DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, Fox does. I'm only
taking them out for a test drive.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story contains some adult situations, so be forewarned.
SPOILERS: Strap-on, Ryde or Die
After the Fall
And if you want to hurt me
There's nothing left to fear.
- Annie Lennox
"That was delicious."
Sara smiled at Billie as she lifted a glass of water to her lips. "I'm glad you liked it." She studied the brunette over the rim of her glass, watching as she slumped back into her chair and closed her eyes. She looked completely and thoroughly worn out. Sara set her glass down and said, "Why don't you hop in the shower? You look like you could use it."
Billie smirked. "Thanks."
"You know what I mean," Sara scolded her. "You've been so busy I've hardly seen you." She paused for a moment and then burst into laughter. "Jesus, listen to me. I sound like an old married housewife."
The sound of Sara's laughter brought a smile to Billie's face. "Well, you certainly don't look like one." She gazed appreciatively at her dinner companion. Sitting there dressed in a plain white t-shirt and a pair of cut-off jean shorts, Sara looked every bit the California girl she was. Add to that her lack of makeup, freshly scrubbed face and gleaming blonde hair and, despite the bandage she sported on her forehead, Billie thought she looked damn near perfect.
As she got up and began to clear the table, Sara noticed Billie staring at her. "Something on your mind?"
"I like the way you look in my shorts."
"I like being in your shorts," she responded, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively before heading into the kitchen.
Since Sara had done most of the cooking, Billie decided the least she could do was help with the cleanup and got up from her seat, reaching for the serving plate that held the remains of the grilled salmon the two women had nearly demolished. As she headed into the kitchen, her eyes fell on a folder sitting on the desk in the hallway. She placed the dish on the server and walked over to it, lifting it up and flipping through its contents.
"How many times are you going to do that?"
Billie glanced up to see Sara's face poking around the corner. "Umm."
The blonde walked up to her and extended her hand. "Give it to me."
She snatched the packet of documents from Billie's hand and pointed toward the staircase. "Go.Shower.Now." With an exasperated sigh, the brunette reluctantly headed upstairs.
Sara's eyes followed Billie until she was out of sight, and then looked down at the item in her hand. After another quick glance to make sure her lover wasn't going to return, she opened the folder and began perusing its contents.
Judging from the layout, she guessed that Billie had compiled the dossier on Felicia Ralston through a number of different sources. There were immigration papers, medical documents, work history. everything there was to know about the woman. And given Sara's somewhat curious nature, she couldn't resist reading through it.
Born on November 10, 1962 in Rotsund, Norway, Felicia was the only child of Rolfe and Anna Karlsen. Her given name was Ilsa, although she changed it legally as an adult. Her father died in a boating accident when she was six years old. It was shortly after that when both she and her mother immigrated to the United States.
After living with relatives in Minnesota for almost a year, Anna moved them to Phoenix, Arizona, where she worked as a waitress while attending school. After receiving her degree in nursing, she and her daughter finally made the move to Culver City, California, where they lived until Ilsa was fourteen years old.
Her mother died in an auto accident, the result of an apparent heart attack while driving Ilsa to school one morning. The young girl escaped serious injury, but with the death of her only surviving parent, she became a ward of the state. Due to the fact that none of her relatives would take responsibility for her, she was passed through a series of foster homes.
Deemed somewhat of a `problem child', Ilsa moved from place to place, scarcely settling in anywhere before she quickly wore out her welcome. It was during one of these transitional phases, where she was due to be sent back to a juvenile facility, that she walked away from state custody, effectively disappearing from sight, until she re- emerged as Felicia Carlson in early 1985.
Most of the information after that point related to her rapid ascent of L.A.'s considerably wealthy social ladder, culminating in her marriage to Harry Ralston, a former Wall Street Investment Broker from Manhattan. The two met sometime in 1989, shortly after he had transplanted from New York to Bel Air, California.
During that time, Felicia had managed to make a name for herself with the opening of a small art gallery in Los Angeles, showcasing some of the best up and coming artists on the west coast. Her extraordinary business acumen soon began fueling her growing reputation as being one of the most important names in the local art community.
After she and Harry married in 1993, she opened four additional locations in California, and before long, took her name and Midas touch to New York. Her galleries in upper Manhattan now contain some of the most sought-after artists' works in the country.
Unfortunately, it seemed as though tragedy followed Felicia almost as much as Ilsa. In 1999, Harry Ralston was gunned down during a botched robbery attempt in a pharmacy near his home in Bel Air. The shooter was never caught.
Sara quickly flipped through the remaining pages before dropping the file back onto the desk. Well, Billie had certainly done her homework. It seemed like everything there was to know about Felicia was in there, right down to a list of men and women she'd been seen around town with, Jill Kistler among them.
She stared at the folder for a moment as it suddenly occurred to her that Billie probably had one of those done on her. All of Sara's experiences catalogued and archived, maybe even a few secrets, things she thought no one else knew. She didn't like to think that Billie knew everything about her, when she in turn, knew so little about Billie. Over the week, she'd been given brief glimpses here and there, but mostly, the brunette was still a complete mystery to her. And she had to admit, that was definitely part of the attraction.
But, what was it that attracted Billie to Sara? Looking beyond the physical chemistry, as phenomenal as it was, there had to be something else that drew the young woman to her. The lieutenant had put an awful lot on the line just so they could be together. She was not only risking her career. By keeping Sara's whereabouts hidden, she was risking her freedom, as well. And in light of recent events, maybe even her life.
There were some fundamental differences between them, the most obvious one being their choices in careers. It was probably oversimplifying things to say that opposites attract when, in fact, the truth might be a bit more complex.
Billie lived in a world where rules were a necessary part of her life. They kept her on the right path. They kept her sane. They kept her alive. And even though she broke them from time to time, in the end, they were the one constant thing in her life, the one thing she could always count on.
But those rules did not apply to Sara. In her mind, rules were usually something to be ignored, until they snuck up and bit you on the ass. When she wanted something, she took it. And when someone wronged her, she got even. Consequences be damned. It wasn't exactly a philosophy, rather more like a lifestyle choice.
The two women existed on different sides of the fence for most of their lives. Only the rarest of occasions found them treading on each other's territory, usually with dire results.
Sara had tried to do the right thing when she agreed to testify against Jill, but realized she couldn't go through it. So instead, she wound up assaulting a police officer and fleeing protective custody. And Billie became a drug addict. The ultimate act of rebellion against the laws she swore to uphold. And it had almost cost her everything. But, she overcame it, and it only strengthened her resolve to give the job everything she had to offer.
In pondering those two situations, Sara realized that perhaps what they both had in common was one simple truth: You could blur the lines, even flirt with the edge. But, you could never really cross over without losing sight of who you really are.
Perhaps she and Billie were merely opposite sides of the same coin. You couldn't have one without the other. You couldn't recognize the good, if you didn't know the bad. And both of them had proved that they could easily find themselves walking in the other's shoes.
So, when you got right down to it, how were they really all that different?
Sara was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of Billie coming down the stairs. She stared at the doorway, expecting to see the young woman walk through it at any second. After a brief moment, the blonde rolled her eyes and headed out to the hall.
Billie was seated at the desk, folder in hand, with a look of fierce concentration on her face. Her hair hung in damp strands, lying limp against her back and shoulders. She was dressed about as casual as Sara had ever seen her, underwear and nudity not withstanding. But, even clad in a plain black tank top and track pants, she could still manage to make Sara's pulse race.
"Feel better?" she asked from the kitchen doorway.
"Mmm," Billie responded without looking at her.
The blonde frowned at her. "Find something?"
The brunette picked her head up and turned to look at Sara. "What?"
"See if you can string a few words together for me, okay?"
Billie cocked an eyebrow. "I'm trying to focus here, how's that?" She realized her tone was a bit sharper than she'd intended and let out a heavy sigh. "Sorry. I'm just a little tired." That was certainly an understatement.
"I know." Sara walked over and stood behind her, gathering up her wet hair and gently sliding it through her fingers. "You'll figure it out." She glanced down as Billie leaned her head over the back of the chair to look at her. "In the meantime, I have an idea." Sara was already well acquainted with the meaning behind that smile, even if it was upside down. "And get your mind out of the gutter, Chambers." She leaned down and kissed Billie on the tip of her nose before disappearing into the other room.
Billie sat there for a moment, staring at the ceiling, her mind awhirl with facts and images. She hadn't yet told Sara about what happened between her and Felicia during their last encounter, mainly because she didn't really know how to explain it. Until very recently, the woman had never treated her with anything but contempt. But, the bizarre episode in her office only served to add to Billie's mounting confusion as to what her true intentions were.
It could have been a diversionary tactic, something intended to throw Billie off her pins. It had certainly worked since now she had no clue where Felicia was coming from anymore. On the one hand, she appeared to be fiercely protective of Jill, leaving the lieutenant to assume that there was a strong romantic connection there. But, on the other hand was this spontaneous attempt at seducing her. And she was fairly positive it had been the real deal. Felicia seemed pretty pissed off at being rebuked, which told Billie that it had not been a calculated move. The more she thought about it, the more it seemed possible that perhaps the wealthy widow just got off on the whole adversarial relationship the two women now shared.
She shook her head, vigorously, as she closed the folder and tossed it on the desk. It was fair to say that she wasn't going to find her answers if she keeled over from exhaustion. She stretched her arms, languidly, and got to her feet.
Sara reappeared in the doorway, clutching a half-full bottle of wine in one hand, and two empty glasses in the other. A blanket was draped over her left shoulder. "Follow me."
"Anywhere," Billie responded as she gave the blonde a winning smile.
The two women set out along the beach, ambling slowly at the shore's edge. Billie had rolled up the legs of her pants, and was lazily kicking at the water as it rolled over the tops of her bare feet.
The sun was beginning to set and the area was all but deserted. The piece of shoreline they were on was private and that kept most people away, except for the more adventurous kids who could manage to climb down the steep bluffs with their boards to take advantage of the pristine surf. But, now that the tide was heading out, it appeared as though they were the only ones around.
They hadn't wandered very far from the house before Sara stopped and said, "How about here?"
The brunette glanced over at the blonde as she set the wine and glasses down in the sand. She opened up the blanket and laid it out on the ground, dropping down on to one side of it as she reached over and grabbed the bottle. After she poured them each a glass, she held one out to Billie, who was still standing ankle deep in the water a few feet away.
Billie couldn't help but stare as the sun's waning rays shined on Sara's beautiful face. The soft orange glow caught the clear liquid she held before her, and as she slowly swirled it with her hand, glints of light danced within the glass, reflecting in her blue eyes like tiny sparks of fire.
The brunette stood, unmoving, feeling her heart swelling within her chest. The ache was almost painful, making her realize how long it had been since she'd felt anything so strong, so intense.and so good. Her feet were moving before she even realized it, a hand lifting up as she took the glass from Sara's fingers. "Thanks."
"Sit," Sara ordered as she patted the empty space next to her. Billie did as instructed, taking a seat next to the blonde and holding her glass up in a toast. "What should we drink to?" the blonde asked as she held her own glass aloft and gave her companion a curious look.
Billie held the young woman's gaze. "To us, Sara." The tone of her voice grew softer as she leaned in close. "No more running away." She tapped their glasses together and lifted it to her lips as she drank slowly, all the while keeping her eyes on the blonde.
Sara took a small sip and set her glass down, before reaching for Billie's and doing the same. She shifted onto her side and leaned back on her elbow as she fixed the brunette with a seductive look. She bit her bottom lip and crooked her finger, gesturing for Billie to move in closer. And as her lover willingly gave in, Sara wrapped her arm around the young woman and pulled her down into a long, slow kiss.
"Isn't it romantic?"
Jill pulled the binoculars away from her eyes as she glared at the woman beside her. "So, this is why you got me all the way out here?"
"You were concerned about your friend, so I just wanted to put your mind at ease." Felicia leaned her hip against the railing of the deck and smiled. She'd had to do some considerable arm-twisting to get a house located on the same stretch of beach as Billie's, and even though it was a good distance away, the view was perfect. A few well- placed phone calls later, and everything was progressing just as she'd hoped.
After their confrontation in her office, Felicia had a strong suspicion that Billie knew of Sara's whereabouts. She knew the lieutenant had brought her somewhere on the day of Jill's arraignment, but up to now, she'd been unable to determine exactly where. Billie wasn't even staying in her own home, which meant there had to be a place she would feel comfortable in, some private hideaway where she could keep Sara safe.
While searching through the young woman's background, Felicia found only a handful of people with whom Billie seemed to have a very close relationship. That helped to narrow down the amount of places she may have sought refuge, and it was only a matter of time before she discovered that Billie had recently purchased a house in Malibu.
The details of the sale were difficult to obtain. It seemed that Billie Chambers knew someone of powerful influence. But, Felicia was nothing if not persistent, and it was through her inquiries about Alexa Tan that finally yielded some information about the exact location.
She was a bit surprised by the lieutenant's overtly sentimental reaction to the young woman's death. Buying the house purely on the basis that a close friend had been the previous owner seemed a bit extreme, even if she could afford it. But, Felicia decided it was just another one of those complexities about Billie that she'd come to enjoy. And there was the added bonus of knowing how much the house meant to her, which was the reason she brought Jill here in the first place.
"You're a real humanitarian."
"It appears as though Sara is doing quite well, wouldn't you say?"
"I'm not in the mood for your fucking games, Felicia." Jill couldn't hide her anger over this latest development, nor could she hide the fact that it was hurting her to witness it. When Felicia suggested they spend some time at the beach, this was not at all what she had been expecting. But, as usual, her lover had an ulterior motive, and she chided herself for allowing the other woman to blindside her.
After being questioned by the police about Sara's disappearance from the hospital, Jill was so concerned that she'd actually toyed with the idea of phoning Billie Chambers. Given what she was seeing now, though, the joke would have been on her.
"Aren't you the least bit annoyed that she's chosen Billie over you?"
"I already told you-"
"Yes, yes," the blonde stated impatiently as she snatched the binoculars from Jill's hand. "You and Sara aren't involved. I do realize that. But, aren't you the least bit upset that she hasn't even attempted to contact you?"
"It's not her fault," the brunette replied, defensively. "She's being manipulated."
Felicia resumed her surveillance. "Mmm, I can see that."
"What are you up to?" Jill questioned as she pulled the woman's hands down.
"I'm trying to help you, Jill." She reached over and placed her hand, gently, on the young woman's arm. "When you came to me for help, I didn't turn you away, did I? And when you wanted revenge, I agreed to help you make that happen. I'm doing this because I care about you, Jill, and because I want you to know the truth."
The blonde's face was grim as she handed the binoculars back to the other woman. "Just look at them. Go on. Look at Sara in the arms of that woman." She watched as Jill's features twisted into an angry sneer. The young woman's rage was almost palpable, and Felicia smiled inwardly. This was the part of Jill that excited her. It was the reason she'd pursued her. She was like a tightly coiled snake, just waiting to strike out at someone. "While Billie tries to put you in prison, she also manages to seduce your best friend. She's a very busy young woman, wouldn't you say?"
Jill remained frozen to the spot, unable to stop herself as she continued to watch Sara. She caught a brief glimpse of the blonde's face, although still a good distance away, but it was enough to know that she was enjoying herself.
How could Sara do this? How could she go back to Billie after what she'd done? And not so much as a single fucking phone call to the one person she'd always been able to trust. The one person who'd always looked out for her. The one person who cared for her more than anyone else.
Goddamn that Billie Chambers.
She was just using Sara, but her friend was too blind to see it. She always was. From the very beginning, Jill knew they should never have trusted Billie. But, as always, Sara leapt before she looked, and the whole goddamn thing blew up in both their faces. And now, to top it all off, there was Sara, right back where she started.
"I thought you wanted revenge?"
Jill dropped her hands and spun her head around, surprised that the other woman had managed to sidle up without her realizing it. Her arms remained by her side as she turned her gaze back toward the coastline far below. "I did."
Felicia moved to stand behind Jill and slipped her arms around the younger woman's waist, pleased when she felt that strong, lithe body lean back against her. Her lips were poised at Jill's ear as she whispered softly, "Do you still?"
Jill hesitated before answering. "I don't know."
The blonde slipped her hands under the woman's arms, coaxing them up slowly. "Then look again."
Jill set her sights on the young women, watching with undisguised envy as they moved against each other, oblivious to their audience. When Sara began to cover the brunette's body with soft, warm kisses, Jill closed her eyes. At that moment, she wanted to kill Billie Chambers.
And she would have given anything to be her.
"I don't want Sara to get hurt."
Felicia smiled. "There are other ways to get to Billie. You just have to understand what's important to her." She slipped a hand into her pocket and removed her cell phone, pressing a button as she brought it to her ear.
Jill looked back at her. "What are you doing?"
The blonde smiled wickedly as she used her free hand to coax the young woman's head back to face the magnificent sunset. "Remember, I promised you a spectacular view." She slipped the binoculars from Jill's hand and brought them up to her face as she spoke into the phone. "Do it now."
Sara sat up on her elbows and grinned. "I was right about this place."
"Everything is better."
Billie laughed as she got to her feet, extending a hand to the young woman. With a quick tug, the two of them were once again face-to- face. The brunette placed a gentle kiss on Sara's lips as she slipped her arms around the blonde's narrow waist. "You know, there was always a part of me that really didn't like this place." She cast a glance out over the water. "Even though Alexa loved it here, it held some bad memories for me." When she turned back, Sara was looking at her with a saddened expression.
Billie touched her forehead to her lover's and smiled. "But, I think that's about to change," she continued, suddenly emboldened by the feel of Sara's hands as they reached up to touch her face. "Now, it'll be the place where I was finally able to tell you that I think I'm falling in lo-"
The explosion erupted with such force that it knocked both women to the ground. Billie instinctively covered Sara with her body as she picked her head up, staring in shock at the ball of fire as it climbed higher into the dimly lit sky. She scrambled to her feet and was already running before Sara even had a chance to speak. The blonde sat up, watching the scene with disbelieving eyes.
The beach house, or rather what was left of it, was completely engulfed in flames. A heavy plume of thick, black smoke billowed skyward, while pieces of charred debris rained down on the beach below.
Sara immediately started after Billie as she realized she was running directly toward it. "Billie!!" She screamed out her lover's name as she tried desperately to catch up with her.
As Billie approached the rapidly growing inferno, a large chunk of flaming wood hit the ground beside her, and she had to throw herself to the sand to avoid the hot cinders as they sprayed the air around her. Her hands curled into the dirt as she slowly got to her knees and lifted her face to the horrible scene. The smoke and fire stung her eyes as hot tears began to course down her cheeks. She was about to get back up when a pair of strong hands suddenly landed on her shoulders.
Sara dropped to the sand beside the young woman, her labored breath coming in great gasps. "Are you alright?" Her hands and eyes quickly scanned her lover's body for any sign of injury, grateful that she appeared to be relatively unscathed. When the lieutenant failed to respond, Sara reached over and turned her face toward her. "Billie?" The look in those bottomless blue eyes nearly broke Sara's heart.
Sara cupped Billie's face, using her thumbs to wipe the soot and tears from the young woman's reddened cheeks. "God, I'm so sorry." And she was. She knew how much the house meant to Billie, despite the often difficult emotions it invoked. It had belonged to someone she'd loved dearly. And Sara's gut instincts were screaming at her that someone else had just seen fit to destroy it.
The brunette suddenly got to her feet, and Sara could see by the look on her face that they were thinking the same thing. The lieutenant muttered something under her breath. When she felt Sara reach for her, she pulled back, putting her hands up as if warding the young woman off. "Don't."
"We don't know."
"The hell we don't!" Billie began moving about like a caged animal. She needed to lash out at someone, to rage at the cruelty and injustice of it all. It wasn't enough that Alexa was taken far too soon, and in such a vicious, brutal way. But now, the only thing Billie had left of her had just been taken, as well.
Sara stood up and took a tentative step toward the young woman. "We should get away from here, Billie. There might be another explosion. It's not safe."
"Not safe?" Billie shouted as her hands curled into tight fists at her side. "You're goddamn right it's not safe!" She looked back at the remnants of the house, lifting a hand up as she pointed at it. "She blew up my fucking house, Sara! What the fuck is going on here?!!"
Sara took a deep breath and reached out again, thankful this time that Billie didn't pull away from her. She slowly closed the small distance between them, and began speaking in soft, soothing tones in an attempt to calm her lover, who was still shifting back and forth as though she might bolt at any minute.
Billie needed to do something. She couldn't bear to watch the scene before her for another minute. Warm arms suddenly wrapped around her, and she felt Sara's body against her own. She shook her head as the embrace tightened, almost as if she were trying to deny the comfort it gave her.
Slowly, Sara coaxed Billie toward the shore and away from the fire. She kept a firm hold on the young woman, still not convinced that she wouldn't try to run back. When they were far enough away, she reached her hand up and cupped Billie's cheek. "We have to get help."
Billie pulled away from Sara and nodded. "Right." She took a deep breath and looked around for a moment, using the opportunity to compose herself as her eyes fell on the nearest house. "There. Go call the fire department, even though I'm sure they're already on their way." With a quick glance over her shoulder she commented wearily, "It's not like half the goddamn county doesn't know what happened."
"What about you?" Sara didn't want to split up, not when Billie was this upset.
The lieutenant removed a cell phone from her pants pocket. "It's time for me to call in some help on this." And it was time to let the personal stuff go, for now. She needed some professional detachment. If she could keep her head screwed on straight for a while, it would serve her better later.
Then, the fucking shit would hit the fan.
"Oh my God."
Felicia put the binoculars on the table beside her before wrapping both her arms around Jill. She placed a soft kiss along the contour of her neck. "You like?"
Jill pulled out of the blonde's embrace and turned to face her. "I can't believe you did that." She gripped Felicia by her upper arms, giving her a firm shake. "Are you fucking crazy?"
"Only crazy for you," Felicia replied with a broad smile.
The brunette stared at her in shock. She knew her lover could be ruthless, even cruel at times. The attack she'd engineered on Sara was proof of that, although she continued to deny that she'd intended it to go that far. But this.this was beyond anything Jill could have imagined.
"I guarantee you Billie Chambers is hurting right now," the blonde said smugly. "Isn't that what you wanted?"
"She'll know who was responsible!" Jill shouted at her.
"Well, of course she will," Felicia responded matter-of- factly. "Otherwise, what would be the point?"
"The point, Felicia," She tightened her grip as she pressed her face in closer. ".is that you could have killed someone."
Felicia's tone was frosty. "Don't tell me we're back to your precious Sara again."
"No." Jill shook her head as she let go of the blonde and took a step back. "This has nothing to do with Sara." She threw her arms up in a gesture of frustration. "When I said I wanted revenge, I was thinking more along the line of a few broken bones, which I would have preferred to do myself, by the way. Instead," Jill pointed her arm toward the brightened sky beyond them. "You decide to blow up fucking Malibu beach."
"It was only one house."
The brunette's mouth hung open for a moment as she stared at Felicia in disbelief. The two women stood in complete silence for several minutes, until Jill was finally able to find her voice again. "She'll come after us, you know."
Felicia smiled malevolently. "That's what I'm counting on."
WARNING: This chapter contains a rather explicit scene of non-consensual sex...sort of. So, consider yourself forewarned.
I got a girlfriend that's better than that
Now everyone's getting involved
She's moving up going right through my heart
We might not ever get caught
- David Byrne
"You called it. Car bomb."
Billie walked by Van as he sat on the corner of the low filing cabinet. The small area they were in was adjacent to the Candy Store's evidence room, barely more than a single aisle between the wall and a row of cabinets, both tall and short. As she continued to work, his eyes followed her back and forth, reminding him of what it was like to watch a tennis match.
"They get a VIN?"
The young cop nodded. "Some landscaper in Encino reported his truck stolen two days ago."
"Nothing to connect him, right?"
"Not so far." Back and forth, back and forth. "What are you doing?"
"I have to turn my old case files over to IA." She grabbed another stack of folders and dropped them into an empty box at Van's feet.
He looked around at the multitude of boxes she'd already filled. "Don't you have some of this on disk?"
"Yup." She threw down another handful.
Van waited for more of a response. He should have known better. "So?"
Billie stopped and pinned him with a sharp look. "So, if Hill wants to play Dick Tracy, emphasis on Dick, he can do it the good ol' fashioned way. I'm certainly not going to make it easy for him."
"What the fuck is with this guy?" he questioned. "Your place gets torched, and he's bustin' your balls?"
"You have met Hill, right?" She reached down and picked up the box resting at his feet. Without another word she walked out of the room. Van immediately got up to follow her. "Don't come out empty-handed," she called back over her shoulder.
After several trips, the boxes were all sitting in a neat pile in Billie's office. She dropped to the chair behind her desk and picked up the phone. Van was about to take a seat across from her when she said, "I need some privacy."
"I thought we were all on the same page here," he immediately protested.
"We are," she informed him. "But, that doesn't mean you get to eavesdrop on all of my phone calls. And aren't you supposed to get back to that guy at the lab?"
"I told him I'd stop by to eyeball what he had." He leaned back in the chair, adjusting himself to a more comfortable position.
Billie stared at him. "The day isn't getting any younger."
Van sighed, heavily. "Right." He stood up and headed for the door, giving his boss a final look as he started to leave.
"Hey, Van, " the lieutenant called to him.
He leaned back inside her office door. "Yeah?"
Billie took a deep breath and said, "I know I haven't said it, but... thanks...for everything."
Van lifted his eyebrows at her. Billie saying thank you was about as common an occurrence as a total eclipse. He was about to say as much, but then decided against it. She'd had a tough night, and one of his insightful, albeit sometimes annoying comments probably wouldn't go over very well. "Ahh.no problem."
Billie watched Van leave and then picked up the phone. She stared at the receiver for a few seconds before dropping it back into its cradle and taking out her cell phone. For better or worse, paranoia was fast becoming her constant companion.
After a couple of rings, a voice answered. "Hi."
The corner of Billie's mouth turned up, slightly. "Hi yourself."
"How are you?"
"I'm hanging in. You settled?"
"Yeah." Sara laughed softly. "Your friend Aquarius is quite a character."
Billie could tell from the young woman's tone that said man was in the room with her. "Yes, he is," she agreed. "More importantly, we can trust him."
"I still wish you'd come by."
"I know." The lieutenant's well-worn gaze suddenly fixed on the top of her desk as she began to fidget with a pen. "But, it's not safe. for either of us."
"How'd it go with your boss?"
For a moment, Billie considered telling her the truth. Things hadn't gone well, at all. Parish was a good man, but even his protection had its limits. And if Hill had his way, she'd be out of a job by weeks end. "Alright," she lied.
"So, what are they gonna do about Felicia?"
"She and her lawyer are coming in for a little bull session. I'll be heading downtown in a while."
"I thought they told you to back off?"
Billie suddenly threw the pen across the room in a gesture of frustration. "I'll just be there to observe." Which absolutely sucked, but at least Hill couldn't stop her from doing that much.
"I'd really like to get my hands on that bitch."
The lieutenant could envision the blonde's expression at that moment, right down to the firm set of her jaw and the dangerous narrowing of those intense, blue eyes. Sara's impulsive nature was one of the reasons the lieutenant wanted her to stay away. Billie knew she was already way over the line here. If Sara's whereabouts were discovered, the two women could easily wind up sharing a nice, comfy jail cell together. And as it was, she was already feeling way too vulnerable.
Billie had always been an intensely private person, but the job had made her even more secretive about her life outside of it. Having someone digging around in her business was tough to take, and although she'd recently become somewhat accustomed to the jack-offs at Internal Affairs poking around, at least they were usually more interested in her cases, and not her personal relationships. The situation she found herself in the middle of now, however, was completely different.
Felicia Ralston was systematically picking through the most intimate details of Billie's life, with the sole intent of using that knowledge against her. And unfortunately, there was plenty of ammunition. Her life was littered with secrets. Most of them pertained to her job, but when you worked undercover, the lines you drew for yourself would inevitably bleed into each other. And in her case, some of that history was extremely damning.
One of Billie's greatest assets as an undercover detective had always been her innate ability to see trouble coming before it saw her. But, her initial assessment of the woman had been completely off base, and not for the first time since everything started, she reprimanded herself for allowing someone to sneak in under her radar. Felicia was far more than she appeared to be, and she wasn't using her money and power simply to throw her weight around, as so many of L.A.'s self- important elite often did. No, this was a vendetta of a far more personal nature.
The woman was textbook crazy, no doubt about that, but she was also extremely intelligent, and that dangerous combination was now being pointed in Billie's direction. She'd underestimated Felicia's resolve, and it had cost her big. Now, she was rethinking her plan of attack. Funny how having your house blown into a million pieces right in front of you could completely change your perspective.
It was doubtful the woman had murder in mind, but it could just as easily have come to that, and somehow, she didn't think Felicia would have lost any sleep over it. She'd arranged Sara's attack, and by a member of the LAPD, no less. Even Jill Kistler had been convinced of that fact.
But, there was still the matter of Cathy McKenzie's shooting. The lieutenant was fairly convinced that someone other than Felicia had pulled the trigger. She'd briefly entertained the idea of Jill being the shooter, perhaps as some kind of retribution for Sara's attack, but she quickly pushed that thought aside.
The more likely scenario was that Felicia had a contact on the inside. Someone with access to cops, but most likely not a cop themselves. Cathy had been very unhappy with the department's handling of her brother's murder, had told Billie as much at his funeral. Whoever approached her knew that, and exploited it. She would never have sold out for another cop. No way.
So, who was Cathy's murderer?
It was the one question Billie had absolutely no answer for, and that was the main reason she wanted to keep Sara away from everything. There was a killer out there, and she'd already been a target once before.actually twice, if you included the bombing last night, although Billie was damn sure that message had been intended for her alone.
"I want you to stay out of sight," she told Sara, firmly. "And leave this to me." There was a heavy sigh at the other end. "You got that?"
"Got it." There was a brief pause, and then, "If you need me-"
"I know where to find you," Billie finished for her. She got up from her desk and slowly walked the length of her office, one hand coming to rest on the stack of boxes near the door. "Stay out of trouble."
"Coming from you that's almost funny."
"I'll call you later."
"Billie, wait a sec."
There was a brief pause. "At the beach yesterday, before.you know, before the explosion."
Billie closed her eyes. Shit. Not now. She couldn't do this now. Choosing to tell Sara how she felt had been a mistake. Her lover could easily wind up having to serve time, and since it was doubtful she'd want to, there would only be one option left when this was all over: Sara would have to run. Billie wouldn't stop her, but she certainly wasn't going to go with her. So, what kind of relationship could they possibly have? The answer was simple: none.
What the hell had she been thinking anyway? Actually, that was precisely the problem. She hadn't been thinking.at all. Spending time with Sara, away from everything, had colored her perspective. It was easy to dream about the future when the present seemed so far away. Maybe she could just say she'd been caught up in the whole atmosphere. Blame it on the wine. Or the sun. Or the water. Or those amazing blue eyes.
Or her own propensity to want what she shouldn't have.
It was a bad habit. And if there was one thing Wilhemina Chambers knew a lot about it was how to kick a bad habit. She'd done it before. And though it seemed callous to think of Sara that way, it was the only analogy that worked for her.
Their relationship had been ill-fated from the start. Billie had known that going in, but kept trying to ignore what was staring her right in the face.
She couldn't be with Sara. And she sure as hell couldn't love her.
"We'll talk later," Billie finally responded coolly. "I need to get going." She pushed a button, abruptly ending the call.
"Lieutenant Chambers needs to be brought in line."
Captain Robert Parish stared at the younger man across from him. In all his years on the job, he thought he'd seen just about every kind of cop there was. Good, bad, green and mean. Some were too righteous. Many were too ambitious. But, he couldn't seem to pigeonhole the Director of Internal Affairs. Roland Hill was definitely an enigma.
"I believe that's my call."
"Then, I suggest you answer it, Captain," Hill responded with his trademark sarcasm. "She's become a liability that this city's beleaguered force can no longer afford."
Parish met the man's steady gaze. "You seem to forget, Hill. We take care of our own."
"Not at the expense of our credibility."
"Someone has a serious ax to grind here. I think we can agree that she needs whatever resources we have to offer."
"Billie Chambers went looking for trouble, Captain. And I'd say she found it. Now, I'm not suggesting we toss her in a boat without a paddle, but I do think we need to do some serious damage control."
"She needs to be removed from active duty."
Parish leaned back in his chair, slowly rubbing the palm of his hand against his face. "I don't agree."
Hill's expression was placid. "I'm shocked to hear that."
"Look, Hill." The Captain picked up a folder from his desk and tossed it toward the younger man. "I agree that this situation has become extremely serious, but I think you've made a bad call here. The lieutenant was doing her job, that's all."
Roland ignored the proffered file. "Did you know that the person who reported the explosion to the fire department was a young woman who happened to show up on a neighbor's doorstep to use the phone? That this same woman somehow managed to disappear from the scene before talking to police? And that her description was consistent with that of Sara Matthews, who is currently wanted by the LAPD for assaulting a police officer?"
"It could have been someone who just happened to be walking by."
"And it could have been Cheryl Tiegs," Hill shot back. "But, I don't think it was. Let's review the facts for a moment. Sara Matthews was arrested for armed robbery and attempted murder. She flipped, giving up her partner-in-crime. Lieutenant Chambers then decides to personally provide her with protection until the trial. Someone, and we only have Billie's word that Sara Matthews identified Officer McKenzie as her attacker, manages to get to her, and proceeds to put her in the hospital. Once again, under the ever-watchful eye of Lieutenant Chambers, Sara Matthews flees protective custody by attacking a police officer that the Lieutenant put in place to guard her. That worked out very well, I might add. Then, the lieutenant's house gets car bombed by some heretofore-unknown party. At least two people at the scene place a young woman there fitting Sara Matthew's description. I see a pattern here, Captain. And I feel a need to knit some socks."
Parish slowly drummed his fingers on the desk. "Firstly, the two witnesses you're referring to only described the woman as a `pretty blonde'. I have news for you, Hill. The state of California is the blonde capital of the world. Secondly, if Sara Matthews was indeed attacked by a police officer, it's not so surprising that she may have felt unsafe being in protective custody."
"Unfortunately, due to the untimely death of Officer McKenzie, we'll probably never know the truth about that," Hill added. "But, based on Sara Matthews' performance so far, I'm a bit skeptical as to the validity of her statement."
"And that brings us to another mystery." Hill continued as he finally picked up the folder from Parish's desk. "Officer Oliver Mason calls Billie to inform her that her records have been compromised. But, does either of them immediately report this? No. Instead, she coerces Officer Mason into keeping it under wraps, and lo and behold, he ends up dead."
"She didn't coerce him," the captain quickly countered. "She wanted to keep a tight lid on it while she checked out a possible suspect."
"A suspect she did not identify until after both officers were found dead. I'm thinking convenient scapegoat."
"Mason was found dead in McKenzie's apartment. I'd say that makes her more than a scapegoat."
"I agree. It makes her another dead cop."
"Which brings us back to the `heretofore-unknown party'."
"And the one and only Felicia Ralston." Hill glanced down at the paperwork in front of him and quickly closed the file. "Lieutenant Chambers is under the impression that this woman is some kind of a homicidal maniac who goes around killing cops and blowing up houses in her spare time."
"She's involved with Kistler. And whoever engineered the bomb was heavily bankrolled."
"So, she has lousy taste in women and she's rich. I'm sorry if I don't readily jump to the same conclusion as Lieutenant Chambers. I prefer to get down and dirty. The only thing that will convince me of her duplicity in Billie's latest dog and pony show is rock.solid. proof."
Parish studied the man for a moment. "Why are you so intent on derailing her career?"
"Officers like Billie Chambers operate by a set of rules that only they understand. The rest of us are sitting on the sidelines while they run rampant with a kick asses and take names policy that they justify by saying `I give my all for the job'. They believe they know best. I believe that makes them dangerous." He stood up and tucked the folder under his arm. "And just for the record, I've already made my recommendation to the Deputy Chief. This visit was strictly a courtesy."
"Don't you mean a formality?"
"That would imply that I was required to come here." Hill turned and headed for the door.
The captain eyed Roland Hill with disdain. The man didn't have a clue what it took to go after the kind of people Billie had spent most of her career pursuing, and he knew even less about the cost. It was true that working deep cover operations required a different set of rules. But, when your life became a series of careful moves and endless lies, it was all too easy to become caught up in a dark fantasy of your own creation. And in Billie's case, he had witnessed that first hand.
She had been the kind of cop who lived and breathed for one purpose: The takedown. She went in, she called the shots. There was no front office to account to when she was on the street, only her instincts and her experience. Opportunities, informants, backroom deals, and human carnage guided the life she led. It was a life that very few could live for long and still manage to somehow come out of it with their souls intact. Despite the hell she went through, Billie found her way back. She was one of the lucky ones.
Parish' soft baritone broke the silence. "She does give her all."
Hill turned around to face him, a serious look on his otherwise normally smug face. "That is precisely what worries me."
The interior of the Candy Store was completely quiet, save for the soft hum of Billie's notebook, which lay on the table in front of her. After spending nearly an hour sifting through case files, she'd been unable to keep her eyes open any longer and stretched out on the sofa, falling asleep almost instantly.
Her eyes began to roll around under her lids. A sudden intake of breath coincided with a furrowed brow as she began to twist and turn, caught in the grip of her own subconscious.
Billie opened her eyes, but the surrounding darkness was unfamiliar. As she tried to move, she realized that her arms were tied to something above her head.possibly a pipe, judging from the dim shape she could discern as she turned her gaze upward. The thick rope was coiled tightly around her wrists, effectively immobilizing her arms as they stretched painfully overhead. In spite of the warm, humid air, a cool shiver made its way up her naked body.
A soft, feminine voice whispered from behind and she turned her head around to look, but the woman remained hidden in the shadows. She felt a hand slide across her taut stomach and pulled back instinctively, but she couldn't manage to break the contact. The feel of sharp nails scoring her bare skin was enough to spur her into action as she began to pull, desperately, at her bonds.
"You can't get away, Billie."
Something like a soft whimper escaped the lieutenant's throat as she continued to struggle. The delicate touch continued, and as she began to thrash about in earnest, a flash of something teased the corner of her vision.
"What the hell do you want from me?" Billie shouted, trying to mask her growing fear with anger.
"You know what I want." The woman's tone was sultry and thick with arousal.
Another hand touched her back, moving with agonizing slowness as it coursed its way around her upper body, dexterous fingers seeking out her left breast as Billie sucked in a harsh breath.
"You should have stayed away from me, Billie." There was a hint of anger there.and a promise of retribution.
"I...I was...just doing...my job," Billie rasped as the woman's hand began its manipulations. The ache in her arms was nearly forgotten as her body slowly responded to her captor's constant attention.
"Jill and I would have been happy if you hadn't interfered." The statement sounded like an accusation.
"She...she shot someone," Billie's words were coming out faster as her breathing became increasingly labored. "I had to." Her voice broke off as she felt the hand on her stomach begin to journey further down. "Oh...God...don't...don't."
"You know you want me to."
Billie shook her head, frantically. "No!" Gentle fingers reached the apex of her legs, slowly stroking the soft, dark curls before slipping inside of her.
"Isn't this why you really came after me?" The woman's hands began to work in tandem, gradually increasing their rhythm as they moved in time with the brunette's involuntary thrusts. A pair of lips pressed against her neck, and Billie closed her eyes.
"Don't what, Billie?" The hands continued their onslaught as a warm body pressed up against her from behind. The brunette could feel her heart pounding as she fought for breath.
"Don't make me."
Teeth bit down on her earlobe, causing Billie to moan. She could feel the touch of lips and tongue along the slender contour of her throat. The pressure was beginning to build, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't get away from those hands.
How could she want this? It was wrong, and she knew it. But, right down to her very core, her mind and body were enslaved by the physical and emotional sensations the woman was creating inside of her. And though she tried her best to deny it, the beautiful face that finally revealed itself to her could see the truth. A pair of pale blue eyes gazed longingly into that face as shallow, ragged breaths blew across her lips.
"Don't make you what?"
Billie could feel the beginning of her climax, and she pushed herself against the woman's devilishly talented hands. She tilted her head back and let out a soft cry as warm, salty tears ran down the sides of her heated face. Her body stiffened, reaching for release as she forced herself to utter a final, desperate plea.
"Don't make me...love you...Sara."
"Billie, wake up."
The brunette's eyes flew open as her body jerked, involuntarily. Her hand gripped the side of the couch and she sat up like a shot, pushing away the hand on her shoulder. After looking around for a moment, she slowly began to realize where she was.
It was just a dream.
Of course, her body was taking a bit longer to come to the same conclusion. She could feel the heat emanating from every pore as she wiped a hand across her forehead, pushing back strands of sweat- soaked hair. Her hardened nipples strained against the thin material of her shirt and she folded her arms across her chest in a self- conscious gesture.
"Damn," he remarked as he took in her somewhat tousled appearance. In spite of her effort to hide it, Deaq had no trouble surmising her current physical state. "That must have been some dream. You need some water, or something?"
"I need a fucking shrink," she mumbled.
Billie shook her head. "Nothing." She looked over at Deaq as he sat down on the edge of the coffee table in front of her. "Sara's all set?"
Speaking of wet dreams, he thought, but didn't say. "Yeah. The A man's taken a shine to her already." He sat there watching her for a moment before asking, "You okay?"
She nodded slowly and glanced at her watch. "Oh shit." She immediately jumped to her feet and headed for the stairs.
"What's up?" Deaq called after her.
"I have to get downtown." She pulled at the collar of her shirt, a look of distaste forming on her face as she felt it clinging to her sweaty body. "And I need to grab a quick shower."
Deaq's dark eyes followed Billie until she disappeared. "Better make it a cold one, Boss."
Sara sat on the floor with the cell phone clutched tightly in her hand. She couldn't stand this. Being benched was not her idea of a good time. Billie was out there taking care of business, and she was stuck here sitting on her ass.
She replayed their last phone conversation over in her head. It hadn't been very encouraging. Yesterday, it seemed as though they were moving forward. Now, everything had changed.
She could sense it from the moment they'd said their goodbyes in Malibu. Billie had been cool and distant, and Sara had tried to chalk it up to the situation. Losing the house had been very difficult on her. Besides the emotional impact, there were also a great many personal mementos that had been destroyed, as well. Even though Sara never really had much of an attachment to anything, she could still empathize with Billie's pain. Unfortunately, at the time, it seemed as though that was all she could do.
But now, she realized that wasn't entirely true.
She looked down at the phone in her hand again. After a moment's consideration, she began to dial. There were several rings, and finally a voice answered.
"I'm sorry. I probably shouldn't be calling, but I didn't like the way we left things."
"I need to see you."
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea."
"Look, I know we're not supposed to, but it's important."
"The place we first met."
"Okay. I need some time, though. Say...four o'clock?"
"Works for me."
"See you then, Sara."
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