Part 1

The tall woman sighed heavily as she crossed yet another street. Every night for a solid month she had been wandering the streets of this town, searching for God only knew what. All she knew was that a restless yearning had been building in her for some time, and she had finally decided to do something about it.

Pretty fruitless so far, she sighed silently. Five hundred miles from home for no apparent reason. She had stopped in many towns along the way, until she had gotten to this one and decided to stay for a while. Blinking lights beckoned to her, and she smiled slightly when she recognized the sign boldly proclaiming "Charlie's Tavern".

A warm rush of air, smelling strongly of smoke and alcohol, greeted her as she crossed the wooden threshold, leaving the cool, damp air of the evening behind. The dimly lit tavern was small, a few tables and chairs scattered about, and a long, u-shaped bar settled in the middle of it. Pool tables off to the right gave the patrons another way to spend their hard-earned money while they wiled away their evenings.

"Well, hey there, stranger!" Charlie, the steadfast owner of the place, made a show of checking his watch, a broad grin creasing his face. "It's been a whole twenty-four hours since you've been here. I was getting worried!"

"Smart-ass," Megan responded wryly. Somehow or another, she always managed to end up in this small bar at seven o'clock sharp. It had become a running joke between the owner and herself. "I sure as hell don't come here for the company." Her sharp blue eyes encompassed the empty room, causing Charlie to chuckle.

"It's Tuesday. What'd you expect?" he asked good-naturedly, wiping down the spotless bar before drawing a mug of beer for her out of the tap. When she reached automatically for her wallet, he put his hand up and she stopped. Somehow Charlie kept track of how many she had, and she paid him at the end of the evening. She'd never been in a bar where they had done that before and she still wasn't quite used to it.

For a while, the silence was only broken by the quiet tinkle of glasses as Charlie continued with his busy work. Megan played tiddly -winks with the straws and slowly sipped at her beer. Her eyes kept drifting over to the pool tables, and she finally sighed.

"Think I'll play a bit, Charlie."

His response was a quiet nod as she pushed away from the bar and ambled over to the other side of the room. She smoothed her hand over the worn, green felt reflexively, then selected her 20oz. cue from a rack on the wall. With some relief, she let her mind occupy itself with studying angles and working out shots. She'd grown tired of the nameless urge that continued to grip her, and welcomed the distraction.

It seemed the only time she felt any peace lately was when she was here in the bar. Funny. She hated going to bars in her hometown, and used every excuse she could think of when her friends asked her to join them. But here... Well, it just felt comfortable.

She was racking the balls for another solitaire game when a sudden thought struck her. "Charlie? Where's Ben? Haven't seen him for a couple a days." Ben was a regular at the bar. He'd scarf up all the peanuts, make Charlie put baseball on the TV dangling from the ceiling, and then sit there all night arguing with umpires who couldn't hear him. He made Megan laugh.

Charlie chuckled as he popped a quarter into the jukebox. He waited until Patsy Cline's voice filled the air before he turned back to the bar. "I sent him on an errand."

Megan stood poised over the pool table, cue held steady for the break, and waited. A dark eyebrow arched slowly when nothing more was forthcoming from the bar owner. She dropped her left elbow to rest on the table, and gave him a mock glare. "An errand that takes two days to accomplish... during playoffs?" She shook her head and went back to her game when the old man just smiled at her.

Three beers and ten games later, Megan was seated once again at the bar. The tavern had slowly filled with patrons over the past two hours, and the air was filled with smoke and muted laughter, underscored by the soft sounds of country music. She gestured slightly to signal Charlie she was ready to go and was surprised when he shook his head no at her.

She watched him with a puzzled frown as he excused himself from one of his friends and ambled back over to her. She was surprised again when he refilled her empty glass. "Charlie, it's almost ten. I need to get back to the hotel while I can still drive."

"Humor me." Charlie slid the glass toward her and walked off again, leaving behind a very puzzled young woman.

Megan was opening her mouth to ask him what the heck was going on when she felt a presence behind her, and smelled the faintest trace of perfume. All the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, and she twisted slowly to see who was standing there. A glimpse of a small, pert nose, the soft curve of a cheek, and long, silky blonde hair from a woman whose head just came to Megan's shoulder where she was perched on the bar stool. A well-toned arm reached out and, the next thing Megan knew, the woman had hoisted herself up and over the bar revealing a very shapely hind end covered with tight blue jeans.

Sky blue eyes were opened wide as Megan's jaw dropped at the sight of the small blonde racing behind the bar to snag Charlie in a bear hug. "Cute, ain't she?" Ben asked proudly as he dragged Megan's beer over and slugged down half of it.

Megan turned her stunned gaze to the man beside her, and snapped her mouth shut. She eyed the salt and pepper haired man warily. "Cute ass. That's all I managed to see," she finally drawled out slowly, much to Ben's delight.

His crowing laughter filled the room and he slapped his thigh with his merriment. Ben was probably in his early sixties, though it was hard to tell. He and Charlie had been buddies for years on end, and the two men had pretty much taken Megan under their wing when she had shown up there her first night in town. Many beers and many tall tales had been shared in the month following, and the men knew almost everything there was to know about the tall, dark-haired woman who had left home on a whim. Including the fact that she was a lesbian.

Her cautious revelation had been answered by Ben; "A practicing lesbian, or are ya just starting out?" Then he'd laughed and slapped his knee, while making Charlie buy them another round. They hadn't spoken too much more about it, except for during commercials when Ben would point out various women and ask her if she saw any she liked.

Their easy acceptance was a soothing balm to Megan, and she had laughingly joined in with the older men and their cronies. She still shook her head to think she'd had to drive five hundred miles to a quiet bar in a small town filled with blue-collar, working class men to find the easy camaraderie she couldn't get at home. Not one of them had even twitched an eyebrow, just pulled her in and made her a part of their closely-knit group.

Ben's loud voice jarred her out of her thoughts. "Hey, Marshall! Got someone over here who thinks you're cute! Or at least your ass is!"

A dark flush suffused Megan's features and she hoped like hell that the blonde hadn't heard him. Unfortunately, Charlie and the young woman turned immediately and headed right for them. It's hard to hide, even in a dark bar, when you're six feet tall and you top the men around you by three inches at least... even when you're sitting.

Megan opted for calm, cool, and collected. Then ditched that idea when her beer sloshed over the side because the glass was moving too much. She sandwiched her hands between her knees and stared at the scarred wood of the bar. Maybe she could turn invisible if she thought hard enough.

"You know, if you look up you can tell me if you think the rest of me is cute, too." The soft voice was filled with amusement and Megan's blush deepened. Obviously the silent 'I'm invisible' chant hadn't worked.

It took a hard nudge in her side from Ben to get her to lift her head up. And another nudge to get her mouth to work. "H-hi." Oh, that was good. Quick wit we have here, she thought sarcastically. The blonde was gorgeous though. Cute wasn't enough to describe her. Long, blonde hair, eyes sparkling a dark green in the dim light of the bar, and a smile that made the bridge of her nose crinkle. Megan was pretty sure she had stopped breathing.

Generous lips curled up in a smile as the blonde stared into blue eyes, her own twinkling with devilish lights. "Well, hi yourself. So tell me," she continued, resting her chin on her hands and arching a sandy-blonde brow, "Am I cute?" She bit back a chuckle when Ben nudged the dark-haired woman none too subtly, and Charlie laughed beside her.

Megan leaned back on the stool and crossed her arms over her chest negligently. With a casual air she ran her gaze over what she could see of the small woman in front of her, then she turned to face Ben. "You know, she'd be a lot cuter if she wasn't so cocky."

She was surprised when everyone in the bar burst into laughter, including Marshall. Charlie was still chuckling as he poured another round of beer and passed them down the slick bar top. "Every time I send Ben to fetch her I tell him to leave her ego to home... but it just follows her anyway!"

"Hey! She's the one who said my ass was cute. I just wanted to know what she thought about the rest of me!" She slapped Charlie's arm, then leapt back over the bar much to the amusement of the onlookers.

"You could go around, you know. One of these days you're gonna fall on that cute ass of yours."

"Ignore him," Marshall whispered to the dark-haired woman who still looked to be in a state of shock. "He thinks just 'cause he's my favorite uncle, he can tell me what to do."

"I'm your only uncle," Charlie shot back, waving a damp rag at her.

The blonde ignored him as she hooked one arm around Megan's waist, grabbed a beer, and started pulling the woman off the barstool. Megan gave the men a startled look and they just shrugged at her as if to say, "Just go with it." So she did, taking hold of the closest glass of beer and resting her arm awkwardly over the blonde's shoulder before being led to the pool tables.

Megan matched her stride to the shorter woman's, her heart racing and her thoughts tumbling over themselves in stunned confusion. She had gotten used to the slow pace of the town, and the gentle, chiding humor of the men who had befriended her. Now she suddenly found herself wrapped around a strange woman who was flirting madly with her and wanting to know if she was cute.

Well, Marshall most definitely was cute, but Megan was damned if she was going to tell her that outright. The woman has an ego the size of a football field already. Marshall's arm pulling away from her waist brought Megan back from her roiling thoughts, and she returned the girl's bright smile with a nervous one of her own.

She was a little surprised when Marshall sat at the small table instead of moving toward the pool table. "I thought you wanted to play."

"Oh, I do." Marshall's lips quirked in a small grin. "Have a seat."

Megan resigned herself to the fact she was going to have a permanent blush on her face, and sat down across from the blonde. Long fingers played with her glass as she waited for the girl to speak. The silence stretched interminably until she finally looked up to see Marshall staring at her.

"What?"

Marshall's lips twitched again as she leaned forward slightly. "How 'bout if I tell you you're cute first?" Blue eyes plunged to the scarred tabletop and Marshall's laugh rang through the room. It took her a minute, but she finally regained some control. "Okay, okay. I'm sorry. I'll lay off you for a bit."

Megan was horribly uncomfortable now. She wasn't used to having someone come after her so aggressively, and she had no idea how to deal with it. She kept her gaze firmly on her hands and felt the muscles jumping in her jaw as her nervousness changed to defensive anger.

"I don't... ." Megan stopped, not wanting to admit anything to this woman. Not yet, anyway.

Marshall's expression changed from amusement to a wary alertness. She'd missed something here; she knew it. Charlie and Ben had forgotten to tell her something important. This woman, who looked ready to bolt any second, wasn't here to play around and have a quick good time. Why the hell did they ask me to come back here and meet this woman? They know I don't do emotional scenes.

When she spoke next her voice was noticeably cooler. "You don't have to do anything, Megan. I'm not after anything here. Just wanted to have a little fun, that's all." Marshall sat back in her chair and sipped the warming beer, green eyes glittering in the dim light.

Megan tried to regroup, forcing back images of women laughing at her for her ineptness. She swallowed heavily and glanced toward the bar to see Charlie staring at her with a concerned look on his weathered face. She gestured slightly to tell him she was fine.

"I don't do this well." The glass shook in her hand, but she brought it to her lips with determination. And prayed she wouldn't choke on the beer. She'd done that before.

"Do what well?"

Megan waved her hand between them. "This flirting stuff. I'm not good at it."

Marshall frowned slightly. "So, we should skip this part and go straight to the next then?"

Megan's head jerked up and she stared at Marshall with her mouth open in shock. "God, no! I do that even worse!" Her eyes closed in dismay when she realized what she had said, and she waited for the laughter.

It didn't come.

She slowly opened her eyes to meet concerned green ones. She could almost see the blonde sort through various responses and toss them out. She felt a little better knowing the girl wasn't going to make fun of her, but she was still nervous about having given her so much ammunition. Over the years she had learned to stay away from women and stick with male friends. At least with them she could pretend to some sort of sexual prowess without having her bluff called.

Her last girlfriend had been almost three years ago. They'd been together an entire week before the dreaded sex scene occurred. It didn't seem to matter how many books she read, or how much research she put into it, she just didn't know how to make love to a woman. Well, she knew how-she just couldn't deliver. Her pride was still in tatters from the mocking laughter that echoed behind her as she ran from the woman's house. Every sanctuary she had was lost to her as word circulated about her humiliation. Her hometown became too small for her to find a place to hide. So she left.

"Want to shoot some pool?"

"W-what?"

"Pool. It's still early yet." Marshall shrugged, intrigued by the dark haired beauty in spite of herself.

Megan smiled then. Pool was a battlefield she could win on. "Okay. I'd like that."

Marshall smiled back and went to rack the balls. All right. Maybe I can do emotional in small doses. The sight of the strong, lean form bent over to break reinforced her resolve. She hadn't had a challenge in a long time, and she bet those long, slender fingers could do a lot more than hold a pool cue.

Megan's graceful form moving around the pool table was in stark contrast to the shy, nervous woman forced to admit her insecurities with women; conversational and otherwise. Marshall wasn't all that great with tactful heart-to-hearts either, so she opted for the neutral ground of the pool table. When in doubt, change the subject. She grinned to herself, knowing she was a master at avoidance.

Her gaze finally drifted to the table and she frowned. "Hey! You didn't tell me you were a pool shark!" The only balls left were the solids and the eight ball, which Megan was preparing to bank into the corner pocket.

Bright blue eyes sparkled up at Marshall before Megan took her shot and sent the eight ball into the pocket to win the game. Marshall hadn't even had a chance to shoot. "Play again?" she asked with devastating innocence. The blonde growled back and re-racked the balls.

The two women settled into the comfortable competition, laughing and joking as if they were old friends. Before they knew it, Charlie was cleaning off their table and muttering at them. "All right, girls. Closing time... you'd best figure out what you're doing and let me close the place up."

Megan tightened her grip on the comforting weight of the cue stick and looked warily from Charlie to Marshall and back again. Well, it was fun while it lasted. Hope the next town I get to has a bar as friendly as this.

She drained her soda and busied herself putting away the cues, her mind already mapping out which direction to head in the following morning. They had switched to sodas by mutual consent after the second game knowing that Megan still had to drive when the night was over.

Marshall studied the dark haired woman for a moment, then dragged Charlie off to the side. "All right, Charlie. What the heck am I supposed to do now?"

Salt and pepper eyebrows rose and Charlie shrugged. "You're the womanizer, you tell me." That got him a vicious glare and he sighed. "She's really hurting, honey. I just thought you could cheer her up a little. Me and Ben have been trying, but we're just old coots... she needs someone closer to her own age. And female." He wiggled his eyebrows at her and she giggled.

She was still smiling when she looked back at Megan, who was unsuccessfully trying to look nonchalant while she waited. She tossed the tall woman a wink and grinned at the flush that rose in sharply planed cheeks. "You owe me big time, old man," she finally replied. "Do you know how much pleading I had to do to arrange this vacation on such short notice?"

Charlie's eyes sparkled. "Yeah, but look at her. Isn't she worth it?"

Marshall didn't even have to look at the woman to know the answer to that question. Megan was one of the most beautiful women she'd ever seen, and every time she saw those blue eyes cloud over she had to fight with herself not to hug her. "Yeah," she answered softly.

Taking a chance, she held out her hand to Megan. And managed to hide a sigh of relief when Megan stepped forward with a shy smile to grasp it tightly. Charlie exchanged broad smiles with Ben as the two woman walked out of the bar hand in hand.

Megan's heart was pounding rapidly, all of her senses attuned to the soft warmth of Marshall's hand clasping her own. She hoped to God Marshall was paying attention to where they were going, because she was so distracted she could be hit by a truck and not know it for days. Just let her keep holding my hand.

Megan knew she should be scared. She knew she was setting herself up to be hurt again. But it felt so good to be able to laugh with another woman, to play and tease, that she didn't want to think about what might happen later.

Later? She's walking you to your car-there won't be a later. What if she wants a goodnight kiss? Oh God. No...I can do a kiss. I'm pretty good at those. It's just the other stuff I.... Don't think about it. No sense borrowing trouble.

Marshall fought with herself to keep the smug smile from her lips. It had been a calculated risk holding her hand out to Megan in silent invitation. She'd had a moment's doubt before her ego stepped in and reminded her she was irresistible. There were enough notches on her bedposts to prove that little fact.

Her gaze settled on the vehicles across the street, and she wondered idly which was Megan's. The Green Mustang? No, not her color. The black Cougar? Now that was a possibility. The beat up Chevy van? Oh, please. I wouldn't be caught dead in that thing.

The street lamps glowed softly under the night sky and a chill breeze caused both women to shiver. The air held a taste of snow, though it was still early in the season for it. The previous year had pretty much skipped winter-fall had seemingly held out through the months until spring could take over its duties. This year winter promised to reclaim its place with a vengeance.

Megan stepped up onto the sidewalk and reluctantly released Marshall's hand. She rubbed her arms briskly, wishing she had brought her jacket into the bar with her, then looked sheepishly at the small blonde next to her. "I have an extra coat, if you like."

Marshall tilted her head and smiled up at the dark haired woman. "If you want to keep talking out here in the cold, then yes. Bring it on." The teasing lilt of her voice softened the remark and Megan chuckled.

"C'mon." She gestured with her head and strode toward the van. She didn't realize she was missing her companion until she had unlocked the passenger door and was halfway inside. She poked her head back out with a puzzled frown. "You coming?"

"You're kidding." The comment slipped out before she could stop it and she hurried to the door of the van before Megan could get inside and slam it shut. "Now, c'mon... . You just don't look like a van type of person."

Dark brows were furrowed and Marshall was sure she was going to be treated to a caustic remark, but Megan just sighed. "It carries everything I need, and the jackets are in the back. I just thought you'd like to come in out of the wind for a few minutes."

Marshall's eyes twinkled as she came up close behind Megan and pushed her forward lightly. "Now that I think about it, I bet a van could really come in handy some... Oh my." Green eyes widening, Marshall stepped around the bucket seat and into the back of the van.

A small sink, stove, and refrigerator were tucked along one side, cupboards lined up above them. Across the back, where doors would normally be, was a love seat draped by a dark blue afghan. Along the driver's side was a long twin bed covered by a comforter that matched the afghan. A couple sweaters and jackets were folded neatly on top of the comforter and Marshall turned a questioning gaze to her new friend.

Megan had to duck her head from hitting the roof as she moved further inside and sat down on the love seat. "I wasn't sure what to wear tonight, so I had these out." She shrugged. "Didn't know I'd have company."

"I thought you were staying at a motel?"

Megan flushed. "Yeah, but I don't like lugging things around, so I kept some clothes in here just in case." Her fingers plucked idly at the fleece-lined leather jacket lying on top, and she spoke again. "When I'm traveling, I like to find RV camps sometimes. I can hook up to their electric and not have to worry about thin walls or nosy neighbors." Blue eyes darted up to meet emerald green. "I like the quiet of the woods sometimes."

"But you don't like to rough it," Marshall responded lightly, a soft smile curving full lips. A sandy brow lifted in silent question as she started to pick up the jacket. When Megan nodded, Marshall slipped the heavy coat on and sighed happily. "I love fleece." The lining was warming her up already and she inhaled a deep breath of worn leather.

Megan smiled as she watched the blonde's eyes close in bliss. Marshall looked nothing more than a small child wrapped up in her Daddy's coat as she scooted back to lean against the fake wood paneling decorating the van's interior, eyes still squeezed shut. Taking advantage of the short silence, Megan sorted through the clothing, finally pulling out a thick, charcoal colored sweater. She hesitated, then shrugged broad shoulders. She had a t-shirt on under the flannel shirt so, even if Marshall opened her eyes, she wouldn't see anything.

Well, not much. Really. Except Megan hadn't anticipated exactly how cold it was in the van, and she'd forgotten she wasn't wearing a bra. A pair of glittering green eyes closely observed the removal of the flannel shirt and Marshall had to struggle with the need to lick suddenly dry lips. The rustle of fabric had alerted her, causing her to open her eyes slightly... to the wondrous sight of pert nipples straining against thin cotton. She could almost feel the weight of those soft mounds in her hands, could almost taste them in her mouth. Oh my God.

The torture session wasn't over yet. Megan shivered against the cold air and thrust her arms into the warm sleeves of the sweater. Her upper body contorted as she pulled her head through the opening and snugged the soft material over her breasts and stomach. Freeing her dark mane from the sweater, she chanced a glance at Marshall, wondering briefly if the woman had fallen asleep because of the prolonged silence.

They were only a few feet apart-close enough for Megan to see the rapid beating of the pulse point at the base of Marshall's neck and hear her erratic breathing. Slowly, so slowly, Marshall's wide eyes traveled from Megan's breasts up to her face. "You're beautiful." The words were more sigh than sound. The dark color of the sweater brought out the blue of Megan's eyes, enhancing her tanned features, and fitting like a thick second skin.

Megan felt her heart accelerate to match the blonde's and she smiled shyly, her hands shaking slightly as she finished adjusting her clothing. Finally she sat still, not quite sure what to do next, hands smoothing reflexively over her knees. A few inane comments were discarded as soon as she thought of them, then she drew her gaze back up to meet Marshall's. "Thank you." Her face flushed again.

Marshall laughed suddenly, the bright sound startling her dark companion. At Megan's curious look, she smiled and shook her head. "We're sitting in a cold van, staring at each other, and handing out compliments while we shiver. How 'bout we get something to eat, and save the rest of the compliments for later?"

There was that word again. Later. Megan steeled her nerves. "I thought you were just... I thought maybe you wanted me to take you home." She forced herself to keep her eyes locked with Marshall's. She was thirty years old, for God's sake. Old enough to handle a late night chitchat.

With a gorgeous blonde. Who had desire fairly sparking out of her eyes.

"My home is an eight hour drive away. I'd rather eat first." Marshall's lips quirked in a wry grin. Megan was beginning to look uncomfortable again, so Marshall relented. "After we eat you can drop me off at Charlie's house, if you want. I just wanted to get to know you a little better."

"By staying up all night?" Megan asked with a chuckle, her nerves settling for the moment.

"Whatever it takes," Marshall answered with a grin. "Now, c'mon. Will this hotrod make it around the corner to IHOP?" Her answer this time was a light punch on the arm as Megan stepped past her to climb into the driver's seat.

Two waitresses and a busboy sat in the booth reserved for employees and watched the young couple bantering back and forth. Debbie nudged Allan to get his attention. "Watch this. She's gonna do it again."

Giggles erupted as Marshall snitched a piece of bacon from the dark haired woman's plate. She had been stealing bits and pieces of food from Megan's plate almost from the time it had been delivered, much to Megan's consternation.

"What's wrong with your food?" Megan asked in exasperation.

"Not a thing. But as slow as you're eating, I figured someone should get it while it's still hot." A bit of sausage disappeared into her mouth.

"Then maybe we should get to the hotel," Megan muttered softly as she shifted in her seat.

Marshall choked and reached for her water, trying to laugh and swallow at the same time. She finally managed to compose herself again, though her eyes were dancing with surprised delight. "Where the hell did that come from?"

"You weren't supposed to hear that." Megan had been struggling with her attraction to the blonde all evening, the close quarters of the van not helping in the least. A hint of light perfume mixing with leather was driving her to distraction. The cute wrinkle that appeared across the bridge of Marshall's nose whenever she smiled didn't help either.

Marshall let another great opening slip by untaken. She'd practically oozed charm and subtlety for the last few hours and it was having the intended affect. She couldn't recall the last time she had worked so hard to turn a woman on. A simple hi and a smile usually did the trick.

With studied nonchalance, she polished off the last of her meal and sat back to slowly sip her coffee. Sparkling green eyes studied Megan as the tall woman played with a slice of toast. "Charlie tells me you've been here for a month."

Ice blue eyes darted up to meet green. "Yeah."

"Looking for a job?"

"No."

Long, slender fingers wrapped around a coffee cup and Marshall lost her train of thought for a moment. "Can I ask why you're here?"

"Why are you here?" Megan shot back instantly.

"Fair enough," Marshall responded slowly. She cocked her head slightly, debating with herself over how truthful she should be.

Charlie had called her and told her about Megan with typical bluntness. "She's just like you, Marshall. All spit and fire and vinegar. But hers is buried so deep, me and Ben can't dig it out. Can you get some time off and give us a hand?"

She'd been right on the edge of refusing because she had too many loose ends to tie up at the architecture firm when Charlie had said the magic words. His voice had deepened with concern. "I don't think she's been treated right by her lady friends, if you know what I mean."

"What? Someone hurt her? What do you mean?" Marshall's voice had risen in panic, visions of some poor woman being beaten mercilessly by other women racing through her head.

"Not physically hurt. God." And then Charlie had started chuckling, completely confusing his niece. "The girl's six feet tall and all muscle, for Pete's sake!"

" Ooo , really? What's she look like?" Marshall had always had a thing for taller women.

"Tall, dark haired, blue-eyed, gorgeous... Hey! Get your mind out of the gutter, girl! I think she just needs someone to show her a good time."

Marshall had sighed heavily into the phone. "Hell, you and Ben can do that just as well as me, Charlie." But her mind was already forming a picture of Megan and she felt herself weakening.

"Not as good as you, my dear," he had answered knowingly. "We don't have the right parts."

After she finished laughing her butt off, she had asked him about the women again. "So what did you mean when you said they didn't treat her right?"

"There's a lot of sadness in those blue eyes, Marshall. And even though she likes women, she only talks about guys that she knows back home. Woman pretty as her should be beating girls off with a stick."

"Ah, hell. I guess I can come down there and see what's what. If nothing else, I'll get to see you two old geezers again."

They'd laughed and hung up the phone. Now here it was a week later, and she was in deeper trouble than she'd ever been in her whole life. Megan was even prettier than her overworked imagination could come up with, and the sadness in those eyes tore Marshall to shreds. There was no way she could force herself to just play games with this woman. She wanted to make her smile, and keep her smiling. For a long time.

It was scaring the hell out of her.

Megan watched Marshall carefully, her own thoughts racing over the last few days: Ben disappearing; Charlie's vague explanation that he had gone on an errand; Ben finally showing back up with Marshall in tow; Marshall attaching herself to Megan all night-what were they all up to?

Megan had no illusions about herself. She knew she was attractive, but she also knew what always happened after she'd been approached. Megan was painfully shy around women and horrible with small talk. If by some miracle she made it through those inadequacies and got to the privacy of the bedroom, she was arguably the world's worst lover. She'd been told that often enough. It had to be true.

When Marshall finally spoke, Megan's full attention was riveted on her. It was disconcerting, to say the least. "Charlie is a very caring man. He's always been able to feel other people's pain as if it were his own." The words came cautiously. Marshall had the strangest feeling she only had one shot at this. If she blew it, she lost everything.

"He called me and told me you could use a friend. Someone you could talk to and have a good time with." Green eyes met blue and held steady, full lips curving upward into a quirky grin. "I'm pretty good at talking and having a good time."

"You came here to see me? Because Charlie asked you to?" Megan's chest tightened and she could feel the old pressure building from deep inside. She took in a deep breath to try to hold off the rising panic. It wouldn't take long for the trembling to start, the uncontrollable tears to fall, and the need to escape to overwhelm her.

She feels sorry for you. That's the only reason she's here.

Marshall saw the blue eyes darken, heard the slight tremor in Megan's low voice, and could almost feel the tension radiating from Megan like waves of fire. Oh damn. Wrong thing to say. Wrong thing.

"Megan," she whispered softly, reaching out to touch a tightly clenched hand. "Charlie raised me since I was six. He knows more about me than what I even know."

"So when a woman comes in that he feels sorry for, he calls you and you come to sweep her off her feet." Megan's smile was bitter.

Marshall ran her thumb across the back of Megan's hand, her eyes almost begging the dark haired woman to listen to her words. "He's never called me like this before. I figured, whoever the woman was, she must be pretty special." She smiled and squeezed the dark-haired woman's hand. "And she is."

"You don't even know me," Megan murmured, eyes resolutely on her cup.

"But I want to know you." Marshall was surprised at the vehemence of her own response. And she realized with no little amazement that it was true. "Look. If you want, we can just hang around together for the next few days. I needed a break from work... and you could probably use a break from those two old busy-bodies." She flashed Megan a grin, then shrugged casually. "If you'd rather I didn't come around, I'll leave you alone. No big deal. Well, maybe it would be a big deal... ." Marshall felt a flush creep up her neck and was startled.

A dark eyebrow rose sharply. This was the first time Megan had seen the small blonde lose her composure and, for some reason, it made her feel infinitely better. "I came here because there was nothing left where I was." Megan's voice was soft and low. "I packed up the stuff I needed, got in my van, and just started driving. When I got here...." she smiled slightly and darted a glance at Marshall before she returned her gaze to their clasped hands. "When I got here, something told me to stay."

She shrugged uncomfortably, not used to opening up so much to another woman, much less a practical stranger. "I'd... I'd really like to spend some time with you. If you really want to. I mean... you don't have to just because Charlie thinks I'm a basket case."

Marshall laughed warmly. "He doesn't think you're a basket case!" She looked around the empty restaurant and then leaned forward until her face was inches from Megan's. "He thinks you might be able to save me from myself." 

Megan's heart leapt into her throat and she struggled to breathe. What on earth is that perfume she's wearing? Whatever it was, it was sending jolts of pleasure all along her body. "How... how do you mean?"

"He says I work too hard. And play too hard." Marshall winked as she sat back in the booth again, much to Megan's relief and disappointment. "I think he's hoping you'll settle me down a bit."

"I don't know how I could do that," Megan admitted quietly.

"Why don't we give it a try and see?"

"Okay." Megan smiled shyly and dug into her pants pocket for a tip. "I think I'm about ready to go now, though. Is that okay?"

"Only if you let me pay for this. You can get lunch tomorrow. I mean, today." Marshall flashed another grin and Megan returned it.

"Deal."

 

 

 

Megan caught a glimpse of a taut stomach out of the corner of her eye and she stopped abruptly. Using an edge of the damp towel, she wiped down the mirror to get a clearer view of herself, frowning slightly at what she saw.

Long, dark hair, wet from her shower, lay in tangles along her broad shoulders. Fading tan lines from the summer sun showed mute evidence that she favored shorts and tank tops. She eyed her hands critically as they rested on the curve of her hips. Too large, just like my feet, she sighed.

Her upper body and legs seemed to stretch on forever and she winced in memory of towering over classmates, who called her Giraffe so often that she had taken to slouching to make herself appear shorter. The gleam in the basketball coach's eyes when he had asked her to try out for the team had risen her hopes, but they were dashed cruelly when she found out-in front of thirty other girls-that she couldn't dribble and run at the same time.

Her parents were determined that she would be as much of an athlete as her three brothers, so she gathered her courage and tried out for the Cross Country team next. Not as glamorous as the other sports... but it was a sport. Thankfully, that worked out better than the basketball fiasco, and her First Place ribbons were proudly displayed next to her brothers' football, basketball, baseball, and soccer trophies.

Megan sighed again as she eyed her slender, muscular form one more time before heading into the main room to dress. She may still be tall and gangly, but at least the running she had continued in the years since high school had given her nice muscle definition. She wondered briefly what Marshall would think of her body, then shook her head in embarrassment. Fat chance she'll ever see it.

Megan resisted the urge to straighten the covers on the king-size bed and strode instead to the large desk tucked in the corner of the room. Flipping open the lid of her laptop, she made sure all the wires were connected properly and began to download her email. She dragged her hiking boots over while she waited, and chuckled as she saw it was still receiving mail when she was done lacing the boots.

They're at it again, she thought with a grin. She often wondered if any of the pups worked, considering the amount of mail they generated. Then again, she'd contributed her fair share so she couldn't really say too much about it.

A red flag on one of her private emails caught her attention. She smiled a bit as she opened it.

Hey, Jordan. It's your friendly neighborhood editor. You do realize that you only have two more weeks to send me the final draft of "Starlight and Roses" so I can have a remote chance of having it ready for a January release...

My fingers are itchy and I have extra cartridges of red ink all ready and waiting!

Not that I'm pressuring you or anything...by all means, take your time. <G>

Velvet

Megan snorted quietly after she had read the nicely worded "get your ass to work" message. Her eyes gleamed as she typed up her response.

Velvet. How on earth am I supposed to take someone seriously when they use Velvet as their handle? Have you ever considered changing it to Bull Dog? For some reason that seems so much more appropriate. <laughing>

Have no fear, you'll get the final draft in plenty of time. You know I hate to rush perfection. Hope I don't melt the screen with this one...laptops weren't built for steamy sex scenes.

Jordan

Her eyes twinkled with laughter as she went through the rest of the mail, fingers flying over the small keyboard as she added a few comments to the current thread on Pack. Why they were discussing the pros and cons of flannel underwear was beyond her, but what the heck.

After a half hour of typing and deleting, she finally had her inbox cleared. She leaned back and stretched luxuriously and wondered if she should write a bit more. Checking the clock, she saw it was almost noon. Damn. She'll be here any minute.

Megan eyed the flowery bedspread and gave in to the urge to straighten it. Nothing worse than a messy bed when you had company coming over. That quick task accomplished, she wandered around the room aimlessly. The TV was turned on, then shut off again; emails checked and deleted; the bed sprawled upon until she got back up hastily. She wasn't sure it would be wise to be on the bed when Marshall arrived. In her nervousness it never occurred to her that she'd have to get up to let the woman in anyway.

By the time the knock came on her door, Megan was a nervous wreck. Her hands were trembling and sweaty, her hair slightly tousled from running her fingers through it, and her heart was threatening to pound out of her chest. She took a few deep, calming breaths before finally opening the door to greet her visitor.

Marshall's green eyes were almost blue in the soft, cool sunlight, and they sparkled with impish mischief. "Are you ready?" she asked breathlessly.

Megan's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "What do you have behind your back?"

Marshall stood, legs slightly spread and one hand tucked behind her. She looked entirely too cheerful for the little amount of sleep she had gotten. Megan knew there must be something she was missing.

"Give me a kiss and I'll tell you," Marshall responded teasingly.

Megan pursed her lips and felt her heart accelerate. After being teased and flirted with for most of the night by this egocentric blonde, she was ready to knock her down a peg or two. After all, she did have some pride. Her eyes flashed with a wicked glint and she saw Marshall's widen in surprise. Before she could think about it any further, she tilted her head and leaned down, her hands resting lightly on Marshall's waist as she kissed her solidly.

She vaguely heard a soft splat as something landed on the sidewalk outside her door, then she centered her attention on the silky smooth lips beneath hers and the wonderful sensation of Marshall's arms sliding around to hold her tightly. Even through the thickness of the two shirts she was wearing, Megan could feel that one of Marshall's hands was much colder than the other.

Megan eased back reluctantly, ending the kiss. She smiled slightly as it took a moment for Marshall's eyes to open, their color deepened to jade. "So what was it?" she asked huskily.

"What was what?" Marshall returned, still a bit stunned by the kiss.

"Behind your back. What were you holding?" Megan was rather proud of the fact that, not only was she not in a puddle on the floor, she was able to carry on the conversation as if nothing had happened. Granted, her grip on Marshall's waist was about the only thing holding her up, but still... .

"Oh. Umm... snowball. It snowed earlier and I was going to throw it at you." She grinned suddenly and hugged the taller woman. "Maybe I should just carry one around so you'll kiss me again."

Megan blushed and untangled herself from the embrace. "'A Snowball's Chance.' I should use that for the title of my next book," she mumbled as she turned to reenter the room. She didn't see Marshall's look of astonishment as the blonde followed her inside.

"I have to put my laptop in the safe, okay? Then we can go."

Marshall plopped full length across the bed, propping her chin in her hands and staring at Megan as she unhooked the laptop. "You write books? What kind?" Curiosity was killing her. She just couldn't picture Megan as a writer. She watched in fascination as the blush covered every inch of that lovely face and crept down Megan's neck and she smiled smugly.

"I... umm... write romance novels," Megan replied as quietly as possible.

Sandy brows shot up in surprise. "Really? I love romance novels. Are you published? Have I read any of them?" She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed, eyes bright with interest.

Megan put the laptop in the safe and did her best not to look at Marshall. "Yes, I'm published. And I have no idea if you've read them... I don't know what you have in your bookcase."

Marshall wiggled her eyebrows and laughed. "We can fix that easy enough. So tell me... do you use your own name or a pseudonym?"

Megan sighed and sat down at the desk, wondering if she should just call room service for lunch since it didn't look like they were going anywhere anytime soon. Against her better judgment she made direct eye contact with Marshall. Those vivid green eyes were fairly dancing with anticipation and she groaned inwardly. "Jordan Michaels," she answered finally.

Marshall's eyebrows shot up and her mouth gaped open in shock. "Jordan Michaels?" she finally squeaked out in astonishment. "Love's Burning Flame, Broken Promises, Meltdown?"

"To name a few, yes," Megan replied dryly.

Marshall was stunned. Jordan Michaels' books were so erotic that you broke out in a sweat just from reading the jacket blurbs. She started to speak again and then just stopped and stared at the dark-haired woman, who was now intently playing with one of the buttons on her shirt.

"Okay," she managed to get out. "Give me a minute here." Marshall eased off the bed and went to the front of the room to stare out of the huge window that gave a spectacular view of the parking lot. She freaks out when she's flirted with, but writes books that send women nationwide running to take cold showers...after glaring at their partners who must obviously be doing something wrong because they sure as hell didn't make love that way. She grinned involuntarily. She'd gotten half of her techniques from those books.

Shaking her head in exasperation, she turned around and spotted Megan playing around with a pen. She looked even more uncomfortable than she had the night before, if that was possible.

Marshall had no idea why she did it. Had no idea why Megan stirred up such a protective, sensitive streak in her. But she found herself standing behind Megan, lightly massaging her neck and shoulders. "You're a pretty complicated person, huh."

Tense muscles shifted under her fingers as Megan shrugged. "Yeah, I guess so."

Marshall stared off into space, hands continuing to gently rub away the tightness of Megan's shoulders and upper arms. She came back to herself and looked down at the dark head that had bowed to give her hands better access. She slowly leaned over and wrapped her arms around Megan's upper body, her mouth resting against Megan's ear. "Wanna snuggle?" she murmured softly.

Megan's entire body jerked and her hands reached up to clutch Marshall's forearms. "I-I'm not sure that's a good idea."

Marshall eased around her, careful to make sure she kept in constant contact. Squatting on her heels, she took Megan's hands in her own and squeezed them lightly. "C'mon. I'll be good, I promise."

"I bet you say that to all the girls," Megan shot back nervously.

Marshall chuckled. "Well, yeah, actually I do. How 'bout if I promise to behave too? I've never said that before," she added hopefully. Not until you, anyway.

"Can we eat afterwards? Food, I mean?" Megan felt herself blushing again and closed her eyes in dismay.

Marshall cupped Megan's cheek with the palm of her hand and waited patiently for the blue eyes to open again. When they did, she offered a gentle smile. "Of course we can. I picked a special place for us."

Megan's heart jumped. Us. God, that sounds nice. She smiled back nervously and let the small blonde lead her to the bed.

It was the longest three feet of her life.

Marshall leaned on her side as Megan situated herself on the bed, laying flat on her back with her arms held stiffly to her sides. This was going to be a little more difficult than Marshall had thought.

"How old are you?" she asked impulsively.

Wide blue eyes stared back at her. "Thirty."

A fierce anger rushed through Marshall, startling her with its intensity. Thirty years old and she's afraid of snuggling, for God's sake. She just barely restrained herself from asking for a list of Megan's ex-girlfriends... and their addresses. Somehow she didn't think Megan would appreciate it if she went out and beat the crap out of them.

"Why?" Megan asked hesitantly, a hint of fear in her eyes.

Marshall thought quickly. "You look a lot younger, that's all." She was rewarded with a bright, shy smile and Marshall was inordinately pleased with herself. "I'm twenty-five, by the way."

Megan nodded and resumed staring at the ceiling, trying not to notice that Marshall was wiggling around on the bed.

" C'mere ."

The blonde had scooted a little closer and flipped onto her back, bracing her head on a pillow. She was looking at Megan expectantly. Megan gathered up her courage and moved close enough to put her head on Marshall's shoulder, though she tried to make sure they didn't touch anywhere else.

Marshall wasn't having any of that. A gentle tug with her left arm pulled Megan to her side, their bodies flush against each other. Just as gently, she took Megan's left hand and placed it on her stomach, lacing her shorter fingers into Megan's strong, slender ones.

"There. Much better."

Slowly, very slowly, Megan relaxed into the soft body pressed against her. Her eyes fluttered closed and she inhaled deeply, Marshall's scent surrounding her and sending waves of pleasure through her. She really had to know... maybe she could spray the interior of her van with the stuff when she had to leave. "What kind of perfume do you wear?"

"I don't wear perfume," came the soft whisper.

"Oh." Oh. That's just her? Megan swallowed hard and tried to figure out how to capture some of that scent. The fact that her chin was pillowed on the gentle swell of Marshall's breast pointed out the most obvious way, and her heart began to race.

It took a few moments, but a realization that had been prodding at Megan came to the forefront of her mind. The heartbeat she could feel under her hand was racing just as fast as her own. She lifted her head and gazed into deep green eyes that seemed to caress her.

"I'm scared, too," Marshall admitted quietly, untangling her fingers to trace the smooth line of Megan's cheek.

"Really?" Megan shifted so that she was leaning on her elbow looking down at the small blonde. She searched Marshall's face intently, surprised to see a slight tremor in Marshall's lower lip. "Why are you scared?"

Marshall chuckled ruefully and tried to duck her head away, only to have her chin caught in a strong, yet gentle, grip. When she finally met Megan's eyes, her own were filled with a strange longing. She took a deep breath and stepped into a place she never thought she'd have the strength to go. "Because I care for you. And it doesn't make any sense. And I'm afraid that if I say one thing wrong, you'll run out of my life before I ever get the chance to know what love is."

"Oh." Yes. I'm a writer. This is why I make the big bucks. Then why can't I think of a single thing to say to that?

So she said nothing. Simply leaned down and ever so gently touched her lips to Marshall's, sliding her fingers from Marshall's chin to the back of her neck to tangle in the silky blonde hair. One of them made a sound deep in her throat-she was never sure which of them it was-then Marshall's lips were parting beneath hers and she was swept away into a moist warmth that threatened to drown her.

Marshall fought for some semblance of sanity even as her body struggled to get closer to Megan. This was nothing like the kiss in the doorway. That had lasted just long enough to wake her senses. This-this kiss had her gasping and throbbing... every nerve ending alive with delight and screaming for more.

Suddenly the woman above her tensed and jerked away, sending Marshall crashing back to earth painfully. Her eyes snapped open in stunned disbelief. "What! What?!"

She met dark blue eyes wild with fear and belatedly realized she had both hands clenched tightly to Megan's hips, holding the dark-haired woman forcibly to her. She let go instantly, though every instinct she had was begging her to hold on tighter.

Megan was up and across the room like a shot, leaning heavily against the wall and breathing in great gulps of air. "Jesus H. Christ on a raft, Marshall!" she finally sobbed out.

"What!" Marshall repeated again heatedly. "You kissed me, Megan. Remember? All I did was lay here and enjoy it." A lot. Too much, as a matter of fact. But she was damned if she was going to tell Megan that.

"You...I...you..." Megan gave up and slid down the wall to sit huddled on the floor.

Marshall moved to the end of the bed and peered at Megan. Part of her was mad as hell and another part was busy reminding her of her own shortcomings. That part got even louder as she realized Megan was crying.

"Hey now...don't cry." She slid off the bed and crouched in front of the huddled form, keeping her voice as gentle as possible. "I'm sorry, Megan. Really. I didn't even know I was doing that." She cast around desperately for something else to say to get Megan to uncover her face and look at her.

Well, damn me then , she decided. "You know, it's your fault." Marshall got the full force of shocked, red-rimmed blue eyes and her heart lurched. She arched an eyebrow cockily. "If you weren't such a good kisser, I would never have lost control."

Megan smiled shakily at that. "I wasn't expecting that," she admitted hesitantly.

Marshall moved around until she was leaning against the wall next to Megan, careful not to touch her. "Expecting what? Me to lose control, or you to turn out to be such a good kisser?" She allowed herself to grin when Megan nudged her shoulder into her.

"Smart-ass." Megan's eyes widened again as she shot a look at the small blonde. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."

"Yes you did," Marshall laughed. "I've been called worse before and probably will again. No worries here, sweetheart." She tried to keep her expression casual as she realized what she said. But Megan simply reached over and shyly took her hand, not saying a word.

 They stayed that way for a long time. Content just be close to each other without any pressures or expectations.

Megan let the warmth of Marshall's hand soothe her as she tried to figure out what was happening to her. She had managed to bury her need to be close to other women-channeling her desire through the characters in her books-and whenever it raised its head in real life she had only to remember what happened the last time she had walked into the bar in Terrance.

Megan and her three brothers had just gotten back from a rare week's vacation together. They had terrorized a town a hundred miles north with their laughter, jokes, and high spirits and Megan was feeling pretty good about herself. The boys had done a good job of taking her mind of her last dating fiasco, so she was completely unprepared for the conversation she overheard shortly after arriving at the bar.

"I'll tell you what, girls. She may be tall, dark, and gorgeous, but she's a cold fish in bed!" That statement was followed by a chorus of: "I can't believe that!" "You're kidding!" "Really? Man, I thought she'd be hot!"

The redhead had gone on to describe the disastrous evening in humiliating detail, right down to Megan's inability to orgasm. "And, trust me, it sure wasn't for my lack of trying!" She laughed harshly.

Megan had just stood, frozen with embarrassment and shame, while the bartender studiously cleaned glasses and tried to pretend she hadn't heard the cutting remarks. It was the outlining of the plan to buy the dark haired beauty an inflatable doll that finally drove Megan away. She barely managed to hold in her tears until she reached the safety of her car.

She never went back.

Instinct. Everyone said when you made love your body would know what to do... even if your mind didn't. Megan decided that there must be something inherently wrong with her because, no matter how badly she might want or desire someone, when it came right down to it her body didn't have a clue.

"Megan?"

"Yeah?"

"You're hurting me."

"Damn!" Megan let go of Marshall's hand like it was on fire. "I'm sorry. Why didn't you say something?"

Marshall grinned a little as she looked into abashed blue eyes. "I did, you nut." She rubbed her right hand lightly with her left, trying to get feeling back into it. "Are you okay? You kind of went off there for a minute."

Megan expelled a breath of air and nodded, her eyes going distant again. "I was just thinking about home. And some girls there." She stopped and shook her head.

"Some girls?" Marshall's smile got even wider, while she tried to ignore the sudden stab of jealousy. "You go, Megan! Keeping them on a string, or what?"

"Stop!" Megan nudged the blonde with her shoulder again. "I didn't mean it that way. And it was a few years ago, after my last date... ."

Marshall leaned forward and wrapped her arms around her knees, eyes intent on the woman next to her. "Your last date was a few years ago?" she asked incredulously.

Megan flushed scarlet. "It was a really bad date," she replied quietly.

A sandy brow shot up and Marshall shook her head. "I guess so." She pursed her lips and studied the huddled form of her friend. "Hey. Why don't we... " The ringing of the phone interrupted her and she almost fell over when Megan leapt to her feet and dashed to the phone.

Marshall stretched out along the floor and watched in amazement as Megan changed into a completely different person right in front of her eyes. She stood straight and tall, shoulders back, and a wide smile on her face. Even her voice was different-a soft drawl that sounded almost southern, but not quite.

"You're always interrupting something," Megan responded laughingly to the person on the other end. "How are things going down there? You doing all right? Any new ladies I should know about before I come home?"

Marshall felt an odd pain in her chest at the last question and she sat up, unconsciously straining her ears to hear the conversation better.

Megan paced back and forth in front of the desk, chuckling as the other person continued to speak. She held her hand up in a stopping motion as if that would actually shut whoever it was up, and Marshall shook her head. Who was this relaxed, happy person and why couldn't she make Megan laugh like that?

"Susan? You're going out with Susan now? What happened to Sharon? And Melody? And... what was her name... the one you fought with Chris over? Oh yeah... Cheryl. You what?" Megan stopped her pacing and laughed until she had tears in her eyes. "Oh my God... you didn't! I can't believe you set her up with him. He's such a loser!"

She resumed her pacing, then stopped again suddenly, her eyes shooting toward Marshall and a blush rising to her face. "Well, umm... yeah. I guess you could say that."

She turned her back and Marshall was immediately intrigued. Rising quietly, Marshall moved closer and sat on the edge of the bed. Megan still had her back turned and her voice had gotten a lot softer. She was almost whispering.

"I don't know, Robbie. She's nice." A snort in response to a comment. "She'd mop the floor with them in a heartbeat. What? Yeah... look, Robbie, I don't want to talk about them." Megan was quiet for a moment, her body tense, then she relaxed again. "Her name's Marshall and she's a lot cuter than anybody you've ever brought home." The teasing was evident in her voice.

Marshall grinned and preened herself smugly. This is good. I'm getting compared favorably to someone, at least. She missed the next bit of the conversation as she congratulated herself, but swiftly brought her attention back when she heard her name mentioned again.

"She's not like them at all. She... well... she listens to me. And we played pool, then went out for dinner." Another pause. "Okay, so it was a really late dinner... fine, Robbie. It was breakfast, okay?" Megan chuckled, her fingers stretching out to capture a pen to play with while she talked. "Where is she now?" Megan turned and her eyes locked with twinkling green. "A lot closer than I thought she was," she answered dryly, taking in Marshall's new listening spot. Marshall simply shrugged at her and smiled impishly.

"Look, Robbie, I have to go. Tell Mom I'll be home... in a week or so, maybe longer." Megan was swiftly losing track of the conversation as Marshall's expression went still and quiet. Her voice took on an urgent quality, "Robbie, scratch that. Tell her it might be another... " She looked at Marshall questioningly and got a half smile and another shrug in answer. "... another month or so. I don't know."

It took another few minutes, but Megan was finally able to hang up the phone. "My younger brother," she said, in answer to Marshall's questioning look. "He doesn't like to go too long without talking to me. I've never figured out why."

Marshall just smiled back. "Maybe because he misses you?"

" Naw ! That can't be it... there's a law against mush in our family." Megan laughed a little and plopped down on the bed. She didn't notice the frown her flippant answer caused. "That boy has so many girlfriends he could form his own volleyball team!"

Marshall's eyes lit up. "Hey! Maybe we could... ." She stopped abruptly and cleared her throat. "Umm, maybe we should get going. To... umm... lunch, I mean."

Megan eyed her companion thoughtfully. "Uh huh. Just how many volleyball teams could you staff anyway? Or do I want to know?" Megan took a perverse pleasure in seeing the blush darkening Marshall's cheeks, and actually laughed out loud when the blonde grabbed for her jacket and tugged it on. She shrugged into her own coat and followed the muttering woman out the door.

Megan stopped on the edge of the sidewalk and stared in consternation at the tiny vehicle parked outside her hotel room. "I'm not getting in that."

"Oh, c'mon, Megan. It's a fun car to drive around!" Marshall patted the top of the metallic blue Miata , while her eyes sparkled with glee. She'd had a grand time taking the corners when she was driving over...thank God she had seen that cop before he spotted her. She didn't need another speeding ticket.

Megan crossed her arms over her chest and jutted her chin out. It was suspiciously close to a belligerent pout. "Marshall, I can't get in that thing! My legs are longer than the damn engine, for Pete's sake!" Her legs hurt just thinking about trying to fold herself into the tiny vehicle.

The blonde sighed heavily and rolled her eyes as she walked around to the passenger side. Unlocking the door, she reached down and pushed the seat back. "See? Plenty of room for you."

Megan shot her a dubious glare, then gave in and crawled into the car. It wasn't so bad once she figured out the embarrassing scissor position she had to put her legs into... while holding onto the roof with a death grip so her back wouldn't hit the pavement. She scowled at the smug expression on Marshall's face as the smaller woman slid into the driver's seat with no problem at all. "Paybacks...are a real bitch, Marshall."

"I'll massage the kinks out of your body later," Marshall promised airily.

Megan just closed her eyes and prayed as they shot out of the parking lot in a spray of gravel and screaming tires.


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