Chapter 15

To T.J.’s ears, the deep male voice on the other end of the phone sounded distinctly triumphant, with a healthy dose of smugness thrown in for good measure. She ignored the pleasantries that politely accompany the end of most telephone conversations and shut her cell phone with an unsatisfying snap.

It’s done. Now I just have to hope it’s the best thing to do. Although every fiber in her being was screaming at her at the moment, she had done what she grudgingly believed to be her only option. She had called for reinforcements. Not just any reinforcements - the F.B.frikkin-I. She had agreed to Agent Knight’s proposal, and called him to let him know that he could start "tending bar" in the pub as soon as he wanted. Agent Knight seemed very happy that she had taken him up on his offer, and now she knew that she had more than just herself and Jake’s boys in her corner.

T.J. had spent an extremely restless night, in part pacing the floor of her bedroom, and in part driving aimlessly around San Diego, barely enjoying the gorgeous summer night that blew past her with the top down on the convertible. She had left Camryn in the more than capable hands of Jo, who had assured her that she would call if an emergency arose.

When they arrived home from Julian, the first thing T.J. did when she got into her own car was to call Jake, to arrange immediate 24-hour security for Cami. While T.J. could more than protect herself, the Jeep accident had proven several things to the ex-mercenary - the least of which being that the Reynoso bastards had no problem with dragging her friends into the rapidly escalating situation. Jake’s men, she knew, would guard Camryn with their own lives if necessary, and they were discreet enough that Cami would likely never even know they were there.

But shouldn’t ya tell her that there is trouble? T.J.’s conscience niggled at her. Aye, yes…that’s it. Just call her and say ‘Thanks for a lovely time, oh and by the way, some ruthless drug lords are pissed at me, so that accident was likely NOT an accident.’ If the situation hadn’t been so drastic, T.J. might have laughed at her own sarcasm. No, she decided, that topic of conversation is best left alone for now.

She also arranged for the accident site to be evaluated by Agent Knight and his men. She had clued him in to her suspicions, and asked as a favor in return for her compliance with his plan, that the F.B.I. check out the Jeep for any evidence of tampering. Knight had been reluctant to agree to convey any information to T.J., until the bar owner had pointed out that without her cooperation, his case against the Reynoso’s would take him a hell of a lot longer.

She hated like bloody hell to be working with the Feds. Every experience she had ever had with law enforcement had turned out badly. She knew that in America, things were different from the urban wars of Ireland. But. From the time she was a wee girl at her Da’s knee, she was taught that the law was only concerned with the black and white of an issue. That the grey areas be damned - you break a law, you pay the penalty. And in the case of her brother, the law sometimes found the convenient answer - a scapegoat to appease the masses.

However, T.J. was strong enough to admit when she was over-matched. She was in a foreign country, dealing with a criminal element that she had no working knowledge of, and without her far-reaching connections that she had at home. No army, no solid information, no way of infiltrating. Whereas this was essentially the Reynoso’s home turf - they held all the cards and they knew the unwritten rules.

T.J. absently rubbed her stiff shoulder. And apparently they know much more about me and my movements than they should. But that would soon change.

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

Someone was beating on solid metal trashcans. With a jackhammer. And the son-of-a-bitch was inside her head. Cami stretched and winced at the residual aches and pains of her body. She tentatively opened one deep green eye, expecting tortuous pain, but instead gratefully finding that someone had thoughtfully closed the vertical blinds so her bedroom was blissfully dark.

But the pounding in her head continued. As she slowly eased her legs over the side of the bed and tried sitting up, combating the dizziness that ensued, she briefly pondered the fact that she seemed to feel worse today than she had traipsing through the mountains yesterday. Perhaps it was the company you were keeping that kept your mind off of the pain? She mused, glancing slowly around the very empty, very lonely room. She knew that Jo was somewhere around, because her diminutive friend had stayed the night in the guest room to make sure Cami didn’t need any help during the night. But somehow Jo’s presence was not the same. She’s gone for less than 24 hours and already you miss her. A vision of the tall, dark barkeep popped into her brain and for a moment she ignored the pain in her head and smiled. You big sap.

Cami reflected that they had never gotten the chance to really talk after they shared that incredible kiss. There were hundreds of questions dancing about her throbbing brain. But between the public forum of the restaurant, and Jo’s presence on the ride home, they never quite got to talk about anything really personal.

What if she didn’t want this?….But she kissed me back, I’m sure of that… Cami’s shoulders nearly drooped under the myriad of insecurities that rifled through her mind. Logically she knew that she could answer none of her questions until she spoke with T.J. But that didn’t stop the questions from bouncing around in her head like a case of rubber balls.

A soft knock interrupted her reverie. "Come in, Jo." She called out and then cringed at the pain that shot through her. Softly, gently…She belatedly reminded herself.

The little redhead eased the door open, bearing a tray with coffee and croissants. "Thought you might want some breakfast." She set the tray down on the nightstand. "Well. You’re sitting up, that’s a good sign." She said cheerfully.

"Can you try not to be so damned perky this early in the morning? Some of us are trying to die over here." Came the grumpy, but quiet response.

Jo smiled, having spent the four years of college dealing with her friend’s aversion to waking up before noon. "Hey, come on now. Eat will you. After all, I cooked."

Cami slowly rotated her eyes towards the tray in question, and she would have laughed out loud if she hadn’t stopped herself, anticipating the pain it would cause her head. "Um. Hate to break this to you hon, but coffee and croissants is NOT cooking."

Jo’s lack of culinary skills was legendary. In college, the three women had taken turns cooking the meals, and Jo was famous for either making burnt grilled cheese sandwiches, or for keeping the frozen food and pizza delivery companies in business.

"That’s not fair," she protested. "I had to perk that coffee. Did you know you are out of instant??"

Cami slowly raised an eyebrow. "Jo. Since I have never bought instant coffee in my life, I am not surprised that you failed to find any in my cupboard."

Jo scowled - a ridiculous look beneath her short haircut that made her look all the more like a pixie.

Cami unsuccessfully suppressed a smile. "But. Wow. I see you opened that package of croissants all by yourself."

"Ok. Now I know you are feeling better. Sarcastic Cami is back. You really had me worried last night, you were quiet and docile, so I knew you were as sick as a dog." Jo eased herself onto the foot of the bed. "So. Feel up to telling me what happened? Besides crashing your Jeep, I mean."

Cami picked up the steaming cup of coffee, grateful for the smell alone that did wonders for perking up her spirits. "We crashed. We camped. We hiked. We ate dinner. We saw a doctor. We called you. End of story."

"If you weren’t feeling so sick, I’d smack you but good with that pillow, woman." Jo teasingly threatened. "Try starting with what you were doing in the forest with tall, dark and gorgeous in the first place."

Cami relayed the journey of the weekend, starting with the pleasant hike and picnic, which seemed like another lifetime ago. That was B.C. - Before the crash. Or is that B.K. Before the kiss?

Despite the fact that Jo was one of dearest friends, she left out some of the important details. Like waking up in T.J.’s arms, or the incredible feel of her lips. Some things were just not meant to be shared - not even with your best friend. Besides, she knew that Jo was shrewd enough to catch on that something was up between she and T.J. No sense giving her more fuel for the fire. Especially not until I figure out myself where we stand.

"So the doc gave me some instructions and some pain medication, and you arrived to pick us up. The End." Cami set down the cup and bit slowly into a plain croissant, not quite sure how her stomach would handle food this morning.

Jo looked at her skeptically. But she allowed Cami to get away with skirting around the real issues. For now anyway.

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

By late afternoon Jo left for rehearsals and Cami’s house suddenly felt very empty. Padding through the house in her usual sleep attire of t-shirt and boxer shorts, Cami was too wired to lay down and rest, which had been Jo’s suggestion before she left for work. Cami puttered around, feeling restless. She didn’t feel like working in the darkroom, which was practically a first for her. And there was nothing interesting on television. There were no jobs scheduled for the day. When you got right down to it, she was bored and lonely.

Inevitably, her thoughts turned to T.J. and the fact that she still couldn’t quite gauge the dark woman’s reaction to their weekend together. Without being able to talk to her about anything, Cami felt frustrated, and frankly, scared. So, she decided that a phone call was in order, in fact, she was a bit surprised that she had not heard from T.J. all day. Not a phone call to check on how I’m feeling? She started to let herself really worry that perhaps she had misjudged T.J., that the barkeep had not wanted the kiss.

Before her imagination got really out of control, she punched in the now familiar numbers on the cordless phone and nearly jumped out of her socks when she heard a knock at the door, followed by the sound of a cell phone ringing on the other side of the door.

Thunderstruck she opened the door and gaped at T.J. who was leaning indolently on the front porch, holding up her cell phone and grinning from ear to ear. "Guess great minds think alike, eh?" The tall woman quipped.

Cami laughed and then they both jumped when the phone rang again. "Sorry." Cami punched the disconnect button on the phone. "What are you…um…wow. Hi. I was obviously just thinking about you." Caught. Big time. She waggled the cordless phone in T.J.’s direction. Damn, she’s gorgeous. Cami was struck by the casual and simple elegance of her clothes, her hair, and her style. Of course she could be running around in an ugly brown dress or something, and she’d still be gorgeous. She briefly pondered where she had conjured up and image of T.J. wearing some ugly, brown thing, but she dismissed it and focused on the stunning, real vision before her.

"Aye. I just finished at work and thought I’d bring ya this." She produced a brown paper bag and handed it to Cami.

The blonde finally remembered her manners. "I’m sorry. Please, come in." She led the way into the house and T.J. closed the door softly behind them. Cami couldn’t get over how nervous she suddenly felt in T.J.’s presence. The tension between them was electric, and all awareness of the pounding headache she had been nursing all day had vanished.

"I probably should have called first. But I was afraid ya might be napping." In truth, she had picked up the phone a hundred times today to call, but had been too nervous. So once she decided to bring Cami some dinner, showing up at her doorstep was the only logical thing to do, right? Couldn’t let the food go to waste? You big fraud.

"No. No problem. I’m really glad you came." Heavenly smells wafted from the bag. "So what’d you bring me?"
"I thought ya’d be hungry. But I also remembered that your stomach was botherin’ ya, so I had the cook make ya some chicken broth."
"That is so sweet. As a matter of fact, my stomach does still feel like the cast of Riverdance is rehearsing in there." But that just came on suddenly. When you arrived in fact.

"Aye? Well, I never liked that damned show anyway." T.J. said with a chuckle as she followed Cami into the kitchen.

The short woman grabbed an eating utensil from the drawer, and hungrily fished her dinner out of the bag. "What else is in here?" She inquired when she realized that the soup container had company.

T.J. smirked. "Well, just in case you were feeling up to it, I also had them include a slice of today’s dessert special - chocolate cream pie." At the blonde’s excited expression, T.J. laughed. "But. Only if you are feeling up to it." She finished with a wink.

"T.J. Are you kidding?? A girl would have to be practically dead to turn down chocolate cream pie."

Cami led the way to the balcony and placed her treasure on the table, before something occurred to her. "Where’s yours?"
T.J. sat in the chair next to her, propping her booted feet up on the railing. "I ate earlier. No worries, that dessert is all yours."

That earned her a smack in the shoulder, and she winced before she could catch herself. "That’s not why I asked silly." Cami caught the pained expression. "Oh damn! T.J., did I hurt you?"
T.J. dismissed her fussing with a little wave. "No, ya didn’t. ‘Tis just a little sore from the other day."

"The accident?"

"Aye. I think I landed on my shoulder when I got tossed from the Jeep." She flexed the limb in question. "But. It just feels a bit bruised is all."

She glanced at Cami who had paused mid slurp of the soup. "I’m so sorry about the accident, T.J. I really never meant for you to get hurt."

"Now don’t start that up again. ‘Twas not your fault." T.J.’s conscience was pricking her now. "And, if I recall, I owe ya an explanation." I owe you a lot of explanations, but I may as well take the first baby step.

Cami tucked into the soup, surprised at how famished she was. "Hmm. Yes, actually you do. You carried me up that ravine??"

The barkeep took a deep breath before beginning. "Aye. Well. After the crash, I think I was passed out for just a few minutes. When I woke up, you were gone and so was the Jeep." The sun was beginning its slow descent into the Pacific and the reddish-gold quality of the light danced across the balcony. T.J. stared at the harbor below them, not really looking, just remembering the agonizing feeling of not knowing where Cami had been.

"Anyway," she continued. "I called out for ya, but there was no response. It was a minute or two before it occurred to me that the Jeep was over the side of the ravine. I ran down into the canyon and found you still in the driver’s seat." When Cami looked vaguely confused T.J. explained. "You were smart enough to fasten your safety belt."

"Ah. Yeah. Childhood habit." There was a pause before she added. "And a law in the state of California, little missy. So next time…" She waved a cautionary spoon in T.J’s direction.

"Yes, ma’am." With a mock salute, T.J. continued on. "Anyway, I pulled ya from the Jeep and carried ya across my shoulders up ta the top of the ravine. That is when ya woke up."

"In your arms." Cami couldn’t help but adding, thoroughly enjoying the red flush that now covered the taller woman’s face.

"Aye. And was that a complaint then?" Came the teasing reply.

"No. Definitely not. Just adding what little I remember of the story." Then something else occurred to her. "Hey! Wait a minute! As I recall, the Jeep was laying on its side. How in the holy hell did you get me out of there?"

T.J. offered a non-committal shrug. "I unbuckled your belt and hoisted you out."

Cami stared at her a moment in astonishment. When no further explanation was forthcoming, the blonde responded softly. "Remind me never to piss you off, ok? You are certainly a damn sight stronger than you look, woman." She placed a gentle hand on T.J.’s arm and enjoyed the tingle that the touch brought to her fingertips.

T.J. just smiled her enigmatic smile.

Cami pushed away her food with a satisfied smile. "Well. Thanks again for the food. I was apparently starving to death and didn’t know it. And thanks for filling me in on the story. Why didn’t you just tell me the whole thing when we were up there?"

"Ya assumed ya had been thrown clear as well, and the fear in your eyes when ya saw that Jeep over the edge? Well, I dinna want ta scare ya even more."

Cami nodded. "I see. Well, I know it is insufficient for all that you did for me, but thank you. For everything."

Embarrassed, T.J stood up and leaned on the railing, enjoying the sunset. " ‘Twas nothing, really. You’da done the same."

"Nothing?! T.J., you saved my life." Cami rose and followed her to the rail, so that their bare arms were touching.

T.J. was silent for a long while, and Cami studied her profile, enjoying the golden light on the older woman’s skin. The twilight was quiet, with just a faint sound of the traffic rushing by on the interstate. The air held a slight tang of the ocean, but all Cami noticed was the distinctive cologne that T.J. wore. It was mysterious and seductive, like the woman herself.

Mere moments passed, but it could have been a lifetime and neither woman would have taken notice. Finally, the barkeep turned and brought her hand to Cami’s face, cupping her cheek. In a voice husky with emotion, T.J. finally answered. "Dinna ya ever stop ta consider, that maybe it is you who saved my life?"

Before Cami could respond, T.J.’s soft lips had descended to her own. The blood coursed through Cami’s body and she shivered in response to the touch of T.J.’s arms as they curled around her and deepened the kiss.

It was the same blissful sense of coming home that they had experienced on the mountain. But with the passion of many lifetimes behind it that urged them further into a feverish embrace. As the sun drew its daily portrait in the Western sky, neither woman noticed the masterpiece - lost in a universe that existed no farther than each other.

T.J. blazed a trail of hot, hungry kisses down Cami’s neck and the smaller woman shuddered in response, her arms reaching up and enjoying the feeling of T.J.’s taught muscular back. When the kiss broke for a moment, each could read volumes in the other’s eyes. T.J. traced her fingers across the smooth tanned cheek, and Cami rubbed her hands slowly across the taller woman’s stomach.

No words were spoken. None were necessary. Cami simply took T.J.’s hand and led her into the bedroom. The room was dark, with only the remnants of twilight to dance and writhe in shadows on the wall. A hint of vanilla wafted on the air, from the candle that Cami had restlessly lit earlier in the day.

T.J. allowed herself to be led to the bed and followed Cami as though she were a siren - seductively easing them both onto the bed. The dance as old as time continued, this time with a passion so gentle and tender that it nearly hurt. With tempting little kisses, T.J. made her way to Cami’s stomach and eased off the smaller woman’s t-shirt. The barkeep gave a soft gasp as she realized that nothing stood between her and Cami’s full, ripe breasts. The feel of T.J.’s lips on her bare skin nearly sent Cami to the ceiling. She grasped tightly at the dark hair that was now spilling across her chest. T.J. left a damp trail on her quest to reach her prize - and she lavished attention on both nipples, leaving Cami panting and grasping at the tormentor that so teasingly controlled her.

When the smaller woman let out a moan, T.J. paused in her tasting. "Are you feeling up to this? I mean, if your head is hurting…"

Cami’s initial response was to grab T.J. and pull her into a long, deep kiss. When she finally released her, she simply reiterated her earlier statement. "Are you kidding? A girl would have to be practically dead to turn this down. Don’t you dare stop."

T.J. laughed - a low, sexy growl that had Cami shuddering and reaching for the buttons on the dark woman’s blouse. T.J. partially sat up to make the blonde’s task easier, and Cami teasingly eased each button open and kissed the creamy skin beneath as she bared it.

At last the silk blouse ended up next to the t-shirt in a heap on the floor. Next came the bra, which Cami slid from the beautiful, strong shoulders and tossed aside quickly so that she could enjoy the sight of T.J.’s incredible, lush breasts. "Damn, you are so beautiful." Cami gasped as she bent to taste the bounty that she had discovered. T.J. smiled and ran long fingers through the soft blonde hair that tickled her chin as Cami delighted in tasting each of her breasts.

When the dark woman couldn’t stand any more of the exquisite torture, she deftly rolled Cami onto her back and reached for the waistband of the small woman’s boxers. With a grin at just how damned sexy Cami was, no matter what she wearing, T.J. again was stunned into inaction when she realized that like the t-shirt, Cami was bare beneath the shorts. "Bloody hell." She whispered. "You are full of surprises tonight."

With a soft, delicate touch, T.J. swept her hands over Cami’s body, followed closely by lips that reveled in the little shivers they left in their wake. When she reached the treasure that she had so recently uncovered, T.J. paused. With soft nips and light kisses, she tormented Cami’s inner thighs, while sure, poetic fingers began to softly stroke the golden hair at Cami’s apex.

The small woman was in exquisite agony. She writhed and moaned under T.J.’s adept touch. When she could not longer take the sweet torment, her hands reached out blindly for something, she wasn’t sure what - some relief from the pleasurable pain that she felt under T.J.’s ministrations. "Please. I…T.J…oh please…"

A primitive smile of satisfaction began to light up T.J.’s dark countenance. "Please what, Cami?" She purred. Without stopping in her seductive touch, T.J. played Cami’s body like a beautiful instrument.

Cami could not form the words. The thoughts ricocheted through her head and out again as fast as they were formed. But nothing was coherent. The only thing that existed, all that mattered was T.J.’s touch. Her hands, her mouth, her body…

"Please, enough torture...I want…I need…. you…"

"You have me, baby…" She leaned up and growled into Cami’s ear. With another slow, deep kiss that seemed to last an eternity, she decided that Cami had suffered enough.

Again tracing her way down the luscious body that was spread out for her, T.J. found what they had both been waiting for. With a hot mouth and a greedy tongue, she began to revel in the exquisite taste of Cami’s essence. The moment that T.J.’s mouth touched her, Cami nearly came undone. She laced her fingers through T.J.’s silky hair and watched as the dark woman feasted on her.

Cami was helpless in the face of the rising passion that swirled about them like a dervish. T.J.’s tongue danced across her with an abandon that Cami had never before experienced - darting, sucking, swirling. Cami had been claimed - body, soul and heart. And from that moment on nothing in her life would be the same. In a thunderous crash, she plummeted over the abyss into the unknown.

And yet, when she returned to earth, she felt a pair of strong arms wrap tightly around her, and Cami knew she had come home. And even if her life had changed irrevocably, she never wanted to go back. This is where she belonged. Always.

T.J. held her and stroked her hair, whispering quiet words in Gaelic. Cami had no idea what she was saying, but the words were unimportant - it was the tenderness behind that that Cami reveled in. T.J. leaned in and placed soft kisses on Cami’s lips and the blonde woman was nearly surprised that she could taste herself on those soft lips.

Words seemed to float on the air around them. Love…Mine…Forever….At last…. None were spoken, but they drifted there all the same, lingering like the fading twilight. And in the last few wisps of that amazing summer day, two soul mates curled together and finally fell asleep in each other’s arms.

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

 

Chapter 16

By the Gods, what have I done? The tang of salty sea air assailed T.J. as she sped away from Cami’s house in the grayness of the pre-dawn.

By 4:00 a.m. T.J. had awoken to find herself blissfully wrapped around a warm, naked Cami. And while the sensation was delicious, T.J.’s over-active brain had kicked into high gear.

This is too good, too stable for ya, old girl. What would ya do if the Reynoso’s hurt her? And what would she say if she knew the whole truth about ya? Her conscience and her checkered past washed over her like a rip tide and pulled her away from the sweet paradise she had found in Cami’s arms. She was adrift in a sea of secrets and half-truths, and she was damned if she would pull Cami in after her.

Careful not to disturb her companion, she had dressed quietly and quickly and slipped out the front door. She was vaguely aware of someone watching her and she deftly scanned the neighborhood until she spotted one of Jake’s men, discreetly watching over Cami’s house - as ordered. T.J. gave a brief nod in his direction and climbed into her car.

Ya owe Cami some sort of explanation. Ya can’t just leave her like this. T.J. had debated long and hard over that. The cynic in her saying that Cami was an adult, she could handle the notion of T.J. disappearing from her life forever. But her heart, that traitorous instrument that was the source of T.J.’s pain at the moment, cried out that at the very least she could explain things to Cami.

But explain what? That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler ta suffer the hatred and loathing I would surely see in Cami’s eyes, or ta take arms against that bastard and suffer the sorrow of losing Cami because I committed murder. If the situation hadn’t been so serious, T.J. would have laughed at the tenor of her thoughts, sure that Mr. Shakespeare was turning in his grave to hear his words bastardized in such a way.

If I continue ta see Cami, I put her in danger. True. But if I continue ta see her, I can also personally protect her. Her head was rational, but her heart just wouldn’t play fair, insisting that she couldn’t lose Cami – not now – not knowing how wonderful it was to lose herself in Cami’s loving embrace and healing soul. And if ya can’t protect her, what then? Are ya prepared ta risk her life, just so ya can be with her? No. That much was certain.

So, that left the singular thought that T.J. would just have to rid them both of the problem. Take down the Reynoso’s and remove the threat. Then Cami is all mine, safe and sound.

Until she learns ya are a murdering, thieving mercenary, that is. T.J. was speeding along the highway towards her condo. The sun had still not shown it’s face this morning, but the top was down on the car nonetheless. The crisp, morning air was doing wonders for waking up T.J.’s brain. Yeah. So no matter the outcome with that bastard Frank, you’ll lose the girl in the end anyway. She could feel the pounding in her heart; feel the aching void that such a thought left in her.

Why did ya do it, old girl? Ya were safe from such pain, weren’t ya? But no. Ya had ta go and kiss her; ta taste what heaven feels like. Weren’t ya better off NOT knowing? Better off living in Hell and scoffing at the saps that write silly, romantic songs and poems about what love is like? Whoever said it is better ta have loved and lost than ta never have loved at all, was a damned fool. Ya can’t miss what ya dinna even know exists!

But the truth was, she had tasted paradise. Every time she looked into Cami’s eyes, she read the love plainly written there – tasted the deep, abiding wonder of having another human being look right into your soul and lovingly hold onto the joy they found there.

But she doesn’t really know what is in your soul, does she? And if she knew….?

However, T.J. was aware that a part of her rambling was right. She did owe Cami some sort of reason why they could go no further along the path. She sighed heavily and swiped at the long, dark tresses that the wind kept whipping in her face. Reluctantly, she turned the car around and headed back to the sweet, Victorian House where she had left her heart. Cami would still be asleep, but she would leave her a note, and they could talk later.

And ya can say goodbye to her. Before ya have ta see the fear and loathing in her eyes when she hears about who ya really are inside.

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

A wonderful smell assaulted Cami’s senses, and as she opened her eyes, she could tell from the brightness of the room that it was morning. She knew without looking that T.J. was gone, she felt the woman’s absence from the bed as though she had left a cold void in her wake.

But before Cami could think about where she might have gone, she noticed that T.J. had left her a note sitting on the empty pillow, folded around an incredibly beautiful peach-colored rose. Cami had no idea where T.J. had gotten the rose at this time of the morning, or when the woman had left, but she grinned foolishly at the romantic gesture just the same. She picked up the rose, inhaling the sweet fragrance before she reached for the note. Unfolding the scrap of paper, Cami thought that T.J.’s handwriting was just what she expected from her enigmatic friend - it was bold, decisive and powerful.

Cami -

I didn’t have the heart to disturb the angelic look on your face, and I know you need your sleep - but I couldn’t leave without somehow saying goodbye. Your beauty makes my knees weak and your passion overwhelms me, but it is the power of your soul that has me speechless. May I see you tonight?

T.J.

Cami felt unshed tears cloud her eyes, as she re-read the note several times before folding it neatly and placing it in her night stand. May I see you tonight?? Is she kidding? She’d better come over! She gently placed the rose in a glass of water on the nightstand, inhaling the rich, distinctive scent before she dropped herself back onto the bed. She reached over and impulsively hugged the pillow that still held a remnant of T.J.’s perfume. And in that bliss of happiness, she drifted back to sleep.

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

Showered and changed, T.J. felt much more clear-headed. She had allowed her passions to run away with her, but that would not happen again. Her Sig was neatly tucked into its shoulder holster and covered by her black, leather jacket. It was time to start re-taking control of this situation. And the Reynoso’s had no idea what they were up against.

When T.J. arrived at the pub, Agent Knight was there, waiting with a disgruntled looking Tommy. "Morning boss. May I speak with you please?" He shot a meaningful look at the newcomer. "In private."

T.J. sighed. She figured that Tommy would have questions; namely, just what was she doing hiring another guy to do his job. T.J. had already carefully weighed her options in this matter. She knew in her heart she could trust Tommy, and that the lanky bartender would certainly protect her back when the going got tough. But the simple fact was, the more people who knew that Knight was F.B.I. undercover, the more chance there was for blowing the whole operation.

"Sure, Tommy." She turned to Knight, "Mornin’, Peter. I have all of your paperwork filled out for employment, and if ya give us a second, Tommy here will show you where ta start." She smiled at him, and he easily played along with her lie about his paperwork.

The agent smiled pleasantly. He was dressed for work at the pub, with a pair of khaki pants and the deep green polo shirt that T.J. had given him, which bore the name of the pub and the Irish flag embroidered on it.

She led Tommy into her office, leaving Knight to putter around on his own. The agent had assured her that he knew how to mix drinks. In fact, he had worked his way through college at Georgetown University, working in one of the many local bars. But frankly, confidence in his ability to draw a Guinness was the least of T.J.’s concerns.

"Sit down, Tommy." She gestured to the chair opposite her desk, and quietly shut the door behind them. "Before ya get yer dander all up, let me explain."

"But, T.J., I . . ." He sputtered to a beginning, taken off guard that she recognized his simmering anger.

"Tommy, ya full well know that I adore ya. That ya are a savior to me, helping me in running this place." Tommy’s face turned bright red at the compliment and he suddenly found his shoes very interesting, so he didn’t have to make eye contact with his stunning boss.

"So. I figured, what with business picking up, we could both use an extra pair of hands behind the bar."

"Boss, you and I have the bar covered. I know that Katie mentioned we could use another couple of waitresses, but …"

"Ok. Done. And that will be your first job as my new manager – ta hire a few more waitresses, however many ya think we need."

Tommy’s chin hit the floor. "You said…um…manager?" His normally baritone voice squeaked out.

T.J. smiled. "Aye. I said, manager. Tommy, you have been loyal and shown yourself more than competent enough to run this place. I hired Peter ta take over as bartender so I could promote ya - congratulations ‘manager’!"
"But that is your job!" He protested.

"No. I’m the owner. I’ll still make the financial decisions, do all of the ordering, and I still have the final say on menu changes and the like, but ya will take over the day ta day operations. Make sure we are fully staffed, that schedules accommodate the busy times, and so on." She grinned at the dumbfounded look on his face. "And, of course, as manager if ya want ta tend the bar, that is your choice. I’m sure our regulars would miss ya if they didn’t see ya hanging around back there."

A slow grin began to color Tommy’s face. "Does this come with a raise?? ‘Cause there is this motorcycle I’ve had my eye on…" He joked with his boss.

"Of course."

"Awesome!" His grin was from ear to ear now. "But, are you sure the bar can afford it, because I don’t mind not…"

T.J. cut him off. "Aye. I’m sure, Tommy. Listen, my Da always taught me ta reward the loyal and they will remain so. Ya have more than proven your faithfulness ta the company." She reached across the desk and patted his arm, causing a fresh round of color to stream into his cheeks. It was the first time in his whole life that someone had recognized his hard work and loyalty. And he was very glad that it had been T.J.

"Besides," her voice took on a very serious tone. "As ya know, we’ve had some trouble brewing of late with my ex-husband, and I’d feel better knowing ya were watching out for the place. And Peter seems like a competent, strong guy - it couldn’t hurt ta have a couple of ya around the place ta keep an eye on things. I thought about hiring a security company, but I don’t want ta panic the customers. I figured we could handle it internally."

"Has that son of a bitch, er…." Tommy stopped himself, realizing he was referring to a man Taylor had been married to. "Um…no offense boss."

"Believe me, none taken." Her eyes glinted with humor.

"Has he said something or done something to you, because I’d like nothing better than an excuse to knock that scum bag’s teeth in." Tommy’s normally friendly, open face hardened and sharpened at the idea. T.J. reflected that she had been completely right in Tommy – he’d be the right guy to have watching her back.

"No. Simmer down, turbo." She tried to keep the tone light. "I just want us ta be prepared if anything goes down." There. That is mostly the truth. Enough for Tommy ta be on the look out for trouble, and yet…not enough for him ta accidentally blow Knight’s cover. "And Tommy, nothing heroic, ok? Your first order of business is ta dial 911, got me? Let’s let the professionals handle the really tough stuff."

Tommy stood and stretched his hand across the desk to T.J., which she reflexively took and firmly shook. "You can count on me, boss. If that bastard starts anything, he’s history."

"Thanks, mate. I know you’re the right man for the job." She locked eyes with Tommy, without releasing his hand. In that moment, a silent pact was formed. "Now would ya mind goin’ out there and helping the newbie learn the ropes?"

"Gotcha. No problem." Tommy started for the door, a new spring in his step, but he paused before he left. "And boss? Thanks. Thanks a lot."

After he closed the door, T.J. took a deep breath. It had gone a lot smoother than she had expected, and she felt a great deal better knowing that Tommy was well prepared to deal with Frank or the Reynosos. Now if things would just go as smoothly with Cami. But the unfortunate thing was, T.J. couldn’t just give the blonde half of the truth. No, telling her about the Reynosos is the least of my worries. Past images of gun-running, shadowy deals, and plastic explosives filled T.J.’s head, and she tried in vain to stifle the one lone tear that cascaded down her cheek. I’m sorry, Cami. Sorry I ever allowed ya into my world. Forgive me.

She picked up the phone, her fingers brutally stabbing at the numbers.

"Yeah?"

"Jake?"

"Er, yeah. Hiya Jamie." His voice sounded a bit sleepy, but bright and happy to hear from her.

"Can ya come down ta the pub for lunch? My treat. I have some things ta run by ya."

"Uh, sure. Sure, no problem."

"I’ll see ya then."

T.J. hung up the phone and stared at it for a minute. Trying to collect her thoughts before making the rather difficult phone call to Cami. Keep it light. Tell her you’ll see her tonight and be done with it. With that, she reached again for the receiver.

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

Agent Knight spent the day restlessly cleaning bar glasses and serving the few customers that wandered in during the afternoon hours. Lunch had been busy and he knew that at dinner time things would pick up, but for the moment he was…well…bored. Going undercover was usually one of his favorite assignments – infiltrating, uncovering, and deceiving. His parents used to tease him and tell him he should have been an actor instead, if he liked pretending so much. At least acting would have been a less dangerous profession. But also not as exciting and nowhere nearly as fulfilling as bringing in the "bad guys."

Jameson had spent the better part of the afternoon in a meeting with a man who had identified himself only as "Jake." But Knight put his men to work on figuring out just who this "Jake" was, and if he might be related to the case in any way.

He anticipated that he might be able to get some good information about the Reynosos by working here. With Ms. Jameson’s reluctant permission, he had set up a listening device in the far corner booth that the drug lords preferred. He was confident that between the tapes from their conversations and the information he hoped to get from their cronies that frequented the bar, he could build the rest of the case against them and finally bring them down.

But for now, he polished glasses…and waited.

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

Cami was grinning from ear to ear, and she knew that she looked an awful lot like the Cheshire Cat. She was also loudly singing along to the Melissa Etheridge CD she had put into the stereo, as she stirred the sauce for the Coq Au Vin she was making for dinner.

I wanna come over…to hell with the consequence

T.J. had called a bit before lunchtime to ask if she wanted to have dinner tonight. Of course Cami had jumped at the opportunity and even agreed to make dinner for them. So a trip to the store and some hurried cleaning of the house later, and here it was late afternoon.

The petite photographer was in a full-fledged... something. Lust? Definitely. Love? She pondered that for a moment. Was she in love with Taylor Jameson? Her heart knew the answer. So did that place in her soul that recognized T.J. as though they were bound through many lifetimes. But love? Her rational brain struggled with the concept. It was too soon, too fast. After all, she really knew nothing about T.J. except she owned a bar and she was Irish. And let’s not forget gorgeous, and incredibly sexy, and intelligent, and… Oh god…. I’m so in love with her…

She grinned widely again – a look of serenity plastered on her face that she couldn’t seem to stop today, nor did she want to. She just wanted to revel in the incredible way T.J. made her feel – in how complete she felt with her.

T.J. was due to come over in about an hour, and Cami couldn’t wait for her to arrive. But for now, she stirred the sauce …and waited.

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

"I’m tired of waiting for them to come and get me. It’s time to take some of this to their own turf." T.J.’s voice was low and determined.

"I’ll put some of my guys right on it." Jake assured her as he stood and stretched on the opposite side of T.J.’s desk.

The two had shared lunch in her office, going over the plan that T.J. had formulated for not only getting the Reynoso brothers out of her life, but for getting Frank out of her life as well. Not revenge…call it ‘just desserts.’

Jake Tierney was T.J.’s third cousin, by marriage, on her father’s side of the family. The family tree was a bit long, but they were blood - distant blood to be sure, but for T.J.’s family, blood was certainly thicker than water.

Jake was a big man, about five inches over six feet, with tree trunks for arms and a barrel chest. He was certainly not someone you wanted angry with you. Just a few years older than T.J. was herself, Jake would do just about anything for his "little" cousin "Jamie". T.J. had not met Jake, or even known of his existence until she had settled herself in San Diego and had married Frank. One night in a rare phone conversation with her mother, Mrs. Jameson had mentioned her "cousin" Jake and had told her how to get in touch with him.

Irish immigrants, the Tierney family had gotten their start in Boston nearly a hundred years ago in the construction business, and had soon branched out into running some minor illegal gambling operations. Great Grandson, Jake Tierney, had the finest education and inevitably he had brought his "family" business to Southern California, where he had visited one Spring Break and decided was the perfect place to live – "paradise." He now ran a number of legitimate operations on the West Coast, and he had a small group of very loyal men that would do just about anything for him – as long as the price was right. Tierney construction was one of the largest contracting firms in the State of California, and J.T. Cruise Line operated weekend jaunts from San Diego into Mexico. Jake Tierney wasn’t Mafia, nor was he really a criminal – but he could certainly see the shady street of organized crime from where he was sitting.

T.J. had filled him in on all of the details of the past few days, the Jeep accident, her suspicions, and why she wanted Cami guarded. Jake had listened carefully, feeling the range of emotions from anger to frustration to downright sinister glee as T.J. outlined her plan to sink Frank right alongside the Reynosos.

"I never like that little worm, Jamie. You know that, dontcha?"

T.J. sighed. "Aye. I know Jacob. But ya also know why I needed Frank’s help. Now I’m an American Citizen."

Jake grunted and then frowned. "You know I would have married you myself, Jamie. But my wife would never have understood." Taylor laughed. "Still, I should have set you up properly with one of my guys." The "guys" on Jake’s payroll would have just about fallen all over themselves to have a shot at T.J.

"Jake, what’s done is done. I brought this ‘problem’ inta my life and now the ‘problem’ is creating even more problems. So, it’s time ta get rid of the source."

"Jamie, you want him gone permanently, you just say the word." Jake’s look was fierce, almost feral.

Taylor smiled at her overprotective cousin. "Thanks, mate. But ya know as well as I, if I wanted Frank dead, he’d already be gone."

The big man opposite her smiled ruefully. "Yeah, I know cuz….I know." Jake was privy to T.J.’s past, and her fierce protection of her brother was one of the things that endeared her to Jake; well, that and the fact that she looked like a beautiful fallen angel, and could deliver a right cross that would fell a guy even bigger than himself. He loved his cousin, not in spite of, but because of the fact that she could kick some serious ass when the chips were down.

"I’ll put my computer guys to work on Silva, that should be no problem at all, and I’ll put an extra guard on your woman. Believe me, no one will touch Camryn – on that I’ll stake my life." He leaned over the desk and dropped a quick kiss on the top of T.J.’s head.

T.J. stood as he turned to go. "Jake, don’t forget your check." She picked it up from the desk.

The giant man’s eyes narrowed sharply, and anyone else but his cousin would have been shaking at the dangerous look in his eyes. "You tryin’ to insult me? Rip that damned thing up, Jamie. This is personal, family business – I won’t have you paying me for it."

T.J. shrugged and in his full view, tore the offending document into two pieces. "Sorry. No offense intended. I just wanted ta help ya out some."

Jake shook his head. "No. I’ll let you buy me lunch and I’ll even let you pay to hire my guys as extra security for you around here. But I will not let you pay me for going after that little bastard Silva – Believe me, the pleasure is all mine." He winked at his cousin and closed the door firmly behind him.

Family is certainly a double-edged sword. On one hand a giant pain in the ass and on the other… She sank back into the desk chair and looked fondly at the doorway where Jake had just stood. On the other hand, family can be a comfort when the going gets really tough.

She glanced at her watch and then reflexively smiled. It was about time to head to Cami’s house for dinner. Oh god. Cami…how will I tell her… the smile faded from T.J.’s beautiful face. Part of her wanted to run, to just not show up for dinner and never return her calls. But the bigger part of her refused to be a coward. If ya really care about her, ya will at least give her the benefit of an explanation before ya walk out of her life.

T.J. scooped up her car keys, and then strapped on the shoulder holster for her Sig before once again covering it with her favorite leather jacket. Normally she would forgo the firearm, considering she was having a nice dinner at Cami’s house. But. She also knew it paid to be prepared for any eventuality.

T.J. waved to Tommy and Peter as she left the pub, smirking to herself at the change in demeanor of the usually recalcitrant Tommy. He had gone home and changed into a nice pair of slacks, dress shirt and a tie that was decorated in tiny shamrocks. Guess someone is taking his promotion very seriously. She chuckled to herself.

As she made her way to the car, her mind naturally drifted back to Cami. The photographer had sounded so happy to hear from her earlier, so excited to meet up for dinner. And T.J. could not remember the last time someone offered to cook dinner for her. Jake called her ‘my woman’…not for long I’m afraid…

Her mind preoccupied with the details of how and just what she would tell Camryn at dinner, Taylor momentarily forgot she was being watched, forgot to be vigilant. So she never saw the four men that jumped her in the parking lot of the pub until she felt the heavy blow to the back of her head. Shit! Camryn!… was all she could think before her world went dark and silent.

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

Cami sat on the balcony, drinking a glass of wine and trying in vain not to keep checking her watch. It was 8:00 p.m. – an hour and a half after T.J. had promised to be here for dinner. But still she hadn’t shown up. The photographer had called the pub, but Tommy told her that T.J. had left around six. She had also called the tall woman’s cell phone, but it went straight to her voice mail, and the number for her condo went unanswered.

Her mind tried not to think of worrisome thoughts. Not to imagine that T.J. had gotten into a car accident, or just as bad…that she had changed her mind. Dinner at home is a rather intimate invitation. Maybe she got scared… The image of T.J. scared was one Cami could not fathom, the tall, dark woman was intimidating herself. But, Cami could imagine that Taylor had just plain decided that this was all too much, too fast. Cami’s own insecurities were kicking into high gear and feeling a bit of the same fears. After all, how much do I really know about her…?

Dinner was still simmering slowly on the stove; the sauce for the chicken had thickened and was likely no longer edible. And Cami once again ran a slightly trembling hand through her short blonde hair, heaving a heavy sigh. Taking another gulp of her wine, she looked again out into the twilight and whispered out to no one in particular: "Where in the hell are you, T.J.?"

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

 

Chapter 17

Oh fuck, my head hurts…

Ok. Just breathe here. Steady.

Take stock. You’re not dead…there’s a bonus.

One blue eye slowly cracked open, and T.J. tried to ignore the screaming pain in her head caused by the action.

She was in a small room.

Another eye opened, causing a fresh round of searing pain.

She took a mental inventory, and gently tried moving various limbs. Her legs seemed to be in working order, but stiff from being curled up in a ball.

Her arms were pinned behind her…she could wiggle her fingers, but it became apparent from the burning sensation in her wrists that they were tied together.

Icy eyes scanned the room. Shit. No windows.

She had no way of knowing what time it was, or how long she had been unconscious.

Camryn! Bloody hell! She also had no way of knowing if the blonde was safe or not. Jake promised her protection. Count on him. Just concentrate on getting yourself out of here.

Her nostrils flared at the acrid smell of sweat around her, and she realized she was lying on a completely filthy blanket. As her senses returned, she also noticed that the room around her seemed to be gently moving. Damn. You must have gotten whacked pretty good. The room is spinning. But it wasn’t spinning exactly, it was rocking. A boat. You’re on a boat.

Focus. Pain in the head…someone smacked ya good and brought ya ta a boat. Since she did not feel the reassuring weight of the Sig tucked under her arm, she knew that she had been searched. That means no cell phone either. But, I wonder… She always kept a slim stiletto dagger tucked rather inconspicuously into her boot. Pressing her ankles together, she rolled them over but didn’t feel the slight bump that should have been there.

Fuck! They got that too! Gotta be someone that knows me well then, someone who knows I keep one there.

But before she could continue the thought, someone slammed open the door behind her and roughly dragged her to her feet. As she was forced to stand, a wave of dizziness washed over her, but she took a deep breath and forced back the nausea. Hell if I’ll give ‘em the satisfaction of passing out again.

A stocky, dark-haired man was manhandling her towards the open door, and when she resisted he smacked her again in the back of her head. She felt a fresh trail of blood begin to trickle down the back of her neck, and she staggered forward into the arms of another burly man who began yelling in Spanish.

"Vamanos! Vamanos!"

T.J. regained her balance and jerked her arms away from the man. It cost her an incredible wave of pain, but it was worth it when she drew herself up to her full height and stared down at the man with her ice-cold eyes. She saw him flinch, which caused a feral smile to crease her lips.

"Aye. Ya think ya can just push women around, huh? Let’s see how tough you are without my hands tied." The man failed to reply, likely not understanding what she said, but she couldn’t continue the confrontation as the second man placed the barrel of a gun in her back and nudged her forward.

"That’d better not be my Sig you’re using, boy." She glanced over her shoulder at the man in question that was blithely ignoring her. "Or I’ll stuff it down your damned throat when I get it back..."

She was moved the remainder of the way down the dark corridor in silence, and brought up the steps onto the top deck of the ship.

It was pitch black, and the from a quick glance around she could tell that they were well out to sea, as she could not see any lights of the city on the horizon. In fact, she wasn’t even sure which direction the shore was. It was like being enveloped in a black cloth.

The ship itself was large, she judged it to be about 75 feet from bow to stern, and the from the appearance of the fittings around her it appeared to either be very new, or very well taken care of. There were two masts that she could make out from the dim light bleeding up from the corridor behind them. There was no moon out tonight and the stars were barely visible, as the typical cloud cover the usually blanketed the coastline late at night had moved in.

She sensed rather than saw that there were several men in stern of the boat, and several others behind her to the left and right. She judged herself to be outnumbered by about 15 to 1. And even if ya got your hands free and jumped overboard, what then? You have no idea which direction to swim in. So. Plan B. Find out what the bastards want from ya.

"Bienvenidos, senora. Or rather…senorita now isn’t it?" A gruff voice came from the shadows. His tone mocked her, deliberately using the diminutive way of addressing her.

T.J. recognized the voice as belonging to Miguel Reynoso. Ah, the man of the hour. That must mean his dumbshit brother is nearby. As she took a few small steps into the dimness, closer to the voice, sure enough, the giant outline of Carlos came into view. Bingo. But I’ll bet my left tit that ‘feckless Frank’ is nowhere ta be seen.

When she said nothing, Miguel continued. "Thank you for joining us."

T.J. almost laughed, but stopped herself. "Aye. Well, who could resist such a charming invitation? Sorry I forgot to R.S.V.P., but I had a previous engagement and dinna think I’d make it."

This time Miguel laughed - a deep, rich sound that carried across the dark deck. "Ah, senorita…you are a feisty one." The voice came a bit closer, but T.J. could still not make out the shape of the speaker. She took a deep breath though and just beneath the salt air, she could make out the distinct, spicy smell of a man’s cologne.

"Aye? Well I tend to get grouchy when I’m tied up, bleedin’ from my head, and I canna even see the man I’m talkin’ to."

The voice deepened with restrained anger. "We’ll expect you to curb your anger for the time being and listen very carefully."

"I expect that if someone wants me ta behave civilly that they will treat me with civility in return. But since the coward that smacked me from behind failed ta ask me if I’d come for this meeting, you’ll excuse me if ya fail ta get my utmost respect while I unwillingly stand here before ya with my hands tied." Her anger freely flowed to the surface and manifested itself in a deepening of the normal growl in her voice.

Miguel seemed to ponder this for a moment before answering, his voice calming. "Es verdad, senorita. However, your ex-husband may underestimate you, but we will not. So…" He stepped forward out of the shadows and stood just outside of T.J.’s reach. "You shall see my face, but I’m afraid your hands must remain tied."

"Evenin’, Miguel. I thought that was you. Didya have a complaint ta make about the service at the pub, or is this how ya bring all of the women ya meet on a first date?" T.J. had silently weighed her options and realized that for the moment at least, she had to cooperate. And she recalled how charm went a long way to make herself seem less intimidating and dangerous.

Miguel smiled. "I knew you were a clever woman, Ms. Jameson. I told Frank so." He began to slowly circle T.J. as though she were a prize piece of art that he was judging. But he was ever careful to stay just out of her reach, should she decide to lash out with her powerful legs. "You see, he seemed to think that you would fail to cooperate with our little business arrangement. I told him that I knew you would go along, you just needed to be handled correctly."

"And ya know how ta do that, eh?" She smiled, her white teeth gleaming in the dark.

"But of course. It is simple, senorita." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver cigarette case and deftly lit one with a silver Zippo. He took a deep drag on the cigarette before he began again to slowly circle his prey. "You are bright enough to realize that your only choice is to allow us to use your bar for a ‘meeting’ place. And you also provide us a creative way to improve cash flow."

Money laundering, too. T.J. was silent for a moment, before sighing internally. "And what do I get in return?" She inquired, knowing the answer, but needing at that moment for him to say it again.

He chuckled quietly, before turning to look at Miguel. "I knew she was smart." With a flick of the ash on his cigarette, he turned back to the captive. "You, of course, get a share in the profits."

"Doesn’t Frank have a share as well? It seems ta me that ya are givin’ away all of your money Mr. Reynoso. So my share can’t be all that much." Her voice held no malice, although at the moment she was firmly tamping down on her urge to choke the living crap out of the man who stilled circled around her.

"Ah, well, you bring us to an interesting point." He was close enough now for her to see the sinister glint in his dark eyes. "Perhaps with your help, we don’t need to involve Frank. His share would be yours."

The blood was still slowly trickling from her head down her back, and although she knew that it was normal for head wounds to bleed a lot, it didn’t help her dizziness any that she was still bleeding. She noticed a bench nearby. "Interesting. May we sit and talk about the details." She jerked her head towards the bench on the starboard side of the yacht.

"Please, be my guest - sit." Miguel smiled at her, knowing full well that she was less of a threat if she were sitting down.

T.J. eased onto the bench rather awkwardly because her hands were still tied. But taking the pressure off her legs was a welcome relief, and it allowed her to use her energy to think through the conversation she was currently having, rather than concentrating on not passing out. "So. Frank is out? What happens ta him?"
"Do you care?" Miguel stopped pacing around and leaned indolently in the doorway to the corridor that led below decks. His tone suggested that he genuinely wanted to know.

"If ya are asking if I still have feelings for Frank, the answer is no. But…" She paused, searching her soul for the truth. "I dinna want ta see him die, if that is what ya are askin’."

"Hmmm…" That seemed to give Miguel pause. "I see. The woman of fire has a heart after all." That made him smile, a slow sexy smile that burned right up to his eyes, with obvious intent. "Well, there are ways to… silence Frank. But if you prefer him alive, it would be up to you to keep him quiet."

"So he becomes my responsibility and my liability. I presume it would be my life if he goes ta the cops." She arched a dark eyebrow at the man before her. "Clever."

Miguel nodded his head in acknowledgment, but was otherwise silent.

"And if I refuse any part of this ‘arrangement’?" She also knew the answer to that question, and was practically taunting Miguel to answer truthfully. But his unexpected answer would stun her.

"Your blonde girlfriend dies. Slowly. For every day you fail to keep your end of the bargain, I will send you a different part of her body that I will have carefully removed so as to cause the maximum amount of pain without killing her right away." The evil grin spread across his handsome face, distorting his countenance until he took on an almost devilish appearance.

T.J. had no doubt he meant what he said. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Camryn… The rage boiled up inside her, but she refused to let Reynoso see her temper. She looked slowly around the deck at the men surrounding her.

Clenching and then unclenching her jaw, she was mostly successful at tamping down on her anger; but her defiance would not be silenced. She responded in a clear, strong voice. "Machiavelli once said that ‘since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer ta be feared than loved."

The backhanded slap came so quickly that she scarcely had time to react at all, barely jerking her head away as she sensed the hand coming toward her. So instead of taking the full weight of his blow, his diamond pinky ring sliced open her creamy cheek, causing blood to spray across her silk shirt and begin to run freely down her face to drip onto her linen pants.

Miguel had walked away from her after he hit her, and now had his back to her. "You go too far, senorita. You forget your place."

T.J. deliberately spit a stream of blood that trickled from the corner of her mouth, staining the deck at Miguel’ feet. "No. I dinna forget."

When he turned back to face her, his face was hard and angry. "Pleasantries are over. You know my terms. You cooperate with me or suffer the consequences. Any hint that you have broken our agreement, she dies. Any stirring of the police, giving me the idea that you talked too freely, and she dies. If I am displeased with you in any way, she dies. Comprende?"

"That’s pretty clear, yeah." T.J. nodded willing images of Cami in pain to get out of her head. Dammit! Do they have here already? And no police? Shit! Agent Knight is already in place. Fuck! But nothing could be done about any of that right now.

"Get her off my ship, she’s making a mess." With a wave in her direction, he disappeared into the corridor that led below decks, and three men stepped forward to push T.J. towards the opposite side of the boat. One man held an Uzi and the other two sported large caliber handguns. Slowly and steadily, T.J. stood and obeyed their silent, physical command to move.

Internally she was shaking with fury. She had been kidnapped, beaten and now Camryn’s life had been threatened - exactly what she feared would happen. And the son of a bitch who had done all of this was currently well outside her reach. The red haze of anger clouded her eyes - she wanted to strike out, to kill the bastards that stood looking so smugly at her. Unbidden, Cami’s smiling face popped into her tortured brain, and T.J. was reminded of the night in the pub when she nearly choked Frank to death. Cami’s presence had calmed her, as the memory of it was doing now. Easy girl. There is a time and a place. Something rash here will just get ya injured further. You start something now and you may never know if Cami is all right.

So she walked across the deck, her chin held defiantly high, and allowed herself to be pushed over the side of the ship into a waiting Zodiac raft. The driver fired up the outboard and another man with a gun stepped on board to guard her. Do they really think I’m stupid enough ta struggle in a rubber boat, in the middle of nowhere, in the dark? She shook her head and sat as comfortably as she could, arms still bound behind her.

As the boat sped away from the Reynoso’s ship, ice blue eyes watched it fade into the darkness. You’ll pay for this one, mate. She vowed into the darkness to the man who was now living on borrowed time.

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

Sometime around midnight, Cami had put the uneaten food away and given up the small hope she still had that T.J. was eventually going to show up. Face it, you’ve been stood up. Her brain mocked her heart. But maybe she had an accident or something…

Tormented by worrying about her friend, earlier she had decided that she should try the pub one more time, in case they had heard from her. A new bartender named Peter answered, and had seemed genuinely concerned that T.J. seemed to be missing. He had promised her that he would let her know if he heard from his boss, before hastily hanging up.

For a long time, Cami lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. Her brain was racing with the possibilities of what might have happened, and her heart ached with the notion that perhaps T.J. just didn’t feel for Cami what the blonde had hoped for. Here you are in love after spending one night together. You are probably just another conquest for her.

The ugliness of her insecurities was at war with the joy she still harbored in her heart. And maybe she just went home to change and fell asleep or something…things happen. Give her the benefit of the doubt why dontcha!

By about 3:30 a.m., sleep had still not claimed Cami, so she decided that she might as well get some work done. The residual pain from her concussion was bearable today, and she felt she could probably focus on her pictures well enough now. Besides, it will give you something else to concentrate on.

She padded through the darkened house in her t-shirt and boxers, heading resolutely downstairs towards her darkroom. As she passed through the living room, a soft knocking sound startled her. Flipping on lights as she went, she made her way towards the sound, only to discover it was coming from the side door in the kitchen.

T.J.? Her heart leapt into her throat. Peering through the curtains into the darkness beyond, sure enough, the dark woman was standing there, leaning on the doorframe.

Cami jerked open the door and gasped at the sight before her. T.J. was indeed there, but she was caked in mud and blood from head to toe, and she looked like she was barely capable of standing upright. "Oh shit, T.J.!"

"Cami…I…" Her hoarse voice stammered.

Camryn recognized a woman about to pass out, so she quickly stepped forward and grabbed the taller woman, placing an arm about her waist and leading her into the brightly lit kitchen. "Shh…quiet sweetheart. It’s all right."

T.J. painfully lifted her head and looked deeply into Camryn’s sweet, green eyes, and she read nothing there but love and concern. So for the first time since she had left the pub that evening, T.J. actually felt the cold veneer of her mercenary-self slip away. Relief at seeing Cami unharmed washed over her, and tears rolled unwittingly down her cheeks, only to be brushed away by soft, gentle hands.

When she touched T.J.’s cheek, Cami noticed the gash there - likely the cause of the dried blood that was all over the barkeep. "Darlin’ you’re hurt! We have to get you…" She was stopped short by the pleading look in T.J.’s eyes.

"Dinna do anything right now, please. Just…. please just let me hold on ta ya. Let me know ya are alive."

Cami was scared, puzzled and very concerned about what might have happened to her friend since the past evening, but something in her knew that T.J. didn’t need logic at the moment, she needed comfort and love. She quickly scanned the lanky body that was before her and determined that T.J. wasn’t likely to bleed to death anytime soon.

So she stepped into the arms that T.J. was offering and embraced the still seated woman - dark hair pressed into her stomach and long arms wrapped around her, as Cami held tight to T.J.’s head and smoothed back her hair. She felt the moisture through her cotton t-shirt and was unsure if it was blood or tears, but not really caring at the moment. Right now, T.J. needed her, and that was all that mattered. "Shhh…I’m here, T.J. I’m all right…we’re both all right."

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

 

Chapter 18

After holding T.J. until the tears had subsided, Cami had immediately begun her ministrations, removing T.J.’s damp, ruined clothing and trying to eliminate every physical trace of her ordeal. The blonde had not even flinched or paused when she removed the leather jacket and was confronted with an empty shoulder holster for a gun. She had simply removed it with deft fingers.

Her own eyes were bright with unshed tears, but Cami was determined to make sure T.J. was in one piece before she asked any questions. T.J. felt much better once she was clean; Cami had gently helped her into some fresh clothes - a t-shirt and a soft pair of sweat pants that were too short for her, but felt wonderful nonetheless.

Leading T.J. meekly into the bathroom, Cami’s tender, gentle hands washed the blood and mud from her face, careful to avoid the nasty gash across T.J.’s right cheek. Once T.J.’s face was clean however, Cami took a good look at the two-inch slice that was still oozing a bit of blood. "Sweetheart, I’m no doctor, but I think this should have stitches." Concern was evident in her voice.

T.J. stood on unsteady legs and examined the cut in the mirror. It was long, but not very deep. Though, with a sigh she realized that Cami was right – stitches were necessary if she wanted to avoid a really nasty scar. "Got a needle and thread?" Her voice was rough with emotion and pain.

"Yeah. Somewhere, I’m sure." Cami started to look around for the items, and then it dawned on her what T.J. was suggesting. "Uh, uh…no way! I can barely sew on a button for Christ’s sake!"

T.J. would have smiled if the pain hadn’t been so sharp. "No. I wouldna make ya do it. I’ll do it myself."

Cami just shook her head. "Listen, I know you are tough as nails and everything, but really…" As she spoke her hand stroked the back of T.J.’s head and it suddenly occurred to her that there was matted blood in her hair as well. "Oh shit! You’ve got another cut back here." Gently she moved the dark hair aside, ignoring the stickiness of the blood, and noticed that there were two more cuts on T.J.’s scalp.

Turning T.J. around so they were face to face, Cami smiled her best charming smile. "Ok. No fair. I had to go to the doctor after the Jeep accident. So now it is your turn, and I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, got me?" Humor and unshed tears glistened in Cami’s eyes, but her jaw was set and her chin held at a stubborn angle.

T.J. sighed and pondered her options for a moment. She was so used to needing to hide her injuries from the authorities that she hadn’t thought about the fact that a simple cut would not draw any attention at an emergency room. She had simply reacted out of habit. Now, if this was a gunshot, different story… but I guess a hospital is all right now.

"Aye…. well…I guess in that case I’d best go then, huh? But you’d probably better drive, I’m still a bit loopy."

She was rewarded with a dazzling smile from Camryn. "Oooh. I get to drive the cool Bond-mobile then, awesome!"

Aw shit. Until that moment, T.J. hadn’t even thought about the fact that her car was, hopefully, still at the pub, where it had been before Reynoso nabbed her.

"Uh…no. My car isn’t here. Uh…" She looked down into puzzled green eyes. "Oh? Okay…. well…" Camryn glanced at her watch – 4:30 a.m. Much too early

to call Jo or Vicki.

"Listen, darlin’, I promise ya that I’ll explain everything – we’ll have a really long talk. But right now, my head hurts like a bitch, so will ya just trust me for now and go along with me?"

"Trust you?? Jesus, Taylor! You show up at my door in the middle of the night, battered and bruised and I haven’t said a word! Do you really need to ask me that?" Cami was clearly getting frustrated. While she was dying of curiosity to know what had happened to T.J., her first concern was her friend’s health.

T.J. slowly shook her head. "Of course not. I’m sorry…I…" She sighed again. Ya are just so used ta people questioning ya, old girl. Just call Jake, get ta the damned hospital and explain later!

"Ok, then. May I use your phone?"

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

Jake had sent his best guy, Mick, to drive the two women to the hospital. He had personally driven to the pub to retrieve T.J.’s car, which didn’t appear to have been tampered with.

When the two women returned to Cami’s house around 8 a.m., they saw T.J.’s car in the driveway and an anxious looking Jake waiting for them. T.J. had gotten stitches in her cheek, two separate sets of stitches on the back of her head, and some really strong pain medicine which she had yet to take. The hospital staff had been kind and didn’t pry too much into the cuts, although one doctor was likely still nursing a bruised ego after T.J. had given him an earful about minding his own damned business.

"Hi ya, cuz." She whispered to him. Jake had skipped the pleasantries and was examining T.J.’s cuts and bruises, his big hands amazingly gentle in their touch.

"That little son of a bitch! I’ll kill him, I swear it." Jake was furious, red coloring his normally pale cheeks.

"Easy Jake, calm down." T.J. was still feeling weak, now from lack of sleep as well as from the blows to the head. Cami recognized the fatigue right away and intervened.

"Uh… perhaps we can all go inside and sit down. I think T.J. needs some rest right now." She commented, smiling sweetly, but in a tone that forestalled any arguments.

Jake glanced down at the petite blonde woman, who was currently holding possessively onto T.J.’s arm. "Begging you pardon, Ms. Wells. I’m Jake Tierney." He offered a smile to Camryn. "You’re absolutely right. Let’s get you inside, Jamie."

Jamie? That’s a cute nickname for her. But how in the hell did he know my name? However, Camryn kept her questions to herself. For now.

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

Much to T.J.’s chagrin, she was forced to take her pain medicine, which made her drowsy. Camryn neatly tucked her friend into bed, lingering over her for a moment and dropping a chaste kiss on her forehead before leaving the room quietly, to talk to Jake.

The big man was perched on the edge of Camryn’s couch, looking uncomfortable and out of place on the rather dainty looking furniture. "Can I get you something, Mr. Tierney? Coffee perhaps?" She inquired as she entered the room.

"Uh. No, no thanks." He examined the blonde photographer again, and could certainly see how his cousin had lost her heart – an adorable face, pixie blonde hair, and those amazing eyes…One thing had become very clear to him in seeing the two women interact: he could trust T.J.’s care to Camryn. He knew that although she was small, this woman was fiercely protective of his cousin, and with several of his men running ‘back-up’, T.J. would be safe here.

"I’d best be going actually. Now that I know my cousin is in good hands, Ms. Wells." He stood and smiled down at Camryn. He knew that Camryn would want some answers, and he also knew that it was up to his cousin how much she would tell the cute little blonde.

Cousin, huh? Interesting. "Please call me Cami, all of my friends do." A winning smile was exchanged. "And you can rest assured Mr. Tierney, T.J. is safe with me."

Jake studied those expressive green eyes for a moment and had no doubt she was telling the truth. Nodding slowly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. "Call me Jake, okay? And listen, Cami - If you need anything...anything…call me. My cell number is on there and it’s good 24 –7, okay?"

"Uh...Sure. Thanks." She accepted the card, noting that his company was simply called Tierney Enterprises. "And thank you for sending out Mick to take us to the hospital. He was very kind."

Jake had started for the door, but turned before he opened it and locked eyes with Camryn. "Cami, you should know that I’d do anything for my cousin. She’s a very special woman. And…well..." The big man flushed with embarrassment. "I can see that you feel the same way about her. So take care of her and keep me posted, okay?"

Camryn just nodded up at the giant and eased the door closed behind him as he left without another word.

Camryn turned and leaned her back against the closed door and pondered the past 12 hours. She had gone from the heartache of not knowing where T.J. was, to the panic and fear of her bloody arrival at the kitchen door, to the complete and utter confusion of where her friend had been. And now her enormous cousin was obviously giving his blessing to their relationship and leaving T.J. in her care. Whew. Strange...

She glanced up the stairs towards her bedroom where T.J. was sleeping. Ok, my friend. I think you owe me quite a few explanations. But one thing was very evident to Camryn – her rational side had been right…she didn’t really know much at all about Taylor Jameson. But damned if I won’t take the time to find out. With weary steps she quietly climbed the stairs to her bedroom and silently curled into bed, wrapping her arms around the soundly sleeping dark-haired enigma.

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

 

Chapter 19

When Cami awoke much later, she felt as though she were in a warm, blissful cocoon. Lying on her side, she had six feet of Irish woman wrapped tightly against her. T.J. had possessively wrapped her arm around the blonde’s rib cage, and Cami was now reveling in the feel of full breasts pressed into her back.

She could tell by the even breathing that T.J. was still asleep, but somehow it seemed to her that the dark woman didn’t sleep very soundly, that the slightest noise would have her awake - even in sleep, Cami could feel the barely leased tension bubbling just beneath T.J.’s surface.

She absently stroked the arm that was wrapped around her, and was rewarded with a soft chuckle in her ear. Yep. I was right. I’d give anything to drain that tension from her.

"So, you’re awake." Whispered the husky voice from behind her.

"Yup. Barely." She glanced over at the alarm clock on the nightstand, which read 3:03 p.m. "We slept the day away."

T.J. grunted in response. "Aye. That tends ta happen when ya don’t sleep all night."

Camryn rolled over to face T.J., her heart catching in her throat at the sight of T.J.’s gorgeous face mere inches from hers. Her dark hair was disheveled and spilled about her shoulders, and Camryn thought she had never experienced anything as beautiful as waking up in T.J.’s arms.

"Mornin’, darlin’." T.J. whispered. "Thank you." T.J.’s fingers were absently running up and down Cami’s arms.

Cami was still reveling in the beauty of T.J., so she failed to pick up on the meaning. "Huh? Thanks for what?"

T.J. smiled, a gesture that brought a faint pulling on the stitches in her cheek, but not as much pain as was currently throbbing through the back of her head. She tried to ignore it for now. "For being you." She replied simply.

T.J.’s lazy smile sent shivers racing through Cami’s body, and she had to will her arrant hormones to relax. She’s injured, remember? But she smiled in return and blushed furiously. "Oh. Well…uh…you’re welcome." She shrugged ineffectually.

T.J. chuckled. "Well, and I’m sure that ya don’t have many friends who show up at your door in the middle of the night needing medical attention. But ya were the perfect Florence Nightingale." She drew her long fingers down Cami’s soft cheek.

That description brought a stray thought to Cami’s brain and caused her to laugh in return. T.J. cocked a questioning eyebrow, so Cami explained. "That just made me remember something Vicki and Jo said about me once. Someone asked them what kind of friend I was, or something like that. And they said that I was the kind of friend that they would call when they needed to get rid of a dead body – that I’d come with a shovel and ask questions later."

T.J. snorted. "Aye. And it’s damned glad I am that I didn’t show up here dead then, huh? I’d be buried in the backyard." The two women shared a laugh before Cami got serious again.

"Actually, that’s not funny, T.J. You had me damned scared."

"I’m sorry, darlin’. I dinna mean ta scare ya…I just… I knew I’d be safe here with ya." She leaned in and gave Cami a soft kiss, causing the blonde’s bones to feel as though they were melting.

When she broke the kiss, T.J. continued to hold on to Cami’s face, staring deeply into troubled green eyes. Then with a deep breath, she began the inevitable. "Guess ya have some answers coming, huh?"

Cami read the pain in T.J.’s expression and knew that they had a lot of talking to do. "How about you tell me over breakfast? I’m famished, and you need to keep up your strength."

"Me? What about ya? Ya are the one who recently had a concussion." She shot back.

"Yeah, well…I feel much better. So wadda you say…scrambled eggs? Omelets?"

T.J. nodded in agreement and rolled over onto her back. "Ya can cook omelets? Sure is a fine woman ya are then."

That caused a fresh round of laughter from Cami. "Don’t get too excited, you haven’t tasted them yet."

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

Downstairs in Cami’s cozy kitchen, the blonde set about starting the coffee and gathering the fixings for ham and cheese omelets, and T.J. sat down at the table to unburden her soul.

The dark haired woman began with the story of what had happened the night before – how she had been jumped from behind walking through the parking lot, and subsequently waking up on the ship. Cami remained silent, placing a steaming mug of coffee in front of T.J. and starting the omelets, still listening intently.

T.J. launched into a narrative about the Reynoso’s – how Frank had started bringing them into the pub and then what Miguel had told her on the ship. But she was very careful to leave out the details of his threat on Cami’s life.

By then Cami had fixed a plate with an omelet and some sausage for each of them and seated herself across from T.J. "So, he wants you to launder money for him?" Cami’s face held no malice or fear, just intense curiosity.

"Essentially." T.J. was pleased that so far, Cami seemed to be taking all of this news in stride. But the worst was still to come.

"Well, that’s bullshit, T.J. Just refuse. Call the cops, have him put away." Cami waved a forkful of eggs at her.

"It’s not that simple." T.J. sighed. "If I refuse, things could get ugly."

"Ugly? How? Frank’s a big boy and can take care of himself. Besides, it’s his own damned fault for getting involved with these creeps, not yours."

"Aye. I know. But…but the Reynoso brothers are not known for taking ‘no’ for an answer. They’d just as soon kill me, and then I’ll be out of the way." There. That’s near enough to the truth.

"So, tell the police. T.J., they can’t just come into your bar and start telling you that you have to break the law. This isn’t some lawless place, this is the U.S.A. – we have laws protecting business owners against things like this." Cami finished her breakfast and pushed her plate away at the end of her speech.

T.J., on the other hand, had barely touched her food, as her throat was tight with emotion over what was still to come. "Cami, ya don’t understand." She basically dismissed the blonde’s argument.

Cami reached across and grabbed T.J.’s hand. "Then help me understand. What are you saying? I’m a big girl – I can take it."

Cami saw the frightened, helpless look flicker across T.J.’s face and when the barkeep failed to respond, Cami had her answer. "They threatened me, didn’t they?" She clenched her jaw and felt the anger building inside – anger that the bastards would blackmail her friend in that way. "That’s it, isn’t it?"

The response was barely audible. "Aye."

Cami stood, stalked across the kitchen and slammed her plate into the sink with a loud crash. T.J.’s heart sunk. She knew that the blonde would be upset by being dragged into this mess. Cami paced for a moment before stopping in front of T.J. and placing both hands on the dark woman’s shoulders.

"Well, fuck that! Dammed if I’m gonna let some cowardly assholes scare you into breaking the law!"

T.J.’s eyes went round with shock. This was not the reaction she expected out of her friend. "Uh…sorry love, but what choice do I have?"

"You tell them to go fuck themselves, and we call the D.E.A. or the C.I.A. or some other damned outfit with initials." Cami was stomping about the kitchen now, in a full-fledged snit.

"Cami, please…listen…" T.J. tried to intervene. "Sweetheart, I won’t have ya in danger."

"T.J., did it ever occur to you that you cannot make that choice? I am the one they threatened, so I am the one to decide that something should be done about it…" Her temper began to level off to a simmer. "I just don’t know what yet."

T.J. just sat and blinked at the blonde fury that was currently standing next to the stove. Then she made her decision. "Aye…well…if ya really feel that way…"
"Damned right, I do." Her voice was lower now, calmer but strong and steady.

"Well, then. I suppose ya should know that I’ve already been in contact with the F.B.I." Despite the fact that the agent had asked her to keep his cover silent, T.J. told Cami tbe whole story about Peter Knight and his undercover operation. She knew without question that Cami would keep the secret.

"Ah, well. That explains why he sounded so distressed when I called the pub last night, looking for you."

"Ah, bollocks. I didn’t call him…he’s probably got half the damned agents in San Diego out looking for me." Without a word, Cami handed the portable phone to T.J. and once again seated herself across from the tall woman.

When T.J. finished telling the agent brief details of her abduction, and after agreeing to meet with him later, she hung up the phone with a grim look on her face. "He said my best bet at the moment is to appear to go along with Reynoso. It will keep us all safe for the time being."

Cami nodded. "Sounds like he may be right. Besides, I feel better about you going along with that asshole, knowing that you have the blessing of the F.B.I. and aren’t going to get busted for helping a drug dealer." She offered a half-smile to T.J.

But the dark woman’s face hadn’t really changed.

"There’s more to all of this, isn’t there?" Cami again knew the answer before she asked.

"Aye. But I’d probably better back up the story a bit first." Her dark head bent and for a few moments she stared at the floor. After taking a moment to order her thoughts, T.J. began telling Cami the story of how she married Frank Silva – strictly as a business arrangement so she could become an American citizen.

Cami smiled when the story was finished. "Whew! Why didn’t you tell me that before??" T.J. looked a bit puzzled and the photographer began to giggle.

"Uh… because I dinna want ya ta think any less of me. After all, I manipulated the law and I paid a man ta marry me!" Her tone indicated that she couldn’t believe Cami would need to ask such a question.

Cami merely laughed. "Oh, sweetheart…Of course I don’t think any less of you! In fact, I had thought you were a bit insane for marrying Frank in the first place. But now that I know why you did it, it makes much more sense! Let’s face it T.J…. the man’s a pig!"

T.J. chuckled. "Aye, that he is. But…"

Cami interrupted her. "But nothing! Do you think you are the first person in the history of our country to get their citizenship that way?? Jesus, the law practically begs people to do just that!" Cami smiled at her and reached across the table for her hand again. "I’m just sorry that it had to bring Frank into your life…because of the trouble he’s causing you now."

"Causing us now." T.J. reminded her. "We are in this together now. And I could kill him for bringing this down on ya too. Me? I basically asked for trouble by marrying the sniveling son of a bitch."

"T.J. we are in this together. And we’ll get through this…together."

Tears began to shine in T.J.’s eyes. She was touched by Cami’s loyalty, but she knew that it would be short lived. Frank is only the tip of the iceberg, my love.

"So, who’s Jake? I didn’t know you had any family over here." Cami gave the conversation a slight nudge in a different direction, asking her first "prying" question -one she could no longer contain.

T.J. explained the weak family relation, but how in her family blood was blood…no matter how distant. She also explained that Jake was helping her with the Reynoso problem. "And I …uh…I’ve had him put a few bodyguards on ya as well." She looked sheepishly at the blue tablecloth.

Cami’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. "For me? But I haven’t seen any…" Then she began to search her brain and it occurred to her that she had seen some rather large men in some rather odd places lately. Then she burst out laughing. "Well. That explains why that giant guy followed me into Victoria’s Secret yesterday…. he did look rather out of place and uncomfortable."

T.J.’s brain derailed. She swallowed hard before responding in a rather thin voice. "You uh…um…you went to Victoria’s Secret?"

A slow, sexy grin spread across Cami’s face. "You betcha."

"And ya…uh…ya were wearing something…uh…something from there last night, weren’t ya?"

Cami noted that when T.J. got flustered her accent got thicker… Damn, she’s adorable. "Yes. Yes I was."

With another hard swallow, T.J.’s eyes took on a devilish glint. "I’ll kill that bastard Reynoso for making me miss that."

Cami’s smile turned down-right seductive and a mischievous twinkle lit her eyes. "Well. I could be persuaded to allow you a rain check…" T.J.’s eyes lit up. "But, it’ll cost you."

"Anything." The Irish woman’s voice was a hoarse whisper.

Cami lowered her voice to a purr. "Promise me that the next time a ruthless drug lord threatens either of our lives, you’ll let me know."

Before T.J. could formulate an answer in her preoccupied brain, the phone rang, causing both of them to jump.

It was Jake, checking up on his "little cousin" – a moniker that Cami found hilarious.

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

The blonde ambled upstairs to the shower, allowing the cousins a chance to talk in private. And to allow herself to begin to fully digest all that T.J. had told her in the past few hours.

It was a lot to comprehend, but Cami was righteously indignant that T.J.’s ex-husband had unwillingly dragged them into a drug lord’s world. I knew there was a reason I didn’t like that scumbag Frank.

Cami methodically stripped off her boxers and t-shirt and turned on the shower full-blast, hoping that the refreshing water would clear away the remainder of the cobwebs in her brain.

She was glad that she knew the truth about T.J. and Frank, their relationship made much more sense when put in the proper perspective. But as she thought about the drug dealers and their threats, butterflies began to form in her stomach. Her initial anger had subsided and had been replaced by determination to see them brought down, mixed with a large dose of fear – both for herself and for T.J.

Peter Knight’s presence at the bar was a comforting thought, as were the men that Jake had set to "guard" them. But Cami was not na´ve enough to feel perfectly safe under their watchful care. From television, movies and newspapers, she knew that drug dealers were not to be messed around with. They tended to be cruel, ruthless, and have a complete disregard for human life. Great. Perfect. You finally find someone to love and she has a drug dealer pissed at her. It seemed the story of Cami’s relationships – if it wasn’t one thing, it was another. But in the case of T.J…Cami knew that there was nothing that T.J. could tell her, nothing that would keep them apart. This is the real thing, Cam. She grinned foolishly. She came to you when she was hurt and needed help. And after all, her cousin thinks I’m great for her! The thought of Jake blushing furiously in her doorway made her chuckle.

Cami was still smiling when she turned off the water and slid open the frosted shower door. She nearly jumped out of her skin when she looked up and was face to face with T.J. "Yeow!" She started to slip, only to have strong arms wrap around her and set her promptly back on her feet. "Jesus H. Christ! Taylor Jameson, you scared the shit out of me!"

T.J. was smiling, a half smile in deference to the pain in her cheek, but a smile nonetheless. Her startling blue eyes swept appreciatively over Cami’s wet, naked body.

"Did I now?" She replied drolly. Reaching out a long arm, she blithely handed Cami a soft peach-colored bath towel.

"Damn right, and you know it too, you big rat." Cami snatched the towel and began drying herself without the faintest hint of modesty. After all, she’s seen every inch of you before…and much more up close and personal than this too.

But it did strike Cami as being a bit strange that she didn’t feel the usual blush of embarrassment that she might normally feel if someone where catching her in the nude. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I know she is appreciating what she’s seeing. Cami looked up at T.J. who had made no apologies or any attempt to move, and who was currently smiling enticingly at Camryn. Oh yeah. I have her full attention.

T.J. helpfully handed Camryn a t-shirt, but as the blonde reached for it, T.J. pulled her arm back causing Cami to be pulled in closer to the dark-haired temptress before her. A shock of electricity coursed between them as their lips met, and T.J.’s arms wrapped around Cami’s still slightly damp skin. They both knew that T.J. was in no shape to take the situation any farther, but they spent a few leisurely moments enjoying the taste of each other.

"Mmmm. Ya taste wonderful." T.J. purred when they broke away.

"Yeah? You’re not so bad yourself." Cami leaned her forehead against T.J.’s chin.

After a long moment of reveling in the electric contact of their bodies, T.J. reluctantly let go of her prize. She had not intended to stand and watch Cami like some peeping tom, but when she had come into the bedroom to find the bathroom door open and the sexy silhouette of Cami behind the frosted shower doors, she just couldn’t help herself - it was like bears being drawn to honey. Grrrr.

"Listen, darlin’. I hate ta break this up, but I have ta get to the pub and meet with Agent Knight." The reluctance in her voice was plainly evident. Not only did she not want to let go of a damp, naked Cami, but also she had not told the blonde all that she had intended. Guess the dark past will have ta wait awhile longer.

Cami sighed heavily. "Yeah. I know." She pulled away a minute and dragged her t-shirt over her head. "Would you like some company?"

While the thought was very appealing, T.J. knew that Knight would not take kindly to having Camyrn know about his undercover assignment. "I’m not sure Knight wants me ta bring a guest ta the meeting…as much I would rather have ya with me." She chewed thoughtfully on her bottom lip, blissfully unaware of how sexy the move was.

Cami smiled at her. "That’s okay. I completely understand…" She hesitated a moment, having an internal struggle until her heart won. "Will I see you later?"

T.J. grinned openly now, ignoring the pain in her cheek. "Do ya doubt it?" She leaned down and kissed Camryn again. "I’ll call ya later then. Bye, darlin’." And with that, T.J. was gone.

Camryn called out goodbye to the dark retreating back and then turned back to the mirror to tame her unruly hair. She barely even noticed the goofy grin that she had plastered on her face.

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

Part 6

Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse