Book 4: Rapids.

Series: Light, Water, Muses. An alternate universe for a variety of television series. See disclaimers below.

Rating: NC-17. Dace gets to flex her muscles.

Category: The continuing saga of Reflections/ Resurgences/Refractions.

Pairings: nope, just pointless smut!

Personal disclaimer: Michael is mine.

Disclaimer: "ER", see Chapter 1.

Disclaimer: "The Division", see Chapter 1.

Disclaimer: "The X-Files", see Chapter 1.

Disclaimer: "Xena Warrior Princess", see Chapter 4.

Disclaimer: "China Beach", see Chapter 5.

Disclaimer: "Facts of Life", produced by Embassy Pictures Corporation and TAT Communications Company. Created by Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon.

Spoilers: A few indirect references to the start of season two, The Division, as well as the 'Facts of Life Reunion' movie.

Summary: The further education of Dana and Monica, and we see the smoky domain of the Amazons. Dace stalks an old buddy to help her with the belt problem while San Francisco and New York chip in with some help.

Chapter 6

Place Your Bets

++ Dana ++

Leaving behind Mulder's slobbering male interest, Dace gestured Monica and I into her room. The bed had barely been slept in. "Monica, come here," Dace spoke in a quietly authoritative voice, and the dark woman did as instructed. "Now, in many respects, you have the harder role. Dana, sit on the bed there and just listen for a few, okay?"

"Okay." Whatever we were to learn from this unusual, charismatic woman, I knew it would be invaluable and I psyched myself to stay open-minded.

"Now, Monica, give me your best posture, eyes on the wall and don't meet my gaze unless I give you permission."

"Yes, Leonacouer," Monica agreed quietly and the name flowed flawlessly off of her tongue. There was no doubt that Agent Reyes spoke a romance language. Dace grinned appreciatively as Monica straightened up to almost military precision.

"Good girl. Your job is to take your behavioral cues from Dana or I, but you need to remember that we'll be doing the same with you. I'd like it if you get something out of this besides just work. One of the great things about playing in the subversive zone of bondage or something rough, like what you'll probably see in the clubs, is that's it's very freeing." While Dace spoke in a low, soft, hunter's voice, I watched in enraptured silence as she ran experimental fingertips over Monica's lanky frame, as though learning her by Braille. With a touch here, a gentle prod there, she modified Monica's posture and body language as a sculptor would clay. While there wasn't anything overtly sexual about the pale hands, the sensuality was unmistakable. "There won't be a need to perform, so to speak, if we don't stay in any one club all the time. If this case goes on longer than a week or so, though, we'll probably need to rethink this arrangement."

"Yes, Leonacouer."

"Now, look at me." A long moment passed while the two of them searched gazes. Pale hands raised to tug Monica's yellow t-shirt from her jeans, slipping beneath the thin fabric, to smooth those teasing hands over the dusky skin beneath. Monica didn't move, but her breathing grew short and shallow. "Good girl," Dace purred again. "You shouldn't get touched by too many strangers, but you are good-looking and will get some admiring pets. Dana, c'mere." It was invitation as much as instruction, but I obeyed anyway, too caught up to do anything else. "Touch her. Be gentle, but firm. Like any animal, we are reassured by the touch of someone we trust. That's the game, pure and simple. Trust. When you really believe in someone enough, you'll do anything for them. Barriers fall away, taboos become meaningless noise."

The warm silk of this stranger's skin was magnetic, energy firing through my excruciatingly sensitive palms, fingers, thumbs curling into the beguiling groove of her spine. There was a babble of objection somewhere in the top of my skull, but the pleasure of touch drowned it out. I visualized wolves play-fighting, cats washing with rough tongues, primates grooming their troop-mates with dedication and love.

With primitive relish, I touched Monica Reyes, smoothing my hands over the planes of her back, shoving the glaring yellow material away. It slid away, drawn off by some force, leaving the expanse of flesh open to my admiring gaze. I was enraptured by the dance of flat muscle, the play of light over the lines of her body, the contrast of our skins, my paleness making her look swarthy by comparison. A sound like a moan vibrated against my skin, traveled up my muscles and tendons to lodge in my own throat.

"You're starting to understand," Dace's voice purred oh-so-soft in the thick quiet of the room, popping the bubble of sensation. I forced myself not to jerk my hands away from where they cupped lovingly around the lower curve of Monica's shoulder blades, dark coffee hair tickling against my fingertips. "You just broke some taboos, and liked it," Dace chuckled and I forced my eyes to meet hers. Monica was leaning heavily against the taller woman, breathing raggedly, fingers clutched into the white shirt. Blue, blue eyes glinting knowingly and I swallowed hard.

++ Dace ++

Despite being to antsy too sleep all day, I was rarin' to go now that the two women agents were a little more relaxed. Dana allowed me to rifle through her luggage while I passed on more of my knowledge and we all agreed on safe words. Hoover was to be the 'red light, find a safe place and talk things out' word. Since we wouldn't actually be in any scenes, that would suffice for now. There were a few sexy underthings and a severe black skirt and shiny, black leather, killer pumps that would be Dana's Top look for now. The severe, icy femme look, the one that Sylvia was a master of, would be a damn good one for Dana. I happened to have a loose mesh shirt that was a little small on me that I happily handed over to her. Then I got the pleasure of doing her makeup, accenting the startling eyes that were blue fading to green, the full mouth and the vibrant red of her hair. It was a sharp flashback to primping Sylvia for all those years. Shaking off the sense of deja-vu, I swept Dana's gorgeous mane into a flawless French twist, added chunky gold earrings, a matching chain around her neck, and viola! The woman was a dominatrix in the making. A white dress shirt temporarily over the ensemble would save her from Mulder's ogling. Men...

Monica was easier. White sports bra, faded jeans, and a fascinating pair of hand-made leather moccasins I'd found in her bag started things off. Since she was built very similarly to me, I offered a thin kidskin vest that accented her curves and added a chain dog collar from my private collection. "I'll want this back," I explained calmly, slipping the cool metal over her head and tugging the links to rest close to her throat. "But it's yours for now." The ring at the end rested right over her sternum, easily accessible for a finger to be hooked into it.

The leash would stay in my pocket until it might be needed to show that Monica wasn't available.

We slipped from the hotel room and found a cab to head for the nightlife on the south end. I had some unfinished business with my naked beltloops and I knew just the Amazons to help me out.

It was late enough that a crowd had gathered at the foot of the six-story building. I climbed from the cab, tossed the annoying man a few bills and stayed in the shadows to watch the crowd while my partners stood silent sentinel behind me. Loud music pulsed inside the structure, throbbing like a heartbeat. The mixed crowd, mostly women, shifted and ebbed like the tide on the sidewalk.

All I needed was someone that would recognize me.

Some time passed, the cat pacing restlessly inside my bones. A successful hunt was in the planning, the stealth, the reward coming when we were more patient than our prey. Finally, a clean, finely muscled figure melted out of the crowd. The traditional Amazon feathers trailed from the bicep strap, and from the headband holding back dark hair. Excellent, here was my opportunity.

Skulking across traffic, creeping up behind her, I waited for a reaction. Pony didn't disappoint, jumping around with a curse, fists up. The buff woman was honestly dangerous and I raised placating hands while grinning flirtatiously. "By all that's holy," Pony breathed and I was yanked into a crushing hug. "Dace, you wild thing! How the hell have you been? Goddess, no wonder Steph's been on pins and needles today!"

We laughed together over that, ignoring the envious and curious faces of the crowd and my two shadows. "You look good, for an old nag." The dig earned me an affectionate punch in the arm, but it would also get me into the club.

"They with you?" Pony questioned and I felt bad that I'd completely forgotten about my nervous students.

"Yeah. Figured I'd take care of as many errands as possible while I'm here, y'know?"

"Oh, I know! C'mon in then."

I spoke as best I could in the noise while we climbed to the upper levels. "This new building is impressive!"

"Yep," Pony chortled happily. "Silverback and Tarzan bought it three years ago, but we could only move in this last May. There's a ton more space here and it's a safer area to boot. Even better, we were finally able to modify an adjacent building as living areas, just like we'd always wanted to! Now, as much as I'm sure you're delighted to see me," Pony joked and I ran an appreciative glance over her scantily clad, body builder physique. "I think that's what you were looking for." She gestured negligently into one of the bars. "Look me up for drinks or dinner before you leave Chi-town, won't ya?"

"Count on it," I shot back, already distracted by one of my favorite old playmates. Close in age and a good match to my kinks, Steph was exactly what I needed this cold night. Planted rudely in the wide doorway to the plush bar, I focused my attention on my curly-maned quarry. This would be a good lesson to my silent shadows, and further my journey back to character in these dark, sultry places. My stare became a physical thing, power curling up like smoke to turn sharp as steel. Arms crossed, feet planted shoulder-width apart, I waited.

I waited and stalked with only my eyes and my implacable will.

++ Steph ++

It was true that to get something done right, you had to do it yourself. Little wonder that I'd never taken a real vacation in my life, and that I very rarely sampled the decadence around me night in and night out. It was a blur at the fringes of my existence. What Jane couldn't manage fell to me, and it was a busy life. Wouldn't trade it for the world, but it left me little time for anything but the Amazons and my sons.

Appreciative eyes passed over me, a familiar sensation. The tingle slid away, only to return, like gentle hands resting on my hips, breath across my nape.

The fine hairs all over my body began to stand to attention and I snorted in irritation, lost in the push and pull of my job. It didn't go away, the touch of eyes growing heavier and heavier. I swear I could almost feel them on me, stroking and teasing, promising dark pleasures.

There were few Mistresses that passed through these halls that I didn't know. There were a paltry few still that got my motor running. Only this time, my palms were starting to sweat and I was getting tingly all over. Huh?

Then I remembered that Dace was in town...

And dropped all six beers in my hands.

Jerking my eyes around the room like a frightened animal, I quickly froze beneath the crushing weight of that blue, blue gaze. Oh, I was in so much trouble.

Stammering out some lame order to the lead about the shattered beer bottles, I crept out from behind the bar and minced like a nervous cat through the heavy crowd. Whatever guilt I felt for bailing on my staff vanished as I stepped up to the woman I'd had a crush on since I'd hit puberty. Time had made her even sexier, the animal magnetism she always exuded like a musky smell deep in my lungs. Arms crossed, stance aggressive and threatening, I was ready to worship at those damnable boots right here.

"I have need of your services," Dace growled and my heart rate soared into dangerous levels.

"Yes... yes ma'am," I squeaked, feeling the denim of my shorts growing damp and restricting.

"Take me to the leather room."

Disappointment washed over me. Shit, any of the Amazons could do that errand. Smirking, Dace lashed out to grab the back of my head and I gasped in surprise and perverse pleasure. "Don't pout, sweet cheeks. Daddy will give you a nice thank you if you're good." The deep rumble of her voice dropped to a sultry growl while she nipped my ear and I practically hyperventilated. "Please, Cheetah," she mocked lightly. "Be good. I have a dozen rusty spots that need oiling." Abruptly, I was yanked around by that hard hand and nearly shoved over. "Now go!"

Like I was gonna say no!

++ Dace ++

Once in one of the quieter hallways, I shooed Dana and Monica into one of the bars, promising to join them soon. What I was about to get into with Steph was between her and I only. They weren't happy about it, but I couldn't give a damn at the moment.

Traditions were the things societies were built on. This was a favorite of mine, and the Amazons did it with unparalleled class and diversity. Taking a deep lungful of the pungent air, I savored the thick scent of cured leather. Was any smell sweeter? Our primitive ancestors wore the skins of the beasts they killed for sustenance. We wore them now as ornamentation, to clothe our frail human bodies in the strong, heavy armor. And then there was those of us that wore the inky skins to attract others, the way a peacock would flare his Technicolor tail.

Here was a great roomful of leather. Most of it darkly tanned and dyed, but some raw and some all the colors of the rainbow. There were entire hides, strips and laces and spools of the stuff, many thousands of dollars worth. Tables were strewn with signs of craftsmanship, projects in every stage of completion. Much as I might have liked to hang out and browse, I was there for something specific and pushed Steph into the room ahead of me.

"It's been a long time since I've played the Scene," I mused distractedly, knowing she was hanging on every word. "And I need to start again. So, I need a new belt. And I need to break it in."

I heard Steph's breath catch, could almost smell her arousal and fearful anticipation. There was a bucket of belt buckles, some of them gaudy as a cowboy's and some subtle arches and shafts of dulled silver. The later was my style and I chose one that looked like it had seen some action in the past. I liked that I could add to the silver's history, and rubbed callused fingers over its hard curves while I explored further.

"Dace, ma'am?" Steph called out breathlessly and I looked over to see her dancing anxiously from foot to foot. "There are belt lengths here with snaps, in case you would ever like to change buckles."

The blackened cowhide was so thick that it hardly wanted to curl around my waist to be fitted. The third strap felt oddly right in my hand, edges sharp yet smooth, heavy and substantial in my fists. Better, it fit nicely.

"Coltsfoot oil," I ordered curtly and Steph scampered. Workaholic that the woman was, I bet it had been a damn long time since she had been this worked up for anything. I found some fine sandpaper to take off the sharp edges from the neatly cut leather, and sharp knives to round off the square end to a perfect length. I deliberately ignored Steph hovering nearby until I was nearly done. "Start at that end and I'll meet you in the middle. Don't go to crazy with that oil, some of the work to soften this up will be done by you and I. This leather might be tanned and dyed, but I intend on tanning your pretty ass as well. Unless you'd rather go tend bar?"

All Steph could do was flush and grind her teeth, while I chuckled, not unkindly. The damn belt was so thick that we ended up oiling it twice, before I bent the snap end with a crackling creak around the silver buckle.

We both shivered at the sound.

++ Steph ++

Oh Goddess... I knew what was next. The feral gleam in her eyes was intoxicating. Standing, Dace gazed down at me, both benign and threatening. Her height was always a nice shock in a leatherwoman, and was certainly very distinctive to her. It had been a damn long time since I'd let someone dominate me, but was hardly shocked that I were drenched, swollen and horny as hell. Blue eyes flickered to the worktable and I had to follow her gaze.

Right here? In the leather room? Where any of the Amazons could walk in and see their second-in-command bent over and begging for it? Goddess, these were the times that tested women's souls...

I think I was surprised when my shorts whispered down my legs, and my shirt over my head. Dace only smiled smugly, never once doubting that she could subdue me with will alone. Tools and a half-completed corset clattered to the floor with a sweep of her arm.

I made the mistake of hesitating. No matter to Dace, she grabbed me by the back of my head and shoved me over the scarred table. Even the sweltering air of the stuffy room was cool against the heat in my crotch as outer lips split and wetness trickled down my thighs. "Oh yes, Cheetah, love," Dace mocked casually as she ran strong hands over my back and ass before dipping, teasing, into my cunt. "You obviously don't want this. Or do you? Seems to me that bent over a table in a semi-public place waiting for my belt is right up your alley." I couldn't help barking in surprise and pleasure as I was abruptly impaled on her strong fingers. "Yes?"

"Yes! Goddess yes! Please Dace, please!"

That was all the incentive Dace needed, and I had just proven that I was ready for this. Damn good thing too, because only a breathless instant after she pulled out, I heard that welcome and frightening sound. The faint whistle, the creak and swish of the belt and her jacket sleeve in movement, before I cried out from the first lash striping fire across my skin. "C'mon Cheetah, we can do better than that," Dace taunted. "I'm out of practice. You can take this."

Again, the strap snapped across my asscheeks, pain flaring dull and hot beneath the skin, muscles bunching and trembling. "Yes!" Again! The pain cris-crossed the first two stripes, stoking the fire. Definitely been too damn long since I'd let someone I trusted do this to me. The pain focused my attention on my lower torso, blood rushing to erogenous zones, pleasure spiraling tighter and tighter.

Quickly, so quickly, I was barely aware of anything but my burn and the trust I still held for this tall woman. Her masterful talent to read what I needed and how far she could push was making me insane. The beat of the belt against my strong ass matched my heartbeat, our combined breathing was harsh in the stale quiet, my cries were uncoordinated and desperate.

Hell, I didn't even know it was over, my body still in thrall of the beating, until long and hard, she slipped deep into my dripping heat. The rasp of denim over the welts made me cry, the thrust of her strap-on made me cry harder, increasing my death grip on the edges of the work table. All too soon, the pleasure ripped over me, left me blind, mute and helpless in her grip.

Sanity came back slowly, cracked on the edges as she remained deep inside, every move translating to my sensitive membranes clinging to her. Gently, Dace pressed a warm kiss to the back of my neck and I purred in appreciation.

"Thank you, Steph. I feel like I've almost come home."

++ Dace ++

I was startled to see a shadowy form in the doorway, and my jerk of surprise made Steph look as well. The shadowy figure cringed a bit and I relaxed. There was no threat in the body language. Quite the opposite, in fact. Curious, I reached out with my newly enhanced senses, even as the figure inched forward. The sound of her breath and the smell of her gave her away only a moment before she crept into the edges of the light.

A hand on Steph's lower back kept her prone as Monica made her appearance. "Did you require something?" My irritation and sarcasm was only partially feigned. Flinching at my tone, Monica half-turned away and I took the opportunity to finally pull out of Steph's hot pussy before we became completely glued together. Despite the unexpected audience, the blonde groaned heavily, and I swatted her ass in appreciation. Tucking away the phallus, I happily laced my new belt through it's loops. Much better.

"Ummm..." Monica hedged. "Miss Dana sent me to, ummm."

Chuckling, I helped Steph stand in case her back was stiff from all the exercise, before going to Monica. I loved physically intimidating women, especially fairly tall ones like this pretty agent. In the boots, I was a good four or five inches taller than her five nine-ish. "To what, hmm? Is your Mistress getting anxious? I did warn you two that a club was much different than the way you've played until now." The half-truth was easy.

"Yes ma'am," Monica said, still staring at my boots, despite how close I was standing to her. Bet she was eyeballing that package in my pants. The thought made me snerk in humor and grab Monica's chin to pull her dark eyes up.

"Well then, let's go reassure your Mistress. C'mon Cheetah, I think I've distracted you long enough." Dressed again, Steph came over with a strange expression that was flushed, embarrassed and reluctant. I tossed an arm over her shoulders and kissed her deeply. "May I come see you again?"

"Anytime," Steph breathed and we grinned together before I also grabbed Monica in a hug-headlock and walked my girls out of the leather room. Near where I had dropped the FBI agents off, I sent Steph and watched her walk away wistfully.

"You miss her?"

"Yeah," I answered Monica's quiet question. "Known her since I was in my teens, but we're worlds apart, y'know? I'm a obsessive cop from California and she's so much a part of this place. So we have fun when we can." My smile turned melancholy as I stared into the perceptive, dark eyes. "She deserves someone wonderful, but has never let herself be caught. Damn shame, too. I can tell you more about that later if you'd like to know more about all this." My vague gesture encompassed everything around our two bodies.

Monica smiled beatifically. "I'd like that."

++ Kait McCafferty ++


After so many years of being behind a desk, I hardly paid attention to the phone anymore. Without lifting my eyes from the report in front of me, I snatched the demanding thing up and tucked it into my shoulder. "McCafferty."


Immediately, my day brightened at little. "CD, this is a pleasant surprise. How is Chicago?"

"Cold. Hey, I need your help."

Now she had my attention. This woman rarely asked for anything. "Of course. Name it."

Clearly uncomfortable, CD's voice carried over the many hundreds of miles between us. "I need backup. The FBI agents are good, don't get me wrong. Actually, they're good enough that they don't need to be around me and I plan on sending them off to cover more ground. So I'll be alone again and it's actually freaking me out."

Now I was truly concerned. Having DeLorenzo ask for help was like the moon really being made of cheese. Half-standing, I inched my body around my desk and waved urgently across the squadroom. Reina looked confused, and I gave her a negative signal. "What exactly do you mean?" Finally, the young woman nudged Jinny and I gestured her to me. We'd already had a rough morning when she'd unexpectedly returned from her long stint in rehab and demanded her gun and badge back. The woman had a chip on her shoulder the size of the Golden Gate Bridge and I was at a bit of a loss what exactly to do with her. Especially with Magda and Nate out on assignment.

"This Scene is so intricate, and the players so wary, that I have no idea how to integrate someone in, while still keeping on the clock, y'know?" CD's continued concerns brought me back to the situation at hand.

Looking curious, Jinny obeyed my wave to have her sit down and I could return to my own chair. Another silent gesture had her closing the door for privacy. "CD, I've got Exstead here, perhaps she can help." A strange growling noise echoed across my ear, and then the tinny speaker as I touched a button. "You're on speaker phone now, and it's just the two of us on this end."

"Hey, CD," Jinny said softly and smiled almost shyly.

"Hey!" CD enthused. "You're back. Damn, we've missed you!"

"It's mutual. I hear you're wreaking havoc on the nightlife in Chicago."

"Kind of," CD chuckled weakly and I could picture her familiar face scowling sheepishly. "I was hoping you guys could help me scare up someone to watch my back."

"Are you asking me?"

"Not unless you want to pose as a sexually submissive slave."

Jinny looked uncharacteristically taken aback, and I had to snicker. Typical, blunt CD. I'd known the woman since she was a rookie and some things never changed. "Might be a bit out of my league," Jinny said dryly and I fought another snicker. "At least sober. I'd hate to fuck up all my hard work."

It was a braver statement than I would have expected from Exstead and I was proud of her.

"I understand," CD sighed over the little speaker. "Oh well. Maybe the FBI can scare up some closet perv in their ranks..."

"Hang on," Jinny broke in on the melancholy rant. "I think I just figured out a perfect solution. My cousin, Jo, helped this woman out years back who's a dominatrix. They still 'keep in touch' if you know what I mean." CD's low chuckle assured that she did, indeed, know what Jinny meant. "You can't ask for a better police dog to watch your back."

"A cop?"

"Vice detective in the Bronx."

There was respect in CD's voice when she drawled, "that'll do."

Wanting in on the unusually easy banter, I chuckled, "hope no one is bugging my phone."

We all had a good laugh over that one.

++ Jinny Exstead ++

Well, this was going to be one of the more awkward conversations of my life. Especially after my temper tantrum this morning. CD being alone reminded me of my promises to the thin blue line and it was oddly grounding to my raw-scrubbed soul. Once we were done with CD, Captain McCafferty eyed me calmly, that perpetual glint of teasing in her eyes. "So," she asked softly. "Care to fill me in?" How to do that? Ah well, honesty is the best policy and all.

"About ten years ago, I had to go with an inspector to help extradite a murder suspect from New York back to here in California. No big deal, except that every damn cop in the city seemed to know me."

"Know you?"

Both of us settled more comfortably into the office chairs while I traipsed down memory lane. "Not me, it turned out, but someone who looked like me. Only, she doesn't just look like me, we could be identical twins. Seriously, it's eerie."

"So, this is the cousin Jo from New York?"

"Yeah. Our fathers were identical twins, separated when my dad was adopted. It was quite a spirited conversation when I asked about his being adopted. There are so many secrets in my family, it's no surprise that we can't communicate for crap." I was scowling and I could feel McCafferty's patient kindness at the edges of my awareness. Rehab had left me scraped raw and I was beginning to really realize that I would never be the same again. Good thing I had met Jo years ago. Her blunt practicality and off-beat humor were grounding to my wounded soul. Wish mom could have met her...

Shaking off my memories, I again focused on McCafferty. The combination of wise discretion and empathy in her eyes both warmed and irritated me.

"Anyway," I said gruffly, swallowing the pain and threatening tears. "Jo's been bouncing around the different detective squads for years now. There was some case that earned her gold shield years back that had something to do with these leather clubs. I've been teasing her for years about it. If anyone can help CD, Jo can. And, if she impersonates me, even someone investigating CD's real background will think we're a couple. Maybe I can go to New York while this is going on. Hang out with my niece. What do you think?"

"I think you should call Jo," McCafferty said quietly and I had to grin. "Do you want me to leave?"

"No. You can make this call official business."

++ Jo Polniaczek ++

Definitely one of the weirder conversations of my life. Hanging up the phone with Jinny's captain, I quietly began to gather my things. My own captain came out to hand me a file folder, catching my eye and murmuring, "good luck."

There was no question about me taking up Jinny's request to go to Chicago. Even as I burned with embarrassment at the recent conversation. There was a cop in trouble and I could help. What more reason did I need?

Somehow I made it home, pushing through the door and dropping my helmet in its customary spot by the door. "Jamie? Rick?"

"In here, mom," my daughter called out and I locked up before moving deeper into the apartment. She was busy in the kitchen with dinner. "Dad's off helping uncle Gil with that garden of his. He'll probably be late."

Since I was well aware that Rick had been sleeping with Gil nearly as long as the pre-teen had been alive, I merely chuckled and moved to wash up. The only reason that Rick and I had married all those years ago, is because that's what kids our age were supposed to do when they met someone they really liked. Very quickly, our marriage was a joke. Luckily, I really liked Rick and we came to a compromise. Since I was pregnant on our cruise-ship honeymoon, we would stay together, even as we lived half apart. For twelve years, we'd been quite content with the arrangement, and Jamie was growing into a fine young woman.

"You seem kinda distracted," Jamie brought up in that blunt, Bronx tone. She was so damn much like me... "Somethin' up?"

"Yeah, actually. Nothin' bad. Get this stuff to the table and I'll fill you in."

So, here we were, quietly working our way through mashed potatoes and pot roast. "So?" Jamie finally questioned and I sighed.

"Your aunt Jinny called me today. That's why I'm home a little early."

"Cool. Is she finally gonna visit?"

"Yeah, actually."

"Sweet!" The grin of delight slowly faded as she saw my expression. "But?"

"I'm going undercover again."

++ Jamie Bonner ++

There were days I hated mom's job. Every few months she'd have to disappear and I'd be left behind. Again. At least mom looked like this was really bothering her. "There's a woman that Jinny works with who's gotten involved in something that might get really dangerous for her. She needs someone to watch her back." We stared at one another across the table and I could see that this was really wreckin' her up. Mom and I had always had a different kind of relationship than a lot of kids. She treated me like an equal in most everything. Oh sure, she spared me the goriest details about life, but definitely gave me the basics and then some. We were as much pals as mother and daughter. But there was always somebody else that needed her as much as I did.

Maybe more.

"Another cop? Yeah, that's cool. Where? I mean, aunt Jinny's in San Francisco, so why ask for you?"

Mom sighed quietly in relief at my acceptance and went back to eating, giving me the story between bites. "The case is in Chicago, actually. You did a great job with the spices on this roast, honey. Jinny said she would come here while I'm gone. Things have been rough for her in California, and I think being surrounded by family will be a good thing. Promise me you'll take care of her?"

"Sure thing, mom. When?"

"Tonight, actually. She has some info for me on this fellow inspector. So, you can come to the airport with me for the swap out."


It only took a few minutes to get mom packed. The project would have gone faster, but she was monster embarrassed about whatever was in that little leather bag she shoved into the corner of her big backpack. I was in charge of the smaller pack and the laptop that mom would keep with her on the plane. At the airport I sprawled out in the terminal chairs and dozed on mom's shoulder, knowing how much I would miss her.

A voice startled me awake. "Glad to see my visit has inspired so much enthusiasm," Jinny laughed as mom jerked to attention. "Get up, you slugs, and give me a hug."

We did just that, pouncing on the long-haired woman until she laughed and begged for mercy. It was really eerie how much they looked alike. If mom didn't keep her hair shoulder-length, and they weren't dressed different, it would be almost impossible to tell who was who. And if anyone should be able to tell, it was me!

"Thanks for this," Jinny whispered into the hug. "You'll never know what this means to me."

"You got it," mom whispered back, leaning away a little to grin at her cousin. "Got a crush or somethin'?"

"Shut up, Polniaczek," Jinny growled, cheeks flushing, and we all laughed.

To be continued…

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