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The Edge

PART I

By thenorm


Disclaimers: Hey, these characters, the story, etc. are mine...they just might look a little familiar to you if you watch a certain show with the initials, "Xena: Warrior Princess." Also, these folks tend to get a little hungry & thirsty...I donít own McDonaldís or V-8 Twisters (and itís a sad thing, too!)

Violence & Language: A little violence, a little profanity, but itís basically PG-13 variety.

Subtext/Hurt & Comfort: Well, because Iím thenorm, I say subtext is the main text. It isnít graphic, but it is consensual same-sex sex. I donít know about that Hurt & Comfort stuff, but this is a drama, so I guess you can count on it!

Thank you so much: To Susan, who suffers through "have you read it yet?" on a daily basis; to Ruth, beta reader extraordinaire, whose patience with my sending and re-sending stuff is unbelievable (how in the world do you ever find time for all that you do?) and comments help me stay on track, to Lisa, who informed me it was a bad thing to have a storm in enclosed room, and to Loryjade, whose observations are appreciated. The encouragement and editing you folks have given me has helped me so much! Thank you, thank you!

Hey, this bardís hungry... thenorm_chabak@yahoo.com

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Part I Part II Part III Part IV Part V
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Chapter 1

The wind whipped wildly through the trees as she made her way up the steps. She opened the door and stared at an empty room as she entered, holding a battered newspaper in her hands. Outside, the rain began to trickle.  Visions of Florida Correctional Institution plagued her mind.  Emerald green eyes shimmered like wildfire in her soul.  She could still feel those eyes, ripping through her like a bullet as she picked up the telephone receiver.  She couldn't let this go.  As rain pounded the window, she dialed the number sheíd memorized in prison.  That bitch would pay for getting in her way.

Abigail answered the telephone as she attempted to wake up, sleep heavy in her voice. "Hello?"

"Abigail Thanis," a feminine voice purred, instantly waking her.

"Who is this?"

"Oh, if you think about it," she laughed, her tone sweet with sarcasm. "I'm sure you'll know.  You didn't forget me, did you, Abigail?  I know I didn't forget you."

"Lita Tomlinson!" Abigail was wide-awake now, fear searing her as she jumped out of bed.

"I'm flattered, Abigail.  By the way, how is Michael," she asked tauntingly.  

Abigail slammed the telephone receiver down in amazement and fear.  She wanted to scream. Of course, that witch knew how Michael was.  He was dead because of Lita!

After contacting the police, she knew that sleep was out.  Going for a run wasn't exactly an option, either.  She reflected about the trial, or actually, the lack of one. All the heartache she experienced, continually re-living it, only to have the district attorney accept a last-minute deal made by that monsterís lawyer!

Drinking her coffee, Abigail stared out the window, watching the rain.  It was going to be a long evening.

Abigail called her friend Jack for a ride to work.  He was with her when it all went down, she reasoned to herself; he had a right to know.  

She watched from the window as Jack's beat-up Dodge Charger arrived, steam issuing from under its hood.  "Time to put off the inevitable," she whispered aloud.

Jack watched her walk to his car, her strawberry-blonde hair flowing slightly past her shoulders. He smiled as he watched her approach. Maybe sheís finally come around!

As casually as he could muster, he opened her door, his mind swimming with things he hoped she'd say.  

"What's up, Abby," he asked, clearing his throat as he started to drive.

"Nothing much, I guess," she replied sarcastically, "unless you consider Lita Tomlinson to be a major problem."

He slammed on the brakes, nearly throwing her through the windshield, and turned to look at her. "What?  I thought she was in prison?"

"Jack, keep your eyes on the road!"  Regaining her composure, she continued. "Evidently she got out." She looked out the window, biting back her fear.  "No offense, Jack, but I don't want to talk about this or I'll start looking for her around every corner."  

Jack nodded his head.  In his mind, she should be looking for Lita Tomlinson behind every nook and cranny.  Involuntarily, he shuddered, remembering the struggle as they tried in vain to keep that  blonde psycho from killing Michael Taylor five years ago. Now she was probably out for blood--Abby's blood.

They pulled up to the restaurant in an uncomfortable silence, the radio ignored.  They worked together at The Edge -- a casual dining restaurant at the beach. Jack was glad he was a cook.  At least he didnít have to face the public.  He thought about Abby as he clocked in.  She wasn't so lucky.  She was a server.

Abigail put on her burgundy apron and took a look in the break room mirror.  She looked like hell.  Trying to push all recollections of Lita Tomlinson out of her mind, she busied herself with fixing her make-up. God, she shuddered, it was just like it was happening all over again.

A low, feminine voice called to her, breaking her melancholy. "Hey, Abigail. What's up?" Christina missed the beautiful smile that usually illuminated Abigailís face.

"Rough night," she replied, trying to steady herself for work. I must not be living right, Abigail reflected as she attempted to pull herself together. It wasnít enough that the Psycho Queen called her; now she would have to face Christina, looking like a wreck!

Christina looked at her emerald eyes, noting the circles underneath. "Yeah, that I can see."   Christina tried to ignore the way her heart hammered in her chest as she spoke. "You okay?"

"Yeah, thanks."

Christina glanced over Abigailís shoulder, looking at her in the mirror. "You're not a good liar, ya know." She was sure she could maintain a friendship with Abigail in spite of the attraction she felt.

Abigail's face held a slight smile. "Can't talk about it now.  Gotta get to my station."

"I need to get on the Cooksí Line or you won't have any food to serve.  Listen," Christina continued, "why don't we get together after work and you can tell me all about it?"

Abigail nodded her head in agreement.  "Jack gave me a ride today." She stopped for a moment. "Why donít you hang out with us after work?"

"Sure," Christina answered, slightly deflated.

It had been a grueling Friday night.  Summer was just around the corner and most of the business came right before the restaurant closed.  The trio left work late.  They decided to unwind at Abigailís place.

Jack was chattering endlessly about work as Abigail put her hand on the doorknob.  The door swung open.  Abigail and Jack stood on the step, frozen, as Christina approached. "What's going on, guys?"

Jack pushed on the door to open it the rest of the way to reveal the mess that remained of Abigail's usually neat apartment. Furniture and clothing were everywhere.  

"She knows where I live." Abigail stared in shock.

Jack attempted to step into the apartment but Christina grabbed him back by his shirt. "Hey, I don't know what the story is but I know you don't need to go in there.  Don't mess with anything." She turned her head, addressing Abigail. "I left my c-phone in Jackís car.  Why don't you call the cops?"

As Abigail went to make the call, Christina took the opportunity to corner Jack. "You wanna tell me what's up?"

Jack cleared his throat and glanced at Abby.  She hadn't wanted to talk about this but there didn't seem much choice now. "Well, about five years ago, Abby and I saw a friend of ours getting killed." He continued weakly. "The killer called her last night.  Now this."

Christina looked at Jack, her pale blue eyes wide with disbelief.  Little Miss Sunshine had a stalker after her?

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

"Come on," her cousin Billy urged the guard. "Timmy's gonna fight Special K!"

The guard, a drinking buddy of Billy's, tried to brush him off. "No way, man, I can't sneak her in.  She's only nine, dude!"

"This is her big brother, man. Come on!  Let us in the back way."  Billy lifted Lita onto his right hip. "She wants to see her big brother put Special K in her place." Lita nodded her head in agreement with Billy. "Big money riding on this one, with both of 'em undefeated. Let us in, man!"

"Bill, her last few fights," he started. "They didn't turn out so well."

"Timmy's different.  Heís the Tomlinson Terror, man!"

The guard lowered his voice hoping Lita wouldn't hear. "Man, last couple times, there's been nothing left of her opponents. I mean, body bags. You sure about this?"

"Timmy can't miss, dude!" He glanced at his niece. "I'll take care of my girl, man.  Just let is in your Officers' Station and we'll be quiet as mice.  No one will know.  We'll be glued to that monitor. I promise!"

The guard finally relented.  "All right. But it's on you."

Billy and Lita settled themselves in front of the security monitor, the fight already in progress. It was unreal. Kayleigh "Special K" Karapapous had inflicted serious damage on Timmy.  He was struggling to stand, unable to see due to the blood and sweat flowing past his eyes.  They watched as Timmy pulled a butterfly knife from his right pants  pocket and swung wildly at Special K. She saw it coming; Billy could tell by the feral smile on her face. She captured his right wrist in her right hand and nailed his right arm with a  left palm-heel strike to his outside elbow. As he collapsed in pain, she followed with a right backspin kick, connecting with the side of his head. The results were devastating. Timmy Tomlinson lay there in a crumpled heap, unmoving. Several minutes elapsed but nothing changed. Billy was too stunned to turn Lita away from the monitor.

Lita watched intently, her caramel eyes glued to the screen as the camera zoomed in for a close-up.  She would never forget that face; that evil smile, pale blue eyes and jet-black hair, belonging to the person who destroyed her world.  There was Timmy, her beloved brother, at Special K's feet.  He didn't move.

He never moved again.

She didn't even realize it when Billy picked her up and left the warehouse.  All she could see was her dead brother and those icy blue eyes haunting her.

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

We didn't even get to bury him, Billy reflected. But who cares about street rats, anyway? Because of the illegal nature of the fight, coupled with the fact that he had no real underworld connections, the body was disposed of quickly.  

Billy should have known that something had snapped in Lita that day.  He couldn't remember the last time he saw her cry.  Trying to put it all behind them, he moved them to a city on Florida's forgotten northwest coast.  It wasn't much to look at, but there would be no reminders of Timmy.

It seemed like the drug trade was the mainstay of Pinkston and Billy wanted his piece of the pie.   Lita ran drugs for him when she was twelve. He soon learned that she had a better business acumen than he had; he became the front man as she made the decisions behind the scenes.  By the time she was fourteen, she had completely taken over their little gang, earning her leadership on the death of a rival. When she was sixteen, she was so heartless that when Billy opposed a decision she made, she broke his nose, instructing him that if he didn't keep it out of her business, she would take care of his nose for good. She also broke his right leg, for good measure.

It wasn't long after she injured her cousin that she killed Michael Taylor. He wasn't her first kill, just her most sloppy. That poor stooge Taylor witnessed Jimmy making a deal and ratted him out, landing Jimmy in jail. Billy kept his mouth shut when Lita decided to teach Taylor a lesson.  He wished he hadn't.  Maybe it would have kept her out of prison.

Using the money theyíd acquired, he got Lita the best lawyer they could afford. It helped that she was a minor and had no prior criminal history. Even when that Thanis girl gave evidence against Lita, the lawyer was able to twist it so that Lita wasnít charged with murder. Lucky for her, she was charged as a youthful offender.  Lita was sentenced to seven years, with the possibility of probation after completing five.

 

The shock of seeing Lita behind bars was enough for Billy; he decided he'd better straighten himself out and got a legitimate job. He even went to night school, determined to give his cousin a safe home when she got out.  

Billy went to see Lita often--well, what was left of her, anyway. His conscience nagged at him each time he visited.

Luckily, she didnít allow her rage to get the best of her while incarcerated. She didnít kill anyone in prison, surprisingly enough.

When she was going to be released, he asked her to come live with him. Maybe he could get her some kind of help.  He owed her that.

Watching from the porch of their small house, he noticed Litaís blonde hair was a mess and she looked like hell.  He struggled to suppress his disappointment. God, didn't she know how easy it would be for her to go back to prison?

"Billy," she started, as she stepped on the porch. "Don't look so worried.  I was just out having some fun." She entered the house, smiling as she passed him.

"What were you doing?" He folded his arms across his chest, clutching his half-eaten bag of potato chips in his right hand and marching behind her.

"Paying a visit to an old friend.  But she wasn't home."

"Who were you visiting," he asked, before it dawned on him what he said. "You didn't!  Lita, your release specifically states that you can't have any contact with that Thanis woman!"

"Gotcha," she laughed, throwing her hands in the air. "I was trying to find work." She snatched the bag of potato chips from his hand. "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a job when your last address was a correctional institution?"

"Where have you been all night?"

"William Theodore Tomlinson, I went to the beach after looking for work. Then I fell asleep on the jetties. Is that okay with you?  Would you like to attach an ankle monitor?" She snarled, stalking towards him as she continued. "Are you my new warden, William?"

Billy stared into her stony brown eyes, feeling like a deer caught in headlights. "I was just worried about you, Lita," he responded softly. He hoped she was telling the truth.

Lita stared at Billy, half-tempted to smack him across the room. She decided he wasnít worth the effort. Since her dear cousin started traipsing down the road of redemption, he was such a drag. Well, as long as he didn't get in her way, she didn't care. If so, she smiled to herself, I can take care of problems.  I know how to do that.

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

Abigail stayed the night with Jack. "Just as well," Christina muttered as she boarded her makeshift houseboat.

The cool breeze from the Gulf ran through her jet-black hair. It felt good, being out here. As she stared into the velvet sky, she could almost believe what they said during the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings about not regretting the past.

She settled into her cabin. Abigailís warm smile filled her mind as she drifted off to sleep.

The morning sun settled on Christinaís face as she jerked awake. Her nightmares never let her sleep too long. Sleep was a trade-off for her. Life was a nightmare of self-recrimination and destruction before she got sober.

Exiting her boat, she began running as painful memories came rushing back to her.

She was eleven when her father committed suicide, after depleting the family savings gambling. He left behind a wife and three children to make the transition from suburbia to the inner city.

All three kids tried to help with the family income. David was fourteen and worked under the table at a restaurant as a dishwasher; she and Lenny ran a paper route. It wasnít much, but her mother, who had to work two jobs, needed all the help she could get.

Like a bolt of lightening, she again saw his face and heard the pop as the gun went off. She could still feel the weight of Lenny in her arms as she cradled him. It was a senseless, random act of violence. And it changed everything.

She was still holding him when help arrived, fighting the paramedics from taking him away from her. Only when they convinced her she could ride in the ambulance did she allow access to his body. Though she didnít want to believe it, she knew he was dead.

Just like her father.

The rage swelled in her as she began terrorizing the kids at school. It wasnít long before she was expelled for fighting. Soon her rage cooled and became a calculating tool. She remembered the moves her father taught her about defense and offense. He was a decent karate practitioner Ė it just didnít capture him the way the cards did. No matter. Her family would never be in danger again.

Sheíd had her share of fights in the neighborhood. Danny, the leader of the neighborhood gang, took her independence as a personal insult and challenged her. It was a stupid mistake. He never stood a chance. She exchanged blow for blow with him until he pulled a switchblade. That was when the tide changed. A cascade of images flooded her mind as cold fury seeped in. Finding her father in the den, the gun still warm in his hand; her brother, smiling and laughing one minute...before she knew it, she blocked the knife thrust and smashed her fist into the Dannyís face. He collapsed at her feet. She landed on him gleefully, driving her right knee into his abdomen. Before she realized it, she grabbed his head and twisted. That was all it took.

Power coursed through her like a drug. It wasnít long before a two-bit con man that ran an underage-fighting ring heard about her. Mr. A. showed her the money that could be made, fighting for him. With her mother struggling just to pay bills, let alone, put food on the table, it wasnít a tough choice. Besides, the only time sheíd really felt alive since Lenny died was when she fought.

Things got worse at home. She and her mother were constantly at odds about this ill-gotten money. Finally, the lines in the sand were drawn so that mother and daughter were complete strangers. Mr. A. helped her get a room above the gym where she trained.

The consequences of her life were slowly catching up to her. She began drinking, celebrating her victories. As her victories became death sentences for her opponents, her drinking increased rapidly. Blackouts were becoming common for her. In the morning, as she emerged from an alcohol-induced fog, she often discovered different women in her bed with no recollection of how they got there.

She was drowning and knew she needed to get out of the fighting business. Thank God for Owen. Owen was an attractive man with dark brown hair and chestnut eyes. He was also an on-again, off-again boyfriend of Mr. Aís. The more Mr. A. bragged about his star fighter, the more Owen was interested in meeting her.

Owen was likeable enough, with his quick wit and openness. He told her she reminded him of his sister. She took that as a compliment, not realizing he was referring to her drinking. Often, he came to visit after a fight, where he found her drunk more than once. Since alcohol was no longer doing its job, she was drunk almost all the time, trying to drown the memories of her father and Lenny.

Mr. A was struggling to keep her out of jail. With the attention it was beginning to draw from his more "influential" friends, she was becoming a problem.

The alcohol ceased numbing the intense pain she felt. While drunk, she admitted one night, "I need to stop. I gotta stop all of this." She hugged the porcelain god who resided in her bathroom. Shame and remorse filled her as her tears stubbornly refused to fall.

Owen looked at her with that lopsided smile of his. "The question is, Kayleigh, do you really want to stop?"

She lifted her head from the toilet where sheíd been depositing her drinks. "Yeah," she coughed, "I really do."

Owen regarded her, careful not to intrude in her space. "Then letís talk about it in the morning, before youíve had your next drink."

The next morning came and she felt the same way. He promised heíd help her, not just to get sober, but to get out.

It wasnít hard for Owen to convince Mr. A. to cut his losses with Kayleigh; her drinking was totally out of hand. Mr. A. informed Owen that heíd already considered what he needed to do to take care of Kayleigh. Relenting under pressure, Mr. A. gave Owen until midday to make Kayleigh go away.

Owen moved Kayleigh to a halfway house in Pinkston, Florida, and offered her a job in his restaurant on the beach. He revealed to Kayleigh that his sister was an alcoholic that died from cirrhosis of the liver. He was going to give Kayleigh a chance his sister never had.

Detox was hard. Faces of those she killed always crept into her sleep, trying to drive her back to the bottle.

Owen introduced her to a friend who attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She realized how lucky she was, having a friend like Owen. After sheíd been sober a little while and had saved some money, she asked him if she could buy his old houseboat on payments. It was a beat-up ex-shrimp boat he was only too happy to sell.

As she was getting sober, she decided to legally change her name. She never wanted to be Kayleigh "Special K" Karapapous again. Taking her first name from her mother and her last name from her father, she became Christina Stavros.

She returned from her run. As usual, she was anxious to get to work. Anything to drive these memories from her mind. She stayed in the shower, forever it seemed, trying to wash the memories and blood clean from her. No matter how she scrubbed, she always felt dirty.

Chapter 2

Beginning her Saturday morning routine as the kitchen manager, Christina opened the restaurant. She prepared the Prep and Pull list for the Cooksí line and began pulling stock for the Serversí line. Glimpses of Abigailís infernally perky smile and petite, well-muscled frame flashed through her mind. She frowned as she remembered Abigailís problems, feeling a twinge of anger that someone would want to hurt her co-worker.

A knock on the back door brought her back to the present as she realized it was time for the a.m. prep cook to arrive. She peered through the peephole and saw a slender black woman of medium height, dressed in a white button-up shirt and black slacks, putting out her cigarette as she waited for the door to open. "Morning, Sam."

"Morning," she announced, stepping inside. "Got my prep list ready?"

"Yeah," she replied as Samantha washed her hands. "Look, youíre gonna run the line today."

"You want me to call the wheel? You training someone?"

Christina looked sheepish as she answered. "Actually, Iím working fryer end through lunch." She paused, moving away. "Maggieís on cold table."

"Youíre wrong for that," Samantha laughingly responded. "Chicken!"

"Hey," Christina laughed along with her, "I get to hear that wonderful mantra every day! Time for me to share the wealth."

"Uh huh." As Samantha walked into the stockroom, Christina could hear her mimicking Maggie. Maggie was a good, dependable worker Ė even fun sometimes. But, God, did she love to complain! "Mah back hurts, mah shoulder hurts. Oh Lordy! Yíall done worked me now! Ah got to sit down! Mah knee hurts!"

Christina hollered to Samantha, "Ya know, I could let her call the wheel. We could take orders from her today."

Samantha appeared from out of the stockroom with a smile. "Hey, that ainít such a bad idea, girl!"

The morning progressed quickly as the workers arrived, setting up their areas for lunch. Christina was surprised. Not one call in on a Saturday! That hadnít happened in a while.

Lunch was busier than usual, due to tourist traffic.

"Ha HAH!"

Christina looked at the other end of the Cooksí Line. Maggie was slapping Samantha on the back. "Here it comes," she murmured to herself. "Better her than me."

"Yíall done worked me tu-DAY! Gul, my shoulder hurts! Oh Lordy! Yíall gonna be the death of me! Ah need me a quick puff!"

Samantha looked at Christina, trying to hide a smile as Maggie rounded the corner to the breakroom.

"You goiní fishiní today," Samantha inquired as she cleaned the flat grill.

Christina filtered the first fryer as she answered. "Yeah. You coming?"

"Nah, my old man wants us to go visit his family."

"Aw, come on...you know you would rather fish!" While the grease pumped back into the fryer, she turned off the next one and frowned at Samantha to show her disappointment.

"Yeah, but I donít want to sleep with the fish!" Samantha wiped the sweat off of her brow with the back of her hand and got the attention of the hostess.

"Hey, Theresa, how Ďbout getting us some tea when you get a chance?"

"So youíre gonna make me fish by myself, huh?" Christina finished the last fryer and began cleaning the grooved grill.

Theresa placed the silver tumblers of sweet tea in the pass-through window. "Thanks, Theresa." Samantha grabbed the tumblers from the window.

"Here." Samantha set the tea within Christinaís reach.

"Look hon, you might like to sleep with the fish, but Iíd rather have my old man!" She laughed as she began making her stock list.

Maggie rounded the corner and returned to the Cooksí line. "Ah canít buh-lieve yíall gonna leave me! Mah shoulder hurts me, mah back hurts. Oh Lordy, Ahím too old for all this!"

"Hey, Jackíll be here to help you. Heís coming in at three." Christina kept her mouth shut, trying not to laugh.

"Jack, huh? That scrawny little boy can watch the line. Ahím gonna do prep," she exclaimed as she left the line again.

It seemed like it took forever to get their cleaning done, take care of the orders, and get their stations restocked. Finally, they saw Jack walk in the door and they smiled at him.

"How do you spell relief," Samantha asked. "J-A-C-K!"

"Yeah, yeah," he replied as he clocked in. "Hey Christina, can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Sure." Christina stepped into the walkway beside Jack.

"Abbyís off until tomorrow night." He swallowed and looked upward. "She, um, would never ask herself, but, um, do you, well," he stammered.

"Spit it out, Jack."

"Can you like, let her tag along with you or something? I donít think she ought to be alone right now." Jack looked at Christina and looked away.

"Does she fish?"

"What?" Jack looked at Christina in confusion.

"Does she fish? Iím going fishing."

"Look," he said, scribbling on an old order ticket. "Hereís my number. I had her drop me off. Why donít you call her and see?"

 

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

Christina and Abigail walked to her houseboat from the restaurant. Even as short as the walk was, Christina felt self-conscious in her smelly work clothes around Abigail. She could just imagine the grease and sweat wafting towards Abigail, with no one else to blame it on.

As they approached the houseboat, Abigail thought about the houseboats sheíd seen in the Florida Keys. They were pretty inventive, like this one. "Shack on a rack" was what sheíd heard a local call them. Each one was unique, with a lot of character. This one had character, all right! The sky-blue cabin was a wooden oval; it looked like it had been extended three feet from its original length. The front windshield had been exchanged for windows that could open and close, with throw rings hanging below them. She looked for the trawler lines, knowing this was a retired shrimp boat, but didnít find them. Instead, she noted a downrigger on the right rear side and a grill hooked on the rear left, with two deck chairs barely visible. Deep blue paint with pink trim on the rear of the boat against faded white made the name stand out.

"You live on the Lessie Mae?"

"Hey, sheís seaworthy," Christina defended, misinterpreting the look on Abigailís face. "I just know youíre not dissing my boat."

"Oh no, I wouldnít dream of doing that," Abigail hastily replied. "Are we taking her out?"

"Not too far. Storms seem to kick up on the Gulf pretty quick this time of year. I donít like to take unnecessary chances."

"Great! Itís been a long time since I was out on the water."

"Let me take a quick shower and Iíll be right out. Make yourself at home. "

Abigail could feel the rumbling of her stomach, informing her it didnít like being ignored. "I could fix lunch for us. I bet she hasnít eaten all day." She found everything she needed in the small kitchen relatively easy.

As she heard Christina emerging from the separate room, she finished making the salad and sandwiches. "I hoped you wouldnít mind. You did say to make myself at home."

Abigail could feel herself reacting to seeing Christinaís perfectly tanned, muscular legs for the first time; as her eyes traveled, she sighed involuntarily. Christina was wearing an old pair of jean shorts and a cut off tee shirt, revealing a slender runnerís frame.

Christina sat at the small breakfast nook, raising her right eyebrow as she felt Abigailís gaze upon her. "No, this is great. You all right?"

"Well, I was kind of hungry." Iím fine, her mind snickered. Not as fine as you are, but Iím fine!

Christina figured Abigail couldnít be flirting with her, so she decided to let it pass. "Is that what that noise was? I thought my water pump was going bad," she joked as she ate the salad.

Abigail laughed for a moment, then her face became somber. "I guess youíre wondering why I was so freaked out last night." She drank her water to avoid looking at Christina.

"Hey," Christina replied softly, "thatís your business. Itís up to you."

"Well," Abigail began slowly.

"Come on," Christina interrupted, sensing Abigailís uneasiness. "Letís finish lunch and get going, alright? The sun wonít last forever. If you want to talk about it, fine. If not, donít worry about it, okay?"

Abigail looked a little relieved. "Okay. So where are we headed?"

"With the water so clear, weíll need to take the channel out to the bird racks left of the first marker. High tide will be rolling in around six tonight, so that gives us time to get there and have a good shot at catching dinner. Have you gone fishing out here much?"

"I used to. That was a long time ago. Never had much luck."

"Well, hopefully, weíll be eating some speckled trout this evening! You ready?"

"Yeah."

Christina took them out past the last channel marker and towards the bird rack while Abigail relaxed in the cabin. Abigail could feel her anxieties slip away as she smelled the salty air. Before she knew it, she was dozing lightly.

Christina stuck her head in a cabin window. "Hey, Abigail, come on out here. You canít catch fish from there!"

Shaking herself awake, Abigail stepped out of the small cabin and onto the deck. A pole was thrust in her direction. "Shrimp or lure?"

"Shrimp, please."

"Here," she said, handing Abigail a piece of frozen shrimp and a hook. "Thereís enough room for both of us to fish from back here. Have a seat." Christina cast her line.

"I hope Iím not ruining your afternoon, Christina." Abigail attached the hook to the leader already tied to the line and impaled the shrimp on her hook.

"Where did that come from?" She sat in one of the deck chairs and propped her feet up on the red cooler. "I asked you along because I think youíre nice and I enjoy your company. So youíve got problems. Who doesnít? Címere and take a load off. Thereís some water and some of those V-8 Twisters in the blue cooler if you get thirsty."

"Okay," she replied, propping her feet up on the blue cooler in front of her chair. "Iíve gotta ask you something, though. Most people I know that like to fish also like to drink."

"Yeah, well, I have an allergic reaction to alcohol. I break out in a drunk." She smiled sardonically as she slowly reeled her line.

"You break out in a drunk? Youíre an alcoholic?"

"Yeah." Christina flicked her line slightly.

"Oh." Abigail shifted uncomfortably. "Wow. I never would have thought you were an alcoholic. I never even knew you drank."

"Well, thatís because Iím a recovering alcoholic." Christina decided to change the subject. "What about you, Abigail?"

"Oh, my story." She paused for a moment, promising herself she wouldnít fall apart. "A few years ago, a friend of mine named Mike was killed. Jack and I came across the scene as it happened. It was horrible. I tried everything I could to make her stop, but she just wouldnít. Jack couldnít stop her, either." She took a deep breath. "She was arrested and blames me for it. Her lawyer argued that since she was there alone with Jack, Mike, and me, she could have been trying to protect herself. That threw the murder charge out the window."

"She go to jail?"

"Yeah. She was charged with manslaughter."

"Man. How old were you when all this went down?"

"Barely eighteen."

"It must have been hard for you." Christina tried to push down the images flashing before her of those fighters she killed and the shame that followed.

"Mike was my best friend. My parents put me in therapy for a while."

"Why arenít you staying with your family with all thatís going on?"

Abigail fidgeted slightly. "They moved a couple of years ago. I wanted to spread my wings."

Christina noticed Abigailís bobber disappearing, the current conversation lost in the possibility of catching fish. "Hey, youíve got a bite!"

"Take it, take it," Abigail exclaimed excitedly. She jerked the pole hard to the right, trying to set the hook.

"Ease up, Abigail, youíll rip it out of his mouth. Let your line slack for a minute, give him a chance." Abigail stopped trying to reel. "Now drop the tip of your rod. Look, heís playing with you again. Let him have it."

Abigail tried not to jerk on the line. She hated fishing with bobbers. Visual stimulus always caused her to overreact!

"Ya got him! Reel him in." Christina grabbed the fishing net and looked appreciatively over the side of the boat. "Yeah, heís a nice size trout." She smiled at Abigail. "Well, at least we know one of us eats tonight!"

Scooping him out of the water with the net, she quickly unhooked him and measured him. "Seventeen and a half inches! Way to go," she congratulated Abigail, putting the trout in the red cooler.

The two women continued fishing, conversing in between catches. Fortunately, it appeared to be feeding time for the fish and they caught four more legal size trout. As the soft, pink rays of sun began to caress the clear Gulf waters, Christina decided it was time to head for dock.

Once she had her houseboat secured in its slip, Christina began cleaning the fish in her little kitchen. "Hey, Iím really glad you came along. It was fun."

"Yeah, me too. It was a lot better than sitting around, waiting for Jack to get off work."

Christina washed the fillets and placed them in a bowl. "I can imagine. How long have you guys been together?"

Abigail choked on her water. "Me and Jack?" She sputtered, laughing loudly. "Oh no, not us! Weíre just good friends."

"Oh. Iím sorry, I just assumed you guys were an item. I see you guys together all the time."

"Well, weíre more like brother and sister. Believe me, he is not my type."

"Sorry. Didnít mean to start any static with you." She seasoned the fish, backing off from the question she really wanted to ask. "I usually put these on the grill out by the seats so I can enjoy the sunset. You feel like joining me outside?"

"Iíd love to."

As they stepped back onto the deck, Abigail was taken in by the beauty of moment. The light blue sky cascaded with colors as the sun slowly crept below the horizon, leaving behind a web of pink and gray. As Christina stood at the railing, a soft, rosy hue outlined her deeply tanned body, emphasizing her towering, well-toned frame. "Wow."

"Great, isnít it," Christina commented, firing up the gas grill. "I love it out here." She placed the fish in a wire basket with vegetables and put the basket on the grill.

Talk about totally missing the point! Abigail smiled, her eyes lingering appreciatively. "I know youíre not from here. What brings you to this neck of the woods?"

"Owen offered me an opportunity to work my way into management," she answered, trying to sound noncommittal.

"You guys close?"

"Weíre friends, if thatís what youíre asking."

"Heís a nice guy, you know."

"Heís my friend. Heís my boss. Thatís as far as it goes."

"Heís a good-looking, nice guy." Abigail continued fishing for a response that would reaffirm the hit on her gaydar.

"So is Jack," she smirked, flipping the fish basket. "And heís not your boss."

Abigail smiled. "He is cute. But heís not for me."

"Uh-huh. "

Abigail cleared her throat. "Those fish. Arenít they about ready?"

As dinner progressed, Christina found herself more and more enchanted with Abigail. The way the light danced around her strawberry-blonde hair, her verdant eyes reflecting off the water, and that beautiful smile that flashed upon her face--it was really beginning to affect her.

Christina tried to discount the feelings stirring inside her. Maybe it was just a good day fishing!

Staring across the table into those beautiful sea-green eyes, Christina tried to ignore the heat radiating from her body. The magnetic pull of Abigailís soft, pink lips seem to capture her. As leaned across the table, she caught herself.

"Uh," she stammered aloud, breaking the mood. "Let me get your plate." She moved away from Abigail quickly. "You want some coffee or something?"

"Sure, coffeeís fine," Abigail answered.

Abigail reflected as the moon danced upon the water. The way that Christina leaned across the table, staring at her...she would love to find out how soft those lips were! An image of Lita Tomlinson intruded, bringing clarity to her mind. Damn it all! Iíve got too much going on for this.

Christina appeared with two cups of coffee. "I didnít know how you liked it, so I brought some cream and sugar packs. Here," she said, offering Abigail her cup.

"Thanks."

"Abigail," Christina began, smiling as she watched Abigail doctor her coffee. "Iíve really enjoyed your company."

"Me, too," Abigail answered shyly.

"Well, I hate to say it," Christina continued, drinking her coffee and trying to act more casual than she felt. "But itís getting late. If youíre going to call Jack to pick you up, then youíd better do it."

"Yeah, the time just kind of slipped away, didnít it?" Abigail smiled, glancing into Christinaís azure eyes. "Do you have a phone on the boat?"

"Iíve got my c-phone. Let me get it for you."

As Christina went to get her c-phone, Abigail tried to think logically about the situation. She wasnít looking forward to leaving. Actually, she would like to stay as long as Christina would let her. She rolled her eyes and groaned inwardly. Damn that Lita Tomlinson!

"Here ya go," Christina stopped, noticing the look on Abigailís face. "Hey, whatís going on?" She could feel herself longing to comfort Abigail, but she refrained and handed her the phone instead.

"Itís nothing. Just time to go, you know?" Forcing a smile, Abigail flipped the phone open and dialed the restaurant. "I had a great time."

"Yeah. Me too." Christina went into the cabin to give Abigail some privacy. Before she knew what she was doing, she invited Abigail fishing for the next day.

Maybe being friends with Abigail wasnít such a hot idea after all. It was confusing, these emotions that surfaced around the strawberry blonde. She felt like a moth drawn to a flame.

Chapter 3

 

Lita left Billy at home. It was good to be away from him. He just wasnít fun anymore.

The old streets were crawling with life. The people that remembered her nodded as she passed by. She noticed that the crack house wasnít a crack house anymore. Now it was what, some kind of shelter? What a useless proposition!

"Andrew," she said grabbing the man trying to pass her. "You wouldnít to ignore an old friend, would you?"

Andrew tried to compose himself. Heíd heard Lita was out and had been trying to avoid her. Heíd really been trying to turn his life around.

"Andrew," she purred in his ear, nibbling as she pulled him close. "Are you avoiding me?"

Two baser emotions warred within him. Fear beat lust every time, where Lita was concerned. "No, Lita."

"Well, I never heard from you while I was away." She slipped her right hand under his left elbow, using her thumb to hold his elbow in place and her middle finger to apply pressure to his nerves. He tried not to react from the pain. "You havenít even called me since Iíve been out." She stood in front of him, pouting as she applied more pressure. "That isnít very nice, Andrew."

"Youíre right, Lita." He gingerly removed her right hand, holding it in a more loving fashion than he felt. "I am sorry."

"I canít imagine what could have kept you from calling me."

Thereís my sanity, he wanted to scream aloud. My new life! But he knew all too well what Lita was capable of. "Iím sorry, Lita. I was just thoughtless."

"Donít let it happen again." She began walking, taking him with her. "Where is everyone?"

"The gang?"

"Who else," she asked, laughing as she backhanded him in his diaphragm.

He momentarily gasped for air. She definitely hadnít lost her edge. "We split up after all that happened with you. Everyone just did their own thing."

She snatched his chin around to look at her. As her caramel eyes penetrated his gray ones, she hissed at him. "Find a few of them for me, Andrew. I want to see them tonight, at the jetties. You know how I am when people disappoint me."

Andrew tried to rub the soreness out of his chin as she turned away. Yeah, this is what I get for joining a gang.

He thought he was free of this mess when she got sentenced. And hell, it had been five years. People change. Evidently, not her. "Guess she doesnít subscribe to that philosophy."

Damn! Now he had to go to all of his old haunts and scare up some people. He thought he had left all that behind.

Originally, he joined Litaís gang because he was attracted to her. Andrew wanted to impress her and would do anything for her. That was before he learned to think with something other than his loins. The desire he felt for her quickly eroded after he watched her callously break her cousinís leg and bust his nose. Heíd seen her do worse things, but he always thought family was supposed to be exempt. Not to her. It was about that time he decided enough was enough.

Yeah, right. Fear and intimidation were great motivators. After she snapped someoneís neck in front of him, he decided he could live with her imperfections. At least heíd live.

He thought heíd caught a lucky break when she went to prison. The way her temper was, he didnít think sheíd ever be out. He expected her to go on a killing spree ---actually, he hoped she would. Then sheíd never be free.

Grimly, he rubbed his sore elbow. Andrew knew the score. He knew he should have left town when he had the chance.

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

It was another beautiful day on the Gulf when Jack dropped Abigail off at the marina. Christina wanted to get an early start, since Abigail had to work in the evening.

"Good morning," Abigail announced cheerfully as she boarded the Lessie Mae.

"Morning," Christina replied, keeping her back to Abigail as she fixed some fishing poles.

"I brought some breakfast from Mickey Dís." Abigail set a McDonaldís bag and a cup of coffee down on the deck next to Christina.

"Thanks." Christina turned and smiled at Abigail. It was then that she noticed her. Abigail was wearing a pink bikini top, complemented by an open, oversized blue button-up shirt, showing off her wonderful abdomen and flat stomach, which seemed to melt into a loose fitting pair of blue running shorts. It was hard not to stare.

"So where are we headed today?"

Christina forced herself to look Abigail in the eyes. Big mistake!

Abigail waved her hand in front of Christinaís face. "Yoo hoo, anyone home?"

She snapped out of her daze. "What?"

"Fishing today, remember?"

"Oh yeah," she laughed, taking too big a gulp of hot coffee. She sputtered and spit it out over the side. "íScuse me."

"Are you alright?" Abigail walked over to Christina, who was desperately trying to compose herself.

"Yeah." Just had something stuck in my eye, she thought as she walked away from Abigail. You know, like your body. "I figure weíll head out like we did yesterday."

"Sounds good."

"Why donít you get yourself situated," Christina asked as she started the engine. "Iíll take us on out."

Abigail yawned, revealing a rippling of muscles in her arms and chest. "Mind if I lay down?"

Christina painfully wrenched her mind out of the gutter. "No, not at all. Take the bed while I get us out there."

Focusing on the water ahead, Christina took them out past the last channel marker. Fishing, she reminded herself, thatís what weíre here for! Fishing!

She searched for a good spot. Since it was Sunday, and a pretty day to boot, there were plenty of other people on the water. Taking the boat out to the man-made reef, she decided to drop anchor when her fish finder went off like an alarm clock.

A sleepy voice emerged from her cabin. "Ugh. Time to get up already?"

"Thatís up to you, sleepyhead."

"Be there in a minute. Whereís your bathroom?" Looking to her right, she answered before Christina had a chance to respond. "Never mind."

Christina opened her rod closet and grabbed a small, stiff fishing pole. "Iíll be outside." She reached into her icebox and grabbed a box of frozen squid.

As Abigail went on deck, she noticed how invisible the shoreline appeared. "Wow. Weíre way out."

"Canít catch grouper close in." She affixed the bait to Abigailís line and handed her the pole. "Donít worry about casting; just drop your line."

"How far offshore are we?"

"About seven miles." Christina put some bait on her down rigger and let the line out.

Christina sat in her chair, oblivious to the nervousness that Abigail was experiencing. Sheíd spent the better part of the morning trying to convince herself she was not that attracted to the woman sleeping in her bed. "Let your line out, Abigail. Fish only jump on deck after youíve caught them."

Abigail laughed, trying to hide her fear. "Yeah."

Noting something wrong in Abigailís tone, Christina turned around. "What is it?"

"Nothing." Abigail leaned over the railing.

"Did you get sick? Are you seasick?" Christina wondered about that because the sea was actually quite calm.

"Uh, no." Abigailís face looked pale.

Uh oh. Christina knew what the problem was. Abigail probably didnít like to have land out of sight. "You know what? Iím gonna reel in. Then weíll go inland and fish for trout again. Owen will be breathing down my neck if I got you sick out here, with you having to work tonight."

Abigail felt a little guilty, but not enough to protest. Besides, she wanted to see land. Land was good to see from the water.

Christina startled her out of her rationale. "Hey, wanna learn to drive this thing?"

"What?"

Damn, am I speaking Greek or something today? Christina smiled reassuringly as she retrieved the anchor. "Sometimes, I let Sam drive when we go out. So whadda ya say?"

"Um, I think Iíll pass this time."

"All right. But why donít you stay out here? Iíll bring us in shallow waters in no time."

Abigail paused for a moment, then sat down.

"Hey, hand me that pole and Iíll put it away."

Christina took the fishing pole from Abigail and headed inland. Trying not to cause Abigail any more stress, she drove slowly, avoiding pounding the bottom of the boat against the water. When the boat passed the bird racks, she decided it was close enough. Land was in sight.

"Hey out there!"

Abigail stood up and turned to face the helm. "Hey yourself!"

"Iíve got some hits on my fish finder. You ready?"

"Sure!" Abigail was relieved to see land, staring her in the face.

"What time to do you work today?" Christina came out of the cabin with the fishing poles they used the day before, handing one to Abigail.

"Five to close."

Christina almost asked if she would be spending the night with Jack, but thought better of it. "Letís just use this squid."

"Okay." Abigail took a piece of the squid Christina cut for her, while Christina took her squid from the downrigger.

With their baits hopefully tempting some fish, they put their rods into the rod holders and settled into the chairs. When Abigail removed her blue shirt, Christina found she had to force herself to look away. Sure, she had noticed the firm muscles in Abigailís arms when she retrieved her orders from the pass-through window, but who would have thought her whole body looked like that!

Continued in Part II....

 

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