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Advocate & Rsawest

For Disclaimers see Chapter 1a

1a 1b 2a 2b 3a 3b 4a 4b 5a 5b 6a 6b 7a 7b


Chapter 3a

Claire padded into the kitchen in search of her morning coffee. Looking at the clock for the tenth time she decided it was still too early to call Amanda. That’s assuming she’ll even talk to me. Why should I feel guilty? Amanda was right. I don’t owe her an explanation. Because you like her, that’s why. A pesky voice inserted. I know...I know... you don’t need to remind me! Claire sighed, and rubbed tired eyes. The mental picture of Amanda’s pain was disturbing and... something else. Familiar? As she watched the sunrise from her bedroom window, she had thought about everything that had happened. "I hope I can fix this," she spoke to the empty kitchen. But what am I gonna do to kill the next two or three hours?

Opening the cabinet she decided to indulge in her favorite food group, Pop Tarts. Sliding two into the toaster, Claire leaned back against the kitchen cabinets and waited. The cool surface felt nice against warm, bare skin. She hadn’t bothered slipping on a robe before leaving her room. Lucky for me this house is pretty secluded. Mentally shrugging, Claire acknowledged that it wouldn’t matter where she lived. Modesty was not an issue. Snagging the hot pop tarts, she dropped them onto a plate and made her way to the den to watch the early morning news.

Plopping down, she grabbed the remote and began channel surfing. She paused when she saw a live-news crew, ambulance, and police cars, broadcasting from the Mississippi River.

An impossibly blonde newswoman stood at the river’s edge. Her jacket billowed in the strong wind, but her perfect coif held firm. The camera pulled back, revealing a shot of two men in white jackets hefting a heavy black body bag onto a gurney.

"The body, which has been identified as Aaron Levine, was discovered floating in the Mississippi River by an early morning jogger."

"Holy shit!" Claire dropped the still steaming strawberry Pop Tart on a bare thigh. "YOWWW!"

"An independent source confirms that local police suspect drug use may be involved." The newswoman smiled what she hoped was a convincingly sad smile. "Aaron Levine was the only son of industrialist and Martha’s Butter, Vice President, Sal Levine. We’ll keep posted on this late-breaking story. Back to you, Chuck."

The attorney clicked off the television and sat in silence. Oh, Aaron. What did you get yourself into?


Claire didn't want to go back to Origami so soon after Aaron's death, however, she realized that she had to strike while the iron was hot. Aaron’s criminal file had a photograph of Aaron with some of his "friends." Maybe she would see some familiar faces.

Last night did not make for fond memories. Swallowing, she fought off a wave of nausea as she remembered the look on Amanda's face as she left. She would call her and try to explain it all. She only hoped that Amanda would believe her.

Just lay off and give her a chance to breathe. Maybe it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t get a hold of her earlier. I don't want crowd her. I just need to let things settle. I can't let my imagination run away from me. She wasn't trying to avoid me. She just wasn't home. Not everyone sits around waiting for the phone to ring.

Sighing, the lawyer pulled her Explorer into a parking lot next to Origami. She hated this, but if she was going to find anything out, she would have to be here, where the action was. Claire wasn’t dressed to kill tonight. Simply outfitted in one of her business suits, she was hoping to keep a low profile.

I look boring enough tonight, she said to herself, as she checked her lipstick in the rearview mirror before getting out of the car. The warehouse district was quiet tonight. It was still a little too early for the regulars. As she approached Origami, the only sounds she heard were the clicking of her own low-heeled shoes on the pavement. Entering the restaurant, she immediately went upstairs to the bar area.

I’ll just stay here for an hour and see what I get. Then, I can go home and call Amanda and beg her to see me again.

Taking a deep breath she went towards the bar and ordered a scotch and soda before sitting down on the couch. Taking a sip of her scotch, she sat back, unconsciously tugging on her tan raw silk blazer. Now it was more or less a waiting game and Claire hated to wait. After about twenty minutes of watching unfamiliar faces pass by, she began to get restless. Her mind kept wandering.

What the hell am I doing? I'm sitting here looking for people I know nothing about based on a photo and the word of some unlucky kid who was found in the river this morning. Trying to firm up her resolve she added, I know I have to follow this up if I want get anywhere with this whole mess.

Moodily, she stirred her scotch before taking another sip. She was ready to go home and put another wasted evening behind her.


Recognizing the voice, she looked up into the familiar face with a smile.

"Zane, what's going on?" she said, putting her drink down and standing up to hug the muscular light haired man.

"When was the last time I saw you? The Christmas party last year?" he replied, as he gave his childhood buddy a bear hug.

"I think that's right. Let me look at you. Have you been working out again? I feel more muscles on you!" Claire pulled back and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek.

His hazel eyes twinkled as he smiled. "Ah Claire, you do wonders for my ego, darling. And you look great as usual. What are you drinking? Let me buy you one and let's chat."

"Actually, one is my limit tonight. Let me buy you a drink and we can catch up." She noticed the bags under his red-rimmed eyes. "You look pretty tired, what's up?"

"Not much." He waived away her hands. "Nah, I'm not in the mood for a drink. I just came here to meet some business associates and I'm a bit early. Come on, let's sit down." Zane gestured toward a chair.

"What time are you supposed to meet your associates?" Claire sat down across from her friend and tugged a coaster from the small rack on the table.

"In about 10 minutes or so. But I can talk to them anytime, how often do I get to see you?" Zane asked with a smile.

"You have regular business meetings here? Must be interesting. How's your father?" The attorney leaned back and closed her eyes for a moment. God, this day has been long.

"Dad’s been a bit worn out lately, a little cranky. I've been staying out of his way really. How's my favorite corporate lawyer been?"

"I'm actually on an mandatory vacation. It hasn't been too bad. How about you?"

Zane rubbed his throbbing temples. "I gotta get out of this business, Claire. It's killing me, the hours and the stress."

"So sales is getting to you, huh? It used to be so much fun for you, Zane."

"The hours are killing me and it's not as easy as it used to be. Meetings like this all the time. I'm getting too old for this Claire."

"Nah, you're just tired. Your dad is so proud of you, Buddy. When I see him, he always tells me about some big account you've just landed."

Zane laughed but it came out more like a snort. "The novelty wears off quickly. Nah, I gotta stop, but I'm so used to the income..."

Claire nodded with sympathy. Her old friend seemed to be exhausted. She was feeling pretty worn out herself.

After a few more minutes of chit-chat Claire decided it was time to go home. "I'm gonna leave you to your business buddies, Zane. I'm wiped."

"Okay, Claire. You enjoy your rest and I'll see you soon," Zane offered, as he helped her stand up.

She put her forearms on his shoulders and looked at him directly in the eyes.

"Zane, if this is killing you, you need to get out. If you hate your job, that's no way to live. Give me a call if you want to talk about other careers. How about law school?"

Zane laughed heartily. "If it were only that easy, my friend. I don't think any law school would want the likes of me wandering in their hallowed halls. Besides, listening to you and Dad sometimes, I'd be a fool to get into law."

Claire raised an eyebrow and smiled at him. "You have a point, the law is a bit crazy at times. The line between the so-called good and bad guys is blurred a lot of the time. Not like in sales, right?" she winked and walked away.

As Claire exited Origami she looked up at the sky and saw millions of stars. Closing her eyes, she tried to work up the guts to call Amanda and try to explain this whole mess.


"Hi Amanda, it's Claire. I need to talk to you about Aaron and I." The brunette rehearsed as she drove into her garage.

No, that's like admitting that little stooge and I were a couple. Try to sound less guilty, will ya.

Putting down her keys on the kitchen counter, she looked at the phone for a moment before deciding to check her messages. Come on, call, call. I'm too chicken. Shit, no message from Amanda. I knew there wouldn’t be.

Tossing her jacket down on the kitchen table she sat down. I have to make the first move. For once, don't let an opportunity slip away. If she yells at me and hangs up, at least I’ll know that it wasn't me that gave up.

Screwing up her courage she picked up the phone and began to dial. Her pulse increased with every ring...


"Amanda, this is Claire..."

"Hi Claire."

Claire immediately launched into an apology. "Look, I'm really sorry about last night. I can explain it all..."



"I admit I was angry last night and kind of hurt, and if you have an explanation, I want to hear it, but I want you to know, you don't owe me anything."

"I do owe you an explanation, Amanda. I like you a lot... and I...I would be very upset if what happened last night kept us from getting to know each other. I mean, I'm not trying to push you or anything."

Amanda was silent for several long seconds. Then Claire heard a long exhale on the other end of the line.

"I like you a lot too, Claire. And I feel the same way about the chance at getting to know you better."

Claire couldn't keep the smile out of her voice. "I'm glad Amanda, I really am." How much do I tell her? All the way? Deciding to throw caution to the wind, Claire settled on a bare bones version of the truth. "Okay, the reason I was at Origami with Aaron was...well...I was doing some research...trying to find out whether there’s some kind of organized drug connection that helped Aaron weasel out of what should have been a guaranteed conviction," she explained.

"Is that the reason you came to the clinic? Claire, Cornerstone has a contract with the court system."

"Yeah, I know. Several other criminal defendants that should be in prison right now, were ordered into counseling, all of whom ended up at your clinic. I have no reason to think any of this involves the clinic other than coincidence." Claire quickly added, not wanting to blunder her reprieve. "I just wanted to check it out."

"I see." Amanda wasn’t sure whether she should be angry at Claire’s implications or impressed by her deductive reasoning. Before she could make up her mind, Claire continued.

"Now that Aaron’s dead. I’m more convinced than ever, that something big is going on."

"Yeah, I heard about his death on the news."

"That was why I was out with him. I was hoping he would let something slip. I may have overdone the seductress thing. But there is no way I would ever have a relationship with him. Please believe me. Do you believe me?"

Amanda took a deep breath. "Claire, I do. And I’m more than a bit concerned about this whole corruption thing. But that doesn’t change the fact that I like you very much and want to see you again."

Claire suddenly felt very shy. "So do we still have a date?"

"Unless your feelings for me have changed."

"They haven’t changed. Are we still on for hockey tomorrow?"

"I expect you to be here, ready to cheer on the Red Wings to another Stanley Cup," Amanda replied, her mood brightening as the conversation shifted to a less sinister area.

At that moment Claire was sure she was the happiest person alive. "Okay, I'll see you then."

"See you soon, Claire."

Hanging up the phone, she let out a whoop. "YES! She still wants to see me, she still likes me...Oh shit, I'd better find out about these Red Hawks..."


The phone rang just as Claire got out of the shower. She started to panic. What if its Amanda calling to tell me that she's changed her mind... God, I’ve got to quit doubting myself. I sound pathetic!

Nonetheless, her heart started to pound a little faster as she exited the shower and ran dripping to the phone.

"Hello," she said softly.

"Hey Claire!"

"Mark, ah it's you..."

"What's the matter, you sound scared to answer the phone?"

"Long story, Marko, long story. Suffice to say that I'm glad it's you. What's going on?" Claire began toweling off her wet legs.

"Well, I'm calling to give you fair warning. Since you didn't make it here for dinner, we're bringing dinner to you on Saturday. The kids miss their Aunt Claire."

"That's great Mark, but... well, I have a date on Saturday."

"A date? That's great. Why didn't you say something?"

"Uh, it happened kind of fast... uh, it almost didn't happen."

"So what’s she like?"

"Well, she’s a psychologist and..."

"Is she a redhead and is it short or long?" You've never really been interested in brunettes have you?

"More blonde really and it’s medium/long."


Claire rolled her eyes knowing her friend wanted a detailed physical description. "I’d say she’s about 5’4"."

"Okay, yeah, yeah...I’m starting to get a mental picture...go on. What about her figure?"

"What about it?" Claire shouted exasperated.

"Jesus, Claire, you’re such a girl. How can an old bachelor like me live through you if you’re so tightlipped with details? Is she model skinny, or athletic or..."

"Petite but athletic," Claire answered quickly, wanting to put an end to her friends AT&T voyeurism.

"Nice. Okay, what about her..."

"Mark," Claire growled.

"Okay, Okay," he laughed. "Go ahead and give me the other details."

Claire sighed and lay down on her bed. "I'll cut to the chase, her name is Amanda and she's a psychologist. And she's great. She's gorgeous and has a sweet personality. I don't think I've ever felt this way about anyone, especially so quickly."

Mark laughed again. "She must be something else, I've never heard you be so excited about anyone before? A psychologist?"

"Yep. She's got a daughter too, really cute. We went to lunch and hit it off."

"Where are you going on your second date?"

"I'm going over to her house to watch the hockey playoffs."

"Hockey? Are you serious? "

"Yeah, I know. I was going to call you to ask about it. Does Minnesota have a hockey team? And where are the Red Hawks from?"

Mark laughed. "Oh boy, you have really fallen hard if you want to hear me talk about hockey... "


"Missy, hold still while I finish putting your shoe on." Amanda exhaled loudly and projected a small puff of air that sent her bangs into disarray. Finally after several more seconds of struggling she had the shoe adjusted properly and fastened the small Velcro strap.

"I know you don’t like them but you might as well get used to wearing them. You can’t go barefoot your entire life." For a second Amanda spared a wistful thought as to how nice that would really be. "Just wait until you’ve got to wear panty hose, a bra, and heels. You think you’ve got it bad now?" Amanda smiled down at her pouting daughter and almost gave in and removed the offending shoes. Taking a breath she firmed her resolve.

"You look really pretty, you know that," she stated proudly as she began tickling Missy’s belly, eliciting a fit of giggles. "That’s better," Amanda grinned. "Let’s go downstairs. I have a new friend I’d like you to meet. She should be here soon." Amanda stood and extended a hand toward the toddler. Excitedly, Missy latched onto a finger and began to run toward the bedroom door, pulling along her mother along behind her.

"Hold on, Kiddo, I’m coming," Amanda chuckled as she stumbled after the toddler. When they reached the stairs the young doctor bent to pick up the little girl.

"No. Stairs!!" Missy squealed, looking down the stairs.

"Missy," Amanda warned.

"No, no, no, stairs!" Missy repeated, as she let go of Amanda’s hand and reached up, grabbing the bottom edge of the railing.

"You’re too little to go down the stairs by yourself," her mother protested.

Missy looked down the steps again, but didn’t move. Turning moist eyes on Amanda, the little girl begged, "peeeassse."

God, I swear Jody taught her how to do that. "Okay..." Amanda relented reluctantly, "but you have to hold Mama’s hand. Deal?"

"Otay!" Missy practically screamed, her smile returning full force. With one hand on the railing, and the other tightly gripping Amanda’s index finger, she began a torturously slow decent down the stairs.

When two small feet jumped off the last step and wobbly landed on soft carpet, Missy began clapping her hands wildly. "Yaaaaaaaa," she giggled.

Scooping up her daughter, Amanda planted a sloppy kiss on a pink cheek. "That was pretty fun, huh?"

"Phunn" the little blonde repeated.

"I’m so proud of you. You are getting to be such a big girl," Amanda praised, hugging the child tightly. Her tone turned serious, "never alone Missy, you can only go up or down with Mama. Alright?"

"Otay, Mama," the girl replied happily.

"Come on. You can watch a movie while I finish getting ready." Picking up the tiny blonde, Amanda moved to video cabinet and opened the door. "Which one do you want to see?"

Missy immediately reached out and selected a tattered orange box. Hugging the video to her chest the girl exclaimed, "Elmo, Boo, Elmo, Boo."

Rolling her eyes, Amanda smiled indulgently. "Elmo Says Boo, huh? Why am I not surprised?"

Depositing the child on the couch, Amanda started the movie. After a few seconds, Missy became totally absorbed in the film and Amanda slipped away into the kitchen. Rummaging through a drawer she pulled out a handful of well-worn take-out menus. I hope she’s not expecting me to be able to cook. After a moment’s indecision, Amanda simply left the menus on the counter. She can help me decide later.

Earlier that afternoon Mrs. Fisher had phoned and regretfully informed Amanda she wouldn’t be able to baby-sit. Her grandson had the flu and she wanted to offer her daughter some much-needed assistance. Amanda considered calling Jody, who clearly adored the toddler, but felt awkward. After leaving Origami they had argued bitterly. Jody apologized but Amanda knew they were both still a angry and needed some time apart to cool off.

Poking her head out of the kitchen, she saw Missy sitting quietly on the couch, watching Elmo scare Julia Roberts. Heading for her bedroom, her stomach twitched nervously. I hope she likes Missy and that Missy likes her. She didn’t seem to mind the fact that I had a daughter when I told her about Missy. Still, I wasn’t expecting to introduce them to each other today. But, I guess I’d rather find out right up front, if she can’t deal with children. Amanda frowned, hoping that wouldn’t be the case, and began rummaging through her drawers. Smiling impishly, she pulled out two hockey jerseys. After running a quick brush through her hair she made her way back into the den.

Checking on Missy again, the psychologist noticed that green eyes were beginning to droop and glaze. Sitting down next to her daughter, she clicked off the video and pulled Missy into her lap. Pale hair mingled together, making it nearly impossible to tell where Amanda’s ended and Missy’s began. "I think it’s gonna be an early night for you tonight, Kiddo. I knew you shouldn’t have skipped your nap. Do you want to take a rest now?" Amanda inquired gently.

"No, no, no," the sleepy toddler protested as she burrowed deeper into her mother’s arms and closed her eyes.

"That’s what I thought," Amanda whispered, tightening her hug.


A small blonde head snapped to attention and Missy jumped off her mother’s lap in a dead run toward front door, tiredness all but forgotten in the wake of the doorbell.

"Hewwo" a small voice called out.

A smile unconsciously tugged at Claire’s lips. Leaning closer to the door, she cocked her ear and listened. That must be Missy. I guess she will be here tonight. Shifting nervously, Claire was glad she decided to make a small detour before coming to Amanda’s.

Wow, I should really come here more often. Claire grinned, as she felt the familiar sense of excitement well up within her. Thank goodness at least Mark has kids. It’s a lot more fun to have someone to buy for. She snorted, thinking of the many purchases she’d picked up for her best friend’s children, and the few she’d secretly bought for herself.

Claire’s eyes affectionately scanned the small toy store that hadn’t changed a bit in the past thirty years. Poppy’s Toyland was a bright spot in a speckled childhood. Every shelf seemed to hold a memory. It was only a few years ago, that Claire abandoned her own self-consciousness, and began periodically visiting the shop just because she loved it...and the toys... and Poppy.

"Claire, it’s been a long time. I don’t think I’ve seen you since before Christmas," cracked an old voice.

Claire turned and smiled at toy store’s small proprietor. "Hiya Poppy. I know...I’ve just been really busy lately. How’s Sophia?"

"Fine...fine. She’ll be pleased to hear you stopped by. What can I get for you today? Or, are you just here to browse?" Dark eyes twinkled gently, and Claire bashfully acknowledged the knowing look.

Leaning in toward Poppy, Claire spoke formally. "I’m here on a mission, Poppy."

Poppy stood a little taller, stretching out his 5’4" frame. The man simply loved a mission. "Boy or girl?" he inquired.



"Nineteen months."

"Does she watch TV or videos."

"I dunno."


"No occasion. I just want her to like me." Claire shifted, and lowered her voice, "I REALLY want her to like me."

"Hmm...I see." Wrinkled black eyes narrowed as Poppy considered.

"Traditional or trendy."

"Don’t care."

"Come with me." Poppy led Claire to the back of the store, which paid homage Jim Henson and Sesame Street. "I recommend this." Poppy pointed to an item on the middle shelf.

Claire smiled broadly. "I’ll take it, Poppy. Thanks. Wrap it up with a balloon okay?" Blue eyes glanced around wistfully.

"You bet Claire. Do you have to leave so soon?" Poppy slowly ambling back toward the cash register.

"I’m afraid so. But with any luck I’ll have a good reason to come back here more often."

The small man handed back a bright pink package with a small yellow balloon tied to the top. "You never need a reason, Claire." He smiled and handed back her credit card. "Ok, then. I’ll expect to see you again soon. Sophia will want to say hello next time."

"Thanks again, Poppy. Wish me luck." Claire turned and exited the shop. Opening her umbrella, she tried to avoid being soaked by the heavy spring rain."

Now for her mother... Claire remembered Amanda’s enthusiasm over the lunch they had shared the week before. Didn’t there used to be a candy store around here somewhere?

"Hewwo," the small voice cried out again.

"Hew..." Claire cleared her throat. "I mean hello, it’s..." Before she could finish the door swung open and two pair of smiling green eyes greeted her.


"Boy that was great!" Amanda patted her stomach appreciatively.

Claire sat down her iced tea glass, glancing at her new friend with growing affection. "I’m always in the mood for Mexican food," she assured. "For some reason it seems to survive delivery better than a lot of other food." Claire’s eyes drifted down to Missy, who was happily playing on the floor. She cringed when the toddler pushed on Elmo’s stomach and he began to laugh and vibrate...AGAIN.

Amanda shot Claire a look and raised an eyebrow that said, "You brought it. Live with it." When Missy pushed on Elmo’s tummy for the millionth time, Amanda noticed Claire was staring guiltily at her sneakers. After a few seconds Claire finally looked up at Amanda, whose eyebrow had yet to descend, and both women burst out laughing. After a moment Claire spoke.

"How long do the batteries usually last in those things," she chuckled.

"Too long," Amanda deadpanned. Looking at the clock she realized it was almost 7:30 p.m. The last few hours had practically flown by. To Amanda’s relief and Claire’s surprise, Missy and Claire seemed to hit it off immediately.

Throughout the early evening each woman shared bits of information about themselves, each listening eagerly as the other discussed her interests and career. Claire had been a great sport about playing with Missy, albeit a little awkwardly. And Amanda was especially thrilled that Claire didn’t seem at all miffed when she took time out to read Missy a short story. But "baby time" was coming to a close and Amanda was more than ready to have her guest all to herself.

Standing, Amanda garnered Missy’s attention. "Time for bed, sweetheart," Amanda shook her head, knowing what was coming.

"No, no, no!" the girl protested. But an untimely yawn didn’t help her case.

"Yes," her mother said firmly. "Say goodnight to Claire."

Trying to help, Claire reached down and ruffled the child’s hair. "Goodnight Missy, it was a pleasure to meet you."

"Night. No. No. Dans, dans, peeeeasssse!" the tiny blonde whined beseechingly.

Amanda looked over at the stereo, then back to Claire, finally resting her eyes on her daughter. Come on, Missy! Cut me some slack here. I know we do this every night before bed. But... Biting her lip, she shook her head and laughed. "Okay, Missy. But in your room."

"Otay!" the child squealed, holding her arms out for Amanda lift her up. "Bye bye...Cwwaire."

Sweeping the child up in her arms, Amanda headed for the stairs. Glancing back, she spoke as she climbed, "I should be back down in just a few minutes. Help yourself to another drink."

Claire gave the little girl a playful wave and got a sleepy semi-toothless smile in return. Kids aren’t so bad, she mused. But no more toys that make noise. Grinning to herself, she thought of the drum set she bought Mark’s oldest son last year for Christmas. I wonder how many times Mark cursed me for that one?

Deciding to take Amanda up on her offer, Claire moved into the kitchen and poured herself the last of the tea. Dans? What could that mean? While the lawyer suspected Missy spoke quite well for her age, she still needed Amanda to translate most of what the child said.

While in the kitchen, Claire took a moment to enjoy the clean, but slightly disorganized, surroundings. Photos of Missy and Amanda were posted liberally throughout the room. On the corner of the cabinet sat a small-framed photo of Jody and Amanda in fatigues. She was in the military? Interesting. Actually, she shook her head a little as if to clear it, I’m finding most everything about her interesting.

Maroon and white tiles gave the kitchen a modern but homey appearance. The phone sat on a tall uneven stack of magazines and newspapers. It was clear Amanda was a voracious reader. Glancing over some of the titles Claire wasn’t surprised to find covers ranging from "Psychology Today" to "Parenthood."

As she poked around, Claire found her mind drifting upstairs. She wondered how long it would take to put Missy to bed. She didn’t look like she wanted to go to sleep to me. Kids...Go figure. What I wouldn’t give to be able to sleep in and take naps... and have Amanda hand feed me, she added evilly.

As her mind gleefully occupied itself with its latest lascivious thought, she meandered back toward the living room. Passing by the steps, she faintly heard a base guitar, drums and raspy vocals. Rock and roll? Giving her natural curiosity free reign, she followed the music. At the top of the stairs she could make out John Mellancamp begging to make it "Hurt so Good." He’ll always be John Cougar to me. A few paces more down the second story hallway, and she could hear the rustle of movement from a bedroom. Quietly, she peeked into what she realized was Missy’s bedroom, and instantly figured out exactly what dans meant.

The blinds were pulled partially shut, allowing only the thinnest rays of the golden sunlight to enter the room. In what Claire was sure was the smallest, and cutest lavender nightgown she had ever seen, a laughing Missy was spinning and clapping to the music, stopping every few turns when she got too dizzy to continue. Panting and laughing, she looked worn-out and ecstatic at the same time. Dans means dance. Got it. Smart, Amanda. Is this how you tire her out?

When Claire’s eyes shifted up to Missy’s dancing partner and her body responded without thought or warning. Claire’s felt a surge of attraction wash over her as she watched Amanda gently grind snug fitting, jean-covered, hips to the music. Lifting her arms over head the counselor turned and dipped in perfect time, exposing a lean well-defined belly. Claire unconsciously moistened her lips. Jesus! How can she make something so innocent look so damn sexy?

When Amanda began giggling right along with her daughter, Claire was startled by the manic swing of her emotions. Her eyes misted over at the happy, familial sight. So that’s what love looks like. I’ve always wondered. Two pale heads, gone reddish gold in the twilight, twirled and swayed until the taller of the two noticed Claire in the doorway.

Amanda looked up at Claire, and her face began to color. She paused...but rather than stopping, she simply swallowed her embarrassment, and continued to dance until the music faded away. Seeing a strange look on Claire’s face she wanted to ask what she was thinking. But that would have to wait until later. Drawing a finger to her lips, she motioned for Claire to remain silent. When the child’s movements finally slowed, Amanda sat down in a large oak rocker, and waited until Missy stood panting at her knees.

"Did you have a good dance, sweetheart?"

"Ya, Mama" the little girl breathed as she held her arms out to her mother.

Lifting Missy onto her lap, Amanda snuggled the child into her until the short breaths lengthened, and the fair head began to sag. Seeing the mother and daughter needed a few more moments together, Claire silently slipped down stairs.


Continues here...

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