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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 7b Conclusion

Amanda deeply breathed in the fresh scent of pine, wet leaves and flowers. The cold damp spring weather had taken a pleasant shift and she eagerly embraced the relatively warm night air. An easy breeze gently blew her hair around her shoulders as she surveyed Claire’s yard from the low railing of the wooden gazebo. Pale moonbeams trickled through the branches of tall trees, painting the yard with streaks of light, which cut through inky shadows in odd patterns. This is really peaceful. Even this close to the city, a million stars twinkled overhead. For a moment, Amanda wished she’d brought her easel and brushes.

Here in this secluded place, at this late hour, there were none of the sounds usually associated with the city...or even the suburbs. There was no traffic or music or neighbors, only loudly chirping crickets and the rustling of the newly grown leaves. She took another deep breath of the night air and decided this...was a really good idea. She needed time alone with Claire. They needed to talk... about everything.

Amanda cursed herself for letting another day pass without telling Claire exactly how she felt about her. She recognized the flashes of fear and insecurity that sometimes flickered across the darker woman’s eyes, and knew she was foolish to allow precious moments to slip away with things left unsaid. Hadn’t yesterday proven that?

Amanda shuddered at the thought, that but for a simple twist of fate, it might have been Claire’s blood that had stained her hands and clothes. So close. Too close.

And once the police arrived at the Rumble Mansion, all hell broke loose. Hours passed and the women were caught up in a frenzy of paperwork and interviews and telephone calls. Finally, Claire offered to stay and help an overwrought Edgar. And although it was at Claire’s insistence, Amanda knew in her heart it was wrong to leave her. It was clear that Claire loved Judge Rumble and Zane. The tall attorney wasn’t even allowed a good cry before the police burst in, and she’d squared her shoulders, and wiped her eyes, and took over.

When Luther and Zane’s bodies were carted out of the office Amanda and Claire were on opposites sides of the library with what seemed like a hundred of people between them. Claire stopped her statement mid-sentence as her eyes followed the loaded, creaking gurneys that traveled across the room. The carts rolled away, and Claire’s eyes lifted, somehow drawn to Amanda’s. Stark pain radiated through the lingering glance and young therapist felt the ache as if it were her own. It was. Amanda’s instincts screamed "go to her...NOW!" but before she could reach her lover, several well-meaning paramedics intercepted her. By the time she’d convinced them she wasn’t injured, that the blood wasn’t hers, Claire was gone, off talking to someone else...helping...explaining...and alone.

And still, something had to be done about Monica. Monica. By the time Claire finally gave in to Edgar’s pitiful requests, the ragged blonde was nearly out of her mind. Amanda knew she had to take her sister away before she did something crazy... in front of the entire Minneapolis police department.

Claire had stolen a single private moment with Amanda and told her go. "Take care of your sister," she’d said. "I’ll see you as soon as I can."

And Amanda reluctantly agreed, knowing it had to be done, that it couldn’t wait. She asked Jody to take Monica and wait outside for the taxi to arrive. But on her way out, she couldn’t help but stop and quietly observe her friend in action.

The older woman skillfully cajoled and informed, doing her best to minimize the bad, and maximize what little good she could glean from the horrific situation. She fought ruthlessly for the reputation of her dead friend and mentor. Amanda stood back in awe, savoring this glimpse of Claire the advocate, politician, warrior.

More than ever Amanda wanted to put all this ugliness and pain behind her. She needed time with her daughter without fear, and time with Claire without reservation or restriction. So she set out get just that. And she least in part.

After hours of tears, threats, pleading, and even a little "tough love" as Jody had put it, Monica willingly gave a statement to police that led to a 30-day commitment in a secure treatment facility. Her sister had to be free from drugs before Amanda could expect a rational discussion about Missy. And although she had no intention of giving up her daughter, she’d never sought to keep Monica completely out of Missy’s life, the drugs had simply given her no choice.

The commitment wasn’t a real solution and Amanda knew it. Monica had already been through treatment several times, only to be discharged and plunged into a never-ending cycle of addiction. But there was always hope, Amanda had reminded herself, and this offered her a much-needed reprieve and time to regroup and plan.

By the time Monica had been taken away, and she’d picked up Missy, and calmed down her hysterical parents, the day was gone. She arrived back at her condo well after midnight, with a sleeping toddler on her shoulder. After placing her daughter in bed, Amanda wandered downstairs, fixed herself a tall glass of iced tea, and settled in to check her furiously blinking answering machine.

BEEEP. "Where are you?"

BEEEP. "Are things okay?"

BEEEP. "How did things go with Monica?"

BEEEP. "I’m still at Uncle Luther’s. I may end up staying the night. Aunt Helen’s coming home early."

BEEEP. "I wish I were with you."

BEEEP. "My batteries running low...and...well I just wanted to say I miss you and I...I...hope you’re doing okay. I’ll call you tomorrow. Take care."

She sounded so tired. I’m so tired. Amanda rubbed heavy eyelids. She needed me to be with her and I wasn’t. She sighed and the breath came out little shaky. She needed me and I failed her. She could have died today. I could have lost her forever. This time it was Amanda who put her face in her hands and began to sob.

A hooting of an owl drew Amanda from the thoughts of the previous day. I’m here now, Claire. And you’ll be damn lucky if I let you use the bathroom without me! The wind shifted directions and brought with it rich scent of a nearby pond. Amanda shivered as the cooler breeze raised goose bumps on her thinly covered arms.

Suddenly, a warm body pressed itself against her back and soft hands ran the length of her arms. "Are you cold?" the deep voice whispered directly into Amanda’s ear. She shivered again, but for a totally different reason.

"Not anymore."

The lips against her ear smiled. "Good." Claire wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and happily breathed in the faint scent of Amanda’s musk perfume. "What were you thinking about?" She placed her chin on the head below hers. "Missy?"

The blonde squeezed the arms wrapped tightly around her and nodded. "Among other things. It was nice of Jody to let her sleep over tonight, huh? Missy’s been missing her like crazy. Although, I think after the day we spent at the park, Jody ended up with a very tired little girl."

"I’m glad you guys had fun. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be there."

Amanda shrugged. "S’alright. We needed a little time to ourselves. Besides, you had important stuff to do."

"Important...yes. More" Claire looked out into the yard. "You didn’t have to do that, you know."

Amanda grinned broadly. "Of course I did. You said you’d never been camping so..." About 20 feet away from the gazebo stood an large tent will the sides rolled up exposing the mosquito netting. Several opened sleeping bags were laid out across the floor to serve as padding and a small lantern burned in the dimly in the corner. "I’m starting you off slowly. Back yard camping is just the first step."

"I see. Do I sense a trip to the Boundary Waters in our future?"

Amanda smiled at the words ‘our future.’ "Would you like there to be?"

"Nah," Claire teased. "Even a cute blonde like you isn’t worth braving those mosquitoes for!"

"Hey!" Amanda protested in mock insult. "Don’t make me find some other sexy lawyer to take me!" Amanda felt Claire’s chin leave her head and a sudden blast of hot air caress her ear.

"You think I’m sexy?"

Amanda closed her eyes as the low growl rumbled through her. "Oh, yeah," she chuckled.

With a sudden spin, Claire whirled Amanda around to face her, leaning back she lifted Amanda to her until small feet were barely touching the ground. Their mouths were barely inches apart. "How sexy, Mandy?" Claire purred, her voice completely serious.

Amanda licked suddenly dry lips, her eyes irresistibly drawn to full mouth so close to hers. Her mind went blank. "W...Well..."

Claire tilted her head even closer to Amanda’s but stopped hairbreadths away from the waiting lips. "You don’t seem very certain of your answer."

Amanda’s nostrils flared as the hot moist air tickled her lips and the light scent of roses wafted up between them. "I...I..."

In three long paces, during which Amanda’s feet never touched the ground, she found herself pinned up against the center beam of the gazebo. Her heart began pounding wildly as Claire placed her hands on either side of her waist and slowly drew her fingers up her torso, and along the sensitive flesh of her inner arms. The light pressure caused Amanda’s arms to rise of their own accord, and the gentle touch eventually stopped at her wrists that were now held high above her head, against the wooden beam. Amanda groaned softly as finger trips left trails of fire across hypersensitive skin. "Claire." She swallowed hard. "What...what are you doing?"

Claire shifted her hands slightly, until she was holding Amanda’s wrists with one hand. She drew her free hand back down one of Amanda’s arms, then along her shoulder and up her neck. "I convincing you of your answer," came the simple reply. She leaned into the smaller woman and gently traced her soft lower lip. A gust of wind blew strands of Claire’s hair forward across Amanda’s neck and chest. The smaller woman’s stomach clenched tightly at the feathersoft touch.

Claire’s mouth drew nearer to Amanda’s and her eyes fluttered shut, relieved beyond reason that she would taste the lips that had been lingering so close to hers. No! She growled with frustration when Claire’s mouth detoured across her cheek and came to rest alongside her ear. The darker woman took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "Have I ever told you how wonderful you smell?" Claire whispered.

"God, Claire!" Amanda moaned as she started to tremble under the weight of her own arousal. "I...I need you to kiss me."

"All right," came the smooth response. Claire pulled away from Amanda, standing to her full height, but never releasing the smaller woman’s wrists. She slid a palm under Amanda’s chin and raised the blonde’s head until their eyes met and held. Claire was beginning to have a difficult time controlling her own breathing. A slight tilt higher and she exposed the tender skin of Amanda’s neck. In a flash, she bent and laid claim to Amanda’s throat with passionate lips. Amanda gasped.

"Are you still cold." The words were mumbled between wet kisses to Amanda’s throat.

Is she kidding? "Claire...Claire lets go inside..." Amanda looked desperately back toward the house. She knew they should move inside but was finding it nearly impossible to concentrate on anything but the insistent kisses under her ear.

"No." Claire’s tongue worked its way down Amanda’s heaving chest stopping only when it reached her shirt. With one deft hand Claire began unbuttoning the light chemise blouse. Several buttons later a gust of wind opened the blouse further, billowing the thin material.

Amanda groaned loudly as a rush night air caused the baby fine hairs covering her stomach and chest to stand up and her nipples to strain against the material of her bra. Claire slid her hand into the flapping blouse and cupped a full breast. Amanda shuddered as the warm palm contrasted sharply with her wind-cooled skin. God! She’s gonna have me begging soon.

The blonde began to feel a light ache in her shoulders as her knees threatened to buckle, and Claire’s arm began supporting more and more of her weight. Why won’t she kiss me? Her mind cried, although she was thoroughly loving ever second of this delicious torture. Her lips throbbed with want, and she spared a fleeting thought for her sister, admitting that if Monica wanted drugs half as badly as she needed... Claire’s mouth on hers, no treatment would help.

Blue eyes strained as Claire peered through shadows and stared intently at the undergarment binding ample cleavage. I wonder if it’s red? Jesus, how I love red lingerie. Although it looked black or dark purple in the moonlight, Claire decided that since she couldn’t be certain, she would think of it as red.

"Claire," Amanda panted. "We...We really need to go inside the house. Please."

"No," the older woman stated firmly, not letting Amanda’s words deter her from her path. When she slid her hot wet tongue underneath the top edge of Amanda’s bra and swirled it around an already painfully erect nipple, Amanda cried out. Claire felt the pressure against her hand as the counselor began to tremble. She was having terrific fun but didn’t want to hurt Amanda in any way.

"Mandy." Firm teeth gasped a throbbing nipple through the sleek material, and gently tugged. Amanda cried out again as her body began writhing under Claire’s assault. "If I let go of your wrists will you promise not to move?" the deep voice continued.

A tornado could have passed through the yard and Amanda wouldn’t have noticed. Her world was solely focused on the electric sensation of Claire’s lips and teeth on her breast, and the pulsating need they were creating in her groin. Claire smiled against the soft skin, knowing she wouldn’t get an answer if she remained in her current position.

Bringing her head up even with Amanda’s, she used her free hand to pull her captive to her. "Mandy," she tried again to get her attention again.

Amanda pried open tightly shut eyes to find Claire’s face inches from hers. She could almost taste those sweet parted lips resting so tantalizingly close to her own. She thrust forward to meet them, only to have Claire pull away again. "Clairrrrre," Amanda growled from deep in her throat. A bolt of anger flashed across emerald eyes that glimmered in the moonlight.

Claire smiled, finding tonight’s unplanned turn of events more than satisfying. That she was turned-on by this heady sense of power wasn’t a big surprise. After all, at least part of Evan’s ravings were true. Claire probably did have a little too much testosterone for her own good. But she’d always embraced her aggressive tendencies, refusing to be ashamed of her true nature. In fact, she’d turned it into a successful career.

But on this starlit night, Claire was learning something about herself she’d never suspected. Part of her...a BIG part of her...longed to be in Amanda’s shoes. Seeing that brief flash of anger in Amanda’s eyes had given the taller woman an unexpected thrill. She could see the animal lurking just below surface and had a sudden, nearly uncontrollable urge to unleash it. Claire suspected the young counselor would wear the mantle of power like true royalty, with one very eager attorney as her subject. Time for that later, Mandy. I was so right. You are a fantastic playmate. The woman in her grasp jerked slightly, refocusing Claire’s attention.

"If I let go of your arms will you promise not to move," she patiently repeated.

"No," Amanda whispered defiantly. If you let go of my arms you won’t be able to peel me off you.

A dark eyebrow arched and Claire gently removed a strand of pale hair that had blown across Amanda’s cheek. She leaned in again but kept her mouth just out of Amanda’s reach. Still, it was close enough for the woman to breathe the same air.

Claire dropped her voice to its deepest register. Her eyes darkened and face took on a passionate, commanding quality that caused Amanda’s heart to hammer within her chest and a warm trickle of moisture to trail down her inner thigh. "Other than lowering your arms... you won’t move another muscle."

Amanda moaned at the assertive words, her hips bucking of their own volition. The darker woman’s lips moved even closer, until Amanda could feel the barest hint of tingling pressure. "Mandy, if you try to run, or get away from me..." Amanda licked her lips nervously, causing her tongue to lightly brush against the full mouth across from hers. Her arousal skyrocketed and she felt tremors begin between her legs, "I’ll chase you down...and take you right where you stand."

Claire unceremoniously dropped Amanda’s wrists and surged forward to devour the younger woman’s mouth. Hot lips and wet tongues melted into each other as Claire swallowed a deep guttural moan that was torn from Amanda’s throat. The body in her arms convulsed as she tightened her grip, nuzzling her face against the hot cheek and soft red-gold hair splayed across her shoulder. Amanda’s knees completely gave way but strong, steady arms, easily supported her.

Finally, after several moments of soothing touches and soft words, the women separated and Amanda looked up into a brilliant white smile. She smiled sheepishly in return, green eyes twinkling. "You’re pretty proud of yourself aren’t ya, Gumby?"

Claire’s nodded and her smile got bigger. "Absolutely."

Amanda leaned in and kissed the delicate skin around Claire’s collarbone. "You know, there’s a tent over there that’s filled will sleeping bags and blankets and fluffy pillows."

Claire reached down behind Amanda thighs and lifted her as easily as she would have a child. The smaller woman giggled but her lips never left Claire’s neck and chest.

The attorney stepped down off the gazebo, hoping she wouldn’t drop her bundle. Ugh! Those kisses are way too distracting. If she doesn’t watch it I’m gonna kill us both. After several unsteady steps, Claire stopped outside of the mesh tent. She arched an eyebrow and waited "Well?"

"Umm." Amanda was thoroughly enjoying her work and didn’t appreciate the interruption. "Well, what?" she asked impatiently as nimble fingers began unbuttoning Claire’s blouse.

"How sexy am I?"

Too damn sexy for your own good, is what she thought. What she said, however was, "I’m still not sure. I think I’ll require more convincing."

Claire rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically as she kicked open the flap to the tent. "Work, work, work!"


The two women lay in a tangled heap of arms and legs. Amanda could still hear her heart pounding in her ears as Claire let out a deep breath, and adjusted her position beneath Amanda. Snuggling closer, Amanda sighed. The cool breeze was a welcome relief to overheated skin.

"Do you have any idea how happy I feel right at this moment?" The smaller woman asked, each word punctuated by a light kiss to her lover’s face and neck.

"Umm...pretty happy?" Claire guessed as she reached down and pulled up thin blanket only as far as Amanda’s waist. Trailing a finger lightly up and down blonde’s spine Claire marveled at the soft warm skin. "I’m glad you’re happy, Mandy," she spoke softly.

Resuming her light kisses Amanda murmured into Claire’s neck "Mmm...I’d love to help you feel just as wonderful as I feel now." She felt a catch in her lover’s breathing as the body below hers stilled. Propping herself up on one elbow, she reached up and smoothed back slightly damp bangs. She could barely make out Claire’s eyes, which had taken on a silver-purple hue in the moonlight. "Gumby?" She questioned.

The smaller woman felt Claire’s arms tightened around her and after a sudden shift, she found herself looking up into round watery eyes. Claire closed her eyes tightly, causing two hot tears to stream down her cheeks and lightly splash on Amanda’s chest. The young therapist could feel the anxiety coursing through her lover. But before she could speak, she heard the low rumble of Claire’s voice.

"Do you really wanna make me happy, Mandy?" Claire whispered, her voice cracking.

Amanda’s heart lurched at the sound of her partner’s insecurity, and she understood the question carried implications beyond the moment. Raising two slightly shaky palms, she cupped Claire’s cheeks, and used her hands to force direct eye contact. She waited patiently until glistening frightened eyes met and held hers. Dammit! I should have done this a long time ago. "God yes, Claire. I want more than anything to make you happy," she whispered fiercely.

Two more hot tears fell. What am I doing? Claire tried to pull away but Amanda held her face firm, refusing to let go, maintaining eye contact. The attorney hesitated, unsure of what to say or do next. She started to panic. Amanda’s eyes were beginning to unnerve her. They asked questions she didn’t want to answer, demanded things she might not be able to give. Her breathing quickened and her heart started to pound. But instead of fleeing, she convulsively pulled Amanda into a crushing hug, burrowing her face into the smaller woman’s hair.

"What will it take, Claire? All you have to do is tell me," Amanda coaxed. Claire didn’t answer, but Amanda could feel the iron grip around her tighten. Wet tears flowed freely against her neck and her own eyes welled in response. "I do want you to be happy, Claire. You just have to tell me what you need."

A sniff, and then another, and finally Claire lifted her head. Her face was inches from Amanda’s, and the trail of her tears shone brightly in the moonlight. She closed her eyes and willed herself not to answer.

"Tell me, Sweetheart... Please." Amanda’s voice was somewhere between pleading and demanding.

Claire’s shoulders jerked and her head sagged slightly to the side. But even as she tried to pull away, she couldn’t ignore Amanda’s plea. Her resolve weakened by Amanda’s gentle words, Claire gave up the fight she was destined to lose anyway. Falling into Amanda she wrapped her in a crushing embrace. But this time she spoke.

"Tell me you really care about me," Claire asked, self-consciousness gone.

Though she thought it impossible, Amanda managed to tighten her grip on her partner. Her own wet cheeks pressed snuggly against the side of Claire’s head, she answered her lover’s need. "I really care about you, Gumby, I swear it."

"Tell me you don’t want to leave." Claire knew she should stop. Wanted to stop. But couldn’t. She desperately needed Amanda. The reassurances the smaller woman was granting became like air or water. She had to have them.

Amanda eased Claire’s head from hers. Slowly bringing up her mouth, she gently kissed Claire on the temple. "I won’t leave. Not unless you want me to," she whispered hotly, willing her partner to believe her.

And despite herself, Claire did. It was impossible not to. The smaller woman spoke with an intensity that reached out and grabbed hold of Claire’s very soul.

"Tell me you love me," Claire implored again. But this time she was surer of what the response would be.

Amanda reached up, tangling her fingers in dark hair. Roughly, she pulled Claire into a passionate kiss and the attorney responded with abandon, losing herself in soft lips, warm skin, and an eager heart. When the kiss ended both women were breathing heavily and Amanda shifted so that Claire’s eyes were directly in front of hers. "I want your full attention for this, Claire." Fierce green eyes pinned open azure blue. "Yes, I do love you," she breathed. "And so much more than that..." She smiled gently. "I care about everything that affects you. I need you. I like you." She paused, and with a single finger gently wiped away a tear from Claire’s cheek. "But most of all...I want to be with you."

Claire looked down at Amanda, stunned. Everything her heart had been craving was laid out before her. All she had to do was accept it. Not knowing what to say, she bent her head slightly and kissed both of Amanda’s cheeks, allowing their tears to mingle.

With a gentle tug, Amanda pulled Claire down onto her chest. Throwing an arm across the smaller woman’s middle, Claire laid her cheek on the silky skin of Amanda’s breast and listened to the steady, pounding heart. Small fingers threaded softly through sable hair and blue eyes fluttered closed at the intimate touch. For long moments neither woman spoke, each thinking about the emotional scene that played out moments before. Finally, Amanda felt Claire take a deep breath as if to speak.



"Thanks." Claire reached for her hand and twined their fingers securely together.

Amanda laughed as relief flooded her. "You’re welcome, Gumby." She squeezed the fingers nestled between her own and yawned. "Let’s get some sleep."



"I love you too."

"I know," was the sleepy but tender response.


She has GOT to be tired. Amanda smiled as she felt the warm puffs of air against her chest lengthen and grow steady. "Hmm?" She barely heard the murmured question that followed.

"What color is your bra?"


2 months later


"Cut it out Bobby!" But the scolding words were softened by a smile.

SPLASH! *giggle*giggle*giggle*

"Oh, I see how it is." Long fingers tickled a tiny tummy. "You think that’s funny, huh Missy?" The little girl laughed again and scooped up another handful of water. Claire raised her eyebrow to its most intimating level, and there was a thoughtful pause, before all three children erupted into hysterical laughter, splashing Claire even harder than before.

"Keith, you little monster! I’ll get you for that!" But Claire laughed in spite of herself. The little boy, a walking replica of Mark, had worked his way around behind attorney and dumped a bucket of water over her head.

Jody and Amanda idly watched the summer frolickers from a comfortable position on Claire’s redwood deck. The older counselor shook her head in amazement. How Amanda ever talked Claire into that tiny wading pool, with three kids, I’ll never know.

Amanda raised a hand above her eyes to block out the bright glare of the summer sun while she used the other to fan herself. It was sweltering, but otherwise, perfect for a Fourth of July picnic. She smiled as Claire stopped her all out assault on Keith, to retie the rubber band that fell out of Missy’s hair. What a difference a little time makes.

Claire’s initial awkwardness with the little girl had long sense faded. In fact, Missy brought out a playful side of Claire that the psychologist found irresistible. Appreciative green eyes were drawn to a pale yellow bikini and Amanda’s mind drifted to several other things she found irresistible.

Jody gave Amanda a quick hip check and the younger woman blushed, having been caught with what she was sure was a leer on her face. Jody smirked and tipped her beer bottle nearly vertical, in an effort get every last drop of what she considered liquid gold. "Ahhh!" She smacked her lips loudly. Reaching into the cooler near her feet she grabbed another for herself and wriggled her eyebrows at Amanda. The blonde nodded.

"So, how did it go with Monica yesterday?" A light hiss sounded as Jody twisted the bottlecap.

Amanda continued to watch Claire and the children while she spoke to Jody. She lifted the cold bottle to her forehead and sighed as cool beads of moisture trailed down the side of her face. "Pretty good actually. She’s gonna stay at Pinehurst at least until the end of the summer. She’s entering into their second phase of treatment." Amanda shrugged, not wanting to get her hopes up too high, but nevertheless encouraged. "She’s never gotten this far before."

Jody smiled. "That’s great. I really hope things work out for her this time." Mostly for your sake, my friend.

Amanda cracked open her bottle. "Thanks," she said cheerfully. "Me too."

Jody settled her forearms on the deck railing. "How does Claire like her new job?"

Amanda thought for a moment before answering. "I think...she really likes it. But it’s different from what she’s used to and it’s going to take a little time for her to get settled."

Three days after Evan’s arrest, when Maylor & Moore had him released on bail, Claire resigned. She spent the early weeks of summer working in her yard, brooding, and deciding whether she wanted to continue practicing law. After several sessions of prodding, or nagging as Claire referred to it, Mark convinced her to accept a position at the Hennipin County Attorney’s Office. He promised she’d like being ‘one of the good guys’ and sweetened the offer by reminding her that, though they couldn’t do it personally, their office would be the ones prosecuting Evan.

"Hey Jody, you could hand me that brush?"

Jody looked over at Mark, who was wearing blue jean cutoffs, no shirt, and a white kiss the cook apron with "Attorneys Do It With Their Briefs On," emblazoned across his chest. She grabbed a BBQ stained brush from the table and whispered conspiratorially to Amanda. "He looks ridiculous doesn’t he?"

Amanda laughed and nodded. "Yep."

"But gorgeous," Jody sighed.

The blonde therapist squinted and tilted her head as if in serious thought, which earned her a hard slap on the rump from Jody. "Ouch!" Amanda glared at her business partner but relented with a smile. "Definitely, gorgeous. But more importantly..." she paused dramatically, "He can cook!"

Both women laughed and toasted each other’s bottles. "Amen to that!" Jody praised.

A heavy thumping sound caused the women to turn. Claire trotted up the stairs with a wet child in each arm and Bobby suctioned onto her leg. She looked pointedly at Mark and Amanda. "Did you two lose something?" With a mischievous grin she jostled the children in her arms causing them to giggle and drip on Bobby.

Mark and Amanda looked at each other and then back to Claire. "Nope," they said in unison.

Jody rolled her eyes at her friend’s antics and took pity on Claire. "Come on kids, let’s go show off our muscles and dump the water out of the pool." Jody motioned her arms like a weight lifter and the kids immediately mimicked her and cheered.

Laughing, Claire deposited Missy and Keith at the bottom of the stairs. As soon as little feet hit the ground they were off and running. "Thanks, Jody." The attorney stuck out her tongue at Mark and Amanda. "I’m gonna change into something dry." She brushed passed them and disappeared into the house.

Amanda hesitated at the sliding glass doors, trying to think of a reason to go in the house "I...ahh...I..."

Mark laughed and had mercy on the stuttering woman. "Go on." He waved at the doors. "Jody and I can keep an eye on Missy."

The blonde smiled happily and kissed the cook. "Thanks Mark."

"The ribs will be ready in about a half-an-hour, Amanda," he yelled after her, but she had already turned the corner. The big man looked at his watch and shook his head as he turned down the grill down to its lowest setting. Man! So much for eating anytime soon.

Amanda poked her head around the doorframe of Claire’s bedroom, expecting to catch the taller woman dressing. Instead she heard the water running in the bathroom. As she settled down on the corner of the bed wait for her friend, her eyes drifted to a small watercolor painting of a starlit night and a moon-draped gazebo. VERY happy memories flooded her and she was suddenly glad for the room’s powerful air-conditioning.

SPLAT! A wet swimsuit bottom landed on the floor along side the bed.

Pale brows lifted.

SPLAT! A bikini top joined its mate.

Amanda grinned wickedly, eagerly anticipating Claire’s naked appearance from the bathroom.

"I can hear you panting out there, Mandy," Claire teasingly called from the bathroom.

Amanda sucked in a breath, about to protest, but stopped and allowed it to trickle out slowly. God, she’s right! I’m actually panting and I haven’t even seen her yet. great.

Claire emerged from the bathroom roughly scrubbing a towel through waterlogged locks and wearing a light cotton robe. Amanda looked at the robe and poked out her bottom lip "Aww, come on Claire." She pointed at the offending garment. "That’s mean."

"I didn’t know who else might be in here," she lied and hid a smile, knowing full well she’d been teasing Amanda all day. After a final vigorous rub, pitched the towel on top of her swimsuit.

"Humph!" Amanda immediately bent down to pick up the wet items. "That’s so gross Claire, how do you expect these to dry?" She held up the items with a look of disgust on her face.

Claire smiled inwardly, secretly enjoying the smaller woman fussing over her things. "Sorry, Mom." She pulled Amanda to her. Wrapping her arms around her waist she arched a dark eyebrow. "Do I need to be punished?"

Amanda snorted and backhanded Claire in the belly. "You wish, Gumby." But she lightly brushed her lips against Claire’s anyway. When the gentle, almost platonic kiss ended, she pulled back. Quickly changing her mind, she leaned in again, this time hungrily, and was immediately rewarded with a throaty groan. Satisfied, she delicately nipped Claire’s bottom lip as she withdrew.

"Hey where do you think you’re going?" Claire protested, as swaying hips made their way to the door.

"Time for lunch, Claire," Amanda said innocently. "We don’t want poor Mark to gnaw his own leg off."

"Now? You want lunch now?" No!!!!

Amanda nodded and smiled sweetly. Thought you had me didn’t ya. Ha, serves you right! Too bad it’s killing me.

Blue eyes narrowed "Tease!"

Amanda’s hands went to her hips as she thought of Claire in her bikini, and the hours of silent torture she’d endured. "And you’re not?" she challenged.

Claire focused on her feet and tried to stifle a laugh. She failed miserably. "All right, Mandy, you got me there," she grinned. "I’ll be down in a few."

The smaller woman winked and stopped for a long second to let her feelings for the tall attorney show in her eyes. "I’m totally, crazy in love with you, Gumby. You know that, right?"

Claire nodded and Amanda smiled brightly before disappearing into the hall. She stared at the empty doorway, missing her lover already. With a small sigh, she reached into her dresser and withdrew a fresh smelling T-shirt, panties and a pair of cotton shorts. Slipping them on, she was drawn to the laughing voices below her window. Peering out she saw Jody chasing around three laughing children and Mark happily basting the ribs, his large finger stealing tastes BBQ sauce every few strokes. Then Amanda joined the fray and Claire could see the game shift to hide-and-seek. Everyone looked happy and content. What a difference a little time makes.

At that moment Amanda chose to look up into Claire’s window. She flashed Claire a toothy grin, which was warmly returned. In her yard was the best piece of her past, the steady loving hands of her present, and a small beacon for the future. Life...she decided...was very, very good and Claire jumped down the last three steps of the staircase, not wanting to waste a single moment of it.


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