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Standard Disclaimers - I don't need any for this story. All the characters are mine. (laugh) I should probably disclaimer my use of my own company, but I won't, unless temptation gets too great, and I name the big boss "Les." Whoops.. I did that, but any resemblance to anyone real is coincidental. (the real one is one of the nicest people I've ever met, honestly)

What this is: This is an Uber story. (Oooo... that Uber stuff!) You get a general physical description likeness of the two gals in the story that will remind you of two old friends we all know well, but that's about it. The time period of this Uber is right now, and the place is Miami, Florida.

Why Miami? Well, I live here. Not only do I live here, but I've lived here for thirty years. That means I know all the stupid little quirks of the area, and since I'm going to give this Uber a stab, I might as well not overstress myself with doing research on an area I don't know. (Right? Right.)

The world my Uber darlings inhabit is my personal world - not that I'm a dungeon master or anything silly like that, but I do work for a company called EDS, and we do Information Technologies - we outsource IS to other companies, and absorb their own IS facilities and staff. In other words, we are the EDS Borg - you will be assimilated - Resistance is Futile. (I'm not making this up) The two characters will work and play in an area that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole however - so they're not autobiographical. I do technical and network support - I stay away from the business end of EDS, because that's the end you get stuck with, and not in a friendly place, if you know what I mean.

This isn't specifically EDS, but I've tried to maintain the flavor of our hierarchy though...and the goofiness that sometimes goes on behind the running of a megalithic corporation. The descriptions of our mainframes, however, are fictitious, along with any names of persons involved, and the various office locations with the exception of Plano. EDS does have its corporate HQ there.

Fisher Island, the place where Dar Roberts lives, is a real place. I used to work there. The descriptions of it are circa 1990 though - it's been built up a lot since then with more condos and stuff. All the places, and restaurants, and streets, and causeways are real. I didn't see any need to make them up, when Miami is a colorful enough place in real life without me doing that. It's kind of a tribute to my hometown - because I happen to really like it here.

Dar and Kerry are not super spies, or undercover agents, or renegades of any kind. They're not running from the law, or taking over third world countries (EDS runs a few, though) or anything like that. You might find their lives boring... I can't help that.. there's not going to be a lot of car chases, or gun battles, though this is Miami, and we're a pretty tough city, so anything can happen.

It's just a story about two people, who meet under very usual circumstances, and happen to change each other's lives.


Tropical Storm - Part 10

By Melissa Good

Kerry parked her car in the parking lot, and stepped out, locking the doors and putting her jacket on, straightening it with an automatic gesture. The building was an unassuming one, situation just behind the Miami airport, a single story structure set in a long, narrow strip of land. The company logo was prominent on the outside, and Kerry gave it a look as she walked to the door and pulled it open as the guard inside unlocked it.

"Good morning." She gave the man a smile. "I'm looking for.. "

A woman came around the corner by the desk. "Ms. Stuart?"

Kerry turned. "Yes...hello."

A hand poked out at her. "Lisa Andrews... from the account team. Thanks for coming over... it's always nice when people from hq come out and see what we do." The woman was about Kerry's height, with ash blond hair and a frank, friendly smile. Her pale gray eyes studied Kerry briefly, then she gestured towards the hallway. "I'll give you the tour.. we've got about twenty minutes before we start."

Obligingly, Kerry followed her, to the corridor intersection, where the woman turned left. The building was one very long hallway, with rooms on either side. "Down there is the mail room." Lisa explained. "And the facilities room for the contract.. we run some servers down there for them. "

"Their webserver, and two applications servers. "Kerry nodded, having reviewed the account before leaving the office.

The other woman paused, and blinked at her, surprised. "Right." She agreed. "Installation Services are in that suite, and we have an executive area where the account execs have offices, and a conference room." She started down the hallway. "Down this side, we have the training area., then at the end, the network center."

"Can we go in there?" Kerry asked. "I'd love to see how that works." She followed the woman down the hall, and paused as she scanned her card and opened the door. It gave them access to a large, more or less square room that filled the entire end of the building. Stretched across the floor were rows of cubicles, reminding Kerry of her old offices at Associated. Each cubicle had a pc, and most had technicians inside them, busy speaking to customers. It all looked very professional, and very businesslike.

"Incoming!" A voice suddenly sounded from the taller walled cubicles just to Kerry's right hand side. A projectile flew over the wall, and she barely caught it, grabbing it out of the air with a startled look. Lisa's eyes popped out, as Kerry examined the item.

It was a soft foam dart. She blinked at it, then looked up as a head appeared over the six foot wall, peering down at her. "Hi."

"Oh... Christ... sorry." The man's eyes widened. "It got away." He leaned over the wall and held a hand out. "Did it hit you?"

Kerry tapped the dart on her shoulder, then she walked around the end of the cubicle section and peered down the center. There was an aisle between the cubes, with entrances on either side. These were larger than the cubes on the floor, with taller walls and overhead bins. Senior techs, Kerry decided, as she paced down the row and glanced into one cubicle, where the tall man was still standing on the desk. He hopped down as she appeared and put his hands in his pockets. "What did this come from?" Kerry asked, glancing around. The tops of the cabinets were full of toys and small figurines. Beside her, Lisa looked mortified.

The man cleared his throat, and pulled a large colorful gun out from behind a set of books and handed it to her.

"Mm." Kerry took the item, and examined it, pulling back the mechanism and putting the dart in place. Then she raised it, and released the trigger. The missile went flying, smacking into the door at the end of the aisle.

Heads popped out of the cubes, and looked at her. The denizen of the end cube reached out and plucked the dart off the door, where it had stuck, and glanced back down the row. "What in the hell is going on here?" The dark haired woman asked, pulling her headset off and down around her neck. "David, are you shooting people again?"

" Not me." The tall man smiled brightly. He pointed at Kerry. "She did it."

Kerry sauntered down the row until she was at the end cube and plucked the dart from the woman's fingers. "You guys support these?" She inquired, holding up the gun.

The woman's eyebrow rose. "Stress relief." She explained. "For when you deal with the customers who can't find the on/off switch." She leaned out. "You're not supposed to shoot visiting suits with them." She accused the tall man, who smiled charmingly.

"Are the customers really like that?" Kerry asked, aware of Lisa's hovering form. "Doesnít sound like the proper respect for them."

The woman paused. "Want to listen to one?" A challenge.

"Sure." Kerry smiled, putting the gun down and pulling up a chair from the next cube over. She was handed a spare headset, which she put on, and she moved a little closer as the technician resumed her seat.

"Donít talk, unless you want the customer to hear you." She was instructed. "That mic is live."

Kerry nodded, glancing around. The cube was filled with technical manuals, and a few personal items, including several small stuffed animals sitting on the monitor. Various lists of phone numbers were tacked on the wall, along with a sheaf of certification affidavits and circuit diagrams. The technician called up a screen and punched a button on the phone. "Here we go."

A soft ding sounded, then a voice came on the line. The technical smoothly answered, identifying the support group. "How can I help you?"

"Hello?" A hesitant voice answered. "Um... is this the computer people?"

"Yes, ma'am... it is. What seems to be the problem. " The technician's voice was calm, and soothing.

"My machine won't work." The woman answered, a little more positively.

"Okay... is there anything on the screen?" The tech asked.

"No."

"Okay... is there any lights on the front of the screen?"

"No."

"Okay... the screen is attached to a computer... are there any lights on that?" The technician asked, as she called up the customer account and checked their inventory.

"I don't have a computer.. I just have a screen." The woman objected.

Kerry covered the mic. "She has to have one, doesn't she?"

The tech nodded. "Okay.. in the back of the screen there are some cables...one of them goes to the wall, the other one goes to something else."

"Okay." The woman's voice was doubtful. "Okay.. yes, I see it."

"Where does the other one go to?"

"The foot warmer." Now the woman sounded more confident again. "But it's hot today, so I had to turn it off."

"Okay.. can we turn it on for a minute?" The tech replied patiently.

"But my feet aren't cold." The customer objected.

"I know.. but I'd like to try something.. can you just put it on for a minute?"

"Okay." A sigh. "Oh.. the screen just came on. Look at that."

Kerry covered her eyes, mouthing "I can't believe it" silently.

The dark haired woman chuckled noiselessly, and shrugged "Okay... what's on the screen?" The tech asked, rapidly typing information into the screen.

"Some letters."

"Okay, tell me when the green screen comes up."

"Okay." A little silence fell. "Okay, it's up."

"Can you login for me?" The technician added notes to the trouble ticket on the screen.

"What's that?" The customer asked. "I never have this screen.. my boss always puts it in the blue screen for me."

"Okay... type in the word res for me."

"Okay."

"Now type it in again.. but you won't see it on the screen." The tech patiently instructed.

"Okay.. I.. oh! There's my blue screen!" The woman sounded delighted. "You're a genius!"

"Glad it's working.. okay, now listen.. you have to leave the foot warmer on, all right?" The technician told her, closing the ticket out.

"Oh.. well, okay... I guess I can just take my shoes off if my feet start getting hot." The woman decided. "Thank you."

"Your welcome, ma'am.. have a nice day." The tech hit the release button, then turned her head and raised an eyebrow at Kerry.

Who simply patted her on the shoulder, and stood up. "Where did you get this dart gun, again?"

"Toys R Us." The tall man supplied helpfully. "They've got super soakers there too, if you want to have some real fun."

"Mm... ": Kerry turned back to the woman technician. "Are they all like that?"

The tech chuckled. "No... you get a range, just like in everything else. But we get a fair share of that." She turned as the phone rang and put her headset back on. "Yes?" A pause. "Can you ping them?" Another pause. "Shit.. okay, what's the address?"

Kerry turned away, but not before noting the name on the identification tag next to the cubicle. "Okay... well... that was informative." She told Lisa. "Shall we?"

There was an awkward little silence as they left the busy room. "Sorry about that.. I should have..."

Kerry put a hand up. "Don't worry about it...it's better to release stress like that than on each other.. or the customers." She paused. "Is there a Toys R Us near here?"

She sat through the town halls, listening to the thoughts and concerns of the employees, not unlike the ones she was familiar with. Job stress, training, advancement, pay raises... they were caught in a paradox. Provide the techs the training they were asking for, and chances were they'd leave and go elsewhere, at higher pay. Don't provide it, and you erode your skills sets and make the account less valuable.

Kerry sighed, There really was no good answer. You tried to balance the training with the need, and give enough other amenities so that people stayed because they were comfortable with the environment. Their benefits package was a good one, but....

She put the thought away for the moment, and checked her watch as she stepped out of the building into the warm sunlight. It felt good after the chilly air conditioning, and she rubbed her arms, then glanced around as Lisa Andrews joined her. "Well, thanks for inviting me down.. that was very interesting." She told the account executive. "I appreciated seeing everything."

"Anytime." Lisa replied, folding her arms. "You interested in lunch?"

Kerry glanced around. "Well.. I actually have to get back to the office... I'm a little late for a meeting. Is there anything around here I can just pick something up from?"

***********************************************************************

"I told you before, Jose.. you can't margin those circuits." Dar stated flatly, leaning forward an pinning him with her pale eyes. "I'm not going to approve that."

The stocky sales executive stood up and threw his hands out. "Then you give me goddamn a way to get twenty percent new sales this year."

"That's not my job."

"It is your damn job, because you won't let me do mine." Jose retorted.

"He's right, Dar.... You're strangling our marketing efforts." Eleanor smoothly interjected. "How can we compete if we can't project capability?

"You mean, how can you get contracts if you can't lie?" The tall, dark haired woman snapped. 'You're not proejcting capability.. you know perfectly well what the growth curve is for infrastructure... you just want to promise clients services we can't fulfil." She stood up, and faced them, putting her fingertips on the table and leaning over it. "I'm not buying it."

"Then you better start pushing infrastructure, because otherwise, that's who's going to have this crap laid on their doorstep.. they're not keeping up with our needs." Jose stated, triumphantly.

"They're not budging, Jose... you know better. " Dar growled. "You need to get more creative, and stop relying on your old fishing buddies in order to get new contracts."

"Dar, that's not fair." Eleanor interrupted, putting up a meticulously manicured finger. "You're failing to provide us the tools we need to properly sell this company."

"No." The knives came out. "You just couldn't market you way out of a paper bag." Dar told her. "And you better change that, because I'm not approving any bid that overreaches our capability." She slammed the papers down on the table. "Now, if we're done with this crap, I have productive work I could be doing." She gathered her pad and pens up, and pushed her chair back, stalking out of the room and slamming the door behind her. She paused, and heard the loud voices starting behind her, and grinned, then she exited the flashy offices that housed the Sales department, and headed back towards her own domain. It was lunchtime, but she knew she didn't really have time to go downstairs before the one o-clock conference call. With a sigh, she pushed her outer office door open, and gave Maria a smile. "Any disasters I should know about?"

Maria glanced up. "Mm... nothing since you left, Dar... you have three messages, I left them on your desk, and I was supposed to remind you of the Government division cockatail party tonight."

Dar blew out a breath. Damn. She'd forgotten that. "All right.. thanks." She entered her office and closed the door, then crossed the room and seated herself at her desk. A moment later, a soft knock came on her inner door. "C'mon in." She felt a smile coming onto her face even as the wooden panel opened, and Kerry's blond head poked itself inside. "Hey." God, it felt good to see her. Kerry was dressed in a dark blue skirt suit and pale blue shirt, and she looked slightly mussed and to Dar's eyes, very sexy. Her annoyance with Jose ebbed away.

A flash of white as Kerry returned the smile, then the blond woman came in, holding up a bag. "Did you get a chance to have lunch? I brought something back for you."

"No, and thank you." Dar replied, leaning back in her chair. "I just got out of a real annoying meeting."

Kerry settled on the edge of her desk, and opened the bag, spreading out a napkin, then setting a container of Chinese food out. "They have a limited selection around there, and I didn't think you'd appreciate Taco Bell."

Dar peeked inside the container, and grinned. "Good choice." She sniffed the sweet and spicy chicken appreciatively. "I was in the mood for this today, too... "

Kerry chuckled, and handed her a pair of chopsticks. "Oh... and um... " She cupped her hand, and poured a trickle of silver wrapped Hershey's kisses on the desk. "Dessert."

"Heh." Dar immediately abandoned the chicken and pounced on the chocolate. "Listen... be careful in that meeting you've got with Eleanor this afternoon.. I just offended her pretty badly." She munched a kiss happily. "I have to be nice to her at a cocktail party tonight, on top of it."

Kerry grimaced. "Thanks for telling me... tonight's my skating night with Colleen.. I'll be ready to let out some frustration by the time I get done with them, I bet." She paused, seeming to want to go on, but fell silent.

"We still on for tomorrow night?" Dar asked, watching her face. "If you want... we can go back to my place afterward... maybe take a swim in the pool?"

Sea green eyes warmed. "Iíd like that."

Dar silently unwrapped one of the kisses, and handed it to her, eyes twinkling.

The opening door surprised both of them and they jumped a little. Maria entered, giving them a glance then smiling. "Ah.. Kerrisita...I have mail for you." She bustled forward and handed Kerry several pieces if comail. "Dar, I got you tickets, but Dios Mio... it is expensive." She handed the executive an itinerary. "And remember you have your follow-up visit to your Doctor tomorrow."

Dar nodded, taking the sheet, and examining it. "Great... thanks Maria. " She thought a minute. "It probably won't take long tomorrow.. I'm his first visit. He just wants to repeat the bloodwork he did last time." She glanced at her watch. "Let me swallow this, and I gotta get going."

"Me too." Kerry nodded. "Wish me luck."

The dark haired woman rolled her eyes. "Good luck...and remember, she's probably in a foul mood." Dar thought a minute. "Especially since she probably missed lunch." She grinned evilly, and bit a piece of chicken in half.

Kerry groaned. "All right...see you all later." She got off the desk and left the office, leaving Maria shuffling papers and Dar chewing.

The door closed. "Aie.. she is such a nice person, Dar." Maria sighed.

"Mm... yeah... it was nice of her to bring me back some lunch... she's a good kid." Dar replied offhandedly.

"Si.. is good." Maria agreed. "And how is your headaches?"

Dar took a breath to answer, then stopped. She blinked. "I... I haven't had one since I went home that day." She murmured, a little disconcerted. They'd been a nearly every day occurrence the three months prior to that. "Strange."

"Is good! Maybe seeing Mickey Mouse helped." Maria beamed at her.

"Maybe." Dar replied softly. She took another bite of chicken and smiled.

*****************************************************

Kerry strapped on the roller blades, looking up as a knock came at the door. "C'mon in, Col." She called out cheerfully, then grinned as the door popped open and Colleen came rolling in, waving her hands for balance. "Hey... watch it!"

The redhead plopped down on the couch, sticking her wheeled feet out in front of her. "Hey, Ker... what's up?" Her eyes twinkled at her friend mischievously. "Was that Dar's Lexus out there last night?"

Was it only last night? Jesus. "Um... yeah." Kerry replied, knowing she was blushing. "It was... she came over for dinner."

Colleen chuckled in triumph. "I knew it... we think you two are soooooo cute together."

Kerry's head came up so fast it made her dizzy. "What? Who is we?"

The redhead noted she didn't dispute the statement. "Ray and Susan and I... we hung around talking about you Saturday night." She grinned unrepentantly at Kerry's shocked look. "Okay.. okay.. so she passed the grilling... she's not a gorgon."

"C'mon, Colleen.. it was just dinner." Kerry tried a weak laugh. "You're acting like we're a couple or something."

A slight silence, and Kerry looked up, to see her friend gazing at her, a knowing look on her face. They stared at each other for a long, tense moment before the blond woman sighed, and dropped her gaze, looking down at a pair of knotted hands between her knees.

Colleen got up, and rolled over, crouching down next to her and putting a hand on her knee. "Kerry.. if it makes you happy, it 's all right."

"It's not all right." Kerry looked up. "She's my boss, Colleen.. it's against company rules, and we could both get in a lot of trouble." She couldnít keep the tiny smile from stretching her lips though. "We're trying to keep it a secret.. I think we're doing a miserable job of it, though.. if you guys came to that conclusion after just having dinner."

Colleen sat down on the floor, and crossed her legs, careful not to boot her friend in the shins with the rollerblades. "Listen, hon... let me splain something to you about something we call chemistry." She put a fingertip on Kerry's knee. "Do you know what I'm talking about?"

Kerry exhaled. "Not really.. unless you're referring to periodic tables or something bizarre like that."

"Okay.. well, chemistry is when something clicks between two people. You can see it on the tv screen sometimes, but not always because those are people who are playing characters, you know?"

The blond woman's brow creased. "Not exactly."

Colleen thought. "Okay.. have you ever seen a Richard Burton and Liz Taylor movie?"

"Um... sure...that Roman thing... yeah, okay." Kerry nodded. "They're really good together, I thought.. I really believed they were in love with each other."

"Well... they were." Colleen smiled at her. "In real life... and that showed when they were on the screen together, too.. when they looked at each other, or just how they acted... you could tell." She exhaled. "That's chemistry.. and a lot of times you'll hear someone say 'those two had chemistry' when they're talking about people on tv, or in the movies, or even just two people they see." She paused. "You understand?"

"Not exactly." Kerry admitted. "I mean, yes.. I know what you mean about characters.. I usually notice when people are supposed to be in love on the screen, and it's obvious that they can't stand each other in real life.. so yeah."

Colleen rubbed her temples. "I was trying to put this gently. But I can see it's a wasted effort." She laughed softly. "Kerry, when you look at her, your whole face glows." She glanced up at the startled woman. "And when she looks at you, there's an electricity that I can almost feel." A pause. "You two have chemistry going, big time... and it doesn't take a PhD to pick up on it."

Kerry thought about that. "Oh." She made a wry face. "I had no idea we.....hm." She considered. "I didn't realize."

"Obviously." Colleen patted her on the knee. "And it may not be so apparent to people who donít know you that well.. but remember, lassie, we've been friends for a few years now."

"Mm." Kerry rested her chin on her fists. "It makes me feel good to be with her.. I guess it shows."

The redhead laughed softly. "You could say that...but if you guys are trying to keep it quiet...you'd better not hang around each other at work a lot."

"Well, we don't." Kerry mused. "I saw her... all of once today." She exhaled. "We're both pretty busy... and maybe it was worse that night because we were kinda...um... I mean... we didn't..." She stopped and gathered her thoughts. "Afterward we went out to Crandon and walked on the beach.. and..um.. we kinda.. I guess we admitted that we were attracted to each other." She finished awkwardly. "So now it's not so... um... "

"Freaky." Colleen supplied, understandingly.

"Yeah." Kerry agreed. "Exactly...we both understand what's going on, and it's not so frustrating."

A grin. "Did you guys kiss out there? On the beach?"

Kerry felt the blush heat her face, but she nodded. "Yeah." She admitted shyly. "It was... it wasn't what I was expecting." She paused. "We were just out there, talking... about just stuff.. the Bermuda Triangle and dinner... and... I don't know, it was like there was stuff going on underneath it all. I asked her if I could ask a personal question....and she kind of just stood up, and kissed me, and said 'does that answer the question..'" She grinned at Colleen's rapt face. "It was... very strange, but really nice."

"That is ridiculously romantic, you do realize that, right?" Colleen sighed. "She seems like a really deep person."

The blond head nodded. "She is.. yeah.. she is....there's all kinds of stuff going on in there... I think that's what makes her so interesting."

Colleen nodded a little. " Did she stay over all night last night?" She asked, delicately.

Well, not so delicately. Kerry remained silent for a moment. "Yes." She finally stated softly.

A small quiet descended. "You all right with that?" The redhead hesitantly questioned. "I know... I mean, we talked about how you felt.... Oh, you know what I mean."

She knew. "I wasn't... I mean, I didn't really know what to expect, Col...I was scared.. I'll tell you that, and freaked out, and a dozen other things... but ...I..." She stopped to breathe. "It's okay."

Colleen's brow creased in concern. "She's not pushing you into any of this, is she? Kerry.. listen, donít' feel like you're being pressured to do something you're not comfortable with."

The blond woman blushed a deep red, and scratched at her jaw. "Um... actually, I was the one who started it." She muttered sheepishly, as she gave Colleen a little shrug. "I'm all right with it... really."

The redhead patted her arm. "Good for you." She smiled. "So.. when are you guys moving in together?"

Kerry's jaw dropped. "What?" She burst out laughing. "Jesus Christ, Col.. it's not like that.... it's a physical thing... we're both going to get over it...it's not that serious." She paused thoughtfully. "Yet."

"Uh....huh. Okay." Colleen bit off a smile, and gave her a nod. "When are you guys seeing each other again, then?"

"Tomorrow night... after the gym." Kerry explained. "I told you I signed up for those classes... if I'm going to keep on hanging out with her, roller blading isn't' going to cut it. " She cocked her head. "You guys have a program for that gym too.. why don't you come along?" She inquired. "I signed up for that beginner self defense class... it should be fun.. I could use some moral support."

"Okay... I could do that.. " Colleen mused. "It's right down the street from our office, too......and besides, I'd better if I want to be able to see you other than waving hello in the mornings." She teased gently. "Anyway.. c'mon.. let's get rolling.. it's muggier than a hot sauna outside.. sooner we finish, the sooner I can take a shower." She knew Kerry was on the verge of being uncomfortable talking about her new relationship, and pushing it wouldn't help. "I guess this is more of a reason for you to tell your parents to kiss your ass when you go home for Turkey day, huh?"

Kerry finished velcroing herself into the skates, and stood up, balancing expertly. "I had a lot of good reasons before that... but.. yeah." She finally allowed a frankly happy grin to take over her face. "This kinda puts the nail in it. so to speak... I just hope I can find a way to do it without getting kicked out of the house." She shook her head, firmly putting aside worries about her parents, and plodded over to the door, pushing it open. "Let's go."

**************************************************

Dar was glad to get out of the damp wind, and into the cool, quiet peace of the condo. The cocktail party had been outdoors at Viscaya, and she was glad the less than perfect weather had given her a good excuse to get out of there early, and escape the throngs of alternately fawning and sniping sales managers clustering around.

Eleanor had been particularly cutting, oozing up to her and telling her what a lovely young person Kerry was, and how she was going to do her best to steal her away, and save her from having to suffer where she was. "She's destined for bigger things than being your scuttle, Dar." The woman had smiled at her.

The dark haired woman tossed her jacket down on the couch, and kicked her shoes off. "Wonder if you knew how close you were to being thrown in Biscayne Bay, Eleanor?" She remarked wryly to the air. "Toss... sploosh... whoops.. sorry Mariana.. I know that makes paperwork."

The cool tile felt good against her tired feet, and she paused a moment, flexing her toes before she wandered into the bedroom, sliding out of her skirt, hose, and silk blouse and into her baseball shirt and shorts with a feeling of utter relief, enjoying the feel of the soft cotton against her skin.

Humming lightly, she wandered into the kitchen, and pulled open her refrigerator, peering at it's vast emptiness with a pensive expression. "I'm gonna get teased tomorrow if I don't put some stuff in here.." She muttered to herself, startled when a soft knock sounded at the door.

For a moment, her heart bounded, considering the possibility it might be Kerry, then she realized there was no way for the blond woman to get on the island without them notifying her first. She felt curiously disappointed, as she crossed the floor and peered through the small window in the door. "Evening, Clemente." She opened it, and allowed the short, round, always perspiring manager of resident services in.

"Good evening.. good evening, Ms. Roberts... I'm sorry it's so late, but I saw you pull in." The man wiped his brow with a handkerchief. "The floor waxing people will be here on the island tomorrow.. and you said to let you know the next time so you can have the tiles done in here."

"Oh.. sure." Dar glanced around." That would be fine... and, hey.. listen, Clemente.. can I get your people to do something for me?"

"Surely." The man nodded. "What can we do?"

"Shop." Dar replied. "For groceries."

Clemente waved his hands in a very Cuban manner. "Of course.. of course.. give me a list, I'll have Rosalita pick everything up for you, and put it away."

"I don't have a list." Dar muttered. "Can she just pick up the normal stuff people have in their houses?" She glanced at the kitchen. "Just.. whatever?"

The man's brow crumpled like corrugated cardboard. "Ms. Roberts.. I can't have her shop for something I donít' know what to tell her to shop for... what is it you need?" He peered at the kitchen. "Bread? Fruitas?"

Dar sighed, and motioned him to come after her. "Look." She opened the refrigerator. "I need things other than this." She lifted her hands and let them drop. "If I go, I'll end up with a case of Oreo cookies, six gallons of milk, two tins of Edy's ice cream, and a jar of peanut butter."

Clemente covered his eyes. "Dios Mio." He rubbed his face. "You want... orange juice...? Bananas? Soup?"

Dar thought. "Bananas are good." She answered cautiously. "Uh.. grapefruit juice...maybe some English muffins?"

"Si.. si.. " Clemente pulled a pen from his pocket and scribbled. "Marmalada?"

"Apricot is okay.. or grape." The dark haired woman considered. "Oh.. and some tea."

"Pekoe, China..?" Clemente inquired.

"The kind you put in a cup and drink." Dar replied wryly. "Just some bags.. if they have herbal stuff, that's good." She drummed her fingers on the counter. "They have strawberries?"

"Si.. Driscolls." The man answered, making a note. "They have a nice box today... the big ones, si? All laid out like roses, very nice."

A grin. "Get me a box of those.. and two big bars of milk chocolate."

She gave him a few more items, then watched him leave, sighing as the door closed behind his round figure. "That's taken care of." She found herself grinning in anticipation of seeing Kerry's face when she actually had something more than milk to offer her. She got herself a glass, and checked the terminal, seeing the mail waiting flag blinking. "Mail."

"Dar Roberts, Seven Mail, none urgent." The terminal replied, displaying the screen.

She reviewed them. "Read six." Her face was already creasing into a smile as her eyes saw the author.

Stuart, Kerry - Sent 9:34 PM

Hey...

Just wanted to drop a note to say hi... hope the party went well. You were right about Eleanor, she was all over me like white on rice at the meeting, and if she didn't tell me twelve times I was wasted where I was she didnít say it once. I haven't been buttered up that bad since some Young Republicans found out who my father was when I was in high school.

Wonder what she'd do if I told her I'd rather work for Moammar Kadafi than her? At least with him, you know where the knife is coming from. And he's cuter.. she smells like slightly rancid makeup foundation.

Anyway...she made a particularly disgusting joke about you, and I think she's testing me to see if I tell you about it. So I'm not going to. But I did pull the plug out of her remote control while she was doing the presentation, so she looked like an idiot for about ten minutes while she was standing there clicking fruitlessly and nothing was happening.

I am ashamed to say I enjoyed that a lot.

See you tomorrow.

K

Dar burst into laughter, putting her cup down to keep from spilling it, and leaning over the counter. "Oh god." She snickered, imagining the progressively more frustrated Eleanor pounding the buttons. "Oh god, I'm sorry I missed that..." She gasped, still chuckling. It made the evening worth it. "Reply." She told the machine. "Audio record." She added, with a grin.

"Hey Kerry... it was worth having to suffer through that damn party just to get home and read this... whenever I see her in a meeting from now on, I'll remember the image you put in my head of her clicking on that stupid remote she loves so much and getting frustrated."

Dar paused, knowing the recording would also, being voice activated. "Hope you had fun rollerblading... I'll, um... see you tomorrow after my appointment. We'll see if that little jaunt up in Orlando made any difference.. I think it did, because I haven't had a headache since the storm."

Another pause. She could feel several thoughts struggling to get out and be voiced, but the words just wouldn't come to her. "Anyway, have a good night." Dar stared at the screen a moment, then sighed "Send."

She chuckled softly as she scanned the other messages, none of which really required her attention before the morning. She took her milk and wandered out onto the porch, where a breeze growing steadily cooler was blowing out against the waves. Dar settled into one of the padded deck chairs and propped her feet up against the stone railing, leaning back and gazing out over the water.

The soft sound of the surf crashing against the seawall lulled her, as she idly watched the stars wink overhead. "Star light, star bright.. " She murmured. "What would you wish for, Dar? Hmm?"

Prudently, the stars remained silent.

The phone buzzed softly inside, and Dar jumped, shaking her head a little to clear it before she ducked inside and grabbed the wireless receiver. "Hello?"

"Hey." Kerry's voice carved a path of warmth inside her.

"Well, hello... " Dar replied, taking the phone with her and resuming her seat. "Didn't expect to hear from you tonight.. I just answered your mail."

"I know... that's how I knew you were home." Came the answer, along with a slight chuckle. "I just wanted to make sure you didn't freak out when I come in looking like a Klingon tomorrow.. I had a close encounter with a truck."

Dead silence. "W.. what?" Dar sat up straight, her heart pounding. "Are you all right? What happened.? Did you get the license plate number?"

"Dar.. Dar.. slow down." Kerry interrupted quickly. "No no... it was parked at the time... behind the bakery. Colleen and I usually go down there, and reward ourselves with a doughnut after we finish... I was coming around the corner and didn't realize a delivery truck was there."

"Oh." Dar settled back, still unnerved. "Ow.. I bet that hurt."

"Yeah.. my head slammed into the side mirror... I have this huge lump there." Kerry sighed. "I have ice on it... probably will go down before tomorrow morning, but there'll still be a bruise ."

"Well..." The dark haired woman breathed a sigh of relief. "Damn... sorry to hear that... did you get your doughnut at least?"

A snorting chuckle. "Two of them... Colleen felt so bad, because she was distracting me when it happened."

Dar had an sudden desire to personally make sure the bump was not serious, and she had to bite her tongue to keep from telling Kerry she was on her way over there. "You sure you're all right?" She finally asked, hesitantly.

The warmth in Kerry's voice was unmistakable. "Yeah... but thanks for asking." A pause. "Well, I'd better let you get going... just wanted to... um... "

"Glad you called." Dar told her quietly. "See you in the morning."

"Good night."

The line went dead, and Dar tucked the phone against her chin, staring out over the waves, evaluating her sudden gut level response.

Okay, she was a goal oriented, over controlling alpha bitch, who didn't trust anyone, and who refused to leave even the slightest details to chance. Right?

Right.

So naturally, it was her responsibility to make sure her employee, a valuable company asset, was all right.

Right?

Right. Just part of the job. It was completely professional and normal for her to want to personally supervise the placing of cold ice packs on Kerry's head, preferably while she was tucked into Dar's waterbed.

She started laughing, slapping the side of her head. "I'm going out of my mind." She concluded, as she pushed herself to her feet.

Insanity felt, she mused, surprisingly good.

*********************************************************

Kerry closed her eyes, as she replaced the cold compress on her head, wishing the throbbing would at least go away. In addition to her head hurting, her chest and arm also ached where it had impacted the truck, and she'd twisted her ankle as she frantically tried to stop.

Colleen had convinced her to not take anything for the headache, and also told her she'd probably be best off not falling asleep immediately. So here she was, listening to the Discovery Channel, and trying not to think about how much her head hurt.

It wouldn't have been so bad if she hadn't also felt so stupid... she'd turned to listen to Colleen's gossip, when they'd rounded the corner and she'd suddenly seen the large, dirty white surface coming at her way too fast. The impact had knocked her silly for a minute, and she'd sat there with Colleen's frantic hands on her checking for fractures before she sat up and waved the redhead off.

"Isn't she a beaut??" The man's voice was so full of incredulous enthusiasm Kerry just had to look.

"No." She muttered back, seeing the wide open jaws of a crocodile apparently snapping at the narrator's butt. "It's a frigging crocodile about to bite your ass off, you goofball."

Ow. Talking hurt. She let her eyes close again and refreshed the compress.

A soft knock came at the door. One green eye appeared, it's brow lifting in outrage. "Who in the hell is knocking on my damn door at eleven o-clock at night?" Another, more hesitant tap, and she groaned. "Hold on."

She got to her feet, and trudged across the apartment, leaning against the door and putting her eye to the security glass.

Amazing how fast she could forget about a headache when she really had to. She pulled the bolt back and jerked the door open. "Hey."

Dar was leaning casually against the frame, her hands playing with her keys. "I.. um.. had to go check something out at the South Miami office... I thought I'd stop by and see how you were feeling." Her boss explained

Kerry felt a smile pulling at her lips. "Wow... um... c'mon in." She stepped back and allowed Dar to enter, closing the door behind her and taking a breath, before she hesitantly moved in for a hug. "Oh.. " She murmured softly, into the leather of Dar's jacket as the long arms closed around her. "That feels so good."

"Let me see." Dar released her, and gently tipped her head back, examining the discolored lump. "Mm... that looks nasty.. how's it feel?"

"Well." Kerry grinned sheepishly. "Up until about two minutes ago, it felt lousy." She blinked up at Dar. "I'm just sore all over... and Col said it wouldn't be a good idea to go right to bed in case I had a mild concussion or something." Her eyes searched Dar's face. "I can't believe you're here... that was so nice of you."

"Shh." Dar stroked her cheek. "Don't you be spreading rumors that I'm nice, okay?" She smiled. "You'll ruin my reputation."

Kerry laughed softly. "Oh.. right...I forgot." She sighed. "Well, I was just moping around, putting cold washcloths on my head...unless you have a better idea for this."

"Mm... " Dar considered. "I'm no doctor... but let me see what I can do... you mind a little company?"

"Not yours." Kerry shook her head. "I mean.. if you can stay for a few minutes... I know you're on your way home."

"Don't worry about it.. I hardly sleep anyway." Dar told her blithely. "Where are your towels?"

Kerry showed her, then followed the taller woman like a curious puppy as she entered the kitchen, and opened the freezer. "I thought about using ice cubes.. but they're so big, they're hard to handle, and the cold hurts."

"Mmhmm." Dar agreed. "You have a zip lock bag?"

"Uh.. sure." Kerry retrieved a gallon sized one, and handed it to her. "Here."

Dar took it, then pulled the blender out further onto the counter, and took the top off, filling it to the brim with ice. Then she put the top back on, and powered the machine on, watching as it reduced the ice to snow cone status. Then she pulled the top off, and dumped the contents into the zip lock bag, which she wrapped in the towel. "C'mon." She lead Kerry back into the living room, and settled in one corner of the couch, patting the seat next to her.

"Okay." Kerry sat down, then smiled as Dar leaned back and patted her chest. She lay back against the taller woman's body, and stretched her legs out along the couch. Dar slid an arm around her, and placed the compress on her head. It was much colder than the water she'd been using, and she could feel the tense ache in the bump slowly start to ease.

"How's that?" Dar's voice inquired from over her shoulder.

Kerry felt like she was pretty damn close to Heaven, in fact, between the comfortable, warm backrest and the sheer pleasure she felt just being in Dar's presence. "It's perfect." She murmured quietly. "Thanks."

Dar propped her feet up on the coffee table and relaxed, gazing over Kerry's shoulder at the television. "What are we watching?"

"Some bleeping nutcase who loves to kiss alligators." Kerry replied.

"Oh.. the Crocodile Hunter." Dar supplied promptly. "I watched one the other week where he and some woman were lugging around crocodiles in the mud." She paused. "I hope he pays that woman a nice amount."

"It's his wife." Kerry giggled softly.

"Well.. that explains why he was hugging her." Dar mused. "She must be in love... to do something as crazy as that."

"You got that right." The blond woman shook her head gently. "Ooo... did you see that? She almost fell overboard!"

"He's freaking out." Dar noted, watching the screen with interest. "Oh shit.. is that an anaconda?"

"He's probably going to kiss it." Kerry laughed. "Oh.. good.. he got her back in the boat, and now they're both kissing the damn snake." She sighed. "Amazing what love will make you do... look... she's got mud in places the Good Lord never intended women to have mud."

They both fell silent for a bit, as Dar shifted the compress on Kerry's head.

"Dar?" Kerry finally said, her voice rising in question.

"Mmhmm?" The dark haired woman inclined her head. "What?"

"What on earth did you have to check in the South Miami office at ten pm?"

An awkward pause ensued. "Um... " Dar cleared her throat and spoke reluctantly. "I didn't." She muttered. "I.. um.. I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

Sea green eyes looked at her as Kerry turned her head and gazed up. " You... mean you just....came out here?"

A faint nod. "I.. um... you can never tell, with head wounds... and I was kind of concerned...so I uh... yeah." Dar replied defensively. "Peace of mind.. you know...I.. just wanted to make sure everything was all right "

"Mm.." Kerry thought about that. "That.. makes me feel very special." She curled her fingers over Dar's, tucked around her waist. "Thank you.. I was feeling pretty lousy before you got here.. I'm really glad you came."

Dar smiled contentedly, and let her cheek rest against Kerry's hair. "So am I." She murmured, a little surprised at the thought.

It really was kind of crazy, if you thought about it.

So she didn't.

*********************************************************

Kerry was aware first of the strangeness of her position. She blinked her eyes open in startlement, taking a moment before she realized where she was. They'd fallen asleep on the couch, with the television still on, now displaying a lurid infomercial featuring Chuck Norris. Oh hell. She reached up and touched her forehead where the bump had gone down a lot, but was still tender, then slowly unwrapped her fingers where they were still closed around Dar's and turned, glancing up at her companion.

The dawn light peeking in the window slanted over her, and painted her tanned skin, catching the barest hint of chestnut highlights in her dark hair. The muscles in her face were relaxed, save the tiniest movement under the lids of her closed eyes, and Kerry found herself almost holding her breath just watching the tremors, and absorbing the wonderful feeling of the arms still clasped around her.

It was such a curious feeling... almost an ache in her chest when she looked at Dar, as though something were inside her trying very hard to get out. With a sigh, Kerry glanced at her watch, then patted Dar on the arm lightly. "Dar?"

Slowly the facial muscles tensed, then the eyelids fluttered, revealing those amazing blue eyes, which blinked, then focused on her. "Oh... um... " Dar shook her head a little to clear it. "Morning."

Kerry smiled wryly. "Uh.. yeah... " She glanced at the window. "Looks like we sorta dropped off there.. and I know you've got an appointment."

Dar yawned, then disengaged her arm, and rubbed her eyes. "Yeah... I know... " She let her head fall back again. "His office isn't far from here..." A pause, then the blue eyes were studying Kerry intently. "How are you feeling?"

Kerry sat up, flexing arms and legs stiff from being in one position for hours, and took a deep breath. "Not too bad..." She decided. "My head's a little sore, but other than that, I feel pretty good... how about you? God, Dar.. you must be half squashed. "

The taller woman stretched her body out, arching her back a little and stifling another yawn. "I'm fine." She replied, sounding a touch surprised. "Couch is pretty comfortable, really."

Kerry patted her chest, then impulsively leaned over and hugged her. "You're a lot more comfortable than the couch...thanks for sticking around."

Dar hugged her back. "No problem... it made me feel a lot better knowing you were okay." She reassured the blond woman. "Really."

Kerry smiled into the fabric over Dar's shoulder, and exhaled, then she patted her boss on the side. "C'mon... let me get us some breakfast, then you can take off...you don't want to be late."

Yes I do. Dar found herself very much wanting to remain right where she was. But she sighed, and released Kerry, waiting for the blond woman to stand up before she joined her, working a kink out of her back with a grimace. "You don't need to make breakfast.. I can just grab some coffee when I get there.. they have a little café on the bottom floor."

"Dar." Kerry poked her. "You come all the way out here, just to pat me literally and figuratively on the head, and you won't let me make you toast? Get real." She shook her head as she ambled into the kitchen, putting up some coffee and getting a package of raisin bread out of her refrigerator. "Dar, do yo..yow!"

The dark haired woman had come up silently behind her,and was peering over her shoulder. "Jesus... how do you do that?"

"Cinnamon raisin toast?" Dar inquired, hopefully, her brows lifting in interest.

"Well.. yeah... you didn't think I was going to give you ... like.. white bread, did you?" Kerry laughed. "I mean, Dar... let's be honest here, you're many things, but white bread...eh...."

Her boss smiled charmingly at her. "I'll take that as a compliment." Her eyes twinkled. "I love raisin toast... you know, it's really strange how alike our tastes are, Kerry."

Still sleepy, Kerry put the toast up in her four slice toaster then sidled over, tucking her self against Dar's left side, and wrapping an arm around her waist. "Yeah.. it is." She acknowledged, with a stifled yawn. "I have more in common with you than I do with my sister... weird." She considered. "She hates computers... she hates reading.. she hates shockingly graphic but curiously satisfying violent movies... "

Dar threaded her fingers into Kerry's disheveled pale hair, and tilted her face up, bending her head down and kissing her gently.

Kerry exhaled softly as they parted. "She'd hate to see that." Her voice was tinged with wistful sorrow.

"Does she know?" Dar asked seriously. "Do your parents?"

A single shake of Kerry's head. "No... they have no idea... they don't even suspect." She swallowed a little. "How about yours?"

Dar hesitated, as the scent of toasting cinnamon filled the kitchen, along with that of fresh coffee. "My father knew...yes. He... " She laughed softly. "I thought he was going to lose it... I couldn't tell him for the longest time because I thought he... I thought he would be disappointed."

The toast popped up, and Kerry reluctantly let go of her companion and removed it, spreading some butter on each piece, and pouring Dar a cup of coffee. "He wasn't?" She finally asked, hesitantly.

Dar took a bite, and chewed. "No.. it was almost... what he told me was.. " She cleared her throat. "Let me see if I can imitate him.. "Lookee here, Dardar.. just because the generals yap about that don't ask don't tell crap, don't mean there ain't lots of boys that don't like to share a foxhole, if you know what I mean?"

Kerry took a sip of her coffee, and muffled a chuckle. "Oh... I always wondered about that... I saw a special about aircraft carriers once, where they have all those tiny bunks all on top of each other? "

"Eeeyahh.... Well, we had a long talk about it, then we went over to Sawgrass Mills, and spent the afternoon comparing tastes." Dar shook her head wistfully. "That was strange." She studied Kerry's bowed head seriously. "Kerry?"

"Hmm?" The blond woman glanced up. "You're so lucky... I can't imagine sitting down and... Jesus, he'd kill me." She gave her head a little shake, then glanced at the window. "Um... it's getting late.. I guess we'd better get going.. I know I have to... " Dar had set her coffee down, and put a hand on either side of her face, gazing down at her. "What?"

"If you need to talk, you can." The dark haired woman said, quietly. "I'll listen."

Kerry felt her breath come short, and she sucked in air nervously, hunting through Dar's expression and searching the blue eyes intently. "I don't...I don't know what you mean, Dar."

A quiet hurt. "All right. " Dar dropped her hands. "Anyway the offer's out there." She picked up her cup and took a swallow, half turning away. "Guess I'd better get going."

A feather touch on her arm, and she glanced over her shoulder, seeing pained, and confused green eyes peering at her. 'We don't have time right now." Kerry got out, as though the words were dragged from her. "But... I'll take you up on that offer later."

Dar put an arm around her neck and pulled her closer, kissing the top of her head. "That's a deal." She felt the blond woman snuggle closer, almost huddling against her. Who had hurt Kerry? It was obvious to Dar that someone had, and a dark, bubbling anger erupted in her at the thought. "Lemme go get poked and prodded... meet you back at the office, okay? I'm going to stop by my place on the way back to change."

Kerry plucked the cutoff sweatshirt and faded jeans. "I think you look just fine... " She broke out of her funk, and gave Dar a smile. "Guess the office would be scandalized, huh?"

"Oh yeah." Dar snorted. "I'd never hear the end of that... " She caught Kerry's lips again, and this time took her time, feeling the smaller woman collapse against her. She let her hands run down Kerry's back, touching and rubbing gently, until she felt the blond woman's ribs expand sharply as her breathing roughened, and her touch started sliding across Dar's belly, searching for a path to her skin. They both broke off, breathing hard, hands still exploring, until Kerry let her forehead rest against Dar's collarbone.

"Gonna be a long day." Dar sighed, wryly.

"Oh yeah." Kerry agreed. "Did you have to do that?"

A soft chuckle. "Don't forget to set up that staff meeting for Friday... if I don't go over all this fourth quarter stuff with everyone, Mariana's going to have a cow."

Kerry reluctantly let her go, and watched her leave in pensive silence.

*******************************************************

Dar waited quietly as an efficient and far too cheerful nurse poked her arm with a needle roughly the size of an Olympic javelin. "Just a moment, dearie... it won't hurt a bit."

"You shouldnít lie to patients. "Dar growled, feeling the lancing pain as the needle found it's mark. "It's not nice."

"Now now.. " The nurse patted her arm. "We don't want our patients worrying unless they need to... it's nothing but a prick."

"I've been saying that about guys for years." Dar remarked, trying not to look at the vial of rich, red blood coming out of her arm

"What?" The nurse queried.

The dark haired woman rolled her eyes. "Nevermind."

The door pushed open, and Dr. Steve poked his head in. "Hey, sweetpea."

Dar glared daggers at him, receiving a charming smile in return. The nurse finished, removing the tube and swabbing the seeping needle hole with an alcohol swab. "There you go... all done." She bustled out, leaving Dar with her doctor.

"C'mon.. c'mon.. stop with the sour look, Dar." Dr. Steve came in and leaned on the examination table she was sitting on. "I hear you had a moment of terror at the Heart Institute."

Blue eyes regarded him dourly. "I got over it."

"Ooo... aren't we tough." Steve laughed, and patted her knee. "You can play that corporate killing machine with other people, Dar.. but I've known you since you weren't tall enough to lick my knees.. so donít' try it with me."

Dar scowled. "Did you leave any blood in there? She must have taken six quarts."

"Psh.... Two vials, you big baby." He waved her off. "How're you feeling?"

"Better. " His reluctant patient admitted. "Took a few days off ...went up to Orlando and just played tourist for a couple days." She paused. "Haven't had a headache since I was here last." This with a touch of triumph.

He nodded. "Good.. good.. " His hands lifted and turned her face to the light, as he peered at her intently. "Hmm.. interesting..."

"What?" Dar queried, a touch nervously.

"Nothing.. I just love looking at those baby blues." Steve answered, mischievously, as his patient rolled her eyes. "Seriously, Dar... you do look more relaxed." HE patted her shoulder "Glad to hear about the headaches.. we'll just check your blood, see how you're doing. I want to look at your white cell count.. that was very low last time."

Something else occurred to her. "While you're there... I've been running into some ... I don't know, I guess I've been forgetting things, lately. " Dar muttered. "And I've been having trouble concentrating... it's starting to bug me a little."

"Mm?" Now her doctor's face was serious. "All right.. I'll check to see if there's anything strange in your blood.. but it probably won't show up there... you having dizzy spells, or problems with your vision? I was worried about your pressure last time..." He put his stethoscope on, and listened to her chest.

"No.. well.. not dizzy, exactly.. " Dar struggled to explain. "Just... I'll be doing something, and I'll just go blank... like my attention gets distracted."

"Hmm.... " Dr. Steve pushed her shoulder. "Lie down."

Dar did, letting her eyes close and feeling the pressure cuff tighten against her biceps. Her mind drifted, thinking of the coming day. Or to be more precise, the coming night, and she found herself smiling, until a hand shook her shoulder. She opened her eyes, to see the doctor regarding her in puzzled concern. "Damn.. sorry."

Steve leaned against the table, his gray hair dropping down over his forehead. "I don't understand.. your pressure is fine... your heart sounds fine... maybe I should schedule you for a cat scan."

Dar rubbed her eyes. "Maybe." She muttered.

He shook his head. "Well, let me go run a quick scan on the blood, and see if I see anything.. go wait in my office. I think I have the new PC World in there."

"Oh, great." Dar grumbled. "Just what I need.. to read all about the new bugs in NT." She hopped off the table, though, and made her way to Dr. Steve's comfortable office, slouching in an arm chair and picking up the indicated magazine. "Where's the cartoon... at least I can laugh at that."

She'd read through over half of it, before she heard steady footsteps on the carpet, and looked up as Dr. Steve ambled in, with a folder under his arm, and a peculiar look on his fact. "Finished?"

The stocky, gray haired man put the folder down, and dropped into his seat, folding his hands over his belly and gazing at her. "Well, my friend.. your stress indicators are down, that's for sure."

Dar let a small smile tug at her lips. "That's good."

He nodded. "Mm... yes, I was glad to see it.. I also ran an analysis for hormones and other anomalies.. and I think I may have figured out what your little forgetfulness problem is."

Dar sat up, and cocked her head. "Yes?"

A solemn nod. "Yes.. I'm afraid you have elevated levels of endorphins in your bloodstream, my friend.. especially Oxytocin."

The dark haired woman was taken aback. "Oh." She paused, a little alarmed. "What is that... what causes it?"

Dr Steve rubbed his nose. "Well.. it's a naturally occurring hormone...it basically is one of the things responsible for feeling good.. your body releases it under certain circumstances, and it's know to produce the symptoms you're describing. "

Dar considered that. "What circumstances?" She inquired.

"Mm....in some cases, exercise... especially long distance running." Dr Steve mentioned. "Do you do that?"

A shrug. "Six.. eight miles in a morning."

"Did you do that this morning?" Dr Steve asked.

Dar shook her head. "I... no. " She hesitated. "Not this morning."

"Not that, then... " The doctor steepled his fingers. "You take any opiates?"

"What?" Dar's brow contracted sharply. "Steve, you goddamn well know better."

A hand raised. "Okay.. okay.. just asking... " A tiny grin chased itself around his lips. "That eliminates two of the three most common causes."

"What's the third?" Dar chuckled. "Eating chocolate?"

"Falling in love." Steve quietly replied. "Oxytocin is the hormone that stimulates the need for touching."

Dar simply stared at him, her jaw sagging slightly, and her eyes blinking. "Thatís... ah... no, Steve, I don't... " She ran a hand through her hair. "That's not.... "

"Dar... relax... " The doctor leaned forward. "Breathe, okay? I don't want you keeling over in my office.. it looks bad for the nurses." He regarded her with fond affection. "My god, you'd think I just said you were pregnant or something... there's nothing wrong with being in love, my friend." He smiled. "It's good for you."

"But I'm... " Dar tried to force the words out, but they just weren't coming. Jesus.. this can't be happening... Her mind fled back to her own words to Kerry, what seemed like forever ago. 'It's like your body knows.' "Are you.. is that all, Dr. Steve.?"

"Sure." He gazed at her in quiet compassion. "Go take a walk, Dar... get some air.. you're white as a sheet."

She nodded absently, and walked out, not really sure where she was going until she was outside, where she mechanically found her car, and opened the door, collapsing in the seat and leaning against the steering wheel. "He's crazy.. he doesn't know what he's... I'm not... " She stared at the instrument panel, thinking about the past few days. Thinking about how she felt.

Thinking about how Kerry made her feel, and how just the impact of those green eyes on hers sent daggers of emotion stabbing through her. About how hugging the blond woman made her happier than just about anything else ever had.

About how she'd driven out in the middle of the night just to check on a little bump on the head. And jeopardized a major account.

Slowly, she leaned back, letting her arms fall to her thighs, as the inescapable realization hit her.

Oh Sweet Jesus... I am. A faint laugh forced it's way out of her chest. Then she gripped the steering wheel and stared out through the tinted windows.

Now what do I do?

**************************************************

"Okay, look.. it's only a bulletin board." Kerry stated, gazing patiently at the short, upset woman sitting across from her desk. "I know it's something everyone likes, but the drive array went down, and they have to replace it." She had been dealing with issues like that all day, as one of the major servers had crashed, taking down dozens of small, but essential applications.

"But you donít understand... we had important messages on there." The woman stated, in agitation.

Kerry cocked her blond head. "It's a bulletin board.. I thought it was for posting things for sale.. company notices.. that kind of thing."

"No... no... " The woman looked frustrated. "It's this...we've got all our social stuff on there.. and Mary puts out these little poems, they really make everyone's day.. it's like a community. We're helpless without it..no one knows what's going on!"

Kerry folded her hands together. "Helen, what exactly is it you want me to do?"

"Can't it get fixed faster?"

"It's a server drive array.. they have to custom order it from Hewlett Packard, and it has to be configured.. they're doing it as fast as they can, believe me. " Kerry explained. "That's not the only thing affected... printing and faxing services are down, too." It had been the first thing Mark had hit her with, when she'd gotten there, bad news about an entire array going south, one for which they didn't have a hot backup for because nothing was a critical app So far, the workers had complained more than if the SNA servers had crashed. "We're still trying to find out why it went down."

She got an immediate guilty look from the woman, who stood hastily. "Well.. I hope they hurry... I have a lot of things on there that I need." She gave Kerry a distinctively unfriendly glare. "I'm sure Ms.Roberts would have resolved it already." She walked out, leaving a bemused looking Kerry, who shook her head in mild disbelief.

"No.. she would have told you to get your gardinia smelling butt out of her office." She informed the closed door wryly. Then she sighed, and glanced at the clock. "Speaking of which.. where in the hell is she?" It was close to noon, and there was no sign of her boss. Kerry had setup a monitor which checked periodically for Dar's login, and so far, the executive had been conspicuous by her absence. Kerry drummed her fingers on the desk, then picked up the phone and dialed. "Hi, Maria."

"Hello, Kerrisita."

"Any word from the boss?" Kerry tried to keep the concern out of her voice, and make it only sound vaguely interested. "I have some documents I need to go over with her."

Maria sighed. "No, honey... you and everyone else in the world is looking for her... and nothing. I tried her cell phone, the pager, nothing.. I hope she is all right."

Kerry felt a deep worry grab her guts. "Yeah.. me too.. that's not like her." She murmured, as if she were an expert after all of less than a month.

"Si.. aie.. wait.. I hear her voice coming this way." Maria sounded relieved.

"Okay.. great.. thanks, Maria.." Kerry hung up, with a mixed sensation of relief and anticipation. You can't just rush in there, Kerry... give the woman a chance to settle down, and get things going. She decided to get herself a cup of tea instead, so she opened her drawer, and took out a blackberry teabag, then grabbed her cup and headed for the door.

The kitchen was relatively quiet, and she gave the two other women inside a smile as she put some Equal into her cup, then added boiling water from the dispenser over the teabag.

"Hey, Kerry... " One of the women sitting at a small table looked up. "I hear you signed up for the gym... you going tonight?"

The blond woman nodded. "Yep. I sure did.. I'm really looking forward to it. I put my name down for some light aerobics, and that self defense class." She walked casually over, dipping her teabag in and leaning against the wall. "Are you going?" The woman's name, she recalled, was Candy, a uniquely inappropriate tag for the usually snippy adminstrative assistant.

Candy leaned back with a sigh, and nodded. "Yeah... " She patted her thighs and made a face. "I thought I could get away with just some treadmill plodding at home.. but I don't do it enough, and it's showing... I put on ten pounds in the last two months, and it's either go to the goddamn gym, or spring for new clothes." She glanced at Kerry. "Self defense, huh? That's pretty funny coming from Dar Robert's assistant... and what the hell happened to your head?"

Kerry sighed. "Close encounter with a parked truck.. I was rollerblading last night." She explained. "Yet another reason to pick the gym instead... less obstacles." She added wryly. "And it's air conditioned.. has a sauna... "

"Oh yeah.. and nice looking bodies running around." Candy added, with a smirk. "My boyfriend refuses to go in there... says his little tummy makes him blush." The other woman, someone from marketing, Kerry remembered, snickered.

"Well, that's self defeating." Kerry protested. "If he'd go in there for a while, he wouldn't have to worry about it!" She disposed of her bag, and took a sip of the sweetened tea. "But I know how he feels.. I've put on a few pounds myself since I started working here... all those visits downstairs." She commented casually, referring to the Cuban cafeteria on the bottom floor.

Candy snorted. "Kerry, you'd have to double yourself before anyone would notice, let me tell you.. but um.. " She glanced around, then up at the blond woman. "I hear through the grapevine your boss is joining the gym gang... true?"

Kerry hesitated, then picked her words carefully. "As a matter of fact.. I think I heard her saying that the other day... so yeah.. I guess she is." A pause. "Why?"

"Interesting.. that's all.. first she participates in Global Day, now this.. she trying to change her image or something?" Candy asked, slyly.

Sensing dangerous waters, Kerry merely shrugged. "She said it was her turn to do Global.. and as for this.. who knows? I sure don't... she said she wanted to use some climbing thing or other that they have...maybe that's it?"

"Maybe." Candy purred, then got up and sauntered out. "Guess we'll find out tonight, eh? C'mon Drucie... break time's over, let's go feed the press." She glanced at Kerry. "See ya."

"See ya." Kerry mouthed after her, making a face. She sighed, and sipped her tea, then slipped back out of the kitchen and down the hall, opening the door to her office and stepping inside. She was several paces into the room before she realized there was something sitting on her desk.

She stopped, one hand raised with the cup in it, and the other at her side, and just looked.

Squarely in the center of her desk a small, crystal vase was resting, containing one single crimson rose. Kerry let out a tiny gasp, and moved closer, putting the cup down and circling the furniture, sitting down in her chair and resting both arms on either side of the vase.

The flower was beautiful, large and full with thick petals that gave off a wonderful scent, and the vase was slim, and faceted, and glittered in the light coming in the window. "Oh my god.. that's gorgeous." Kerry breathed, touching the flower with a lightly shaking finger. "Did you do this, Dar?" She whispered. The suddenly romantic gesture touched her deeply, and she sighed, resting her chin on her fists, and letting a tiny kernel of happiness ignite inside her as she absorbed the delicate scent.

Finally she sat up, and gently put the vase at the front of her desk, centered neatly, before she stood, and ran her hands through her hair. "I think I need to go say thank you." She told her computer screen, before ducking out the back door, and down the utility hallway.

**************************************************

"So what, exactly, is the problem." Dar leaned her chin on her fist, and regarded Mark with a tolerant eye. "I thought you ordered a new Raid array."

"I did." The burly, dark haired man sighed, rubbing his eyes. "But HP said they can't get a duplicate unit...if we want to replace it, we've got to go bigger."

"Okay." Dar agreed. "So do it."

Brown eyes blinked at her. "What?"

"What part of that didn't you understand?" Dar shot back. "I'm up to my ears in whining secretaries who can't get to their love poems, Mark.. get the goddamn array in here before I start taking pot shots at them with a pellet gun."

"Dar... we're talking big bucks, here." Mark protested. "It's not a critical server."

"Maria tells me Kerry spent at least half the morning listening to people tell her just how critical the damn thing is, and I'm not going to waste valuable employee time in dealing with it!" Dar roared. "Get the damn thing in here, I don't care what it costs!"

"Jesus!" Mark jumped out of his chair and backed off. "All right.. all right.. but when that bill comes in, don't say I didn't tell you so."

"Just do it." Dar ordered. "And by the way, how in the hell did the damn thing crash anyway?"

Mark paused in the doorway, and pursed his lips, glancing around. "Um...they ran a... well, it's a streaming multimedia clip that got out of hand." He cleared his throat. "It chewed up all the resources, then corrupted the allocation table.. when the server went to shut down, it blew the drive controller card."

Dar sat there, her hands resting on her desk. "You're not telling me something one of these technogorps did crashed an array."

He nodded. "Um... it was streaming clip of Leonardo DiCapprio dancing nude." Then he was gone, leaving Dar to stare at the door in disbelief.

 The phone rang. Dar punched the button. "Yeah?"

"Afternoon, Dar!" Les' cheerful voice filled the room. "Did you get my present?"

Dar glanced around at her desk, and spotted a small comail envelope. She pulled it over and opened it, peering inside. "It's lovely, Les.. but you know I don't have time to go on a damn cruise." She sighed, noting that it was an Alaskan Passage.. Les realizing a Miami native would hardly want to cruise the sun and sand of the Carribean.

"Dar, I'm ordering it." The CEO objected.

She sighed, fingering the tickets. "Tell you what.. I'll trade it in for a long weekend down in the Keys.... "She paused. "For two." A quirky grin tugged her face. "How about it?"

"For two?" Les' voice oozed with curiousity. "Dar, I didn't know you were seeing anyone."

A soft chuckle. "Did I say that, Les? I just said I wanted a weekend for two... maybe I just want some company."

"Ho ho ho.... " Les chortled. "All right, you're on...I'll tell Beatrice.. you just let her know what you want." A muffled voice in the background. "Whoops.. gotta go, Dar..talk to you later."

Dar regarded her desktop and smiled, turnign the tickets over in her hands, then glanced up as the inner door opened, and Kerry peeked in.

She didn't deny the jolt of emotion this time. She just accepted it, and watched as Kerry pushed the door open, and walked across the carpet, enjoying the blond woman's intriguing walk. "Hi."

Kerry knelt down at her side, and balanced with a hand on her knee. "Hi." Her voice was slightly husky. "Was that surprise from you?"

Dar nodded. "Uh huh." No excuses. No explanations.

A delicate blush colored Kerry's face. "I've never gotten anything like that before... it's amazing." She exhaled. "Thank you so much."

Dar gazed at her, reaching out and moving a bit of blond hair out of her face. "You've never gotten flowers, Kerry? I find that very hard to believe."

A hesitant shake of her head. "No... it... " A pause. "No, I never did." Her eyes flicked across to the door, aware of their intimate position. "I was kind of concerned... you didn't think it would take this long... Maria was worried too."

"Ah." Dar gracefully accepted the change of subject. "I had a few things to take care of... and I left the pager and the cell phone in the car... I should have called in." She cleared her throat. "You had lunch?"

Kerry shook her head. "No...I've been busy listening to everyone complain about that stupid server."

"C'mon." Dar stood, and offered her hand up. "I hear a cheesburger calling my name." She hauled Kerry up, and unexpectedly gave her a brief hug. "Let's go."

 

*********************************************

The gym was a typical one, smelling of chlorine from the pool, and oil from the several groups of weightlifting machines, and the overhwhelming scent of macho that seemed to settle over everything like a coating of grease.

Dar finished a round of the Nautilus machines, wiping the sweat off her face and ignoring the sidewise stares from fellow employees who seemed to be caught between amazement and disbelief at her presence.

Her mind wasn't really into it, she acknowledged, so she kept it fairly light and easy, letting her thoughts wander as she went through the various motions. It had taken her a few hours, that morning, of wandering down the beach, and letting the wavelets wash against her bare feet, before she settled down and tried to figure out what to do.

First and foremost... she had to figure out how Kerry felt about her. Coming out and professing a love for the blond woman if she didn't share it would be embarassing at best, and irrepairably destructive at worst.

So how to do that? Dar had decided on a subtle campaign of attentions, which the rose had been part of, to see if she could get an indication of what was going on behind those green eyes. She knew Kerry liked her, but more than that?

Dar sighed, resting her chin on the crossbar of the pull down machine she was using. She felt... a little nervous, and a little uncertain, but twice now, twice... she'd caught Kerry watching her when the blond woman didn't think she was looking with a gentle, emotional look that made her hopes emerge timidly, wondering if this time....

If she was honest with herself, she would admit that it was mostly fear that made her cautious, fear of exposing her most sensitive vulnerabilities to an unknown quantity she'd known for less than a month. Sad prudence dictated caution, demanded she wait to see if Kerry's obvious affection for her was something more, or merely the superficial involvement of her tentatively emerging sexuality.

The self defense class was meeting in the large open area just in front of the circuit machines, a group of a dozen or so people ranging from two young boys, to an older woman with a grizzled, pugnacious jaw. The instructor was a large bearded man, self importantly hitching up his black belted gi and proclaiming to his audience in tones that were grating on Dar's nerves.

Kerry was seated near one end of the semi circle, her elbows resting on her crossed legs, her head cocked in intent attention. Dar could see the faint tension at her brow as she listened, and she suspected the blond woman was finding some problem with whatever it was she was being told.

"Well.. well.. what have we got here. " Dar almost jumped at the loud, pseudo friendly voice. She turned her head and gazed at Jose.

"Nice headband." She commented dryly, noting the Southpark characters on it. "Funny, but I always think of Cartman when I see you."

Jose stared at her, then touched his head. "Merde... my kids got me this.. I don't watch that crap."

That struck Dar as funny, and she lifted a hand, rubbing her jaw to disguise a grin. "They've got good taste." She replied, eyeing his outfit. They must be adopted, her mind continued. Jose was dressed in tight purple bike shorts and a tank top that did nothing to hide his drooping gut. She herself was clad in a practical pair of cotton shorts and a mid cutoff top, exposing her toned body in a modest display that was more purely functional than anything else.

"I'll tell them that... so what are you doing here?" Jose asked pointedly. "Don't tell me they don't got a gym on that fantasy island of yours."

Dar lifted a hand, and indicated the machine. "I'm doing what everyone else is doing here, Jose... it's closer to the office, it's got a much better range of facilities, and it's got a climbing wall. " She paused. "Why the hell do you care?"

He shrugged. "I don't...it's just strange as hell to see you out here.. I"ve been coming to this place for a year now, and all of a sudden, you decide you like it?"

"Yeah, I can see you've made progress. " Dar gave him a cool smile. "Jose, get out of my face.. we're not in the office, and I don't have to be polite to your ugly puss." She stood, making the most of the fact that she topped him by at least two inches. "Let me give you a hint.. try running something other than your mouth.. it might help." She stalked off, leaving him spluttering by the pull down machine, and escaped into the free weight area where she knew he woudn't follow.

This was the serious dudes area. Dar let her eyes flick to the earnest, sweating faces, eyes intent on the mirror watching themselves as they pumped and flexed. Some paused and gave her a disdainful look, then went back to their loving self absorbption.

Feeling a mischevious streak rising, she claimed one of the press benches, and settled a bar on it, checking the locking collars carefully. Then she laid down and placed her hands precisely, focusing on the weight and preparing her body for the strain.

One deep breath. A second. She wrapped her fingers around the rough metal of the bar and set her feet down squarely, pressing down to make sure her back was properly supported. Then she took a final breath and shoved upward, taking the bar off it's supports and extending her arms, letting the muscles get used to the shock of effort.

Slowly the bar lowered, to brush her chest, then went back up, her shoulders flexing as she concentrated. At the periphery of her attention, she was aware of a little silence around her, and she grinned, before she repeated the action ten times, then set the bar down in place. A pleasant ache filled her upper body, and she relaxed, peeking at her neighbors.

Lots of wide, round, furtive eyes found other things to look at and the pumping rapidly resumed. Dar grinned impishly at the ceiling, then rubbed her hands together, and went for another set. It was more than she usually used, that was for sure, but she wasn't above showing off now and again when the mood struck her. The legacy of years and years of sports and martial arts had left her with a sturdily functional body, and it felt good to wake that up a little sometimes.

Besides. Dar peeked again. Kerry was watching.

Blue eyes twinkled at the tiles above.

*************************************************

They were on break, after an hour of lecture from the instructor on movements, and the preparation of the body. Kerry had absorbed the lesson, and didn't feel like she needed it repeated six times, but she was willing to hold her tongue, since this was, after all, the first lesson. She leaned against a pile of mats, sipping on a cup of water as she let her eyes roam around, finding Dar with little difficulty.

The tall, dark haired woman had staked out a spot in the weight section, and was doing chest presses. Kerry found herself glued to the sight, wondering how in the world she could consider sweating sexy. She turned her head as Colleen joined her, the redhead immediately finding what she was looking at. "Mm.mm.mm... " Colleen clucked softly. "Aren't we just the butch."

"Col." Kerry rolled her eyes.

"C'mon, Ker... she'll be giving the Small Soldiers over there pointers in a minute.. you see tha.. ooh, look.. he dropped his dumbell on his foot."

The blond woman laughed. "Oh.. that's not funny." She watched the overly muscular man hop around, then overbalance and go crashing to the floor. She half expected him to bounce he had such a rubbery bulging figure.

Dar had hitched herself up on her elbows at the noise, and was just sitting there, watching in amusement.

"We're going to.. pump.. you.. up.. "Colleen whispered. "God... have you ever seen anything so self absorbed?"

"Hm?" Kerry tore her eyes from Dar's relaxed body, which was intriguing her with it's gentle ripple of muscle just barely visible under the skin, so different than her burly neighbors. "What/"

The redhead rolled her eyes. "Talk about absorbed... "

"Sorry." Kerry blushed. "Um... looks like he's ready to start again." She tugged Colleen back over to where the instructor was gathering them, and forced her attention on the man.

It wasn't hard, she decided. He'd started them with simple, repetitive motions, which at first felt awkward, but after a few repititions, seemed to come more naturally to her. She found her balance, and worked through the movements, more sucessfully than the rounder Colleen, and a good deal more so than one of the two boys.

He was growing fast, she realized, and was completely uncoordinated because of it. He tried, but he just couldn't get the motions, his arms and oversize feet getting into his way and frustrating him. Kerry moved over, and made gentle suggestions, recieivng a pathetically grateful look in response.

"No..look..he's gotta do it himself." The teacher objected, motioning her away. "C'mon, fat boy... take your head out of your ass, and watch where your feet are going."

Kerry gave him a dour look. "Insulting people doesn't help them concentrate." She told the man.

"Look, honey.. I didn't ask for a critique, okay? Just get back over there with your roly poly friend, and let's get through this." He half turned, then found himself being hauled around, to face icy green eyes and an angry, set face.

"You listen, you horses ass... "

"Look - either get over there and do this, or get out of here and go to wimparobics, all right?" He gave her a shove.

Or he tried to, anyway, but he found his arm held in a grip from behind that made him spin around. "What in the hell.."

Dar just tightened her grip. "You know, big, ugly bullies with delusions of competence really piss me off." She commented calmly. "You're supposed to be teaching these people a martial art, not using them as your personal venting post."

"Don't you fucking tell me what to do... who in the hell do you think you are?" The bearded man barked in her face. "Let go of me or I'm going to kick your ass."

Dar smiled at him, and leaned closer. "Jackass, you couldn't touch me if your life depended on it." She jerked him closer suddenly, then whirled him around, and dumped him on the ground by sweeping his legs out from under him with a powerful kick.

"Bitch." He scrambled to his feet, and came at her, shifting to one side with moderate skill, then reaching out for a hold. She caught his arm, and ducked under it, sliding past him, then whirling, and pulling hm over her shoulder to be dumped on the mat again.

He bounced up and tried a kick. She blocked it, then returned the favor with a sideways spinning kick that slammed against his chest and knocked him back. Then they were at it full out, and she was mixing holds with powerful blows, dodging his best efforts and ending by nailing him on the jaw with a thrust of her elbow in close, sending him to the mat in a stupor. She bounced a little in place, waiting to see if he was going to get up. I shoudn't enjoy this as much as I do. Dar reflected ruefully, aware of Kerry's rapt eyes on her.

"Hey.. what's going on here?" A short, bandy legged man pushed his way thorugh the crowd that had gathered, glancing at the gasping man on the mat, then up at Dar. "What the hell happened?"

Dar glanced at him. "I took exception to his teaching style." She answered, deadpan, her eyes taking in the newcomer's lithe, graceful physique. "It tended to the abusive."

The man cursed in a fluid languge. "Frank, get outta here. I've had enough of your damn troublemaking self." He nudged the man with a toe. "G'wan.. I'll see what I can do for you later."

With a dangerous look at Dar, the bearded man got up and stalked off, shoving people out of his way. The short newcomer looked up at Dar, setting his hands on his hips as he regarded her. "You know what you're doing."

Dar dusted herself off, and shrugged lightly. "Used to dabble in it." She admitted, noting the intent and interested look she was getting from him. "I would guess you did yourself."

"Could be... could be." The man sighed, then faced the class, who was watching in facinated interest. "Listen.. sorry folks.. I'll try to get you in a different instructor next week.. and give you a credit for an extra lesson."

The crowd broke up, leaving the two of them standing there. Dar met Kerry's eyes as she was moving away, and winked, getting a mouthed. 'Wow' back from the blond woman.

They studied each other, and the man held out a hand. "Ken Yamamura."

"Mm... you took the state championship two..no, three years ago." Dar told him, taking his hand and gripping it. "Last round, took out that bruiser from Orlando with the red hair."

He blinked. "Wow... yeah, I sure did...um.. "

She smiled. "Dar Roberts."

His jaw dropped and his eyes lit up. "Holy Buddist Monk in a bottle... I thought you looked familiar!" He told her with delight. "Son of a.. man, I was there when you won the National... I never saw anything like that final bout."

Dar ducked her head in acknowledgment. "Long time ago... " She stated. "Nice to meet you finally, though."

"Wow... check this out... just any Wednesday and I have Dar Roberts show up to beat the crap out of my god damned useless piece of crap brother in law.." He sighed. "I gotta get someone else now..I know he's not worth much, but I thought he'd at least be able to show these newbies some of the basics. "

Dar took a breath, her eyes flicking to where Kerry was waiting, leaning against a towel rack and watching her. "Listen... if you want, I'll teach the class.. I was going to make Wednesday my regular night here anyway."

He stared at her. "You're kidding, right?"

A head shake. "No... I've just been doing some casual stuff the last few years.. I could use the practice."

"Whooo... I'm not gonna turn that down.. maybe...I haven't been keeping up the last year either.. I pulled a knee out after that last fight.. never really set right after that, but .. if you want, we could work together a little..I could at least give you more of a challenge than these kids."

Dar considered. "Yeah... all right, that sounds like a deal to me." She nodded. "I'd like that." Her sparring mate on the island was a beginner at best.. and she had felt a lot of things slipping lately. Maybe she needed a challenge.. knock the rust off a few skills. "Sign me up."

"Great." Ken gave her an enormous grin, transforming his elfin face. "I'll put you on the payroll."

Dar waved him off. "No thanks.. I'm fine.. use it to get some basic equipment for these folks..okay?"

"Deal." Ken reached a hand out. "Dar, it's good to meet you... this'll be a story to tell around the campfire. "

The term sent a strange prickle down her back. "Glad to meet you too, Ken... see you next week." She watched him walk off, then exhaled. What in the hell did I just get myself into? She wondered, as Kerry ambled over, offering her a bottle of water.

"Wow." The blond woman smiled at her. "That was pretty impressive."

"C'mon, Kerry.. " Dar snorted, then took a long sip of the water. "Jose could have dumped him on his ass.. he didn't know a damn thing." She sighed. "What an idiot."

"Well.. but will his replacement be any better?" Kerry queried.

"Um... actually, it's me." Dar muttered.

"What?" The blond woman leaned closer. "Did I just hear you say what I think I just heard you say?"

Dar gave her a sheepish look. "I volunteered... I felt bad for those kids.. and if I'm going to be around anyway.... What the hell, right?"

"Mm." Kerry smiled at her. "Can I get some private lessons?" She quipped.

"Sure." Her companion agreed. "You finished here?" She glanced around. "I think I promised a hot tub, if I'm not mistaken."

"Ugh.. " Kerry stretched her arms out. "After that climbing thing, and those exercises.. yeah, I'd love that." She put her towel over her shoulders, feeling a welcome tingle of anticipation. "Besides which, I'm starved."

Dar chuckled, and grabbed her own towel. "I can do something about that, too." She teased gently. "C'mon."

They retrieved their bags from the locker room, and exited the gym, walking out through the well lit parking area towards where they'd left their cars.

Dar knew she was in trouble as they turned the corner of the building, and she felt, rather than saw, shadows heading towards her, the wind bringing a scent of anger and sweat.


 Continued in Part 11