Laguna Nights

by Carole Giorgio

Chapter 19

No doubt about it, today was going to be one busy day; even Samantha was up and awake not long after the sun began to shed a little light on the cliff-side warehouse.

"I don't know why I'm so nervous," the small blonde confessed to her lover as they started the morning ritual of bathing and dressing. "You'd think the people coming to visit were strangers to me!" She looked over at Alex. "You should be the one with butterflies in your stomach, not me."

"Just to set the record right -- I Do have butterflies in my stomach," the tall dark-haired woman replied with a small grin.

"You certainly don't act like you do!"

"Because I don't act in a certain way does not mean that I don't have trepidations about meeting your family. Actually the only one I'm really looking forward to meeting is your sister."

Samantha winced and Alex peppered her last statement with, " . . . and your mom."

A smiled reappeared on the small blonde's face just as the phone began ringing. "The only reason that would be my parents is if they decided not to come and I very much doubt that." She picked the receiver up on the third ring, just before the answering service would have taken over.


"Hi, Samantha?"

"Yes, this is Samantha, who's this?"

"Angel DeNafrio, could I speak with Alex, please."

Samantha frowned slightly and placed the phone on her body to muffle her voice. "It's your Angel," she mimicked, rolling her eyes and rocking her head side-to-side, her tone more than slightly sarcastic. "Seems like she needs to talk to the boss lady, instead of second in charge." She handed the phone over to Alex.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you that your face would freeze when you make ugly faces?" Alex whispered into the blonde's ear as she took the receiver from her. "Hi, Angel. What's up?"

"Nothing much, I just wanted to tell you that I'll be leaving here in a few minutes, so I should get there around 10. Is that convenient for you?"

"Ten's good for us. Samantha's parents should be here around two. That should give us plenty of time to show you around upstairs and get you settled in. There won't be much time after that, I'm afraid. Samantha has the evening all planned out." She smiled over at her lover who was definitely listening to the conversation.

"Sounds good on my end." There was a small pause. "Well, Alex, guess I'll see ya in a couple hours. Bye." Angel smiled as she replaced the receiver on the cradle. She was looking forward to seeing her new boss again. She told her friends all about Alex and her business with a penthouse overlooking the ocean. They were definitely envious of her new position and wished her the best of luck. A farewell dinner had kept her out late last night. Even with a hum-dinger of a hangover, she was up bright and early. This was one trip she was anxious to get started on.

Alex ended the conversation and handed the phone back to Samantha.

"So tell me, why did she have to talk to you? What did she do just give her time of arrival? Why couldn't she have told me?" Samantha queried.

"I don't know Samantha. Don't start with that stupidness again. She probably just feels more comfortable talking to me," Alex frowned.

"I'll Bet!" came the reply as Samantha almost slammed the phone back onto its cradle.

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, having her stay here while she house hunts." Alex walked over to Samantha and put her arms around her shoulders. "Would you rather I put her up in a motel room for a few days?" Up went the eyebrow as she stared down at her lover.

"No, I'm being silly. It's just that I have this gut feeling that she would rather be your friend than mine, maybe even more than your friend, if you know what I mean." There was a trace of worry in the soft green eyes that stared back up at Alex.

"Well, even it that is true . . . once she really gets to know me . . . the working me, I'm sure that opinion will change. I'll be her friend away from the Center, but when she's working we will have a completely different relationship and she may find that the two don't mix well."

"What like you're my lover, but you're also my boss?"

"Samantha, how many times do we have to go over this" You don't really consider me your boss do you? I want us to be partners in this. I have more experience in this type of work and will give my opinions on how I feel things should be run, but I promise to always listen to your suggestions. Right now a lot of this is new to you and I realize there will be a learning period. But, there will come a time when we will both know the business equally well." Samantha gave her an incredulous look.

"Come on, Honey, this is just the beginning. I've been used to working pretty much on my own for a long time now and it may take me some time to get used to relying on someone else. But having you to confide in will also take some of the load off my shoulders." She leaned over and whispered. "Besides it never does any harm to be on good terms with the boss lady."

Samantha punched her in the arm, which elicited a large guffaw -- not at all the response she was expecting, but she decided to smile back at her lover and drop the conversation at least for now.

The remainder of the morning went smoothly and quickly. Before they realized it Angel arrived. Alex helped her take her luggage up to the guest room. Alex purchased a spare key for the elevator for her and explained how it was used. She also handed her a key to the front door, but informed the younger woman that they would need the keys back when she left and that she needed to keep them informed on her coming and going as long as she stayed because of the security system.

Angel said she understood perfectly about the security of the building and thanked Alex again for letting her stay while she was house hunting. Alex made sure she again gave Samantha the credit for the offer.

After Angel was fairly settled Alex asked, "Did you find any ads in the local paper for an apartment or house?"

"Yes, actually there are a few apartments for rent in my price range, a couple of small houses and a large studio overlooking the ocean." Grinning broadly she continued, "I think I'll start with the studio. It sounds almost too good to be true. The price is right, it's overlooking the ocean and the owner said it's quite large.

"That sounds interesting, Angel. Let's just leave your stuff here and go join Samantha," Alex suggested, as she knew lunch would probably be ready by now.

Samantha had made the offer to make lunch while Alex was helping Angel get acquainted with her room and bathing facilities. Angel was busy explaining to Alex about the studio she hoped to rent when they reached the door leading to the kitchen. She stopped short as they walked through the door and into the penthouse.

"Wow! What a view you have from here. I thought the scene from the first floor was great but this is breathtaking." She walked over to the windows and looked down at the beach. "I bet there was no problem when you brought chicks . . ." she paused as she caught a glare from Samantha out of the corner of her eye. That was incredibly stupid, Angel , she thought to herself.

Totally changing the subject she turned back around toward the kitchen. "So, do I get the royal tour of this suite as well?" she asked, looking directly at Alex and avoiding eye contact with the green-eyed blonde in the kitchen.

"We'll take you around after we've eaten," Alex explained, "I think Samantha about has lunch ready, don't you, Honey?" She made sure she threw in an endearment, as Samantha was again beginning to look none too happy, and Alex was regretting the invitation for Angel to stay with them. She was going to have to work with this woman and Samantha was going to have to learn to get along with her.

Sniffing the fragrant aroma coming from the kitchen she looked over at the stove, "Hey, that smells good. What are you making Samantha?" Getting back to food was the way to her lover's heart and she was hoping the meal would be pleasant.

"Chili. I made enough for the folks to snack on if they happen to be hungry when they get here. It's ready if you two would just go sit down." Samantha turned back to the stove to pour the hot lunch into the bowls that were sitting on the counter.

"Here, let me help with that," Alex said as she pointed out the table to Angel and headed into the kitchen.

"Thanks, Alex." Samantha gave her lover a wide grin. "You can take your bowl and Angel's, I can manage my own. Do you want a beer or just your water?"

Reaching for the filled bowls, Alex stretched a little closer and kissed Samantha gently on the cheek. "Thanks for going to all this trouble for lunch, it smells marvelous. I think I'll stick with water, after all the "folks" will be here shortly. Don't want them thinking I'm an alcoholic now, do we?"

"Point well taken," the small blonde smiled back at her admirer. "How about you, Angel, would you like something other than water with your meal?"

"No, thank you. Water will do just fine." Angel seated herself at the dining room table. It was already set with the water, silverware and napkins. Samantha had put out tortilla chips, melted cheese and chopped onions as garnish, so the chili was the only item missing for the meal to be complete. Angel could see that Sam worked very hard at making herself indispensable to Alex. It was a trait she had to admire even if she didn't find it endearing. "Table looks great and the chili smells marvelous."

"Thanks." Samantha smiled at the compliment, "Hope it tastes just as good." She finished filling her own bowl and joined the others at the table.

During the meal the topics bounced from the business, to the ocean view, to what there was to do in the area and finally to where Angel was going to go house/apartment/studio hunting. Samantha was as pleasant as she could muster but deep down felt a nagging tightness that didn't want to loosen its grip. When the meal was finally over Angel offered to help clean up but Samantha sent her on her way home hunting. She smiled as her new houseguest left the room. I hope the Gods are good to you today and that Athena helps you find a home expediently, she thought, as she verbally wished Angel happy hunting.

By the time the kitchen was straightened, the dishes cleaned and the rest of the chili put in the refrigerator, it was nearing time for the Rileys to arrive. Samantha found herself flitting from room to room checking to make sure everything was in its proper place and position. Finally Alex could stand the nervous movement no longer and grabbed the small woman on her way from the bedroom back into the kitchen.

"Okay, okay, slow down." Intent blue eyes drilled a hole into the emerald ones staring back at her. "Honey, every thing looks absolutely fantastic!" She patted the couch with her hand. "There's not another thing you need to do but sit down here beside me and let your heart stop racing."

Samantha took a deep breath and sat down hard on the couch next to her lover.

"Samantha do you always get like this around your parents?"

"No! But it's the first time I've ever had anything that they didn't either buy, help buy, approve of first . . ."

"Whoa, girl . . . slow down!" Alex turned and held Samantha by the shoulders. "You are much too stressed. You've done a marvelous job at decorating this room, Samantha -- it's most definitely You. The guest suite is elegant and that also is mostly you. The spare room is All You . . . and the bedroom, well . . ." She gently wiped away a tear that could not help but fall from the misty green eyes watching her ". . . there's still some of Me in the bedroom and kitchen," she grinned. "Your parents are going to love this place. They love you and you need to stop worrying."

Samantha grinned, "You're right, Alex. Give me a second to go wash up and I'll be just fine."

"That's my girl," Alex kissed her on the cheek and patted her on the butt as she rose and headed for the bathroom.

Sally was the first to spot the building. "There it is, Daddy. That has to be it, it's the only building around." She stared up at the huge warehouse sitting alone on the top of a cliff. "It certainly is awesome."

"Perhaps a little ostentatious," came the remark from the gray-haired man driving.

"It's enormous Don, of course it's ostentatious! It reminds me of a castle sitting there on the cliff. But instead of being dull and old looking, it's bright and rather pretty, don't you think so?"

"I guess," he all but grunted at his wife thinking to himself that he certainly could tell where Sam had gotten her wild imagination. Castle -- The next thing she'll be thinking is that Samantha's Prince Charming will come and find her here. Silly women! He shook his head slightly as he took another look at the colossal building and the surrounding area. "I don't know that I like Samantha living out here in the middle of nowhere and in a warehouse to boot. It's dangerous."

"She's a big girl, Don. I'm sure she can take care of herself." It seemed as if she was always coming to Samantha's defense. Sometimes she wished her oldest were a little more like her youngest, not so much of an adventurous spirit. On the other hand she envied her daughter her enterprising motivation which had already taken her where Sheila herself never dared to venture.

Don pulled the car over in front of the building as Sally read the sign above the door, "Alternative Paradise", what an unusual name. I like it; it's rather ambiguous. The meaning could be different to each person who walked through the door."

"Sounds a little like mumbo jumbo to me, but if it's anything like what Samantha described to your mother, I may be able to turn this little vacation into a business trip." For the first time in an hour a small smile stole across the man's face.

"Lighten up, Don. We haven't seen Sammie in a long time. Let's make this a fun visit, okay? She said she got us really good seats for the Pageant tomorrow night." Sheila smiled into the back at her daughter and then patted Don's arm as he turned off the ignition.

Sally was the first out of the car, but she stopped to open her mother's door for her. "Come on, Mom, I'm getting really excited now. I can't wait to see Sam."

Don shook his head at his youngest as he got out of the car and started walking up to the double doors leading to Alternative Paradise. He looked at the bell and the intercom and decided that the latter would probably get the quickest attention.

Before Samantha finished washing up, the intercom sounded.

"Looks like it's curtain time, Samantha," Alex yelled as she went to answer the buzzer. Stopping mid-way she thought better of it. "Samantha, do you want to answer the intercom or should I?"

"Go ahead, Alex," the smaller woman yelled from the bathroom doorway.

"Okay." She pushed the button and a soft contralto voice addressed her unsuspecting in-laws for the first time. "Hello" Can I help you?"

"Hello, my name is Don Riley, is my daughter, Samantha, on the premises?" The voice was strong and deep and Alex could feel the sense of self in it.

"She's right here. We're on our way down to let you in." She turned to Samantha gave her a hug and kiss and told her once again that everything was going to go just as they planned. With her arm around her lover's shoulder she walked her to the elevator and they rode in silence down to the first level.

Alex opened the double doors to the building, making sure that the first person the visitors saw was Samantha. She stepped back to observe the interaction of the little family. If Alex hadn't known better she would have sworn that Sally and Samantha were twins, the same green eyes and beautiful smile. They seemed to be the same height and very similar in built. The only easily noticeable difference between the two was that Sally wore her flaxen hair long and flowing down her back. On closer inspection it seemed that Sally also had a few more freckles dotting her friendly face than her older sister did. Alex smiled as the young woman threw her arms around her sister and kissed her. It warmed her heart to see that kind of love between sisters and almost made her wish she had one -- Almost!

Sheila was next in line for hugs and kisses. Sparkling green eyes lit up at the sight of her mother. Samantha was about the same height as her mom, maybe a little taller. Alex could see the child emerging in the eyes of the woman she loved as that woman embraced her mother. After tears of joy, hugs and kisses, Samantha turned to face her father. He looked down at Samantha from a stature matching that of Alex's. He gave his daughter a good fatherly hug and a kiss, and then pushed her out at arm's length to take a long look at the young woman he hadn't seen in months.

"Looks like you've lost weight. Are you eating right, Samantha?" His face took on a disapproving quality.

"Yes, Daddy. I'm eating just fine," Samantha answered, her head down. "Please don't embarrass me," she whispered. "There's someone I want you all to meet." Her voice perked up, as did her expression, when she stepped back and motioned for Alex to come forward.

"This is the owner of this beautiful establishment, my employer, my landlady and my friend, Alex Dor . . ."

"Alex will do, Samantha, we don't stand on formal ceremony here," Alex intervened when Samantha forgot and began to mention her last name. She reached out to grasp the strong, firm handshake of Samantha's father.

Samantha began to blush and hoped that her neither her father nor her mother would notice the color change. "Of course, you're right." Samantha said, looking away from her father and back to Alex, continuing with her introductions, "Alex this is Don Riley, my dad. This is my mom, Sheila and . . ." She turned and hugged the young woman next to her. " . . . my little sister Sally."

Sally gently punched Samantha in the arm then turned and smiled broadly at Alex, offering her hand.

Alex took her attention from Sam's dad and turned to acknowledge her introduction to the two women.

"Very nice to meet the two of you. I can see where Samantha gets her good looks and fair coloring," she flattered her lover's mother, "You look more like an older sister than her mom."

Sheila smiled as she slowly began to blush and Alex could see immediately another trait her Samantha inherited from her mother.

Alex returned Sally's handshake and found it surprisingly strong.

"Well, we don't need to be staying around in the doorway all afternoon, Samantha has your weekend fairly well planned out." Again Alex turned to the rather stern looking man standing beside Samantha. "Mr. Riley, would you like some help getting the luggage from the van?"

"There's no need for you to trouble yourself, Alex," Don began, "Sally, Samantha and I can get it."

Alex could tell it was going to be a weekend of "who's in charge" but she had no intention of letting Samantha carry the luggage. "No, it's no problem at all. I thought Samantha could go ahead and take her mother on up to the suite and we could follow them with the luggage."

Getting the feeling that the young woman standing in front of him was probably used to having her own way, he decided to let her have the advantage at this point, "Fine then, I guess we could use an extra pair of hands. Come on Sally." He looked over at his older daughter, "Samantha you go ahead up with your mother, we've got it covered here." He turned back to Alex, "By the way, Alex, you can call me Don. If we're going to be living under your roof for the weekend the least we can do is be on a first name basis."

"Sounds good to me, Don," Alex said as she walked beside him, stride by stride, on the way to the van.

Samantha turned to her mother and pointed to the entrance leading to the elevator.

"This is an enormous building, Samantha," her mother noted.

"It's unique, too, Mom. Inside there's a climbing wall, a track, two Jacuzzi tubs, a pool and gym and much more. We'll take you around for a full tour after you're settled in." She took a deep breath and decided that now would be a good time to explain to her mother where everyone would be sleeping and why. "By the way, sleeping arrangements have changed a little since we first knew you were coming down and staying here. Originally, Alex thought the best thing to do would be to let you and Daddy have the guest suite. I was going to share my room with Sally. But the other day Alex asked me if I would mind allowing a new employee to use my room for a few days. Of course, I said I didn't mind, after all, you guys were going to be using Alex's guest suite. So . . ." she smiled at her mother, "Sally gets to be the first to sleep on the sofa bed in the guest quarters and I'll be doubling up with Alex for the weekend." She voiced the entire explanation much quicker than anticipated and sighed when she finished. She hoped the situation would sit well with her mother.

"Sammie, you could sleep on the pullout with your sister," her mother immediately responded. "I'm sure it's big enough for the two of you. That way you wouldn't have to bother Alex."

"Mom, I'm not bothering Alex. You forget we're friends. It would be like sleeping over at Janie's house when I was young. Besides there's only one bathroom where you guys are sleeping and it would be crowded with four of us trying to get into it when we're getting ready to go out. I'll be just fine and everyone will have plenty of room."

"That's awfully nice of Alex to put that other person up for a couple days. I hope he appreciates it." Sheila was getting a little disturbed as to exactly what type of environment Samantha was living in. "Alex seems to make a habit of offering people a place to stay."

"He's a She, Mom. Her name is Angel, and you'll probably meet her later tonight. She's moving up here from San Diego and will only be staying until she finds a place to live -- which could be today. She's out looking as we speak. As for Alex offering people a place to stay . . ." Samantha mustered all the patience she could and tried to explain so her mother would understand. She knew her mother was probably thinking the worst and tried to waylay all her insecurities of inappropriate conduct. "This is a very large building and there certainly is not a lack of living space as you will see when we show you around. When she offered for me to move in, it was because she wanted some company occasionally. She offered Angel because she felt it was ridiculous for her to have to pay for a hotel when there was an extra bedroom." If you only knew the Truth! She thought to herself.

They reached the third floor and Samantha pointed out the direction of the penthouse and the extra bedroom, before directing her mom toward the guest suite.

They barely began to look around the suite when the three luggage carriers arrived.

"Don, this place is gorgeous! We have a view of the ocean from the bedroom as well as a panorama of the Laguna Hills. I feel like I'm in a Five Star Hotel." Sheila beamed at her husband as Alex preceded him into the bedroom area, suitcase in tow.

"I'm glad you like the place, Sheila. It was just completed, so your timing is perfect." She put on her most charming smile as she opened the curtains further to expose the vistas. "If you're lucky, maybe Samantha will allow a little time to explore the beach area, but I think she has you pretty booked up for the entire stay."

"Now, Alex," Samantha joined in, "If they want to go down to the beach we have between now and whenever you make that reservation for dinner tonight." She threw a friendly smile in the direction of her lover, making sure she kept the distance that already was, between them.

"A walk on the beach sounds like fun," chimed in Sally, putting her baggage on the floor beside her. "Do you think we could?"

"Is anyone hungry?" Sheila asked.

"I am," Don replied. "Samantha is there somewhere we could go for lunch?"

"I've already made chili for lunch," Samantha answered her father. Alex and I ate a little while ago, but why don't I heat some up while you are unpacking. You can eat when you're finished, then we can all go for a walk on the beach."

The consensus was to go along with Samantha's plan. After being given directions on which halls to take to get to the apartment from the suite, the visitors were left on their own to unpack, change from their traveling clothes and freshen up.

Upon entering the apartment, Alex closed the door behind them and stood, standing with her back against it.

"Alex, they'll feel funny if they walk up here and the door's closed," Samantha stated as she began to reach around her lover to open the door.

"Not so fast," came the reply, as two strong arms came to rest on the shorter woman's shoulders. "I think things are getting off to an excellent start, but I need an incentive, it tough being so charming." She smiled and bent down, placing a gentle kiss on her lover's lips. "Do you know how difficult it is for me to not look at you like you are my world" Do you know how hard it is to keep a formal distance between us?"

Sparkling green eyes looked up and Samantha kissed Alex back before responding, "I know exactly how tough it is. Actually, I almost cost us the entire weekend. If you hadn't been quick to save me from spewing out your last name we might be standing here with no visitors at all!" She hugged Alex close, "I love you so much, Alex, this is going to be a difficult three days."

"Difficult, but not impossible," the taller woman answered as she allowed her hands to stray, caressing her partner and causing Samantha to shiver with love bumps.

"Stop that, Alex. I have to go get the chili heated. Behave! You promised to behave." Try as she might, she could not keep from smiling while reprimanding her lover. There was no way she could really get mad at Alex for doing precisely what she wanted her to do.

"Okay, party pooper, go fix your family some sustenance. I'll go take a cold shower."

"You'll do nothing of the sort, come on, help me get things ready."

Alex reluctantly let Samantha go and opened the door. Within minutes the table was set and the meal was warmed. All was ready and waiting when the three travelers arrived at the apartment door.

"Knock, knock," came the greeting from Sheila as she tapped on the doorframe leading into the living area.

"Come on in," Samantha answered from the vicinity of the living room as she finished helping Alex pick out some 'music to dine by.'

Sally was the first to reach the floor-to-ceiling windows and to comment on the view. "This is unbelievable! I thought only movie stars and millionaires lived with scenery like this. Come here, Mom, look at this seascape!"

Don looked around as his wife and younger daughter took in the elegance of the apartment and the spectacular view. He then turned to Alex; "We've got a nice view of the lake where we live, not quite as expansive as this, but very pretty. There's a big difference between an ocean view and one with trees and a lake."

"Most definitely," Alex quickly agreed. She sensed that the man was trying to defend his choice of living location. "I've often envied those who had the seclusion of lake living, surrounded by the woods." I hope that soothes your ego, Mr. Man. You really are going to be a force to deal with this weekend aren't you? Does Samantha ever do anything right in your eyes? The smile upon her face miraculously hid the thoughts she was having about the problem standing before her.

Samantha smiled inwardly. It warmed her heart to hear how quickly and smoothly Alex handled her father's little dealings with envy. Rather than tax the situation any longer she decided to corral everyone over to the table. "Lunch is served. Come and get it while it's still hot."

It was decided during the meal that a tour of the Center would directly follow and the walk on the beach would come after that. Dinner was set for between 7:30 and 8:00 so there was plenty of time. Samantha informed everyone that she planned for a trip to Laguna after breakfast in the morning for some shopping then the Pageant and a later dinner that night. Sunday morning and afternoon would be occupied with the Festival, but Monday was still pretty much open for discussion.

"Samantha, did you mother neglect to inform you that the plans were changed?" Don glared at his wife while speaking to his daughter.

"I guess she did, changed how?"

"I have to be back in the office first thing Monday morning. While we were packing I got a call from the office, some nonsense about a major competitor trying to take over one of our large accounts. I told your mother to call you, I guess she got busy packing and forgot. We have be at the airport by 8:00 Sunday night."

"Oh, I see. Well, that's okay. We have a full weekend ahead of us. Monday is a workday for us anyway, and I was going to leave you to your own devices most of the day." In actuality, she felt a twinge of relief, knowing that they would only have to play out the charade for three days instead of the anticipated four.

"As it stands now, free time is at a minimum. I tried to fill every minute of your time here doing something interesting and exciting, I know how you like to stay busy." She smiled over at her parents and patted her mother's arm, letting her know that the change was not an inconvenience. Alex watched in awe as Samantha took the situation from a volatile one back to one of serenity. She was proud of the way Sam had organized the entire weekend and only hoped that her father would at least be appreciative of his daughter's undertakings.

Everyone enjoyed the meal except for an off-handed criticism from Don that he didn't think Sam possessed her mother's recipe -- he concluded that her mother's chili was not quite as spicy.

Alex, at first, was not going to comment but she couldn't help coming to her lover's rescue, stating that she was the one who added a little extra hot chili to the pot, after having tasted it this morning. She told him to blame it on the fact that she was a native Californian, and Californians were used to eating Mexican food that was even twice as spicy.

Samantha threw her a quick thank you glance and smiled meekly, trying to ignore another 'put- down' from her father.

Alex could see with half a brain why Samantha didn't want to live around the obnoxious, need-to-be-the-best, poor excuse for a man, she knew as "Daddy." She wondered how such a marvelous creature could have evolved under his pressure and criticism. Spending time with her mother had to have been the only reason Samantha survived and thrived. It is going to be a Long Weekend, came to be a statement that she would repeat over and over in her thoughts.

With the middle meal of the day finally consumed, next on the agenda was to give the family a thorough tour of the facility, a chore Alex was looking less and less forward to, but one she would never think of relinquishing to Samantha on her own.

They started down on the first floor in the area of the climbing wall and Alex was extremely happy that Sally at least was adequately responsive to the enormity of the wall. She seemed to be very much like Samantha in many ways, which immediately endeared her to the dark-haired Amazon leading the tour. Occasionally Samantha would leave her mother or father's side and come up beside Alex to remind her of some little specialty of the Center she may have overlooked. It was at these times that as Alex was about to put her arms instinctively around lover's shoulders she would, instead, quickly thrust her hands deep into her pockets so as not to perform the faux pas. She was certain there were several occasions when Sam purposely got too close while they were taking their little trek through the building. The small blonde would rub against her, just long enough to elicit goose bumps up and down her body then turn with an impish smile to gloat, knowing the reaction she had evoked.

Don asked a lot of questions when it came to the equipment and the suppliers. Alex danced around with her answers, stating that she had not actually decided on which company(s) she would continue to use in the future. He offered his business card and during the remainder of the tour she got more than an earful of how good his company was and how they outranked their competitors by enormous margins year after year in services and goods. He even got in a dig or two about their major competitor, Have It All. Samantha cringed when heard her father speak the company's name and was relieved that he did not go into detail about their top salesperson. During one of the business conversations Alex managed to steal a look back at her lover, who merely shook her head, raised her eyebrows and smiled. Alex, in turn, hurled daggers with her eyes in the direction of her companion. She hated being exposed to this pompous man, who was trying his best to impress her and at the same time, turn his family vacation into a business accomplishment.

Samantha's mother was quiet through most of the grand tour, adding only a small, "Isn't that lovely, Dear," and occasionally commenting on the beautiful view the people would all have while doing whatever it was they were doing. The only elaborate response she had came when they entered the area of the swimming pool. She immediately fell in love with it. She couldn't say enough about the sea creatures and how lifelike they looked, that is, until Don stifled her with a simple, "That's enough, Sheila. We get the point. You like the pool. Can we continue?"

Sheila of course, stopped talking, blushed a little and turned to Samantha grabbing her arm, "Come on, Dear, show us the rest of this lovely place." The troupe moved on to another area, Samantha patting her mother's arm, Sally glaring at her dad and Alex thinking to herself, It's going to be a Long Weekend!

Sally had been vibrant and interested throughout the entire ordeal, but Alex could feel her emerald eyes boring a hole into her as they walked from room to room. She was afraid to look at Samantha for fear that Sally had somehow figured out their relationship and was waiting for one or the other of them to make a fatal mistake and give themselves away. Alex was not going to give Samantha's little sister the satisfaction of 'outing' them; she steered as far away from Samantha as she could during most of the afternoon.

By the time every room had been explored and explained, Alex was physically tired of smiling and talking, as well as being mentally tired of dealing with 'dear old dad'. She graciously bowed out of making the excursion to the beach and when Samantha confronted her, she gently took the small elbow at her side and moved Samantha out of hearing range of the family.

"You know, they may find it a little strange that your 'boss' goes everywhere with you, Samantha." She contemplated threatening to back out of going into town with them in the morning as well, if Samantha didn't cut her a little slack, but was saved by Angel coming back from her house hunting jaunt. The look on her new employee's face was promising.

Before Sam had a chance to respond to Alex's statement, Alex announced that she and Angel were going upstairs to discuss her luck in the house hunting, and for them to go ahead without her and to have a good time on the beach.

It was obvious that Samantha was not at all happy about leaving Alex alone in the presence of the new employee, and even her mother commented that Alex might have other, more pressing matters that needed her attention and that she was sure Samantha knew the way to the beach.

Samantha glared in Angel's direction, a look that was not lost on Angel, Alex or Sally for that matter. Lucky for Sam her parents were talking together over in the gym area when the green-eyed monster decided to show her little head. They totally missed the final exchange between their older daughter and the new arrival.

Angel excused herself to go to the car and get some paperwork she needed to read over and told Alex she'd meet up with her in the kitchen in a minute.

Samantha decided she was going to ride up in the elevator with her lover. Making some lame excuse about changing shoes and going to grab some beach towels, she motioned to her sister to take their parents outside.

"I won't be but a minute," they hear her say just before the elevator doors closed.

The ride up in the elevator was anything but a pleasant adventure. The two had been separated for a good two hours while touring the building, trying to keep from touching each other. Now here they were at each other's throats like an old married couple.

"Samantha what's wrong with you" You know it's best if I don't come with you. Beaches for us are an aphrodisiac - I'm not going to go walking along with my hands in my pocket the rest of the afternoon."

"Did you see how Angel looked at you when she came in?" was all the response she was going to get from Samantha, her green eyes narrowed and hard.

"Please, Honey. You've had a horribly taxing morning and afternoon. Let's not make this into something we'll both regret. I think she's rented a place and I can tell you right now, nothing would please me more!" She put her hands on Samantha's shoulders and felt the tightness under her fingertips.

"Samantha, you are as hard as a rock. You're getting a massage first thing Monday morning from one of the therapists. Hopefully sometime this weekend I'll be able to work a few of the kinks out. I don't believe how tight you are." Strong fingers kneaded the solid shoulders, trying to ease some of the knots.

"I'm sorry, Alex, but I don't like that woman. I'll try to get along with her because you need her professionally, but I'm going to find it terribly difficult to deal with her as a friend. My head tells me I'm acting foolishly but my gut says I'm right."

"Listen, Samantha," Alex pulled her close and held her tightly. "Go down and have a good time on the beach with your family. I'm going to get a beer and listen to Angel's house hunting tale -- that's all I'm going to do. With any luck she'll be moving out next week and things can get back to normal around here. If you can't trust me now -- you'll never be able to trust me." She gently placed a slender finger under Samantha's chin and tilted the face she adored up in a position to be kissed.

Samantha eagerly kissed her lover back as she held her tightly. When they parted a smile had replaced the look of anger on the smaller woman's face. "I know Alex, you're right. I'll just change my shoes and grab some towels so we can clean off before we come back in. Are you gonna call for dinner reservations while we're gone?"

"Sure, I am -- have the place all picked out. I love you Samantha."

"Me, too, you." came the quick reply.

The walk on the beach originally seemed like a good idea. Samantha hadn't known it was going to turn into an inquisition concerning Alex's background and financial status.

"Where does a young woman Alex's age get the money to fund an establishment as large as that?" Her father's first question rang in her ears before they even reached the shoreline.

"If you really want to know, Don, why don't you ask her at dinner, I'm sure she'll tell you." Sheila interjected, trying to take the pressure off her daughter.

"I was asking Samantha, Sheila," he barked at his wife while turning back to his daughter.

"So, Samantha?"

"Well, Daddy, I'm not totally sure. I know she has partners and I know she's been working in the field for quite a while." Samantha was at a loss as to where this conversation was leading.

She was saved from further questioning when Sally came up from behind and challenged her to a race in the sand. Samantha gleefully left her parents behind as she ran off down the beach with her sister, not caring in the least if she won or lost, just happy not to have to answer any more of her father's questions. This was going to be a difficult weekend she could already tell.

The girls turned around about a quarter of a mile down the beach and headed back toward their parents, going a little slower and talking mostly about how their parents didn't seem to be getting along very well. Sally thought that the rift between them had seemed to grow since Samantha left home.

"Are you blaming me, Sally?"

"Oh, no, Sammie. You're leaving was the best thing you ever did for yourself and it broke the ground for me when I decide to leave, which will probably be very soon." She took her sister's hand. "Come on, let's go see if Alex has those reservations booked you were talking about."

They met up with their parents and the four Rileys walked back up to the warehouse on the cliff.

Cassie looked through the telescope and noticed a new vehicle parked at the site of her obsession when she arrived home early from work. She turned the mic on full blast and went to get something to drink from the refrigerator. For a long while there was nothing but silence, then she heard the elevator doors open and the sound of unhappy voices. It seemed that Samantha was unhappy about some little chickie by the name of Angel. What a shame Samantha. Trouble in Paradise? Cassandra smiled into her beer as she refocused the telescope on the outside of the building and notice yet another car parked in front of the building.

"Goody," she said to no one in particular, "I think this is getting interesting. I would imagine one car belongs to the little darling Samantha's not happy about and the other must mean that the "folks" have arrived."

A few minutes more of silence and she heard the elevator start back up. This time the ride was totally silent.

Looking through the telescope she waited until she saw Samantha come out the front door as another woman of similar size but with dark hair like Alex's went into the building. The two passed without a word being spoken. Cassie could tell from each of the women's body language that there was animosity between them.

She grinned at Samantha's discomfort and continued to focus the scope on the small blonde as she walked toward the beach stairs. Standing on the platform, Cassandra spotted three other people. "Ah, ha! The Mommy, the Daddy, and the little Sis, hail, hail the family's here!"

Cassie moved back from the eyepiece of the telescope, walked over to the microphone and turned it off. She lifted her bottle high, pointing it in the direction of the warehouse as she prepared to toast the little clan with a predatory grin, "To a weekend full of fun and frolic!"

The majority of the evening went pretty much as anticipated. Alex made reservations at one of Laguna's most elegant restaurants by the sea to show off the savoir faire of her little beach town. Impressing Don Riley became top priority of things to do this weekend. She would jam her aristocracy down his envious throat, all in the name of entertaining 'family'.

During dinner, business was discussed only when Don brought it up, but he did manage to mention it often, as though that was the only topic of conversation he was really good at. He asked Alex how she came to pick Samantha as an assistant when Sam had so little business background. As Samantha sunk visibly lower into her seat and tried to carry on a conversation with her mother, Alex explained that he probably, if he would think about it, knew exactly why she chose someone like Samantha.

"Think about it Don, when you get a new sales crew, aren't the ones who are really green yet eager the best to take under your wing" They can be molded successfully into a replica of yourself." She didn't know why, but making him feel insecure, made her feel better. Perfect white teeth and brilliant blues eyes smiled as sincere a smile as she could summon as she looked at the man sitting across the table from her. It is going to be a Long Weekend , repeated itself in her mind.

"Yes, Alex, I do understand. That's a wise business move." Don agreed, after the sly executive made him feel small for not understanding the concept from the inception. He smiled an obviously fake smile, unable to hide the feeling of humiliation. He hated the fact that this snot-nosed kid was talking down to him in front of his wife and daughters. Who the Hell does she think she is. I've been in business almost longer than she is old. Samantha doesn't need to be around this type of woman.

When it was obvious that the meal was concluded, Don started to ask the waitress for the check. Alex leaned over and informed him that when she made the reservations she mentioned that her new assistant and her assistant's family would be her guests at dinner this evening. The owner, being an old college friend of Alex's, insisted that the dinner be 'on the house'. She hadn't wanted to hurt her friend's feelings, so of course accepted for all involved.

Don seemed pleased with the explanation and the dinner ended on a pleasant note.

By the time they arrived back at the warehouse it was already quite late and because of the anticipation of a busy day and evening coming tomorrow they all decided that calling it a night was the sensible thing to do.

Alex, always the gracious hostess, alluded to the pleasure of meeting everyone, wished them all a good evening and left Samantha with her family to say her own good nights.

It didn't take Sam long to wrap up the hugs, kisses and 'so glad you're all here' phrases before she was on her way back to the apartment.

Samantha walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water, some vitamin B pills and an aspirin, she hadn't had as much to drink as before, but she now knew her reaction to champagne and they had finished off two bottles at dinner. She was taking no chances of waking up with a hangover like she did the last time she drank too much.

She thought she heard Alex pass the kitchen but when she turned around, no one was there. Finishing off her preventatives she refilled the water glass and headed for the bedroom. Thankful that she would finally get to hold and be held by Alex after this long and grueling day.

"Come here, you." The tall beauty reached out long arms in the direction of the small blonde as Samantha made her way toward the bedroom door. "I've locked the door to this area of the house," sapphire eyes twinkled in the glow of the shimmering candles.

"I thought I felt you go past the kitchen -- you're a quiet little bugger when you want to be." She smiled at the long, slender figure spread out on the bed.

"It's been a long day of short glances and few touches. We're finally alone and I feel like I'm going through detox . . . get over here before I come and get you." She feigned getting off the bed as Samantha was still standing in the doorway, staring in her direction.

"Do you know how beautiful you are Alexis Dorian?" Samantha turned off the light and walked toward her lover. "If I had to make a choice between the panorama out our bedroom window or looking into your eyes, my decision would be immediate; spending eternity looking into your face would, without a doubt, be the choice I would make." She climbed onto the bed and into the arms of her waiting lover. "And you know how much I love the view from this penthouse." Warmth surrounded her and she felt safe. The day had been a bit harrowing at times but to end up here, in these arms of love, she would gladly have endured any hardship.

"Eternity it is then, my love." Alex began kissing Samantha, starting at the crown of her head, nibbling on her ears and continuing down her neck to her smooth firm breasts. Fingers, lips and tongue took in every inch of soft skin they came in contact with.

Involuntary whimpers came from the small blonde as affection continued to be lavished upon her. She reached up to help Alex discard her own nightshirt; their bodies never lost contact with each other.

"I've been waiting all day to ravish you, Samantha," the soft contralto voice whispered. "I'm going to make you come until you're exhausted."

More whimpering from the smaller body beneath her, urged Alex to continue the movement of her lips and hands. She slowly traced her fingers down Samantha's side, brushing her thighs on the outside before turning to the inside and bringing her fingers back up toward the golden mound and the treasures hidden beneath it. Just as she was about to enter her lover there came a small knock on the entrance door, followed by "Samantha, you still awake?"

"No, Samantha, No!" Alex breathed into her lover's ear, "Pretend you're asleep."

"Oh, shit," came the countered reaction from the blonde, "Honey, I can't . . ."

"Why not?""

"Alex . . . she's my sister . . . I have to go see what she wants . . ."

There was a repetition of both the knock and the question, followed by, "Sammie, answer the door, I want to talk to you."

Alex flopped back on the bed, her heart racing as she sighed. "I guess if you have to go, you have to go," she sighed again in resignation. "I'll be here . . . waiting." She grabbed after Samantha's butt as her lover left the bed, falling just short of reaching it.

"Honey, I'll try to get her gone quickly, but I haven't really talked to her in months. She probably feels like we won't have any free time during the weekend to be alone and gossip, and you know -- she's right. I confident you understand . . . or if you don't I hope you'll be patient anyway. I love you Alex." She grabbed up her nightshirt, blew a kiss in the direction of the exasperated brunette, closed the door behind her and answered her sister. "I'm coming Sally, be right there."

Pulling on her nightshirt, she breathed a deep breath and hurried to the door. "Sally is something wrong?"

"No, I just wanted to have some time to talk with you, you know that thing we used to do all the time at home -- talk! I know we won't have a spare minute when Mom and Dad are up so, this is the only time we have to play 'catch up'. By the way, why'd ya lock the door?"

She passed over the question quickly with a wave. "It was locked? Alex must have done it accidentally. Want something to drink?"

"Sure - what'd ya got?"

"Sally, why don't you tell me what you want and I'll tell you if I have it. It's a lot easier than going through the list from juice to wine." She looked at her younger sibling and shook her head.

"What about a pot of tea, your choice."

Samantha agreed and motioned for Sally to sit on the couch while she proceeded to the kitchen to brew the tea.

When she came back into the living room she found that her sister had taken the large pillows and arranged them on the floor near the windows in her favorite spot. Sometimes it amazed her how much alike they were, just as it amazed her at how different they could be. She loved her sister and was glad they shared a good relationship. She knew a lot of people who didn't get along with their siblings, perhaps those people had nothing in common, even though they were born into the same family.

Samantha walked over and sat down next to Sally, the two of them for a moment simply taking in the fantastic view from the third floor penthouse, at the edge of a small beach town, a lifetime away from where they were born and grew up.

Sally finally broke the silence, "It's breathtaking, Sam. You don't know how lucky you are to be here in this place, doing what I guess you are liking." She turned to her sister, looking at a slightly older rendition of herself and a younger one of her mother. "But, I really miss you being at home, or at least within a driving distance." The younger woman's eyes began to mist over as her older sister drew her into an embrace.

"I miss you, too, Sally. I'm sorry I'm so far away, but only because of you. Other than that this is the most perfect place on the planet for me. I've finally found my niche. I love being here and I know I'm going to love my new career. And I love my boss most of all. The thought crept into her mind, but was not voiced. "So what have you been doing with yourself lately, any new beaus?" She knew that would get a smile out of her sister and waited patiently for the answer.

Sally filled her in on all the new guys she had been dating and told her sister that she still was not serious about any of them. Much to her parents' dismay, she believed in taking her time and waiting for 'Mr. Right.' She didn't want to go rushing into marriage and perhaps get stuck in a relationship like their mother had.

They talked a little about what was happening at home, how Daddy was unhappy with Samantha's move to California, especially since it seemed so permanent. He had made life at home quite miserable for the past couple months. She told her sister how much she and their mother relished the peace when he was away on a business trip.

Finally the conversation turned back around to Samantha, as Sally seemed to have a ton of questions she wanted answered.

"Okay, Sammie, your turn to play 'fill in the sister'. How did you find this place and this job?"

Samantha went into great detail telling about the night she and Alex first met, of course she left out the fact that she had been infatuated with the tall, dark-haired beauty since she first laid eyes on her. She also did not go into detail about the second night they met, and the fateful fall from the climbing wall. After all the generic statements her sister made, Sally began to ask for specifics.

"You know, Sis, I've noticed that you smile a lot when Alex is in the room, and she does the same thing. Actually, I've noticed that she looks at you a lot." There was a mischievous grin on Sally's face, and Samantha was dreading the question she was sure to come.

"So . . . I noticed you've not mentioned any "male" friends down here in sunny California. Is this a woman only town?" the younger sister queried.

"Don't be ridiculous, of course there are guys here. Lots of them actually. Playing volleyball and basketball down on the courts next to the beach. This town has a large variety of people from different lands, cultures, backgrounds . . ."

"Sexual orientation?"


"You heard me, I didn't stutter. What do you think I am, stupid?" I may be younger than you Sam, but I'm not still wet behind the ears."

"Sally, I . . ."

"Do you realize that every time you get close to Alex, she puts her hands in her pockets? Is she used to putting them somewhere else when she's near you?" The glint in the younger woman's eyes was sparkled brighter as she watched her sister squirm. "And . . ." she continued, "you almost slipped and said Alex's last name when introducing her, but she seemed to not want to you finish. What's the lady's last name, Rockefeller? To top it all off, most people would think it a little strange for your 'boss' to be wining and dining your family. Why would she want to do that?"

"It that what Daddy and Mom are thinking? Are they wondering why Alex is paying for dinner and the Pageant?" Samantha was beginning to get a little worried.

"Actually, I don't think either one of them think beyond the fact that someone else is picking up the tab, and I don't think you actually confided in them that Alex paid for the Pageant tickets. I'm the one who's doing the wondering. The major clincher was the fit you nearly threw when Alex didn't want to come walking on the beach this afternoon but wanted to stay and find out about Angel's luck with finding a place to live. What's with the green-eyed monster, Sammie" What's all the mystery about?"

Guessing it was time to fess up and confide in her little sister, Samantha took a deep breath. Sally would either embrace the fact that she finally found happiness and love or she would disown her as a sister. Samantha was definitely counting on the former.

"Haven't you become the observant woman of the world in the short amount of time I've been gone from home," she began.

"It hasn't been that short a period of time, Sammie. You've really been gone since you left for college and I guess you haven't wanted to see that I've changed, too. I've grown up, just like you did." She looked at her sister with somber green eyes. "So . . . fill me in on your life, Samantha."

"I'm in love, Sally. For the first time in my life I feel as though I actually belong. This is my home now and my heart is here. I think I fell in love with Alex the moment I saw her. I won't apologize for the way I feel, and I sincerely hope you have grown enough to accept us into your life." She stared into eyes almost identical to her own, searching for a sign of disappointment or rejection but she found none. The eyes looking intently back at her began to sparkle as a smile christened her sister's face.

Sally threw her arms around Samantha, "Oh, Sammie, I knew California would be good for you. You've been a lost soul for such a long time. The way you look at Alex and the way she looks at you . . . I was almost positive that you were lovers."

Samantha laughed with her sister and then held her back at arms' length, becoming quite serious. "If it was so easily spotted by you, do you think Mom and Daddy have any idea?"

"No!" came the immediate response. "I've met a lot of lesbians in college and can just tell, or at least I tell myself I can. Mom and Dad, on the other hand -- have no clue! Besides, I know you Sam, probably better than you know yourself sometimes, and you've never been attracted -- really attracted -- to anyone I've ever seen you with. You positively beam when Alex enters the room. You should have seen the look on your face when you introduced her."

"That transparent, huh?"

"Oh, yeah! But I think it's marvelous. Besides you're being happy, which is very important to me, look at where you get to live and -- I get to visit -- anytime I want!!"

Samantha's heart was doing flips of joy, knowing that at least her sister would accept her new place in the world and accept Alex along with her.

"By the way, Samantha, your Alex is quite a 'looker'."

"She is beautiful, isn't she" But she's as much brain as she is beauty with a hearty dose of brawn thrown in . . ."

"And," Sally added, "seems like she's not too shabby in the wealth department, either."

"That's just like icing on the cake," Samantha conceded, "I'd love her if she was dirt poor, like me."

"I'm sure you would, Sis."

"Daddy seemed very interested in where Alex got the money for the Center. To tell you the truth, Sally, I don't know where Alex's money comes from. It hasn't become a topic of discussion yet. Funny thing is though, wouldn't Daddy be surprised if he knew that I finally did the one thing he's been wanting me to do all these years, I've caught myself a "good provider"! She tittered at the thought of her father actually finding out about her and Alex, but she realized that his reaction would be anything but congratulatory.

"Anyhow," Sally continued, "I just wanted to let you know that I knew or at least thought I knew and that I approve. Not that you need my approval." She smiled again at her sister. "I'm thrilled for you, Samantha. I feel good about the whole situation because she seems to have made you happy and that's important to me."

"Thanks, Sally. You don't know how good it feels to be accepted by someone I love. I didn't want to tell you, because I was afraid you might turn on me like I know Daddy will when he finds out, it's inevitable. I guess I'm hoping that I can keep it under wraps until he accepts Alex as a special friend. Maybe then he'll surprise me and accept our relationship."

The smile faded from Sally's face, "I'm a little disappointed that you didn't have more faith in me, Sammie, but I do think it's best to keep your lifestyle under wraps around Daddy. And if you told Mom . . . well, she eventually tells Daddy everything so I guess it's best to try to keep it from both of them for as long as you can."

"I certainly intend to try. I just hope I don't become as transparent to them as I am to you. I guess I'll have to tell Alex to keep her hands out of her pockets and I'll have to try to smile less." She grinned over at her sister. "You don't know what a load this is off my heart, Sally." Her eyes teared as she looked at her sister and quietly thanked the Gods for keeping her on her side. "We've been best friends for a long time now, you and I, and I'm glad we can continue being that to each other. I love you, Sally."

"I love you, too, Samantha." Having accomplished what she came to talk to her sister about she figured it was time they both get a little rest before the sun came up. "Guess I'd better tiptoe back to my own couch and try to catch a few dreams before we have to deal with the day you have planned. I just couldn't let the night go by without having this heart-to-heart with my favorite Sis."

"I'm glad we had the time to have this talk, too. And, I'm your Only Sis! It was kind of like old times when we used to watch the sun come up when I came home from college for a visit." She walked her sister to the apartment entrance and watched as she walked back toward the suite. She glanced toward the clock on the microwave. "See you later in the morning, Sally."

"Yeah," her sister answered as she neared the end of the hall, "gonna be a short sleep."

Samantha walked back into the living room, picked up the teacups and put them in the dishwasher before going back to the bedroom. Turning out the lights she walked back over to the windows and looked down at the sea bathed in silver moonlight. "This is my home. My heart is here; my Alex is here. I send a heartfelt thanks to whoever it is who watches over me. I feel luckier tonight than I ever have in my entire life, except perhaps for the night Alex and I consummated our love for each other. I have my home, my love and I still have my sister." She walked over and opened the bedroom door. Starlight and moonbeams found their way into the dark room, casting a halo of light on the sleeping body in the middle of the bed. Samantha's heart beat faster as she looked upon the vision that lit up her life. Trying her best not to disturb her dark angel, she crawled carefully into bed, took the pillow from her place in Alex's arms and placed her body where it had become accustomed to sleeping. Alex immediately embraced the familiar figure as she kissed Samantha on the head. "I love you, Samantha," the dark-haired beauty murmured in her sleep. "I love you, too," Samantha whispered back. What was left of the night was short but her heart felt pounds lighter and sleep, when it finally came, was sweet.