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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 6a

"Man, I can’t believe it’s this nice. I thought it was never gonna stop raining this spring." Claire looked up at the bright blue sky and squinted. Her hand automatically traveling back to her mouth where she enjoyed another large bite of hamburger. "Yumm...These are really terrific. Did I tell you that already?" she mumbled, her mouth still full.

Amanda nose crinkled as her smile broadened. "Yes. But you can say it as much as you like. It’s the first thing that I’ve cooked in ages that hasn’t ended up charred." She sat down the long metal spatula. "But don’t be too impressed. It’s just hamburger and onion soup mix."

"Yeah, but I didn’t have to fix it, or call for delivery."

Amanda looked around, admiring Claire’s large redwood deck and her turbo- charged gas grill. "How did you end up with this?" Amanda pointed to the grill.

"It’s Mark’s. He brought it over for a big barbecue we had a few years ago and the bum won’t come back and get it. He and the kids come over every Fourth of July and we have a picnic and play in the yard."

Amanda grabbed her own plate and plopped down on the padded wooden bench alongside Claire. While Claire was looking at Missy, who was playing on a blanket in the yard, sneaky fingers stole several chips from the darker woman’s plate.

"Hey! Get your own." Claire pulled away her plate as her attention was drawn back to her disappearing lunch.

"But yours looks better!" Amanda pouted.

"It’s exactly the same as yours." The lawyer arched an eyebrow. "How can it look better?"

Amanda shrugged, her fake pout evaporating as she continued munching on the stolen chips. "Dunno. Just does."

Claire smiled indulgently and placed a light kiss on Amanda’s cheek. "Here," she offered the plate back to her friend. "They’re all yours."

Amanda returned the kiss, but this time on the lips. She lingered there for a moment before sighing and pulling away. When she opened her eyes she found herself captured in a pool of stunning blue. "Thanks," she whispered affectionately, savoring the feeling of warm familiarity that always seemed to rush through her in the taller woman’s presence. Before returning her attention to her daughter, she happily grabbed several more of Claire’s chips. "I knew I liked you for a reason."

Claire snorted and took another bite of hamburger. "Who knew Doritos were such an aphrodisiac?"

Laughing at her friend’s dry humor, Amanda stood to get a better view of Missy, who had wandered off the blanket onto the lush grass. The little girl was hunched over and appeared to find something very interesting among the bright spring flowers. Uh oh. Amanda sat down her plate walked a few steps down the deck stairs.

"Whatcha lookin’ at sweetheart?" she called out.

The girl squealed with delight, as Claire joined Amanda on the steps to see what the fuss was about. Missy suddenly straightened, waiving a large, black, wiggling cricket in her hand. "Bug! Bug!" she yelled to her mother.

"Missy, put the bug..."

The small blonde immediately popped the insect into her mouth.

Claire winced as Amanda bolted the rest of the way down the steps and began trying to pry the little girl’s lips apart. "Eewwww! Missy that is so it out." The stubborn child refused to open her mouth and gulped loudly as she defiantly swallowed the bug.

Claire flinched as she knelt down a few feet in front of the child. God, kids are totally gross! Did I eat live bugs? she wondered.

Amanda looked down at the child, her hands resting on her hips in the universal maternal scolding position. Shaking a finger she reprimanded her daughter. "That was a bad girl! Bugs are not to eat. Only food goes in your mouth."

Claire looked up at Amanda, who was obviously not too worried nor too surprised by her daughter’s unusual lunch selection. "Will she be okay?" The larger woman’s face paled slightly.

The therapist nodded, amused by Claire’s distress and obvious inexperience with young children. "Sure." She placed a reassuring hand on Claire’s shoulder. "It was just a cricket. Could’ve been worse." Claire looked up doubtfully. "Could’ve been a spider or small snake," Amanda offered.

The toddler wobbled over to Claire who was still kneeling on the grass and now thoroughly grossed out. "Chips!" the girl screamed as two tiny hands reached out and stole the last of Claire’s Doritos.

Amanda was about to correct Missy’s behavior when Claire looked up at her with narrowed eyes. "And what were you going to tell her, Mandy?" Claire inquired wryly as she brushed off her knees and stood.

Smiling innocently, Amanda scooped the child up and began marching up the deck stairs. "Let’s go brush your teeth, Kiddo."

A few moments later both blondes reappeared on the deck. The shorter one walked over to Claire, who had been impatiently waiting for their return, and sharply tugged her pant leg. Blue eyes peeled themselves off the child’s mother and rested on the little girl’s fair head.

"Tanks for chips Cwairrr." Missy threw her arms around Claire’s legs and hugged her tightly.

Claire smiled down at the girl, and felt a strong blast of affection. Lord, I’m in deep trouble here. The daughter gets to me just as easily as her mother. "You’re welcome, Missy."

Amanda could see that Claire was doing her best to wrestle a goofy grin off her face. The young mother smiled proudly as Missy released her captive and looked pointedly at the stairs. You do have a sentimental side, don’t ya Gumby? Grabbing her daughter’s hand, the pair slowly descended the stairs together. When the child was settled back onto her blanket with a fresh batch of toys, Amanda walked back to Claire, who was sitting on the edge of the deck her long legs dangling free, and her chin resting on the low redwood railing.

Amanda frowned a little at the serious contemplative face below her. "Whatcha thinkin’ about?" she inquired softly.

Claire glanced up at her friend. "Hmm? Oh...nothing I guess." The brunette patted the wood beside her and Amanda joined her, tucking her own feet beneath her.

Amanda waited a few moments in silence before she wearily ventured into uncharted waters with Claire. "If something is bothering could discuss it with me...if you wanted to."

"No. But thanks." Claire voice was firmer than she’d intended, and she didn’t miss the look of hurt that flickered across Amanda’s eyes. Even so, when Claire opened her mouth to speak, she quickly closed it, deciding to remain mute.

Amanda scrunched pale brows together. She was fine a few minutes ago. Why wouldn’t she...oh...right. "It’s my job, isn’t it?"

Claire shifted guiltily. Damn, am I that transparent?

The smaller woman sighed and grasped Claire’s hand. Her voice was teasing but it still held a serious edge. "Me being a psychologist, tends to freak people out. Somehow they get it into their heads that I’m analyzing everything they say." Amanda’s eyes pinned Claire. "I don't do that, you know."

Claire decided to face the issue directly. Amanda’s profession, and what it might mean in the context of their relationship, had been a festering spot of worry for her since the beginning. "How could you not do that? I know I’m always seeing the ‘legal aspect’ of things. Can you really just turn off your training?"

"Claire, it’s not a matter of..." Amanda stopped, wondering if she could truly make her friend understand. I need to tell her this or she’s never gonna feel comfortable opening up to me. Firming her resolve, she nodded to herself and began again. "At work, an important part of my job is the ability to maintain a certain level of emotional detachment from my patients. It’s what they need from me. It’s also what I need in order to perform my job. And that’s something..." green eyes softened and Claire felt the smaller hand wrapped around hers squeeze gently "...I could never have with you. I don’t want to be detached or unbiased. I want to care...personally... a lot. You just looked like you were thinking about something rough. I was only asking as your friend. I promise."

Claire swallowed hard as she tried to push down the lump that had formed in her throat. Turning away from Amanda, she focused on the relaxed child. "I...I..."

I need to back off a little before I scare the poor woman to death. Amanda’s mind raced to find a way to help her friend relax. Bumping her shoulder against Claire’s, she flashed her friend a cheerful smile. "Don’t worry about it, Gumby. Now, what’s up? Are you still mad at the Greer women for pilfering your Doritos?"

Claire burst out laughing amazed at how hard it was to maintain a funk in smaller woman’s presence. "No. My Doritos are your Doritos," she promised solemnly. "I was just thinking...that I haven’t felt this happy in a long time. With you both here..." her eyes flashed to the tiny figure below the deck "...the property just seems...I don’t know...more like a home than just a house."

"And that makes you sad?"

"A little I guess. It makes me think about how lonely I was before I met you." Claire took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "And how I don’t ever want to be that lonely again."

Amanda was a little taken aback by the seriousness she saw in Claire’s eyes. But she took the admission for what it was...a small step toward a future where just maybe...neither woman would ever be lonely again. Correctly sensing that Claire was at her emotional limit, she let a comfortable silence settle between them before changing the subject.

Amanda’s reached up and idly fingered a lock of dark hair that fell several inches below Claire’s shoulders. "What’s your middle name?" The small hand moved deeper into the dark mane.

"What?" Claire leaned into the soothing touch, surprised and more than a little relieved by the change of subject. I’ll get there Amanda. Just give me a little time.

"You know, your middle name." Amanda examined the soft shiny hair in detail, admiring the way the afternoon sun brought out its deep chestnut and mahogany highlights. She felt an almost irresistible urge to bury her face in the sable strands and deeply breath in their fresh scent. Admitting to herself that she wouldn’t be able to stop those urges much longer, she lightly kissed Claire’s shoulder and began smoothing the lock back into place. She continued her inquiry. "That’s the name that comes after Claire but before Easton. Come on, I want to find out more about you. I’m a very detail oriented person." She grinned when she saw Claire’s body visibly relax under her touch.

The larger woman was having trouble concentrating on anything. Amanda’s soft touch was affecting her in ways she considered profound. "My name...right. It’s Alexandra, after my paternal grandmother."

"Hmmm. I like it. It’s strong but still feminine, just like you."

Claire smiled at the compliment. I am so crazy about this woman I can hardly stand it! "Thanks. What about yours?"

"What about my what?" Green eyes were now firmly fixed on the soft bare skin on Claire’s arm. That pale blue sleeveless blouse is fantastic. Amanda found herself unwilling to control disobedient fingers as they drifted up and down the warm skin.

Claire groaned. "Jesus, Mandy!" She let out and exasperated sigh and grabbed the small moving hand. Bringing it to her lips she gently kissed its fingertips. Wide blue eyes begged for mercy. "It’s humanly impossible for me to think when you’re touching me like that."

"Fine. Spoil my fun," she teased as she gazed back at Missy who had fallen asleep in the grass. "I think the sugar from those cookies you gave her finally wore off."

Claire nodded and wrapped a long arm around Amanda’s waist, pulling her in closer to sit in front her. "Well...what is it?"

Amanda happily rested her head on the broad shoulder behind her, lightly gripping the arms wrapped around her waist. Once again, the position was accompanied by a peaceful sense of quiet belonging and déjà vu. "I don’t have a middle name."

"What?" Claire questioned. "Everyone has one. Oh boy, yours must be reeeaalllly bad then." She squeezed the sturdy body in her arms.

"Nope," Amanda giggled. "I don’t have one, not even an initial. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch."

"Sure, Mandy," the lawyer drawled, making it quite clear she didn’t believe one word. "I have vvvayyys ov making yuuuuu tok" the dark women threatened. A split second later, she was tickling a squirming therapist.

After a moment of torture Amanda couldn’t take anymore. "I surrender! Uncle! I give!" she squealed between fits of laughter, finally persuading the merciless fingers to still.

"Well?" Claire demanded.

"I...uh.." Amanda burst out laughing again. "Can I tell you later? Pleeeeassse."

Claire rolled her eyes at her companions shameless begging. "Fine. But I won’t forget," she reminded the smaller woman, as she settled her back into a tight embrace.

"Mmm." Amanda snuggled deeper, taking a long moment to enjoy the sun and flowers and thick greenery displayed in Claire’s huge backyard. Plentiful spring rains had left the landscape looking rich and lush and Amanda happily inhaled the smell of grass and the now familiar floral scent of her companion. The blonde had almost fallen asleep, drifting easily into Claire’s irresistible warmth, when a deep voice roused her from the comfortable haze.

"Have you heard from your sister again?"

Amanda frowned at the distasteful topic she’d been trying to put out of her mind for the past week. But somehow, when I’m in her arms the problem seems so much more manageable, she mused silently. "No. She hasn’t contacted me directly but she showed up at my folk’s house yesterday. I talked with my dad on the phone last night." Amanda shifted to face Claire. "God, they were so upset. I don’t think they ever really accepted the fact that Monica had a serious problem. But yesterday she showed up high and looked like she’d been beaten up or in an accident or something."

Claire’s face grew still. "What did she want? Was she alone?"

"He said she was alone and that she was looking for me. Apparently, she couldn’t remember where I live." Amanda pulled back feeling a dark roiling anger pulsing through the lawyer. "It’s okay, Claire. My dad told her to leave and didn’t give her any information." Or, for once any money." She smiled wryly. "Although, as soon as she sobers up she’ll figure out that she can just open a phone book and get my address. I half expected to see her before now."

Claire stiffened and took a deep breath but Amanda spoke again before she could reply. "I want to see her, just not with Missy at home." She looked out affectionately at the sleeping child. "I’ve made arrangements for Missy to stay at Mrs. Fisher’s house for the next few days. Her two-year old granddaughter will be visiting for the next week so Missy’ll have a ball."

Claire didn’t bother to mask her worry. "Seeing her could be dangerous. Who knows what she might do?"

Amanda’s voice took on a fearsome quality. "! We need to talk. I can’t live like this...not knowing when she’s going to show up and make trouble...or..." Amanda swallowed hard, the look on her face making it painfully clear she didn’t even want to think about the her next statement. "Or, wondering if she might show up when I’m at work and try to steal Missy."

Claire could see her friend was doing her best to hold back tears. Shit! What can I say to that? It’s exactly what I’ve been thinking myself. Claire softened her voice and gently cupped Amanda’s chin, forcing watery green eyes to meet hers. "Let me help you. Please." She smiled weakly. "I can’t stand seeing you upset...I...I know I can help you keep Monica from taking Missy legally. But if she really wants to take her illegally, there’s nothing much we can do...except CONVINCE her that would be a VERY bad idea"

Amanda didn’t miss the threatening tone in Claire’s voice. Could I convince Monica to leave us alone permanently? How far am I willing to go? As far as I have to, came the immediate response. But what made her oddly uncomfortable, was that even after Claire’s offer to help, she still wasn’t sure how far the lawyer was willing to go. With that thought, all of Amanda’s own insecurities came rushing back. Why would she want to get involved in this mess? It’s obvious she could have anyone she wanted. Missy and I are going to be nothing but trouble. It’s not fair to her, and as soon as she figures that out she won’t be able to run away fast enough. Amanda’s heart lurched at the thought. Ignoring her aching chest and pounding pulse she screwed up her courage and prepared to let Claire exit the relationship gracefully. Amanda angrily wiped away an errant tear. "C...Cl...Claire," her voice cracked. Just do it quickly. Don’t think about it. "Maybe..."

"No," came the firm reply.


"I said NO!" Claire pulled Amanda into a fierce hug and spoke into the soft red-gold hair. "I’m not giving up on you or your problems, and I’m not letting you do this alone."

Amanda tightened her grip on Claire, crushing out all the space between them. "I really don’t want you to let me do this alone," she said miserably.

"Then I won’t," Claire whispered fiercely, grateful beyond reason that Amanda wasn’t going to push her away. She turned and kissed the pale head resting several inches below hers, feeling Amanda’s body relax as the nearly unbearable tension melted away in the embrace. Mandy, I’m so glad I didn’t meet you when I was younger. As nervous and inept as I am with this today, there’s no way I could have handled this then. But now that I’ve finally found you, I’m and not gonna blow this. I’m not!

Amanda pulled back and sniffed. "Well, I guess we’ve got someone to find."

Claire nodded. "And I don’t want to wait. Will you help me tonight?" Claire nodded again, a smile appearing. Amanda leaned forward and brushed a featherlight kiss on Claire’s lips. "Thank you."

"You’re welcome," was the simple response. "I was planning on seeing Mark later today but I’m sure I can reschedule," Claire decided.

Amanda bit her lip, her brow furrowed in deep thought. "Jody and I were supposed to get together too. I’ll call her and give her a rain check. She’s a mature person. She’ll understand."


"I sure as hell DO NOT understand!" Jody ranted.

Amanda took a deep breath and tried to control her own temper. "Jesus Christ, Jody! I told you why I was doing this."

The larger woman crossed her arms and lowered the volume. "It’s too dangerous to go looking for Monica alone," she said sensibly. "You know where you’ll have to look, don’t you?"

Amanda nodded, grimly remembering the neighborhood where Claire’s explorer had been found. "Yes, I know. And I’m not going alone." Jody dropped her arms and lifted her eyebrows in question. Why do I think she’s not gonna like this. "Claire’s going with me."

"What?" Jody practically screamed. The older woman’s voice turned combative as her hands went to rest on solid hips. "You barely know this woman and now you’re going to traipse around the worst neighborhoods in the Twin Cities with her?"

"That’s exactly what I’m going to do." Amanda’s temper flared as she closed the distance between she and Jody. A small angry finger poked her partner’s chest, punctuating each word she spoke. "SO GET USED TO IT!"

Jody stepped back out Amada’s reach and crossed her arms again. "Then I’m going too!"

"No you’re not," Amanda challenged.

"Oh, yes I am!"


"Deal with it Mark. You’re not coming with us." Claire began rummaging through her drawers looking for something to wear. "Do you know what the weather is supposed to be like tonight?"

Mark, leaned against the large oak dresser. ", windy, chance of rain." The big man shrugged. "Same as every night. Listen, wouldn’t it be a better..."



Claire moved over to her nightstand and clicked open her cell phone. "Hello."

"Hi, Claire."

The lawyer smiled broadly, immediately recognizing her friend’s warm tones. "Hi Mandy." Sticking a tongue out at Mark’s smirk, Claire twisted her body so the smug man couldn’t see her face. "What’s up? I thought I wasn’t picking you for..." she glanced at her watch, "...another hour of so."

"No, that’s right I just...well...Jody’s here and she’s insists on coming with us."

Just great. Claire sighed. "I know what you mean. Mark’s been harping on me for the last 30 minutes. He wants to come along too. What do you think?"

Amanda looked over at her pouting friend. "I think I’ll it would be easier to let them come along than keep fighting about it. I didn’t want to get a bunch other people involved." Amanda narrowed her eyes at her friend who had a satisfied smile plastered all over her face. "But apparently they insist."

Claire could hear Jody’s "damn right I do" in the background. She’d better be nice tonight. I don’t feel like putting up with any of her shit. She winced internally at the idea of spending the entire evening in Jody’s presence. I’ll try to keep from ripping off her head and ramming it down her throat...for Mandy. "Okay Mandy, Mark and I will be there in about an hour."

"Thanks Claire, I appreciate it." I really do appreciate this Gumby.


"Bye." Amanda walked over to the sink and rinsed out her glass. "She didn’t have to do that you know. We were planning on going alone." Don’t push it with her tonight Jody. Don’t make me say something you don’t want to hear.

Jody looked offended. "We had plans tonight too, Amanda," she reminded the younger woman.

"I know." Amanda wrapped an arm around her friend and escorted her out of the kitchen. "Did I mention that a friend of Claire’s is coming along?"

"She has a friend?" Jody snorted. "Another lawyer no doubt. They travel in packs."

"Jody." It was a warning.

"Okay, okay, I’ll do my best to be nice." The dark haired woman pulled out a dining room chair. Turning it backwards, she straddled it. "So what’s her friends name?"

"Mark." Amanda immediately noticed a change in her friend’s demeanor. You are so predictable, my friend.

Jody affected a non-interested pose. "Have you met this Mark?" Her finger trailed around the rim of her iced tea glass, wiping away the moisture.

"Oh yeah. He’s really good looking too." Amanda wriggled her eyebrows. "If I weren’t gay..."

Jody ran a hand through her short hair, sending it further into disarray. Is she just messing with me? She regarded the blonde suspiciously as she swirled the ice around in her glass. "Define good looking."

"Humph. Are you saying I don’t know if a man’s good looking?" Amanda asked incredulously as she sat down in the chair next to her friend.

"Well, it’s not exactly your area of expertise is it?" Jody pointed out sarcastically.

"What? You comment on women’s looks all the time. That’s not your area of expertise!" Amanda noted.

"That’s different. I am a woman. That gives me dominion in both arenas."

Good answer. "Fine. You can just wait and see for yourself." Green eyes twinkled, knowing what her next words would do to her friend. "And you’re probably right. After all what do I know? I mean...6’4’’ and 225 lbs. of solid muscle, along with a great smile, thick fair hair and light eyes... that might not qualify as good looking, right? Oh yeah, did I to mention he’s single?" Amanda burst out laughing as her friend began to choke on her iced tea.

"Why didn’t you say that to begin with?" Jody choked out as Amanda slapped her on the back. Suddenly the older counselor jumped up like she was on fire. "Shit! I haven’t shaved my legs for 3 days!" That comment sent Amanda over the edge. She began laughing so hard tears streaming down her cheeks. "It’s not funny!" Jody complained. "How much time do I have?"

When Amanda finally stopped shaking she wiped her tears with the back of her hands. "Wow! I needed that. Thanks Jody." Boy, did I ever need that. Amanda felt some of the gnawing anxiety she’d been trying force away, recede naturally. She smiled affectionately at her friend. "Relax. You’re wearing pants for heaven’s sake. No one will even see your legs." Amanda stood and motioned her friend to follow her upstairs.

Periodic fits of giggles escaped from the blonde as the women walked down the hallway and entered her room. "Yeah, but I’ll know," Jody whined as she lay down on Amanda’s bed. "It will affect my confidence."

"Ha! That’ll be the day." The blonde disappeared into the walk-in closet. "I already feel sorry for Mark," she teased.

Jody laughed and settled in to wait for her friend. Although Jody liked Amanda’s entire condo, this room was by far her favorite. While the other rooms only contained one or two of Amanda’s watercolors, this room was overflowing with them. The younger therapist was generally shy about her talents, and it took several months of prodding and gentle coaxing before she’d reluctantly agreed to display a few of her paintings at the Cornerstone Clinic. At home, however, she wasn’t in the least self-conscious. But her best work, at least in Jody’s opinion, remained locked away, for her eyes-only. Or, the very few who make it into this room, Jody pondered.

Nearly every bit of wall space was taken as odd shaped paintings filled in what would be unavoidable gaps in space anywhere else. There were even several partially completed paintings displayed "as is," just because Amanda said they made her happy, and it didn’t really matter if she finished them or not.

The bed was large and soft, and laying on it, reminded Jody of the secret nighttime chats she’d shared with her younger brother and sister when they were kids. Jody sighed and regarded the comforter. Sometimes Salt Lake City seemed like a million miles away. Maybe I should get a pet.

"Hang on for a few more minutes Jody. I wanna change into something warmer and I’m not finding exactly what I’m looking for." I wonder if I packed enough warm clothes for Missy? Amanda mentally calculated number of days she estimated Missy would be gone, and compared it to the number of sweatshirts and heavy pants she sent along with Mrs. Fisher. Maybe I’ll get lucky and this will all be over sooner than I think. God, I hope so.

"I hope you sent some warm clothes along with my Buddy. It’s still chilly in the mornings and evenings," Jody called out from her reclining position.

"That’s why I love you Jody. You know, Missy is really lucky to have you for a Godmother," came the reply from the closet.

"And here I thought you loved me for my sparkling personality and great boobs." Jody ducked but nothing flew over her head. That’s weird. I thought that one would get her for sure. Oh well. She waited a full 30 seconds before sitting back up. As she turned her head to say something, a heavy pillow sailed out of the closet and hit her squarely in the face. The momentum sent her reeling backwards off the bed.

Amanda smiled when she heard a loud thump and her friend’s muffled curses. "She shoots, she scores," she called out victoriously as she continued looking for her shoes.


Exactly one-hour later the doorbell rang. "Jody could you get the door for me? I wanna turn off these lights before we leave. Without waiting for an answer Amanda disappeared into the kitchen.

Sure. Jody opened the door to find Mark patiently waiting. Claire was no where to be seen. So far so good, she silently mused.

The large man held out his hand. "Hi. I’m Claire’s friend, Mark Gustafson." He pointed out into the darkness. "She insisted on checking all the window to make sure the place was safe. She asked me to let you know we were here so that she wouldn’t scare anybody."

"Nice to meet you Mark." Jody smiled and returned the firm handshake. I’m Jody Penbrook, Amanda’s business partner. Come on in." She gestured toward the interior. Holy shit, Amanda! When you’re right you’re right.

Mark looked back over his shoulder wishing Claire would hurry up. "Maybe I should wait for Claire?"

"Nah, she’s a big girl." Jody slammed the door shut immediately behind Mark. She smiled sweetly. "She’ll be fine."

"Well, if you’re sure." Mark made his way to the couch and nervously sat down. Where is Amanda? And why does this woman keep looking at me like I’m dinner? Mark took a long hard look at Jody. While not nearly as striking, in a way, her dark good looks and strong features reminded him of Claire. Maybe this evening won’t be as depressing as I thought.

"Hi guys," Amanda said as she reentered the room. Pale brows knit as she looked around. "Is Claire in the bathroom?"

"Hi Amanda," Mark answered brightly.

"Claire is checking all the windows and locks," Jody supplied, unable to keep the acerbic edge completely out of her voice. She mentally rolled her eyes. Jane Bond is back. Although, she was forced to admit to herself, it’s not such a bad idea.

"And she’s doing this alone?" Amanda asked clearly upset.

Both Mark and Jody shifted guiltily.

"Very nice, guys," the blonde woman scolded as she began moving toward the front door. Before she could open it she heard a light knock. Looking back over her shoulder she shot Jody and Mark a look that said ‘you’re damn lucky nothing happened.’ They responded by simultaneously muttering ‘uh oh,’ then smiled as they realized they were thinking the same thing.

"Hi Mandy," Claire said brightly as the door opened and she was faced by her friend.

Amanda grabbed Claire by the wrist and dragged her through the front door. "Why were you walking around outside... in the dark... ALONE?" Three sets of eyebrows raised. "Well?" she demanded.

Claire was completely confused. "I...I...was just checking your locks." Shit! What did I do?

"Because you were worried my sister or her husband would come back and try to break in here?" Amanda finished.

Claire nodded, a little taken aback by Amanda’s obvious anger.

"If it was dangerous enough for you to be worried about my safety, don’t you think it would have been smarter not to go running around alone? I think it’s reasonable for me to be concerned about your safety too."

Claire looked at Jody and Mark who simply shrugged. Looking back at Amanda she could see her friend was truly upset. "I can take care of myself I...’t need to be concerned," Claire stuttered.

Amanda released Claire’s wrist and laid her palms flat against Claire’s chest. She could feel the heart under her hands beating furiously. Did I do that? Crap. I really need to work on my temper.

"I want to be concerned, remember?" Amanda lowered her voice so only Claire would hear her. "I’m sorry, Gumby. I’m not really mad. I just got scared," she whispered as her hands began moving in a soothing circular motion. "I guess I’m a little on edge about tonight." Before she even had all the words out she could feel the pounding pulse begin to slow.

The lawyer let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. She was worried about me? Claire glanced over at Mark and Jody who suddenly found their feet extremely interesting. "You’re not mad at me then?" Claire asked Amanda sincerely.

"No." Amanda traced Claire’s collarbone, wondering how long it had been since anyone had wanted to take care of Claire. "I’m not."

"Good." She hugged the smaller woman reveling in Amanda’s obviously ‘touchy’ personality. I’m more than happy to give and receive as many of these hugs as possible. Claire spared herself a fleeting second to enjoy the warmth of concern Amanda was offering. How did I get so lucky? Wait. She really thought I couldn’t handle Monica or Chucky? As if! Claire paused, a little disturbed at how much she’d love the opportunity to ‘handle’ them.

Both Mark and Jody would have preferred not to have witnessed the tender scene, but for very different reasons. When they each sensed the lover’s quarrel was over, they approached the embracing couple. Mark cleared his throat awkwardly.

"It’s okay to talk to us Mark," Claire teased.

Amanda reluctantly untangled herself from Claire and walked over to hug the tall blonde. "Sorry Mark. I guess you didn’t get a proper hello from me." He blushed slightly under the attention.

"That’s okay Amanda, you’re right. I should have gone with her." Mark nervously moved out of the hug and looked at Jody. "So are you a lesbian too?"

All three women stood frozen mid-motion, speechless, their mouths hanging open. Claire was the first one to recover. "Shit Marko, I can't take you anywhere, can I?" She turned back to the other woman. "At least he’s housebroken," she offered wryly.

"What?" the big man complained. "I was just wondering."

Jody finally closed her mouth. "The answer is no," she croaked.

Amanda grabbed Mark’s arm and began escorting him to the front door. She motioned to a laughing Claire, and a stunned Jody, to follow. "It’s okay, Mark. I think the question just surprised us." Amanda barely contained her own laughter as she considered just how far from the truth his question really was. "Mark, she is SO not a lesbian."

"Well all right! That’s all I wanted to know."


Continues here...

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