Chapter 15

Panic was the first emotion to show in sapphire eyes as the first bit of light sparkled on the windows and streaked down to touch the faces sleeping peacefully on the mat. "What the . . . Oh Shit . . . Samantha -- Wake up!"

"Wake . . . what . . . Alex . . . Oh, Shit!" Emerald orbs took on a similar expression.

"Quick, Honey, we've got to get upstairs." Alex looked around. "Clocks, we need a few clocks in this place. Damn! I know it's early, I just hope Kelley isn't up and walking around."

Like the wayward children they portrayed the evening before, the two women quickly rubbed the sleep from their eyes, put on their robes and headed for the elevator.

Luck was with them, all was clear, and no one was in the hall. By the time they reached the third floor apartment, they were laughing uncontrollably. The clock on the microwave confirmed that Alex's inner alarm had done its job, it was only seven o'clock. She was glad that Kelley's hadn't done the same, or at least that Kelley hadn't ventured from the suite, if she was awake.

Tears of laughter trickled down her face, "Whew -- that was close. What could we have been thinking, falling asleep down there with Mom and Kelley upstairs?"

"I guess it was the release of all the tensions of the day." Green twinkling eyes still moist with glee looked up into a grinning face. "At least that's my excuse. What's yours? And by the way . . . good morning, Alex."

"It is now . . . wasn't so sure it was going to be." It was definitely time for a good morning hug. The tall woman pulled her lover close. "Well, this is the beginning of an extremely busy day, what better way to start off than with a rush of adrenaline. Wanna take a quick shower with me?"

"Who could resist such an elegant invitation?"

Alex gave her mate a lop-sided grin and they headed off to the bath. "No funny stuff in the shower. Agreed?"

"Funny stuff, whatd'ya mean, funny stuff?"

A mock look of agitation crossed the face of the dark-haired beauty as she turned, picked up the small blonde and continued to the bathroom. "You know precisely what I mean. We stop acting like children just because my parents are here and get through this day like the adults we are." Kisses roamed the sweet smiling face in her arms as her lips trailed from ear to ear, stopping momentarily to taste the soft, full lips of her lover. "Don't make me act like this during the day! Consider yourself warned. No looking like an angel, no seducing me in front of the clients, no . . . damn, Samantha . . ." They reached the door to the shower. Alex put her precious bundle on the floor and they dispensed with their robes. "I don't have time to ravish you right now and for some reason that makes the thought of doing so even more enticing."

Samantha beamed up at her lover, "Always wanting what you can't have, huh Alex?" Small hands traced circles around erect nipples.

"Normally, I would give you three weeks to stop that, but as time would have it, I think a cold shower is in order." It was a stretch, but Alex reached the cold water facet and turned it on. She placed her hands under Samantha's armpits and picked the smaller woman off the ground, carrying her forward into the shower in front of her.

"By the Gods, Alex! That's Cold!"

"Yes Samantha, that's the idea." The hot water facet was turned on after the initial shock and the two began lathering up.

For the first time since they'd been together each of the women washed themselves only while they shared the shower water. Not that there wasn't a glance here or touch there, but the threat of the hot water being extinguished by the other partner was enough to keep their attention continuing on the chore at hand.

After all the activity directly before slumber the evening before and the rush up to the third floor this morning, Samantha was absolutely famished and she did not fail to convey this fact to Alex as they were getting dressed. "What are we going to do about breakfast?"

"The caterers will be here around nine and should be all set up and ready to go when the first guests arrive, hopefully around noon," Alex started to explain.

"Wait -- no, no -- just wait. You don't really expect me to not eat until noon, do you?" The look in her emerald eyes was a difficult one to decipher.

Alex wasn't sure whether it was a questioning look, an accusing look or an " I'm gonna kill something to eat if I have to" look. She decided to go with levity and continued to tease. "Are you serious, Samantha? You can't wait for the caterers to finish? Well, you know I could distract one of them while you sneak over and pilfer enough sweet rolls to tide you over," she smiled broadly as Samantha stood looking at her in disbelief.

"You're kidding . . . tell me you're kidding . . . I see the beginning of a smile . . . that must mean you're kidding."

The vision of a spoiled child getting ready to stomp her feet if she didn't get her way was standing directly in front of Alex. There was no need for frustration to be added to today's agenda. Alex removed the small hands from shapely hips as she pacified her companion. "Listen, Mom's favorite meal is breakfast, there will be no getting around not having it as long as she's here, so no need to worry. Someone will cook while we're getting the caterer's settled I'm sure." Resolving all Samantha's fears of not getting to eat breakfast, she gave the smaller woman a kiss and suggested getting dressed.

It seemed as though the day was going to be one mini-crisis after another for the nervous blonde. Now she was having a difficult time trying to figure out which outfit to wear. After much deliberation there were only two choices left -- dress slacks and a blouse or a summer dress. With a little help from her 'friend', it was decided she would wear the dress.

The accomplished executive, on the other hand, gave no thought to what her attire would be. Her closet was lined with business suits and whichever was the first to be pulled out would do just fine.

Finally satisfied with the way she looked, or at least as satisfied as she was going to get, Samantha left the bathroom and re-entered the bedroom.

Alex greeted her lover with a long, low whistle. "I thought I told you not to put temptation in front of me today. Don't you listen to anything I say?"

The affectionate mock scolding brought a twinkle to green eyes as Samantha twirled around, teasing her companion. "I did my best. I'm sorry." She tilted head and winked, "Want me to take it off?"

"Don't go there!" Alex responded as she pulled the small blonde close and kissed her. "Come on, you, we need to get the hell out of the bedroom before we find ourselves in a compromising situation. She squeezed the small hand that was intertwined with her own and led the person it was attached to into the living room. The timing was perfect. The looked at each other and began laughing as simultaneously they heard a light knock on the apartment door.

"Girls, you up?"

"Yes, Mom, come on in." Alex turned and gave Sam a quick kiss on the cheek. "I guess that settles any chance of a 'quickie', huh?" She whispered to the vision of summer standing before her, "Now the fun begins!"

"Morning ladies. That was our second knock, one more and we would have come to wake you. I thought maybe you overslept which I know is unusual for you, Alex, but . . . then I remembered that we left plenty early last night . . . early enough for you two to get a good night's sleep anyway." There was a hint of sarcasm in the tone of Aurora's voice.

"So, did you girls have a nice evening after we parted ways last night?" There was an unusual twinkle in Kelley's eyes.

"It was okay. We talked for a while then went to bed, just like you guys." Alex wrinkled her brow in a puzzling look while answering her second mom.

"Talked and went to bed?" Aurora stood in front of the two young women smiling and shaking her head. "Alexis you never were very good at telling simple lies. You can match tales with the best of them on a business venture, but when it comes to a little personal lie -- you just can't do it, at least not and look your Mother in the eyes." Twinkling sapphires stared into guilty ones.

Doing her best to keep from breaking into laughter Aurora explained, "Last night after we left here I wasn't that tired. We had another glass of wine and then I was able to talk Kelley into going for a swim with me in that lovely pool you have downstairs. We could see that you hadn't set the security alarm and I thought it might be fun to initiate your pool with a little skinny dipping."

There was no need for Aurora to continue the conversation, Samantha turned and buried her crimson red face in her lover's chest with an involuntary, "Oh, No!"

"Mom!"

"Alex!"

"The two of you!" Kelley interrupted. "Aurora, look now you've gone and upset the half-pint."

Furrowed brows above emerald eyes peeked around to snatch a look at Kelley at the reference that could have been made for none other than her.

Kelley continued, "Okay, Aurora, fun's over for a while. Listen girls, she did talk me into going for a swim and we were well on our way to the pool when we heard the splashing. Knowing you have a lot of your Mother in you, Alex, I figured you probably came up with the same idea she did and we didn't go any further, not that your Mother didn't want to. I told her she should know Samantha a lot better before making such as assumption, so we quietly turned around and went back upstairs. You'll be happy to know that the pool has a slight echo when the Center is empty." She grinned broadly at the two young women in front of her.

Placing a hand on either side of her lover's face, Alex lifted it to stare into a still brilliantly red complexion. "Welcome to the Family, Honey."

"Oh Alex, I'm so embarrassed."

"Don't be silly," Aurora interjected. "It was a great idea, you simply beat us to the pool. It could have been the other way around, you know?"

Not letting enough time pass for the sentence to register and start Samantha blushing all over again, Aurora changed the subject. "What do you suggest we do for breakfast? I'm starving."

"See, I told you the two of you had a lot in common. She's as obsessed with breakfast as you are." Alex grinned. "Why don't you fix breakfast, Mom? Or talk Kelley into doing it. The caterers and Ray and Sonny are all due here around the same time, which is somewhere close to nine. I'm sure the guys will be hungry when they arrive so, if you make something like waffles and breakfast strips, they'll keep and everyone will be able to eat."

Kelley nodded her approval to the plan and Aurora answered her daughter. "Okay, I think we can manage that. Waffles and breakfast strips sounds good enough to tied us over until the caterers have lunch ready."

The older woman walked over to where the 'girls' were standing. "Samantha, as Alex said -- Welcome to the Family, Honey." She put her arm around Sam and gave her a little squeeze.

"Now, tell me, are you girls going to decorate the Center today?"

"No . . ." Alex started to answer . . .

"Yes" Samantha chimed it at the same time.

Alex looked over at her mate puzzled. "We're decorating?"

"Of course we're decorating. It's an open house."

Alex was totally taken back with the answer from her lover. "When are we going to have time to decorate and what kind of decorating are we doing?"

Knowing Samantha had one up on Alex she beamed up at the surprised executive. "We're not personally doing it, silly. You left me in charge of certain things, remember. Well, I called a little company in town that does decorating for parties. They'll be the ones decorating today. What's an open house without balloons? They should arrive about the same time everyone else is expected -- nine o'clock."

"Well, great. Decorating didn't even enter my mind . . . thank the Goddess for you artistic-types." She looked over at Kelley and winked.


The Moms got a mini-tour of the kitchen to aquatint them with the layout and advise them as to where the food and utensils were kept.

As the two orchestrators of the day were leaving the apartment, heading downstairs to open up, Samantha's stomach made a very unlady-like growling sound. The small blonde giggled and looked up at Alex who shook her head and smiled then nodded back toward the kitchen. Samantha reversed direction, ran in and grabbed a banana from the wooden stand.

"This might keep me from embarrassing myself in front of strangers before I get to eat my morning meal," she commented waiving the yellow fruit at the ladies in the kitchen.

"Be back up in a half hour," Aurora called after her as she hurried to join Alex at the elevator. "I think you'll have time to eat before the crowd arrives."

On the way down they decided to divide and conquer by splitting up. Alex would open the doors and then go turn on the lights to accentuate the climbing wall, while Sam would start the Jacuzzi's. There wasn't a lot to be done other than that.

On her way back from the pool, Samantha heard a familiar tenor voice ringing through the reception area.

"I know someone's here. The door's open."

"Sonny!" she acknowledged as she sped up to meet her friends.

"Don't you look like the picture of sunshine this morning? Your directions were perfect from the airport. This place looks fantastic on the outside. Love the doors!"

"They are beautiful aren't they," she agreed with her friend. Giving them each a kiss and hug she asked how the flight down had been and the drive from the airport.

Looking around and not seeing anyone, she suggested they go find Alex.

"No need." A soft contralto voice came from the direction of the gym. "Who could help but hear when you arrive, Sonny?" Alex rounded the corner wearing a big grin as she walked up and gave her friends a welcoming hug and kiss. "Mom and Kelley are upstairs making breakfast. Anyone hungry?"

"Breakfast, what a marvelous concept," Ray chimed in. "Sonny was in such a hurry to get to the airport we didn't have time for food and then they give us a banana and a cup of coffee on the plane and called it breakfast. I'm starving."

"When did my other favorite girls get here?" Sonny wanted to know.

"They arrived yesterday around noon." Alex filled him in.

Looking at Samantha, he smiled broadly, "How did meeting the in-laws go?"

"Quite well actually. There were a couple embarrassing moments, but I think for the most part they like me okay."

Alex stood there shaking her head and smiling. "They liked her more than just okay. She was a big hit. Even Kelley seems to have taken her to heart. She already gave her a nickname -- half-pint." She put her arm around the smaller woman and started walking everyone in the direction of the elevator. "So, shall we go eat," she motioned for all to enter the lift and they proceeded to the third floor apartment.

On the way up in the elevator, the little group decided that Sonny should go in first and surprise Aurora. The reunion of the two of them was like watching two people who hadn't seen each other in decades. All the hugging and kissing -- the "you look marvelous" -- "you look pretty damn good yourself" -- seemed to be endless. Finally Kelley calmed them both down announcing that only those who could be quiet for a little while could sit down and eat because the meal was ready.

Breakfast was a joyous occasion for all the friends. With orange juice glasses held high, Kelley made a toast to friendship and new beginnings, setting the meal in motion. They followed Alex's suggestion and Kelley's famous waffles were piled high on a platter ready to be served with melted butter, hot maple syrup, breakfast strips, breakfast patties and a pitcher of fresh squeezed orange juice. Even Samantha was full by the time the meal was finished.

They were all sitting around gossiping when the intercom buzzed and Alex went to answer it.

"It's the caterers and the decorators, so it looks like both Samantha and I need to get down and help with directions."

"You girls go right ahead," Aurora looked around at the remaining people at the table, her eyes coming to rest on Sonny. "We'll clean up here and then be down to join you." She gave them a "shoo" with her hands and a nod of her head implying that they better not keep the people downstairs waiting. "Besides we have a lot of gossip to catch up on that no one else is interested in. You can take Kelley and Ray with you if you'd like."

"Thank you very much, but I think Ray and I can do what we want. We don't need to be farmed off onto anyone's team," Kelley quickly answered from the other side of the table. "As she said, you girls get going. Those people need to get started and finished before your guests arrive. Ray and I can take care of ourselves." She shook her head and smiled at Alex, giving the younger woman one of her special looks that had come to be known between the two of them as meaning, You Know How Your Mother Is!

Alex smiled back and grabbed Samantha's hand, "Come on, 'second in command' -- time to go face the lions."


Samantha beamed when she saw her wards coming through the door with not only the balloons they already inflated but a helium tank in case they needed more, which she most surely knew they would. She loved balloons and the festive look they gave any occasion. She planned on having the Center overflowing with them. Her motto was that crepe paper, streamers, and balloons could do wonders for any affair.

Alex took the caterers in tow and led them to the area in the gym where she and Samantha decided to put the tables of food. They brought three long tables, which were to be set up along the West wall in front of the windows.

Occupying the middle spot was an ice swan, sitting in the middle of a champagne fountain and surrounded by soft drinks.

Directly to the left of the beverages were cold cuts of every variety imaginable with a larger selection of cheeses than normally would have been supplied, due to the number of vegetarians expected to be present. Of course there was also a large assortment of breads, rolls and condiments.

Fruits were abundant in the form of scooped out watermelons that were refilled with not only their own fruit but with cantaloupe, grapes and honey dew melon as well.

The usual salads were brought including cole slaw, potato salad, and a mixed green with a medley of dressings.

Alex ordered several hot dishes, not only the usual Swedish meatballs and little hot dogs, but an avocado, cheese and crab dip, shrimp scampi, penne in marinara sauce, and a lobster newburg with rice.

The piece de resistance was the two decorated cakes. She knew a baker who was also an artist and made special stencils to be used with colored chocolates to decorate cakes. She had one vanilla cake made and one chocolate; each was decorated with half the building and half the name of the Center. When the two cakes were placed side by side the building was complete. In large lavender letters, Alternative loomed above the building on the cake on the left and Paradise on the right section with the remainder of the cakes being trimmed with lavender flowers.

By eleven o'clock all the caterers and decorators were out of the building. The server staff would arrive at 11:45 as contracted. Alternative Paradise was clothed in crepe and balloons awaiting the first real visitor to come through the beautiful stained glass doors. There was a huge Open House sign on the building, as if the lone warehouse could have been missed by anyone with directions to get there. By the looks of the finished results this was going to be one exquisite, meticulously planned affair. Two very proud "partners" stood, arm in arm, looking at the completed project. Samantha smiled up at her lover, "Congratulations Alex, looks like your dream has reached fruition."

Alex bent down and gently kissed the soft lips that eagerly received it. "Congratulations to the both of us -- this will be our dream in the making if you'll share it with me."

"I already am, my darling," was the response she received.

"I saw Kelley showing Ray around a little bit ago, but I haven't seen hide nor hair of the other two. They're probably still upstairs gabbing away. Believe me Samantha, those two will give you a run for you money in the talk category."

Alex took Samantha by the hand and walked her over to the windows. "I think we ought to taste this champagne and make sure it's what I ordered," she stated as she filled two glasses. The gym was totally empty save for the two lovers and that's the way the tall, dark-haired beauty wanted it to stay for just a little while. Reaching into her pocket she brought out a small black velvet box, opened the lid and showed the contents to the petite blonde who held her heart.

"By the Gods Alex . . . what . . ." tears of joy misted over sparkling Irish eyes as she stared at two small hearts joined at the middle with a single diamond. "It's beautiful, but Alex you shouldn't have."

"Here, give me your hand," Alex said, ignoring the protest and slipping it onto the ring finger of Samantha's left hand. "It's only a token, Samantha, a promise or commitment ring, if you'd rather. I'd like for you to wear it as my commitment to you and I couldn't think of a better time to give it to you than the opening day of the Center.

A single tear ran down the smaller woman's face as she thanked her lover for the ring. "I'll never take it off," she vowed.

Winking at her Alex commented, "You will when I buy you a larger diamond."

Samantha started to counter, but was hushed as fingers gently closed her lips and an ebony head shook from side to side. Alex handed her a filled glass of champagne and lifted her own up to toast. "To my beautiful angel, I thank the Goddess every day for her letting you enter my life."

Samantha lifted her glass to match, "To my champion, the warrior of my dreams. To new beginnings as we continue to walk the same path through this life."

They drank the sparkling liquid and embraced. In the throngs of a passionate kiss they did not hear as company entered the room until the sound of clapping hands reached their ears.

"Enough now girls, you have company here and more on the way. No PDA (public display of affection) don't you remember the old rule?" Sonny interrupted in his high tenor voice.

"I knew it was too quiet to be true," his old friend remarked. "What did you do with my Mother?"

"She's walking around looking at Samantha's handy work while in search of our two missing companions."

Unable to contain her enthusiasm Samantha walked toward her friend, "Sonny, look what Alex just surprised me with." She held out her hand to let him examine the sparkling adornment on her finger.

"Will you look at that. Alex, you really are spoiling this child." Sonny smiled over at his friend while continuing to hold Samantha's hand. "It's absolutely you, Sweetie. If I were you I would simply consider that I was definitely worth it." He smiled again and gave the small woman a hug as he whispered into her ear, "You are quite the lucky young woman, my friend."

Samantha whispered back, "I totally agree with you, Sonny."


Time was getting short and the serving staff arrived all decked out in their white shirts, black ties and black pants. Kelley and Ray finally made their way to the gym, but Aurora was still walking around somewhere when a brilliant flash of light blinded the party of five. Before their eyes returned to normal after the brilliant light, Alex heard a voice from her past, "Can't have an open house without pictures. What kind of a celebration would that be?"

"Goddess bless me! Scoop! If you aren't a sight for sore eyes, and I mean that literally." Alex grabbed her old friend and hugged her tightly. Turning to Samantha she put her arm around Scoop's shoulder and introduced the smiling, auburn-haired Amazon who stood eye-to-eye with Alex. "This is Scoop, La Jolla's own famous freelance photographer. She could always get the high pictures when no one else could!" Scoop, this is Samantha, my better half; Sonny and his better half Ray and you already know that tall drink of water over there, even though you probably don't recognize her with all that distinguished coloring in her hair.

Kelley gave Alex an I'll get you back later look and smiled at the young woman who had been in high school the last time she laid eyes on her. "You've changed a little yourself, Scoop."

"I have a feeling I'll be seeing a lot of people today who will look a lot different than they did the last time I saw them," Alex added.

Before the conversation got a chance to turn to the present, another voice from the past rang loud and clear into the room, "Hey there, "Little Sarge." Looks like I finally get to look up to you instead of the other way around." Alex turned to look into the face of a stout middle-aged Master Sergeant whose voice prompted her to unconsciously straighten her shoulders. Despite the drastic change in appearance of the owner of the voice, the coarse alto reverberations sounded as familiar as when Alex was ten years old.

The tall executive's expression took on that of a surprised child, "Sarge! I don't believe it! Did Mom and Kelley send out their own separate announcements to this affair? What a great surprise!"

Open arms invitingly beckoned the younger woman to receive a huge hug. "When Kelley called I couldn't resist the temptation to see what became of my "Little Sarge." It's really good to see you again, Alex, so grown up and beautiful."

Samantha smiled as she watched her lover blush in the teddy-bear arms of an old family friend.

"Damn, where are my manners?" She broke away from the strong arms and grabbed Samantha's hand. "Sarge this is my lover, Samantha and these are my friends Ray and Sonny -- everyone this is Sar . . . Jude."

"I'm glad to meet all of you. It's been a long time since I've seen this little girl here," She put her arm around Alex's shoulder, "and I can say from the heart that I'm mighty proud of the accomplishments she's made, according to what her parents have told me. I wouldn't have missed being here today for anything." The large woman smiled at the younger and then released her to go over and talk with Kelley.

Aurora finally found her way back to the now more populated area and was surprised at the new faces that had arrived in her absence. People started filing in slowly and soon everyone in the original party was busy showing someone around the new Center or pointing them in the direction of the refreshments. Even Sonny and Ray had become knowledgeable tour guides by the middle of the afternoon.

A few more old friends unexpected by Alex trickled in during the day, including Marcy, from San Diego, who showed up with her new girlfriend. Alex took time out to personally show the two around and spend a little time chatting and catching up on gossip. Even a couple of women Kelley used to play softball with, a writer friend of Aurora's, and a few of Alex's favorite clients made appearances.

While Alex was taking care of the surprised visitors and catching up on old and new news, Samantha was otherwise occupied with invited guests. She found herself entertaining lecturers who wanted to see where they would be speaking, a massage therapist who wanted to see the massage rooms and some of the people she used to work with at Flying Fingers. Suzanne and Danny made a short appearance, looking rather uncomfortable until they spotted Samantha. She proudly gave them the royal tour and then marched them in the direction of the food. Suzanne couldn't believe the spread, but Danny had no problem helping himself to the extravaganza.

Somewhere between showing people around and talking small talk, Samantha found the time to sneak off by herself and put Alex's paperweight on her desk. It seemed like such a small gift after the surprise Alex had materialized this morning, but it was heartfelt and she knew Alex would appreciate the thought.

She looked down at her dazzling ring and smiled. Since she met, Alex her life had definitely taken a turn for the best. She never dreamed she could be as happy as she was today and the future looked as though it was just going to keep getting better. She had been in a hurry from her own office to get Alex's present in it's place and decided to take a few extra minutes to go back and straighten up the small amount of clutter she left.

The door to her office was ajar, as she pushed it open she spotted a woman over by her desk. "Excuse me, can I help . . ."

The intruder, whose back was to the door, spun around to face Samantha, "We meet again, Brat."

"You . . . what are you doing here? Who are you? Why do you keep calling me Brat?" Samantha was livid.

Penetrating feral eyes stared back at the small blonde who had been caught off guard, "It's an Open House, isn't it" I do believe that means that anyone walking along spotting the sign is more than welcome to come on in."

"Answer my questions! This is getting ridiculous." Sam's Irish was beginning to boil; her stomach churned at the altercation, the sour taste in her mouth upsetting what had, up to this point, been a marvelous day.

"Okay, Little Miss -- don't go getting your bowels in an uproar." The tall, thin blonde slithered closer to Samantha, closing the door on her way by giving it a quick shove. "You want answers? We're F-a-m-i-l-y, you and I."

"I don't think so," the smaller blonde quickly replied, backing away from the interloper, only to find herself cornered against a wall.

Playing with words the transgressor continued, "Oh, but we are, Sammie dear. Let's just say I'm a friend of an old friend."

"You're talking in riddles. I know I don't know you and Alex made no acknowledgment that she knew anything of you, either. So . . . who are you?" Samantha put out her hands to keep the taller woman from getting any closer, to no avail.

Samantha winced as strong, forceful hands grabbed her own outstretched ones, pinning her up against the wall. The taller woman bent down, bringing their faces so close they were soon nose-to-nose. "You're a Brat because you get everything you want. We're family because I said so. This is my game and I intend to continue playing it, got that? I like keeping you in the dark; I like keeping everyone in the dark. I'm not finished with you yet Samantha. You'll know when I am. You need to suffer a little more first, get a real taste of the grown-up world."

"Why?" Samantha almost cried, unable to stop the tears from forming in her eyes. "What did I ever do toYou?" Samantha tried to wiggle away from the vice-like grip.

"Stop struggling, it's futile." The stronger woman pushed her entire body against Samantha's. "You don't want to make a scene now do you and ruin your lover's little party?" the psychotic blonde sneered. "I'm not going to hurt you . . . Yet."

A sardonic grin crept across the face of the intruder, "You see, Samantha, you are just the means to the end, my ace in the hole! You just happened to get mixed up with the wrong person at the wrong time." She let go of one of Samantha's hands and took hold of her chin pulling her head back and her face up. She brought her own face ever so close to her victim's. "Tell Alex I said hello," she smirked, leaning even closer and planting a kiss on the soft lips of the terrorized woman in front of her. As Samantha tried to pull away the kiss turned into a bite, leaving an immediate bruise in the corner of Samantha's lip.

With a depraved smile of satisfaction on her face, the villainess released the fear-stricken woman. She turned away from her victim and opened the office door. "Nice place you have here, Samantha! I'd love to stay and play . . . but . . . Gotta Go!"

Samantha stared at the closed office door, then walked around the desk and sat down in her chair. Putting her head in her hands she began to sob, uncontrollably. She couldn't imagine anyone being so evil just for the sake of being so. I don't even know her name! Why is she doing this to me? The question kept running like a bad movie script over and over in her mind. Then fear reared it's ugly head as her imagination took over, and she thought about what the stronger woman could have done to her up here alone in the office, if she wanted to. Samantha knew it was time to take advantage of all the lessons available to her at the Center. The next time she came across the mystery woman she needed to be able to at least protect herself. Fear began to retreat as her anger again came to the forefront. Now is Not the time to sit and fume over what I didn't do or what I need to do next. Alex'll be missing me. I need to get back downstairs. With trembling hands she opened the top drawer and took out a compact mirror. Upon examination of her face she could see that the area of the bite was swollen and already of a slight purple color. How am I going to explain this to Alex?


The success of the open house was exceeding all of Alex's expectations. She smiled with pride as the citizens of Laguna filed through her double doors. Graciously she showed each new group around or relayed them on to someone who was beginning a new tour of the building. There were people in every room milling around, commenting on the layout of the huge Center, enjoying the buffet or simply standing talking to friends and admiring the ocean view.

A small group of rock climbers prompted her to inform them on how to sign up for privileges to use the Center's climbing wall. They were thrilled that they would be able to climb even during the rainy season and would no longer have to go all the way to San Diego or one of the larger cities north of them to participate in the sport. She left them on their own to discuss their plans as to when they would come and play on new found toy.

Sensing a slight break in the onslaught of guests, Alex decided to take a quick recess from the chaos. She slipped quietly into her office to catch her breath before she needed to be charming, smiling and social again. As she came around to the front of her desk, she spotted a small box wrapped in silver foil and decorated with a gold bow. The gift had been strategically placed directly in the middle of the desk. The handwriting on the card was unmistakably Samantha's. Smiling to herself, she opened the card. The sweet voice of her lover played in her ears as she read . . .

To My Darling Alex:

A gift to celebrate your new endeavor. May we always Balance each other perfectly.


Yin/yang (My Forever Love)

As two sides of the same coin, we're different as night and day.

But with opposites attracting, there could be no other way.

I felt the draw of Destiny the moment you came near.

I knew with all my heart and soul that I belonged right here.

The intertwining of our paths was written long ago.

We've been here many times before, don't ask me how I know.

Our souls are joined forever on this trek though space and time.

Our love and loyalty prevails, You always shall be mine.

All My Love Forever ~ Samantha

. . . with misty eyes and trembling hands she opened the small box to find a yin/yang paperweight. One side of the design was done in a beautiful cream-colored mother of pearl and the other in the darker iridescent colors of an abalone shell. The poem alone was a beautiful gift, this was like icing on the cake. The day was turning out to be one of the best she had experienced in years. Her plans were all coming to fruition, and she had the woman of her dreams standing by her side. Balance was entering her life. Alex was truly happy.

The opening of her door brought her quickly back to the here-and-now as her mother walked into the room.

"Alexis, people have been looking all over for you, what are you doing in here alone?"

"I just needed a minute to myself, Mom." She held the paperweight out. "Look what Samantha had sitting on my desk waiting for me to find. She's really something Mom." The younger woman smiled at her mother.

"Yes, Alex, I think you may have found the pot at the end of the rainbow this time. I get good vibes from Samantha. Maybe I can stop worrying a little about you now." Aurora walked over and hugged her daughter. "I'm really proud of what you have accomplished. This place is going to be fantastic; I can feel it in my bones." Reaching up she ran a small hand through the thick dark hair on Alex's head. "I miss the long tresses, but I have to admit this cut looks stunning on you, Honey."

"Thanks, Mom, I thought it was time for a change. I kind of like the freedom it gives me – it's so much easier to take care of."

"But . . . to digress . . . " Aurora remembered there was a reason she came searching for Alex. "Marge just arrived. You need to come out now and show her around."

"I will." Alex placed the paperweight back on the desk and put the card into her pocket. "I need to find Samantha first. I haven't seen her for a while."

"Alex, Marge is waiting . . ."

"I'll be there just as soon as I find Samantha, Mom. I'm sure you can keep her occupied until I do." She kissed her mother on the cheek and escorted her out of the office, closing the door behind them.

Alex started looking over by the pool area, then went back to the climbing wall. She scanned the gym and still found no Samantha. Thinking perhaps that her lover may have also needed a moment of quiet reflection, she headed for the elevator and Samantha's office.

After skirting around several groups of people on the second floor and exchanging pleasantries, Alex finally succeeded in winding her way to the door marked 'Samantha Riley - Coordinator.' She opened the door and found the small blonde with her head down on the desk. At first glance it seemed as though she might have been napping, but slowly the head raised and teary emerald eyes searched the only face she wanted to see. She tried to cover up the bruise with makeup but could see from the look in her lover's eyes that the job had not been accomplished, most likely because of the swelling.

"What the Hell happened to your lip?" came the almost involuntary question. It was definitely not the way she intended on greeting Samantha when she found her.

"I . . . ran into a door . . ." The response was quiet and most certainly not the truth.

"And I have a bridge to sell you over the ocean in Arizona," Alex countered. "Seriously, Samantha," she walked over and lifted the smaller woman's chin to take a closer look at the bruise.

Samantha stood and threw her arms around her lover's waist, burying her head in Alex's chest. "That woman was here, Alex."

"What woman . . . the tall blonde who's been stalking you?"

"Yes," came the soft reply.

Alex's temper started to get the best of her as she took Samantha by the shoulders and looked her in the face, steel blue eyes shooting daggers at the wrong victim. "Why the Hell didn't you scream, or try to call for help? How did she get close enough to do this to you? How Did she do this to you?" Unintentionally she was shaking Samantha as she vented her anger. Samantha was receiving the wrath that was meant for the blonde enigma.

"Alex, you're hurting me," Samantha pleaded with her. She lifted her arms to break the hold the taller woman had on her. "I just walked into the office and she was standing at the desk. I asked her a couple questions, but she refused to answer most of them. Then she was at me . . . she told me not to make noise and ruin the open house . . . it sounded logical . . ."

"Logical -- it sounded logical to let her do whatever she wanted to you without making a sound so as to not disturb a PARTY? Samantha what were you thinking?" Alex screamed at her.

"I guess I wasn't," Samantha yelled back.

"What did she hit you with that made a bruise only on your mouth? She could have knocked out a tooth!"

Samantha's eyes lowered as did her voice, "She didn't hit me, she bit me."

Alex looked puzzled. "Excuse, me . . . I don't think I heard you correctly." She lifted Samantha's chin to make eye contact. Samantha kept her eyes lowered. "Samantha, did you say she bit you?"

"Yes," came the soft murmur.

At this point Alex was fuming; she again grabbed Samantha by the shoulders. "How the HELL did she get close enough to bite you?" Just trying to imagine the scene made her blood pressure rise.

Samantha looked up into angry blue eyes, as her own began to tear again, "She pinned up against the wall. She's a lot stronger than I am! I felt totally helpless. She said, ' Tell Alex I said hello ," then she began to . . . kiss me . . . I struggled and tried to get away, and she bit me." Tears were flowing freely by the time she finished the explanation and she tried to turn away from the almost skeptical stare of her irate lover.

"You don't Believe me! I can see it in your eyes! You don't Believe Me!" Samantha pulled away and started out of the room.

"No, Samantha," Alex quickly grabbed the smaller woman and turned her back around to face her. "Of course I believe you. It's just . . ." she shook her head and pulled Samantha close. "Of course I believe you . . . wait 'til I get my hands on that bitch, she'll learn to leave people alone."

"I'm so sorry, Alex. This has ruined an absolutely wonderful day for you," Samantha sobbed into her lover's chest.

"Don't be ridiculous, Honey. I'm sorry it happened to you. I'm sorry I wasn't around to stop her. But I'm here now, Samantha, I've got you and your safe now." She gently kissed the top of her lover's head and held her close. "I came to say thank you for the beautiful poem and paperweight."

Samantha looked up at Alex, a smile glistening through her tears, "Do you really like it?"

"Of course I do, silly. And the poem . . . I have no words to describe the way the poem made me feel except that you definitely can put my feelings into words. Come on now, let's go get you freshened up a little. We still have people to meet. A few more hours and we can kick back and relax. Marge just arrived and I can't wait for her to meet you." She smiled at Samantha and wiped away the last of the tears with her fingers. "A little makeup and the mark will be hardly noticeable to someone who doesn't love you." Bending down she kissed the abused corner of her lover's mouth. "I love you more than life, Samantha. I promise I'll avenge this violation."

"Oh, Alex, I would rather that we never set eyes on her again, but I know that isn't to be the case. She said she wasn't finished with me yet. I think I need to start taking some self-defense lessons as soon as possible."

Totally agreeing with the small blonde, Alex suggested she enroll in the first class the Center offered and promised to make time to work with her in the evenings. In her mind's eye she played her version of what would happen the next time the blonde stranger appeared. She would be there to protect Samantha. She would make sure that the next time would be the last time the interloper would have a chance to upset her, or anyone else for that matter.

The crowd was beginning to thin and the day was finally coming to a close. They stopped to let Samantha wash her face and apply some makeup to the bruise then proceeded back downstairs to the gym area.

Everyone in their little group was gathered over by the buffet tables, finally getting a chance to stop entertaining visitors and indulge themselves in some of the delicacies the guests had been enjoying all day.

Aurora was standing with a glass of champagne in one hand and a plate in the other when the two younger women walked into the room. She handed her plate to Kelley, who gave her a look that said, "What do you want me to do with this?" and marched over to the prodigal duo.

"Where have you girls been? I was just about to send out a rescue party." Looking first at Alex and then at Samantha, a small frown appeared on her face. "Samantha, is something wrong? You look as though you've been crying . . . what happened to your mouth?"

"Mom," Alex chided.

"What?" Aurora countered.

"Aurora, it's okay," Samantha began, "I'm a bit of a klutz at times and walked into an open cabinet, nothing big, just annoying and ugly to look at." She touched the offended area and gave the older woman a half-hearted smile.

Aurora walked over and gave her a hug. "Well, it doesn't look all that bad. Once the swelling goes down you won't even notice it. Here, have some champagne, that will take away the sting of it at least." Turning she gave Alex a raised eyebrow that expressly told her daughter that she didn't believe a word of what the small blonde just said and that she expected to be told the truth at a later time.

"Well, you're here now," Aurora continued, "Come on Samantha, I want you to meet one of my oldest friends," she smiled and whispered into the younger woman's ear, "And I do mean that exactly as it sounds." She marched Samantha away from Alex and started across the room.

Samantha knew the person Aurora was talking about had to be Marge. From the direction they were headed it could only be the woman standing over by the buffet chatting with Sonny, Ray and Kelley, looking like she was waiting for someone. She kept glancing at her watch as if she had an appointment and was running late. She did not match what Samantha had imagined. In her mind's eye she visualized the woman as a bigger than life personality, strong enough to mold a willful personality like Alex's into a successful business tycoon. The woman before her could not have been more than 5'1" tall, but she did have an aura about her, the way she stood perhaps, that did seem to carry an air of authority.

As they approached the frown on the woman's face disappeared and a smile took its place. She reached out a hand. "This must be my Alex's Samantha." Her handshake was warm and firm. "I've hear a lot about you, girl," she smiled at the younger woman. "So, you are going to be the second in command in this little venture of ours?"

"Samantha," Aurora interjected, "This -- if you haven't already guessed, is Marge Silkton. She just wanted to make an appearance today to see the finished Center and to meet you." Aurora grinned at Samantha, knowing the last statement would probably cause the small blonde to blush.

"It's great to meet you Ms. Silkton . . ."

"Marge, call me Marge, Samantha," the older woman interrupted.

"Marge then . . . Alex has told me so much about you. She thinks the world of you," Samantha admitted for her lover.

"The feeling is mutual, my dear. Alex is very close to my heart. She's the daughter I never gave birth to. And . . . she was My second in command until this little Center of ours came into fruition. Now, I can't even stay for dinner because I have to go tend to a client in Santa Fe, who would have originally been taken care of by someone who is now otherwise occupied." She smiled broadly to let Samantha know she was only kidding.

"Speaking of my nonexistent second in command . . . Where is my little entrepreneur? She needs to give me a tour around this place." Looking around she spotted Alex talking to a small group of people who were getting ready to leave. She caught the younger woman's eye and motioned at her watch. Alex nodded and walked the group to the front door, hurrying the good-byes as diplomatically as was possible.

As it turned out Marge had just enough time to get a quick tour, ending with her congratulating Alex on the excellent job she did getting the establishment whipped into shape from the ghostly remains of an abandoned warehouse. She even took a few seconds to compliment the younger woman on the new 'look', stating that the short cut accentuated the younger woman's aristocratic features and drew even more attention to her beautiful blue eyes.

Alex smiled and took the praise as was customary when Marge was dispensing it. She loved the older woman who gave her a chance to grow away from the watchful eyes of her parents. Both women fought back tears as Alex reluctantly walked Marge to her car, with the promise that the three of them would get together for dinner some night in the not too distant future, so Marge could get to know Samantha a little better.

It wasn't long after Marge left than the rest of the visitors trickled out of the building leaving just "the family" and the wait staff. Once they were told that the party was over, the catering people packed everything up were ready to leave within the hour. It felt a little strange to see the left over balloons, crepe paper and streamers hanging around in the now empty gym that had been bustling with people just a bit ago. Kelley, Aurora, Ray and Sonny went upstairs, leaving Alex and Samantha to do the locking up.

The two women stood looking out at the dusk colored sky in silence. The day hadn't turned out exactly as planned with the little interruption that took place near the end of it, but the beginning had been joyous and hopefully the ending would be the same.

"You certainly got your share of pleasant surprises today, 'Little Sarge,' Samantha broke the silence with a giggle.

"Oh, yeah. But don't think you can go using that old nickname on me."

"I'll bet you had a lot of other nicknames, too, didn't you." Samantha prompted.

"Yes, but you don't need to know them all! Some are quite embarrassing. I'm sure as time goes by Mom will make sure that you do know all of them and she's sure to include the little stories that accompany each name." Alex put her arm around Samantha's shoulder and drew her close.

"Your friends seem very interesting, Alex, especially the photographer. I think she got some good shots of the Center and of us. I can't wait to see the proofs. It was nice of her to come and surprise you like she did. It's a shame they all couldn't stay longer. We'll have to have another party soon and make sure to invite them all back."

"Scoop and I were pretty close in high school but with all the traveling we've been doing lately we lost touch like a lot of friends do. Leave it to Mom to bring everyone back into the fold on a special occasion like today. She's good at stuff like that, it's one of her best traits, and I love her for it. A party sounds great as soon as we get over all this initial opening stuff and get settled a little."

Samantha sighed, "Both your parents seem to be very attentive to your needs, Alex. Maybe it's because you're an only child. You really are a very lucky daughter to have people, who love you so deeply. Watching them interact is very interesting, they seem like night and day . . . kind of like the two of us . . . I hope that's a good sign that we will last as long as a couple as they have. There's a quiet tenderness in the way they still look at each other. It's like a smoldering kind of love that continues to burn long after the intense heat of the bonfire is extinguished." She looked down at the ring on her finger and smiled, then looked back up at Alex and kissed her. "We should get back upstairs with family and friends before someone comes searching for us."

"Yes, but first let me properly thank you for the lovely gift you left for me today. The mood was spoiled the first time I tried." The taller woman drew the small blonde closer to her, looking deep into green pools that reflected back the love that glowed in her own eyes. "I love you Samantha."

Gently she tilted the face she adored closer to her as she leaned down to tenderly kiss the soft full lips. Samantha's half opened mouth accepted Alex's tongue, allowing it to flick softly around the inside of her mouth. The women moaned as their tongues intertwined, and began darting back and forth between the open crevices. The sweetness of the kisses elicited love bumps on both their bodies, until Samantha broke off the kiss, her knees buckling beneath her.

"By the Gods Alex, we have to go upstairs and face you parents and our friends. All I want to do is stay down here and be engulfed by your love. You are making a nymphomaniac out of me, do you realize that"" she giggled.

A huge grin was her answer as Alex picked her up and carried her over to the mat that they had awakened on this morning. She laid her down and placed her own body on top of her lover's.

"No you don't, Alex Dorian." Samantha protested, pulling her dress back down over her thighs. "I will Not have family or friends innocently coming down in that elevator and happening upon a sight I do not wish to share with anyone!"

"What a party pooper you are!" Alex pouted.

"You wouldn't continue with what you started any more than I would let you," Samantha responded. "You're just being a big tease."

"Bet me!" A strong, slender hand slipped back up Samantha's leg and into the elastic of her panties. Quick fingers found the soft wet area beneath the golden curls.

"Alex!" Samantha yelled and then lowered her voice, "If you don't stop that this instant, I won't let you continue later."

"But . . . that was almost a dare, and I never pass up a dare." The dark-haired beauty teased, not moving her hand from its destination.

"It wasn't a dare Alex and if you don't stop, I'll be forced to . . ."

Simultaneously they heard the clank of the elevator as it stopped on the silent first floor. Alex jumped up, pulling Samantha with her.

"See," the smaller woman whispered, "I told you we'd get caught this time."

Alex just smiled and started toward the elevator, reaching a hand out behind her back for Samantha to grab on to.

As usual, Kelley was chosen to come get the girls and to find out what was taking them so long. She made sure to make a lot of noise with the elevator doors and getting out of the elevator as she could still remember what it was like when love was new and didn't really want to walk in on anything. "Okay, kids . . . time to join the rest of the crowd," she called ahead as she walked toward the gym only to be quickly met by Alex trailing a slightly blushing Samantha behind her.

"We've all decided that there wasn't enough food at the party to tide us all over 'til morning so we're going for a late dinner. It's come as you are or you can dress down, whatever you want," the older woman informed the two younger, smiling at them the entire time. "Sonny's talking your mother's head off, telling her all about your trip to San Francisco and the new addition to their gym. Ray's watching TV and I got to come and get you two."

"Well, weren't you the lucky one," came the sarcastic reply from her daughter, "I know you would have loved to have stayed and listened to Sonny go on and on and on . . ."

"Don't be a smart ass, Alex," Kelly chided. "On another topic, I wanted to congratulate the two of you for pulling off an amazing Open House. I think everything went smoothly and everyone seemed impressed with what the business will offer this small town. I do believe you will have a huge turnout when you open your doors for clients. So, next week you're having orientation for your employees, right?"

"Yes," Alex answered. "I've asked everyone who is going to be working with us, including some of the instructors to come by Tuesday morning to get acquainted with the areas where they will be working. We have a few regular employees and then a clean up crew that will come nightly. Between Samantha and I we should be able to have everyone situated by the end of the week and be able to open up the following Monday."

"Looks like it's going to be another busy week ahead then." Kelley turned to the newest addition to her family. "Didn't you say your parents were coming in on Friday, Samantha?"

"Yeah, they're coming for the Pageant of the Masters so we will be making a double trip to the program."

Kelley looked over at her daughter with a half-grin. "You ought to be full of culture by the end of next week."

"Stop gloating," Alex mock commanded. "Or I'll find something that only Mom would like and buy tickets for the both of you."

"Okay, okay -- truce. We need to be getting back upstairs before they send Ray down to find me as well as you two," the older woman suggested.

The rest of the evening seemed to speed by. Dinner was casual and fun; the conversation flitted between a variety of topics including the open house, the San Francisco trip, the business, Sonny and Ray's business, Kelley's brokerage, and how California real estate kept escalating. There was never a dull moment and never a pause in the conversation. They closed the restaurant and headed back to the house to continue visiting.

It was almost three when Kelley finally called it an evening for all. Ray was sound asleep on the couch, she and Alex had just finished going over some of the financial aspects of the business and the other three were still sitting on the floor in the living room, pillows propped up all around them, drinking their wine and talking.

"Okay, "girls" -- we all have a busy day and night tomorrow. What do you say we get some shut eye before the sun comes back up?"

After a few whines and whimpers, everyone headed off to their various bedrooms. Samantha went into the bathroom and Aurora pulled Alex out into the hall, telling her to walk with her to their rooms.

"Okay, what gives?" her mother questioned.

"What do you mean?" The response from her daughter was evasive.

"Alexis, don't play me for a fool! What happened to Samantha's mouth? You didn't think I'd forget that quickly did you? I know she didn't run into an open cabinet. I'm not that stupid. You two didn't . . ."

"Don't even start to go there, Mom! Samantha and I Don't have that kind of relationship. This is not Nikki all over again. I won't be in that ever again!" The vehement look on her daughter's face rang true to what Aurora felt in her heart, but it was a question that needed asking and had been burning inside her since she first saw the bruise on the young blonde's mouth.

"Well, I'm certainly glad to hear that. I thought as much, but . . . never mind . . . so what did happen to her?"

Alex filled her Mother in on most of what the problem was, explaining that they really didn't know what the problem was and that she was sure there would soon be a climax to the entire situation. She intended to be with Samantha the next time something happened and end the escapade once and for all. Aurora warned Alex not to get too physical and not to go beyond the law when it came to taking care of the culprit. Alex explained as calmly as she could that she had every intention of getting even with the stranger for hurting Samantha but that she had no intentions of landing in jail over the situation. With her mind put at rest Aurora kissed Alex good night and told her that she and Kelley were proud of the way everything had been handled so far in the Center. Alex said good night to her mother at the door and yelled in a good night to Kelley who yelled back. She shut the door and hurried back to Samantha to spend a few minutes alone before the evening was entirely over.

Samantha was standing in her favorite spot, in front of the middle window in the living room, looking out over the ocean. She heard soft footsteps enter the room and without turning around knew her lover was near. The sweet fragrance of Obsession permeated the air around Alex and as she drew near the odor intensified, filling Samantha with a soft, glowing feeling. "I love Laguna Nights, here alone with you. I look out at the ocean and the beach and feel like we are kin to those two parcels of Mother Earth. Look how the ocean cannot keep from touching the shore; that's how I feel whenever you are near. If two such miracles can respond in this way to each other, there can be nothing wrong with us, as mere mortals, following suit and doing the same toward one of our own.

A slight touch on her shoulder created a tingling sensation that moved quickly down her back. She turned to look up into the face of her dark angel who leaned down to receive a kiss.

"It's been a busy day, My Destiny," Alex whispered, "tomorrow will prove to be no less. I think we should turn in and get some sleep while we can."

The two lovers took one last look at the view they both loved before turning in. They each caught sight of the falling star that the heavens sent as a good night gesture. Two identical wishes were made as they clasped hands and walked toward the bedroom.

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