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For Disclaimers see Chapter 1a
With a final twist Claire adjusted the leather band at the end her braid. Stepping out of the bathroom, she padded over to her bed where she carefully inspected the small, but essential stack of items shed weeded out of her purse and briefcase. Today she felt like traveling light. Claire fumbled through the pile until she ended up with a single check, her drivers license and several twenty-dollar bills. Grunting with satisfaction, she stuffed the items deep into soft denim pockets. Now thats what I call light. Okay, shirt next.
Claire frowned as she looked at the nearly knee deep pile of clothes on the floor. How come I have a double wide closet full of clothes, but every time I wanna wear something its in that pile? Delaying her shirt selection, she reached into her drawer and pulled out a nude colored lace bra. Looking at the device, she grimaced again. Id love to cold-cock the bastard that invented this. After a moments indecision, she simply stuffed the much-hated item back in its drawer. Im on vacation! She told herself defiantly. Selecting a bright green tie-dyed T-shirt, Claire pulled on her sneakers, grabbed her sunglasses, and went to wait for Amanda near the front door.
As she impatiently waited for her companion, Claires mind began replaying Monica and "Chuckys" visit. Her hands twitched nervously as she began to brood. How could they treat Amanda that way? Bursting into her home, wanting money? I should have tossed her dead-assed sister out on her ear before she got a chance to demand back "her" daughter. Heartless bitch!
Claire tried to stop the steady decline of her mood. She knew it was a slippery slope, but despite herself, she continued to silently seethe. She made her cry. I cant stand seeing her cry! Her mind whined. I dont want her to be upset. She should be happy, Dammit. I want that. Claire stopped dead in her tracks. Wow! She marveled. I really do want that...and not just a little. Claire sat down on the couch as she tried to wrap her mind around what was basically a foreign concept. Her eyes widened with realization. When did I start caring? No. From the first moment I saw her I cared. When did I REALLY start caring?
Claire jumped up, slightly startled, as the light tapping pulled her from her thoughts. "Coming," she called out. Grabbing her cell phone off the coffee table, she neatly clipped it to her belt. Claire grabbed the cool doorknob then hesitated. Pulling back her hand, she noticed its dampness. Claire wiped her palms on her thighs and opened the door, smiling at her own nervousness and excited sense of anticipation. Boy, if this is the UPS guy Im gonna be really disappointed. She wasnt disappointed.
The attorney gazed affectionately at her smaller companion. Dressed in faded jeans, a navy polo shirt, and topsiders, Amanda looked comfortable and relaxed. She looks so cute and clean cut, like something out of L.L. Bean, Claire mused. "Hi."
"Hi." Amanda shifted her weight onto her heels, a little nervous at the prospect of spending the afternoon with her friend even after only a couple days apart. It was, she decided, a good sort of nervous. The kind that made your pulse race, just a little...and your stomach flutter. "Umm...are you ready to go?"
"You bet." Claire stepped out of the front door and pulled it shut. Slipping on her sunglasses, she turned and punched several buttons on the security keypad.
Amanda peeked around Claires shoulder and stared at the device. "Keys are too low tech for you, huh?"
Claire flashed her companion a lop-sided grin as they walked back to the Audi. "Not really, I just cant seem to keep from losing them. After I had the locksmith out here 4 times last year, I figured this would be a lot cheaper in the long run."
As the women buckled their seatbelts, Amanda looked over at Claire. Lifting a pale brow, she inquired, "Did you forget something?"
Claire wrinkled her forehead in confusion. "Well...um..." She looked back toward the house. "Oh, I decided not to bring a purse. Is that what you mean?"
Amanda smiled and turned on the ignition. Laying her hand on the side of Claires headrest, she twisted, craning her neck, and began backing down the long winding driveway. "Not really," she laughed. "You know...when I bought this car, I checked out all the magazine and online ratings articles. I showed up at the dealership with a pile of reviews, a highlighter, and clipboard." Amanda noticed Claires eyes had widened. "Jody said I was being..."
"Anal retentive?" Claire helpfully supplied.
"No!...Well...yes, actually," the blonde admitted. "Only I think her description involved some minor profanity and lump of coal."
Claire turned her head and clamped her hand over her mouth. Schooling her face to remain neutral, she tried to think of something to say.
Smirking at Claires poorly hidden internal struggle, Amanda let out a small laugh of her own. "Its not that funny!" But the smaller womans smile conveyed the opposite of her words.
"Of course not," Claire said seriously.
Exiting onto the street, Amanda slid the car into drive and donned on her own sunglasses. "Besides, I was going to buy. Youre just looking."
"Not," Claire immediately shot back. "Car shopping
sucks," she snorted.
"Im only doing this once."
Amanda looked over at Claire like she was crazy. "But...but..." she stammered.
"Relax, Mandy. I know exactly what I want," the darker women reassured.
Amanda exhaled, relived. "Well, thats great Claire. You had me a little worried. I would hate for you to rush into something and then be unhappy about it later. I mean its not like youve had any time to think about this. And I do feel responsible because..."
Claire shot her friend a warning look, which Amanda acknowledged sheepishly.
"Okay, but this is at least partially my fault," she insisted. Before Claire could respond, she changed the subject. "So what kind of car are you going to get?"
"A red one," Claire responded happily.
Amanda waited few seconds for Claire to finish but her companion remained silent. Amanda rolled her eyes impatiently. "God, Claire, a red what!" the blonde exclaimed.
"Car?" Claire offered lamely. But Amanda caught the playful grin she was trying to hide.
"Are you having fun yanking my chain, Counselor?"
Tilting her head, Claire pulled her glasses down until dark lashes could be seen fluttering over the frame and pale blue eyes laughed silently. "Umm...Hmm."
"Do I at least get to know where Im driving you?" Amanda slowed down slightly as she passed a bicyclist.
Claire pushed her glasses back into place and snuggled into her seat. "I guess where we go will depend on how long we have."
Amanda pulled the car to a stop just as the light turned red. "Well, I need to pick Missy up by 6:00 oclock."
"You mean you dont have to go back to work this afternoon?" Claire asked delightedly.
"Nope." She grinned. "Im all yours."
"Really?" Claire whispered her voice suddenly serious.
Amanda sucked in a quick breath, wishing her she could see the blue eyes hidden behind the glasses. Claires jaw was clenched and her breathing had stilled. "W...what do mean?"
"Oh shit...Sorry." The young therapist lifted a hand in apology as she moved through the intersection while the car behind her angrily sped by. She turned back to Claire. "Claire, what..."
Amanda exhaled loudly in frustration. Jesus Christ! Is there some sort of conspiracy I dont know about!
Claire shot her an apologetic look as she unclipped her cell phone. "Hello."
"Hi Claire, its me."
"Hiya Mark, whats up?" Claire mentally sighed with relief. Great timing, Buddy. Thanks.
"Youre not gonna believe this but we found your car." The phone crackled.
"Youre kidding me?" Claire exclaimed, clearly surprised.
"Whats going on?" Amanda whispered curiously.
Claire pulled the phone from her ear and placed a hand over the receiver. "They found my car."
"Youre not alone are you? Is that pretty blonde you were telling me about with you?" Mark queried.
"Nope." Claire answered the first part of Marks question, ignoring the rest. "As a matter of fact, Im off to go shopping with a friend but I guess..."
"Well, dont change those plans, my friend." Claire looked at the phone in confusion. "I should have been more specific," Mark apologized. "We found whats left of your car."
"Ahhh. I see." Claire frowned and saw Amanda raise her eyebrows in question. Before she could answer her friends unspoken question, Amanda grimaced as she guessed what Mark was saying.
"Why dont you come by and take a look, Claire," Mark suggested. You can pick up a few personal items that were still in the car and sign the police report."
Claire nearly said no, not wanting to spoil her afternoon with Amanda, but she relented, knowing it would save time in the long run. "Okay, Mark. I guess we can stop over now. Thanks for keeping an eye out for me. I really appreciate it." Claire motioned her fingers as though she was writing on an imaginary piece of paper and Amanda pointed to the glove box. After a few quick scribbles on a Taco Bell napkin, Claire clicked the phone shut.
Amanda silently pulled over, expecting Claire to be angry. Her friends response was a pleasant relief.
"Looks like Ill get my insurance money a little faster," Claire said with a smile. They found my car in St. Paul." This was the part she didnt want to tell Amanda. "Its...um..."
"Trashed," Amanda guessed, embarrassment coloring her voice.
Claire shifted in her seat. "Basically, yeah. Ill still need to get something else. Would it be okay if we went over there so I could sign the police report? Marks there now." Claire turned sympathetic eyes on the younger woman. "Dont worry about the car, Mandy. Im not." She spoke softly.
Swallowing down her own embarrassment and the nearly overwhelming urge to strangle her sister, Amanda smiled weakly. "Ill try." Time to change the subject before I start crying again. "Is this the same Mark you were telling me about?"
"Yep. Hes got a ton of friends at the cop shop and they let him know as soon as it turned up." Claire showed Amanda the napkin and green eyes widened. A slow nod and Amanda merged back into the traffic.
"I...um...know the general area, but I may need a little help with the exact location." God, I hope Monica isnt staying in that neighborhood.
"Sure. No problem. I dont think it will be hard to find." Claire fiddled with her cell phone, having trouble clipping it to her belt while seated. What was I thinking asking Amanda to go into that part of the city? Duh! The lawyer mentally scolded herself. For several minutes the only sound in the car was the gentle breathing of its occupants. As they crossed the bridge into St. Paul, Claire began to wonder how a date that started off so well had turned so depressing.
"Have you eaten lunch yet?" I know she loves to eat.
A blonde slowly shook her head no.
"Do you want to grab something after I deal with the police?"
The red-gold head nodded vigorously. "Sure! Ill do whatever you want." Amanda couldnt help but smile at the thought of food. Shed missed breakfast that morning.
"Anything?" the contralto voice purred.
Amandas head snapped to the side. "Well...I...um....I...."
Claire laughed as the smaller woman turned beet red. "Oooh, you are so cute when you do that," she chuckled as her companions flush deepened.
Amandas eyes narrowed. "Arent you the funny one, smarty pants. Ill get you for that Claire," she threatened, but giggled herself as Claires face twisted in mock fear. The rest of the drive was spent in pleasant conversation.
"Bastards!" Amanda growled. "Why would they anyone do that?"
Claire and Amanda stood alongside Mark and several uniformed police officers that were leaning against their cruisers. The alleyway smelled like urine and burning oil. The fire engine had already pulled away, but the Explorers interior was still smoking, spreading a pungent odor for several blocks. It had taken several minutes for Claire's stomach to stop churning.
The hood of the Explorer had been torn off and laid strewn aside a nearby dumpster. Its wheels were completely missing, as was the stereo system and most of the engine. The leather seats had been sloppily skinned and the cabs interior was littered with charred stuffing. Mark had been generous when he described it as a car.
Claire looked up at her friend who had just waved goodbye to one of his firefighter buddies. "Amandas right. Why completely destroy it? Wouldnt you get more money for it intact? For Christs sake it wasnt even six months old!"
Mark nodded then sighed. "Thats true, but that would take a little time if you werent well connected. Its a lot quicker to sell it to the local scavengers for a few hundred dollars and be done with it. They just strip it and sell off the parts making it nearly impossible to trace. Its small time and messy, but it gets the job done. My guess is whoever sold it got less than a thousand dollars."
Claire quickly forgot about the car and grabbed Marks forearm, twisting him away from Amanda. Whispering, she spoke quickly. "You didnt happen to find...you know." She wiggled her eyebrows and tilted her head toward the smoldering vehicle.
Mark smiled wickedly and made no attempt to lower his voice. "Why Claire, whatever are you talking about?"
"Jerk!" Claire hissed under her breath. "You know damn well what Im talking about. Did you find him or not?" she fumed.
Mark chuckled as Amanda stepped alongside he and Claire. "Oooh," he drew out the word. "You mean your little green buddy?"
Amanda gazed from the handsome prosecutor to her friend. Claires neck and cheeks were beginning to turn a lovely shade of pink and she was practically oozing frustration and something else. The therapist looked on curiously, trying to figure out what had Claire rattled. She could tell it wasnt the car.
SHIT! You are so dead Mark! Claire leaned into Mark, trying to speak so that an obviously interested Amanda wouldnt hear. "Never mind, Mark," she ground through gritted teeth.
"Never mind?" Mark exclaimed. "I feared for my life until I issued an A.P.B. on youre friend." Mark smile broadened. "You did insist," he added.
"Mark," Claire growled.
The prosecutor couldnt miss the brunettes menacing tone. He swallowed convulsively. Uh...oh. Shes really pissed. Oh well, if Im gonna be in the doghouse with Claire I might as well make it pay. Man! Shes beautiful when shes angry. He sighed over the lost cause.
Knowing Mark was in the mood to play, Claire tried to escape with as little embarrassment as possible. Turning away from him, she nearly collided with an avidly watching Amanda. "Lets go, Amanda. Im done here. I know youre hungry."
"Arent you forgetting something, Claire?" Mark asked evilly.
Claire closed her eyes as her childhood pal moved in for the kill. The tall blonde walked around in front the woman and held out a happy, green, and still very bendable, Gumby. "I dont think he sustained any life threatening injuries. But I was prepared to do CPR for your sake," he teased.
"Thanks a lot, Buddy. I wont forget this," Claire promised. Mark knew he was in deep trouble, but laughed anyway. Grabbing her ever faithful driving companion, Claire couldnt suppress the quick smile that flickered across her face. She carefully stuffed Gumby into her pocket only to look up to see Mark shaking with silent laughter and Amanda staring at her in a combination of wide-eyed shock and amusement. Turning her back on her friends, Claire called out as she grumped back to Amandas car. "Ill be in the car!" Before she reached the Audi she heard both the blondes burst into laughter. Oh, great! Now theyre a team.
"That was pretty mean," Amanda remarked as she looked up at the still laughing man. I cant help but like this guy.
"I know," Mark chuckled, as he wiped the tears from eyes. "But she deserved it. Ive been waiting for years to get her that good." He looked down at the smiling face of the woman who had clearly captured his friends heart. I cant help but like her. "Just ask her about the bra she accidentally left in the back seat of my truck when I was dating my ex-wife."
Pale eyebrows shot skyward. "You guys are dangerous when youre together arent you?"
"Shes my best friend," he offered in explanation.
Thinking about some of the stunts she and Jody had pulled over the years Amanda nodded. She understood completely. "It was nice meeting you, Mark." She held out a small hand.
"Same here, Amanda." Mark returned the handshake, surprised by its strength. "Take good care of my friend."
Impulsively, Amanda stood on tipped-toes and planted a kiss on the large mans cheek. "I will," she replied seriously, before turning and jogging back to the car.
Mark laid a palm on his cheek where he could still feel the light kiss. He watched the women until the car drove out of sight. They looked about as physically different as two women could. Even their personalities appeared to land on opposite sides of the spectrum. But in just few moments theyd spent together, he could tell each complemented the other perfectly. Looks like theyve both have good taste, he mused. The big mans mind began to wonder as he walked to his own car. He let out a tortured groan. "God, Mark. Dont go there!" he laughed as unlocked his door.
"No, I dont think youre a wacko." Amanda rolled her eyes. "Its normal for people to transfer human emotions to inanimate objects. Besides..." green eyes twinkled, "...I was taught to avoid the term wacko."
"Great. Now youre shrinking my head," Claire complained as they strolled past another shiny new car.
Oops. Shes sensitive about that. Id better watch it. "No. Im not." Amanda looked at Claires bright green shirt and grinned. "Come on Gumby, I think I see a red one at the end of this row." Grabbing the taller womans hand, Amanda began pulling her along toward the red SUV at the end of the row.
Gumby! "Youre not really gonna call me that are you?" Claire whined.
Amanda stopped dead in her tracks, making a show of appraising her friends green shirt, her eyes obviously lingering over Claires bulging pocket where Gumbys smiling head was poking out. Meeting Claires eyes, her face went serious.
"Why yes, Claire. In my professional opinion, its an absolute necessary for the sake of both our mental well-beings that I call you that." So much for not teasing. Amanda recaptured Claires hand and turned her gaze upward. Rain clouds had moved in and were threatening to spill over and cut their shopping trip short. The sky had darkened with the weather and Amanda could tell Claire would never be able to shop for cars inside the building. The fawning salesman would prevent that.
At least I didnt wear my grateful dead T-shirt, Claire smirked, allowing Amandas gentle tugging to pull her along. Mandy can call me damn near anything she likes...as long as she calls me.
The tall woman glanced around empty car lot as they walked, glad theyd lost their salesman early on. Shed originally intended to purchase another Explorer, until the smarmy salesman practically drooled all over Amanda. Claire felt a nearly blinding surge of jealously and developed a sudden taste for foreign cars.
"Hey, not bad." Claire stopped, then slowly stepped around the Nissan Pathfinder SE limited.
Amanda admired the vehicles bright candy apple finish. "Well, you dont get much redder than this."
"True," Claire agreed, as she continued to appraise the car. "Lets test it out."
"Okay, do you want me to go get the salesman?" Amanda tilted her head toward the dealership building, as a strong gust of moist air tussled her hair.
"Nah. I wanna see how comfortable it is. Come on." Claire opened the back door and slid across the soft leather seat allowing Amanda to pile in next to her. The smaller woman shut the door and deeply inhaled the new car smell and the rich scent of leather. Claire scooted closer and the faint smell of sweet roses was added to the mix. "Its nice, Claire," Amanda exhaled with satisfaction.
"It is," Claire agreed, without ever tearing her gaze from her younger companion. Amanda blushed and Claire reached up and gently touched the warm cheek. The heavy clouds finally opened up and a gentle rain began falling, its pitter-patter amplified by the silence in the car.
Amanda found herself willingly drawn into deep azure eyes. She felt herself tumbling helplessly under their spell and smiled an open honest smile that lit up her face and crinkled the corners of her own eyes. Claire leaned in closer and Amanda felt her warm breath tickling her face. She was completely surrounded by the smell of leather and roses and Claire. It was intoxicating.
"You are so beautiful," a deep voice purred in her ear, but Amanda was so absorbed in her own bodys reactions to Claires closeness, she barely made out the words.
Amanda closed her eyes and swallowed, her breathing began to increase. "What?" she whispered, her mind whirling amidst the sensory barrage.
A sure hand easily swept aside her hair and soft lips lightly kissed the skin around her ear. "I said youre beautiful," the voice gently repeated, as a hot tongue snaked out and trailed its way from the back of her ear, along her pulse point to the base of her neck.
Amanda moaned loudly, unable to control her bodys immediate reaction. Her stomach clinched and her hands convulsively clutched Claires shirt. Jesus! What is she doing? The intensity of the rain increased. Its pounding rhythm matched Amandas heartbeat, as smooth warm lips kissed their way back up the other side of her neck, stopping near her ear. She could hear Claires own breathing become ragged, as white teeth gently tugged her earlobe and strong hands caressed her. The interior of the car had darkened slightly as the windows fogged over.
Suddenly, Claire pulled back and looked into green eyes dilated with desire. Sliding a hand around the small of Amandas back, she forcefully pulled the smaller woman into a searing kiss. Thunder boomed loudly, swallowing the approving whispers of both women, as hot tongues clashed and their bodies surged forward. This kiss wasnt like the tentative, gently affectionate kiss the women shared in Amandas den. This kiss was insistent. It was raw want and need and passion.
Claire shifted back into the seat and pulled Amanda onto her lap, causing the smaller woman to straddle her. Forgetting her surroundings completely, Amanda untucked a corner of her companions shirt and slid her hands across a trembling soft skin on Claires stomach. Claire sucked in a quick breath as she felt small hands run across her belly. With another swift tug, more of Claires shirt was pulled free as the hands slid up and cupped firm bare breasts.
"Oh...God," Claire murmured in satisfaction, as she tore her lips away from Amandas and began kissing along her jawbone and neck. Claire could taste the delicious saltiness of Amandas skin and threaded her fingers through soft pale locks as Amanda threw her head back allowing Claire greater access to her throat.
Amanda continued to lightly caress Claires breasts until she felt sharp teeth gently graze her pulse point. Her body jerked at the erotic touch and her fingers clamped down on already painfully erect nipples. Claire gasped, feeling each tug on her breast deep in her groin, flooding her with wetness.
Ive got to have more, Amanda thought, as she roughly jerked up Claires shirt and ducked her head down to taste soft skin. Lightening flashed as wet lips clamped onto a dark ridged nipple. "Mmm...," Amanda purred. She tastes as good as she looks. Her own nipples tightened in empathy. God, there is no way she could be enjoying this as much as I am.
The woman below her lips was panting and writhing. Amanda was surprised when her wrists were grabbed and she was pushed away from Claires body. Her back was thrust against the cool leather of the front seat as wild blue eyes lifted to meet hers. Claire was beyond caring where she was or who might find them. Things had gotten out of hand and it didnt bother her one bit. She had to have this woman. Now!
Claire leaned forward in her seat, bringing her own mouth within inches of Amandas lips. Not relinquishing the grip on the therapists wrist, the womens eyes were locked. She felt no shame in expressing her own need when she saw matching desire mirrored in warm green eyes. "Ive wanted you since moment I first saw you." Claire licked full moist lips and continued. "Mandy, I want you so badly right now I think Ill die if I dont have you. Please?" Claires voice was raspy and low, rumbling deep into Amandas soul. Her need for Amanda was so great she wasnt above begging. This fabulous woman was worth anything...everything. Lightening flashed and the electric spark that had been passing between the women for days burst into flame.
Immediately and without conscious thought, Amanda agreed to Claires request. Shed barely nodded her assent when she was pulled back into to strong arms. I love this car, she thought, as Claire turned and pushed her down into the seat, melding her body to the smaller one beneath her. "Yeesss!" Amanda hissed, as warm hands grasped her buttocks, crushing their hips together.
Claires hands stroked moist silky skin, and Amanda arched into the touch. A bright light appeared in the window that she assumed was more lightening. But curiously, the light didnt fade away. Through a haze of kisses and mummers she heard a faint rumbling that gradually got louder.
"Cl...Claire," she breathed, trying to focus her scattered thoughts. No response. "Claire." Amandas voice was weak but insistent.
"Mmm....Hmm," came the faint reply as Claire swirled her tongue around the ridge of Amandas navel, causing a loud moan to erupt from the younger woman.
"Mmmm...God...ah...I...I...I think someone is coming."
Claire tore her eyes away from Amanda for the first time since shed entered the car. Looking up, she squinted as bright headlights streamed through the fog-covered windows, reflecting off the raindrops. "Shit!" she cursed under her breath. "Its that idiot salesman I told to leave us alone. He must have come looking for us when we didnt come back after the storm started."
Claire closed her eyes and marshaled her willpower. I could lock the doors and pretend were not in here, her mind tempted. Sighing, she crawled back up Amanda who had a slightly shaking arm thrown over her eyes. "Mandy, Im sorry. Things got out of hand. Wed better get up." Blue eyes conveyed apology. "I...uh... dont know what came over me. I..." A car door slammed shut.
Two soft fingers pressed against Claires lips. "Shh. No reason to apologize. I know exactly what came over you." Amanda smiled wryly and sat up, smoothing out her shirt. "It was the same thing that came over me. It must be catchy," she added impishly.
Claire flashed her companion a brilliant smile and pulled away, flicking her bangs into place. Scooting over a couple of feet, she reached out and grabbed Amandas hand.
A voice called out. "Hey, anyone here?" A dark shadow approached the SUV and lightly rapped on the glass of the drivers side window.
"Amanda were going to finish this conversation later." It wasnt a question. A dark eyebrow arched as Claire looked around briefly. "In a more appropriate place."
A pale head nodded. "Yes. We are."
The front door opened and a sandy haired middle aged man peeked in, shaking the rain out of his eyes. "There you are." He looked at the smiling women who were sitting a respectable distance apart but were still holding hands. "Good way to get out the rain," he commented. "Done it myself a few times." The man spread his hands. "Wadda think? Shes a real beauty. The SE model is..."
"Absolutely perfect," Claire finished as she looked at the younger woman. Amanda blushed and the salesman looked predictably puzzled. Leaning forward, Claire snatched a ballpoint pen from the salesman's breast pocket. Shifting up, she dug through her blue jean pocket until she pulled out an incredibly rumpled check. Scratching her name to the bottom, Claire handed it to the salesman. "Ill take it. It seems Ive become very attached to her."
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