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Legal Disclaimers: If these characters were named Xena and Gabrielle, and if this story were set in ancient Greece... then some lawyers might be unhappy with me. As it is, I think I'm safe... but just to be sure-- I'm not making any money off this. Please don't sue. All I have is a small brown dog and a computer. You can have the dog. Cheap.

Love/Sex Disclaimer: This is a story involving the sometimes intensely-depicted sexual relationship between two members of the same sex. It is not recommend for anyone under the emotional or chronological age of 21. If this is an issue for you, please don't go here.

Violence Disclaimer: This Uber tale is set in the modern day world of drug dealers and law enforcement. There is violence, blood and a little gore. Not exactly Tarantino country, however. More like Scorsese.

Language Disclaimer: Lunacy mentioned this in her initial review, so I'll tack a little note up as well. In keeping with its setting, the language is sometimes harsh. You don't really expect a drug dealer to say "Oh phooey" do you?

Last Words, I Promise Disclaimer: "Lucifer Rising" first appeared on the web in a serialized fashion. However, when it was all said and done, there were a few things that didn't exactly thrill me about it. So, I took it down and tinkered with it. Some scenes have been expanded, others streamlined, still others moved. All-in-all, however, the reading experience shouldn't be that much different. Just smoother, I hope. (No I didn't change the ending, but I thought about it. *g*) Thank everyone for being patient with me. I know there were quite a few of you who were in the middle of reading it when I took it down. Ooops... Well, here it is... finally. I'd recommend starting over, just so we're all on the same page. Thanks again.

As always, questions, comments and other things are welcome at:

Chapter 14

This can't be happening...

It was the sole thought in both women's minds as they stood, shocked into a frozen tableau by the unexpected confrontation. The gun was cold against the base of Liz's neck, but no colder than the fear that gripped her belly. Starting there, it worked its way rapidly through her whole body, the icy fear replacing the pulse of warm blood through her veins. By rights, her heart should have stopped beating; but it continued on, steadfastly determined to see this through. If she met her end at Jude's hands, she thought in a wildly disoriented part of her mind, it was somehow appropriate. This was the gamble she had taken-- that she could make Jude love her enough so that the truth ultimately wouldn't matter. It seemed now that she had lost. In the surreal silence that enveloped them, she mourned. Not for the life she stood to lose, but instead for the death of this gossamer connection she had made, for the part of the dark woman's soul she was killing with this betrayal.

The barrel of the Sig nudged her, and the voice demanded again. "So? Tell me why I shouldn't kill you?"

Liz licked her suddenly dry lips, still staring at the computer screen. "It's not--" The world careened crazily as she found herself jerked from the leather chair and flung carelessly against the far wall. She landed hard against the corner of a small table that sat between the easy chairs, and the wood dug into the soft flesh between her shoulder blades. Trying to shake off the impact, she warily opened her eyes.

And saw the ruins of Jude's soul in the barren wasteland of those austere blue eyes.

The woman looming over her was every nightmare story she had heard about the Archangel personified. This was the woman whom the DEA had created, betrayed, and now wanted destroyed. The sweet lover who had offered Liz her soul in a trembling hand had vanished. She realized with a sinking heart that what was standing in its place was far, far worse than the fallen angel she loved.

"Don't," Jude warned dangerously, leaning down to fix Liz's terrified gaze on hers. "Don't tell me I didn't see you hacking into my computer, downloading the files. I'm obviously a fucking idiot, but I'm not blind."

"Let me explain." Liz's mind was frantically racing, wondering how on earth she could explain. She had planned this so differently-- it wasn't supposed to be like this. Everything was supposed to work out between them. Her original goal had been long abandoned, and any thoughts she had entertained of writing an expose had vanished with the discovery of this extraordinary woman. A part of her heart cried out that this wasn't fair, not when they were so close...

So close to what? What did I think I could honestly build on a lie?

Jude was speaking, and Liz braced herself for the invective sure to follow. "Who are you? You're not a Fed," Jude snarled, shaking her head. "Feds don't fuck their targets." She waited a beat, then added. "At least not with such enthusiasm." She cocked her head, seeming to consider her options. "You working for Massala?" She arched an inquiring brow, pressing the Sig's muzzle solidly between Liz's eyes.

"No," Liz rasped. Although her thoughts were tumbling over each other in their haste to race across her mind, she found herself curiously unable to speak.

"Who then?"

"Nobody." Because the Sig filled her line of vision, she never saw the blow coming. Jude backhanded the smaller woman sharply across the face, splitting her lip.

"DON'T YOU LIE TO ME!!!!!" Jude's fingers clenched themselves in the material of Liz's shirt, and she yanked the reporter painfully to her feet.

Liz shook her head woozily, vividly aware that Jude's control was shattering. If she escaped with only a split lip and some bruises, most people would consider her lucky. "I don't know if I could ever raise a hand to you..." Jude's words of a few days ago came flooding back to the reporter. She forced her eyes back to Jude's and saw the stunned expression in the blue.

It was as if the blow reminded Jude of those very words, for her fingers unwrapped their hold on Liz's shirtfront, and her head dropped wearily. "Just tell me," she requested dully, rubbing her forehead as if in great pain.

"I'm a reporter for the Herald."

The betrayal was laid bare in those few words. She knew to Jude's mind, a reporter from the Miami Herald could only want one thing from her, and it wasn't the dark woman's heart. Six words and everything that had happened between them became a lie.

A strangled laugh escaped from Jude's throat as she backed away from her lover. "A reporter?" she echoed incredulously. "You did all this for a fucking story?" As the truth sank into Jude's shattered soul, she paced away from Liz. When she turned back, the reporter noticed the graceful and predatory gleam in those pale blue eyes. "Congratulations, querida," she murmured low in her throat. "You've done what the Feds, the networks and the news rags couldn't. You got the whole story," she intoned tauntingly. "Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. What more could you want?" she sneered. Liz was reminded of that night on the porch, when she had first seen her lover's dark heart. "So tell me-- what does your public want to know?" Her voice dropped to a dangerously sensual purr. "Are you going to tell them what it felt like to be inside me? What I taste like? What I smell like?" She stalked closer to her lover, and Liz couldn't stop the shiver of fear-based arousal from running through her. Long fingers reached out to softly stroke the reporter's face. "You know, I can still smell you on my fingers." She traced the outline of the smaller woman's lips, rubbing softly over the tiny cut there. "Is that why you wouldn't let me leave this morning? You wanted to make sure you had all the details right?"

Her eyes were inches away from Liz's, and the reporter frantically searched for any hint of her lover inside. The blue gaze was cruelly devoid of any kindness, and she realized with a sinking heart that Jude's devolution was complete, the woman who touched her now was nothing more than a wildly sensual animal. "Don't..." she pleaded, still hoping for some glimmer of recognition. "Don't make it sound like that..."

"Like what, querida?" Jude asked, a mockingly innocent tone in her voice. "Like it was... research?" She frowned, the words obviously bringing home something she didn't want to hear. Shaking the moment off with a jerk of the dark head, her carnal smile returned. "I suppose that's all it was. But I have to grant you this: you were very thorough." She continued to stroke the smaller woman's face, her fingers occasionally brushing the honey-gold hair.

Liz sensed something desperate in the motions, as if Jude couldn't help trying to reconnect with her lover, despite the lie. Hoping there was something left inside Jude to reach, she leaned her face into the caress. "That's not what it was, Jude. Let me explain..."

The hand that had been tracing the soft curve of Liz's cheek now wrapped itself around the reporter's neck. "Don't. Say. A. Word," she warned quietly, gently squeezing the tender flesh in her hand. "Because now I know that everything that comes out of that beautiful mouth of yours is a lie."

Liz closed her eyes at the pressure, certain that it was finally all over for her. A silent fury began building-- at herself for not simply telling her lover the truth earlier and at Jude for giving in so easily to everything she claimed she wanted to be free from. Suddenly, the pressure at her throat was gone, and she opened her eyes to see Jude backing away from her again, this time towards the door.

There was a desolate sadness in the eyes that held her own, and though her mind cried out in rage that it didn't have to be this way, Liz said nothing.

"I want you out of here by the time I get back," Jude said softly in the growing dusk around them. "And if I ever see one word about any of this in print... Believe me, Elizabeth, I will kill you." Incredibly, the coldness in her eyes thawed a moment, a warm pulse of life flickering there. "No matter how much I might not want to," she added before slipping back into the shadows.

Jude didn't know where she drove or how long, all she was aware of was one echoing refrain in her thoughts-- Make it stop. She wanted it all to stop... the rage, the pain, and-- most of all-- the overwhelming sadness that these wonderful weeks had all been a lie. There would be no redemption now. No reason to reach down inside herself for the will to change.

As if she even could.

She knew now that Elizabeth hadn't seen anything in her worth believing in. Somehow the blond reporter had discovered her weakness-- the void aching with loneliness since Jason's death-- and had exploited it with her sweet smile and accepting eyes. Tell me, Jude... tell me why it hurts. All the times Elizabeth had reached out for her, held her, listened to her, told her it was still okay.

It had all been a lie.

What must she really think of me?

Jude laughed aloud at the absurdity of the thought. Jude had merely been a subject-- someone to be ruthlessly dissected and exposed for the benefit of the greater metropolitan area. Of course, something like this would probably go national. The dark woman wasn't ignorant of the market value on the inside story of the her fall from grace. No matter, she'd put the fear of-- if not God-- then at least of the Archangel into the reporter before she had left. She didn't think Elizabeth would do anything stupid.

Elizabeth... Her body ached thinking of the woman who had tenderly made love to her this morning. This woman had so easily slipped past the agent's formidable defenses and captured the flag of her soul without hesitation. Did she know what she had done?

Stop... just... stop... her mind cried out. Savagely, she downshifted, hurtling the Porsche faster into the falling sun... vainly hoping to be consumed by its dying tendrils.

On the third floor of the Club, behind an entrance well-camouflaged from the paying customers and even the VIPs, was a small suite of rooms-- a bedroom, a bathroom, and an office which had its own entrance. Jude had used these rooms in the past as kind of a rendezvous site for her conquests. It was an efficient set-up, and it kept her playthings from entangling themselves in her "real" life. Now she retreated there, much as a wounded animal might return to a lair long-abandoned to bleed in peace.

Beneath the roar of the shower, she didn't hear her assistant's entrance. The sudden appearance of Sasha's slender form wavily outlined by the clear shower curtain startled her. "What is it, querida?" she asked, standing under the spray. She had been hoping that the pounding water would ease the foggy confusion in her thoughts and wash off the remaining vestiges of her betrayer's touch. She just wanted to forget now-- all of it, her brief time in the light, her birthing love, the dizzying power of Elizabeth's touch on her skin.

"Paul told me he saw you come in," Sasha replied simply. "I didn't think I'd be seeing you again tonight."

Or for the next few days... remained the unspoken end of Sasha's statement.

Jude arched into the spray, conscious of her assistant's lazy perusal of her muscled form through the curtain. The visual liberties that Sasha had always taken with her employer's body had been one of the things she found so appealing about the caramel woman. The defiant fearlessness in her gaze demanded respect. "I changed my mind." The Boxster had seemed to find its own way through the neon streets, leading her here to the Club with its powers of distraction, to Sasha with her burning eyes and fierce hands. Sasha can help... she always has, her mind crooned seductively. She could make Jude forget the horrible pain slicing through her and leaving her soul in tatters.

Flicking the water off and pushing the curtain open with a sweep of her hand; she captured the saffron eyes of her assistant with a frankly sensual glance. A hunger rose in Jude's belly, long-dormant synapses firing at the remembrance of the erotic oblivion she had enjoyed at Sasha's hands. A lazy brow smirked at the slender woman. "Is that a problem?"

Sasha seemed nonplused for a moment, then smiled silkily. "Of course not. It's been a while since you've spent an evening here... for purely personal reasons."

As Jude stepped out of the shower, Sasha automatically handed her one of the thick, white towels stacked on the dressing table. "Dry my back, will you?" Jude asked in lieu of accepting the offering. She heard the sharp intake of her assistant's breath as the tall woman presented her with the bared expanse of her back. Rivulets of water trickled down the slope of her shoulders, tickling the awakening nerve-endings there. Unbidden, the memory of standing before Elizabeth, warm water running down her skin, returned to her. It was an image that rocked Jude with its resonant intensity--  the honey-haired woman resting below her, that perfect mouth driving her powerfully over the edge of release.

And then the towel was blotting away the water, blotting away the memories. Jude shook her head briefly, growling softly at the firm touch of her assistant's hands. "Thanks," she said, stepping away and turning around.

"Anything else?" Sasha asked, the cloth still in her hands.

Two words... thousands of implications. She had taken Sasha like this before. Simply pushed her against the dressing table and spread the slender woman's legs, seizing her pleasure. It was part of their game-- Sasha's torments, Jude's sensual brutality-- each woman deriving their pleasure from the power they wielded over the other. It was an ebb and flow that had never truly gone away, merely transmuted itself into something more acceptable to their new situation. Now, the dark woman felt its seductive pull once more. It had been a long time since she had allowed herself to be so reckless; longer still since she had felt the lithe grip of those thighs draped over her shoulders. She tried to call up the memory of Sasha's taste-- but her senses only responded with the honey-sweet essence of the reporter. That opened the very floodgate Jude wanted most desperately to close. The bone deep sensations of Elizabeth gently painting her scent on Jude's lips-- of the kisses that were flavored by the evidence of their mutual desire-- swept through her relentlessly.

The remembrances brought with them a bitter draught of betrayal, and Jude resolutely shoved the desire for things she couldn't have out of her mind. Still, a restless passion fired her eyes as she smiled sensually at her ex-lover. "Relax, querida. It's going to be long night." A light shudder rippled visibly through Sasha's body, and she realized smugly that she could still bend the icy little executive to her will. This could be fun, she thought, ignoring the stark truth that all her desire was reserved for someone else.

"You're in a mood tonight," Sasha observed, her eyes following Jude as she opened the tiny closet. Ever the pragmatist, Jude had little such stashes of clothing and "supplies" throughout the city. She never knew when she might just need to hole up for a while or make a hasty exit.

"A good mood," Jude corrected.

"You mean a dangerous mood," Sasha murmured, aware Jude's ears wouldn't miss the remark.

Jude tossed a smirk over her shoulder. "Dangerous for some," she replied. "Good for me."

"That's usually the way it works," Sasha agreed, a knowing look in her eye.

The dark woman chose to judiciously ignore the last comment. "What do you think?" She held up two dresses. One was an elegantly simple black dress, with a low-cut bodice and a short skirt that would fall loosely just above Jude's knee. The other was a crimson, crushed velvet number that-- even on the hanger-- looked like it had been conjured up out of an intensely erotic dream.

"The red one," was Sasha's unhesitating response.

Jude chuckled silently at the look in her ex-lover's eye and appraised the recommendation again. The dress was sleeveless, and the thin straps holding it up would allow the fabric to drape gracefully over her breasts, hinting at the beautiful fullness resting underneath. The whole design was a monumental tease-- it would cling to the exquisite length of Jude's body and wrap around her legs with possessive familiarity, stopping just below the knees. A generous slit meandered at an angle across the fabric, allowing both freedom of movement for the wearer and a taunting glimpse of otherwise hidden secrets for those blessed enough to see. It would definitely make a statement, and the longer Jude studied the garment, the more she realized that it was just the statement she wanted to make. "You think?"

"Definitely." Sasha nodded, unknowingly licking her lips.

Jude watched the movement with an inward smile. "Then the red one it is," she decided. Oh yeah... this is gonna be fun, she considered, an amused gleam in her eye. It had been far too long since she had played with her subjects. Everything about tonight-- from the dress that she wore to her presence in the Club and the woman at her side-- would make one singular statement that not even the most ignorant observer could miss.

El Diablo was back.

The evening's revelries were well underway by the time she made her first appearance. A wanton pulse coursed throughout the Club, its patrons unknowingly responding to the wild flame in Jude's blood. Sasha had discreetly advised the disc jockeys and bartenders to "crank it up tonight." So the music was a little more sensual, the drinks a little more effective and the patrons a little more uninhibited as the night reached out its beckoning hand for them.

Jude absorbed the happenings around her with a satisfied curl of her lip. The teeming, seething, writhing masses of people below were her creatures; and she moved smoothly through them, a regal tilt to her head. Vaguely familiar faces hailed her, welcoming her back to her territory with grateful eyes. Men around her nodded, pleased to be basking in the reflected glow of her malevolent grace. Women whose bodies she had possessed-- and those who wished her to do so-- brushed teasingly against her, tempting her senses with their nearness.

A dance, a drink, a tease-- slender arms around her neck, the taste of tequila in her mouth, smoky laughter drifting pleasantly over her ears. All those unwanted thoughts were at last mercifully crushed beneath the ruthless heel of sensory overload. Jude walked among her subjects, the gleam in her eye enticing some and warning others with its ravening strength.

And always... there was Sasha, never more than a swift glance away. The woman had an unerring sense of what Jude needed and gave her ex-lover exactly that, leaving her free to roam, but never completely unattended. The satisfied smirk in her assistant's eye bespoke of her confidence at how this night would end, but others were not so sure of the huntress' intentions. Accordingly, Jude enjoyed the sensual buffet offered-- partaking of the curve of a hip or the herbal sent of a lock of hair. The occasional fleeting caress of a knowing hand brushed her skin, but none were so bold that they sought her mouth with theirs. She prowled among them constantly, looking for something that wasn't in the well-dressed, well-toned bodies on display.

People would talk about that night for months to come and the carnal recklessness that infected them all. Their dark queen had returned, and her subjects reveled in that knowledge. Maybe that's why Jude didn't see her coming at first. She was just another glorious specimen there for her to take or not, as her mood dictated. Something, though-- a flash of honey, a wisp of her essence on the air-- identified itself as that which the hunter had been seeking, and she turned just as Elizabeth stepped directly in front of her.

A slender arm uncoiled powerfully, and there was the harsh sound of a palm striking her face. Her head snapped back at the blow, a trickle of blood beginning from the tiny gash Elizabeth's ring had made in her cheek. The reporter snarled savagely, "First of all: don't ever hit me again." She moved as if to slap Jude again, but the tall woman caught her arm in mid-air.

"Ah-Ah," she warned, easily holding the slim wrist in her grasp. "First one's free, but the next one costs."

Jude knew that the room couldn't be silent... it was too large and there were too many people around her for all of them to have taken notice. But a deafening roar of emptiness filled her ears, and the room narrowed to only the woman in front her. Everything she had been so desperate to forget thrust itself viciously back into her consciousness. The feel of Elizabeth's skin held in hers was almost unbearable in its intensity, even though the woman in front of her was quivering with fury. She knew in that moment that she would never be free of craving this woman's touch, her voice, her body. A furious rage at her helplessness in the face of these emotions rose up inside her. An angry sneer formed on her mouth.

Elizabeth twisted out of her grip, staring at Jude with sparking eyes. "You owe me the chance to explain."

Jude studied her lover icily. "I owe you?"

"Yes," came the resolute answer.

She gestured mockingly. "Then by all means... Explain."

"Jude..." Elizabeth's jaw clenched, and she blinked back the shining brightness suddenly appearing in her eyes. It wasn't a plea; it wasn't a demand... but it was something the dark woman couldn't refuse.

"Follow me," Jude said hoarsely, leading her lover up the winding stairs.

  As soon as Liz stepped into the small bedroom, she realized the magnitude of Jude's actions the night they first met. The dark woman could have simply brought her up here in the guise of getting real and seduced the reporter, who knew exactly how effortless it would have been. Her body had been responding to Jude from the moment she had laid eyes on the beautiful drug dealer. Instead, Jude had taken Liz's request at face value, opening up her home-- and eventually her life-- to the other woman. And though Liz had not been untruthful since that first night, the lie that gave birth to their relationship was a cutting one.

The silence in these rooms was genuine, and to Liz the gulf separating them seemed unbreachable. Leaning against the heavy oak door, she watched Jude pace across the room with fiercely measured steps. The velvet dress clung to her like blood to a wound. "Jude..." she faltered.

"Why?" A guttural rasp. A question ripped from the tatters of Jude's soul.

"I... I didn't know," she replied, unable to explain that she'd had no idea that this woman would be the one to come to possess her soul.

"Know what?" Jude asked harshly. "What could you possibly not know?"

"That I'd fall in love with you," she whispered quietly.

Jude swayed slightly as her body absorbed the impact of those words slamming into her. "Don't say that," she ordered darkly, advancing towards Liz.

"I love you."

The words were the only thing Liz could grasp onto in the maelstrom surrounding her. As a reporter, she had learned that most truths were relative, depending on the slant of the story, the speaker and their motivations. She had also learned, however, that there were some truths that were fundamental. Truths that had formed the bedrock of individuals, of philosophies, of nations.

Somewhere along the line the knowledge that she was in love with Jude Lucien had become the foundation for everything that Elizabeth Peterson Gardener was.

Whatever happened, Jude had to know that.

"I love you."

Jude stepped closer, an angry look suffusing the patrician elegance of her features. "Don't say that."

"I love you."

Jude was right in her face, their bodies almost... achingly... touching. "Don't say that."

There was genuine menace in those blue eyes... and she noted with astonishment, she could see the pale flame flickering with something that looked suspiciously like raw fear. She had gambled before and won on those unexplained expressions that played across the dark woman's eyes. Now it was time to do so again. "I love you, Jude," she repeated, bringing a barely steady hand up to caress her lover's cheek.

The sound of shattering glass surrounded them as Jude's fist smashed into the glass picture frame just to the right of the doorway. Something within Jude seemed to shatter as well, and she closed her eyes-- unable to bring herself to touch her lover, but equally unable to move away.

"Shh..." Liz crooned, running her hand up the corded muscles in Jude's arm and moving it away from the damaged glass. "It's okay..." Jude's fingers were still curled into a fist, and slowly Liz pried them loose, carefully brushing away the shards of glass. Tiny cuts dotted the bronze skin, and the shallow gashes were filled with blood. "You're always hurting yourself, Jude," she murmured, clasping the hand in hers and pressing the smooth palm against her lips.

"No..." Jude whispered, her whole body aching from the assault of Elizabeth's simple words. "I can't do this..." She couldn't just let go of the betrayal and the fury and simply accept the waterfall of light that her lover's declaration cast over her. How could she accept this as truth, when it could be a lie as easily as the other words had been? She fought against the recognition down in her marrow that these words were the truth. At the same time, her body persisted in naming this bewilderingly liquid feeling as real and the icy fury of years past as false.

The truth-- she could see now-- was in the infinitely tender way Elizabeth was plucking glass shards out of her hand, in the trembling pulse visible in the reporter's delicate throat, in the resolute courage needed to slap a killer in the face and demand respect. Jude tried denial one last time, knowing that to accept Elizabeth's love meant surrendering her own in return. If Elizabeth chose to betray her again, Jude knew she would not survive the devastation. "I can't do this..."  She opened her eyes to the bright fields of green before her.

"Yes, you can," Liz admonished, keeping her eyes carefully fixed on Jude's. A fearful silence rested between them; and the reporter took a deep breath, hating that the next words were necessary. "I'm sorry I lied to you."

Jude's breathing hitched, the rock in her throat blocking the air's passage. She clamped down hard on the impulse to run, to strike out, to be anywhere but lost in this woman's eyes. "I'm sorry you lied too," she replied hoarsely, her throat raw with the effort of breathing.

"I don't know how to fix it. Or what else I can say."

What else is there to say, really? Jude thought.

She could either accept Liz's love or not.  Walking out of the reporter's life was still possible at this point, although she knew that her soul would never recover. Either way, she knew now she could never go back to what she had known before-- back to the dark heart of the life that still pumped relentlessly downstairs, not knowing that its time had passed. The fear crested high, its viscous murkiness thrusting down her throat, seeking to drive her under. Give into the fear or fight to reach the light that was being offered.

What choice do I have?

"Tell me you love me," Jude said thickly, resting her forehead against her lover's.

"I..." Astonishment made her stumble over the words. "I love you."

"Say it again," Jude demanded.

"I love you."

"Again." Using the truth to wash the rotting scent of lies, fear, and rage from her lungs.

"I love you."

The last declaration was crushed by the powerful force of Jude's mouth finding Elizabeth's. She tasted the metallic tang of blood on her lover's lips, knew it was from her earlier blow. Reverently her tongue wiped away the traces of her violence and sought penitent entrance into Elizabeth's mouth. The reporter joyfully granted admittance to her dark lover, her arms wrapping around Jude's neck, clasping the woman nearer still. "I love you," she murmured, her words distorted and muffled by the kiss.

Jude's mouth was demanding, sweeping through Elizabeth as she sought to claim the love that the reporter so freely offered. She coaxed Elizabeth's tongue out of its shyness until they were exploring each other's mouths with raw abandon in a white-hot kiss that threatened to immolate them where they stood.

Then her hands were everywhere, absently noting the unfamiliar garments her lover wore and rapidly divesting her of them. She wanted Elizabeth naked before her, as open and wanting as Jude herself had been that morning. "God, you're beautiful," Jude marveled, watching the last lace-trimmed silk drop away from the reporter's body. Elizabeth stood trapped between the cool wood of the door and the volcanic heat of her lover. "So beautiful," she repeated. She clasped Elizabeth's hands in her own, leading her to the bed. "Lie down," she commanded hoarsely.

Her eyes were a vibrant, pulsing violet as she watched her lover obey the request. Elizabeth rested expectantly on the dark expanse of the bed's comforter, waiting for the glorious sight of Jude's bronze form to emerge from its captivity. Velvet parted reluctantly from skin, hugging the length of Jude's body as it slid slowly, inexorably to the plush carpet.

"Come here," Elizabeth murmured, her slender arms reaching out in invitation.

"No," Jude replied quietly, her own hands roving across the gentle curves of Elizabeth's calves. Her strong grip testing the defined muscles of her lover's thighs, she whispered fiercely, "Mine."

Surrendering to Jude's unspoken need, Elizabeth leaned back and rested her arms easily above her head. Jude's fingers traced the outlines of Elizabeth's body in a touch of possession-- over hips and stomach, breasts and shoulders. Long fingers scorched her lover's skin, searing her desire into muscle and bone. Elizabeth arched into those commanding hands, pressing her flesh into the embrace and craving the length of Jude's body against her own.

Jude's mouth followed her hands' progress across her lover's landscape, confirming with taste what touch had already communicated to her trembling body. Elizabeth was light and warmth, salt and rising musk, willingly at the mercy of the dark woman's demand. Jude straddled the smaller woman gracefully to pin Elizabeth's legs tightly together at the knees. Inclining her head to the painfully aware nipple just below her mouth, she growled low in her throat as her tongue found its tautness. Elizabeth moaned in gratitude at the contact; and her hips ground vainly against the mattress, half-mad for her lover's soothing touch.

Her own arousal flowing thickly between her legs, Jude sought to twist her lover's need higher by claiming each breast in turn. Her mouth was a ravening instrument of pleasure, bent to a single task. Elizabeth clasped the headboard seeking something to ground her as her body arched helplessly into the torment, begging for more. "Please..." she breathed.

"Yes, Elizabeth," Jude whispered. "Let me hear you... I need to hear you tonight."

The only sounds in the room became the increasingly labored rasp of their breathing and their quiet murmurs of pleasure. In their minds and souls, the last noises of the Club had been shut away, the revelers dismissed. Now the world consisted only of their skin. Jude's touch. Elizabeth's need.

"Touch me."

It was the plea Jude had voiced to Elizabeth that morning, when she had allowed herself to be taken by the smaller woman in a final surrender of pleasure. Now it was Elizabeth's turn to strip her soul bare and lay the raw need at her lover's feet, trusting the dark woman to take her where she needed to go.

Jude slipped easily down the length of the reporter's body, gently draping a slim leg over each of her shoulders and nestling in the cove created there. She loved this place, the intimate touch of her cheek on Elizabeth's thigh, the anticipation in her body at a fevered pitch. The small folds of her lover’s sex were slick-swollen with arousal, and her hips bucked in supplication as Jude eased her way into the fire.

"Jude... So good..." A low moan escaped from her as Jude's fingers deftly found the hidden nucleus of the reporter's desire and exposed it to her questing tongue. "Oh yes..." she groaned.

For the dark woman, being inside Elizabeth was absolution granted to an unworthy soul. She reached far within her lover, reveling in the tight walls surrounding her fingers and tongue, searching for that one perfect spot that she could call home. A quiet gasp from above told her when she'd found it, and soon fingers and hips were moving in an inexorable rhythm. She closed her eyes to better absorb through her hands and mouth the unadulterated sensation of her lover's desire. This was her air... this was her life... this was her home...

This was...


"OH GOD.... JUDE........." The climax that ripped through Elizabeth plunged into Jude with astonishing fury. She heard herself crying out in response to the powerful convulsions, felt her body trembling violently, and then... somehow... she had wrapped the smaller woman in her embrace and was murmuring hushed lover’s nonsense into the honey-haired woman’s ear. They held each other in the long moment of silence, both too overwhelmed by the force of their passion to say anything. Pressing a tender kiss to Jude's forehead and brushing away the damp tendrils of hair there, Elizabeth said quietly, "We need to talk."

"I guess you're right," Jude agreed reluctantly. Both women, however, remained silent, their breathing and heartbeats slowly returning to normal. She liked the way the smaller woman was sprawled across her and was loathe to leave the tenuous haven they had managed create, but there were a great many things left to say. "I thought it was another lover, you know," she said in the dimness.

"What?" Elizabeth's voice was perplexed.

"Your secret. I knew you had one you were keeping," Jude explained. "I just thought... there was someone else. Someone serious that you were trying to hurt by being with me."

The reporter took in the statement with a tilt of her head. Then she leaned across Jude, flipping on the lamp she had noticed on the bedside table. "I want to see your face." She scrutinized her lover intently. "You thought I was using you the whole time." There was an edge to her tone and a sharpness in her gaze that unsettled the larger woman, and she found herself squirming under the inquisition.

"You were." The defensive accusation leapt from her throat before she could call it back.

Liz slipped off the bed and regarded Jude wearily. "If that's what you still think then I was wrong. We don't have anything to talk about."

"Wait!" Jude gently grasped her arm as Liz moved to leave the bed. "I didn't mean it like that."

"How else could you have meant it?"

"Just sit back down, okay?" Jude released her lover's arm and ran a hand through her tousled hair. "No, wait, let me turn the bed down first."

Elizabeth couldn't stop the tiny grin that edged onto her mouth. "You're pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?"

Jude gave her a lop-sided smile. "No, I just thought if we're going to fight, we might as well be comfortable. 'Kay?"

"Fair enough," Liz agreed, allowing Jude to coax her back to her spot. Before she realized it, she was tucked neatly in her lover's arms once more, and they were both sitting with their backs propped against a generous mound of pillows at the headboard. "Now we can fight?" she asked, although Jude had effectively dismantled the anger that had begun building in them anew.

"Now we can fight." Jude nodded. "Let me start this over again. Yes, I thought you were using me... because I couldn't understand what in the world you would want with me otherwise. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have realized that you were a reporter the minute you didn't run screaming from the house after getting shot." She chuckled, remembering Liz's easy acceptance of the trauma.

"So why didn't you realize it?" Liz asked quietly.

Jude paused a long moment, wondering how to give voice to the tumultuous onslaught of feelings that had begun almost from the first moment she had seen the smaller woman. "Because I wanted you to want to be with me," she said finally.

Liz caught her breath sharply at the admission. "You did?"

"Oh yeah," Jude chuckled ruefully. "The morning after you were shot, I was in the car thinking about that lame-ass story you gave about some boyfriend. I remember thinking that your story just didn't make sense." She leaned in for a brief taste of her lover's mouth. "And then I remember very distinctly not giving a damn." Another kiss steadied her faltering courage. "So in a way, it's my fault that the lie went on for so long. I didn't want to hear the truth."

"Stop that right now," Liz demanded. "Good God, you big dumb drug dealer, don't you dare take responsibility for this." She faced her lover squarely. "What I did was wrong. Trying to manipulate you into giving me the story was wrong. Get it?"

Jude looked into the fierce green eyes of her lover and sighed softly. "Elizabeth, in comparison to all the wrongs that I've done to others, yours don't even register on the scale."

"Then forgive me for it." The words dropped unthinkingly from Elizabeth’s mouth, and the smaller woman turned pale as she realized just what she had asked.

Forgive me... Two words Jude herself had never asked of anyone. Though the gods knew that she had been granted it for some unfathomable reason from those she held dear. Ria... Tony... Kent... she could even feel Jason's warmth here.

Is it possible? Jude thought. Is it that simple? Thinking of all the years she had spent in an unquenched rage, the years wasted and alone... the need to have someone near who understood, accepted, and forgave... Jude’s mind raced with the memories. And then the sensation of the woman wrapped in her arms sank deep inside... the joy of waking up with her, the glimmer in those greengold eyes that soothed pains so deep she believed they were irrevocably imprinted on her soul. "I do," she replied simply.

Elizabeth’s jaw dropped. “What?”

“I do,” Jude repeated, sending a cascade of kisses dancing along her lover’s cheek. “I do... I do... I do...”

Their mouths tangled and danced, a lazy fire stroking into their bellies. “I can’t believe it,” Liz murmured. The words were more an elaborate sigh than anything, but nonetheless, they didn’t escape Jude’s keen hearing.

"What can't you believe?" she asked, breaking off her attentions.

Liz blinked dizzily, her sense still reeling from the brush of Jude's lips. She stared deep into the gently pulsing violet of her lover's eyes and took a deep breath. "Are you sure you're not angry with me anymore?"

Jude smiled sadly at her lover at the inadvertently wistful tone of her voice. "No, I'm not angry."

Like a child unable to resist prodding at a wound, however, Liz continued on. "But how can you trust me?" Although Jude had never said anything of the sort, the reporter knew that she had destroyed something precious that they might never get back.

Jude's jaw tightened, and she bit back a sigh. "Do we have to talk about this now?"

"Yes," Liz quietly insisted.

Jude rubbed her forehead in a gesture of irritation that, the reporter noted with regret, was becoming all-too-familiar. "Trust..." the dark woman murmured. "When you're under... you gotta trust your partner. Because if they let you down, it's over."

"That's what happened with Kent?" More a statement than a question.

"More or less. He gave me up when some guys started pounding on him."

"But you saved his life even though you could have gotten away." Seeing Jude's surprised look, she added, "Tony told me."

Jude shrugged. "You don't just leave someone behind. Not when you have a chance to get them out."

"So you stayed loyal even after he had betrayed you." A picture was becoming clear, and Liz didn't like it one bit.

"I had to finish the job," Jude replied, not meeting Liz's eyes.

At that moment, Liz wished that Jude really had pulled the trigger last night. In a lot of ways it would have been easier to bear than this skewed sense of honor that seemed to be binding Jude to her. "I see," she said softly, slowly easing her body away from Jude. "That's what this is about, isn't it?" She studied the supine form of her lover with growing sadness. "You feel responsible for getting me into the middle of your war with the DEA-- although that's not true, by the way-- and you're sticking around long enough to make sure I get out of it. That's why you agreed to my plan, why you said you forgave me."

If Liz hadn't been so wrapped up in her own misery, in the realization that she had indeed destroyed the only thing she still cared about, she would have seen her lover's jaw clenching rhythmically and the blue eyes narrowing; she would have felt the muscles in Jude's body coiling. As it was, the eruption took her completely by surprise.

"Are you out of your goddamned mind???" Jude exploded off the bed, dislodging Liz from her position in the her arms and nearly sending the smaller woman tumbling off the mattress. "Have you listened to a fucking thing I've said?" She paced the length of the small room, running a hand through her tangled locks. Her eyes blazed in outrage as she contemplated her lover.

"I have," Liz replied, hoping that her voice didn't convey the frantic beating of her heart. "I know what betrayal does to you. And I also know that despite what you think, you're a very honorable person. I don't blame you for..."

"Shut the fuck up," Jude said starkly, striding over to the bed and crouching down, so that she and Liz were eye-to-eye. "And listen again."

Jude rose and paced a few more steps before turning and facing her lover. "I... I'm not... real smart about some things, Elizabeth. Most of the relationships in my past haven't lasted any longer than it took me to get my clothes back on." At Liz's snort of laughter, she smiled slightly. "I don't know how to do this..." She gestured back and forth from Liz to herself, "Talking thing." She paced a few more steps, as if trying to gather up the scattered words to make Liz understand. "When I walked into the study and saw you sitting there, I wanted to die," she said bleakly. "I didn't know I could hurt so bad and not be bleeding somewhere." Liz winced at the simple declaration, feeling it cut deep into her own heart. "And I wanted to make you hurt as much as I did. That's why I hit you. Even though all it did was make me hurt more. I just thought if I could make you feel as bad as I did, then it would be okay. I wouldn't hurt so bad." She murmured, closing her eyes as she remembered the sensation of her hand striking Elizabeth's tender skin.

"I betrayed you. I don't blame you..."

"NO!" Jude's eyes flew open. "NO!" she repeated forcefully. "I had no right to hit you. Much less put a gun to your head." She shook her head. "I may be fucked up, but at least I know that much."

Liz, however, was not about to let Jude bear the brunt of their shared guilt over the horrible confrontation in the study. "I've always known that for whatever reason-- violence is your first instinct. And it was a risk I took lying to you like I did." Liz wanted to reach out and hold the dark woman close, steady the gaze that threatened to turn away from her. They had to confront this last obstacle and put it behind them, because otherwise Liz knew their mutual fears of the dark woman's violent tendencies would shatter any hopes they had of rebuilding the relationship. She studied her partner a bit longer before saying her next words. "That's not to say I enjoyed the sensation of you tossing me across the room."

Shame colored Jude's features scarlet. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.

"Don't ever do that again," Liz stated softly.

"Never." Jude shook her head emphatically. The dark woman groped for words to describe the white-hot pain that had seized her the moment that she'd seen Liz combing through her private files. She'd known then that it was more than just the rage at being lied to. It was a deeper, completely alien pain of someone who had all of their hopes and dreams reduced to ashes in a single searing instant. Watching Elizabeth at that moment, she had been seized by the rage of the disposed-- howling at being shown things infinitely precious and then told they were not for the likes of her. Her soul had cried out in rending agony each time she had abused the smaller woman, but she been unable to stop the base instinct to annihilate anything that tried to hurt her. Pulled by a power stronger than even her formidable will, she crossed the room and wrapped the reporter in a fierce embrace, her body conveying a deeper sorrow than her words ever could.

Jude's skin against hers was salve to the reporter's battered heart. She could feel her lover's muscles trembling softly around her, and she marveled anew at the strength in Jude's darkened soul. "Where do we go from here?" she asked softly, her breath a warm puff of air against Jude's neck.

The dark woman released Liz from their embrace and sat beside her on the bed. For her, the answer was a simple one-- the inescapable conclusion she had come to yesterday. Now she spoke the words out loud. "The way I see it... what other choice do I have?" Her fingers traced a lingering path over Elizabeth's features, absorbing the warm smoothness of her lover's fair cheeks. Seeing Elizabeth's brow furrowed at the rhetorical question, she tried to explain. "I can either go forgive you--  learn to trust you again-- and we can try and figure out what we really have between us. Or I can hold on to all the anger and all the old ways that I've lived by. And honestly, Elizabeth, I realize now that's no kind of life at all."

"You can change you life without me in it," she countered.

Jude regarded the woman beside her for a long moment. "Perhaps," she acknowledged. "But the truth is... I don't want to."

"So..." Liz drew out the word, a happy anticipation building in her veins. "What do you want?"

Jude never hesitated, never blinked, never thought about it at all. "You," she said simply.

The word was sealed with an achingly sweet kiss that ignited the kindling desire that always lurked close to the surface whenever they were near one another. For now, their doubts were gone, their regrets soothed... and there was nothing standing between them. A brilliant light that seemed to bathe the length of their bodies as Jude moved smoothly into her lover and Elizabeth responded in kind.

Liz felt Jude's hands beginning to roam her body once more. Knowing that once they began making love, all other conversation would be lost for the night, she reluctantly captured the elegant fingers in her hands, stilling their exploration. "We still have stuff..." She was interrupted by another sweetly erotic kiss. "We gotta talk about..." She gasped as Jude's mouth worked its way over her jaw to the delicate pulse in her neck. "Seriously."

It was a tone that Jude couldn't deny, and she pulled away with a roguish grin. "Then are we okay?"

"I think we're pretty damn good now," Liz replied, relieved laughter rising from deep inside. "But there's a couple more things I need to tell you." She didn't miss the rippling tension that entered her lover's body, although Jude did an admirable job of not changing her expression. The reporter smoothed the tiny furrows in Jude's brow, letting her fingers trail down the sharp cut of the woman's jaw. "Shh..." she soothed. "It's nothing bad."

The muscles relaxed under her touch, and Jude snugged the reporter a little closer in her embrace. "Then what is it?"

"I think I can help you with your problem."

Jude chuckled dryly. "And which problem is that? We've established I have dozens."

"The one that involves people pointing guns at you."

"Oh. That problem." She cocked a brow at the smaller woman. "Let's have it."

"Well..." Liz began, chewing her lip. "As odd as it might sound, me being a reporter might come in handy."

Jude already didn't like the sound of this. "What are you thinking?" she asked warily.

"We write a story. Put too much light on you for the DEA to do anything." Liz waited for the inevitable explosion, the accusation that she was still trying to use Jude, the fury... anything...

What she got was a thoughtful expression on her lover's face.

"Well?" she asked the dark woman.

"I'm waiting for you to finish explaining," Jude replied steadily, but the tension was again evident in her body.

"Okay." She could work with that. "You still work for the DEA right?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you said that you were on a psychiatric leave of indeterminate length, and that you simply never came back. Right?"

"Right," Jude looked skeptically at her lover. "So?"

"So.. you're back now, trying to round up the rest of the Massalas. Trying to complete the assignment you were given before rogue elements in the DEA gave up your partner to the enemy."

"You think you can spin doctor the last five years of my life?" Jude snorted derisively. "That's not possible."

"Listen to me, Jude." Liz shifted her position, sitting up so that she could face her lover. "Ever since you told me about Jason, I've been thinking about why somebody in the Agency would give him up like that."

"Any conclusions?" Jude asked bitterly.

"Unfortunately, yes. And they all have to do with you and your unique ability to get the job done."

"What do you mean?"

"When I was talking to Tony the other night, he described you as a 'rule-breaker who got results.' So the powers-that-be looked the other way, when in other cases they might not. Look at the Massala assignment. What did they say they wanted? Results. And they didn't care how you got them. Somebody liked having you just this side of out-of-control."

Jude opened her mouth as if to protest, then snapped it shut. "Go on," she said tightly.

"What did your relationship with Jason do? It grounded you-- it made you start thinking about some of the things you were doing-- it made your job harder. Made you more inefficient."

"You're saying that someone sacrificed Jason to keep me efficient?"

"Sort of. At first I thought they wanted to get rid of Jason and you. But the more I think about it, the more I think they wanted Jason's influence out of the way. He gets killed and you kill those responsible for this death."

"Rico and the Cartel."

"Exactly. No muss, no fuss." Liz nodded. "But the problem occurred when Rico called you to take care of Jason. Whoever sacrificed him, had no way of knowing that you'd end up being the one pulling the trigger."

Jude blanched at the raw description, a wound on her soul that would never quite heal. But Liz's gentle hands held her softly, not allowing her to slip back into the wrongs of the past. Stay here... those hands seemed to say.

And she did.

Taking a deep breath, she steadied her trembling heart. "So what happened then?"

"Damage control," Liz replied simply. "Who saw you when you took Jason back home?"

"Nobody." Jude shrugged. "Ria and Jessie." She thought for a moment. "Kent showed up 'cause I called him." She cocked her head at her lover. "What do you mean damage control?"

"That's where they made their second mistake. They swept everything up so neatly and quickly that you started thinking and got suspicious. That's what turned you against the Agency right? I mean if you had been called onto the carpet for the events leading up to Jason's death, maybe suspended, given a vaguely plausible reason for Jason's losing his cover, and then eventually returned to duty-- do you think you would have ever suspected something wasn't right?"

Jude shook her head. "I suppose you know why they want to kill me now?"

Liz shrugged. "As near as I can figure, bringing in Romair Massala has something to do with it."

The dark woman thought a moment, her mind overloaded with the all-too-plausible theory that Elizabeth had placed before her. Then it hit her. "Bringing in Romair has everything to do with it," she said quietly.

When Jude didn't immediately continue, Liz gestured with her hands. "Hello? Tell me."

The dark woman smiled wryly. "Sorry, I was just thinking there for a minute."

"Think out loud," Liz ordered.

"When Rico went down, the Massala's started throwing everything they had at me. Until word got out that Rico was working the Feds for a deal himself."

"Was he?"

"It was news to me. That's when I knew for sure that he had somebody inside the Agency, but I couldn't find out who. I'll bet you a million dollars Romair knows who it is."

"And that's why they want him in?"

"No," Jude growled. "That's why they want him dead. It's the perfect set-up... one drug lord trying to take out another, and both killed in a DEA raid. The Agency comes out looking like heroes." Jude whistled low in her throat. "That's why Kent said that they were pushing me for another meet with Romair. They were waiting for a chance to take us down."

"But you work for them."

"It's not on the books. Or at least it's not supposed to be. They'd have plausible deniability at the very least."

"Not if we go public first."

Jude smiled grimly. "That's why your plan just may work."  

Chapter 15

When Liz woke that morning, she found that in their sleep, they had wound seamlessly around each other, their bodies unerringly coming together to form a perfect helix. Jude was warm and supple against her, and Liz could scent musky traces of sleep and sex on her lover's skin. Sighing contentedly and snuggling closer to the larger woman, she murmured softly, "Finally."

"Finally what?" came the voice from above.

"You awake?" Raising herself and bracing on one elbow, Liz encountered a pair of amused blue eyes regarding her.

"Yup," Jude replied succinctly. "Finally what?" she repeated.

"Oh, that." Liz chuckled softly. "Well... it's just that, this is the first time since we've... well.. you know... become... well, you know...that I actually managed to wake up with you. Usually you've wandered off and one of the dogs has usurped your place. I was just thinking 'Finally I get to wake up with you.'" She studied her lover's face, feeling a faint blush suffuse her cheeks. "Stupid, huh?"

A warm smile broke over Jude's face, and she leaned up to capture the fair woman's lips with her own. "Not stupid at all," she corrected after their soft greeting. "I've never really..." she hesitated, shaking her head. "I'm not real good at the morning-after thing."

"Guess you'll have to practice, huh?" Liz teased her gently, not wanting the shadows to cloud their morning so early.

"Guess so," Jude agreed with a wry smile. "You mind?"

"Not at all," the smaller woman assured her. "I can even offer you a few tips if you want."

"I think that might be a good idea." Though Jude's words were solemn, she was unable to control the bright sparkle in her eyes.

Liz grinned rakishly at her lover, delighted that Jude wanted to play. "Okay," she said briskly. "Time for your first lesson." She shifted her position until she was sprawled completely on top of her now-grinning lover. "The most important thing is-- without a doubt-- the good morning kiss."

"I already kissed you this morning," Jude objected.   "Doesn't count," Liz dismissed her protest. "The official good morning kiss has to say many things. It has to say 'Good morning.' And 'I hope you slept as well as I did.' And, of course, 'I'm glad you're here.'" she lectured.

Jude frowned. "All that in one kiss?"

"Trust me. It can be done." To prove her point, she leaned down and bestowed a gentle kiss on her lover, conveying not only all the prerequisites of a good morning kiss, but also love, tenderness, and her sheer joy at being with Jude.

"Mmm," Jude breathed, "I see your point." She slid her arms around Liz's neck, letting her hands trail teasingly across her lover's bare shoulders. "Can I try now?"

"Absolutely," Liz encouraged with a grin.

Their lips met again, tarrying longer still in a mutual delight. Jude nibbled delicately at Liz's lower lip, enjoying the relaxed feeling that being in the sweet woman's arms brought her. A gilded warmth swept through her soul, healing parts of herself she thought irreparably damaged and shedding light on places she had believed permanently darkened by her sins. "Like that?" she asked, her voice husky with desire.

"Oh yeah," Liz affirmed. She pressed her forehead against Jude's and grinned. "You're a quick study." Her body flexed gently against Jude's, a slim thigh nudging her lover's more heavily muscled ones apart. Jude sighed involuntarily when the smaller woman slipped casually between her legs, her body fitting there as if designed specifically for that purpose.

"So I've been told," Jude bantered. "But I have to confess, I have a little extra incentive in is case."

"You do?" Liz cocked her head skeptically.

"Yup," came the distracted answer as Jude's long legs wound their way around Liz's waist, gently centering the woman against her. Her hips began rocking subtly against the  weight pressing down on her, discreetly seeking a more intense touch. Liz smiled sensually and began minutely returning the pressure. Jude's eyes fluttered shut in response, and a barely audible groan fell from her lips.

"And what incentive might that be, Jude?" she teased in a whisper.

The dark woman's eyes flickered open and gazed earnestly into the green fields before her. "I get to wake up to you every morning."

Game. Set. Match. Any lingering resisting cells in Liz's body crumbled under the tender declaration, and she realized with silent wonder that she would willingly go to the depths of hell for this woman, if only she could wake up to those eyes every morning for the rest of her life.

Jude watched with growing alarm as tears streaked her lover's face. "What's wrong?" she asked softly. "What'd I do?"

"Nothing, lover." Laughing softly in spite of the emotion flooding down her face, Liz shook her head. "You didn't do anything." She paused, thinking. "Actually, that's not true. You did do something, but it was everything right."

Jude grinned hesitantly. "I did?" She tightened her hold on the smaller woman, brushing her hands tentatively though the soft golden tresses. "So I'm doing okay on this morning-after thing?"

"You're doing perfectly," Liz affirmed, inching up to capture Jude's lips with her own. Jude slowly kissed each tear that worked its way free from her lover's eyes, tasting the salt with a devout air of reverence. Liz sighed contentedly under the sweet caresses, still stunned that everything was falling into place so beautifully for them. A gentle symphony of desire played across their senses as they continued touching... and once  more the world just fell away. Hands, mouths, tongues... all unerringly found the notes of pleasure along their skins. Quiet sighs, whispered invocations, murmured entreaties coaxed their spiraling arousal... until they climaxed with a soft breath of release and unwound slowly in each other's arms.

"The second important part of the morning-after ritual is the shower," Liz proclaimed hours later, gazing across her lover's sprawled and sated form.

"I guess we do kinda smell bad," Jude conceded, a lazy eye opening to survey their tangled limbs.

"Well..." the reporter grinned, "I happen to like the way we smell, but others miiiiigght disagree a little."

Jude was most content in her current position, with Liz curled snugly in her arms. As far as she was concerned, there could be no better place on earth. Unfortunately, she knew that unless they acted soon, the real world was going to intrude in a most unpleasant way, its entrance most likely proceeded by the barrel of a gun. Time enough still, however, for a little teasing. "Ah.. so investing in a perfume called Eau de Brothel probably wouldn't be a good idea?" Jude bantered. "I thought there was supposed to be something in this pheromone business."

Liz released a long-suffering sigh and tugged on the dark woman's arm. "Come on, you." Obligingly, Jude allowed herself to be hauled from the comfortable bed and ushered into the bathroom. "Get some towels," her lover commanded.

When she returned, Liz was leaning over the porcelain tub, industriously adjusting the water temperature. Taking in the sight of her lover's supple form, Jude snickered approvingly. "Now this is what I call a room with a view." She molded her longer length against the reporter's smooth skin, thoroughly enjoying the musky scent that clung to their bodies. Growling low in her throat, she nipped at the tender juncture of Liz's neck and shoulder, eliciting a quiet yelp from the smaller woman. "Did I hurt you?" she murmured.

For an answer, Liz arched further back into the embrace and tilted her head back to find Jude's lips in a devouring kiss that left both women breathless.

"Guess not."

Liz flicked the shower on, and water roared against the tile. Wordlessly, she led Jude into the shower, positioning the dark woman under the spray. A seductive glow lit the green sparkle in Liz's eyes as she lathered up the soap in her hands. "I've been dying to do this with you," she confessed.

"Wash your hands?" Jude inquired, deliberately playing dumb.

Green eyes narrowed and sparked just a little bit more at the tease. "Trust me, Jude. You don't want to play this that way."

"And what way might that be?" the taller woman smirked.

"You asked for it." Liz shrugged and pushed Jude a little further away, so now the dark woman was standing behind the water.

The shower itself was generously spacious, allowing plenty of room for maneuvering; and the reporter seemed determined to use every inch of it to drive Jude to distraction. She dropped the soap onto its holder and leisurely proceeded to begin lathering her skin, ignoring the sensuous figure across from her. Aware of an intense blue gaze watching her every move hungrily, Liz nonchalantly soaped her arms and torso, deliberately ignoring her breasts-- although they ached for the attentions of her lover's skilled hands. Slowly she ran her hands down her thighs, her own fingers tracing the defined muscles there. Bracing one foot on the ledge of the shower, she soaped her calves one at a time, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. When she turned her back to Jude and began sliding her hands over the curve of her hips towards her buttocks, Jude cried mercy.

"You win," Jude whispered thickly in her lover's ear, wrapping long arms around her from behind. Her hands found the soap and began running smoothly over Elizabeth slender figure.

"I already did that," the reporter objected with a throaty laugh.

"I think you missed a few spots."

They played under the water for a luxuriously long while, reveling in the slick feel of each other's body. Liz picked up the shampoo, a milky white concoction with a clean herbal scent. "Kneel," she commanded.

Jude arched a smirking brow. "I didn't know you were that kind of girl."

"You are a pervert, Jude Lucien. I want to wash your hair, and I can't reach that high."

"Bummer," Jude muttered under her breath. As she was bade, she knelt on the tile and allowed the smaller woman to work a thick lather into her hair.

When Liz was finished, she knelt in front of her lover, and slipped her arms around Jude's waist. "Lean back," she ordered.  Jude hesitated for a moment, then flexed her thighs and leaned back into the shower spray, rinsing the soap from her hair with her hands. Liz's strong arms were locked around her waist, holding her securely. The small exercise in trust did not go unnoticed by either of them. "All done?" Liz asked after a few moments.

"Yup." Jude shifted forward and draped her arms across her lover's fair shoulders. "Now it's your turn." Liz handed over the shampoo and looked at Jude expectantly. "We gotta stand up first, though. My knees are shot." She grinned and helped the smaller woman to her feet.

They continued their play until the water began to noticeably cool. "Whoops..." Liz sputtered, ducking from under the spray. "Guess that means playtime's up, huh?"

Jude twisted the water off and stepped out of the shower. "Watch your step," she cautioned, offering a hand to her lover. Liz smiled slightly at the tender gesture and allowed Jude to help her out. "Here you go." Jude tied one of the towels around her own waist and then softly began to dry Liz's tender skin.

"I can do that," the reporter protested halfheartedly.

"I know." Jude swatted her hands away. "But I like to. 'Kay?" Her hands were gentle as she squeezed the water from Liz's honeyed tresses and dabbed water droplets away from her fluttering eyes. When Jude was finished, she surveyed the lithe form of her lover with appreciative eyes. "All done." She pointed to the closed door. "There's a robe you can use."

"Thanks." The thick terrycloth robe was purple with green trim, obviously one of Jude's. She laughed as she rolled the sleeves up and wrapped the belt tightly around her waist. "I feel like a little kid in this."

Jude grinned at the sight. "Reminds me of the first morning you were at my house. My sweats swallowed you whole." Chuckling together, they emerged from the bathroom into the cooler air of the bedroom to find Sasha standing expectantly in front of them with a stack of files in hand. Because Jude was busily toweling the excess water out of her hair, Liz saw the executive first and gave a startled yelp.

Jude's head snapped up, her eyes fixing instantly on the source of her lover's alarm. Her mouth twisted into a grim smirk when she saw the look in her assistant's eyes.

Sasha was clearly not a happy camper.

Her assistant was impeccably dressed, as always. A short, gray skirt and double-breasted jacket mocked the traditional banker's garb. Underneath, from what Jude could tell, she wasn't wearing a whole lot of anything else. One classic black pump tapped an incessant, silent rhythm. "I'm glad you're still here," she said without preamble. "I can get you to look over these and sign them before I head back to the office."

As if Liz weren't even there. As if Jude herself weren't naked and dripping water on the plush carpet. The dark woman cocked a dubious eyebrow at her assistant, pursing her lips slightly. She and Sasha had played this scene out dozens of times. In fact, Jude had even used it on one or two occasions to get rid of a particularly persistent conquest that had insisted on staying the night. Her assistant was daring her to treat Liz the same way. Daring her to say that this wasn't any different.

When they both knew without a doubt that it absolutely was.

"Sash--" She kept a light tone in her words, but the warning was unmistakable. "I have a guest."

The expression in the executive's eyes clearly said,  So what?

Jude set her jaw. She was not in the mood to dance with her assistant. Turning to Liz, she asked quietly, "Elizabeth, will you excuse me for a moment? I have to see to my employee here." She re-wrapped the towel around her waist and stalked across the room to the door that led to the office. She icily gestured for Sasha to precede her. "After you."

Shutting the door forcefully enough to get her assistant's attention, Jude whirled to face her assistant. "What the fuck are you up to, Sasha?"

"Feeling a little butch today, aren't we?" Sash inquired dryly. "It's after noon," she continued. "I didn't realize you still had company."

"Bullshit." Jude batted her demurral away with an angry bark.

Saffron eyes narrowed as they studied the sleek length of their employer, obviously enjoying every second of  their perusal. Jude sat on the edge of the office desk, suddenly uncomfortably aware of her near-nakedness and her assistant's close proximity. Her body had always been the battlefield where they had played out their little war games of power, and she had reveled in using it to fracture Sasha's control-- taunting the other woman with things she could always look at, but only sometimes touch. Now, the tables were oddly reversed, and Sasha's eyes were seeing a thousand things Jude didn't want her to see. "Why are you so upset?" Sasha countered. "I've interrupted your little trysts before, and you've never minded."

Her assistant had always had a diabolically clever sense of timing, her interruptions often geared to drive her employer quite beyond the brink of distraction. A deep, primal growl simmered in the back of her throat as the memories pushed their way to the fore, and Jude realized that disentangling herself from the past would not be simply a matter of letting her new bright and shining love wipe everything else away. Sasha was a very tangible reminder of the dark pleasure of her life before, the life she could still have now if she could forget for one second the woman who awaited her in the other room.

All of this played itself out in a momentary flicker of her hooded blue eyes, but was not missed by the woman standing a few paces away. Involuntarily, Jude's lips parted slightly as her body warred with itself. The golden silhouette of Elizabeth's slender figure was all that stood between the dark woman and her impulse to press Sasha against the nearest hard surface and torture away with her hands and mouth that irritatingly smug look on her face. She'll fight, her mind crooned, remembering the feel of Sasha against her. How one hand would tangle itself in her hair with a grip just past the edge of pleasurable, while its mate would work its way down the length of her body. Her mouth... Jude shuddered slightly, feeling teeth and tongue cover her skin with possessive rage. Oh Sweet Jesus... Jude opened her eyes to find that it was not her memory wreaking havoc on her nervous system, but rather her assistant in the flesh.

She had not moved-- had not even breathed, she thought-- but somehow Sasha was wrapped around her rendering the phantom-pleasure very real indeed. The hand in her hair commanded Jude to arch into the ravening mouth moving down her neck, and involuntarily Jude's body obeyed the familiar brutal touch. "Wait--" she gasped, trying to force herself to move away from the touch. Instinctively, her arms had braced themselves behind her, balancing all her weight. To move them would be to lower herself to the desk, and that would mean surrender. Unbelievably, the towel had vanished-- or had at least proven no barrier between her vulnerable sex and Sasha's inexorable quest. "Wait--" she commanded again, regaining control over at least her voice.

Not stop...

The difference wasn't lost on her assistant, who obligingly slowed her assault. "Jude," she purred. "Forget about all this nonsense, okay?" She nuzzled the rampaging pulse in Jude's throat with her teeth. "Let me take care of you. Like I always have."

Jude shuddered at the entreaty, her body knowing what that meant. Oblivion-- plain and simple. No right. No wrong... just strength. Slick-sweat skin on skin. Reaching, grasping, taunting deep inside her-- sending her down to the darkness. Where she had always belonged.

The golden silhouette dimmed, its light almost flickering out, and a part of her soul cried out in agony at its departure. "NO!" Jude growled, an arm reaching out to stop it. She pried her eyes open. "Things are... different now..." she whispered.

Sasha arched a scornful brow, her fingers slipping easily across Jude's center where the evidence of the dark woman's turmoil rested. "Really?" she muttered. "I don't think so. You're just as wet for me as you ever were."

This time Jude caught the hand that tortured her. "I said things were different now." Her body, however, remained ambivalent.

Steel-edged saffron glared at her. "You know, Jude, I'm getting really tired of this." There was a commanding tone in Sasha's voice that Jude had never heard before this. "For almost two years I've let you have your head, waiting for this little phase to be over."

Jude laughed in complete astonishment. "You've let me have my head? What am I do you, some kind of animal that won't be properly trained?" Broken, more likely. Her body still sang with the contact between them, even as her soul clamored for its other half and her mind reeled in outrage.

"Let's talk about what you are." Sasha refused to grant Jude any quarter in this battle, forcing Jude to struggle for each centimeter she placed between them. Now she pressed closer. "I know what you're up to," she murmured, relinquishing her hold on Jude's hair and trailing a supple hand over the dark woman's broad shoulders. "All those secret meetings with Romair... how you've been easing me away from the business. Did you think I wouldn't notice? More to the point, did you think I wouldn't care?"

Jude's heart clenched painfully-- both from the touch and the hushed words.

"You're going to sell me out, querida." Sasha tossed her own nickname back at Jude. "All for some prom queen and a pitiful dream of respectability." There it was... resting somehow in the infinitesimal space that separated them. "You want to prove you're just like everybody else," she continued on, her hand still stroking the bronze skin as a sheen of perspiration broke out over it-- despite the room's cool temperature. "You're not, Jude. You are so absolutely not like everyone else. And I can't for the life of me understand why you want to be."

Why..? Her mind echoed the question. What was really there for her? Did she honestly think she could be absolved of her sins? Why..? Why was she fighting so hard for a peace she might never be granted?

"I love you..." Words she had never heard before and-- if she surrendered to the icy fire in her veins-- never would again. "I love you..." She grasped Sasha's other wrist, stopping the insidious assault on her skin. Blue eyes bore into saffron with a resolved sense of purpose. Every ounce of strength that she had poured into being an angel, a devil, a horrible figure of vengeance now shone coldly in her gaze.  "I love her."

The statement stopped Sasha in a way that denial never could. She flinched lightly-- more like a shiver than anything-- but Jude felt it, and in that instant knew the truth. The dark woman's hands bonelessly released Sasha from their grasp as her assistant stepped back. The slightly sardonic mask settled back lightly over the tawny woman's features.  "Do you now?"


"You sure?" She held up her hand, the glistening evidence on her fingers mocking Jude's statement.

Jude's eyes hardened even more-- if that were possible. "I can fuck anybody, Sasha." Her assistant's eyes narrowed at the unspoken end of the sentence. Even you...  Jude’s eyes said. The words hung thickly in the air between them, along with the faint scent of Jude's arousal. Now she went in for the kill. "But I only love her."

Game over.

Her movements uncharacteristically graceless, Sasha nodded at the file on the desk. "I still need you to sign off on these liquor bills."

"I'll take care of it before I leave," Jude acknowledged, knowing that nothing more would be said between them.

The executive nodded and moved towards the door that led to the main corridor of the Club's third floor. Her hand on the knob, she turned to face her ex-lover. "I hope you know what you're letting yourself in for." Jude saw a bewildering array of emotions flicker over her assistant's face in that single instant. Sadness, disappointment, and fury all warred with something Jude had never seen from Sasha before-- love. What was between them had always been a blood sport, and she realized she might have at last dealt a mortal blow.

Sasha was gone before she could speak, leaving her alone in a room wondering what on earth would happen next.

During Jude's absence, Liz had found the blow dryer and tamed her recalcitrant hair into a manageable pony-tail. Discovering a rust-colored polo shirt with pale green vertical stripes in the depths of the tiny closet, she pulled it over her head. She found her jeans in a pile by the door and picked them up as Jude re-entered the room. Noticing the distracted look in her lover's eyes, she placed a gentle hand on Jude's forearm. "You okay?"

"I'm not sure," Jude confessed. "I told Sasha... about us."

"I bet that went over about as well as a nun waking up in the middle of a whorehouse,"  the reporter muttered darkly. When Jude didn't respond, she continued, "It's obvious that your assistant feels somewhat... proprietary about you. I'm sure she wasn't thrilled about being evicted from that place in your life."

"You don't know what you're talking about," Jude replied roughly, obviously unwilling to discuss what had happened in the other room. Hoping to put an end to the conversation, she added, "Sasha and I haven't been lovers for a year, almost two. And even when we were, there were always... plenty of others." She found herself unable to control the flush that lit her features at the blunt statement.

"I'm sure there were," Liz retorted harshly, her imagination effortlessly parading behind her eyes the legions of women she knew Jude had taken to bed. Last night she had watched Jude for quite a while before she had approached. The dark woman had cast a seductive glamour over everyone encompassed by her glance, and each body silently offered to Jude had wrenched a painful tear in the reporter's stomach. "But Jude, did any of them ever mean anything to you? I'm sure you told Sasha no a million times-- but did you ever do it because you wanted to be with someone else instead? Or did you do it just because you wanted to control the situation?"

Jude stood silently, pinned in the cross-hairs of those green eyes. There really was no way to escape this conversation. "You're right," she said hoarsely. "It was always a game between us. She'd try to make me admit I wanted her, but I'd never let her have me completely. Those other women were a way to taunt her with it." She glanced down at the carpet, unwilling to meet Liz's intent gaze any longer.

Liz's voice was unbearably gentle. "Did you care for her, Jude?" she questioned. Not adding her unspoken one, Do you still?

Jude opened her mouth, closed it, then opened in again. "It's not that simple. I can't explain it in those terms. When I met Sasha, I didn't care for anything. I wasn't capable. I related to people through two things: power and sex. Sasha responds to that in me."

Liz didn't miss the present tense in Jude's last statement. "Even now?" she prompted again.

"Even now," Jude answered unflinchingly. "There's always been something between us... but it appeals to the person that I don't want to be anymore." She released a deep shuddering breath, the only evidence of her internal struggle.

"You broke it off  with her when you got back from Cartagena, didn't you?" Liz asked with a sudden flash of insight.

Jude nodded almost imperceptibly and raised her eyes to meet Liz's squarely. "And there hasn't been anyone until now." She ran her hand through her rapidly drying hair. "I didn't want anyone else to... suffer.. because of me." Jude's face was desolate in its sadness as she confronted with the ruins that her path had wrought of other people's lives.

Liz silently slipped Jude's arms around her shoulders and enfolded the taller woman in a comforting embrace. "All that's over now."

"Not quite," Jude replied, reminding them both of what was yet to come.

"We'll get out of this somehow." Liz lifted her head to gaze solemnly at her lover. "And when we do, you and I are going to sort all this out." She tapped Jude's temple lightly. "Okay?"

A wry smile crossed Jude's lips fleetingly. "You gonna fix me, Dr. Freud?"

"Nah,” Liz waved the idea away. "You aren't broken. We both just need some... realignment."

Jude bit back a snort of laughter. "Realignment, huh? Fair enough." She ruffled Liz's honey hair and took in her attire with a smirk. "You've stolen another shirt, haven't you?"

The Club staff had yet to begin arriving for their afternoon set up, so there were only two cars in the parking lot. Jude's black Porsche sat menacingly in its spot near the door, and an unfamiliar dark blue Saturn was parked at the very end of the lot. "That yours?" Jude asked, gesturing with her chin.

"Yeah," Liz affirmed. "Come on." She led the taller woman over to the car and opened the passenger door. "Get in." Jude curled an eyebrow skyward and glanced back at her car. "I want to take you somewhere," the reporter answered the unasked question quietly. Liz fell silent as she navigated their way through the traffic to the small suburban apartments where she lived. Wordlessly she guided Jude up the two flights to her home. Holding her breath, she unlocked the door and let Jude step inside ahead of her.

The place was nondescriptly expensive, but there didn't seem to be very much of the vibrant woman Jude had come to know in the last weeks. She had no way of knowing that the apartment was evidence of the life that had eluded the reporter until she met the dark woman. Jude prowled through a living room that was curiously devoid of any personal knick-knacks and the casual disorder of someone who is comfortable in their space. The bedroom was a bit warmer-- the pale earth tones in the comforter and sheets reminded her of her lover's fair coloring, and a pile of books testified to a reading habit as voracious as Jude’s own. The kitchen was livelier, full of well-used cooking implements and cookbooks stained with the chef's experiments.

Walking into the study, she entered the room that would reveal the last of her lover's secrets. It was just as tidy as the others were with a computer that dominated the surface of the desk and supplies neatly arranged around it. Absently, she fingered the glass mug that held at least two dozen identical Bic pens. A disk cache held color-coded floppies, and a pad full of meticulously written notes rested just to the left of the keyboard. Then she turned her head and saw the bulletin board that almost covered one full wall.

It was full of articles, clippings and notes about her.

Drug Lord Escapes Justice...

Lucien Rising to Top of Criminal Food Chain...

JLE Limited: Outlaw Corporation or Legitimate Business...

Rogue: Why the DEA Can't Control Their Own...

Mafia Princess: Iron Fist and Velvet Glove...

And at the center of it all-- a 5" x 7" index card with one word scrawled in red:


Liz had been holding her breath, watching the play of emotions over Jude's face. When she had returned here last night, she had almost destroyed the room in her fury at having lost the only thing that now had any meaning for her. She had decided to leave it, however, as a testament to her hubris. Now it was her final attempt to rid herself of the last lies still remaining between them.

Jude turned to regard her lover with aching eyes. "Did you get your answer?" she asked hoarsely.

"Yes. But not in the way you think." Jude's silence bade her to continue; and the reporter swallowed hard, knowing their tenuously re-established connection lay in the balance. "When I started all this... No, that's not right. I don't know when I started all this consciously. When you came to trial, I was a desk jockey in the newsroom. I hadn't been in Miami that long, and the trial was everywhere."

"I remember," Jude said dryly.

"During your trial, you didn't have any of the smarmy smugness like Gotti had when he was under indictment. But at the same time you weren't pleading your innocence every time somebody shoved a microphone at you. There was something... calm and centered about you in the middle of all that circus... and I just didn't understand."   "Understand what?"

"Why," she replied simply. "Why you did what they said you had, why you turned rogue, why you orchestrated the Massacre, why you weren't bothering to deny it. Every time I looked at you, the question just screamed itself at me. Why?"

"The story of a lifetime," Jude commented bitterly.

"No," Liz contradicted. Seeing the sardonic curl of Jude's lip, she continued, "Let me tell you something about my business, Jude. News lasts approximately 30 seconds in this world. There's always something bigger and better coming down the pipeline. Your story went cold almost the minute the trial was over. You were acquitted and you weren't talking. Brugetti knew when he was beaten and wasn't about to dwell on losing what everybody called an airtight case. There was no outraged family to cry foul on prime time or haul you into civil court. Forget about the DEA, you think they wanted to talk about the fact that their best agent now worked the other side? For all intents and purposes, the story was over."

"But you kept after it."

Liz smiled ruefully. "Not at first. It wasn't until after the trial had been over for six months-- and I was still keeping my ears open for anything about your activities-- that I admitted I couldn't get you out of my head." A dark brow arched dramatically in her direction. "Now you think I'm a stalker, huh? I was there the day you testified in court too. You were absolutely beautiful that day. I can still remember the suit you wore."

"Armani," Jude murmured faintly.

"Yeah, Armani." She shook her head to dislodge the memory of her first sight of the Archangel. "Anyway, I was on the crime beat anyway, so it just seemed natural to follow up my sources to try and find out what you were up to. In the meantime, I got stonewalled by the DA and almost thrown in jail for trying to violate a court-ordered seal on your DEA records."


"Relax, I didn't get to see anything."

"You know all the important stuff now, anyway."

Liz studied her lover for a moment before reaching out and clasping a hand tentatively, half-afraid the gesture would be rebuffed. She breathed a quiet sigh of relief when Jude interlaced their fingers and tugged her over to the small couch opposite the desk. "That's what I'm trying to do now," she said quietly as they sat, curling her legs underneath her. "Tell you the important stuff. I don't want anything else looming between us."

Jude nodded. "I just wish you had done it earlier."

"Me too," the reporter agreed emphatically. "But honestly, I don't know if there would be any easy way to tell you that your lover is a reporter who stalked you, researched your past extensively, and insinuated herself into your life on false pretenses." At the description, Jude looked like she didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Laugh, Jude please, she pled silently. Or we don't have a chance.

Finally a strangled chuckle escaped from the dark woman's throat. "Well... when you put it that way... I guess you're right." She studied their entwined fingers. "Why did you decide to try and find me? Especially after so long."

"Truthfully? I'm not sure, except that I knew that no file or unnamed 'source' was going to tell me what I wanted to know."

"Which was?"

She glanced into the depths of Jude's eyes, relieved to see that they were still flickering with warmth. Then she took a deep breath and said softly, "Why I couldn't get you out of my head."

The admission rested tremulously between them for a moment, until Jude asked. "What did your editor think of all this?"

"Let's see, I think his exact response was 'Are you out of your fucking mind?'" She grinned. "That's usually Lucas' response to just about anything. But he thought my scheme was particularly hare-brained."

"It was," Jude agreed bluntly. "What if I had been what everyone thought I was? What if I had--" She stopped abruptly, the rest of her sentence swallowed.

"What if you had taken me upstairs to your room at the Club and seduced me instead of taking me to your house?" Liz finished for her. "What if you had treated me like you've treated every other woman in your life?"

"Yeah," Jude said softly.

"Why didn't you?" she demanded, wanting to know why things had gone so mysteriously, strangely right when everything about their meeting should have been wrong.

Jude leaned her forehead against Liz's, closing her eyes briefly and drawing them almost unbearably close. "Because you aren't like any other woman I've ever met, Elizabeth."

"Let me see your eyes," Liz whispered hoarsely. Silently, Jude obeyed the request; and Liz found herself confronting a blue deeper and richer than any ocean vista or summer sky or sparkling jewel that she'd ever seen. In Jude's eyes she saw a raw admission of want and need and love. She answered it with one of her own, hoping that she could convey a tenth of what she felt for the woman sitting a breath away. She felt Jude's breath catch softly, knew that her lover had caught the wave she was cresting now. "Yes," she murmured, feeling Jude's lips seeking her own. "Yes..."

"It's a restaurant called Barrido del Mar... yeah. I know, Lucas.... No, it's not out in the middle of nowhere... No... No... NO! Okay... yeah, two hours. Good. See you there." Liz dropped the phone into its cradle with a weary sigh and fell back onto the bed she hadn't slept in for almost a month.

Jude lazily stroked the fine tendrils of hair away from the reporter's face, studying the features of the woman she had come to love before anything. She still couldn't quite wrap her mind around the tumultuous events that had led her here, but she figured there would be time enough for reflection later. Provided, of course, she survived the coming explosion.

"Hey there... earth to Jude..." She focused on the gentle green in Liz's eyes, smiling at the warmth there.

"Hey... sorry, I was kinda out of it."

"Wanna share?" Liz wiggled a little further up the bed so her head rested comfortably on the flat plain of Jude's abdomen. Somehow they had ended up in the bedroom after their talk, and Jude... being Jude, and Liz... being unable to resist Jude... well, things had quickly taken their natural course. Now Jude lay stretched out comfortably across her dusky pink sheets, providing a contented pillow for Liz to recline upon.

"Just... thinking about everything that's happened." She paused. "And everything that's going to happen." She glanced down at the golden figure of her lover propped against her. "It's all going to go down quickly now. You know that, don't you?" Contrary to what she had let Elizabeth believe, she knew the minute that story hit, she would be walking around with a bulls-eye on her back. She hadn't lied when she said she thought Liz's idea would work, it was just going to work for reasons far different than her lover thought. She hoped to provoke whoever had choreographed this particular dance into coming out into the open. She couldn't shoot at something she couldn't see. It was really that simple. Though she had promised Liz they would try and find some solution other than violence, honestly that alternative eluded her. Whoever was after her wanted blood. It wasn’t just something she could walk away from. Resolutely pushing the dark thoughts out of her mind she nuzzled the back of her lover's neck, nipping softly at the skin.

"Whoa there, Romeo..." Liz cautioned verbally, but her body arched into the caress. "We've got two hours before we meet up with Lucas, and we need to go by the house to pick up the documentation he's gonna ask for."

"I need to pick up my car too."

"Okay, why don't we go to the house to get the stuff, swing by the Club and pick up the Porsche and then take separate cars out to the restaurant?" she suggested, sitting up regretfully. "That way if Lucas needs me to come back to the paper I can."

Jude chewed her lip for a moment, thinking. "Sounds like a plan to me. Let's go." She stood up with a graceful motion, looking around for the shirt that seemed to have mysteriously gotten misplaced.

"Uh.... Jude?" Liz caught her by the arm. "Remember the conversation we had this morning about Eau de Brothel?" A mischievous sparkle dotted the fields of green.

"You just want to get me in the shower again." Jude smirked.

"You got that right," her lover responded with a leer. "Come on, we've got time."