out with her beloved.

He scowled, not taking kindly to the disrespect that she was showing him. "You know," he said and she paused for a moment. "I don't know why you ever bother coming down here anymore. It's not like you could keep up with even the most mediocre player," he remarked with a cruel smirk.

Dane did not even bother to turn around. "I don't play to keep up. I play for the music, not the attention. Not that you know anything about it. But, then again, you don't know anything about being good either."

A growl escaped the young man. "I know you're not any good anymore," he said harshly.

She shrugged. "You don't know that," she replied as if it was no big deal. She was pretty sure even with her lame left hand, she could play circles around Bryan.

"I know enough. I haven't heard about you playing or anything, so obviously you gave it up."

Dane waved him off. Nicole was impressed with her lover's control. She squeezed Danny's hand, silently communicating that. Dane glanced at her girlfriend and then proceeded to leave. Bryan was not done yet, though.

"You found your lay of the night? I'm surprised women even give a cripple like you the time of day," Bryan commented.

Those words halted Dane. Her shoulders squared as she turned to face him. He smirked, a haughty look on his face.

"Maybe you should just give her to me. She looks too classy for a punk like you anyway," he continued on.

"Even if she wanted to date a low-life or a coward rat-bastard, she wouldn't start with you. Now, why don't you go find some mobster to be in debt to and get the fuck away from me," Dane riposted.

Bryan had the nerve to look offended by that, but then suddenly his expression turned smug. "You know, if I ever did get into that kind of trouble again, I could always go to my father for help. I might even be able to go to your father. Russell seems to like me a lot nowadays. Like me enough to invite me to his house next weekend for a celebration in regards to his getting the nomination for governor. The whole Wolfe family and close friends should be there. What about you?"

Dane chuckled and shrugged. "Bryan, you and my father can rot in Hell for all I care. I could go home anytime I want, but I don't want to. So, fuck you, fuck him, and fuck the whole Wolfe family," she said. Why be bitter over it? She was the happiest that she had ever been in her life and she did not need any of them to get there. All she needed was the woman in her arms at the moment.

Tired of listening to Bryan and his bullshit, Dane continued on her way, tugging Nicole with her. As soon as they hit the streets, Nicole pressed her body into Dane and smiled at the taller woman. Danny looked a little confused.

"Why are you so happy?" Dane asked.

"I like the way you handled that. You didn't start a fight or anything. You hardly let that bastard bait you into anything. You handled that like an adult, which is rare for anyone," Nicole answered, still smiling.

"Honestly, I don't give a shit what he has to say. He doesn't mean anything to me, so nothing he says matters. He can think he got the better of me all he wants, but he's wrong. In fact, I should probably thank that stupid fuck," Danny said.

Nicole blinked in confusion. "Thank him?"

"His actions eventually led me to your house a year ago. He led me to the best thing to ever happen to me," Dane explained quite seriously. Life works out in weird ways, after feeling the lowest I ever had in my whole miserable existence, I end up being the happiest I've ever been right after.

Emerald eyes sparkled. "Okay, we have to get back to the car and get home."


"Because you just said the right thing to earn your reward of taking me out of this dress," Nicole answered. Danny moved as fast as her leg would allow to get them back to the car.


Dane panted heavily as Nicole settled her head on her favorite resting place-Danny's shoulder. While Dane was still trying to catch her breath, the redhead's tongue leisurely wandered closer to Dane's breast. Danny put a hand up to stop her.

"I can't take anymore, Nick. I'm only human," the guitarist sighed.

"Really? I thought I was hanging out with the rock goddess of lesbian sex," Nicole remarked, fingers caressing Danny's soft abdomen.

"I'm getting too old for this shit."

Nicole burst out laughing. "Hey! What're you trying to say about me?" She was three years older than Danny, after all.

"That you're the sexiest old woman I've ever seen," Dane joked.

"And you had been so good tonight. You just had to ruin it. Bad, Danny, bad." She swatted lightly at her lover.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry! Gonna make me tell people how kinky you are in bed if you keep spanking me," the younger woman said.

Nicole laughed and settled down again. Dane wrapped her arm around Nicole's shoulders, pressing her closer. They both sighed from the delightful contact.

"Thank you for the date tonight, Danny. I had a very good time," Nicole said.

"You did?" Dane asked, a little surprised.

"I very much enjoyed it. I hope we can do it again."

A half-smile worked its way onto Danny's face. "We can. There's still a lot of clubs I have to show you."

Nicole yawned a bit. "Good..."

The half-smile grew into a broad smile. The smile would not stay there for long. Nicole was not done and it seemed like she understood the whole significance of the night without Dane even telling her.

"Maybe one day you'll be comfortable enough to take me home, like you were with taking me to your clubs," the lawyer said, her voice low, as sure sign that she was already half-asleep.

"Chem, showing you my clubs means a lot more than you meeting my family," Dane said. The clubs were her havens, her sanctuaries. Her family was nothing more than a headache.

"I know," Nicole replied, yawning again. She was asleep before Dane could respond.

The musician held onto Nicole tightly and sighed. She knew that with Nicole meeting family meant a lot. It meant a lot to her when she meant Nicole's family, but her own family did not mean the same to her. Still, for Nicole to feel the level of acceptance that she felt, she supposed that the next thing that she would have to do was take Nicole home...not that "home" was her real home or had ever been such.

But, for Nicole, she would do just about anything-including going to that Hellhole. On the plus side, she might be able to get on her family's nerves by showing up. It could be a win-win situation. All she had to do was survive the whole thing.


3: It's all relative

Danny sighed for the umpteenth time that morning. Nicole had gone to work and she was all by herself. Well, not all by herself considering the way her brain was acting up. Her thoughts were acting like unwanted guests and plaguing her, not leaving her alone for even a second. Knowing what she had to do eventually disturbed her whole routine.

She was going to have to take Nicole to meet her family. There was no way out of that. Nicole was a family person. She was close to her family, not just her parents, but aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Now, Nicole had not introduced her to Raymond's side of the family, but she was sure that was coming eventually. It was Nicole's way of welcoming Dane into her family. Nicole was bringing her close and she wanted to show Nicole that the feeling was mutual. Unfortunately, the only way to do that was to have her lover meet her family.

"Why couldn't I just be born from a rock or something?" Dane huffed as she threw herself onto the couch.

Family definitely did not mean the same to her as it did to Nicole, but she doubted that she would be able to make her lover understand that. She did not have the energy to try either. Besides, she was willing to endure anything-including her whole family-if it meant that Nicole would know just how much she meant to Dane. Hell, she would endure her family every day if necessary.

Damn it, Chem, I know you've bewitched me! Dane was utterly convinced that love was some form of magic or witchcraft because she would do anything for Nicole. She had never felt that way about anyone in her whole life and sometimes it was a little overwhelming, but she was definitely willing to endure it. Yeah, Chem, I'd do anything for you, so I guess we're gonna be meeting my family this weekend. Fuck.

Dane was going to have to mentally prepare for that little trip. Usually, she would not give a damn about her family or how they treated her. She took it and gave it back sometimes. But, this was going to happen in front of her lover. The last thing she wanted was for Nicole to think less of her, which her family would try their best to do, especially when they find out how successful Nicole was and that she used to date Tyler. Oh, this is just a fuck-fest waiting to happen. They're probably going to do everything that comes to mind to get her away from me and back to that dipshit Tyler.

Sitting on the sofa for who-knew-how-long, Dane tried to convince herself that meeting her family would not sway Nicole from wanting to be with her. Nicole had seen her through some hard times and stuck with her. Nicole stuck with her even when Kate showed her obvious disdain and listed reasons on top of reasons as to why Nicole should leave Danny. Nicole never listened to her own mother, so chances were slim that she would listen to complete strangers when it came to her girlfriend. So, why the hell am I so worried about what damage my family might do? She knows they're fuck-heads and she probably wouldn't believe them. But, then again, anything could happen.

Throwing her head back, she closed her eyes, letting her troubles and thoughts wander in her mind. Her hands positioned themselves on their own, as if she was holding a guitar. She then played her imaginary instrument, hoping that it would help in some manner.


Nicole sighed as she entered the house, taking note of how quiet it was. She was aware that silence meant Danny either was not home or had fallen asleep somewhere. Poking her head into the living room, she saw that it was the latter. She thought it was a bit odd that Danny had fallen asleep sitting up, but she dismissed it for the moment. Danny could fall asleep almost anywhere any way; she knew the habit came from living on the streets and she disliked thinking about her beloved being out on the streets.

After stripping off of her work clothes and putting on a comfortable pair of shorts and a sleeveless tee-shirt, Nicole went to the living room. A devilish smirk spread onto her face as she marched to the sofa and carefully sat down on her lover. Cautiously, she made sure her weight was not resting on Danny's right leg. Once she was settled, she leaned forward and started playing feather-light kisses on Danny's face.

The affection earned a cute whimper from Dane. As sweet lips touched her own, she was returning the kisses before she was even fully awake. Her arms went around Nicole's waist and pulled the redhead closer, taking the time to cup Nicole's behind while she was at it. Nicole squealed in surprise from the unexpected grope. Smoke-colored eyes eased open at the sound.

"I like the wake-up calls in this joint. Do you provide any other services?" Danny quipped with a sleepy smile.

Nicole laughed, her eyes shining. "I could be obliged."

"You're in a good mood," Dane noted, hands wandering up and down her girlfriend's backside.

"Why not? Great girlfriend, doing well in my classes, and not so much crap at work anymore. Hell, I think if work was this nice a few months ago, I wouldn't have longed to go back to school so much," the auburn-haired woman replied.

"I doubt that, Chem. You know chemistry is in your blood. But, I'm glad work is going so much better for you," Danny said.

Work was much easier for Nicole lately because her parents were not bombarding her with cases like they used to. Raymond was especially careful in that and often reminded Kate that they needed to lighten up on Nicole because she had school to worry about. Raymond also made sure others at the firm stopped taking advantage of Nicole and disrupting her own work. She was much more effective and efficient now than she had ever been. She also found herself not loathing to go in anymore, but she was still looking forward to the day that she was a chemist and not a lawyer.

"How was your day?" Nicole inquired.

"Uh..." Dane looked around. "Believe it or not, this is my day," she admitted with a chuckle.

"You couldn't have possibly slept for the whole day. You didn't have a lesson or anything?"

Ebony-hair swayed as Danny shook her head. "Nothing. I was sleeping the whole day."

Nicole's forehead wrinkled a bit as she pulled back, wanting to study her lover for a moment. Dane sighed, remembering why she had not gotten her butt up from the couch all day. Caramel fingers continued caressing Nicole's smooth back while waiting for her to say something.

"What happened?" the redhead asked, voice laced with mild concern.

"I'll tell you over dinner..." The musician trailed off as she realized something. "Damn it, I didn't make dinner yet!" One of her hands abandoned Nicole only to slap herself in the forehead. Damn it, just thinking about my family is screwing up my life!

Nicole snickered. "Calm down, baby. You know this is nothing to panic over."

Dane pouted, looking quite like a hurt puppy. Nicole knew why that was. Danny felt it was her duty to have things ready for Nicole whenever she came in from work. She considered it a failure and neglect whenever she did not have things perfect for Nicole. To cheer her up, Nicole leaned down and placed a lingering kiss to her pouting mouth. The kiss was eagerly returned.

"It's okay, baby. I'm in the mood for junk food anyway," Nicole said.

Dane did not seem to totally believe her. "Really?"

"Really. I was going to ask if you wanted pizza, actually. We haven't had pizza in a long time."

"I'll call for a pie." A flat palm on her chest kept the former rocker from getting up.

"You don't move," the older woman commanded.

"Yes, ma'am," Dane replied with a lewd smile. "You know I like when you get all bossy, baby," she remarked, clutching her lover's rear once more.

Nicole only chuckled as she pulled out her cell phone. She ordered a pizza for them and then decided to cuddle into Danny while they waited for their food. Danny did not say anything, enjoying the close feel of her lover's tight body against her. Underneath the heated lust that she always felt for Nicole, Dane recognized the peaceful, calm emotion that filled her whenever Nicole was around.

"I love you," Dane suddenly said.

"I love you too, Danny," Nicole replied. She did not find it odd for Dane to just blurt that out. Often one of them just said the phrase whenever there was a quiet moment.

The declaration brought a smile to the musician's face. The couple remained curled up together, kissing and caressing until the pizza arrived. Nicole went to pay for the pizza while Dane got up to get them something to drink with the food. They decided to eat in the living room, returning to the sofa.

"Do you want to watch a movie?" Nicole proposed, pulling a slice from the box. Pizza, a movie, and cuddling on the sofa would the perfect end for the day, she thought.

"If you want to," Dane replied, taking her own slice.

"Oh, wait, you wanted to tell me something, correct?" Nicole recalled.

"Right..." The younger woman ran a hand through her short black hair. "Um..." Words suddenly failed her.

Nicole reached over and put a tender hand on her beloved's thigh. "Danny, talk to me. It's just me. Just Nick," she reminded Dane.

"It's just...well...I was wondering...um...do you want to go to that party my parents are hosting this weekend?" Danny inquired. "It's on Saturday and it's in the afternoon, so it's not really messing up the day or anything." She had actually gone as far as to call around to find out minor things about the party for Nicole. I have to love this woman to go through all of this crap.

Emerald eyes watched Danny in disbelief. Nicole never thought that Danny would invite her to meet her family, never. She secretly hoped that it would happen, but honestly, she thought that she would never even wave hello to someone in Dane's family, except of course the one person that she loathed in Dane's family.

"Are you sure?" Nicole asked in a low voice, eyes shining as if her beloved just fulfilled a deep wish of hers. She knew what Dane thought of her family...a little anyway. In the year that they had lived together and the half-year that they had been a couple, Dane had said very few words on her family outside the fact that they all hated her guts. Through a lot of grit and determination Nicole found out that was not totally true. Through just as much hard work, Nicole was able to find out that Danny actually had a few family members that Danny at the very least could tolerate. She wondered if the Wolfe family was not all bad; it seemed a little outrageous to her to assume they were all bad, especially when her dearest Danny came from them.

"I'm sure," Dane lied. She really wished that they could just drop the whole thing. There were a couple of family members that she would not mind introducing Nicole too, but even that she would have preferred to do down the line. Instead, she found herself jumping into shark-infested water with a suit made of chum. I need to stop watching the Discovery Channel.

"Then I would love to meet your family!" Nicole said, unable to control her smile. The emotion that bubbled up inside of her made her practically glow. She trusts me enough to meet her family!

Danny smiled, even though she did not feel as good as she looked. Obviously, it was the right decision if the grin on Nicole's face meant anything, but it did not ease the churning feeling that was working its way into her stomach. She tried her best to ignore it, but the trouble that she was experiencing came out in other ways.

"Baby, are you okay?" Nicole asked, out of the blue as far as her lover was concerned.

"Huh?" Dane blinked a couple of times, as if coming back to reality. "Yeah, I'm fine. Why?" she countered.

"Well, because you only ate two slices of pizza when you're usually good for at least four..."

Danny shrugged that off. "Wasn't that hungry." And that was the truth now.

"And I've been keeping my friend company for almost a minute and haven't gotten a response yet," Nicole continued on.

Dane glanced down to see what Nicole was talking about and noticed for the first time that her girlfriend was nuzzled in between her breasts. Making matters worse, if the wet spot around her right nipple meant anything, Nicole was doing a lot more than nuzzling her. SHIT! She's doing that and I didn't even notice? That's sure to make her feel attractive and appreciated!

"Um...Sorry. Guess I'm distracted," Dane admitted, running a hand through her hair in disbelief and embarrassment.

"Oh..." The redhead was not sure what to say and glanced away.

Again a copper-toned hand went through black hair. Dane felt like such an ass because of the disappointed expression on Nicole's face. Moving, Dane pulled Nicole to her and rested the lawyer against her body. Nicole was slow to react, but her arms eventually went around Dane.

"I'm so sorry, baby. It's got nothing to do with you and if you accompany me upstairs, you'll know you still have quite the affect on me," Dane stated in a low, sensual tone.

A coy smile worked its way onto Nicole's face. "You sure?"

"Positive. If I could trust my leg to not give out halfway to the bedroom, we wouldn't even be talking about it."

"If that's the case, who needs the bedroom?"

Dane's grin was bordering on feral. "I like the way you think, woman!" She then engulfed Nicole in a passionate embrace with a burning hot kiss. Any hurt feelings or conflicting emotions were completely forgotten.


Danny ran her hand through her hair for what had to be the millionth time. The churning in her stomach from a few days ago had returned and she hated to think that the feeling was from fear rather than nervousness as she assumed. I'm not scared of my family. But, I am scared of the damage the bastards can do.

Her father had screwed with her mind enough to make her leave Nicole once. It had been a dark moment in their young relationship and she was determined not to repeat that. She had already ordered herself countless times to ignore her father and whatever bullshit he happened to be talking about at the time. Unfortunately, she could not convince Nicole of the same thing.

Truly, she had not tried much in explaining her family to Nicole. The redheaded attorney had already made her father's acquaintance some months ago. Her mother was with him, but as usual, the woman was as silent as the grave. Her father had said more about himself in his actions than his words. Nicole had witnessed him throw Danny to the ground with little concern for her wellbeing, so Danny was sure that nothing her father said would hold baring with her beloved. Her mother might not have any credibility either since she had not defended Danny that day. Besides, she was not too sure her mother would bother to speak with Nicole anyway. Her mother never really paid much mind to the people that Dane brought home, except maybe to try to convince them to leave once they got too rowdy. Too bad her family consisted of much more than her mother and father and almost all of those people hated her just as much as they did.

She had hardly briefed Nicole on her siblings. She figured it would just come out as whining and complaining. The same was true with her uncles, aunts, and cousins. She doubted that Nicole would hold her cousins' words in high esteem since Nicole worked with one of her cousins-Tyler. Most of her cousins were just like him; hell, some of them were more snobbish than he was.

"Nick's smart. She'll know who's bullshitting her and who's not. She knows how I am too," Dane tried to assure herself, but as soon as those words left her mouth, she realized that could work against her.

Her life before meeting Nicole had been wild and very crazy. Her family enjoyed embellishing on that, just to make her seem even more like the demon child they assumed she was. Nicole was aware of some of her exploits, so she might be inclined to believe the exaggerated antics. Hell, even if she did not believe them, she would probably be curious and want to talk about it later on. Unable to lie to her beloved, she would probably end up telling the truth right out of her only meaningful relationship.

"Damn it," Dane growled, letting her thoughts get the better of her. "Nick, are you coming down?" she called upstairs, wanting her lover to hurry up before she drove herself mad from waiting.

"You can't rush perfection, my love!" Nicole replied.

Dane sighed and folded her arms across her chest. She did not understand why it always took Nicole so long to get ready for anything. Now, she had no complaints about the results and all, but it felt like it took forever and a day to get there.

Minutes later, Nicole stepped downstairs and looked as lovely as Danny expected. Nicole was dressed a little more conservative than Danny thought she would, wearing a dark tan skirt and beige blouse that showed a hint of cleavage with matching heels. A necklace with heart pendent dangled in between showing bit of breasts.The outfit hugged Nicole's body like Dane wanted to, but they did not have time for that.

"How do I look?" the redhead asked with an impish smile.

Dane narrowed her gaze. "You know how you look. Tempting me to push that skirt up," she grumbled, running her hand through her hair.

Nicole laughed a bit and walked over to her lover. Leaning in, she placed a chaste, but wet kiss to Dane's cheek. The musician groaned.

"You are such a fucking tease," Dane complained in a low voice.

"No, just giving you something to look forward to when we come back home. Now, seriously, how do I look? I figured this was appropriate for a gathering with your family," Nicole explained as she stepped back to model her outfit a bit, complete with turning all the way around for burning grey eyes.

Dane shrugged. "It's fine."

Nicole shot her a skeptical look. "Just fine? From the way you're looking at me, I think I look much better than fine," she commented.

"But, you didn't want to know that. You wanted to know if this was appropriate for a gathering with my family. Probably. I don't know who's gonna be there aside for my family, who will all be dressed as pretentious as possible. Everybody's going to be trying to one up each other, after all."

"Except you, right?" Nicole smiled a bit, as she tugged on her lover's vest.

Dane was under the impression that putting on a vest and a shirt with buttons meant that she was dressed formally. Such thinking was evident in her outfit. She had on black shorts with matching long sleeve shirt; Nicole was surprised that she tucked the shirt in without having to be told to do. Her vest was grey with a black outline of a guitar over the breast pocket. On the back of the vest was a much larger image of the same guitar.

"Can we just go?" Dane sighed, her hand traveling through her hair once more. She had not dressed so formally to take her rings out of her eyebrow, but then again, she never did.

Nicole pouted, not expecting that reaction. Moving swiftly, she wrapped her arms around Danny and pressed herself against the moping guitarist. Thanks to her shoes, she was at the same height as Dane and took a moment to place a few soft pecks to Danny's mouth with her moist lips.

"What's wrong, baby? You seem cranky," Nicole pointed out.

"I'm fine," Danny lied. The last thing she wanted was for Nicole to think that she really was just a big baby. "I guess it's going out two Saturdays in a row or something. Doesn't help that I had to see the demon wench today," she said.

"Sweetheart, don't call your physical therapist that," Nicole slightly reprimanded her lover. "Now, come on, tell me the truth. Is it having to deal with your family? Do you think they're going to make a big deal about your showing up with a woman?" she inquired.

"They're going to make a big deal about me showing up in general. There'll be drama, but I don't care about that shit. I just don't want you to end up bothered."

Nicole smiled a bit, hoping it would make her girlfriend feel better. "You don't have to worry about me, Danny. It's sweet that you are. I just want to meet your family, Danny. I'm not going to let them scare me or rile me up."

"Okay," Dane said, not that she understood why Nicole wanted to meet her family. They had already been through that it was not the same thing as meeting Nicole's family. Nick had even agreed with that, but still wanted to meet the rest of the Wolfe clan. I'll never understand women.

"Are you all right now?"

"Um..." Dane took a deep breath. "Just do me a favor and take any and everything they say to you with a grain of salt, okay?"

"Danny, you've told me enough about your family and I've seen enough to know that I probably shouldn't believe everything that they say. But, if I do ask you questions about things, you'll be honest and you won't get mad?"

"I won't get mad at you, but probably at the bastard telling you stuff to mess with you. But, of course I'll be honest. I'm almost always honest, right?" Dane asked with a slight smile, looking more like her usual self.

"On most things, yes. I still can't get you to be honest about your hand or your leg, but I can't stop your honest opinion your physical therapist."

"Demon woman!"

Nicole shook her head, anticipating that response. Danny was certain that the woman working with her to get better control over her hand and leg was some diabolical, evil minion to the devil. Nicole constantly had to assure Dane that the physical therapy was worth putting up with a woman that she clearly did not like, especially when she could easily see results in the way Danny used her left hand. The leg seemed much slower to in recovering.

"See?" Nicole remarked with a smile. Wrapping her arms around Danny as a sign of love and acceptance, she pressed herself into the taller woman again. "I know this is hard for you, baby. If you really don't want to go, we don't have to. I just thought that there was no way you disliked your whole family. Surely there's someone there that you might want to see and would not mind introducing me to," the lawyer said.

Dane sighed. She really did not want to confess that there was no one in her family that she missed. And then she suddenly blinked as she realized Nicole was right. There was someone-a couple of someones actually-that she wanted to see and she could be pleased to introduce her girlfriend to those two.

"You're right. There are two people I want to see and what to introduce you to," Dane proclaimed with a smile.

"Then let's go see them," Nicole replied. She had a feeling that she knew who these two people were. She wondered how that was going to go over.

Dane nodded and with that they were off. Nicole drove; one day she was going to figure out the right bribe to get Danny behind the wheel. The musician gave out the directions to get to her childhood home. Not that she really considered it a home as she had come to understand what a real home since she came to live with Nicole.

Nicole's mouth almost hit the floor when they came up to the house, having to drive up a private road to get there. The place made her parents' house look like a dollhouse. It was a large house that looked much like an English manor house. She was not surprised that there was a valet there for the car when she got up the driveway. The shock was so heavy that she did not realize that she needed to give the valet her keys.

"Hey, angel, you have to hand over the keys if you want the car to get parked," Dane informed her stunned lover.

"Oh, right," Nicole replied and did so.

The couple exited the car and Dane took the lead, knowing where her parents would be holding a huge gathering; they had large parties in the same place all of the time. They wandered around the house to the side where there was a garden and there was the party. The garden was enormous and striking complete with an elaborate fountain and little man-made pond with sculptured animals in it. It looked like a forest scene, shot by Medusa.

"It's not too late to leave," Dane pointed out, thinking that her lover might be a little overwhelmed.

"No, no. I want to meet your family. I was just surprised by all of this," Nicole said. When Dane described her family as "wealthy" she did not think it was like this. She thought that they could not be that rich since Tyler still had to work.

"Most of this is my mother's stuff. She's the really rich one," the ebony-haired woman replied.

"Oh, okay." Nicole nodded. She got the underlying message that the Wolfe family did not have the wealth, so yes, they still had to work. It was the Wolfe family that she was meeting, so there was no reason for her to feel overwhelmed by all of the wealth around her.

The pair made their way into the party and it seemed like they were invisible. Nicole noticed that people looked at them, but then quickly pretended not to see them. Dane did not seem to notice; honestly, she did not give a damn, particularly since that was how she was always treated when she came home. She scanned the party looking for the two people that mattered, but did not spot them.

"Are you going to introduce me to anyone or just wait for them to pull me aside to ask what club I met you at?" Nicole asked, teasing a bit, even though she suspected that might really happen.

Danny shrugged, not really sure what she was going to do and then a person caught her eye. "Oh, I see someone you might like to meet," she said, gently tugging her girlfriend toward someone.

Nicole wondered whom Dane was taking her to. Scanning the crowd, she tried to narrow it down to the several people in their path. After a moment, she figured it out. They were approaching a gentleman with graying hair, but he had a strong resemblance to Tyler. The build was the same, the shape of the face, but the older man had warmer eyes.

"Hey, unc," Danny said as they stood before the man.

"Dane, what're you doing here? How have you been? It's been so long!" he declared, pulling Dane into a very weak, one-armed hug. Nicole had a feeling it was because Dane was not in favor of anyone in her family touching her.

"Been okay, unc. Shocked Tyler hasn't told you about me," she replied, stepping away as quickly as she could without making it seem like she disliked her uncle.

"He has called and complained a few times. He's also whined in person. He claims you stole his fiancée and has gotten the poor girl into drugs," he informed her before looking her over. "But, I have a feeling he was taking things way too far. You look rather well," he commented.

Dane ran her hand through her hair. "Yeah...um...it's cuz of her," she said and presented Nicole to him. "This is Nicole Cardell. My girlfriend," she introduced him.

"Pierce Wolfe." He reached for Nicole's hand and gave her a curious look. "You were dating Tyler, weren't you?" he asked as he shook her hand.

"Yes, sir, I was," she admitted.

"Hmm..." He pondered that for a moment. Nicole almost expected him to ask a question about going through the family or something, but he did not take it there. "I'm sure you had a good reason for picking Dane," he commented, looking almost approving of her decision.

"I don't mean this as any disrespect or offense to you, but there was no contest," Nicole informed him.

"None taken. From what I can see, you did the girl some good. She's talking more than two sentences to me, she's not drunk yet, she doesn't appear high, and she has sleeves. You get her some pants and she might actually pass as human," he remarked with a small smile.

Nicole laughed a bit. "I am working on that. One step at a time, though."

Pierce nodded in agreement. "Then I suppose I shouldn't even breach the subject of her going to school."

"Not gonna happen," Dane muttered, turning her mouth up. "Hey, you seen Adam yet?"

Pierce shook his head. "No, I haven't seen him yet. If I do, I'll let him know you're looking for him."

Dane nodded and they spoke for a few more minutes. Nicole carried the conversation while Dane hardly said two words, which did not surprise her uncle. The small smile on her face was a bit of a surprise; she was glad that Pierce was saying some all right things about her and Nicole seemed to get along with him rather well. Eventually, the couple drifted away from him and Dane did not pull Nicole to meet anyone else face to face. Danny did take her time pointing people out and broadcasting their business if she knew them particularly well. And she knew quite a few of them rather well.

"See her? That's the mayor's daughter, Angelica. Almost got me killed," Dane said, pointing to the overly made-up woman a distance away.

"How'd she almost get you killed?" Nicole asked curiously, although she was starting to sense a theme with the people that her lover knew. The "knew" was in the biblical sense most of the time.

"Well...her mother sorta found us with my hand up her skirt. They didn't take too kindly to that sort of thing and she swore up and down that it was all my doing. Never mind the fact that I was just looking for beer at the time and she shoved my hand in her crotch," Dane remarked with a snort and she rolled her eyes.

"You little doggy Casanova," Nicole said, not sounding offended, but not sounding amused either. She just was not sure what else to say.

"Oh, that one, I almost got her killed." The guitarist pointed out another woman.

"Hand in her skirt again?"

"Legs on my shoulders. Her husband didn't buy the story that she fell and then I tripped into her waist and we ended up in an awkward position while trying to get up," Dane quipped with a crooked smile.

"Have you slept with every rich woman at this party?"

"Uh...no...I've had a round or two with some of the servants too," Dane confessed, trying her best to make it sound like a joke.

Nicole shook her head. "I think you're being too honest with me now, honey."

"Really? Sorry." A slightly trembling hand went through sable locks. "You know they didn't mean anything to me. Just some fun. Nothing like you. You're my heart and soul."

"Oh, Danny." Nicole melted into Dane's warm body. She could tell her beloved was nervous, but Danny always knew just what to say to make her feel at ease, comforted, and important. "What about her? She looks like she might have tried you," she said, pointing to another woman that walked by.

"Her and another girl at the same time believe it or not. These girls couldn't get enough lesbian experiences. Plus, they love a rebel. I was never hurting for company in a bed, but I might as well have been a dildo to them," Dane replied.

"I get the feeling you didn't mind that the time," Nicole teased.

"I don't know if I would say I minded, but I was vaguely aware that my life was empty as far as personal interactions went. By the time I was bedding all these fake bi-curious chicks, I was already drinking and doing drugs and everything, covering that emptiness up with whatever I could. All I had then was my music to make sure I wasn't actually dead."

"Is that why you haven't introduced me to anyone else?" the lawyer asked curiously, gently rubbing circles around Danny's stomach to remind her that someone was there and someone did care about her.

"No one worth introducing you to. Waiting for Adam to show up, but other than that, I got nothing," Dane answered and then someone caught her eyes. "Oh, you see the bottle blond there?" She pointed ahead of them. There was a tall blond woman ahead of them in an expensive dress with glittering diamonds around her wrist and neck. She was lovely, looking almost like a model. But, there was something more to her that Nicole could not put her finger on at first.


"That's my sister Rachel. She's four years older than me. Hates me a lot. In fact, the second she spots me, she's going to go tell my father I'm here and try to get me thrown out," the musician explained.

Nicole's forehead wrinkled in confusion. She could not figure out how someone, especially a sibling, could hate her very sweet girlfriend. She also could not fathom why the sister would want to get Danny kicked out. It did not make any sense and it did not serve a purpose in her mind. "What? Why does she hate you?"

Danny shrugged and scratched the end of her nose. "Well, I think it's part learned behavior, but she also thinks I that tried to screw her butt-ugly husband, which I haven't and never would. I don't know why she thinks that when I never bothered to hide that I'm a lesbian. In fact, I slept with her best friend in high school. I don't think she knows about that, though."

Sure enough, as soon as Rachel glanced in their direction, she was moving. Only, she was coming closer, but stopped before she made it to them. Danny suspected that her sister just wanted to make sure it was Dane that she was looking at. After that, Rachel was off, undoubtedly going to find their parents.

"Are we about to get thrown out?" Nicole asked curiously.

"No, they might come over and ask us to leave. I'll probably say something clever like, 'fuck off' or 'make me' and then they'll leave us alone," Dane answered with a shrug.

Nicole breathed a sigh of relief. "I've never been thrown out of a family gathering."

"Well, they try with me all the time. It's not a big deal."

Nicole could not understand how that was not a big deal, but she watched how Danny took it with no problem. Eventually, Rachel and Russell approached them. Nicole was once again shocked to see how much Danny looked like the man who refused to claim her as his child. Dane looked like a softer, female, caramel version of Russell Wolfe, but he refused to accept that she was his daughter.

"Dane, what are you doing here?" Russell demanded, yanking on the lapels of his immaculate, silk dark blue suit.

"Minding my business. Pointing out bitches I've fucked," Dane answered casually. Nicole was a bit scandalized by the response and lightly slapped her lover for such a crude statement. Grey eyes glanced at Nicole, but Danny did not say anything in regards to reprimand.

"Well, perhaps you could go down your list with your next bitch somewhere else," Russell commented, sneering at Nicole.

"Please, imply or say that she's a bitch again, so I can have an excuse," Dane threatened her father. The glint in her smoky eyes made him think twice about saying anything.

Russell was actually a bit unnerved by the look in Dane's eyes. She had never eyed him in such away. She had never verbally defended any of her girls before either, not to him anyway. He was able to quickly shake off the shock and continued to press Dane.

"Look, is this about money? If you need money, you're not going to get any," Russell told her.

"Believe it or not, Nicole just wanted to meet my family. Nothing to do with money or even me wanting something. Nick, meet my bastard father, Russell Wolfe and my sister Rachel Lawrence." Danny then motioned to both of her relatives and then motioned to Nicole.

"Hello," Nicole said, holding out her hand for them to shake. Neither father nor sister returned the gesture and Nicole was left to let her hand fall by her side. Now, Russell's rude behavior, she expected. After having seen him deliberately hurt Danny, she knew that he was capable of a lot more than being rude. She thought that Danny's sister might be different, though. Obviously, it was wrong to hope.

"Dane, you really need to leave now. Daddy is throwing this party for a reason," Rachel hissed, blue eyes glaring at her baby sister.

Dane waved her off. "I know, I know. Running for governor. Whatever. Am I doing anything aside from standing here?" she pointed out. She had been there for almost a half-hour and had not offended a single soul. Now, she knew with her track record that did not mean much, but she was not doing anything and had no plans to do anything.

"You're making some of the guests uncomfortable," Rachel growled.

"Am I? Is it because they think I'm going to steal their valuables or fuck their daughters?" the former rocker inquired.

"Dane, just leave," Russell commanded in a hard tone, pointing back toward the front of the house.

"Look, last I checked, this was a Wolfe family gathering and I think my last name is still Wolfe, like it or not. I'm here and I'm not leaving. If you calmed down for a fucking minute, you'd see I'm not even doing anything, except standing here, minding my own damn business. Can I continue to do that?" Dane asked, almost as if she needed permission.

"Why did you even come? You hate these sorts of things," Rachel stated.

"I know. I just told you, my girlfriend wants to meet my family. So here we are, meeting family," Dane explained.

"What family? None of us are related to you," the blond Wolfe proclaimed, tone making it seem like she truly believed that.

Dane sighed and ran her hand through her hair. "I think a DNA test has said otherwise a couple of times, but whatever. Why don't you both just leave me be? I'm not bothering anyone. I'm not drinking, so I won't be wandering around seducing any women. Not to mention, my girlfriend is here with me if the urge did come over me to start seducing anybody. I promise you, she'll bust my chops as soon as she thinks I'm doing anything inappropriate," she informed them and then glanced over at Nicole.

"That's not the point. The point is that you have no right to be here," Russell informed her.

Nicole was stunned by his words. Danny's own father was telling her that she did not have a right to be at a family gathering. It seemed totally outrageous to her, completely unreal, and she was certain that it could not be the opinion of everyone at the party. It was just too absurd.

Dane rolled her eyes and then suddenly pulled Nicole away, not wanting to bother with her father and sister anymore. Nicole glanced back, wondering if the pair would follow them. Russell and Rachel glared at them as they fled, but did not chase them. Dane found a shady spot for them to people-watch.

"Hey, want something to drink? I'm sure they've got non-alcoholic stuff. I could get you some cold fruit or something too," Dane offered with a warm smile, showing that she was not affected by her father's words or behavior.

"Thank you," Nicole replied. If Danny was gone for a moment, it would give her a chance to process what just happened between Danny, Russell, and Rachel. It seemed so bizarre to her that it bordered on surreal.

Dane smiled again and was off. She needed a moment too, wanting to get herself together after her father and her sister pissed her off. She just hoped it was safe to leave her very attractive girlfriend for that moment. She knew that some people at the party had no shame and would hit on Nicole no matter; forget the fact that she had a girlfriend, was not interested in dating anyone aside from her girlfriend, or if she was much younger than the guy that would most likely hit on her. Anything went with this lot.

Nicole quickly learned that too. She did not have much time to gather her thoughts before a familiar face wandered over to her. Bryan flashed her a smile as he ambled his way over to her, looking to strike up a conversation.

"Hey there, beautiful. What are you doing here?" Bryan inquired, keeping a charming smile on his face, but unable to keep the lust out of his gaze.

"Waiting for Danny to come back with some drinks," Nicole answered.

"Danny?" he echoed in a perplexed tone. He was sure that there was no one called "Danny" at the party.

"Oh, excuse me, you know her better as Dane," Nicole explained. Now that she thought about it, she realized that everyone so far had referred to Danny as Dane. It seemed odd to her that they would all call her such a ridiculous nickname. She wondered why no one addressed Danny by at least her real name of Danielle. It was like they were trying to distance themselves from her, Nicole considered.

"So you're still with her? You do know that she's going to get bored with you soon enough and move onto the next hot chick," Bryan remarked.

Green eyes rolled. "I don't think you know her well enough to make that claim and considering how you're attempting to hit on me-which is pathetic by the way-doesn't give your statements much credibility."

Bryan had the nerve to look offended. "You think pretty highly of yourself, huh? I wouldn't waste my time on Dane's sloppy seconds. I was just trying to be nice and warn you."

"Okay, well, I now consider myself warned. How about you go away now?" she ordered, waving him off. She disliked being in his presence, knowing that he was capable of leaving his best friend to possibly be killed as he had done with Danny made her skin crawl.

Bryan looked down his nose at her before stalking away. Nicole hoped that Danny returned soon before some other lonely gentleman decided that she looked like she needed some company. Her wish was not answered, though.

"Nikki," Tyler called in a purr as he slithered up to her. The look in his deep brown eyes was one that she was used to from him, like a predator out to catch his prey. Well, she would not be falling for that one again.

"Tyler, I have constantly and consistently insisted that you not call me that," Nicole stated dryly.

"But, Nikki, you know you love it," he said, breathing down on her and making it clear that he had been drinking.

"I don't. In fact, I hate it whenever someone not related to me does it. I have told you that a number of times. Why do you insist on not listening?" she inquired with some bite in her tone.

Tyler frowned. "I'm sick of this game, Nicole. Whatever point you were trying to make by going out with Dane, fine, you've made it. Now, make the sensible decision of coming back to me. You know your mother wants you to. I doubt anyone in your family would accept Dane anyway."

"As a matter of fact, my family rather likes Danny. I'm sure given enough time, they'll love her and my mother will just have to deal with it, as will you. Now, get the hell away from me," Nicole ordered with disgust in her voice.

"Now, you listen here, Nikki," Tyler started, but he was cut off.

"This guy bothering you, Nick?" Dane inquired as she returned with a beverage and snack for her girlfriend.

"Very much so," Nicole answered.

"You going to do something about it, Dane?" Tyler challenged his cousin, turning around to look her in the eye.

Dane shrugged. "Nothing much. Just remember if we fight, people are going look at you as much they do me. Now, I don't care, but you, Mister Big-dreams-of-riding-Uncle-Russell's-coat-tails-to-the-big-leagues, might have a bit of a problem there. Do you really think they'll let you even hold a pen in his campaign if you get into a fist fight at the nomination celebration party?"

Tyler actually had to think on it for a second, but ultimately made the correct decision. He walked away while Dane rolled her eyes. Nicole frowned as she watched him slink away in defeat. Her attention was quickly taken from Tyler as Dane handed her a small plate with fruits on it.

"Oh, they have pineapples?" Nicole asked in some shock as she inspected the assorted fruits. She was more surprised that Danny remembered that she enjoyed pineapples. It was not something that they often had for Danny to see how much she enjoyed it, but obviously Dane listened enough to know the fruit was a favorite of hers.

"Yeah," Dane answered the obvious. Her focus stayed on her fleeing cousin for a moment longer. "He hasn't been bothering you at work, has he?" she asked curiously. Nicole had not say anything about Tyler in months, so she assumed that he was finally over Nicole, but seeing him sniffing at her now made Danny wonder.

"He's been on his best behavior at work because he knows one more slip-up would mean his job. My father caught him a couple of times making inappropriate advances toward female staff members. Now, the firm doesn't have a policy against coworkers dating, of course, but there is a sexual harassment policy in place. Tyler has been seen hitting on a couple of women who clearly were not happy for the attention. One more time and my father informed him that he will be dismissed."

Dane nodded. "That had to be a blow to the old Wolfe ego."

"Yeah, a Wolfe not God's gift to women, imagine that," Nicole teased, bumping her beloved with her hip.

"I'll have you know, I can get several sworn affidavits from people at this party to let you know that's not true. I just happened to retire from the job after meeting the one woman I do want to be a gift to," Dane remarked with a lop-sided smile.

"You just think you're too smooth, don't you?"

"I do try."

Nicole giggled a bit before taking a bite of her food. She shared with Danny, of course. They returned to people-watching and Dane continued to regal her girlfriend with tales that Nicole would rather not hear. Nicole could not believe the sheer number of women her lover had bedded, especially the number of straight women. Still, she let Danny talk because it seemed to be keeping her sweetheart calm.

"Oh, see him?" Dane pointed a few feet ahead of them. There was a tall, statuesque brunette male shaking hands with several well-to-do gentlemen. The brunette had a familiar look to him.

"Yes," Nicole confirmed.

"That is my big brother Michael. The forgotten son, who tries his best to be recognized. He's a lawyer, just like my dad. He sort of competes with Tyler for attention with my dad since they're both lawyers. I've been led to believe my brother's actually a pretty good lawyer. But, he doesn't handle crime cases, so I'll never know. In order to make himself useful to my dad, he became a tax attorney and he handles taxes for everybody, except me of course."

"Have you ever even paid taxes?" Nicole inquired, even though she could guess.

"Uh...no. Seriously, up until a couple of years ago, I didn't even know what taxes were," Dane admitted. There were some aspects of the world that she was rather innocent about.

"We'll work on that and make sure the government won't be coming after you in a few years. Now, are you going to introduce me to Michael?" Nicole asked.

Danny knew that was a request. Sighing, she took Nicole by the hand and led her over to Michael. He sneered as soon as he noticed Dane and then proceeded to ignore her.

"Michael, I want you to meet my girlfriend, Nicole," Dane said, speaking to her brother's back. Michael glanced over his shoulder, snidely looking Nicole up and down.

"Reduced to hiring call girls now, Dane?" he commented glibly.

A growl escaped Danny and put her hand on the back of her brother's neck. She applied a little pressure, giving him enough incentive to turn around. Familiar grey eyes greeted Nicole staring at her from behind brown locks and creamy skin. Aside for their complexion, Nicole could easily tell that Danny and Michael were closely related. Apparently, Russell Wolfe had strong genes.

"I think you owe my girlfriend an apology," Dane informed her brother, tightening her grip a little for him to understand.

Michael growled, more in pain than anger. "I am quite sorry, Nicole," he said through gritted teeth. As soon as the words left his mouth, his sister released him.

"Now was that so hard? I was just telling Nicole that you're a tax attorney," Dane commented, as if trying to start a conversation. Nicole took that to mean that Michael was not as bad as he seemed since Danny was trying to begin a conversation. In reality, Danny was just trying to get her brother on a topic that she would never come up in since she knew that Nicole was going to talk to him anyway.

"Yeah, so?" Michael replied, rolling his shoulders and trying to fix his suit jacket.

"She's a corporate lawyer. She works at Tyler's firm," Dane added in.

And oddly enough, a discussion began between Nicole and Michael. Dane was bored about three sentences in and drifted out of the talk. Every now and then, she glanced over to make sure Nicole was still by her side. She hated to find that Nicole was still conversing and seemingly enjoying it after a few minutes. Mentally groaning, she wondered if that meant that Nicole actually liked Michael. But, he's such an asshole! But, then again, Nick gives everyone a chance. One of the things I love about her.

Watching, she did not think that Nicole was actually enjoying Michael's presence. It was more like she was enjoying the talk. Dane decided to check back in attention-wise for just a moment and found out that they were debating with each other over social issues. Nicole was rather liberal in her views while Michael was very conservative and they were currently driving each other mad by making decent arguments with each other.

Eventually, Michael stormed away and Dane sighed, glad to see him go. Turning her attention back to her lover, she noticed Nicole frowning at her brother's back. Dane shrugged.

"Ready to go yet?" Dane inquired since Nicole seemed to be getting along with the Wolfe family almost as well as she did.

"No. I still want to meet people in your family. Besides, you haven't seen the two people you want to see," Nicole pointed out.

"Oh, right. How could I forget that?" Dane muttered, rubbing her head.

"Don't worry, baby. You get like this when you want to get back to that couch you love so much," the redhead teased.

Danny gave her girlfriend a sheepish look. She supposed that until she spotted the two people that she wanted to see, she could continue to introduce Nicole to people. While they made the rounds, people all stared and whispered about the couple. They ignored it all.


4: Family ties

Clouds drifted through the clear blue sky, being tracked and envied by grey eyes. Dane wished that she was going away-away from her family. The whispers and looks were bothering her. Not because they were directed at her, but because they were directed toward Nicole. She was certain it would not take much to set her off and have her beat the crap out of someone if they said the wrong thing to Nicole.

Nicole did not mind what they were saying about her, but she was a bit troubled by all of the remarks that she was hearing about Danny. Since Danny did not say anything or even seem to care, Nicole let it go. She was just trying to hold out until someone else roamed into Dane's vision that she wanted to introduce Nicole to. She also wanted to hold onto the hope that someone would recognize what a good person Danny was and accept the guitarist.

"Danny, isn't that your mother?" Nicole asked curiously, pointing at a woman watching them from across the lawn. The woman was a blond of average height wearing just as much jewelry as Rachel had been. Her brown eyes seemed to be clocking the couple in a manner that Nicole could not put her finger on. It did not seem hostile, but it did not seem friendly either.

"Yeah," Dane answered, sparing her mother a bored glance.

Nicole waited for a moment. "Well, are you going to introduce me?"

"Why? Not like she'll say anything back. You'd have better luck introducing yourself than having me do it," the ebony-haired woman commented.

Although Nicole had heard the stories of how Danny's mother ignored her, it seemed that she forgot all about them. She might have even thought that Danny was exaggerating because she took Dane by the hand and proceeded to lead her toward the older woman. Danny sighed, but she did not put up a struggle. Whatever Nicole wanted, Nicole got. Really, she wanted Nicole to leave the family gathering feeling similar to how Danny felt when she left Nicole's family gathering, even though she knew that would be impossible. She had felt joy and acceptance with Nicole's family. That would never happen for Nicole with the Wolfe family because she was with Dane-the outsider, the unwanted one. She just could not get Nicole to comprehend that their families were two different animals.

Dane watched her feet as they moved, but was able to stop when Nicole halted. The strong-willed redhead wasted no time introducing herself to Dane's mother-Christine Wolfe. The older woman was so stunned by the bold action that she was not too sure how to react. She actually shook Nicole's hand when it was offered.

"Pleasure to meet you, Missus Wolfe. I have heard some about you," Nicole commented. It does me no good to point out that most of it was bad, but sources outside of Danny have told me that she at least contributes a lot to charity, so she can't be all bad.

"And I you, but they have rarely been in connection to anyone other than Tyler and your well-known parents," Christine replied politely. Her tone and posture held a certain grace to it. She did not seem like the type to just abandon a child based on skin color, Nicole thought, but alas it seemed to be true.

The green-eyed attorney feigned being shocked. "My well-known parents?"

"You may not know it, but my husband faced your mother in court several times many years ago. They had many fierce debates and I know they consider each other to be their arch nemesis. Surely you were too young to remember," Christine said.

"Indeed. My parents' careers were not very important to me during those years. They did not see any reason to include me in such business either." Although, they did feel the need to inform her about Russell once she got into law. Her mother had a particular hatred for the man since she had gone up against him in court so many times; Nicole suspected Kate's intense dislike of him influenced her opinion on Danny. It was odd since Kate did not hold Russell against Tyler, she thought, but then again Russell did not raise Tyler. Not that he raised Danny either, but Kate did not know that.

"Yet you are a lawyer yourself," Christine remarked, a small, almost pleasant smile playing on her lips.

Nicole shrugged. "But I am no longer a child."

Christine nodded. "As liberal as your parents are, I'm shocked to see you here."

"As you can see, I came with your daughter," Nicole pointed out, motioning to the silent guitarist.

Christine did not even glance Dane's way. "Enjoy yourself," the blond woman said to Nicole before walking away.

Nicole was not sure what to make of that behavior. She turned to Danny, thinking that she might get an explanation. Dane was not paying attention to the whole exchange, not really caring about it. Nicole was about to come right out and ask, but Dane beat her to speaking.

"Oh, there's Adam," Dane said and grabbed for her lover's hand. Before Nicole could react, she was being pulled toward Adam.

Nicole turned her attention to taking in the man that they were nearing. He looked older than she imagined he would. Adam was a brunette like Michael and like Russell. There were strands of blond hair in his hair, like Danny's hair. He had deep brown eyes, like Christine's eyes. Like all of the Wolfe children, Adam was tall and seemed to possess a power within him like a predatory animal that poured out just from the way that he stood.

"Hey, Adam," Dane called, causing the man to turn.

"Dane," he greeted her with a small smile. It would seem that someone in the family was happy to see the youngest, Nicole thought.

"Hey, Adam. I want you to meet my girlfriend, Nicole Cardell," Dane introduced the pair, motioning to her lover. "Nick, this is my eldest brother, Adam." She waved her hand in the direction of the well-dressed man before them.

"Pleasure to meet you," Adam said, putting his hand out to shake Nicole's hand.

"The feeling is mutual," Nicole replied. She wished that she could say that Danny had told her so much about him, but that would be a lie. Danny had not said much about her oldest brother.

"I didn't expect to see you here, Dane," Adam commented, shock evident in his eyes.

"Well, not everyday when your dad runs for governor, is it?" Dane replied, as if that made any sense. She did not give a good goddamn about her father and his life and everyone knew that.

"No, it's not, but still, you usually don't come to these things, especially lately. It's been a while since anyone's saw you aside from Tyler. I have heard some things about that situation too," Adam stated, glancing over at Nicole.

Dane waved it off. "Like I once said in a song, rumors don't do the truth justice. Besides, Tyler likes to spend his time talking out of his ass."

"Makes sense since his head spends much of its time up there," Adam remarked with a chuckle. "But, I can guess there's not much truth to the rumor about you stealing a a girl named Nicole from Tyler if you're introducing this pretty lady as your girlfriend. I have to admit, from the way the rumor was told to me, I am surprised that you both appear to be amazingly healthy for drug addicts." He sounded serious about that, Nicole noted. She wondered what other horrible rumors were going around about her and Danny.

"You know as well as I do that drugs are bad for you. Besides, even if I still used, Nicole would've cracked her whip and broke me of that habit really fast, which I guess is something else you could relate to," Danny quipped, not caring if her remark crossed the line.

Adam chuckled and nodded, but decided not to comment on the tail end of her statement. "I don't think I've ever met a girlfriend of yours and don't take this the wrong way, but she isn't what I expected from you."

"There haven't been many and this one is definitely the last. I was lucky to find her and I plan to keep her," Dane said with certainty. Nicole smiled from that.

"Planning the wedding already? That's good. Make sure you invite Thomas and Luke. You know they're very upset with you," Adam reported.

"I'll bet. I've got to be the worst aunt in the history of aunts," Dane sighed, running her hand through her hair. Not that they know that. "Did you bring them by any chance?" There was hope in her voice for the first time during the party.

"No, I didn't bring them. This seemed like it would be too adult-orientated for them. Could you imagine them here? They would be crying to leave ten minutes in," Adam replied with a light laugh.

Nicole gave her lover a look. "That sounds like someone else I know."

Adam smiled. "I can imagine. Dane, it would be better to see you under less populated circumstances. I doubt Dad told you, but we are having a family dinner Friday to celebrate this together. Do you think you could make it? Thomas and Luke will be there and you could bring Nicole," he enticed her.

"I dunno..." Dane muttered, scratching the end of her nose in contemplation. She really would prefer not seeing her family again, but she would love to see her brother's two boys.

"We'd love to attend," Nicole chimed in, earning a lingering look from her sweetheart.

"That's great. Everyone should be there for something like this. How often does one's father run for governor, after all?" Adam remarked, smiling proudly. He failed to notice his sister roll her eyes, even though she had just uttered the same phrase not too long ago. The difference was that Adam was serious about it.

"You're right. That is something special. Thank you for inviting us," Nicole said graciously.

"Thank you for taking care of my little sister. She can be such a handful," Adam chuckled and he reached out, like he was going to ruffle Dane's hair. Grey eyes shot his hand a look and that stopped him. His hand fell to his side and he chuckled a bit again, sounding slightly uncomfortable.

"A handful, right," Dane grumbled. Like you'd fucking know anything beyond the stories you hear.

"Well, I have to get back to my wife before she realizes I slipped away when she was speaking to her gardening friends," Adam said. "Nicole, it was a pleasure. Dane, it was good to see you."

"Yeah," Dane grunted.

"It was a pleasure," Nicole said with a smile, shaking Adam's hand again.

Danny wanted to leave now, but she doubted that mentioning that to Nicole would have been a good idea. While she had no doubt Nicole would have agreed with her, she did not want to ruin the day for her beloved, who was very social. Nicole pretty much took the reins and introduced herself to people, letting them know that she was there with "Danny." Dane only stood back while Nicole chatted many people up, getting into debates with some, and seemingly making friends with others.

Hours that seemed like an eternity to Dane passed before Nicole was tugging her back to the front of the house, so that they could get in the car and go home. Dane sighed in relief when she hit the plush leather passenger seat. She was going to just curl up in her seat and go to sleep, but Nicole was still buzzing and apparently wished to compare notes about the day.

"That was quite entertaining and delightful. I didn't expect your family to have so many people there that I would actually get along with," Nicole said.

"Yeah," Dane sniffed.

Nicole glanced at her lover and figured out that Danny was not in the mood to talk about the party overall. "Um...so, it's kind of cute that you and your siblings are all named after people in the Bible," she commented. She did think it was cute and it seemed like something to say that did not involve the party.

"Cute? I think it's creepy and maybe even a little blasphemous," the musician remarked. Virtuous we are not.

"Who was the religious one, your mother or your father?" Nicole asked. She knew that Danny was far from religious. Danny did not even seem to have much of a philosophy when it came to like, aside from "don't die" anyway. Of course, Nicole thought that was adorable.

Dane chuckled. "My mother, of course. Do you really think my father has even looked at a holy book?"

"Possibly by accident," the lawyer joked.

"Yeah, it probably burned his retinas."

Nicole laughed a little. "So, your mother? Is she still religious?"

"Nah. Used to be Lutheran or something like that. I imagine that she gave up after realizing who she was married to, but I don't think that's it."

"Then what do you think it is?"

Dane glanced over at Nicole and then turned her attention back to the window. "Me."


"Yeah, me. Michael told me that we stopped going to church a lot after I was born. Rachel said Mom lost faith a few years after she had me. Apparently, she was praying for God to turn me white or some bullshit and it didn't happen. They do say God answers all prayers, but most of the time the answer is no."

Nicole looked skeptical. "Danny, they were probably just being mean-spirited children. You know how kids can be. I've been told that sometimes the older kids pick on the younger ones too. Hell, sometimes Philip picks on Sabrina and Eddie because he's bored. Perhaps your brother and sister were doing that."

"Doubt it," Dane replied. There was always a chance that they were just being mean, as they had that tendency. Unfortunately, she felt like evidence in her life told her that they were being truthful in that regard. She was the reason her mother lost her faith. "But, I don't remember us ever going to church, not together anyway. I know a couple of times, they got all dressed up, but I didn't go for whatever reason."

"Danny..." Nicole sighed, not too sure what else to say. "It was a long time ago. They weren't so terrible today."

"No, my father and sister only tried to throw us out, my mother ignored my presence, and my brother called you a whore. Nothing terrible about that," the younger woman grumbled. Why the hell does Nick want to make my family something they're not? They're fucking assholes.

"Danny, it was not that terrible. Your father and sister didn't throw us out. Your mother, yes, ignored you, but she didn't say anything horrible. I thought that Michael was only joking, but I guess you would know him better than I do. He and I had a decent conversation after that. Adam invited us to that dinner. Maybe if you spend time with your family and show them how you've changed, they'll change too. You've said it yourself that you've matured. Perhaps they'll recognize that and open up to you."

"They don't see me, Nick. They have a picture of me and to them I am that picture. Nothing changes that," Dane stated.

"I don't think so. They're all intelligent people and they seem somewhat reasonable. I'm sure things can change."

Dane only looked at her lover, not too sure how to argue that one. She supposed anything was possible, but in all honesty, she did not think that anything would change between her and her family anytime soon. Not to mention, she really did not give a damn. She had gotten along for twenty-five years without them and was sure that she could continue on without them.

"I wish your nephews were there. I'm sure they're adorable," Nicole said.

A small smile worked its way onto Danny's mouth. "They are. I haven't seen them in over a year, though. Haven't talk to them either. They probably won't remember me."

"Isn't that reason enough to go to the dinner then?"

Dane reached over, taking Nicole's hand in her own. "You're right about that, Nick. Thanks for setting me straight there."

"I don't want to set you too straight," the redhead joked.

Danny could not help laughing. "You are so corny."

Nicole smiled. "You like me corny." That was a point that could not be argued.


Nicole stretched as she pushed away from her desk. She was sitting in her office and now preparing to go to lunch. She was much more agreeable about going to lunch with her friends lately. They suspected it had to do with the fact that her workload was not as heavy as it was in the past. They enjoyed having her out, seeing how lively she was now.

Grabbing her jacket, she headed out to the lobby to wait for her two friends. Out of the corner of her eye while walking the hall, she noticed Tyler watching her. He did not approach her, not needing the trouble in his life right now. She had noticed him watching her Saturday when she was at the party, after Danny basically shooed him away. She recalled the anger in his eyes and the envy on his face when he saw her with Danny.

Right now, she supposed he had some anger and sorrow in his gaze. She did not stop to contemplate the look. She did not care.

"Since when do you beat me down here?" Nicole's best and oldest friend called to her. A bright smile lit up Mina's chocolate face as she approached the chemistry student.

"I thought I would surprise you. Where's Clara?" Nicole asked curiously.

"She's coming. She's got a client on the phone that seems to think the more he bugs her, the better things will go for his trial. The way she tells it, he's enough to drive her to become a prosecutor," Mina joked, laughing a bit.

Nicole laughed. They only had to wait half-a-minute before the last person of their trio showed up. Clara looked a little worse for wear with lines under her eyes. They knew it was because of her latest client. Clara typically enjoyed being a defense attorney, feeling like she was defending the wronged "little guy" most of the time. But, there were a few cases that she got that rubbed her the wrong way, like when her client was a pest and liked to play lawyer.

"God, I needed this break," Clara groaned as she fell into her seat at their favorite café.

"You sound like this one used to," Mina commented, nodding toward Nicole.

"I never said that," Nicole argued. "Unless you can cite evidence on occasions those words have left my mouth, I would thank you not to say it again," she added as a joke.

"Nicole, you know I'm not Danny. I will argue you into the ground over this issue and bring several items to the table, even if my statement is false," Mina remarked with a smile.

"Speaking of Danny, how is she? You said you guys were going to visit her family this Saturday and you didn't think she really wanted to go," Clara pointed out. She and Mina smiled broadly as they recalled how excited their friend was last week when she told them that Danny was going to introduce her to the Wolfe family. They both thought if she was that excited just to meet the family-that they all knew Danny disliked to a degree-then they could not imagine how happy she was going to be if Danny ever got up the nerve to propose.

"Danny's fine. We did go to her parents' house on Saturday. They had a huge gathering for her father, who's running for governor. I doubt I'll be voting for him, but I met most of her family. They weren't very kind to her, but they weren't completely evil toward her either. We were invited to dinner by her oldest brother, Adam. He seemed to like her and she seemed to like him. I think the rest of her family might warm up to her if they get to know her and I think she might like them too. Everyone deserves a family," Nicole replied.

Mina nodded. "Be careful with that, Nicole. I haven't spent a lot of time with Danny, but I get the feeling that she'll do just about anything for you, even if it gets on her nerves. You might be pushing her into something that she doesn't want."

"Why would she not want her family?" Nicole asked curiously, forehead wrinkling in confusion. How could someone not want a family, their family?

"She just might not. Has she expressed any desire to see or be with her family?" Mina inquired. She knew that Nicole had a close relationship to her own family, so she probably could not grasp someone not wanting to be with her own. It was not a concept that she understood completely either since she got along fairly well with her family, but she was open to the possibility. She doubted that Nicole could even fathom the possibility that someone would not want to be with her family.

"No, but I'm sure if she spent some time around them, they would see just how amazing she is and she can get some of the attention that she should've gotten as a child," Nicole replied.

"That's a dangerous assumption. Tyler doesn't seem to like her much and I've gotten the idea that he's a better representation of the family than she is. Couldn't you be setting her up for something bad?" Clara asked.

"I don't think so. They weren't that bad Saturday, really. I'm sure they'll get better with time. Danny needs contact. She's very closed off and you guys know that. You've seen her. She huddles into herself in crowds and at gatherings," Nicole pointed out. "Besides, if you saw her with my family, you'd know how much she'd like to have a family. She was so good with my little cousins and everything."

"Well, then again, you might be right," Mina conceded. "I just hope you're letting her decide these things and not just jumping on it because you want to do it. You know Danny's not going to disagree with you."

Nicole thought on it for a second. "Well, I sort of jumped on dinner. But, she agreed after I explained why I did it. Her nephews are going to be at the dinner and she loves the little guys. She has their baby pictures in her wallet. They're rumbled from where she's pulled them out and just held them in her hand. She wants to see them, but she wasn't going to speak up about it to her brother."

"Sounds like you did the right thing then," Clara agreed.

"I hope so. She hasn't seen her nephews in a while. I'm guessing more than a year. Plus, she seemed like she didn't mind her eldest brother," Nicole said.

"How much older is he?" Mina asked curiously.

"I think Danny said he's about eight or nine years older than she is. She doesn't talk much about any of her siblings. But, like I said, I get the feeling she doesn't mind the eldest. He might be the one to get close to her," Nicole explained.

"That's good. So, how did Tyler take seeing you on Danny's arm, mingling with the blue-bloods and working the crowd?" Mina wore a teasing smile as she asked the question.

"He was jealous, yes. Danny threatened to start a fight with him because he wouldn't leave me alone. She knew he wouldn't since it was such an important party. Tyler has hopes of working the campaign for his uncle, you know? So getting into a fight wouldn't have helped in that," the chemistry student replied, chuckling a bit at the memory.

"That was smart of her. Does she know he wants to work on the campaign?" Mina asked.

"She knows a lot more about him than he knows about her," Nicole answered.

"How's school going?" Clara inquired, more curious about that than whatever new problem Tyler was trying to work himself into.

"Going good. I can't believe I'm about to be done with my first semester. It just amazes me and it feels so great." The redhead flashed a brilliant smile.

"That's good. It shows," Clara pointed out, as she always did. Not matter what, she would always thank Danny for pretty much forcing Nicole to go back to school. It seemed to be the best thing-outside of dating Danny-that Nicole had done in a long time.

Nicole smiled, knowing that it did show. She felt different ever since she started going to school. She felt better, as if she was becoming whole and enjoying life. She felt like Danny gave that to her, gave her the chance to really live. She hoped that she could do the same for her beloved, and one of the ways to do that seemed to be trying to patch things up with Danny's family.


Dane sat on the couch, staring down at a well-worn photo in her hand. It was a tiny, wallet-sized picture. Grey eyes focused on the cherubic, smiling faces of two very young boys. Luke and Thomas were her nephews; the only ones that she had as far as she knew. She had met them pretty late in their lives. Thomas was five now as far as she knew and she had met him when he was three. Luke was eight and she had met him when he was six. Something inside of her instantly clicked with them, though. Looking into their eyes had touched something inside of her that none of her family members had ever tried to encounter. It was something that she never knew was there, until those two wonderful boys.

"They're worth going," Dane told herself. Her nephews were worth putting up with any and everything her family could throw at her. It'll be worth it...unless of course they hate my fucking guts now too.

She considered the very highly possibility that her nephews forgot her or hated her by now. As scary as that seemed to her, she would rather know than speculate. So, she was now very much in favor of going to dinner with her family. All she had to do was figure out the outfit for it before Nicole came home from work.

Shorts was the easiest choice. Nicole never bothered her about the shorts as along as they were below her knee, accepting it as part of her style even for formal events. Of course, she did not wear shorts everywhere. Much of the time on her own she could figure out what was "pants" formal and what was "shorts" formal.

After the shorts, she had to pick out a sweater vest. The more she wore the vests, the more she liked them; the type of vest did not really matter. She was pretty sure that soon enough they would work their way into her everyday casual wear. She was sure Nicole would like that; it would mean not having to be seen with her in any more ratty tee-shirts.

The vest that she chose was purple with an argyle pattern. She picked a lavender colored short-sleeve shirt to go underneath it. Dressing quickly, she went to the mirror and ran her hand through her hair a couple of times; she considered that action just as good-if not better-than actually combing her unruly inky mop of hair. Of course, when Nicole came in, if it did not pass inspection, she was going to come under fire.

Doing the best she could without supervision, Dane left the bedroom and made her way to the living room. She listened to music until Nicole came in. The lawyer sat down next to her lover and sighed as Dane wrapped her in a warm embrace. They were silent for a long moment, cuddled up together and enjoying the closeness.

"You're kind of eager to go to this dinner, huh? You're all dressed and ready to go," Nicole noted.

"You know this way I get to huff at you for taking so long," Dane remarked with a smile.

"You're not getting off that easily, silly pup," Nicole commented, running one hand through her sweetheart's soft hair. "We have to do something about this, first and foremost. Can I style it?" she requested, a little eagerness peppering her tone.

Danny smiled a bit. "You know you can do whatever you want to do it and any other part of me," she commented with a sly twinkle in her slate-colored eyes.

"I know that's true. So, let's go make you presentable and then I can get myself ready. Hopefully, we'll get there fashionably late," the auburn-haired woman said.

It was a rare day where Nicole was allowed to play in Dane's hair aside from running her fingers through it. Most of the time, it did not occur to her to do it. She liked the wild look that her lover tended to sport. Danny tended to only let her do her hair when they were going some place where she did not want to embarrass Nicole, like an office party. Other than that, Dane let her hair fall how it may.

Thankfully, as far as time concerns went, there was no need to wash Dane's untamed mane. Ever since she started living with Nicole, she had been taking very good care of herself and her personal hygiene; she had come along way from when she first showed up at the house smelling like a cross between a sewage plant and sulfur. Her transformation from something that would choke a skunk to something slightly sweet and fresh was immediate. Now, Nicole loved the way that Dane smelled, very subtle and comforting. The redhead could not get enough of Danny's smell. To her, Dane's scent equaled security and warmth.

Danny purred as Nicole worked her hands through her thick, soft hair. Gentle combing and brushing along with oil for her scalp made silver eyes flutter shut. Danny thought that she could get used to the treatment. I might have to let her play with my hair whenever she wants to. I forgot it feels this good.

"One day, we're going to get you into a salon and then get them to draw out your highlights, which I so love," Nicole cooed into her girlfriend's ear. She thought the light blond highlights that ran through Danny's hair was sexy.

"Never," Dane answered in a whisper.

"But, I love your natural highlights," she persisted.

Dane shook her head. She had never been to a salon and she was never going to. Nicole was the only person that was going to touch her head aside from herself. Nicole chuckled lightly at her lover's stubbornness. She quickly finished her task and smiled at her good work.

"Not one to pat myself on the back, I feel like I did a very good job here," Nicole said.

Opening her eyes, Dane looked in the mirror. Looking back at her was a woman with shining ebony locks that were swept to the side with a few strands falling into her face. It was nothing fancy, which was just like her. She smiled, enjoying just how well her lover knew her and knew what to do with her.

"Like it?" Nicole asked.

Dane nodded, turning and giving Nicole a kiss on the cheek. The action got a smile from the lawyer. Nicole put her hands on Danny's cheeks and tenderly dragged her fingers down to Dane's chin.

"A little makeup?" Nicole proposed, teasing of course.

"Get on!" Dane barked with a laugh, lightly swatting her lover on the butt.

The redhead chuckled and went on her way, going to get ready. Danny returned to mentally prepping herself for the dinner while Nicole took a shower and got dressed in an alluring, teal dress that fell to her knees. When she marched into the living room, her heels sounding against the floor made her presence known and drew Dane's attention to her.

"Do you own a dress that doesn't make me want to rip you out of it?" Dane inquired curiously, eyes glued to the torso-hugging material.

Nicole giggled. "I hope it stays that way. I love that hungry look you get in your eyes when you see me. It lets me know you still want me."

"I'll always want you, angel," Dane declared, getting up from her seat and walking over to Nicole for a closer look. Running her hands up and down the soft material drew a groan from the redhead, who once again stood at Dane's height thanks to her shoes. She leaned in for a kiss because of the attention.

"You're so sweet, honey. Now, let's get going, so I can meet your nephews," Nicole commented with a grin.

Dane shrugged and dragged her feet out the door. She really did want to see her nephews, but she would prefer it without the headache that came along with it. Who knew what her family might say to Nicole while they were there. She tried not to even think about it.

The drive was spent in comfortable silence. They arrived at the house and did not have a problem getting in. The servants did look quite surprised with Dane's appearance. They received lingering looks, but no one said anything.

"Where's everyone?" Dane asked in a disinterested tone.

The servants pointed her in the right direction and she walked off with Nicole at her side. Nicole was awestruck by the inside of the mansion. Everything looked too expensive to ever touch. Rich paintings, vases, and even statues lined the walls. Dane did not even seem to see that as she walked deeper into the house. The smell of cigar smoke reached her nose as they approached a room, which Dane walked into.

The sight of Russell sharing cigars with his two sons and his son-in-law greeted the two women. Dane did not seem fazed by it and turned to leave the room. She just wanted to see that Adam was there, so she would know if her nephews were there or not. Unfortunately, she would not be able to make a swift getaway like she desired.

"Dane," Russell and Michael sort of growled the name.

Rachel's husband, an average-sized, good looking blond male named Duncan sneered in Dane's direction. His ice blue eyes tried to cut into her, but she ignored it altogether. She always thought he was such a follower, trying his best to fit in with the Wolfe men, wanting to leech off of them like so many others. Oddly enough, she thought that was rather Wolfe-like behavior, wanting to take advantage of others and use them. She did not even waste time introducing him to Nicole, not now and not when they were at the party before.

"Hello," Nicole greeted them, trying her best to ignore the hostile tone. She was certain that if they gave Danny enough time, then they would warm up to her.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Michael demanded to know, taking a step toward his sister. Dane pointed to Adam as her answer.

"I invited her," Adam admitted with a light shrug. "Nothing wrong with her being here. Plus, she wants to see Luke and Thomas."

"You're actually going to let her around your children? You insane?" Michael inquired, turning to face Adam.

The eldest shrugged again. "They like her. And she's good with them. Besides, she's never done anything wrong with them before," he explained. He then turned his attention back to Dane. "They're with the women folk in the sitting room," he informed her.

Dane nodded and took her leave, holding onto Nicole's hand as she did so to tow Nicole along. The lawyer lingered for a moment, just in time to hear Russell and Michael barking on Adam for inviting Dane. If Dane heard the noise, she ignored it, continuing on her journey to the room that held her nephews. Danny had a lot of practice ignoring things from her family, so it was easier for her to do it.

Coming to the room opening, Dane leaned against the wall, hearing a small male voice speaking. Grey eyes fell to the back a young boy and an even smaller boy standing next to him. The boy was reciting a poem and the smaller one seemed to be acting it out. A smile spread on Dane's face and pride shined in her eyes, enough to put a smile on Nicole's face.

"Thomas is such a ham," Dane muttered, shaking her head. Suddenly, she started clapping, calling attention to herself.

All eyes went to the applauding musician. Dane did not even bother looking at the three adult women in the room, focusing on the two boys. They were adorable little blonds with chubby cheeks. The older one-Luke-was wearing a blue suit with a silky red tie. Thomas was dressed similar to Dane, wearing a red sweater vest, white long-sleeve shirt, and black pants.

"DANE!" the boys squealed with joy and charged the former rocker. They latched onto her legs and hugged her tight. A grin spread across her face, overjoyed that they had not forgotten her after all.

"Hey, how are my band mates doing?" Dane asked, reaching down to pat them both on the back.

"Where have you been? You missed my birthday!" Luke complained in just about the cutest voice.

"So sorry, little man," Dane said sincerely. The thing that made it worse was that she and Luke almost had the same birthday. When he found that out, he thought it was the greatest thing ever and looked forward to celebrating with her. She had let him down.

"S'okay. Cool that you're here. You gonna sing with us?" Luke requested with a bright, angelic grin and Thomas nodded.

Dane blinked in disbelief. How can they even remember that I sing? That was so long ago. Why do they remember me?

"I could sing with you guys later," Dane answered. "I want you guys to meet a friend of mine," she informed them and then turned her attention to Nicole. She put her arm around the redhead. "Luke, Thomas, this is my best friend, Nicole Cardell. Nicole, these are two of the most amazing kids I have ever met, Luke and Thomas," she said, pointing to the boys as she said their names.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Nicole said, reaching down to shake their hands.

"Dane, your friend is really pretty," Luke commented, giving a handshake and nod while he was at it.

"I know she is," Dane concurred with a smile.

"Thank you very much," Nicole said to the little boy. She then turned her attention to Thomas. "You don't talk much, do you, sir?" she asked.

"I talk just fine," he proclaimed in a proud tone. She had to laugh a bit because of that.

"Thomas could probably do the State of the Union address at this point," Rachel chimed in, obviously bragging about the child while being snippy toward the redhead while she was at it.

"I didn't mean anything by it," Nicole defended her statement.

"Don't pay her any mind, Nick," Dane said. She turned her attention to her mother, sister, and sister-in-law for a moment. "Nick, you know Christine and Rachel already. The other lady is Sharon Wolfe, Adam's wife."

Sharon was a blond woman with her tresses curled at the end. Her face was long, but she looked graceful. Her blue eyes appeared cold, though. Nicole wondered if her stiff and frosty demeanor was directed at Dane or if that was just how she was. She would quickly find out that it was because of Danny. Sharon was fine with Rachel and Christine, but acted like Danny was the devil incarnate.

Dane ignored her sister-in-law, along with the other members of her family. Her attention focused solely on her nephews, who were easily awed by her. Sharon seemed to have a problem with it and continuously tried to get the boys away from their aunt, but somehow they always made it back next to her. Even at dinner, the boys somehow shifted from their seats next to their mother down the table where Dane was purposely being isolated.

Nicole made conversation with the Wolfe family. It was not that difficult, especially since Adam was trying to engage her. Most of the family seemed quite shocked that she was as intelligent and articulate as she was. Every now and then, they would say something biting, but Nicole did not let that bother her. She never snapped back, but said something to glance over it or use it as route to another topic of conversation. Eventually, they just spoke to her like they would any other person.

Dane was silent the entire time and walked away from the table as soon as she finished eating. It was not surprising that her nephews followed her, even when their mother scolded them for leaving the table without permission. The reprimands did not stop the boys from going, though.

"Let them go, Sharon. You know they weren't going to be able to sit there much longer anyway," Adam pointed out.

Sharon reluctantly admitted that her husband made a point. Dinner did not last too much longer and Sharon went in search for her sons. Nicole went along, figuring that the day went well enough for she and Dane to leave before they wore out their welcome...which she liked to believe they did have since the Wolfe family was speaking with her. She considered that she might be able to help them start talking with Danny.

Nicole could not help smiling when they found Dane singing with the boys, doing the air-guitar too. It was clear that the boys loved every second of it from just the sheer delight on their flushed faces. It seemed that being in even a make-believe band was energy consuming and a workout.

"I hate to break up your concert, but Danny, we should get going," Nicole said, drawing attention to herself and the other adults standing behind her.

"Go? No, Dane, you can't go yet!" Thomas objected. He had been having so much fun playing the air-drums.

"You still have to do the rap for us!" Luke pointed out.

"Guys, you heard Nicole, Dane has to leave now," Sharon said, thankful for the out, so her children's anger would not be directed at her.

"Yeah, you guys heard Nicole. She drove us here, so I have to go," Dane explained to the young boys.

"You'll come around again, right?" Luke implored her while Thomas just looked up at her with big, watery grey eyes.

"Um..." Not sure how to answer that, a hand went through Dane's hair.

"Of course she'll come around again," Adam chimed in, walking into the room to comfort the boys. "Maybe even next weekend she would be willing to come and play with you guys in the garden," he added, directing that bit toward his baby sister.

Again, Dane's hand went through her hair. Nicole answered for her, saying that Dane would love it, which she would, but could not say it out loud. Dane was enjoying her time with her nephews, but she knew if she came next week, she would have a supervised visit with Sharon breathing down her next to make sure she did not eat the boys or something. Still, she did not object.

Goodbyes were said, most of them coming from Nicole, but Dane did bid her nephews and eldest brother farewell. Luke and Thomas walked the couple out, wanting as much time with Dane as possible. The couple drove off to the chubby waves of Dane's nephews.

"Those boys are too adorable!" Nicole declared on the ride home.

"They are that," Dane agreed.

"And you're good with them."

"Only because they like music. Luke really likes poetry, so he actually prefers to hear me rap. I taught him how to freestyle the last time I saw him," Dane said proudly.

Green eyes widened a bit from being impressed. "Wow, I wish you would have told him to freestyle. Hell, I would like to hear you freestyle."

"Some other time, angel. I do wanna thank you for agreeing not just to next week, but to this week too. It was great seeing Luke and Thomas again," the younger woman stated.

"I told you," Nicole replied with a happy smile. She was sure that after a few more visits, Dane would warm up to the adults in her family and her family would warm up to her. It would be fantastic. She was sure of that; everyone deserved to have a loving family, after all.


Next time: Dane's time with her nephews at her parents' go as expected.

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