Authors: Melissa Good
Tags: #Lesbian, #Romance
Still clasping hands, they walked out of the meeting room and through the church, respecting the peaceful silence until they pushed through the large outer door and went from the slightly close air into a cool fall night and a gusty breeze tinged heavily with salt. “Wow.” Kerry regarded Dar’s profile outlined in stars.
“That was a surprise.”
Dar nodded. “I know. I had a tough day and ended up getting through it by planning the night with you. C’mon. Let’s go count stars.”
Kerry smiled and turned her face to the wind as they walked to a nearby small, seaside restaurant, its table candles fluttering in the breeze. Her hand felt warm in Dar’s and the concrete sidewalk seemed to turn into a cloud.
“ANGIE?” CYNTHIA STUART looked up as she heard footsteps in the hall. “We’re ready to sit down for dinner. Is Richard back?”
“Not yet.” Angela entered the solarium, took a seat, and straightened her skirt as she tucked her feet under the chair. “He said his meeting might run late. I just put Andrew to bed.” She fiddled with her hair—a dark brown, very unlike her older sister Kerry’s. She was also taller than her sibling, with a thin build that made her seem almost gaunt.
“Well, all right. It can wait a few minutes,” Cynthia replied.
“Your father’s still in conference, at any rate. But I think they are wrapping up shortly. He rang the bell about five minutes ago.”
Angie nodded and they were silent for a few moments.
“Have you spoken to your sister recently?” Cynthia asked.
Angie shook her head. “No. I tried calling there a few times, but I didn’t get an answer. I guess they’re busy.” She looked at her mother. “You know.”
“Mm.” Cynthia nodded once. “They do seem active.” She sighed. “I do wish—”
“Mother, don’t start,” Angie said. “Kerry’s happy, isn’t that enough? Just leave her alone.”
The study door opened and Roger Stuart emerged. Spotting them on his way to the dining room, he changed direction and entered the solarium. “What’s going on here? Are we not sitting down to dinner tonight? I expected to have soup on the table already.”
“We were waiting for you, Roger,” Cynthia responded mildly. “And Richard isn’t back yet. But we can go sit down now.
I’m sure he’ll join us shortly.” She got up and motioned for Angie to join her. “Was your meeting successful?”
“Tsh.” Roger shook his head. “Jackasses, all of them.” He stood back to let Cynthia and Angie precede him into the dining room. As they walked across the corridor the youngest Stuart sib-14
ling, brother Michael, joined them. “Ah. Come to mooch dinner again? They out of Happy Meals down the street?”
Michael colored, but didn’t answer. They all filed into the dining room and took seats. The dining room staff came in silently and placed platters of an orange, creamy looking soup on the table.
“What’s this?” Roger asked, poking the soup with a spoon.
“Is it that damn tomato I told you never to give me again?”
“No, sir,” the head server replied respectfully. “It’s cream of carrot.”
“Mmph.” Roger tasted it, then made a face. “Barely edible.
Does anyone in this house like carrots?”
“Kerry does,” Michael remarked, and sipped a spoonful of the soup. “I bet she’d like this.” He jerked slightly as Angie kicked him under the table.
Angie sighed. “She probably would, if it were being served anywhere but here.”
Her mother frowned. “Angela.”
Roger looked up and gave his children a dour stare. “I’m sure she would. But it’ll be a cold day in Hell before you ever find out, hmm? So keep your mouths shut until you have something intelligent to say.” He gave each of them a pointed look. “Should be a quiet meal.”
There was a long moment of tense silence, then Cynthia sighed again. “Well, so, how was your day, Michael? Did you meet any new clients?”
Roger laughed again, this time with a disgusted edge to the sound. Then he looked up abruptly. “Damned ironic that the one person in this family who could handle an intelligent discussion won’t ever be here for it.”
Silence settled in against the soft clanking of spoons.
DAR ENTERED HER office, tossed the report folder down on her desk, and watched it slide across the polished surface as she walked around behind it. She neatly caught the packet as it slid off the desk, and threw it into her outbox with a little noise of disgust.
Mondays. I hate them.
Dar took a seat, nudged her trackball, and watched the screen come up. It was full of dark messages, some with red exclamation points. She rubbed her eyes and started to read them, cursing under her breath. “No.” She clicked delete. “No.” She clicked delete again. “Kiss my ass.” She selected three and deleted them. “Son of a bitch, what is wrong with these
Thicker Than Water
people today?” Her phone rang and she hit the button. “Yes?”
“Dar, I have Mr. Alastair on
,” Maria replied.
“Okay, thanks.” Dar punched the line open. “Hi.”
“Morning, Dar.” Alastair sounded relatively relaxed. “Anything new going on there?”
Dar stared at the phone. “Were you expecting there to be?”
“Nah,” Alastair answered. “Just felt like touching base with you. How’s the shoulder?”
“Fine, Uncle Al. How’s your bursitis?” Dar replied, half amused and half aggravated. “You hear from Gerry?”
“Nope, not a word,” Alastair answered. “But I figure that as far as that goes, no news is one less thing I have to have chewing my shorts up, if you know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean,” Dar said. “To answer your original question, it’s quiet here for a change. Just a lot of annoying crap in my mailbox I’m trying to catch up on.”
“Good to hear,” Alastair said. “Kerry doing okay? I got the feeling she was a little shook up with all that activity, eh? She settle down?”
Dar frowned at the phone. “Alastair?”
“What the hell’s going on?”
Alastair sighed. “I’m trying to work on my subtlety, Dar.
You’re not helping.”
Blue eyes blinked a few times. “And it’s supposed to work on
“Not really, no,” he said. “Fact is, I got wind that a relative of hers could be behind all this mish-mosh of questioning our contracts with the military.” His tone was serious. “So, I was wondering if she’d been in conflict with him again, maybe stirred him up.”
Dar snorted. “If that’s all it takes to stir him up, he’s not worth the six dollars per square yard of linen my tax dollars pay to clothe him.”
“No,” she went on. “Kerry hasn’t spoken to her folks for a while. Nothing’s going on. He’s probably just being an asshole because he is one…and because of me.”
Dar drummed her fingers on the desk. “This just start?”
“Nah,” Alastair answered. “Apparently he instigated it right after we first signed the deal. It’s just now bubbling to the top.”
Not because of what I gave him, then.
“Well, I can’t help it. I can’t change what’s pissing him off. You think it’s real trouble?”
Alastair sighed again. “I think it might be. I know you can’t 16
fix it, Dar; I was just curious. I’ll take care of it on my end. Don’t fret over it.”
Dar suspected they both knew that bit of advice wasn’t going anywhere. “You think he’s coming after us? God damn it, Alastair, I saved the bastard’s life. What more does he want from me?”
“I know.” Alastair’s voice modified to a gentler tone. “Dar, it’s not you, it’s him. Let me handle it. I just wanted to know if there was anything going on with him and Kerry before I start hitting below the belt. Understand—I don’t give a damn if he’s her father. If he scotches this contract, we’re in big trouble, lady. I can’t make those dollars up at this late date in the fiscal year.”
Dar chewed on the inside of her lip. The contract had been a huge plus for them when they’d announced it. “Do you know what it would mean if we had to go back on that now?”
“Lady, do I ever,” Alastair remarked dryly. “Talk at you later, huh? Have a good day, Dar.”
“Yeah.” Dar hung up the phone and grimaced. “
you say that.”
HER PHONE WAS ringing as she entered and she contem-plated letting it go to voice mail, then sighed and answered it.
“Operations, Kerry Stuart.”
“Hey, Kerry, this is Ilene, from the church?” The voice hesitantly added, “I do the youth group counseling with you?”
“Oh, sure.” Kerry’s mental train jerked onto a new set of tracks. “Sorry. What’s up?”
“Have you heard from Lena, the kid in the group? You know the one I mean?” Ilene asked. “She was supposed to meet me for lunch yesterday, and she never showed.”
Kerry started shutting down her computer. “Well, maybe something came up; you know how it is. She didn’t call or anything?”
“No. And yeah, I know stuff happens, but two of her friends were here just now looking for her. They said she hasn’t been around for a couple of days, and they’re a little worried. I thought maybe she might have contacted you.”
“Me?” Kerry’s brow creased. “No. I don’t think I gave my number out to the group and I’m not listed in the phone book. If she does contact me somehow, though, I’ll definitely get in touch with you. Do they think something happened to her or—”
“No one’s sure. It’s just weird for her not to be around for that long. She didn’t say she was going anywhere.” Ilene sighed.
“Well, it was a long shot, but Casey said Lena really likes you, so I
Thicker Than Water
thought maybe you’d given her your number or something.
Thanks anyway, Kerry.”
“No problem,” Kerry replied. “I’ll keep an eye out for her, okay?”
“Much appreciated. Talk to you later.”
The unexpected call left Kerry a bit unsettled. She finished closing down her system, then checked her caller ID and copied Ilene’s number into her Palm Pilot. She’d met the other counselor a few times at church functions and rather liked her, but they hadn’t spent much time talking to each other since then.
Pity, really, since Ilene shared her general background and upbringing. She'd been born in Detroit into a family of old car money whose reaction to her coming out had been, if not as spec-tacular as that of Kerry’s parents, at least as vicious. They’d taken just about everything she owned and had thrown her out of the house, forcing her to move somewhere, anywhere, and support herself.
Just like Kerry, Ilene had made the transition, but for Ilene it had been much harder since the only job she’d had prior to moving was as a movie usher. She’d mixed in with a tough crowd there in Miami and gotten into a little trouble, but had ended up taking vocational courses and scraping together a career as a mechanic.
It puts things into perspective, sometimes, when you look at other
people and realize how lucky you are.
Kerry leaned back and wished her Advil faster sailing as it headed towards her pounding headache. It was making her slightly sick to her stomach, and she hoped that the nausea faded before she had to make a dash for the restroom.
Meetings didn’t usually bring one of those suckers on, but she’d been a little tense when she’d woken up late, and rushing to get to work never helped. Dar had shrugged off the timing problem, but Kerry was very aware of the eyes and ears monitoring her, and the last thing she wanted was people commenting that she took advantage of her relationship with Dar to wander in whenever she felt like it.
Dar told her not to give a crap if they gossiped, but that didn’t really help her insides any. Of course, she also didn’t have the cojones to handle the comments like Dar did. When her lover was confronted with a caustic comment on her late entry, she merely replied with a smirk and the words, “Don’t you wish you had the reason I do?”
It was flattering, in a way, but Kerry knew she turned brick red every time she heard it. “Ah well.” She flexed her shoulders, her fingers working a knot at the base of her skull. Maybe the rest 18
of the day would be peaceful, and she could get her mailbox cleaned out after she’d ignored it all weekend.
A soft knock sounded on her inner door, and she swiveled to see it open and reveal Dar’s dark head poking through. “Hey.”
Dar entered, walked over to her, and leaned on the back of her chair. “Can I kill Eleanor?”
“What now, honey?” Kerry folded her hands over her stomach and gave Dar a loving benign look. “Did she promise a prospective client you’d take them to dinner again? You know it’s just because of your reputation.”
“She promised a prospective client I’d give him free bandwidth if he signed a multiyear contract,” Dar replied with a dour look.
“Oh. What a bitch.” Kerry sat up and reached for her keyboard. “Let me go tell her what she can do with her promise of free—”
Dar covered Kerry’s hands with her own. “I told her. But I know she’s going to come to you with a sob story to get you to try to change my mind.”
Dar gave her a kiss on the top of the head. “She’ll learn, one of these days.” She stepped away as Kerry sat back and swiveled around to face her. “Meeting go all right?”
“Eh.” Kerry exhaled. “It gave me a headache. I’m waiting on the Advil.”
Dar sat down on the desk, and brushed Kerry’s hair back and then stroked her cheek.
It brought a smile to Kerry’s face and banished some of the tension. “Quiet by you? Maybe we can get out of here a couple minutes early. If they’re going to talk anyway, I might as well just take advantage of it.”
“Sure.” Dar saw Kerry’s line light up. “I’ll let you get back to work.”
Kerry circled Dar’s leg with one arm as she answered the phone. “Operations, Stuart.”
“Ms. Stuart, this is Ramon in the ops center,” a tense voice responded. “I think something’s going on.”
Kerry felt Dar lean forward to listen. “Something? Like what?”
“There’s a huge file transfer going on from the banking T1’s, nothing like I’ve ever seen before. Can you take a look? I was trying to get hold of Ms. Roberts, but she’s not in her office.”