Act I

The winds continued to howl outside and the cold draft that seeped through under the door caused her to shiver as she tried to keep warm despite the meager blankets covering her. The persistent coughing made her chest ache, the increased wheezing worrying her. Sometimes, she wondered, if it was better when she was left alone in the darkened room, left to the machinations of her dreams and hallucinations, or when her kidnapper reappeared to provide her with food and the occasional beating. When the door swung open, the figure briskly moved toward her, grabbing her arm until she staggered to a standing position.

"Move!"

"Where are you taking me?" Natalia croaked out.

"What does it matter? You won't be around long enough to enjoy it," the voice replied, as she harshly pushed her captor in front of her.

Reaching the top of the lighthouse, Marina shoved her through the hatch causing her balance to be off and she caught her wrist on the steel rail.

"Why are you doing this to me?" Natalia asked as she cradled her wrist against her chest.

"Paybacks are a bitch. Or maybe that's just me," Marina responded, thrusting the other woman forward. "You destroyed my family, so now it's time for you and Olivia to pay." Looking down, she could see the police and fire rescue vehicles approaching. "They're too late," Marina yelled over the winds as she pushed Natalia over the side of the building.

"Noooooo!" Natalia woke with a scream, jolted awake from a free-fall. She was hyperventilating and sweat covered her body. She didn't know if it was better or worse now that she knew Marina had been the one to kidnap and torture her; at least when the nightmares came now she could identify the perpetrator, but it never made them easier to deal with. She thought she'd been doing better in that the nightmares weren't as frequent, and most of them didn't result in her waking from them. As far as she knew, she'd been able to keep them to herself without worrying Olivia about them.

"Natalia?" Olivia inquired and sighed as she put a gentle hand on her partner's arm. "Cariño, another nightmare?"

"Yeah," Natalia replied. She hated waking Olivia up, especially when there was nothing her partner could really do to help, but now that she was, Natalia laid her hand on Olivia's and pulled it around her. Looking over at the clock, she saw that it was still early morning, so there was still lots of time for sleep, if only she could settle long enough without sliding back into the nightmare. She had to do something, talk to someone, to get these nightmares to stop. Sighing, she lay her head back on the pillow and snuggled back against her partner, taking comfort in the familiar loving presence. Some days she felt like she didn't deserve to be loved, and it scared her. But this time, she wasn't running away. She wanted to face it, fight against it. She just didn't know how to fight against the demons that plagued her sleep.

When the morning finally dawned, Natalia had still not slept much, but she had coped enough in her life with less sleep when Rafe was sick; she could get by...with plenty of caffeine. Sliding herself out of the bed without disturbing Olivia, she headed to the bathroom to get ready for the day. When she emerged a short time later, she quickly got dressed and went downstairs to start breakfast; first order of business was to get the coffee pot started. Firing up the laptop that had been left on the kitchen table, she opened up the calendar for herself and Olivia. She got the bowls, plates and cutlery ready then went up to dress Francesca, and then wake up Emma and Olivia.

As she headed into the master bedroom, she smiled noting that Olivia was in much the same position in the bed as her daughter had been - sprawled across the center on her belly, arms splayed outward from her body. However, unlike her morning kiss to Emma on the forehead to get her awake and moving, her wake up call for Olivia, once she was able to get her to roll over, was a solid kiss to the older woman's mouth.

"Mmmmm. Good morning?" Olivia asked, sedation still adding a coarseness to her speech.

"That it is." Natalia smiled and kissed her again. With everything else in her universe still feeling unstable, the comfort and familiarity of being with Olivia gave her some semblance of order.

Taking a deep breath, Olivia smiled. "You started the coffee. I think I love you."

"You think?" Natalia laughed. Somethings never changed. Olivia's need of the dark brew first thing in the morning was one of them. "I might have to go turn it off until you know for sure."

Reaching an arm out, Olivia swatted Natalia on the rear end as she passed her on the way to the bathroom. With a mock glare, she responded, "Don't you dare."

"See you downstairs," Natalia called out as she headed back to the kitchen, by way of checking on Emma again to make sure she was up.

~~~

"What's on the agenda for today?" Olivia asked as she was fully dressed and carrying Francesca on her hip. She placed their youngest in her booster seat and pushed the chair closer to the table before heading to the counter to get her coffee. Looking behind her, she noticed a still drowsy but fully dressed Emma entering the room.

"You have an appointment with Leyla at 10 o'clock about the day care. She'd like to expand it if possible because they're getting a lot of local regulars, in addition to accommodating Beacon guest requirements. At noon there are a few potential vendors coming in to compete for the wine supplier tender we put in the paper last week. I've got a meeting with General Staff this morning at 11. With spring arriving and the upcoming summer season, I want to get employee vacation times sorted, address sick time, and some health and safety stuff that has come up in my absence."

Olivia smiled, impressed with how much her partner was delving back into work, but at the same time she worried about Natalia pushing herself too hard. She tread carefully in asking, "Has Ava sent you the up-to-date paperwork on the Health and Safety Committee? I know she met with them a couple weeks ago."

Natalia took a deep breath as she focused on putting Francesca's cereal in front of her, and getting Emma's breakfast ready. She knew Olivia meant well with her easing back into work, but she was more than capable of taking back all of her responsibilities at the hotel. It was still occasionally a sticking point, though. "Yes. She sent me an email with the issues they addressed." "Mom, can I go play with Clarissa after school today? Mrs. Marler said it would be fine."

"I'll check with Blake, but that should be fine," Olivia mentioned, but realized the other woman probably needed the normality of two preteen girls compared to the craziness of having her husband come back from the supposed dead.

They finished their breakfast and got Emma sorted on the bus to school before getting themselves to the Beacon to start their day.

****

"Nooo!" Beth woke with a scream, her heart racing as she fought her way back from a nightmare of Bradley Raines raping her. She thought she had put all that behind her more than twenty years ago, but their recent case involving a young woman who'd been raped by her husband had brought the memories back in startling clarity. Beth lay back in the bed and cuddled into Phillip, who just wrapped his arms around her. Once she settled comfortably, she remembered doing much the same thing after the rape when she and Phillip had fled Springfield and headed to New York City.

Her husband had always had a huge protective instinct when it came to his family and those he loved. While his actions weren't exactly good, or even legal at times, his intent to protect was strong. She placed a kiss on his chest. She could understand Kathryn wanting to protect her daughter no matter the costs, from her husband, and she could only hope that those costs would not involve a prison term.

Sensing his wife's slowed breathing and settling, he knew that the nightmares had resurfaced. He also knew she sometimes found it hard to talk to him about it. Placing a kiss against her temple, he whispered, "Why don't you call your mother when you wake up in the morning?"

Beth nodded and curled in to him tighter to try and get a couple more hours of sleep as it would probably be another very long day ahead of her.

****

Lillian sat in her kitchen, drinking a cup of tea. She picked up the Springfield Journal to browse through the morning news before she had to go into work for a day shift. Her heart sunk as she read in the top news article that the jury for the Kathryn Howard case would be chosen today. It all seemed so wrong. How could this woman seriously be charged with murder when she was defending herself and her daughter?

She could remember vividly the night the young woman came into the emergency department, clothes looking very worn and nearly hanging off her small frame. She looked so young to see and be part of such horrifying acts of violence. Unfortunately, in her job, she had seen victims of domestic violence on more than one occasion. More times than she would ever be comfortable with. It never made it any easier. She sighed. She knew this case was affecting Beth because Bradley had raped her. While she had initially denied it and lashed out at her daughter, she found she could never really forgive herself for letting him hurt Beth.

With a heavy heart, Lillian put the paper down, no longer interested in reading any further. Then she put away her breakfast dishes and headed back upstairs to get ready for the day. She'd call Beth later.

****

Mornings at Company were always busy with pre-work folks coming in to get their caffeine and breakfast, or those taking a break from work and retirees. Frank had come in to help since one of the usual staff had taken a sick day to care for a family member. The regular breakfast crowd had just settled their bills and were taking off for the day, when Blake Marler arrived with Ross in tow.

"Morning, Frankie," Blake called over to her friend. She headed for a booth and tossed her coat on the bench.

"Morning Blake, Ross," Frank responded, bringing over a pot of coffee. "You folks want anything more?"

"I need it black and coming frequently," Blake replied as Frank poured the coffee into a mug."

"That kind of day?" he asked as he took in Ross's assessment of him. He'd frequently had to work with the other man when he'd been a detective and Ross the DA. How times had changed.

"You have no idea." Blake left the comment as is. She couldn't believe how turned inside out her life was. She noted Frank's acknowledging her need for privacy and his retreat to the counter, though she could see his furtive glances their way on occasion.

"You actually dated him, Blake?" Ross asked, somewhat amused. "A second time?"

"He's a friend. We thought we might make it work, but it wasn't really going anywhere," Blake responded, her unease growing. As much as having Ross back in her life was beyond her wildest dreams, the reality was much different. They were both different from where they had been. He had been the love of her life, and father of her children. But there were things she could tell he was keeping secret from her.

Looking at his wife over the rim of his glasses, he commented with some derision, "So now you're batting for the other team? Doris Wolfe?" He'd fought in court with the woman on many occasions, and didn't really think much of her. "Do you screw her, too? Or does she take the reigns?"

"Do you have to be so crude?" Blake asked, annoyed. "We became friends as we were both friends of Olivia and Natalia. That gradually developed into something more as we got closer. We fell in love with each other." Blake sighed. Right now, she was missing Doris's quiet comfort and support. "What is it you want, Ross?"

"I want my family back, intact," Ross responded, blithely. "The kids are happy I'm back. Why can't you be?"

"Don't lay that responsibility on me." Blake started. "You disappeared for a few years, making me believe that you were dead. Did you really think that I would just welcome you back with open arms just because you're not? You didn't think that life would go on or that I'd rather go through life mourning you forever, without someone to share my life with?" Blake moved to stand up. "Because if you did think that, then you never really knew me." Blake grabbed her purse and coat and turned to leave when she felt a hand on her arm. She turned back and leveled a glare at Ross. "I have to go to work."

Blake was ready to storm out of Company when Doris arrived, travel coffee mug in hand. Nearly bumping into the other woman, Blake stopped suddenly and sighed, clearly needing a comforting hug, but not feeling right about asking for one from the other woman since she had told her she needed space to figure out what she wanted.

Disregarding her own feelings as she saw how upset the other woman was, Doris put her mug on the counter and wrapped her arms around Blake, taking whatever comfort she could, and providing that for the redhead. In her peripheral vision, she spotted Ross looking over at them, and she took the opportunity to hold Blake just a little bit longer, pressing a kiss against her temple as she pulled back.

"Are you okay?" Doris asked gently, as she brushed Blake's cheek with her thumb.

"Not really." Blake paused. Then looking into Doris's eyes, she smiled. "Can we talk later? I've got to get to work."

"Sure. Give me a call or a text when you want to meet. I have to be in court most of today because of jury selection. If I'm not available, just leave me a message."

Pulling Doris back into a hug, Blake whispered, "Thank you," before she headed out the door.

****

The brisk morning air was pleasant as the new Springfield police chief, Michael Thorne took a run around the small lake, stretching out his muscles as he did so. The area was pretty, he noticed, picking up his pace. Certainly a nice place he could raise his daughter out of the crime-ridden area of Chicago he was coming from. As he finished his second round about the lake, he headed back up the road toward Company.

Coming to a stop in front of the restaurant, he took a few good, deep breaths and stretches to lower his heart rate. And, to his amusement, he noticed a few good glances at his physique from passing customers. The day was unseasonably warmer than usual, and he'd taken advantage of that by going with a fit pair of running shorts and a tank top with a light sleeveless hooded sweatshirt over it. With a final stretch, he turned towards the restaurant door and opened it. The small family-run restaurant was well run and clean, and that impressed the chief as he headed to the counter, where he spotted the mayor.

"Good morning, Madame Mayor," Mike smiled and reached out a hand.

"Coming in to charm the natives?" Doris returned the smile as she spotted a few heads turn in his direction as he entered.

"Is it working?" Mike asked, tongue in cheek, as he laughed.

"Perhaps," Doris responded with a smirk at noticing Dinah Marler's prolonged glance. "There are certainly a number of women and probably a couple of men who'd be interested."

Mike Thorne outright laughed at the Mayor's comment. He was certainly secure enough in his own identity to not be put off by the suggestion of men being interested in him. He was certainly aware of attracting the women, but for the time being his focus was on his job and taking care of his daughter. Any hint of a romance were nowhere on his radar. From the looks of things, there were quite a few management issues he was going to have to address first at work, so he needed to head off soon. "I just came in to get a bottle of water...or two."

"You don't keep one with you when you run?" Doris asked amusedly.

Putting his arms out from his side, he quipped with a grin, "Where would I put it?"

Responding to his charm, Doris laughed. "Okay, there is that. Anyway, I just came in for coffee and then I'm back to the office briefly and then to the courts. See you later, Chief Thorne." Holding up her refilled travel mug, she got off her chair and headed out the door.

The kitchen door opened and Buzz Cooper came out with a couple of orders in his hands. He smiled as he saw the new police chief. He thought he might feel a bit of resentment since Frank had been put on administrative leave, but he realized that Frank's concentration hadn't been on his job for some time, and his son needed a break from the police department. And he had to admit the new police chief was a nice guy who was coming to a new town to do a job. He had a family to care of just like many people here did, and deserved a chance to prove himself like anyone else.

Depositing the orders with the customers in the corner booth, he turned back to the Chief as he returned to the bar. "How are you, Chief Thorne? Can I get you anything?"

"Just call me Michael, or Mike. I don't stand on ceremony if I'm not on duty. Can I get a couple bottles of water?"

"Sure thing." Buzz turned to grab the bottles from the fridge unit under the bar. "On the house," he added as he noticed Michael pull out a couple bills from his sweatshirt. He noticed the chief's hesitation. "Really. Good will."

"Thank you," Michael held out a hand. "Anyway, I've got to get going. See you later, Mr. Cooper." He took the three single bills he was going to use to pay for the water and put them into the tip bowl and smiled.

"Buzz," the older man responded, grasping the Chief's hand. "Have a good day."

After the chief left, an irritated Frank returned to the bar from the back of the restaurant. "Did you have to be so nice to him, Pop?"

"What, Frank?" Buzz asked, askance at Frank's apparent attitude.

"He's taken my job at the police department and you're being all chummy with him."

Buzz just shook his head. Some days Frank was like his old self, charming and pleasant to be around. Other days, the slightest thing set him off. "Frank, just let it go. He has a job to do, just like most people in this town."

"I just don't get why you have to be so nice to him." Frank was sulking at the bar, taking a drink of coffee.

"In case you've forgotten, this is a restaurant and we're in the hospitality business. You'd do well to remember that it pays to be nice to the customers. It keeps them coming back."

"Fine. But did you have to give him freebies?"

"Frank, if you're going to be like this, just go take a walk. Come back when you're a little more pleasant to be around." Buzz looked around the restaurant at the few customers that remained that were already served. He could manage for a little while.

"Fine. Later, Pop." Frank grabbed his jacket and left through the rear door.

Buzz let out a sigh and slumped down on one of the stools. He looked up as he saw a figure standing on the other side of the bar.

"You need a hand?" Dinah asked, taking pity on the older man, seeing how much of a jerk Frank had been.

"You?" Buzz asked surprised. "Not that I'm complaining, but hasn't it been a while since you did any waitressing? Besides, don't you have to work for WSPR?"

"Buzz, really?" Dinah looked amused rather than insulted. "Mom's got that all looked after for today."

"All right. But just until Frank gets back and Lynn can come in," Buzz said as he headed back into the kitchen to prepare for the lunchtime rush. The soups and chili had been cooking for much of the morning.

Dinah's voice stopped him. "Buzz. You really need to hire some more staff. Do you want me to keep an ear out for potentials, unofficially?"

"Sure. Something needs to happen." Truthfully, business had been hurting again, despite many of his regulars still coming in, and he had been reluctant to hire any more staff, with Frank taking on more responsibilities at the restaurant. But even that had been sporadic. With Lynn and Blake taking on a few extra shifts, it had helped, but he needed more back ups. Grateful that Dinah was temporarily filling in until Frank returned, he smiled. "Meals on the house today for you."

****

The Beacon day care center, Little Lights, was at full capacity today with many of the usual children, and five children from parents staying at the hotel. It had reached the point where Leyla had had to turn a couple of customers away and direct them to another business, which she was loathe to do because sometimes it was hard to get them back. However, it did lend credence to the expansion plan she had developed for the center. She'd also investigated other space in the hotel on the lower levels, unused boardrooms that could be converted to meet her needs. She'd taught herself some basic design techniques to draw up blueprints as part of her business plan and Jonathan had given her some idea of labor and construction costs. She had even prepared a projected income expenses statement. Overall, she thought her plan was solid.

Nervously, Leyla fidgeted with her coffee mug as her meeting with Olivia was in half an hour. As solid as her plan was, Olivia was very protective of her hotel, and very diligent. So, her plan had to be very comprehensive for Olivia to agree to it. It hadn't helped matters that Ava since hearing about the venture, had been attempting to sabotage her confidence. Some days she and Ava had been on good terms, almost like sisters, but other days were just maddening. Realistically though, Ava didn't have any strong objections where Leyla couldn't argue her point. When the other woman had blasted her the previous week for contacting Jonathan about contracting costs, it had been just one more annoyance.

Stuck in her own thoughts, Leyla hadn't realized that Sarah had come up to her and tugged on her sleeve. Distracted as she was, she spilt her coffee on some of her presentation paperwork. Inwardly cursing that she'd have to go print it off again, she turned to the young girl. "Hey, Sarah, what can I do for you?"

"Can you help me with my puzzle?" Sarah asked, holding up her puzzle block with missing pieces.

"Okay. Can you just give me a minute? I have to go print something off, then I'll be right back." When Sarah nodded, Leyla directed the girl back to the table where she had been playing. Turning her attention back to her laptop, she pulled up the file she needed and requested a couple copies, one in the main office and another to Natalia's printer. She'd pick them up on the way to her meeting with Olivia. Moving over to Sarah, she figured she'd help the girl to take her mind of her own nervousness. Two puzzles done, she looked up to find Ava standing in the door way with one of the copies of the paperwork she had printed off.

"Needing these?" Ava handed them over to Leyla, watching as the other woman raised her eyebrows at the red marks and notations in the margins. "I made a few adjustments."

Leyla counted to ten so she wouldn't say something she'd regret. "Gee, thanks. Oh, by the way, Katie just went out for half an hour up to the office supply store. While I'm meeting with Olivia, you're in charge of Little Lights. Try not to screw it up and lose someone." Leyla smiled at Ava before heading towards the elevator banks.

While she waited for Olivia to see her, she took a glance at the notations Ava made and quirked her head. She hated to admit it, but Ava had made a couple valid suggestions that would save some funding. When Olivia opened the door, Leyla took a deep breath and entered the older woman's office.

****

Smiling, Leyla returned to Little Lights, pleased with how well her presentation went with Olivia. The older woman had been receptive to the ideas she proposed.

"Did you bring up my suggestions?" Ava asked curiously.

"Yes, I did. And I credited them to you." Leyla headed over to her coffee maker in the corner of her office area. Gesturing to the unit, she asked Ava if she wanted some coffee but then put the carafe back, wincing at the burned smell of the coffee. "On second thought, you might want to hold off on the coffee. You made some valid points regarding the funding sources."

"I picked up a lot of things working with Mom the past few years."

"Really?" Leyla said, with an amused deadpan response. "That might be interesting."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ava asked, not sure how to take the comment.

"It's nothing," Leyla said. "All I meant was that you had some good ideas with regarding the business plan. Just curious to know what else you picked up from your mother."

"Her sarcastic wit and her ability to detect bullshit a mile away," Ava quipped.

"Not bad. Must come in handy in this line of work."

"You have no idea the kinds of crap some of the guests try to pull to save a few dollars. They sometimes forget we have imprints of their credit cards; we get them in the end." Ava smiled.

"You're a devious woman, Ava Peralta."

"Why thank you." Ava picked up her purse and turned to leave. "Call me later and we'll go for coffee. I've got a few more ideas for you."

"Thanks," Leyla responded a little surprised. She was never quite sure how to take Ava sometimes; one moment she was friendly with her and at other times antagonistic. But if she was willing to put in some ideas for the day care center that would help, Leyla wasn't going to toss that resource away. Shaking her head in bemusement as Ava headed out of the center, Leyla went back to the paperwork in front of her on the desk, and her charges in the care of one of her employees.

****

Getting in her car, Ava had planned to make a run over to Towers to meet with a potential vendor when she flicked on the local news on the radio.

"In other news, District Attorney Jeffrey O'Neill is confident when the jury is selected today that he will be able to proceed in obtaining a conviction in the wrongful death of Michael Howard, stating the physical evidence is strong enough to have charged his wife, Kathryn, of second degree murder."

Ava flicked the switch on the stereo, looking for anything other than a local radio station. The less she had to hear of her father's involvement in that case, the better. Given his own history, she figured he'd want to stay well away from cases that involved rape, lest that history become public knowledge, but she wouldn't wish that on her mother. It was hard enough on Olivia when she had had to divulge that information to a select few a couple of years ago when Edmund had been threatening the family. Even Reva kept quiet on that information.

Distracted and frustrated, she hadn't realized she had been speeding until a police cruiser pulled came up alongside her to get her to pull over. Great, just what I needed right now. Sighing, Ava pulled along the curb and retrieved her license and registration; no need to make this longer than it had to be.

****

On her way over to Towers to meet with Margie, Anna sighed, wondering what kind of evening this was going to be. The profiles on Greg's Rainbow Connections dating service were fairly detailed, and the woman seemed pretty intelligent, teaching economics and business administration at the local community college. Another teacher. She regretted dumping Callie, a woman she had grown to really like, but she didn't want to be responsible for the other woman being hurt by Hung Li. She loved Callie's quiet humor, her laugh and her gentle nature. Shaking her head, Anna realized that going into a relatively blind date with another woman while thinking of her most recent girlfriend was probably not the best idea.

Pulling into the parking lot, she got out and smoothed down her deep blue shirt, making sure everything was tucked in where it should be. With a here-goes-nothing attitude, Anna entered the restaurant and spotted her date sitting at the bar.

Extending her hand, she introduced herself, "Hi, Margie, I'm Anna Li."

The other woman smiled at her and took her hand. "Why don't we go get our seats and we can talk for a bit."

"Sounds good," Anna said and caught the glance of a waiter, who guided them to a table.

"Can I get you ladies something to drink first?" the young man asked them.

"I'd like a glass of the Australian Shiraz, please?" Anna asked, thinking if she was going to have alcohol, it better be a good red wine. The least it would do would take care of the nerves and slight unease she seemed to be having.

"I'll have another gin and tonic," Margie responded to the waiter with a smile.

"The chef's special tonight is the mushroom stuffed veal loin, which comes with steamed vegetables and butternut squash, and the soup is a minestrone. I'll be right back with your drinks, ladies, and to take your food orders."

"Mmm. That sounds good," Anna said, suddenly realizing she hadn't eaten much that day, aside from a regular ingestion of coffee and a sandwich from the vending machine at the office. The appetizing aromas of food made her stomach grumble loudly and she looked down then back at her date with an enigmatic grin.

They chatted about various goings on about Springfield, movies and television shows and preferred music as their drinks had been served and they ordered their meals and Anna was actually pleasantly surprised that she was having a good time. They'd been conversing about Margie's work at the community college when the other woman asked about her job.

"I'm a detective with the Springfield Police Department," Anna replied, though that information had been in her profile.

"That sounds interesting, especially in this town," Margie responded, with a wry grin. For a relatively medium sized town, Springfield did seem to have its share of criminal activity.

"Definitely. Keeps us busy at any rate." Anna took a sip of her wine and shook her head. She'd only been in Springfield a couple of years, but it seemed much longer. When she looked back at her date she paused, unsure of the near leering smile on the other woman's face as she looked her over.

Leaning forward, Margie questioned with an amused grin, "So, have you had to handcuff anyone lately, in a less than professional manner?"

Anna almost dropped her glass of wine on the table as the shock registered inwardly, though her professional mask kept it from showing on her face. Making sure that she hadn't spilled the wine, Anna rested the glass back on the table. A long ingrained sense of manners kept her calm as she replied, "Excuse me?"

"Don't pretend you haven't thought handcuffing a woman hasn't turned you on, just a little," Margie continued, not realizing that she'd pushed her limits too far. "Or a lot."

Taking a deep breath, and placing her napkin back up on the table, Anna stood up and politely smiled at the other woman. "This date is over. Have a good night." She turned and headed in the direction of their waiter and caught his attention. A few short words later wherein she paid for her meal to take with her, and she stood at the bar waiting for the take-away container. She sighed, wondering what the hell had happened. The date had actually been going fairly well, and then from out of nowhere the inappropriate comments on handcuffs; it seemed like such a B-movie cliché.

Taking her phone out of her jacket pocket, she turned it back on and noticed a few messages. A few were about work but they could be answered later. And one from Doris: How's the date? Anna smirked. When the waiter returned with her food order, she asked him for a bottle of the Shiraz she'd ordered earlier and a second order of the special. She didn't mind waiting for the extra meal to share with a friend. Smiling, Anna looked back to her phone and quickly typed in: Tell you in a few minutes. Bringing wine & food. Home or office?

It didn't take long for Doris's response: 20 minutes. My place. Dish, and not just the food.

Anna laughed. She'd been happy that she and Doris had managed to stay friends, especially as they shared some friends and occasionally had to work together. Though it had been rather awkward at first, they'd managed to forge a good friendship out of the deal. Looking back at the table she'd come from, she noticed the other woman had left the restaurant. Inwardly she realized she was probably not the dating service type of client; she much preferred to meet women face to face through friends or networking of the old fashioned way.

Done. See you soon.

****

More than ready to let off some steam, Doris had been glad when Anna had texted with the offer of food and wine. She loved Blake but with Ross back, she'd said she'd give the woman some space to figure out what she wanted. It hurt like a son of a bitch; she'd been down this road before and had been heartbroken. It had been fine…well, no, it hadn't…this morning when she'd seen Blake and Ross at Company, but when she'd seen that Blake was upset, her first instinct had been to give her a comforting hug, Ross be damned.

Following that had been the jury selection for the Kathryn Howard trial. She and Mel had had to deal with Jeffrey's grandstanding with regard to more than half of their approvals. Damn bastard was trying to drag this out at least until tomorrow afternoon. They'd successfully won most of the challenges, but there were still a few more jurors to choose.

Doris was at the door when the bell rang, welcoming Anna in. Giving the other woman a kiss to her cheek, she directed Anna into the kitchen.

"Are you okay?" Anna asked, seeing the worn out look on her friend's face.

"It's just been a shit kind of day." Heading over to the cup board, Doris pulled down a couple wine glasses and some plates. "Grab some knives and forks. I'll heat this up and take it into the living room."

"Got it." Retrieving the items in question and a corkscrew, Anna turned and opened the bottle of wine while they waited for the food to heat. "Anything you can talk about?"

"I saw Blake and Ross this morning at Company," Doris said, sighing as she put the food in the microwave to heat up.

"Ouch. Sorry."

"No, it wasn't as bad as that. He must have said something to piss her off, as she was about ready to tear out of there and ran right into me. God, I just didn't want to let go once I hugged her. What am I doing, Anna?" Doris picked up her wine glass and took a long swallow of the red wine, not bothering to let the beverage breathe as she normally would.

"Trying to protect your heart; I get that. But it hurts when you love someone that much." Anna placed a hand on Doris's arm. "You'll just have to trust whatever happens, you have friends around you to help you. You aren't alone."

"Thanks." Doris smiled though she still had a hard time believing it at that moment.

"Besides," Anna added. "It certainly has to be better than my night. Blind date set up through Greg's dating service."

"Oh, no." Doris tried not to smirk. "You signed up for that?"

"I figured, what the hell. I'm not looking for anything long term at this point, especially with my father in the wind. Edmund is dead, but I don't trust my father not to screw up my life and that of my friends, so…"

"So that was the reason for the break up with Callie?" Doris inquired, curious as she hadn't seen them around together lately.

"Yeah. Damn, it hurt doing that to her. I really liked Callie."

"So, back to this date disaster - start talking," Doris quipped, ready for anything other than thinking about Blake, Ross, or the upcoming trial. She grabbed the heated food and brought it into the living room, laying it on the coffee table.

Anna smiled following her. "That is going to take a fair bit more wine."

"Oh, I have plenty if we run out of this." Doris started digging into her food, not realizing how hungry she had been. "Start talking, Li."

"Well, it started off pretty decently; she was pretty easy to talk to. And then the inevitable questions came up about what we did for work. Get this, she's another teacher. Anyway, once she found out I was a cop, she got this lascivious smirk on her face that creeped me out." Anna gave an involuntary shiver at the memory of the evening. "She actually asked if I enjoyed handcuffing other women."

"Yikes." Doris smiled, then curiously asked, "So, what did you say?"

"Date's over. Then I texted you and here I am."

"Well, kick back and relax. Time spent with friends." Doris picked up the remote for the stereo and put it on shuffle. As the evening grew late, the food dispersed and plates put away, she and Anna had finished the bottle of wine. The conversation was comfortable and not under any pressure or anticipation and Doris realized that she was perhaps more at ease and comfortable with Anna than she should have any right to be.