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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 7a

Claire buttoned her crème colored jacket as she and Mark walked to the door of the Cornerstone Clinic.

"Claire, is my tie straight?" Mark craned his neck.

She glanced at Mark and raised slender dark eyebrows. The prosecutor looked dashing in his tan linen suit and powder blue tie.

"You’re worrying about how you look? The last time you did that was when you were dating Mary..."

"Please, don’t bring up Mary now..."

"Come on, you and your ex-wife get along better than any other divorced couple I know." Claire pulled open the clinic door.

"Well, I’m not dating Mary now. Jody..."

She turned to face Mark. "Jody what?"

Jody stepped out of her office just as the pair walked in. "Hey, you two are a little early, Amanda is still with a client," the psychologist looked at Mark and smiled.

"That’s okay." Claire sat down in the waiting area and folded her fingers across her stomach. "We can use the extra time to decide where we want to go."

"My vote is for some good old fashioned Scandinavian food. I haven’t been down to Lena’s in ages," Jody said as she sat down near Mark, fingering the soft blue fabric that circled his neck. "That’s a great tie."

Whoa! Claire raised an eyebrow, suddenly comprehending the situation between Mark and Jody. Ha! Good luck, buddy. You’re gonna need it. She smirked, knowing what her friend’s reaction would be to having reconstituted cod for lunch. "Jody, Mark loves lutefisk, he was just talking about it the other day."

"Really Mark? That’s great. They say lutefisk is an acquired taste. Most of the men I’ve known don’t like it."

Mark blanched and swallowed. "Oh yeah, just love it."

Jody smiled again and soft brown eyes brightened. "Really?"

"Jody, he absolutely adores lutefisk. He can’t get enough of it," Claire interrupted.

"Wow. You know I keep trying, but I just don’t like lutefisk. Maybe because I know it’s dried fish soaked in lye." She shivered. "I have a hard time with it, but I do like pickled herring. I guess you’ll have plenty."

Claire snorted under her breath as she observed Mark loosen his tie and turn even paler. More paybacks for Gumby, Marko. Before Claire could inflict further retribution, Amanda’s office door opened and the therapist and her client stepped out. Noticing Claire and the others, she walked over and gave the attorney a quick kiss on the cheek and grasped her hand.

"You’re early, Gumby." She waived at Mark though most of her attention was on Claire. "Hey, nice tie, Mark," she offered absently.

Claire brought up their joined hands and kissed Amanda’s. "Mark does look pretty nice today, doesn’t he."

Before anyone could make another comment, the clinic door was abruptly slammed open. Monica emerged a second later. Amanda’s sister perfectly fit the stereotypical description of a drug addict on her last legs. She was literally skin and bones, her eyes were lackluster and they seemed to be permanently ringed with dark circles.

Amanda ran over to her sister. "Monica, where have you been?"

"That mother-fucker cut me off," the gaunt woman replied in a raspy voice.

Amanda gingerly hugged her sister. "When was the last time you ate something?" She cringed as she felt her sister’s bones through her thin clothing.

"After everything, he just cut me off cold turkey. Damned bastard liar..."

Claire stepped over and gently pulled Amanda away from the shivering Monica.

"Let’s sit Monica down," Claire whispered to Amanda as Monica continued to mumble. God, how could she look even worse than she did a week ago? Amanda was clearly upset by her sister’s startling appearance. Can’t blame her there.

Jody handed Monica a glass of water, which she drank down in one long gulp. "What’s going on Monica?"

"I need to find Junior!" she whined. "He promised me!"

"Who’s Junior?" Jody coaxed as she grabbed a muffin off a tray they had set out for waiting patients and offered it to Monica.

"He’s a lying bastard!" Monica pulled a Swiss army knife from the pocket of her ragged, dirty jeans. "And I’m going to cut his fucking tongue out so he can’t lie to anyone else."

"Monica, give me the knife," Amanda ordered.

"What do you care? You’re stealing my daughter away from me!"

"Missy is my daughter, I adopted her. You are her aunt. I’m not stealing anything." Amanda knelt before her sister and spoke in low soothing tones. "We want to get you some help, Monica. Give me the knife, please..."

Monica stared at her sister for a moment, her dull eyes glazed and tired. Amanda could see the layers of exhaustion on her gaunt face as she continued to hold the knife.

"Come on, give me the knife, then we can talk about Junior, okay?" Amanda tried again.

Claire moved directly behind Amanda and laid a warm hand on her shoulder. "Monica, your sister loves you very much. You should do what she asks."

"Why should I listen to you? What do you care?"

Who says I do? "You’re Amanda’s sister and I care that she wants to help you. That’s reason enough."

Monica stared at Claire for a long moment and then narrowed her eyes. As quickly as her mood became hostile, it changed to sudden sadness. She began to cry. "I just want to die now," she mumbled, running a trembling hand through stringy hair.

Amanda’s heart ached for sister. "Things will get better, Monica. I promise. You just feel this way now." Green eyes flashed with determination. "I’m not going to let this Junior person hurt you. And you need to stop hurting yourself."

Monica dropped the knife as though she never had any intention of using it and took bite of muffin. She hummed loudly in appreciation, forcing crumbs to trickle out of her mouth.

Man, she’s nuts. "Just who is this Junior person and where can we find him?" Mark interjected, his prosecutorial nature driving him.

Leave me alone! Why did I come here again? "Junior is one of those hot shot attorneys just like Mandy’s girlfriend," she sneered at Claire. Yeah... he's just another shyster lawyer. Evan Moore, Evan Asshole Moore."

Claire face remained neutral, her mind making the association between Monica’s Evan Moore, Junior, and the Evan Moore she worked with. With a sickening ‘click’ the pieces fell together in her head. She groaned out loud. Evan Moore is her drug contact? Claire let out a disgusted breath. God, I knew he was a slime but this? The more rational part of Claire’s brain took over and she considered the company Evan kept, his lavish lifestyle and his legal specialty...criminal defense of narcotic cases. How else does such a rotten lawyer do so well?

Claire felt a bolt of blind fury flash through her, irrationally blaming Evan for Amanda’s problems with her sister. "Mark I know where we can find Evan Moore." When I get my hands on you Evan...

The tall man nodded, having recognized the name immediately. "Will he be at work during lunch?"

"I know where he is at this very minute," Monica added smugly. They know Evan? Ohhh, yes. This will be perfect. "I’ll take you there."

"Claire, can I use your cell phone to call the police?" He began rooting through his jacket for a pen.

Monica immediately jumped to her feet. "No cops!" I want to be there personally. "Call the cops and I’ll deny ever meeting the pig." Sensing Claire’s anger, she directed her comments to her. "I can take you right to him, he’s meeting with someone important." I know you want to confront him, Claire. I can feel it. You hate him as much as I do, don’t you?

"Absolutely not," Mark stated firmly. "There’s no reason to do this personally. Just tell me where he is and..."

"No! Only I can do it! I don't know the address but I know where to go. I’ll take you there." Monica was beginning to panic.

"How do you know where he is?" Jody asked skeptically.

Monica smiled. "I do have ears Jody." Her voice was rich with sarcasm. She shoved a large bite of muffin into her mouth. "Although, they’re not a body part Evan’s been particularly interested in."

"Show me." Claire demanded as she grabbed Monica by the wrist and began dragging her toward the door.

"Claire wait!" Amanda ran around in front of the older woman, effectively blocking the door. "You’re going to bust in on a drug deal? Are you crazy?"

Jody and Mark looked at each other, wondering if that was indeed the case.

"Oh, it’s not a drug deal," Monica added cryptically. "It’s an important meeting, but no drugs." Seeing that Claire was beginning to falter, she pressed her case. "You’ll never catch him otherwise. He’s too high up in the organization." Come on Claire...

Claire’s body was deathly still, but her grip on Monica’s wrist didn’t falter. She made her decision. "Anyone who wants to stay here is welcome. Let’s go." She yanked Monica around Amanda and out the door.

Jody, Mark and Amanda all looked at each other. Amanda was the first one out the door.


Claire shifted angrily toward Monica. "I asked you why we’re here," she spat.

A devious smile curled Monica’s lips as she sunk deeper into the soft leather seat. "I told you. This is where Evan is having his ‘meeting,’" she said innocently, enjoying Claire’s sudden burst of frustration.

The tall attorney leaned forward over her seat and roughly grasped the front of Monica’s shirt. "You’d better not be lying."

"Claire! What are you doing?" Amanda’s quickly laid her hands over Claire’s white knuckles. She gentled her voice and removed any trace of panic. "Let her go, Claire." Wild blue eyes calmed at Amanda’s gentle touch and she slowly let go of the tattered shirt, leaving two large wrinkled spots in her wake.

Amanda’s hands remained firmly over Claire’s. "What is it, Claire?" This is not just about Evan. She seemed to accept his possible involvement surprisingly well. Amanda brushed her thumbs over the large hands in a soothing motion, feeling a gnawing sense of worry settle deep in her gut.

Claire’s face took on a pained expression and she gazed out at the sprawling estate before returning her attention to Amanda. Her voice was a whisper. "This is Uncle Luther’s house." Reading Amanda’s confusion, she schooled herself in patience and elaborated. "He’s not really my uncle but...well...I’ve known him since I was a kid. He’s an old family friend whom I dearly love." Fierce eyes turned to Monica. "And who I don’t believe would be mixed up in any drug deals." Shit! What is going on? Claire felt like her world was crashing down around her. Evan I can believe. But not Uncle Luther! This must be some sort of mistake. There must be some reasonable explanation...

"Claire..." Mark shut off the ignition, "we should go find out what’s going on." The big man let out a shuttering breath, praying Luther wasn’t involved in dirty dealings. But that would explain why he inexplicably acquitted Aaron Levine. Come to think of it, Judge Rumble presided over several cases that were miraculously dismissed. While Mark didn’t share a personal relationship with the judge, he still considered the elderly man a valuable addition to the bench and hated the idea that he may be involved something illegal. Plus, his mind added, it would devastate Claire.

Claire nodded and turned to Amanda. "Why don’t you and Jody wait..."

"Not a chance, Gumby. If you’re going in, so am I." The blonde’s tone brokered no arguments as she raised pale brows in challenge.

"But Mandy..."

The three sets of eyes rolled and waited impatiently for Claire to lose this argument.

"I’m going!"

"But Evan may be..."

"I’m going!"

Dammit. "Be reasonable! We don’t know..."



"Aren’t you listening?"

"What?" Claire threw her hands in the air.

"I’M GOING!" I have to go. I won’t be left behind.

For several long seconds, the car was silent except for Claire’s exasperated breathing. Why won’t she listen to reason? The frustrated lawyer looked around the car to Jody, Monica and Mark, who all three shot her slightly annoyed, slightly amused looks.

"Fine," she eventually gave in. Swallowing a sense of dread that threatened to paralyze her, she leaned forward between the split in the front seats to meet Amanda, who was already leaning forward. With great effort, she completely tuned out the car’s other occupants and spoke only to her lover. "Swear you’ll be careful." A warm hand reached out and covered Amanda’s. A firm squeeze emphasized her words. "I need you to be."

Claire’s admission was whispered in a deep, heartfelt voice that sent shivers through Amanda soul. Piercing crystal eyes pinned her in place and she felt her heart stop.

Before the almost desperate words finished ringing in her ears, an invisible barrier snapped within the young therapist and an overwhelming blast of emotion surged between she and Claire. Its familiarity and utter rightness caused her chest to ache and tears to spring to her eyes. She paused and swallowed hard. "I swear." Her voiced cracked with a myriad of emotion so intense that Claire’s immediate response was visible at the pulse point of her throat and in the depths of watery azure eyes.

In that split second in time, Amanda’s world was invaded by a crashing sense of clarity that had always managed to elude her. Its inevitability settled around her like a protective cloak and any questions or insecurities or doubts simply scattered to the winds. Even in this uncomfortable place, and stressful time, its simple acknowledgment filled her with a sense of peace and belonging that enveloped her. I’m in love with her. Completely, hopelessly, utterly, totally in love. And when this is over...No, tonight...Whether this is over or not...nothing is going to stop me from telling her.

It would be okay. Claire felt it as surely as she felt her own pounding pulse begin to steady, and a familiar sense of determination rise within her. I need to end this. Without another word Claire exited the Pathfinder. A second later Amanda did the same, dragging Monica behind her.

Jody and Mark sat in the car, dumbfounded, as a crackling energy exited the vehicle with Claire and Amanda. They watched through the front window, as Amanda dropped Monica’s hand and fell into Claire’s waiting arms. The smaller woman whispered something in Claire’s ear that caused the brunette to pause, then nod, and place a gentle kiss on Amanda’s cheek.

"What the hell just happened in here?" Mark looked around the vehicle in confusion.

Jody shook her head, causing wavy brown bangs to feather across her forehead. "I’m...I’m not sure. Whatever it is between them...for a minute there... well...I dunno."

Mark couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say, so he shrugged, and actually said what he was thinking. "It is the fooorce. It is their dessstiny." The impressive Darth Vadar voice caused Jody to burst out laughing.

Destiny? Is that was this is? I think you’re right about that, Mark. "We’d better get out there before they decide to go in without us." Jody stopped mid-motion, her hand still gripping the door handle. "Mark?" Expressive blue eyes met hers. "Do you really think we should be confronting Evan without the police?"

The big man thought for a second before replying. His brow furrowed in concentration, creating shallow creases on fair skin. He sighed heavily. "No. But there’s no way to stop Claire now, and I can’t let her go alone."

Jody smiled and nodded, acknowledging she felt the same way about Amanda. "Sometimes this best friend business is a real pain in the ass, you know?" she commented wryly.

"You got that right, Jody. But lucky for us it’s always worth it. Come on, let’s go."

All five of them stood outside the large door, not sure of their next move. "We can’t just go bursting in," Amanda finally broke the silence.

"We’re not." Claire rang the doorbell and within seconds a small, ancient, formally dressed butler opened the door.

"Why hello Miss. Easton," he smiled broadly showing off perfect white dentures. "You haven’t been by in ages." The man lowered his spectacles and looked at the other people who were complete strangers. His eyes fixed on Monica and he fought to keep from wrinkling his nose.

Claire laid her hand on the shoulder of his crisp black uniform. "Hello, Edgar. Is Uncle Luther at home?" Please say no. Please say no.

"He is, Miss. But he’s in a business meeting, and asked that he not be disturbed under any circumstances."

"I see." Claire’s heart sank. "Edgar, it’s very, VERY, important that I speak with Uncle Luther immediately. I’m sure he won’t mind the intrusion. I’ll tell him you tried to keep me out..." she smiled knowingly, "...but that I wouldn’t take no for an answer." She squeezed the hand still resting on the slender shoulder. "Please," she asked, allowing a little of her natural magnetism to shine through.

"Well..." The old butler hesitated, torn between his duty to his employer and the pretty smile he could never resist. Why do I bother saying no to her? "All right, Miss. Come with me." He gestured toward the interior and he pulled the heavy door open, allowing the group to enter the mansion.

Everyone, except Claire, stood with his or her mouth hanging wide open. Catching flies. They had all been raised in middle to upper middle class homes and had never seen a place like this...except on television.

The home was three stories high and full-length tapestries covering the walls of the enormous foyer. Life-size sculptures lined the sides of the room, which was bisected by a huge marble staircase and an opulent chandelier hung graciously above the staircase, its tubular crystals scattering the afternoon sun

Jody looked around the entryway wide-eyed astonishment. "Holy Shit. It could be a hotel. How much do they pay judges!" she exclaimed. "No wonder our taxes are so high!"

"This isn’t Luther’s," Claire interrupted. "Aunt Helen’s family is richer than God. She’s the great-granddaughter of Cadwallader Farmington, one of the founders of General Mills." She was met with blank stares. "The people who make Cheerios," she reminded, blue eyes rolling impatiently.

"Ohhhhh." Bobbing heads.

Claire reached out and grabbed Monica by the back of the collar as the skinny blonde started to wander away. "Is Uncle Luther in his office, Edgar?"

The butler nodded.

"Where’s Aunt Helen?"

"Mistress Helen is visiting her sister in London and won’t return until tomorrow. Indeed, she’ll be very sorry she missed you."

Claire smiled weakly. "Thanks, Edgar. I’ll show myself to Luther’s office."

The old man looked around nervously and fiddled with his ascot.

"Don’t worry." Claire patted his cheek indulgently. "Uncle Luther will understand the intrusion. I promise."

"Very well, Miss." Edgar gave her a lingering look before bowing slightly and disappearing through a doorway that was completely hidden by a bright blue tapestry.

Is everyone in love with her? Amanda wondered as the old man retreated with a look of adoration plastered on his face that she had seen echoed on Mark’s, and on mine too, she supposed.

"Oh goody!" Monica squealed. "Things are about to get fun!" The skanky woman giggled inappropriately, breaking her blissfully long silent spell. Amanda whirled around and stood face-to-face with her older sister.

"You’d better not be doing this to embarrass Claire or her friends," she threatened.

"Tsk. Tsk...Sis. Have I ever lied to you before?" Oops. I’ll be lucky if Amanda doesn’t deck me for that one.

Amanda fought the urge to knock her silly. "Dozens of times and you know it." Though a large part of Amanda hoped that this time her sister was lying. That they’d leave this place embarrassed, but having established that Claire’s associate and dear family friend had nothing to do with drugs or dirty deals or Monica. I could live with that embarrassment. What I don’t want to see is Claire’s heart break.

"It’s this way." Claire motioned to a door in the far corner of the foyer. "Let’s get this over with and go home." I need to have a talk with certain blonde counselor.

The five made their way through the elaborate room and into a long, dimly lit hallway whose wood paneled walls were adorned with large, oil portraits. Their feet made no sound and they shuffled across thick burgundy carpet.

Mark focused on his breathing as he tried to push away a sudden sense of foreboding that washed over him. Countless criminal prosecutions had given the tall man more than a taste of what could happen when people were cornered. That’s it...relax. We just need to stay in control. I won’t let anything happen them.

At the end of the hallway stood a set of tall double doors that Claire opened without hesitation, allowing the group to enter an impressive library. Eye level bookcases lined the walls of the large room. Above the books, a small dark shelf circled the entire room and held antique dolls, trains, and their accompaniments. And still higher, were more formidable oil portraits framed with pressed gold leafing. Between the break of two bookcases was another small door, behind which, muffled, but clearly upset voices could be heard.

Claire stopped moving and Amanda saw the blood drain from her face.

With her eyes, Amanda asked Jody to watch Monica. When she received a quiet nod from her friend, she gently steered Claire away from the rest of the group.

"Are you okay, sweetheart?" The counselor reached up and brushed aside back dark bangs, worry leaking into her voice.

Claire’s heart warmed at the endearment. I wonder if she knows what she just said? While Claire was sure about her feelings for the younger woman, she couldn’t get seem to shake a deep-seeded fear that Amanda’s feelings didn’t run as deep. The thought of an unrequited love with Amanda made her physically ill and Claire closed her eyes, feeling slightly out of control. I can’t think about that right now. "Actually, no. I’m not okay. I don’t want to go in there and find Luther talking with Evan."

"Just because he’s talking to him doesn’t mean there’s something sinister going on. What if they’re just friends?" Even as she said it, Amanda knew it wasn’t convincing. But she desperately wanted to ease the ache radiating from Claire.

"Mandy," Claire sighed heavily, "Luther was the presiding judge in almost all of the drug cases that were dismissed. And Evan was lead defense counsel. It would make perfect sense that they were somehow working together. I just don’t know why," she finished in anguish.

Amanda grasped Claire’s hand tightly and looked around the beautiful room. "It wouldn’t be for money...that’s for sure." She returned her attention to Claire. "Gumby, why don’t we just let the police handle this. Even if you do barge in there and find them talking together, it’s not like that’s illegal. Do you really expect them to just admit to fixing cases together? Let’s just go and leave the investigating to law enforcement." Come on Claire. This will only make you miserable. Don’t let Monica manipulate you into doing something that’ll only bring you pain.

Claire ran her hand down the soft material of Amanda’s blouse. God, I love this woman. I should have never let her come here with me. If anything happens to her I...

"Claire?" Amanda interrupted the grim mental ramblings. "Can’t you just drop this?" Her eyes and voice were pleading and Claire felt another stab of guilt.

"You know I won’t do that. I need to find out for myself. But you could wait in the car," she offered hopefully.

"And you know I won’t do that."

The voices behind the door grew louder and more agitated and Claire easily recognized Judge Luther. The darker woman’s eyes never left the door as she slipped off her jacket and tossed in on a low padded bench. She squeezed Amanda’s hand firmly before dropping it and in a blur of movement marched over to door, opened it, and stepped inside.

How does she move so fast? "Shit," Amanda mumbled and she quickly rushed passed Jody, Mark and Monica. After a second of confused hesitation the rest of the party, with Monica lingering in the rear, followed Amanda into the office.

Judge Rumble was standing in front of a large oak desk, his wire rimmed glasses gripped tightly in his shaking fist. "ENOUGH!" he shouted. His face was a light shade of purple and the dark rings around tired eyes testified to his stress. "I told you, Junior, NO MORE! I can’t...I won’t live like this."

Evan laughed cruelly. "Shut up old man. You’ll do exactly as I say and you know it. I’m in control here, not you." Evan leaned over the desk and pushed out his cigarette in a large crystal ashtray.

"And why would he do that, Evan?" Claire’s menace filled voice sounded through the small office.

A muffled snap was amplified by the shocked silence of room when Judge Rumble dropped the now shattered glasses from his hand. "What...What are you doing here?" he asked frantically. The white haired man looked around furiously, wondering how Claire had gotten past Edgar and what she was doing here...NOW. Neither he nor Evan appeared to notice the small group of people that had trailed in behind Claire but remained waiting very near the doorway. Claire ignored the judge and approached Evan, who didn’t look at all phased by her presence.

"Claire, we’re having a private business discussion." His eyebrow quirked. "Although I do appreciate your enthusiasm. Why don’t you come by my office on Monday and we can discuss some ways of getting you more involved in my more...delicate cases." He folded the arms of his trademark black silk shirt and dark jacket as he chuckled condescendingly.

"Shut up, you pig," Claire seethed. Seeing she’d get no place with Evan, she turned to Luther.

The old judge looked as though he was about to have a heart attack on the spot. His skin color contrasted sharply with his thick snow colored hair. Perspiration stains were beginning to show through his pale golf shift and his voice shook as he spoke. "I had no choice," he repeated over and over, as tears coursed down grizzled cheeks.

Claire was at his side immediately. "Calm down Uncle Luther. It’ll be okay." Amanda and Jody rushed over, each woman grasping an elbow as they guided the man into a large comfortable office chair.

Luther looked up at Amanda and Jody with dark glassy eyes. "What...Who?"

Claire knelt in front of the trembling man and wiped his sweating forehead with a tissue she’d grabbed from his desk. "It’s okay, Uncle Luther. They’re here with me. They’re my friends."

Jody was surprised when she didn’t bristle at the hasty description of their relationship offered by Claire. I guess she is...or at least will be my friend. The dark haired psychologist glanced at Amanda who was deftly checking the old man’s pulse and at Claire, who was worriedly picking pieces of broken glass out of Luther’s palm. They worked in effortless harmony and Jody was forced to acknowledge the perfect way each woman complemented the other. They simply fit. Like a puzzle once you’ve found the missing piece. Mark’s words drifted back to her. Destiny. Who am I to fight destiny?

Suddenly, a muscular man in golf clothes burst past Mark and Monica, who was lurking behind the large County attorney, trying her best not to be seen. He rushed over to the Judge. "Dad, what happened? Are you okay?" He worriedly looked at Claire. "What’s going on?"

Before Claire could answer, he spotted Evan, who was leaning against the opposite wall. His eyes immediately went cold and he stomped over to the arrogant attorney, pushing his way into his personal space. "Junior? What in the FUCK are you doing here? You came to my home?" His voice shook with anger and disbelief.

Claire straightened. Evan is Junior? Claire thought. "You know him?" Christ! You’re involved in this too? She stood and tried to ignore her pounding head. From bad to worse, her mind irritatingly supplied.

The man shifted uncomfortably. "I...I..."

Everyone flinched at the shrill sound of Monica’s laughter. Smiling, she slid around Mark, making her presence known for the first time. "Oh joy! The gang’s all here." Fearlessly she stepped between the two men. Lifting up her arms up simultaneously, she dragged a finger down both men’s chests in a familiar gesture. "Hello boys."

"Monica?" the men said in unison, though only Evan’s was filled with venom.

"Did you miss me, Junior?" Her eyes darkened with fury and she removed her finger from the smug man’s chest. Monica positively glowed as she saw it dawn on him that she had led Claire here and probably told her all about his business dealings. That’s right Junior. I spilled my guts. But I’m not gonna end up in some river like Aaron Levine.

"You shouldn’t have fucked with me Junior," the blonde stated coldly. Turning to the other man she opened her hand and laid her palm flat on his hot chest. "And Zane... you shouldn’t have fucked me at all." In an eerie mood shift, her voice lost its cold edge and the last vestiges of whatever kindness remained within her shone through. "It would have been so much better for you," she said tenderly.

Claire shuddered at how much the quiet voice reminded her of Amanda. And for the first time she really looked at the two women as sisters.

Zane turned to father, whose face had gone ashen, then back to Evan. "You BASTARD!" The salesman pushed Monica out of the way and with a single staggering punch to the jaw, dropped Evan to his knees. "What are you doing here, talking to my father?" he barked.

Mark moved to intercept the next punch but Claire waived him off. This was what they needed to know. Zane reached down and with a swift tug, yanked the tall man to his feet. "WELL?"

"Why don’t you tell him, Luther?" Evan sneered as reached up and wiped his bleeding nose with one hand while using the other to brace himself against the wall. All eyes turned to the judge.

"Zane," he began, not bothering to rise out to his chair, "he threatened to expose you. I...I...had no choice. It would kill your mother. You know how she feels about drugs and she’s so proud of you. I had no choice." Shaky hands ran through disheveled hair. "Don’t you see?"

Oh no. Zane closed is eyes as felt the sickening impact of his father’s knowledge and disappointment. He roughly pushed Evan away, and approached his father. "Dad..." He stopped and swallowed, looking very large next to the hunched over elderly man. "He was blackmailing you because of me? You should have come to me. I could have..."

"NO! He said he would expose your drug dealings," the old man cried desperately, his voice changing pitch as anxiety rushed through him. "He had photos and papers and he said if I would just dismiss one case they would all disappear." He shook his head as if just now occurred to him that Evan couldn’t be trusted. "But then he demanded another and another..."

When Zane turned back toward Evan his eyes were filled with rage. Claire could see he was beyond reason. "You are DEAD, Junior," he yelled in a voice that dripped with fury.

"Eventually, but not today, Zane." With a smile, Evan reached back around his waist and pulled out a small shiny handgun. He cocked his head to the side and pointed it directly at Zane.

Monica immediately took a step backwards while Claire and Mark moved protectively in front of Amanda and Jody.

Evan’s eyebrows shoot skyward as he focused on Claire. "How sweet, Claire," he sneered. "Do I sense a love connection?" he snorted and wiped his bloody nose with the back of his hand. "I always thought you had a little too much testosterone for your own good. Although..." cool eyes appraised Amanda, "if she anything like her sister," he licked his lips suggestively, "I can’t say as I blame you."

Amanda was standing so close to Claire’s back, she literally felt the darker woman go rigid at Evan’s words. She’s gonna charge him, gun or no gun. "Don’t," was all she whispered. "You promised." After a long moment, Amanda felt the coiled tension in lover slightly relax.

The tall woman released a shuddering breath and gave Amanda an almost imperceptibly nod, silently acknowledging the promise she’d exacted outside the mansion. No heroics. I remember Mandy. But I can’t let something happen to you, no matter what I promised. "Take the gun and leave, Evan. You can’t very well shoot all of us and still expect to get away." She raised her arms indicated large number of people in the small office.

Evan glared at the beautiful attorney as a fresh stream of blood dripped from his nose, down his chin, and splashed onto the pale carpet. "No, I suppose not," he agreed amiably. "But then again, I really don’t want shoot you all. No..." he recklessly used the barrel of the gun to scratch his chin, macabrely smearing the blood, "I think I’ll save the bullets for my special favorites."

When he extended his arm out again, he had a new target. Monica. "You rotten BITCH," he choked. "Watching your pathetic junky-ass die is going to give me more pleasure than you could ever imagine." He cocked the gun and Claire felt Amanda begin to move behind her.

Monica didn’t even flinch. "Don’t do me any favors, Junior," she smiled sweetly. "I won’t bother to say goodbye because I’m quite certain we’ll be seeing each other again." Their eyes bored into each other’s and the room collectively held its breath.

Finally, Junior nodded. "If anyone will end up in hell’ll be you and I. You’ll just beat me there." His finger whitened on the trigger and in a flurry of movement Claire and Mark bolted toward Evan as Zane lunged into Monica.

CRACK! A shoot rang out.

Evan screamed piteously as two large bodies descended upon him. A pair of large hands knocked the hot gun away and a powerful kick sent Evan sailing into a large wooden file cabinet. His head crashed against the hard walnut surface and his body sagged heavily over Judge Rumble’s desk.

In a millisecond Amanda was at Claire’s side, checking her for injuries. With her heart in her throat, small hands frantically probed Claire as she rambled angrily. "BUT YOU PROMISED! YOU PROMISED!"

Claire pulled the shaking woman to her and felt Amanda hands give up their search and cling fiercely to her. The therapists chest heaved as a sob escaped. "He missed me Mandy, I’m fine," the darker woman soothed. "But..." Claire looked over to Zane and Monica who were lying in a tangled heap on the floor, Jody and Mark already hovering over them. Amanda’s eyes followed Claire’s and they stepped out of the embrace to join the others.

Mark carefully pulled Zane and Monica apart in an attempt to see whose blood was liberally coating the carpet. He and Claire began checking Zane while Amanda and Jody went to work on Monica.

"Monica, wake up." Jody firmly slapped Monica’s cheek. The blonde woman’s chest and neck was covered with a thick coating of blood and she wasn’t moving.

"Monica!" Amanda began looking for the bullet wound, while Jody checked for a pulse.

Dizzy hazel eyes fluttered open and Monica brought a hand to her head as she began to sit up. "Ow! What happened?" She looked at the blood covering her chest. "Is any of this is mine?"

Amanda shook her head, her bottom lip quivering. Headless of the gore, she pulled her sister into a ferocious hug and tried to keep from falling apart on the spot.

"Dammit. You mean I’m still alive?" Monica asked, finally realizing she hadn’t been shot.

"Don’t sound so disappointed, you freak," Amanda mumbled as she kissed the clean side of Monica’s face and regained her composure.

Jody had already moved over to Claire and Mark who were desperately trying to stop the flow of blood from Zane’s upper abdomen. Mark had stripped off his jacket and shirt and was pressing them into wound. Zane moaned in pain and coughed violently sending a light spray of blood onto Mark chest. Claire’s hands were also pressed firmly into the makeshift bandages but the liquid continued to flow.

"Jesus, it won’t stop!" Claire pushed harder.

"Did you check for an exit wound?" Jody asked, trying not to get sick as the thick crimson substance pooled around her knees. Without waiting for answer she carefully turned the panting, moaning man on his side and discovered a gapping hole. "Shit!" She stripped off her own shirt and pressed it to the exit wound though she knew it wouldn’t do any good. She’d seen enough gun shot wounds in the Gulf War to know an obviously mortal injury. It won’t be long.

Amanda bent down and began surveying Zane. "What can I do?" Jody looked to her partner and silently conveyed that there was nothing anyone could do. Amanda checked the exit wound and flinched. My God Zane, I can’t believe you’re still alive. She shook her head and placed her hands over Mark’s as she calmly directed the large man. "Mark, you need call an ambulance."

"Right. Of course." He stood up and wiped his hands on his tan slacks. "There must a phone in here." He brushed by Judge Rumble who was standing silently, watching the life force quietly drain from his son.

Zane coughed again and tried to speak. After several more attempts his weak, raspy, voice was finally audible. "M...Mo...Monica," he sputtered.

Monica tore her eyes off Evan who was still lying unconscious across the desk. Claire wasn’t sure if he was receiving those looks of pure hatred from Monica because he tried to kill her or because he failed.

Monica crawled the few feet between she and Zane. Laying a hand on his cheek she smiled gently. She tilted her head to the side and looked at the man as though seeing him for the first time. Visions of a handsome 20-year-old running back, who sent her love letters and offered her ‘forever’, played behind perpetually bloodshot eyes. "I told you Zane, you should have stayed far away from me. What is it?" I should feel something, shouldn’t I?

Amanda and Claire exchanged looks, both wondering about the obvious history between the two.

"B...Ba...Ba...Baby," he finally managed and Monica’s eyes widened.

I didn’t know you knew about Missy. Monica knew exactly what he was asking but remained silent as his body was wracked with set shuddering coughs. More blood dripped from the corner of his mouth and Claire lifted her hand to gently wipe it away, before placing it back along side Amanda’s in vane attempt to stop the bleeding. Monica found it strange that Claire would bother to wipe away a few drops from Zane’s mouth, when it seemed like he was losing it by the gallon. She could hear Mark giving 911 the judge’s address in the background.

"Pa..Please, Mon..." he begged. Amanda, Claire, and Jody all looked to Monica, not understanding Zane’s question, mistaking the term "baby" for a lover’s pet name. After several more painful coughs Zane’s panting began to slow. "Please," he asked one final time. And for some reason, this time, Monica choose to answer. She slowly nodded and a small smile crossed Zane’s lips. He gulped a deep breath of air and after what seemed like an eternity he slowly exhaled. At the end of his breath his eyes widened and rolled back and his arms gave a quick jerk before falling limp. He didn’t inhale again.

Monica simplely stood up and moved to a chair across the room where she watched Mark tie Evan’s hands behind his back with his belt. Claire lifted her hands off Zane’s chest and carefully closed his eyes with her fingertips, leaving red bloody smudges on his eyelids. Amanda and Jody stood, and Jody offered Claire a hesitant hand that she immediately accepted.

Judge Rumble had yet to utter a single word. Gone was the panicky flustered man of a few moments ago. In his place stood a perfectly calm, incredibly tired looking old man. He stared blankly down at Zane’s lifeless body.

"Uncle Luther..." Claire stopped. The words couldn’t get past the lump in her throat but she tried again. "I...I am so sorry." She bent down and gave the man a gentle hug, to which he didn’t respond at all. His eyes never left his son.

Mark walked over to Claire with a bleary-eyed Evan in tow. "Claire, I’m gonna take this garbage outside and wait for the police, okay?"

"That’s a good idea, Mark." Unexpectedly, Claire reached up and harshly gasped Evan’s face with her still bloody hand. "I hope you enjoy these last few breathes of freedom, JUNIOR, cause I’m gonna make sure they’re the last ones you get!" Worried by the murderous glint in Clare’s eyes, Mark jerked Evan out of her grasp and roughly pushed him out the office door.

"Uncle Luther..." Claire began again, but stopped when there was still no response. She turned to Amanda, silently begging her to do something.

Amanda stepped forward and spoke in a firm but calm voice. "Judge Rumble, lets go sit down." She reached for his hand and the white haired man surprised everyone by quickly pushing it away. For the first time since the shooting he looked up from his son, and spoke to Claire.

"Claire honey, I need a few moments alone with Zane before the police arrive." The slow deep voice irresistibly reminded the attorney of her childhood.

Claire didn’t answer for long time. Then, she shocked Amanda and Jody by agreeing with the judge. "All right," she said quietly. "I’ll be out in the library."

"No, Claire. That’s not a good idea." Amanda’s eyes were serious as she tightly gripped Claire’s sleeve.

"Amanda’s right, Claire. He’s in shock. He shouldn’t be alone," Jody reasoned.

"I know you girls mean well," the judge stated calmly. "But I need a few minutes alone with my boy before half of Minneapolis comes barging into this room. Now go on into the library with Claire. I’ll be fine. I just need to say goodbye to Zane."

Claire stepped forward and gave her old friend a kiss on the cheek. As she pulled back their eyes locked for a long moment. Finally, she released the old man and slid her arm around Amanda’s waist. "I’ll be right outside, Uncle Luther. Come on, Mandy. Let’s go."

Amanda’s feet were rooted to the ground until she saw Luther drop down onto the floor and take Zane’s limp hand in his. He began quietly talking to his son about his mother and reached up to stroke pale cheeks. Eventually, Amanda allowed herself to be pulled out of the office with a reluctant Jody, and numb Monica, following quietly behind her.

Claire walked across the library and gathered the jacket she had left there earlier. She handed it to Jody who seemed to be oblivious to the fact that she was only wearing a bra. All three women were covered in blood.

"Thanks." Jody gratefully took the jacket and slipped it on, pleased with its warm comfortable fit. Her body was rapidly cooling down as the adrenaline rush started began to ease. I’m glad I’m not the only woman in the world with long arms. Her eyes idly scanned the titles of the books on the bookshelf and she wondered how Mark was doing with Evan.

Monica found a place on a chair on the far side of the room. Her stomach ached and her head pounded. Once again, her body was making its cravings known. She wrapped her bony arms around herself, and cursed Junior’s pathetic marksmanship.

Amanda settled down next to Claire on the padded bench that had held Claire’s jacket. The younger woman took a breath to speak...

BANG! A loud shot echoed in the office.

Jody, Monica, and Amanda all jumped at the noise. Claire sat perfectly still.

"FUCK!" Jody bolted into the office and the door slammed loudly behind her.

Amanda looked over at Claire whose body was deathly still. Did you know that was going to happen? Oh, Gumby.

Several heartbeats passed and the dark haired woman simply leaned forward and placed her elbows on her knees. Her head dropped forward as she heard the faint sounds of sirens in the distance, and Monica humming a tune she couldn’t recognize. A small hand found its way to her back and a warm cheek pressed against her shoulder. Claire didn’t know what else to do. She placed her palms over her eyes and began to weep.


Continues here...

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