DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls and its characters are the property of Shed Productions. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Huge great thanks to Ralst for posting and also anybody taking the time to read it. This is my attempt at creating Nikki and Helen's lives, friends and loves, leading up to (& including) episode 1, series 1. Therefore my perception of Helen is taken from the show and my own personal view, that her reaction over her feelings towards Nikki were too strong to have been something she would have experienced in her past with other women. Hence in this story, Helen's relationships are all with men, something I hope will be forgiven. After all, we all know how it really ended :)
WARNING: This story contains a scene of attempted sexual assault.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Kate


Chapter 1

"Straight or not, Nik?"

Nikki looked up from the pages of the pop magazine she was flipping through as she lay on the bed.

"Yeah, looks ok."

"Hand me some pins then." Mandy said, as she stood on the bed holding a large poster above her headboard.

Nikki held up a tin of poster tacks. Happy with the hanging, Mandy knelt down to admire it.

"Isn't Simon Le Bon just gorgeous?" Mandy sighed.

"He's alright I suppose," Nikki said, disinterested. "I thought you preferred Tony Hadley?"

"Well, he's gorgeous too, but Simon's my favourite."

Nikki looked around the walls of her best friend's bedroom and there wasn't an inch of wall space that wasn't adorned with either lead singer.

"Oh, I forgot," Mandy exclaimed and she scrambled from the bed over to a pile of magazines. "I've got something for you." Sifting through them, she found what she was looking for.

"This was in Thursday's issue. Turn to the centre page." Mandy handed it to her.

Nikki flipped to the middle and unfolded the poster that was there. Her stomach fluttered with excitement. She gazed at the angular, almost masculine face. The severely cropped bleach blonde hair accentuated the features and the long arching eyebrows framed the most piercing blue eyes Nikki had ever seen.

"Wow." Nikki said quietly.

"I know you like Annie Lennox, so I saved it." Mandy smiled as she saw Nikki's face. "She's beautiful isn't she?"

"Yes." Nikki said absently, unable to take her eyes off the image she held up in front of her.

There was a tap on the door and Mandy's mum appeared.

"Nikki love, do you want to stay for dinner? Mick's going down the chippy for some cod and chips."

"Oh yes please Mrs B. Can I pay you tomorrow when I get my paper round money?" Nikki asked.

"Oh don't be silly." Cheryl Baker waved her hand dismissively and pulled the door closed again.

"Your mum's so lovely," Nikki said. "Your parents never let me pay."

Nikki had known Mandy since she was five. On their first day at school they got into a fierce fight. Mandy was impetuous even at that young age and threw the first punch. To her surprise, she discovered somebody just as impetuous as her, when Nikki punched her back. Rather than marching them to the headmistress, the teacher decided to let them cool off in the reading corner of the classroom. Her decision proved to be a wise one. When she went to check on them, she found them playing and giggling. They had remained inseparable ever since.

The Baker house became Nikki's second home and she preferred it over her own. Her parents enjoyed a childless marriage by choice, until her mother discovered at thirty-seven she was pregnant. It was a lonely, tidy childhood, almost sterile in its lack of affection and expectation. Not that she was ignored. She was well looked after but there was a distance that separated her from her parents. A slight resentment almost, on their behalf, that she had interrupted a life meant only for two. And three was a crowd. Before she was born, her father had a vasectomy to ensure she would have no siblings.

The Bakers were the opposite. Since Nikki had known them, their house always seemed to be filled with children; if not their own, then their kids friends, the neighbours and other family. Mandy had two older brothers and it was a boisterous household. Cheryl Baker was a working mum as well as homemaker and the latter she preferred. Her husband and kids were the most important thing in her life and this also extended to her children's friends. Mick Baker was a good husband and father, a quiet man, rough and tumble with his sons, and gentle with his daughter. Now that Mandy and Nikki were both fourteen, he found certain issues were best left to his wife to discuss with them and at such times, he would make himself scarce.

"We're still going to the pictures tomorrow aren't we?" Mandy asked.

"Yeah, I should have enough. I'll get paid after my round tomorrow." Nikki said.

"Good. We can meet Karen and Sarah at Woolworths. Danny Philips and Paul Burton might be there too." Mandy sat beside Nikki. "You know Danny fancies you?"

Nikki felt horrified and Mandy laughed at the look on her face. "What's wrong with that?"

"Well, I don't fancy him!" Nikki snapped.

"I know. There's nothing to get worried about. It's not like you've got to out with him or anything. He just thinks you're nice. You always talk to him like he's a mate. Whenever he talks to other girls, he reckons they're always fiddling with their hair or giggling."

Nikki smiled. "Well he's right."

"And he thinks you're pretty too." Mandy said and waited for Nikki's reaction.

"Oh shut up." Nikki dismissed the comment.

"You always say that. But you are Nikki, you're very pretty. Let me put some eye shadow and mascara on you." Mandy jumped up to her dressing table.

"Manda!" Nikki scowled but Mandy ignored her.

She'd been trying to get Nikki to allow her to make her up, but Nikki always resisted. She came back over to the bed with her make up bag and dabbed at some powder with a small brush. Nikki moved her head away, but Mandy pushed her back down onto the bed and sat on her.

"Just let me put some on, just so you can see!"

Nikki capitulated and Mandy allowed her to sit up.

"Close your eyes." Mandy gently applied the colour. "Now open your eyes and look up." She rolled the mascara onto Nikki's long eye lashes.

"Here, take a look." Mandy took her hand pulling her off the bed and made her stand in front of the mirror.

Nikki was shocked at what she saw, but quietly pleased. She had no idea what a bit a make up could do to her eyes and how much older it made her look.

"See! You could have all the boys fancying you, if you just wear a bit of makeup." Mandy said.

Nikki blushed and sat back down on the bed, staring at the floor. Mandy looked at her and hesitated.

"Girls would fancy you too."

Nikki's head shot up. "What do you mean?" She was surprised by the comment and fearful at the same time.

Mandy rolled her eyes and tutted as she folded her arms across her chest.

"Nikki, I'm not blind. I've seen the way you look at Miss Richards in English class. It's the same look the rest of us have when we're staring at Mr Gordon in history class!"

Nikki didn't know what to say. She felt ashamed and once again looked at the floor.

"It's alright," Mandy assured her and sat next to her again. "You've never said you liked any boys. You're just always pally with them. But your face lights up when you see Miss Richards. And Annie Lennox. And that new girl that started school last week." Mandy nudged her.

Nikki looked at her. Her lip trembled and tears began to flood into her eyes.

"Does everybody know?" Nikki asked.

"Does everybody know what?" Mandy felt cruel in asking.

Her pocket money was either spent on small pieces of make up or cheap jewellery or teenage magazines. But she'd recently splurged on a copy of Vogue when she saw a lead article about gay people coming out. She'd read it eagerly, hoping to gain insight and felt suitably qualified to help her friend come to terms and admit to herself about her sexuality.

"That I'm," Nikki took a deep breath. "I'm gay."

"Me, Karen and Sarah have had our suspicions, but we've only talked about it between us." Mandy put her arm around Nikki's shoulder as she saw her begin to cry.

"What you crying for?" Mandy asked. "You don't think we've been saying anything bad do you?" She asked anxiously.

"No, I know you wouldn't." Nikki wiped her face. "I'm just relieved that's all. I've been wanting to tell you, but I didn't know how."

"Oh you silly arse! Well I'm sorry if I forced you into it. I just want you to know it's alright."

Nikki looked up.

"Oh bloody hell, you look like Alice Cooper! The mascara's all run." Mandy started to laugh and Nikki looked in the mirror. She burst out laughing when she saw the state of her eyes. Mandy grabbed some tissues and helped to wipe it off.

"So, when are you going to tell Karen and Sarah?" Mandy asked.

Nikki knew Mandy was eager for them to know. And she knew what she would say next would drive Mandy crazy. She wouldn't like Nikki's plan at all. Her impatient nature would force the issue.

"I'll tell them tomorrow, when we go to the pictures."

"Huh? Why don't you tell them tonight? I can phone them and get them to come round. We can play some music and stuff."

"Nah, it can wait." Nikki said seeing the frustration in Mandy's face.

"But this is important stuff!" Mandy exclaimed.

Nikki looked at her fingernails, drawing out the torture even more.

"Alright go and call…"

Mandy was out the door before she could finish. Nikki heard her pounding down the stairs to the phone in the hallway.

"Can I speak to Karen please?" Nikki listened as Mandy waited for Karen to get on the line.

"Hey, it's Mandy, can you come round?....No right away!....this is important!….I can't say on the phone….just hurry up!"

Nikki heard the receiver slam down, then another frantic dial.

"Can I speak to Sarah please?" There was another pause. "Hey, it's me, you need to come round, it's urgent….I can't say on the phone…just hurry!" Mandy hissed into the phone.

Nikki and Mandy shared their portions of the take away with Karen and Sarah when they arrived. Hurriedly eating, they then fled to Mandy's bedroom.

With Mandy sitting next to her on the bed and holding her hand for support, Nikki confirmed to her friends what they already suspected.

"Nikki, you know you can trust us right? We're not going to say anything to anybody else. This is something that's private to you, for only you to share with others. But if you have any bother from anybody, we'll be there okay?" Karen smiled at her.

Nikki swallowed hard, felling herself getting tearful. "I know. I'm lucky to have you all as my friends. I'll always be there for you too."

Her friends all knew that for a fact. They had been on the receiving end of her coming to their defence and also witnessed her do the same for others at school. Those younger, more vulnerable than herself. She had stepped in many times, to oppose a bully and her sense of justice was very strong.

"So come on then Nik, tell us," Sarah looked at her sharply. "Which one of us do you really fancy?"

Nikki looked at her friend in shock. She had no feelings in that sense toward any of them other than as friends. She was about to assure them, when Sarah burst out laughing.

"Your face, what a picture!"

They all started laughing and Nikki shoved her.

Throughout the rest of the evening, all Cheryl and Mick could hear from the room upstairs, was laughter and music.


Chapter 2


Nikki was freezing as she stood on the doorstep cold and wet. She'd left in such a hurry, not thinking to grab her coat. She rang the door bell and waited, hugging herself, rubbing her arms and trying to control her crying.

Cheryl Baker opened the door. "Oh my!…Nikki love, what's wrong? Come on in." She put her arm around Nikki and led her into the living room.

"You must be freezing, look at you, come over by the fire. Mandy!" She yelled up to her daughter in her room.

"What's happened?" Cheryl asked.

Nikki looked nervously in Mick Baker's direction, before looking back at her. He was sitting in a chair reading a newspaper and momentarily stopped when he saw her come into the lounge.

"Mick, be a love and put the kettle on?" Cheryl signalled frantically with her eyes for him to leave.

"Oh. Right. Yes, nice cuppa should warm you up." He nervously crumpled up the paper and headed quickly to the kitchen closing the door behind him.

"Bloody hell, Nik. What's happened?" Mandy exclaimed as she entered, seeing Nikki's wet hair and flimsy rain soaked T-shirt.

"I had a row with mum and dad. I didn't know where else to go." Nikki's teeth were chattering with cold.

"Mandy, get a towel. What do you mean no where else to go?" Cheryl asked.

"I can't go back." Nikki began to cry again.

"Oh Nikki, why ever not?" Cheryl put her arm around her shoulder. "Surely it can't be that bad. You can all work it out."

Cheryl wasn't even convincing herself. From the state Nikki was in, it was something major. She knew Nikki's parents, only in passing, and found them aloof and distant. They were a couple she knew she wouldn't like.

"No Cheryl, this is bad. I did something bad. They'll never get over it."

"Calm down, lovey." Cheryl looked at her. "Tell us what happened."

Mandy handed Nikki a towel and Cheryl helped her to dry off.

"Mum and dad went out and I had someone come round. Things happened. Mum got one of her migraines and they came back early and caught us."

Cheryl stifled her laugh. "Oh I see." She wrapped the towel around her shoulder.

"No you don't understand. It's not that simple. It's complicated." Nikki said.

"Nikki, I do understand. It wasn't a boy, was it?" Cheryl looked at her.

Nikki felt horrified that she knew and relief that she wasn't as repulsed as her parents had been. She looked at Mandy, who shook her head, letting Nikki know she wasn't the one who had told her mother.

"Who was it?" Mandy asked.

"Mandy!" Cheryl said sharply. "That's not the point right now!"

"Was it Becky Evans?" Mandy ignored her mother. Nikki nodded.

"I knew it would happen. What was it like?" She asked excitedly.

"For God's sake Mandy, this is serious! Can't you see how upset Nikki is?" Her mother tried to reprimand her, already knowing it was a pointless effort.

"Not as serious as having sex for the first time!" Mandy said. Cheryl's mouth fell open and she now looked at her daughter in shock.

"Don't worry Mum, I haven't yet." Mandy assured her.

"We didn't really get that far." Nikki said. "We were just," Nikki felt extremely embarrassed. "Kissing and…" She lowered her eyes, unable to finish or look at them.

Cheryl cleared her throat then bit her lip. She pulled Nikki to her so she couldn't see her smiling. "Oh bless your heart."

Nikki began to sob again. If only her own parents could have taken it like Cheryl. She remembered the look on their faces when they entered the living room and discovered their daughter, with another girl beneath her on the settee.

Both she and Becky were so engrossed in each others' mouths and hands fondling aroused skin under clothing, they didn't hear the front door close or the door to the living room open.

It was only Nikki's father speaking that broke them apart.

"Dear God! What the hell is going on?" He thundered. They both sat up quickly. Becky adjusting her T-shirt and Nikki zipping up her jeans.

Nikki's mother just stood there. The colour drained even more from her face, as the mounting nausea of her headache, collided with the scene before her.

Becky fidgeted on the sofa then looked at Nikki. "I'd better go." She half smiled then walked quickly past Nikki's father lowering her eyes. He said nothing and didn't even acknowledge her presence.

"Well, what have got to say for yourself?" His face was flushed with anger.

From there things deteriorated rapidly. Ugly accusations followed and Nikki did her best to try and explain her feelings, but it fell on deaf ears. Her father did most of the bellowing, while her mother just sat in the room, her eyes closed, becoming paler as the minutes passed.

"We didn't raise you…" "That kind of behaviour in this house…" and so it went on. Her mother eventually rose from the chair and Nikki knew she would head to the bathroom to throw up, as she normally did when her headaches were bad. But she couldn't tell if it was more for what had occurred now and what was being said. She tried her best to get them to understand, to find a connection, but realised it was never going to happen. Why did she expect that now, when a connection had never really been there to begin with?

Her father's onslaught continued and she tried to shut it out, but somewhere she heard "disgusting wretch!" and couldn't take any more. She fled from the house, running as fast as she could away from it, oblivious to the pouring rain.

Eventually she couldn't breathe any more and stopped running. The back of her throat was dry from the exertion and her crying clogged her eyes and nose. The cold suddenly hit her and when she saw where she was, she knew it would only be a little further to Mandy's house.

Mick came back into the lounge and handed Nikki a cup of tea. Seeing Nikki's red eyes and his wife comforting her, alerted him that this was women's stuff and no place for a man to be, so he did the only thing he could think off.

"Chinese?" He offered. At least it meant he could be out of the house, while his wife and daughter took care of an obviously delicate situation.

"Do you want me to call them Nikki, try and talk to them?" Cheryl asked.

"Thanks, but I don't know if it would do any good." Nikki said.

"Well, I'll call and let them know you're here, in case they're worried where you are." Cheryl said and headed for the phone.

"Do you really think they won't want you back?" Mandy asked as Nikki sipped the hot tea.

"Who could blame them? The only child they have, that they didn't really want, turns out to be freaking rug muncher. Disappointing or what?"

Mandy couldn't hold in her laugh and Nikki smiled too.

Cheryl returned, a frown on her face, before she smiled. "I told them you would be staying here for the night." It was all she said.

The reaction she received on the phone wasn't worth repeating. Nikki's father was brusque and didn't want to talk about the incident. He thanked her for allowing Nikki to stay and that was the end of their conversation. She couldn't understand how a parent could be so selfish in not trying to understand or help their own child with such an emotional time in their life.

"Thanks Cheryl. I'm sorry to do this to you." Nikki said.

"Oh, don't be so silly. You know you can always come here."

"I was thinking now I've got a Saturday job at the flower shop, I might be able to go full time. There's only six weeks left of school until we leave. Bob and Shirley have a flat above one of the shops. Perhaps I could ask them if I could rent it."

Cheryl looked alarmed. "You really don't want to go back home do you? Nikki, do you now how much the rent would be? It's not that easy being so young and living on your own. Fending for yourself."

Mandy looked at her mother and saw they were both having the same idea.

"If you're really adamant about leaving, then fine. But you're not living on your own. Not when we've got a spare room here."

"Yes!" Mandy said, punching the air.

"What?" Nikki looked at Cheryl in shock.

"You can live here with us." Cheryl said.

"I couldn't let you do that." Nikki felt her eyes stinging with tears.

"Oh don't be a silly arse. It'll be great. You're here most of the time anyway. We're practically sisters. Now Craig's joined the army, you can have his room." Mandy said.

Nikki tried to speak, but found she couldn't. She was too emotional to even utter thank you.

"Why don't you go and take a nice hot bath Nikki. Make sure you don't catch your death." Cheryl suggested.

"Yeah, come on. I've got some joggers you can put on." Mandy headed for the stairs.

Nikki stood up and hugged Cheryl tightly. "Thank you, so much." She felt Cheryl squeeze her, then rub her back.

"It'll be alright lovey." Cheryl assured her.

As Nikki sat at the table eating, she looked at the family before her and felt she was more apart of it, than her own.

Later on, while she and Mandy were in Mandy's room, Cheryl knocked on the door.

"Ok you two, now the subject has been raised, I think we should have a little chat and discuss future boyfriends and girlfriends and have some rules."

As Cheryl talked to them, Nikki knew she could never have the same conversation with her own mother.

Nikki stuck to her plan and left school at sixteen. Her teachers tried to persuade her to stay on into the sixth form, to stretch her intellect, but she was adamant.

There was a confidence that she felt growing inside, a need to be independent and to be herself, at times so strong, she thought she would burst.

After the incident with Nikki's parents, Becky decided her curiosity had been satisfied and found herself a boyfriend. Nikki didn't blame her. There was a longing to touch and be touched by another woman, someone that she could share her feelings with but Nikki was prepared to wait. She knew in time, it would happen. It was just a case of when.

Bob and Shirley Knight were more than happy to employ Nikki full time. She was a capable Saturday help, always polite and helpful with customers and eager to learn. Shirley taught her about flowering arrangement and together, they would produce the bouquets. Eventually Nikki was able to do them herself. Business was good and Bob negotiated another lease.

As soon as Nikki was seventeen, she took her driving test and passed. Mick had been teaching both her and Mandy, secretly, while still only sixteen. Bob took advantage of the fact and now she was also delivering flowers, going to the market and between the two shops. She loved the freedom of using the mini van and the responsibility the Knights entrusted her with.


Chapter 3


Nikki parked the mini van outside the Knightsbridge address. The shop received an order lunchtime and Nikki spent the afternoon preparing it and offered to drop it off on her way home. She didn't mind that it was almost across the other side of London. She enjoyed the challenge of weaving her way through the traffic.

Nikki pushed some change into the parking meter and taking the large flower display from the rear of the van, entered the plush foyer of the apartment block. Checking the floor number for the address, she entered the lift.

Standing outside the door, she heard raucous laughter on the other side. She wrestled with the display as she reached for the door bell and heard it ring in the apartment. A deep, sexy, bawdy laugh emanated from the inside followed by "I'll get it".

Nikki shifted the display to see around it and the van keys fell from her hand. She bent down slowly, reaching for them while balancing the flowers.

The door opened and a pair of legs appeared in front of her. The shoes were high heeled and black and looked expensive. As she slowly straightened up, her eyes followed the legs up to the hem of a black dress that stopped about three inches above the knee. The legs were stunning.

As Nikki's gaze continued up, the figure that came into view standing in the doorway was even more stunning than the legs. The woman was as tall as her and although slim, the body was curvaceous in all the right places. The black dress was obviously designer and Nikki was convinced that due to its incredibly tight fit, its owner had either been sown or poured into it.

Nikki finally stood up straight and the face she looked at took her breath away. Long shaggy dark auburn hair tumbled down past the woman's shoulders, framing a movie star face. The make up was subtle and maroon lipstick accentuated a sensuous mouth. But the most stunning feature were the pure azure coloured eyes that Nikki now found herself mesmerised by. She felt the all too familiar sensation flutter in the pit of her stomach.

"My, my, my! What do we have here?" The woman said.

Her sculptured eyebrows arched and she smiled. It only took a moment for Nikki to realise that the woman wasn't referring to the flowers. The blue eyes were looking solely at her.

Nikki felt her cheeks flush and heard the quiver in her voice. "I have a special delivery for Susan James."

"Well, you better bring those in then." The women stepped back inviting Nikki in.

Nikki quickly glanced round and the place appeared to be full of women.

"Susie? There's a special delivery here for you." The woman called out. Another woman turned and made her way over.

"Oh my goodness!" She exclaimed. "Who are these from?" The woman took the display from Nikki. "Thank you."

Nikki plucked a card from her back pocket. Realising that Susan couldn't hold the flowers and open the card Nikki looked at the woman who opened the door. She held it out to her and she took it and read it.

"It's from Andrea. Sorry I can't be there tonight, but we'll definitely be at the church next Saturday. Love Andrea and Tony." An impeccable upper class accent matched her impeccable image.

"Aww, how lovely." Susan gushed. "Let me set these on the table." She moved away into the room leaving Nikki standing there. She felt awkward and wasn't sure whether to wait to be escorted out.

"Would you like a drink?" The woman who opened the door asked.

"No thanks, I better go." Nikki said.

"Oh? You have another special delivery to make?"


"Then a hot date perhaps?" The woman smiled.

"No." Nikki kicked herself. It was a Saturday night and she didn't have any concrete plans, but she could always try the club again.

"Seriously? Why ever not?" Her eyebrows arched again and Nikki couldn't tell if she was teasing her. "Then surely you have time for one small drink?"

Nikki's mouth went dry. The woman's voice was low and sexy and Nikki was hooked.

"Oh how rude of me, I haven't asked you your name?"

Nikki cleared her throat. "Nikki."

"Hi Nikki, I'm Natalie. Come on through to the kitchen and I'll fix you a drink."

"I'm on a meter." Nikki suddenly remembered the van.

"Don't worry, you've got an hour and we can always pop some more in later."

She headed towards the kitchen and Nikki followed, feeling like a helpless puppy.

The apartment was spacious and expensively decorated. As she walked through the main living room, she witnessed two women standing close together. One was caressing the others back and their heads were almost touching as they spoke.

In the kitchen was enough food and booze to supply the whole of London, or so it seemed to Nikki. In an effort to make polite conversation, she asked her host what the occasion was.

"Susan's finally getting herself hitched next Saturday." Natalie said. "She's having another hen night to include all those that couldn't make the trip we had to St Tropez last weekend."

Nikki tried to picture the hoard of women in the apartment descending on St Tropez. Perusing the booze in the kitchen she concluded it must have been a riotous event.

"What would you like to drink?" Natalie asked and invited Nikki to sit on a chair.

"Just a coke will be fine."

"Are you sure? Nothing stronger?"

"No, I'm driving." Nikki liked the excuse. She didn't trust herself in this situation with anything stronger or with this woman. Keeping her head clear would ensure she didn't make a fool of herself by making a pass at Natalie, who now seemed intent on her staying.

"Come on, one tiny drink won't have you over the limit?" Natalie persisted.

Nikki scanned the bottles. "Malibu and coke then."

Natalie laughed. "Good lord, you may as well just have coke. How about a Black Russian?"

"Okay." Nikki relented. Natalie seemed happy with her acceptance of the compromise.

Three women entered the kitchen laughing as they helped themselves to some food and more drinks. Nikki smiled at them and they smiled back. She became aware that Natalie was speaking to her.

"Straight?" Natalie waited for an answer and Nikki didn't know what she was talking about.

"Pardon?" Nikki said.

"Your drink Nikki, straight or on the rocks?"

Nikki saw Natalie's tongue firmly lodged in her cheek. She smiled, privately acknowledging the meaning.

"On the rocks please."

Ice clinked into a glass and Natalie handed her the drink.

The door bell was constantly going and Nikki wondered how many more people could fit into the flat.

"So, do you just deliver flowers or actually make the bouquets." Natalie asked leaning back against the kitchen counter.

"Both." Nikki said.

"Really? You put that arrangement together yourself?" Natalie motioned with her glass towards the living room.


"You have a very creative talent and a natural eye for beauty. That arrangement is spectacular. How long have you been doing this?"

Nikki explained, as succinctly as she could, about working for Shirley and Bob.

"I'm sorry did you just say you have worked for them since you were sixteen?"

"That's right, yes." Nikki sipped on her drink.

"How old are you now?"

"Seventeen." Nikki watched as Natalie raised her glass to her mouth and then stopped. Her eyes widened and she seemed slightly shocked.

"Please don't take this the wrong way, but you appear very mature for seventeen. It's meant as a compliment and not a comment that you look older than you are."

Natalie smiled at her then reached for a pack of cigarettes that were on the table with the booze.

Nikki felt her self confidence growing in that kitchen. "Thank you," She said. "What kind of work do you do?"

"Financial. Stocks, shares, bonds, securities. Handling other peoples money." Natalie lit the cigarette.

"We're heading for a financial boom in this country, despite of what everybody thinks of Maggie. I'm not ashamed to admit I earn pots of money and will be earning pots more in the foreseeable future. I work hard and play hard and enjoy spending what I earn on things I want. But I have plenty put aside. My aim is to retire by the time I'm forty. That gives me seven more years."

Natalie inhaled on the cigarette and then leant towards Nikki, turning it between her fingers and offered it to her.

To Nikki it was an incredibly seductive move and she leaned in, inhaling on the cigarette as Natalie held it. The smell of Christian Dior wafted across her face.

Nikki lost all sense of time. Luckily Natalie remembered the parking meter, and one of the women kindly offered to go and take care of it. After a while, Natalie decided she should introduce Nikki to everybody, rather than "Hold you captive in Susie's kitchen".

It was an eclectic mix of people and Natalie knew most of them. She and Susan attended the same boarding school years before; others were acquaintances made in the interim years, through a friend of a friend or work. Nikki was also introduced to the two women she had seen earlier cosying up to each other in the corner of the lounge. They were still in the same position

"Nikki, this is Jackie and Teri. Jackie's an old boarder too. Teri has been Jackie's salvation form a life of utter debauchery to normality. We never thought it possible." They all laughed and shook Nikki's hand.

Teri didn't appear to fit in with the rest of the women Nikki had so far been introduced too. Most of whom, had either married into money or earned just as much as Natalie.

Natalie left to get herself another drink and cigarette and Nikki stood talking to them. As soon as Teri opened her mouth, the cockney accent was apparent.

Nikki thought them an odd couple. Jackie spoke as impeccably as Natalie, was a little on the hefty side, with short hair and Teri was a slim woman, a slightly stereotypical version of the dumb blonde. But she was bubbly and what she may have lacked in brains, she more than made up for in her personality.

Natalie was impressed at how Nikki was handling herself with everybody in the room. Despite her young years, she was articulate and her conversation intelligent.

Another hour passed and somebody was despatched again to take care of the parking meter.

When Nikki finally noticed the time it was 10 pm. She'd been there over three hours. The party showed no sign of ending anytime soon and she guessed it probably wouldn't until the very early hours. She was enjoying herself, but didn't want to take advantage of Susan's hospitality by outstaying her welcome. Natalie was her main reason for staying and she spent the night practically joined to her at the hip. But she felt it was a hopeless situation in hanging out for a woman who as much as she appeared to have flirted with her, was probably as straight as an arrow. And even if she wasn't straight, why would Natalie be interested in her anyway.

"I'd better go." Nikki announced. She partly meant it, but also wanted to see Natalie's reaction.

"Really? Well, if you feel you must." Nikki was disappointed but not surprised. Natalie didn't seem upset by her announcement. In fact it was rather a disinterested response.

"I should say thanks and goodbye to Susan for letting me stay this long." Nikki said.

"Of course. Well Nikki it was very nice meeting you. Do you have any business cards, in case I am ever in need of a special delivery?"

Nikki took some out of her back pocket and handed them to her.

"I'll pass these round." She kissed Nikki on the cheek.

"Bye." Nikki said. She found Susan who thanked her profusely again and escorted her to the door.

As it closed behind her, Nikki felt deflated. She walked slowly to the lift and pushed the button.


Chapter 4

"Hold the lift!"

Nikki heard the request and held her arm against the closing doors. She peered out and striding down the corridor was Natalie. Her walk was predatory; long strides that were extremely provocative and Nikki swallowed hard.

"Going down?"

Natalie said as she entered the lift. She smiled and reached across Nikki to push the button. The smell of Christian Dior filled Nikki's nostrils again and she stepped back slightly.

The doors closed and Natalie turned to look at her. Before Nikki was able to react, Natalie pinned her against the back wall. A mouth covered her own and a tongue swiped across her lips, causing Nikki to instinctively open her mouth and allow it access. There was something about the faint taste of sweet alcohol and cigarettes that Nikki found a huge turn on. Blue eyes bore into her own, and she closed her eyes, unable to take the penetrating gaze of someone watching her reaction. Nikki's mind was racing; utter joy that it was happening mixed with confusion over what was happening, why and where. And deep arousal for the same reasons.

A knee forced its way between hers, and a hand slid between her thighs and Nikki felt her legs go weak. The hand expertly cupped her crotch, gently rubbing and Nikki moaned.

Natalie suddenly removed her mouth. Nikki opened her eyes and Natalie smiled at her.

"Been a while has it?" Nikki saw the glint in Natalie's eyes as she asked.

"Yeah." Nikki managed to say. She tried to sound convincing but inexperience told her that she probably wasn't fooling this woman one bit.

She'd experienced a few furtive encounters, feel ups in the bathroom stall of a couple of gay clubs she'd plucked up the courage to go too. Looking older than she was allowed her to get in. One encounter nearly went the whole way with a girl who had cruised her at the bar. But someone pounding on the door; "There's a fucking queue out here, hurry up for Christsakes!" interrupted their hurried assignation.

The mini van proved invaluable. She'd finally accomplished one uncomfortable conquest in the back of it, while parked in the club car park. But Nikki knew it was just a matter of sex and a release for all concerned and lacked the emotional connectivity she craved. After the encounter, they went their separate ways.

Natalie rubbed harder and Nikki's head snapped back and she felt it smack against the wall as she moaned again. Her concern now was her sudden arousal and the embarrassment that she would come from the simplest of touches. She reached down and grabbed the hand and stilled it.

"Not here." She said, a plea in the request.

Natalie smiled. "Do you know how to get to Park Lane from here?" She asked. Nikki nodded.

"Could you give me a lift then? I came by taxi."

The ping of the lift signalled it was about to stop and they parted from each other. The doors opened and a couple entered.

"Ground floor?" The man asked.

"Yes please." Natalie said.

Nikki couldn't believe how composed Natalie appeared. She felt herself blushing when she realised how close they had come to being caught. She looked over to her and saw Natalie delicately wipe her fingers across her lips and smile. Nikki froze for a moment at the realisation that she probably had Natalie's lipstick smeared across her mouth. A laugh escaped from Natalie at Nikki's expression and the woman turned around. Natalie just smiled at her.

Nikki was relieved when the doors opened and they all exited. She hurriedly made her way to the van and fumbled for the keys in the front pocket of her jeans.

"Need help?" Natalie offered. The inflection in her tone was enough to stimulate Nikki once more.

"I've got it." Nikki said, her voice becoming with arousal.

She opened the door and cleared paperwork from the passenger seat, slinging it haphazardly into the back. Reaching over, she unlocked the door to allow Natalie to get in. Sitting behind the steering wheel, she watched Natalie swing her legs in, the hem of her dress riding up to reveal even more leg and Nikki gripped the wheel. Taking a deep breath she turned the key in the ignition.

The drive was a blur for Nikki. Natalie toyed with her the whole way, stroking her thigh, or playing with the hair at the back of her neck. She stalled the car twice at traffic lights and crunched the gears several times, wincing at the sound and the fact that she obviously appeared overly eager to get to their destination.

With the last few directions from Natalie, they arrived at her Park Lane apartment.

"Just drive into the underground garage." Natalie said.

Nikki parked and followed Natalie to the lift. Thinking there would be a repeat performance, she was surprised when Natalie pushed the button and didn't pounce on her when the doors closed.

"I'm on the top floor." Natalie announced. The lift ascended and nothing more was said between them.

Exiting the lift, Natalie took her keys from her bag and made her way along the corridor. Nikki walked behind, admiring the long tanned legs. The calf muscles were highly toned and she gazed at the firm arse that swayed in front of her. Her stomach fluttered again and her excitement rose at the prospect of what was about to happen once they got inside the apartment. She was breathing harder and her heart was pounding so hard in her chest, she could hear the rush of blood in her ears.

Natalie opened the door and Nikki entered. She was aware of dim lighting and heard the clash of keys onto a table just inside the entrance. As her eyes adjusted she made out what looked to be an open living area, when she heard the door close behind her. An arm slipped round her waist and she was turned around to face Natalie.

Natalie's mouth descended on hers again, and hands slid up her body pulling her closer. In her eagerness, Nikki pushed Natalie back against the door, her hands exploring the figure in the tight dress. She moved her mouth to Natalie's neck while attempting to push the hem of the dress over Natalie's thighs.

"Is there somewhere you need to be?" Natalie asked. Nikki lifted her head to look at her frowning.


"Do you need to be somewhere?" Natalie asked again.

"No." Nikki still wasn't sure what she meant.

"Then why the rush?" Natalie smiled at her. "What do you think I brought you here for? A quick fuck against my door? I'm sure your little van would have sufficed if that were the case. Or is that all you're used to?"

Nikki lowered her eyes.

"Oh God, you poor thing." Natalie laughed.

Nikki didn't find it amusing. She suddenly felt very self conscious and her confidence waned. She tried to move away but Natalie held her in place.

"Hey." Natalie said softly and lifted her chin, forcing Nikki to look at her.

'You have nothing to prove here. Just relax." Natalie brushed her lips against Nikki's cheek.

Nikki knew that Natalie was fully aware of her lack of experience and she let herself relax as Natalie suggested. The lips brushed across her mouth and then to her neck. Teeth nipped at her skin and the sensation made her draw in her breath. She could fall in love with this mouth if nothing else.

With her ear lobe being nibbled on, Nikki listened to the seductive words Natalie whispered into her ear and her whole body shivered.

"We have all night. And this is going to be so good."

Natalie drew away from her. Taking Nikki's hand she led her slowly along the hallway to the bedroom at the far end.

Natalie inhaled on her cigarette. Daylight was making its appearance through the blinds behind her as she sat watching the sleeping form in her bed. She exhaled the smoke slowly, smiling to herself.

Nikki turned out to be the revelation Natalie had sensed she would be. Brimming with deep passion and emotion, the sex was fantastic. And despite her lack of experience, Natalie discovered that Nikki needed no encouragement; everything she did was instinctual and natural to her, and with only a few simple requests, Natalie was surprised by her abilities.

Her young body was firm and extremely sensitive to the slightest touch, as though she had been starved of it. As the night continued, so Nikki became more capable of controlling her body and prolonging the sensations she felt with someone, other than herself, being in control. It was a huge turn on for Natalie as she watched it happening. And like her, Nikki's appetite and stamina proved to be insatiable and relentless.

When Natalie went to the kitchen to get them some wine Nikki followed her. She got as far a pouring wine into glasses when hands slipped around her waist from behind and Nikki began kissing her shoulders. Within moments her legs were wrapped around Nikki's waist, and the feel of cold stainless steel against her back served to heighten the sensation as Nikki fervently made love to her against the fridge.

And not long ago, she'd heard herself beg Nikki to stop, but Nikki ignored the request and Natalie was grateful she had. She came long and hard, almost crushing Nikki's head between her thighs. Nikki had learnt very quickly over the last few hours, just what she could and could not take, and Natalie realised that for the first time in a long time, she had more than met her match. She decided that Nikki was definitely a keeper for the time being.

"What are you looking at?" Nikki said. She slowly opened her sleepy brown eyes and smiled.

Natalie sipped from the wine glass in her other hand, one eyebrow arching in surprise that she was awake. She let her gaze wander over Nikki's naked body as she lie on her stomach, seeing the scratches and bite marks on her skin. The sheets were a tangled mess half on the floor, leaving Nikki completely exposed everywhere else. She followed the line of Nikki's long slender back, down to the firm shape of her backside. Her gaze lingered there for a moment, before shifting to the bulge of a breast flattened against the mattress. Nikki was a very sexual being and Natalie thought that if it were possible for someone to ooze sex, then every pore in Nikki's body did so. She was eager to see what Nikki could do with the little selection of toys she had in the closet.

"I thought you were asleep?" Natalie replied.

"I was, but I could feel you staring at me." Nikki looked over at her. She watched Natalie rise from the chair and make her way over to the bed.

Natalie was completely naked and Nikki suddenly felt very aroused at the sight. The long dark hair looked as messy as the sheets, but incredibly sexy and the body was sensational.

Crushing the cigarette in an ashtray on the bedside table Natalie placed the glass beside it. She slowly slinked her way onto the bed and straddled across Nikki.

Nikki's back arched at the feel of a tongue starting at the base of her spine, licking its way up to her neck.

"Are you hungry?" Natalie asked.

"I'm starving. What do I have to do to get fed round here?" Nikki replied, squirming as her shoulder was bitten. She felt Natalie laugh against her skin.

"Would you like some breakfast?"

"God yes!" Nikki turned beneath her until Natalie was straddled across her waist. She reached up and caressed Natalie's breasts, watching her close her eyes briefly and knew breakfast would be delayed.

Ten minutes later, Nikki heard Natalie's low guttural moan as she shuddered against her.


Chapter 5

"Nikki, are you sure about this? You've only known her three weeks!" Mandy said as they sat eating dinner.

Cheryl and Mick also stopped eating at the announcement.

"I know it seems a bit hasty, but it makes sense." Nikki was hoping to assuage them of their fears.

"I mean, it's easier for me to get to the flower shops from Natalie's place, rather than try and do all three locations, including this one. And," Nikki stopped as she cut up the meat on her plate. "I haven't exactly been here much this last fortnight." She continued eating. "I don't want to keep putting you out."

"Nikki, you know that never has been, or will be a problem." Cheryl said. "We're just a little concerned that's all. Natalie seems very nice, but," Cheryl hesitated.

Mick sat quietly, looking at the two young girls across the table. He thought how grown up they looked and wondered when it had happened. But he had noticed a huge change in Nikki since she had met Natalie. She appeared more self confident and as he looked at her now, it was no longer a young girl that sat across from him. She was a stunning looking young woman. To everybody's surprise he spoke up.

"It's Nikki's decision and we mustn't bully her, just because we want her to stay." Then he looked directly at Nikki.

"We don't want you to go, but if this is what you want and will make you happy, then you must do it. But always know there is a home here. And if you have any trouble, you let me know." He shoved a forkful of food into his mouth.

The three women around him just sat there, staring at him. His little speech in his gruff voice left them speechless. Cheryl got up and kissed him on the head.

"You want some more meat?" She asked him.

"Oh, yes please love." He said, oblivious to the tremor he had just sent through their world.

Nikki packed some clothes while Mandy sat on the bed. Even with her back to her, Nikki sensed Mandy watching her.

"What's up?" Nikki asked. She stopped folding and looked at her. Mandy shrugged dismissively.

"You don't like her, do you?" Nikki said.

"No, I mean, I'm just not sure about her."

"Why?" Nikki sat beside her.

"I dunno. Natalie seems very nice, but," Mandy sighed. "A part of me doesn't trust her."

Nikki smiled. "I'm not leaving you. I'm just moving in with her. It's not like we're never going to see each other again." Nikki playfully nudged her.

"I know. If I thought she was the kind of person that would prevent you from seeing us, I'd smash her face in. And knock some sense into you!" Mandy shoved her back. "I know she's not like that. In fact she seems the opposite."

Nikki frowned.

"She doesn't seem the possessive type. Like she's happy that you have other friends." Mandy explained.

Nikki nodded in agreement.

"Do you love her?" Mandy asked. "You know, I read that it's easy to confuse lust for love."

"Vogue?" Nikki asked and Mandy laughed.

"Seriously, are you in love?"

Nikki tilted her head, pondering. "I think so. I mean what I feel about her and the way I feel is very strong. It's not something I've ever felt before. But then I've not exactly been in a relationship that went beyond a quick shag in the van."

"So, that side of your relationship is good too?"

"Yes." Nikki blushed.

"You lucky cow."

"Hey, like Cheryl said that time, it's worth the wait for the right person. I was just a little too eager."

"Yeah, you have the hormones of a fella. Paul's the same!"

"He's not trying to force you is he?" Nikki looked at her concerned.

"He's eighteen, what do you think he wants to do, play tiddlywinks?" Mandy rolled her eyes. "No, poor sod, he never pushes his luck. He can wait." Mandy smiled.

"I'll miss you not being here?" She added quietly.

"I'll miss you too, but I'll always be here. This is my home. Let's face it I've practically lived here since I was five!"

It was still an emotional goodbye as Nikki drove away from the house. Heading towards Natalie's apartment she considered the fact that her moving in did appear a hasty decision.

Even Natalie seemed surprised by her own suggestion. She hadn't felt the need to live with anyone in a long time, but her desire to have Nikki close appeared to out weigh the advantage of solitude. But Nikki's emotions told her that this was the right thing to do. And she knew her emotions often ruled her head.

Hasty decision or not, it didn't take long for Nikki to fall hard and quickly for Natalie.

There was the indescribably feeling of waking up next to someone. The feel of warm soft skin against her own, especially as Natalie always preferred to sleep naked. Sharing a shower or a bath with someone else; a cigarette, a glass of wine, a look, or touch. Finding herself woken up in the early hours, achingly aroused, and Natalie being the cause of it.

Natalie showed no outward possessiveness towards her, with one exception. When they were in bed. If Nikki moved away, an arm or leg would wrap itself around her and Nikki would hear a sleepy growl of disapproval.

Nikki on the other hand had a tough time to begin with, dealing with Natalie openly flirting with other people, be it male of female.

The week after they met was Susan's wedding and Nikki accompanied Natalie as her guest. Natalie's desire to buy Nikki an outfit for the occasion almost turned into their first argument.

Looking at the price tag of the Armani suit Natalie had chosen for her, Nikki flatly refused to allow her to buy it.

"Nicola, don't be silly. It's only money." Natalie said, as she looked at Nikki standing in the fitting room. Nikki saw the look on her face and knew it could lead to a ravishing from Natalie later, as her lustful blue eyes took in the sight.

"No! It's too much. I'm not going to be some," Nikki hesitated, trying to find a suitable description. "Some, financial leech! You're not responsible for keeping me."

Natalie raised her eyebrows in surprise. She moved closer, and touched Nikki's cheek.

"Darling, that's not my intention." She said, trying to calm Nikki down. "In fact you're the first person to have ever refused. I never meant to insult your independence. I just wanted to treat you to a nice outfit. And," Natalie felt the fabric. "When you buy something this well made, it will never date. It's worth the investment." Natalie tried a different tact, but Nikki just stared at her.

"Okay, let's compromise. Let me buy it this one time. From now on, I shall leave you to your own fashion choices." Natalie waited and smiled. She knew the smile would win Nikki over.

Nikki closed her eyes and sighed. "Just this once." She said forcibly.

"Thank you darling," Natalie said. "But," She let her hand run down Nikki's chest. "Might I also be allowed to treat you in future, should I see something that I think might suit you?"

Nikki knew it was hopeless. Natalie was charming her and her hand was now making its way round to her back under the jacket, gently coaxing as it stroked.

Nikki smiled and then kissed her.

"Out, while I get changed." Nikki told her.

"Whatever for? Nothing I haven't already seen."

"Then you can wait till later."

"Spoil sport." Natalie said. "Later then." Winking, she left.

The wedding was the most spectacular event Nikki had ever witnessed. She'd asked Natalie what church the ceremony was taking place at and Natalie just nonchalantly said "The Abby". Nikki racked her brains, but couldn't think where she meant. When they arrived at the church, Nikki thought it was a joke.

Westminster Abby had never occurred to her and she realised that Susan was marrying into some serious money.

The reception was the first time Nikki had to deal with Natalie's overt flirting. Even the groom's grandfather was given a dose of the Natalie Parker charm, when she grabbed him from his wife for a twirl round the dance floor. Nikki heard her deep bawdy laugh and watched her as she grabbed his cheeks and kissed him sweetly.

Nikki stood talking with Jackie and Teri as they watched Natalie work the room.

"There she goes. It's remarkable how she does it." Jackie remarked. "She's always had the ability to charm anyone. She could sell ice to Eskimo's. We all said at boarding school, she'd be the one most likely to succeed. She was full of joie de vive, always planning something. We never knew how she did it, but we'd have endless supplies of cigarettes, booze, and once, she even smuggled some boys in. Wasted on us of course."

Nikki laughed at the idea.

"Seriously. The financial world suits her. Gives her the oppourtunity to meet people and get them to come round to her way of business. Once she sets her sites on a prospective client, they don't stand a chance. She's very well respected in her profession. But she still has that ruthless edge that can make some of her male counterparts feel they've just been castrated."

Nikki looked back over at Natalie and as she watched her, she could see what Jackie meant. It wasn't difficult to understand why people were drawn to her. When Natalie spoke, or listened to someone else, she gave them her whole attention. Nikki knew that it was going to be difficult to share her, when Natalie was in a flamboyant mood like this. She was used to having Natalie to herself, and at home, Natalie's attention had been solely hers.

It was five weeks after they had been together, that Nikki's insecurity in their new relationship was really tested.

Natalie took her to an exclusive gay club. Another new outfit "That I just couldn't resist seeing you in" and they both looked a sensational couple. Nikki's fitted white shirt and silver waistcoat hugged her figure and the pinstripe trousers highlighted her tall slim frame. Natalie's sapphire blue dress brought out the colour of her eyes and Nikki had a hard time concentrating on leaving the apartment, without helping Natalie get out of it as quickly as possible.

As soon as they walked in, Nikki felt hundreds of eyes looking their way. Natalie was on form and appeared to be kissed by every woman there. Nikki wondered how many of the women were ex's and tried her best not to dwell on the thought.

Standing at the bar, Natalie was constantly kissed, hugged and fawned over, in between introducing Nikki. The women politely talked to her, intrigued by the new arrival. But once again, the overt flirting from Natalie made Nikki feel very self conscious. She drank hurriedly in an effort to relax and enjoy herself with all these new people and she wished for Mandy or even Jackie and Teri to be there. After a while, she fled to the ladies powder room.

Nikki stood in one of the cubicles and closed the door taking a deep breath. She felt foolish for feeling this way and chided herself.

"Nikki?" Natalie's low voice said on the other side of the door. Nikki slowly opened it and Natalie stepped in, closing it again behind her.

"Why are you hiding in here?" Natalie asked. Nikki took another deep breath.

"All those women out there, who are they?" Nikki knew it sounded childish.

"What do you mean?" Natalie frowned. Nikki now felt angry.

"They can't seem to keep their fucking hands off you, and you appear to be enjoying it!" Nikki regretted it as soon as she said it.

Natalie just stared at her. "Don't be petulant Nicola."

"Then don't talk to me like I'm a child!"

"Then stop behaving like a spoilt brat." Natalie's eyes flared, a slight annoyance in her voice.

Nikki knew she was behaving exactly as that. She closed her eyes. "I'm sorry." She said quietly. She felt Natalie's hand on her cheek and opened her eyes again.

"Jealously doesn't become you darling." Natalie smiled at her.

"It's just…difficult to see so many women that want you." Nikki said.

"Is that what you think?" Natalie sounded surprised and then laughed.

"Oh darling, how naïve you are. Those women out there are not currently interested in me. Those women out there are only interested in me, as a way to get to you. There isn't one of them that wouldn't like the oppourtunity to get you into their bed. They're just trying to figure out if it's a possibility. You could have any woman you want tonight."

Nikki didn't know what to say. "I don't want anybody else."

"Then I'm sorry if tonight has upset you. But it's something you will have to get used to. You're very desirable darling. And I will tell you honestly, that having you here with me tonight is burgeoning my already inflated ego." Natalie delicately flicked at the lock of hair on Nikki's forehead.

"Do you want to stay, or go?" Natalie asked.

"Truthfully? I want to take you home to get you out of that dress." Nikki smiled at her.

"Sounds like the best offer I'm going to get tonight."


"Ah, the dreaded but"

"We should stay, there are your friends. And who knows," Nikki smiled at her "I just might get a better offer. Maybe another lover."

She tilted her head to one side, in thought as she opened the door. "Although they do say, that the ideal lover is actually a midget with a ten inch tongue who can breathe through their ears." Nikki winked and left.

Natalie's laugh was heard all the way from the restroom throughout the club.


Chapter 6

As hard as it was, Nikki taught herself to curb her jealousy, and trusted that Natalie's flirting was just that and nothing more. Her ego certainly seemed adequately fuelled by having Nikki around her.

They settled into domesticity, as much as it was possible for Natalie to adapt to it.

Natalie's apartment was tastefully decorated. Beautiful paintings, modern art work and sculptures were all over it. She preferred plain walls to show off the pieces. And she had remodelled the place to give it an open plan feeling so that it was spacious for entertaining, leaving the bedrooms secluded from the main living area. Ahead of her time she had installed custom wooden floors. Every modern appliance was incorporated into the kitchen, and to Nikki's surprise at first, appeared to have never been used. It didn't take long to realise why. Natalie never cooked. She either dined out, or had dinner delivered to her. And the apartment was cleaned once a week by a cleaning service.

The first time Natalie came home and found Nikki cooking she was amazed. Nikki had told her it was going to be a night with their friends.

"Darling, what's going on?"

"I'm cooking dinner." Nikki informed her.

"But why? Did the restaurant cancel or something?"

"What restaurant?" Nikki said. "I said I would organise tonight. I meant I was going to cook."

"But darling, we could have gone out or got Harrods's to delivery." Natalie said exasperated.

"Both are expensive. Besides I like to cook."

"But I don't want you to feel like some sort of maid."

"I know. And I don't"

Natalie watched as Nikki moved about in the kitchen, preparing the meal.

"Where did you get all these pans?" Natalie poured them both some wine.

Nikki straightened up from reaching into the fridge and looked at her in disbelief.

"In the cupboard. You mean you didn't know you had them? I thought they looked exceptionally clean."

Natalie just shrugged and smiled. "What are you making?" She dipped her finger into a pan, tasting the sauce.

"Italian." As Natalie went to sample something else, Nikki slapped her hand away. "You'll spoil your appetite." She said.

"Darling, you should know better than anyone, my appetite is never quenched." Natalie slid her arms around Nikki's waist.

"How much time is this going to take exactly?" Nikki knew the tone very well, and turned to face her.

"More time than I can give you right now." Nikki cupped Natalie's face in her hands and leisurely kissed her mouth. "Why don't you go and take a shower? By the time you get ready, everybody will be here and dinner will be ready."

After several moments of passionate kissing, Nikki finally pushed Natalie out of the kitchen.

Nikki was overjoyed that the dinner party was turning into a wonderful evening.

Mandy, Paul, Cheryl and Mick as well as Jackie and Teri and other friends of Natalie's, Serena and Gillian, were kept entertained by Natalie, as she constantly ensured they had enough wine.

Natalie was impressed by Nikki's cooking skill and showed it by getting up and kissing her.

"My darling, this is wonderful. You know I shall have to think of a way to keep you pregnant in summer and shoeless in winter, so that you're never able to leave."

Their guests found the comment hilarious. Natalie was on form and Nikki was deliriously happy. There was more laughter, with Natalie laughing the hardest, as Nikki made fun of her lack of culinary skills and grocery shopping experience.

"Natalie's idea of breakfast is a croissant and freshly squeezed orange juice." Natalie flashed her a lecherous grin.

Nikki was referring to that first morning after they had spent all night in bed. She informed Natalie at the time, that it really wasn't enough to ensure her energy levels remained in peak performance.

"I've since educated her on the benefits of a full English." Nikki smiled back at her.

"Darling, what was that little store you insisted we go to the other week?" Natalie asked


"Yes. Dear God! No where to sit for a coffee and no clothes department. What's that all about?" Natalie looked at everyone for an explanation, but carried on.

"But, you must admit Nikki, I fared better at Marks and Spencer's. At least the food looked appetising and they had clothing. But I'm sorry, you can't possibly say, that Harrods food hall isn't the most delicious experience you've ever had. At least they deliver. Saves all that nonsense of carrying bags to the car. The only bags I prefer to carry are from the women's clothing department. Harrods is my one stop shopping heaven. Maybe in a few years Sainsbury's will become more civilised."

Natalie poured everybody more wine. "And I am a hopeless cook. But restaurants were invented for people like me and I am not about to deny some wonderful chef, the oppourtunity to delight me with a dish."

"In all fairness Natalie, you work very long hours some days. You can be forgiven for not knowing your way around the kitchen." Nikki smiled at her.

It was Paul later in the evening, as they sat in discussion on various topics that asked a question that surprised everybody due to its directness.

"Have you ever had to deal with any negative reaction to being gay?" He looked at Natalie. "From family, or work or anywhere else?"

Natalie sipped some wine before answering.

"I guess I'm lucky in that I'm able to so no, not really. I never had the misfortune to have the reaction that Nikki did from her parents." She looked at Nikki and smiled.

"I had a privileged childhood. Very wealthy parents who encouraged independence. Happy to pay for a private education that would see to it. And then happy to ignore any slight deviances from the norm, as a consequence. My colleagues are aware that my predilection is toward women, not because I informed them, but because at company functions or social gatherings that's who always accompanied me. They've worked it out for themselves."

Natalie got up and made her way round the table, filling up everybody's glass with wine.

"When you meet someone for the first time, how do you introduce yourself? "Hi, I'm Paul and I'm a straight man?" Of course not. That's already assumed. As it is for women. Unless a man appears overly effeminate, or a woman overly butch. Even then, people's assumptions can be completely wrong. I've never felt the need to explain myself. Who I chose to sleep with is nobody's business. It's certainly not something I ask my colleagues about either. It's doesn't define who I am or them. What should define a person is their actions, their achievements, their accomplishments in life. My being gay is only a small part of the whole."

As she passed Nikki, she let her hand slide across her shoulders and then sat down.

"There's just seems to be a lot of negativity at the moment. What with aids being touted as the gay disease." Paul said.

Everybody nodded in agreement.

"The brunt of it is aimed at gay men though. Not so much lesbians." Jackie added.

"It's always easy to place blame on a section of society for something that could threaten everybody." Nikki said.

"Aids is just as prevalent amongst heterosexual people and drug users. People forget that it's a person's choice to take drugs in the first place. The gay community is seen as predominately promiscuous and deviant. Whereas in fact, they are no more than straight people. Present company accepted."

Nikki smiled at Mandy, Cheryl, Mick and Paul, knowing all of them were with the only partners they had ever known.

"I'm not saying that that's not the case. But it's not the majority. There are many gay couples who have been in a relationship for many years, just like the majority of married people. They have a truer understanding of the vow "till death do us part" than most of the couples who utter it in church."

Everybody looked at Nikki, struck by the quiet eloquence with which she spoke. Even Natalie appeared affected by what she said and raised her glass to her in salute.

Nikki couldn't resist breaking the silence. "But then again, who sticks to the same chocolates in a tin of Quality Street? So many choices, it's hard not to sample them all!"

Jackie choked as she sipped her wine and Natalie's bawdy laugh set everybody else off.

With their guests gone, Nikki cleared away the last of the dishes.

"What are you doing?" Natalie handed her a glass of wine.

"Rinsing these…"

Natalie interrupted her.

"I know damn well, there's a dishwasher here somewhere. Leave those and come to bed. I won't to give my appreciation to the chef."

"We both have work in the morning." Nikki teased her.

"Well then, we'll just have to stay up all night. We've managed it before."

Nikki took control and took her time. She was slow and deliberate, gently teasing Natalie all the way with her touch, her mouth; caressing the body beneath her. A deep sensuality emanated from her and permeated into Natalie and Nikki sensed a change in her, as though Natalie were attempting to resist something, fighting back an emotion or feeling. Then the resistance ceased and what followed was an incredibly emotional experience for Nikki.

She watched Natalie intently, feeling her come and hearing her cry out as she held her tightly and tasted her own salty tears as they trickled down to her lips.

Natalie looked at her, combing back Nikki's hair.

"What did you just do to me?" Natalie asked and smiled. She kissed Nikki and felt the wetness on her face.

"What's wrong darling?" She said.

Nikki was unable to speak at first. As Natalie wiped away her tears, Nikki kissed the palm of her hand.

"I just…I love you." Nikki finally said.

Natalie just stared at her, softly smiling.

"Yes," Natalie pulled her closer. "I believe you do."

It didn't matter to Nikki that Natalie didn't say it back. She loved the woman now holding her and nothing else mattered.

They lay there talking and laughing, stroking thighs and backs, arms; fingertips circling breasts and stomach muscles. They made love slowly again and fell asleep, only to woken by Natalie's shrill alarm.

More dinner parties were held, more friends made. Nights dining out. Nights in alone.

Natalie's job also took her away from the UK. Some times she flew to Paris and other times to New York. Clients had to be courted and she was the best asset the financial institution she worked for had. If Natalie Parker couldn't win over a client, then nobody could.

Bob and Shirley handed over more responsibility to Nikki. As assistant manager, she was more than capable of running the business when they took holiday time, and kept a shrewd eye on the profits, and promoting business. A large amount of orders now came from the Knightsbridge, Chelsea, Mayfair and other exclusive London areas, and Nikki was aware that a lot had to do with the recommendation Natalie had given to friends and colleagues. Flowers for receptions, hotels, restaurants and business's took off.

Socially, Natalie was unable to keep still. Everything was about experience. Trips to the theatre, the opera, art galleries, were constantly a part of their itinerary and Nikki loved it. Even before meeting Natalie, she would often take herself off to the National Art Gallery and sit amongst the paintings, or visit the museums.

Natalie's connections also meant they were invited to private galleries to see a collection by a new artist. It would provide lively discussion afterwards. As did many of the topics they engaged in. Nikki also loved to sit and read and a debate would often ensue on the merits of the author and the novel. It was the same with politics.

Nikki knew that Natalie sometimes deliberately took an opposing standpoint, just to get her riled up. A heated argument would develop and Nikki's passionate nature would come to the fore. And she was aware that Natalie knew that all that passion had to have a release, and took advantage of the fact, by taking Nikki to bed, if they ever made it that far. It might also take Natalie coaxing her out of the spare bedroom after she'd stormed off there and slammed the door, but more often than not it was worth it.

The only time Natalie showed any annoyance was Nikki's insistence on paying her own way and towards Nikki's job. Natalie was able to take off on a trip at short notice and wanted Nikki to accompany her. She found it frustrating that Nikki couldn't and also wouldn't do that to Bob and Shirley. Nikki was only able to go with her, if she had enough notice, and then would come the question of paying for her own flight. Paris was ok; New York meant Concord and it was the only way Natalie would consider getting there for her company. It was the fastest way to travel for a short business trip and to have her back in London. They never argued the expense.

But Natalie got Nikki to compromise and on her first long weekend trip to New York, she loved it. When Natalie finished the business meeting, she took Nikki on a whirlwind tour.

Over the next 3 years, it was the first of many trips. New York, Paris, St Tropez, and also Los Angeles and San Francisco for Nikki's eighteenth. On trips that she couldn't make with Natalie, Nikki trusted that whatever Natalie did, was purely business. She never felt, sensed or was given any reasons for suspicion by Natalie, that the trips involved anything more while she was away.


Chapter 7


Helen looked at the address again on the piece of paper in her hand. It was the right place. She strode up to the front door of the terraced house.

The door was slightly open, so she pushed it and peered down the hallway.

"Hello?" She said. There was no reply, but she heard a noise further into the house. She gingerly entered and made her way towards it.

"Hello?" Helen said louder.

"In the kitchen!" Came the female reply.

Helen wandered into it, and saw someone under the kitchen sink cupboard.

"Aww, bloody hell!" The young woman said.

"Is everything alright?" Helen asked.

"No, this bloody cock stop's jammed, I can't turn it anymore. We're not getting any hot water coming through. I'll have to ring the landlord!"

Helen smiled at the sound of the soft Geordie accent. It wasn't an easy accent to understand at times, especially if someone was speaking rapidly or it was very broad. Helen found she had more trouble understanding the Geordie men. It was as bad a trying to understand a drunken Glaswegian.

The woman wiggled her way out of the small cupboard, a rag and wrench in her hand.

"You must be Helen, right?" She said.

"Yes, sorry I'm late. It's a habit of mine." Helen smiled at her.

"No problem, would you like me to show you round? I'm Claire by the way, not sure if I told you on the phone?"

Claire put down the rag and wrench and shook her hand.

"Well, as you can see, this is the kitchen. So far all the appliances seem to work. But the washing machine does tend to roam around the kitchen floor a bit. I feel like I'm being followed when it starts."

Helen laughed. She followed Claire out into the hallway.

"This is a small storage cupboard. In there you'll find the hoover on the brink of a nervous breakdown. In here is the living room and dinning room."

It was a large room that in Victorian times would have been two rooms, but had been knocked into one. The furniture was a mish mash, typical of student living.

Helen ascended the creaky stairs behind Claire as they made their way up a flight.

"This is the bathroom. I've spent the last three weeks scrubbing the tub, to try and get rid of some of the barnacle life attached to it."

Helen peered in and saw that it hadn't been updated in a long time.

"Ok, this is the room that will be yours, if you want to take it."

It was larger than Helen was expecting. High ceilings and decorative coving, and although the wallpaper was faded, it was nicer than everything she had viewed so far. There was an old wardrobe, dressing table that could be used as a desk and a night stand by the single bed.

"What do you think?" Claire asked. "They'll only be the two of us. And the landlord's a nice old guy. He'll be round as soon as I tell him about the hot water tap. He's very good like that. Most landlords just take your money and that's it. Plus, we're not to far from the university and nightlife." Claire smiled.

"It's perfect. I'd like to be your housemate."

"Great. I've had a lot of fella's coming round, but I was hoping for another girl. Don't like the idea of sharing a place with a bloke. I have two older brothers, and what guys can do to a bathroom can make your hair curl."

Helen laughed again.

"Well, welcome home." Claire said. "Fancy a cuppa?"

They headed back down to the kitchen and Claire filled up the kettle and flicked it on.

"So what brings you to Durham University?" Claire asked.

"Sociology." Helen replied. "What about you?"

"Law. Runs in the family. Me mam, dad and both brothers, are all solicitors, so it seemed the obvious way to go. But I am actually interested in the subject. I'm surprised you didn't try for Edinburgh, would have been nearer like, surely?"

"I chose Durham instead." Helen shrugged.

"You were offered Edinburgh?" Claire exclaimed, not quiet believing what Helen said. "And you chose Durham? What for man?"

Helen smiled as Claire's accent became broader.

"Independence. I didn't want to stay in Scotland. Big wide world, all that stuff." Helen said.

Claire stared at her for a moment.

"Sounds more like you had a bigger reason to get away." Claire raised her eyebrows. "Old boyfriend?"

Helen didn't answer.

"Or family member perhaps?" Claire added. She saw Helen's body stiffen. "Dad?"

Helen was unable to hide her surprise at the deduction.

"I'm sorry. It's being around my own family. I've learned to watch for body language and to suss out a person. Questions that a lawyer would ask a defendant or client, to get to the truth. I didn't mean to offend." Claire handed her a mug of tea.

"Then I'd say you're on the path to being a good solicitor." Helen said and smiled. "My dad and I don't see eye to eye. Our relationship is confrontational."

Helen was an only child, raised by her father when her mother died when she was only five. Andrew Stewart was domineering and expected a lot from his young daughter, and never seemed happy with her achievements. Helen often wondered if he would have been happier if she'd been born a boy. She became self sufficient and driven and at times defiant against his wishes which led to many arguments. At home they avoided each other as much as they could and as she became older, so her life outside the home became her refuge. Friends were her escape, some of which included boys, but never involved anything further, something which her father would disapprove of whole heartedly.

He was furious when she announced she was going to Durham University rather than Edinburgh. He did his best to force her to change her mind.

And as far as he was concerned now, she was living on campus. She neglected to tell him, that she intended to share a house with another student and that's what she had been doing the last two days since her arrival. Finding somewhere else.

Claire drove her back to campus in her beat up old car and helped Helen to gather all her stuff, so she could move in.

It was the start of a long friendship that would last through University and into later adult life, when Claire's profession would help Helen not only on a professional level, but a personal one aswell.

But at only 18 years old now, she had no idea what lie ahead in her future.

Helen loved University. She excelled in her classes and her professors were very encouraging, unlike her father.

The social life was great too. Discussions groups, on various topics, as well a parties and outings. Helen became notorious as a beer drinker; her propensity to be able to down a few pints without feeling the effect became legendary.

It didn't take long for Helen to have a string of admirers. The Scot's accent and the most flirtatious smile this side of the moon, had them lined up hoping for a date. Plus her intellect was also a huge turn on. Beauty and brains. It became a male challenge to see who could win her approval. And get her into bed.

Helen herself did nothing to encourage them. And deflected most advances as politely as she could.

But there was one young man, a psychology student already two years into his course, who made no obvious attempt, outside of friendship. Rory Jameson was twenty years old, over six feet, had dark hair and gentle brown eyes. He played rugby which surprised her when she found out. He was quietly spoken and Helen thought he'd chosen the right subject.

The months were flying by and rather than go home when classes ended for break, Helen accompanied Claire and stayed with her family in Newcastle.

Claire's parents were a very welcoming couple and Helen enjoyed their bickering. It was always a case of one-upmanship, rather like two solicitors on opposing teams; it seemed it carried on into their personal as well as professional life.

Along with Claire, Helen's group of friends extended at University. It was a great mixture of personalities and she felt her life was going exceptionally well.


Chapter 8


Helen was with Claire, Melanie and Rachel in one of the social clubs, sitting and talking, when the door opened and in piled loads of young men. Rory was among them and the rest were the rugby team.

He spotted them sitting there and came over. He face was flushed and mud spattered and his hair was wet with sweat.

"Hi ladies." He smiled. The crowd were boisterous and filled up the social club, ordering beers at the bar.

"What's the occasion?" Mel asked.

"We've just trounced Sunderland University. We thought it only fair to let them drown their sorrows." He turned and made his way over to the bar.

The rugby songs started, with abuse being thrown at either team, in good hearted fashion. Helen, Claire and the others sat laughing at their antics. The two guys that Mel and Rachel were dating showed up and they were all enjoying the atmosphere.

Somehow a challenge was put forward by Sunderland that a drinking competition should take place and they knew they couldn't be beaten at that. They had a left winger that could drink the Thames dry.

Simon, Rachel's boyfriend, heard the challenge when he went to get some more drinks.

"So who's stepping up for Durham then?" Mel asked.

"They can't seem to make up their mind." Simon said.

"Helen could do it." Rachel said as she sipped her drink.

"What?" Helen looked at her startled.

"Come on Helen, you know you could. You were the only one still dancing at the Christmas social with a beer in your hand, while the rest were passed out or puking."

"Hey, Rory!" Mel called out to him. He turned and came over.

"We've got your man. Helen can take on whoever they have. It'll be a walk over." Mel said.

He looked as surprised as Helen.

"That's silly, I'm sure the squad don't want to be represented by a woman. How will that look to Sunderland?" Helen tried to laugh it off.

"It will look like equality." Claire suggested.

"It will look like we a have rugby team in touch with their feminine side. They'll be a laughing stock." Helen added.

"Actually, I rather like Claire's thought process." Rory smiled at her.

"Helen come on, just a couple of drinks for fun. Give some pride back to Sunderland." Claire encouraged.

Helen saw them all looking at her expectantly.

"It's up to you, but psychologically, you'll have the advantage. They won't be expecting it." Rory said.

"Oh shit." Helen mumbled. "Ok." She agreed.

She followed Rory over to the bar, where he spoke with his team Captain. He looked surprised to say the least, but shrugged and said what could they lose? He didn't have anyone he thought capable and Helen realised why, when the opposing team's choice stepped forward.

Helen craned her neck to see past his chest and her eyes were looking under his chin. It was only when he lowered his head she could see his face. He stood like Goliath.

"Well, this won't take long." Helen muttered.

She matched him pint for pint for the first three and was considering submitting there and then, but a little defiant voice told her "just one more"

Just one more became another three and by now the table was full of glasses. Pint seven was the turning point.

Helen noticed the flushed look on her opponents face and his eyes appeared a little foggy. His work out on the rugby field had increased his blood circulation and the alcohol was taking effect quicker because of it.

Pint nine and he was in trouble. He was looking decidedly uncomfortable. Not even the encouraging cheers of his supporters, was helping.

Helen's supporters were ecstatic. Word had got out and now the place was packed, standing room only. After she finished each drink, the cheers resounded through the building, making the walls shake.

He took pint ten slowly and Helen eased his pain, by drinking hers at the same speed. Halfway through number eleven he slumped forward onto the table. Some one eased him back and he shook his head in submission.

Helen picked up her glass and finished number eleven. The place erupted and before she knew it, she was lifted up and perched on the teams shoulders.

"Stewart! Stewart!" Was the accompanying chant as they paraded her around the bar.

The celebrations continued after Helen was placed back onto solid ground. She made her way outside for some fresh air, which was the worse thing she could have done. The mixture of alcohol in her system and fresh oxygen made her feel extremely drunk. She staggered over to a small wall and sat on top of it. She listened to the sounds of rugby songs starting again and smiled to herself. Closing her eyes she took some deep breaths.

"Are you ok?"

Helen opened her eyes to see Rory standing in front of her.

"Just a little light headed." She answered.

"I'm not surprised. That was quite remarkable." He smiled and sat beside her on the wall.

Her world started to spin and Helen gripped the wall. A wave of unexpected nausea rolled through her stomach and she held her breath, hoping to push it back down. Rory looked at her and the colour drained from her face.

"Are you sure you feel ok?" He asked.

Helen nodded. "Fine." She rose quickly and leant over the wall and threw up for several moments.

Rory was helping to hold her up, when Claire and the others wandered outside.

"Helen? Are you ok?" Claire asked. Helen waved her hand dismissively behind her.

"Our champion is just overwhelmed with her victory at the moment." Rory said.

Rachel pulled some tissues from her bag and handed them to him and he passed them onto Helen.

Helen shakily managed to turn around with Rory's help and sat on the wall once again.

"Just so you all know," Helen wagged her finger at them, her speech slurred and her Scot's accent more apparent. "That's the last time I'm ever doing that."

She smiled and swayed forward and Rory caught her.

"I think we'd better get you home." He suggested.

Rory paid the taxi driver and helped Helen out of the cab. He offered to take Helen home and her friends avidly agreed, all assuming that this would be a good idea for Helen's sake.

Holding Helen up, Rory attempted the short distance of the pathway to the door, stumbling for most of the way, as Helen's legs refused to co-operate.

"Do you have a key?" Rory asked as they stood at the front door.

"Yes, in my front pocket." Helen smiled at him as she held onto him round the waist.

He gingerly slid his hand into the front pocket of her jeans, fumbling for the key.

Helen began to giggle. "Not that one. The other one." She informed him.

He saw the wide lopsided grin on her face. Switching his search, he found the key and opened the door.

Halfway up the stairs, Rory wished he had chosen the living room instead of trying to get Helen to her bedroom.

Finally at the top he steered Helen along the hallway.

"Which room is yours?" He asked. He watched Helen close one eye, trying to focus, and then she pointed.

"Ok, nearly there." He pushed open the door with his foot and was now carrying Helen's dead weight.

He sat her down on the bed. Noticing an empty glass on the bedside table, he picked it up.

"I'm going to get you some water. You need to drink some before you fall asleep. You'll feel better for it in the morning." He told her.

Rory left and found the bathroom and filled up the glass. Back in the bedroom, he discovered Helen passed out and gently snoring. He smiled and placed the glass on the table, and lifted Helen's legs onto the bed removing her shoes. He covered her with the duvet and then set her alarm, knowing she had classes in the morning.

Before he left the room, he allowed himself to take advantage of her inebriated state and kissed her forehead.

"Goodnight Stewart." He said quietly. "I love you, you crazy Scot."


Chapter 9

The alarm woke Helen up and she fumbled for it on the bedside table, but couldn't find it. Slowly sitting up, she saw it was on the floor away from the bed.

She had no recollection of putting it there, but realised it was probably a good idea. She gingerly got up and switched it off, and then made her way to the bathroom.

"What time did you leave this morning?" Helen asked Claire when she met her for lunch. As she looked at her, she was sure Claire was wearing the same clothes as the night before.

"I stayed at Mel's last night." Claire frowned at her, as if she should know why.

"Why?" Helen asked.

Claire's eyes widened. "Oh my God! You don't remember anything do you?"

Helen saw the look of shock on her face.

"What am I suppose to remember?" Helen asked anxiously.

"Rory took you home. We all thought, you know…?"

Helen slowly closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead.

"Do you think…?" Claire didn't say anymore.

"No. I woke up fully clothed."

"Wow! He's obviously more crazy about you than we thought."

"What!?" Helen exclaimed and opened her eyes.

"Oh come Helen, don't tell me you didn't know?" Claire saw that she didn't. "Rory's in love with you."

Helen went to say something, but found she couldn't think of anything to say. Just then, Rory appeared and made his way over.

As Helen looked at him, she was suddenly aware that he looked different to her. She now plainly saw how he smiled at her and from the expression on his face, he was more than happy to see her. As she watched him approach, she gazed at his face. He was good looking, had a lovely smile, beautiful eyes and a strong body.

As he stood in front of her Helen suddenly felt glad to see him.

Claire stood up. "Hi Rory. Got to dash, have a meeting with Professor Jones. See you later." She winked at Helen.

Helen glared at her, fully aware that she had no such meeting at all.

"I believe I owe you a big thank you, for taking me home last night." Helen said as Rory sat down.

"No need. It was my pleasure." He smiled at her.

Helen wasn't sure what that meant. "It was?" She asked tentatively.

He began to laugh. "Helen, I assure you, that all parties concerned behaved properly. You have nothing to worry about.

Helen sighed with relief.

"Although you do look incredibly adorable when you're snoring."

He laughed again when Helen playfully punched him on the arm.

The relationship progressed from there. They spent more time together alone as well as with their friends.

Helen discovered Rory was a passionate kisser. And she knew they were heading rapidly towards an inevitable conclusion to their passion.

It finally happened one weekend, when Claire went home to visit her parents.

Saturday night, Rory arrived at the house with some Chinese take away and they sat eating and talking.

"I'm thinking of where I should go with sociology. Maybe more towards criminology or social work eventually. Not sure which." Helen remarked.

"Yeah," Rory pondered. "I can see social work being a good fit for you. You seem to have a strong need to help people. Can be a tough field though."

He was well aware of Helen's compassionate nature, he'd seen it in their discussions on many topics. She was also a passionate driven person, sometimes so much so, that she wasn't able to see another's viewpoint. She could also be argumentative, if she believed she was right.

Eventually they found themselves stretched out on the sofa, Rory's long legs dangling over the end, listening to music.

"Are you comfortable like this?'' Helen giggled.

"I don't really know what else to do. Are you comfortable?" He asked.

Helen shifted herself so she was laying on top of him, so that he might be able to move into a more comfortable position. It served to produce a reaction in Rory that Helen felt against her leg. She kept still but it kept growing.

She saw the look of embarrassment on his face mixed with desire in his eyes. Softly she kissed his lips and felt his hands gently stroking her back.

"Helen, I think I'd better go." He said.

"Why?" She frowned at him.

"Because I want you, and I don't think I'll be able to stop myself." He smiled at her.

Helen took a deep breath.

"Rory, I've never," Helen swallowed. "I've never…but."

Rory interrupted her. "I kinda guessed as much. That's why I don't want to push you. I want you to be sure."

"I am." Helen said confidently and it surprised him. "That's what I'm trying to tell you." She smiled.

His mouth captured hers and Helen felt their arms and legs began to entwine. His hands found their way under her T-shit. The sofa was providing no comfort what so ever.

Helen got up and Rory stood with her.

"Let's go upstairs." Helen suggested.

"Are you sure?" Rory asked again.

"Yes. But I'm not...I don't have," Helen was trying to find the right words to explain. "Claire might have something in the bathroom."

Rory smiled at her. He tapped his back pocket. "I've got precautions covered. I thought I'd better, just in case."

Helen smiled at his thoughtfulness and consideration.

They slowly undressed one another in the bedroom. Helen let her fingers feel his warm skin, surprised that it felt soft, despite the tight and toned muscles of his body. And his body was muscular and well proportioned. When he finally stood naked before her, she saw just how aroused he was.

He was slow and gentle, softly kissing and caressing her, watching intently for any sign that signalled he needed to stop.

And when it was finally time, he was as gentle as he could be.

Rory looked at Helen as they lay facing each other on the bed. He gazed at her body and allowed his hand to stroke down her arm to her thigh. Her skin radiated heat, still reeling from the exertion between them. The pale softness of it made him smile. Her body was incredibly seductive and now appeared alive. He knew this had been a sexual awakening for her.

He saw Helen smile at him.

"Are you okay?" Rory asked.

"Yes." She moved nearer and kissed him.

"Was it okay?" He continued to stroke her thigh.

"Yes." Helen grinned.

"You feel good," He said. "You felt good."

"So did you." Helen's hand wandered down to his stomach, and then continued past it.

"Really?" He managed to say as she held him. He knew she understood what he meant.

Helen just nodded and continued to caress him.

He remembered that first moment, as Helen gasped and gripped his shoulders. He stopped moving until she relaxed, then slowly turned over, so that Helen sat straddled across him. "Do what ever feels right for you, okay" he'd told her.

The rhythm between them eventually built, and he willed himself to hang on. Helen looked incredible as her eyes turned almost pure green as she held his gaze. Her nails began to dig into his chest, and her soft breathless pants turned to moans. As he felt her squeeze him he knew he could let go.

Helen felt him twitch in her hand.

"Feels like you're ready for something." She purred.

Rory moaned at the tone of her voice.

"Do you have enough…?" Helen started to ask, but he interrupted her.

"I've got enough of those, to last us until morning." He said softly and grinned, as Helen nuzzled into his neck, kissing it.

The next two years seemed to fly by. It was a busy time study wise, but Helen was enjoying herself. Rory made her happy and she felt content. The physical side of their relationship was also good. At every oppourtunity, they took advantage of it.

They enjoyed camping trips with their friends, as well as hostelling in Europe.

Rory also allowed her the space she needed and encouraged her and was neither the jealous or possessive type. He was quietly controlled and calm. She'd never seen him angry, only happy to be with her. She believed they had a happy go lucky relationship. Nothing too intense.

So she was surprised when Rory asked her something that she was in no way prepared for.

At least, not at this time in her life.


Chapter 10


Nikki heard the front door slam as she tested the water in the bath.

"Nicola?" Natalie called out.

"In here." Nikki called back. Happy that the water was hot enough, she sipped from the glass of wine. She heard Natalie's shoes clatter down the hallway, as she kicked them off.

The bathroom door opened and Natalie entered. As Nikki looked at her, her expression was tight and angry.

"What's up?" Nikki asked. She handed Natalie the glass of wine. "I've run you a bath, dinner will be an hour yet."

"Thank you darling." Natalie quickly sipped from the glass and placed it on the side of the tub, then began to remover her clothes.

"Bad day?" Nikki asked again.

"It was ok until an hour ago. I'm sorry darling, but you're not going to like what I'm about to tell you." She flung her blouse onto the floor.

"That fucking French client is flying in tomorrow. She changed it from Monday at the last minute. Apparently she's now decided she wants to fucking parlez at last. And to top it all, she's bringing her own financial team, so we can all discuss it. I'm so fucking mad, I almost told her and her company to shove it. Luckily Donald took over the call. Bringing her own fucking team! What does she think we are a bunch of amateurs? We've worked on this for ages, telling her what a fucking mess her team has been making of her business. They're shares are down. They're bleeding money like a fucking ruptured artery!"

Natalie took a long draught from the wine glass. It was rare for Nikki to see Natalie so angry, and if she was, it was normally work related. As she looked at her now, Nikki thought she looked glorious. She was irritated as she undid the zip on her skirt, then the clasp on her bra, all the while ranting, until she stood completely naked.

"Did I make it clear how fucking mad I am?" Natalie asked as she stepped into the bath. Nikki laughed.

"You know that this means I'm either going to be late, or miss Mandy's hen night altogether tomorrow? As much trouble as the woman has caused, we still have to court her business. She's flying in lunchtime, so I'm expected to wine and dine, and be nice, for however long it takes to convince her and her team we can secure her company. I'm sorry darling."

Nikki just smiled. She knew what a deal this was. Natalie had been after this client for this last year and now finally to have got the client to agree to a meeting was a major achievement.

"Hopefully I can try and get there late." Natalie said.

"It's ok. I know how important this is." Nikki picked up the now empty wine glass and headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" Natalie asked.

"To get you some more wine."

"I'd rather you join me in here." Natalie finally smiled.

Nikki stripped off quickly and stepped into the bath, sitting behind her. She pulled Natalie back against her chest and started to gently massage her temples.

"Hmm, that's wonderful" Natalie muttered. "How late will you be tomorrow?"

"It's going to be a long night. We have the meal first and then the nightclub. You know that crowd. They don't leave until closing time at 2am, or later if they can persuade the manager to lock up and do after hours."

"And Mandy's sure about her impending nuptials? No sign of cold feet? They'd rather not just live together?"

"Nope. She and Paul want to get married. I think it won't be long before the first baby arrives."

"That's very sweet." Natalie turned herself around, so that she was laying the length of Nikki's body.

"How long did you say dinner was going to be?"

Nikki recognised the look. It wasn't long before water was lapping over the lip of the tub, onto the tiled floor.

Nikki closed up the shop and made her way home. She showered quickly, feeling the cramps start.

"Oh please, not today of all days." Nikki said to herself.

Before she headed down to the waiting taxi, she took a couple of pain pills, hoping it wasn't too late.

At the restaurant Nikki pushed her food round the plate. The pills hadn't worked. The menstrual cramps were getting worse along with the headache and nausea.

After two hours, the convoy of taxi's dropped them all at the nightclub. Inside the music was pounding off the walls and floor and into Nikki's head.

She sipped on her beer and immediately felt sick. She asked the barman for a glass of water and sat back with the group, willing her condition to ease off, so she could enjoy the evening. She tried to concentrate on the conversation and ignore the fact that she felt awful.

Mandy tried to get her up on the dance floor, but Nikki convinced her she would dance later. As Nikki looked at her watch it was only 10pm and she knew she wouldn't last the night, desperately wanting to for Mandy's sake.

Sarah finally dragged her onto the dance floor. The flashing lights only severed to make her feel worse. Nikki knew that if she hurried, she just might make it to the ladies room.

Nikki pushed passed a couple of women coming out of the ladies. She was relieved to see one of the cubicles empty and headed straight into it. She fell to her knees and vomited violently into the bowl. She continued retching as Mandy pushed open the door.

"Nikki?" Mandy knelt beside her in the small space, rubbing her back and holding her forehead. "Is it your period again?" She asked.

Nikki nodded as she felt the familiar rush of hot sweat and vomited again.

"Why don't you see a doctor about this? It's not right. This happens to you every so often. It always has, ever since they started. There must be something you can take."

Nikki sat back and Mandy cradled her arms around her.

"Jesus Nik, you look awful." Sarah said, standing behind them both.

Karen also arrived. "Bloody hell, you look like death!" She exclaimed.

"Thanks guys." Nikki managed to say. She wrenched herself quickly away from Mandy and retched again.

"Ok, that's it. We're taking you home. Karen, can you ask the club to call a taxi?" Mandy asked.

Karen left immediately.

"No, no. I'll be ok." Nikki said.

"Don't be bloody silly. You're not staying here. You need to get home and get into bed." Mandy instructed.

"No, this is your night. I don't want to spoil it." Nikki was becoming emotional.

"Nikki, it doesn't matter. We can do this again. The wedding's not for another three weeks."

"But that's not fair to everybody that's made it tonight." Nikki half sobbed.

"Nik…" Mandy tried to say something but Nikki interrupted her.

"No Mandy, you all stay. I'll take the taxi home. You enjoy your night. We'll sort something out. I promise I'll make it up to you. I'm sorry."

Mandy hugged her tightly. "There's nothing to be sorry for. But I don't like the idea of you going home alone. I can come with you."

"No, seriously. I'll be ok. I'll be fine."

Mandy looked at her and knew it was no good arguing. Nikki looked awful and she knew she felt worse for thinking she was spoiling Mandy's evening. To try and go with her would only make Nikki feel more guilty.

"Are you sure?" Mandy asked.

Nikki nodded.

"Have you done with throwing up? Can you stand?"

Nikki took a deep breath. "I think so."

Her body felt weak and Mandy and Sarah both helped her to stand up. Karen appeared with a glass of water. Nikki took a mouthful and spat it out in the sink, to rid her mouth of the taste, before swallowing a couple of sips.

With the aid of her friends, Nikki was escorted outside to the waiting taxi. They hugged and kissed her and Nikki was unable to stop her tears.

Making sure she was safely inside the cab, they waved her off.

Nikki gave the driver the address and sat back, opening the window for fresh air and closed her eyes. She listened to the familiar sounds of the city, letting them wash over her in an attempt to relax.

Arriving at the apartment, she paid him and made her way wearily inside to the lift. The pain had abated, but she still felt nauseated and extremely tired and just wanted to lie down.

Opening the door to the apartment, she slid her jacket off and then her boots. She was aware of a faint noise, like a gasp, at the end of the hallway. As she looked in that direction, she could see a light under the bedroom door. Her heart beat increased, unsure if there was an intruder. She listened again intently and this time there was a definite moan. Slowly she made her way quietly towards the room.

When she reached the door, the sounds were unmistakable. The door was ajar, and she slowly pushed it open with her finger tips, afraid to look up.

As Nikki raised her eyes, the scene before her broke her heart. An unknown woman in the throws of an impending orgasm lay on the bed, her head thrown back and moaning loudly as she thrust her hips forward. Her hands gripped a head buried between her legs, and that was all Nikki could see of Natalie.

Nikki slowly closed the door and backed away down the hall.

Natalie tied the belt on her robe and escorted the client to the door. A chauffeur driven limousine was parked across the street, waiting to take the woman back to the airport to her private jet. Her team were staying in London to finalise everything with Natalie on Monday.

The meeting went extremely well during the afternoon into early evening and the client had been won over. Dinner and drinks followed, and to Natalie's surprise, her new client made obvious overtures that she was also interested in Natalie. She was flattered at first, then as the woman really began to hit on her, so her ego was bolstered and it began to soak up the attention.

Leaving her team to make their way to their hotel, the client offered to drive Natalie home in the limo. It was only polite to invite her up for a coffee, and when the client said yes, Natalie knew that would be the last thing they'd be doing. They didn't have long. The client's take off time was already arranged. But nobody would be home until the early hours.

Natalie closed the door. As she turned she saw a tiny red glow in the darkness of the living area. The glow disappeared, but Natalie knew what it was. She saw the faint swirl of smoke, and then the shape of someone sitting in the chair.

Natalie closed her eyes briefly.

"How long have you been there?" Natalie asked, as she moved closer to Nikki. She was still hidden in the shadow of the room, and Natalie couldn't see her face.

"Long enough." Nikki said. Her tone was empty. She leant forward and inhaled again.

Natalie saw her pale face, void of any emotion. Only her eyes gave any indication of her feelings. They were unable to hide the pain and hurt.

Nikki stood up, crushed the cigarette in the ashtray and walked towards her. When she was level with Natalie's shoulder she spoke, but didn't look at her.

"I'll leave in the morning." It was all she said. As Nikki walked away, her face crumpled and she clenched her fists to stop herself from breaking down completely.

Natalie heard the bathroom door close and then the sound of Nikki retching. She wanted to go to her, but knew it was pointless. The damage had been done and nothing would fix it. She was responsible for destroying Nikki's trust, something she knew she would never gain back. It would be impossible for Nikki to ever feel secure in their relationship again.

And the fact that her infidelity had taken place in a bed they had shared for three years only added insult to injury. Natalie rubbed the bridge of her nose, shaking her head at her obvious stupidity.

She'd allowed flattery and charm, something she was well versed in, to stroke her ego and it had backed fired on her spectacularly. As she thought about it, it was the first time in three years of being with Nikki that she'd actually looked at another woman, let alone desired one. She also knew that it was the longest she'd been in a relationship, where she'd actually managed to remain faithful. Others in the past, had suspected, confronted her and been proven right. But they had never caught her in the act.

She wished she could have at least spared Nikki that.


Chapter 11


Helen was coming up to the end of her first two years of University studies and recently celebrated her twentieth birthday.

Rory's academic time was coming to an end and he was busy with finals and deciding where to go after. His initial feeling was America to continue there.

They sat in their favourite restaurant. The food was good and reasonably cheap under student standards.

And Helen had no indication of what was coming.

Rory put his spoon down after finishing the last of his dessert. Helen noticed he seemed anxious and there were tiny beads of perspiration on his brow. He reached across the table and took her hand.

"I love you." He smiled at her.

"Is everything alright, you seem tense?" Helen asked him. She saw him take in a deep breath.

"Well, actually. There's something I've been wanting to ask you." He exhaled, looking even more nervous.

"Helen, I've decided that I want to go to America. But that rather depends on you. I want to be where ever you are. What ever makes you happiest. Helen I…." he stumbled for a moment.

"I want us to get married. Will you marry me?" He looked at her and Helen felt his hand shaking as she held it.

Helen was numb. She couldn't think, wasn't prepared for this. She was in complete shock at his proposal. She closed her eyes, desperately trying to think of something to say, that would ease the pain she was about to cause him.

"I don't know what to say." Was what she finally said.

"Yes?" He offered and smiled.

Helen just stared at him and she saw his expression slowly change from elation to a recognition of what was about to happen.

"Rory, we're still so young, I'm not sure I'm ready for something this monumental. I love you but…"

"I see," He said quietly. "You love me, but you're not in love with me. At least not enough for this."

Helen's eyes filled with tears. She knew that was true. What she felt for Rory wasn't enough to make the commitment he was asking.

"I didn't realise you felt this strongly," Helen continued. "I don't want you to hold back from going to America just because of me, if that's what you want. I still have studies to complete."

Helen felt awful, the more she tried to explain, the more she thought it must be hurting him and couldn't stand the thought that she was.

"Oh God Rory, I'm so sorry." She put her other hand over her mouth.

"It's okay," He squeezed her hand to reassure her. "It's fine, really. I should have been more aware."

Helen couldn't believe the quiet calm he was maintaining. "Still friends?" He smiled at her.

"Oh God yes! Always!" Helen said as tears fell onto her cheeks.

They maintained their relationship right up until Rory left for the USA. Their last night together, they made love tenderly and Helen went with his parents to the airport. It was an emotional parting, but they continued to correspond as the years went by.

Five years later, Helen couldn't have been happier for him, when Rory wrote and told her he was getting married.


Chapter 12


Nikki's decline was slow and gradual. Hurt mixed with betrayal, mixed with anger, took its toll. But the overriding feeling was one of disappointment.

Disappointment with herself that she should have known better, that she had allowed her heart to rule her head. That she should have known Natalie's nature.

At 20 years old, she found herself alone. The Bakers tried to convince her to come home, but Nikki insisted on taking the flat above one of the shops. She preferred the solitude; to be away from people and to wallow in the pain, hoping to become numb to it.

Mandy's wedding was the only bright spot. Nikki was surrounded by people she loved and cared deeply about, and to see Mandy and Paul so happy together filled Nikki's empty heart with joy.

It was a couple of months after that the affairs began. Nikki embarked on a string of meaningless, emotionless encounters, allowing her to feel nothing beyond what they were.

The first one was a divorced 30 year old mother of two. The woman was a regular in the shop, purchasing small bouquets to "brighten up the house." They had chatted politely, giving away little snippets of information about each other.

Nikki didn't know how the woman found out that she was now unattached, but it seemed she knew when she arrived late one evening just as Nikki was about to close up.

Linda Beecham stood nervously in the shop. The last customer just left and she saw Nikki look up from behind the counter.

"Hi Linda." Nikki saw her fiddle with the sleeves on her cardigan and then noticed the look on her face.

"Can I help? I was just about to close." Nikki offered.

Linda stood still, unable to talk or move. She found the courage from somewhere and spoke.

"I wanted to see you." She relaxed and felt relieved and stared back at Nikki.

Nikki considered asking her why she was here, but it was obvious from the look on her face. She took a moment to think. Then she walked past Linda, closing the door and locked it. Turning the open sign to closed, she switched off the shop lights and still without saying anything, made her way through the back to the office. She didn't have to wait long. Linda appeared and gently closed the door behind her.

Nikki leant against the desk, her arms folded.

"What do you want Linda?" Nikki asked flatly.

"I think you know." Linda came closer and Nikki unfolded her arms.

Without hesitating, or giving Linda the chance to change her mind, Nikki grabbed her and kissed her hard on the mouth.

To her surprise, Linda responded eagerly. At first Nikki felt reluctant to continue. It wasn't what she wanted and she felt confused, and the hurt resurfaced. She screwed up her eyes, in an attempt to shut it out. In some perverse way, she felt she was cheating on Natalie. She felt Linda tugging the shirt from her jeans and instinctively, she took control and grabbed the cardigan pulling it roughly from Linda's shoulders. The skirt was easier; with the zip at the back undone, it fell to the floor. Linda's underwear quickly followed and Nikki hoisted her onto the desk, sweeping it clear.

She pushed Linda's knees apart and stood between her legs, her mouth buried in Linda's neck, kissing and nipping roughly at the skin. She let her hand stroke a bare thigh, before Linda grabbed it and forced it between her body and Nikki's.

Nikki knew this was just unadulterated sex and she gave Linda what she sought. Lowering her down onto the desk, Nikki entered her quickly and began to slowly thrust. She moved her body against Linda's, giving her leverage and the ability to go deeper. Linda moaned and clamped her legs around Nikki's back, grabbing her hair and pulling it.

"Oh fu…" Linda's words strangled in the back of her throat.

Nikki closed her eyes tightly again. "What am I doing?" She asked herself, but she couldn't stop. She finally felt the numbness she craved. There was going to be no emotional attachment here, no chance of being hurt. No need to be afraid.

With that realisation, she slowed her assault and teased Linda, alternating the speed and softness. Linda Beecham was a screamer up until the end, when Nikki finally and furiously sent her over the edge.

They had several late encounters over the next few weeks. It was never scheduled. Linda just turned up and the office provided what little comfort there was. When Linda popped into the shop one Saturday afternoon with a man in tow, Nikki knew her services would no longer be required.

She became a magnet to curious straight women, eager to see what they might be missing. A future talking point with their friends; a bit of sensation. Or an excuse to turn on a man, just to get him to prove that he could give her all she needed in that department.

Married women also attempted to throw themselves her way for the same reasons, but she refused their advances. Having been on the receiving end of someone unable to remain faithful, she wasn't about to be the cause of any heartache to some poor bastard, who's wife was bored with her life.

A pick up at a club, fulfilled the times when she just needed an anonymous and quick affair. She preferred their place to her own. She could leave when it was over. Her own flat was her place of solace and refuge and she didn't want anybody there.

Her friends noticed her decline, how withdrawn and introspective she seemed. It wasn't the Nikki they were used to and they were worried about the path of destruction she appeared to be taking.

It was Jackie that took the initiative.

A late summer evening, and a gathering of friends at Jackie and Teri's had already enjoyed an afternoon BBQ. People wandered in and out of the garden, snacking on leftovers and topping up drinks.

Nikki took a long swig on the bottle of beer and Teri appeared and handed Jackie another. She kissed her before she turned back to the kitchen.

"Why don't you come and sit down." Jackie said to her.

"I will in a minute. I'm just making sandwiches." Teri answered.

Jackie stared after her as she disappeared back into the house.

"Bloody hell, I don't think anybody can eat anymore. She's always the same. Enough food to feed an army. She always worried there won't be enough God bless her. No wonder I've put on weight."

Nikki smiled. "Well as they say, the way to a person's heart is through their stomach."

"Sadly a slight fallacy. If you believe that, your aim is just a little too high."

Nikki laughed.

"You've hardly touched anything today. I doubt a chicken drumstick provides much nutrition."

Nikki sipped her beer and shrugged. Jackie decided to get straight to the point.

"Nikki, you look like shit. You've lost weight, and you're not fooling anybody that everything is fine. Just now was the first time I've seen you laugh in ages. This path you're on is only going to lead to more heartache. What do you think you can do? Fuck the pain away?"

Nikki's expression dropped. The comment was blunt and brutal, but bang on the mark.

"It's not the answer. Not for you. You won't be able to take the loneliness that comes from meaningless affairs. Trust me. It's become a lonely place."

Nikki closed her eyes.

"Natalie was a shit for what she did. And although it's no consolation, I've never known her remain faithful in a relationship that long. For a while I thought she'd changed, but I wasn't surprised. I love her dearly, but she's not worth destroying yourself over. Even she wouldn't want to see you do that."

Tears forced their way over Nikki's closed eye lids.

"There's somebody out there, that's worth feeling this way over. And I don't mean how you feel now. Don't hold it all in and be afraid to give it to somebody else. You've too much to give."

Nikki began to fall apart. Jackie got up from her chair and knelt beside her, and pulled her into her arms.

"Some lucky woman is going to discover what she's been missing, when she gets you." Her lecture over, Jackie tried to cheer her up.

Nikki attempted to laugh.

"Seriously, it will happen. Somebody totally unexpected will come into your life. Christ it happened to me, so why not you?"

Jackie pulled back and looked at her. Nikki wiped her eyes and face.

"Teri changed your life that much?" Nikki said and sniffed.

"Yes she did! I was thirty, happy and single and screwing anything that had a pulse. The perfect life, I told myself. I always ended up with the clingy high maintenance ones though; my own fault, I was a succour for pretty face. Not that I have much to offer in that department. Let's face it I'm a rather plump ole dyke, to put it concisely."

Nikki sipped her drink and almost choked.

"Then the most amazing thing happened. I was teaching adult English Lit evening classes at college a couple of nights a week, a side line to my University teaching. Anyway, one night, the classroom door opens and Teri stood there. She asked if it was the evening class for cake decoration. I swear to God, I had a feeling of déjà vu. It was like that scene in Educating Rita, when Julie Walters walks into Michael Caine's class. What struck me was the bruise around her eye. She made no attempt to hide it. Of course I was eager to help, so I looked at the prospectus and discovered her class was the next night. She asked if she could sit in the class and wait, as her bus wasn't coming for another hour."

Jackie stopped to drink her beer.

"When my class ended and I packed up my briefcase, I noticed she'd gone. As I drove down the road, I saw her standing at the bus stop. It was pissing down with rain and she was soaked so I stopped and offered her a lift. I ended up dropping her off at a refuge for battered women. She was honest enough to tell me, she'd finally taken enough abuse and walked away, with just the clothes on her back. He wasn't the first one to use his fists. She'd had a habit of always picking the wrong man."

It was the first time Nikki had heard this story in the time she had known them both.

"I think that was my downward spiral to a life of domesticity. My next class was on the same night as her cake decoration, so every week I dropped her home. Her course was only eight weeks, and I began to dread it ending. I began to feel bereft at the fact that this was a hopeless situation. She was younger than me and straight. She was also gorgeous, fun, bubbly, and I have to admit, at times, as thick as a plank."

Jackie shook her head and rolled her eyes, as if recalling something that had happened back then.

"Needless to say and I think partly because of that, I feel hopelessly in love with her." The softness in her voice was unmistakeable at the admission.

"Anyway, on her last class, she decorated a cake just for me as a thank you. I asked if she'd like to come back to my place so I could try it. She already knew I was gay, but she knew I wasn't expecting anything to happen. We sat talking all night. And we'd met up to go out shopping, or for dinner. I gave up going to any clubs. I couldn't bring myself to pick someone up for the night anymore. One night when I did, it was a disaster. When it came down to it, I couldn't. I had to leave. Which was terribly embarrassing as it was my house."

Nikki choked on her beer.

"This went on for about six months. The longest bout of celibacy I've ever experienced. I believe my record was five days, if you exclude self gratification and battery operated devices. Then one night, after I cooked dinner here, Teri kissed me. She took me completely by surprise. Even more so when she took me upstairs. I was desperately trying to figure out if she'd had some weird allergic reaction to something I'd cooked. But fortunately that wasn't the case. And I'm happy to say, she's been here ever since. I wouldn't change the last six years for anything."

As if on cue, Teri appeared with two plates stacked with sandwiches.

"Jesus woman, are we expecting a delegation from the WI?" Jackie teased.

"No, why would they be coming?" Teri looked at her puzzled, and Nikki bit her lip, desperately trying to suppress her laugh.

Nikki's recovery was swifter then her decline. Once again, as she had been when younger, she was happy to wait for the right person to come along. She threw herself even more into managing the shops for Bob and Shirley, and was overjoyed when Mandy announced she was pregnant. As she headed towards her 21st birthday life was looking decidedly better.


Chapter 13


Helen passed her exams with flying colours. At 22 the world now seemed to be at her feet. Since Rory had left for the USA, she hadn't bothered to date anybody else; preparing for her finals had taken up most of her time.

Claire also passed her exams and was currently pursuing a position in a small solicitor practice as part of her ongoing studies. She could have joined her parents, but they advised her to take a path that would bring her more oppourtunity.

Helen chose the social services field, and Rory had been right. It was tough. She shied away quickly form handling child services. One case of child abuse left her so traumatised she couldn't bear to find herself involved in anything that emotionally crippling again.

But it did lead her to Domestic Violence, something as equally emotional.

"Press charges, are you mad? He'll beat the living crap out of me!"

"It's the only way to stop him." Helen countered back and reached across to take the young woman's hand.

She was sitting in a police interview room, with a tiny woman, Michelle Adams. Her face was covered in bruises and cuts. Her husband was in another room and they could hear him yelling. Neighbours called the police when Tony Adams proceeded to throw his wife out on their front lawn and beat her in full view of anyone passing

"There ain't no stopping him, when he's like this. It's the booze. Once he's had a sleep, he'll calm down." Michelle explained.

Helen had heard it all before. The continued excuses women made for the brutal behaviour inflicted on them. It was always "their" fault, something they did wrong, that justified the punishment.

"But then how long, before we end up back here Michelle. How long before next time he goes too far?" Helen tried to get through to her yet again.

"You don't know him. He's not like this when he's sober!"

Helen sighed deeply. She knew how this was going to end again. Michelle wouldn't press charges. None of them did. She would go home and the whole cycle would begin again and Helen would find herself back here in a couple of weeks.

As they both left the police station, Helen gave Michelle her card and the address for a women's refuge.

"Call me, anytime okay?" Helen smiled. Michelle took the cards.

"Thanks Helen, I'm sorry you got lumbered with this."

"It's no problem. It's my job."

Helen watched Michelle wander away. Tony Adams wouldn't be released until the morning when he'd sobered up.

Helen desperately needed a drink and laughed at the irony.

Helen tapped on Claire's office door.

"Hey, got time for lunch?" She asked.

"What are you doing here?" Claire stood up and hugged her.

"Was just passing." Helen smiled.

"Fifty miles is just passing, for lunch?" Claire said surprised. "What's up?" She saw Helen's demeanour.

"Are you at it again? What body language am I exhibiting now?" Helen half laughed.

"We'd be here all day with that one! Something's bothering you that's obvious."

"Well, hello."

They both turned to see a tall man standing in the doorway. His hair was dark blonde and his eyes were a twinkling blue. Smartly dressed in a shirt and tie with a waistcoat, he looked very professional. He grinned appreciatively at Helen.

"Well, come on Walker, be polite and introduce us." He said.

Claire huffed. "Helen. This is Gavin Prenderville. Gav, this is Helen Stewart, a friend from university."

Helen heard Claire's lack of enthusiasm at her introduction. It seemed Gavin hadn't missed it either.

"Never mind Walker," He waved dismissively ."Bad case of penis envy. Still a junior and all that good stuff." He winked.

"We're just going for lunch." Claire glowered at him.

"Oh really, that sounds like a good idea. Hang on, I'll just get my coat." He turned and left before Claire could disinvite him.

"Oh shit." Claire mumbled. "Sorry, me and my big mouth. I should have said you were a client. Not that that would have stopped him."

"No worries. Actually two heads might be better than one. Part of my reason for being here is to ask your advice. Who is he, anyway?"

"One of the partners. Very young to be one too. I think mummy and daddy had something to do with that. He's thirty, good looking and knows it, and is an arrogant prick of the highest order!"

"Not your type then." Helen laughed.

"Please! If he were the last man on earth, I'd change sides!"

Gavin offered to drive and then proceeded to order for them all at the restaurant that he picked.

"So Helen," He asked as they sat eating. "What line of work are you involved in?"

Helen explained and noticed that all the while she talked his attention was solely focused on her.

"I imagine that can pretty tough at times?" He said.

"Yes. Especially at the moment. I actually came to see Claire, to ask about some legal advice for somebody, a case I'm involved with."

"Oh, what advice do you need?" He asked ignoring the fact that Helen mentioned it was Claire she had initially come to see.

"I have a domestic violence victim. Years of abuse at her husbands hands. A couple of weeks ago, he went on massive tirade. He almost killed her. He chose the kitchen as his place of attack. She managed to grab a knife in an attempt to stop him. She killed him first."

Michelle Adams was now being held in custody.

"She's got a court appointed solicitor, and I'm afraid he seems about as helpful as a chocolate teapot. I've engaged as much support as I can, but I really need your opinion. What you think is going to be the best course of action."

"Engage us." Gavin said nonchalantly, as though it were the obvious choice.

"She can't afford your services." Helen said.

"No problem. Have dinner with me and we'll call it even." He smiled at Helen.

"Oh for God's sake!" Claire mumbled. Helen just laughed. "He's not joking." Claire added.

Helen looked from Claire then back to Gavin. He shrugged his shoulders and grinned even more at her.

"You'll take on her case for no charge, if I have dinner with you?" Helen repeated his offer, to make sure she understood him correctly.

"Why not? Have you got a better offer for, shall we say, this Saturday?"

Helen couldn't believe his audacity. And obvious self confidence. Claire rested her arms on the table and held her head in her hands.

"Jesus Prenderville, you are just unbelievable." She mumbled again.

He saw Helen was still unable to comprehend his offer.

"Seriously, have dinner with me Saturday. Bring the details and I'll go over it. We can afford the odd freebie now and then. Solicitors have a bad wrap at times, for appearing overly greedy. Won't hurt the practice to show a little compassion now and then." He continued to eat.

Claire walked Helen to her car, after Gavin had driven them back from lunch.

"Well, take care. I hope the case works out well." She hugged Helen. "Just watch yourself, okay."

Helen knew she was referring to Gavin and smiled at her.

"He's just very confident and a show off. I can handle him. I just need all the help I can get for Michelle. She deserves it."

"Call me and we'll go out for dinner. Rachel and Mel said it's time we had a meet up."

"Sure thing." Helen said as she got into her car.


Chapter 14

Helen sat at the table beside Gavin and watched him read the report while forking food into his mouth. His expression changed constantly as he read it and at one point he laughed out loud.

Once again, he had ordered the food and wine without bothering to let Helen have the time to decide for herself.

"Well, seems fine." He said and laid the folder back down.

"That's it. That's all you've got to say?" Helen asked.

"What were you expecting? Me to give you my summary to the jury?" He arched an eyebrow and smiled.

"So you think it's an open and shut case for self defence?"

"Ahh, that's not what I said. You can never really tell. Depends on the judge, jury and so forth. But I'm happy to do it. For you."

Helen shook her head slightly and sipped her wine.

"So, where are we going for our second date?" He asked.

Helen felt her mouth fall open. "What makes you think this is a date? And more for that matter, that they'll be a second one?" Helen looked at him, then realising her mistake, quickly tried to correct herself. "Not that this is a date!"

He laughed at her falling into her own trap of words.

"As far as I'm concerned this was a business deal. And I've fulfilled my part." Helen felt flustered.

"Okay. So if that's the case, let me rephrase. Where are we going for our first date?"

Helen couldn't help laughing at his boyish smile and charm. His eyes danced as he looked at her, and she'd been well aware of the way they had been gazing at areas of her body since he picked her up from her flat.

"You seem very confident that I'm available." She said and smiled.

"And that's a very flirtatious smile. You wouldn't be using it if you were happily spoken for. So either you're not, or you're unhappily spoken for." He countered back.

Helen's mouth fell open again. Before she could react, he leant towards her and covered her mouth with his own.

She was momentarily startled, not quite believing what he was doing. She pulled away quickly clamping her mouth shut and felt her heart racing. He was the first man to kiss her since Rory.

"I've been wanting to do that since we met the other day." He grinned at her once more. "Would you like dessert, or for me to take you home?"

Helen cleared her throat. "Home please." She stood up quickly, grabbing her coat from the back of the chair.

"Okay, we'll discuss date number one on the way." He signalled the waiter for the bill.

Helen closed the door to her flat. She hung up her coat and paced in the hallway, nervously smoothing down her skirt. She flatly refused Gavin's insistence on another date, telling him she was happy to release him of his obligation. But he was still adamant that he would help with the case.

He had gotten to her. It was a mixture of his rakish charm, arrogance and confidence and she found herself drawn to him, a temptation tugging at her. She now didn't know if she could work with him without falling prey to that temptation.

She didn't have to wait long to find out. The doorbell rang and she opened it.

Gavin stood there. "In your haste to get out of my car, you left this behind." He handed her the file.

"Oh, thanks." Helen took it unable to look at him.

He stepped forward and Helen instinctively stepped back, allowing him in.

"Helen, we're only delaying the inevitable." He spoke softly and it surprised her. "I want you, and you want me." He reached out and stroked her hair. "Why resist it? You know it's going to happen eventually."

He threw the challenge at her and she rose to it.

"And I suppose you always get what you want?" She looked at him, and knew where this was going.

"Yes." He spoke softly again. He leant towards her and kissed her.

Helen heard the folder hit the floor, spilling the contents over all over it as her arms reached up and around his neck.

Helen didn't know what it was, but something over took them and hands frantically began the task of removing clothes with nothing more being said.

She believed they would make it to the living room for comfort sake, but sheer carnal lust took control of them both and the wall in the hallway took the brunt of their furious passion. With Helen still clamped around his waist, Gavin hurriedly carried her to the bedroom, where they started all over again. Continually until daylight appeared.

Helen didn't know how to describe their relationship. Claire couldn't get over the fact there was one.

At best Helen thought challenging, provoking, at times dysfunctional, disparaging, patronising and annoying. Gavin drove her mad on so many issues, pushing all her buttons and their arguments on topics were monumental. Yet at times he was the most dynamic person she had ever met. And sexually, they were also dynamic together.

The only thing that Helen felt sure of was the sense that whatever they had, it would be brief.

"Just ease up on her," Helen said to Gavin. "You were as bad as her husband used too be!"

They'd just left Michelle and Gavin had been grilling her relentlessly.

"She's going to have to face far worse from the prosecution team Helen. They'll paint a very nasty picture if they can."

"This is ridiculous. There's endless police reports of his abuse. Surely it won't get that bad?"

"Oh don't be so naive. Of course it will. We're pushing for involuntary manslaughter, which they'll probably go for under the circumstances, but they'll still want their say in court. Your place or mine?" Gavin asked as he drove.

"I don't care. I just need something to eat."

He looked at her mischievously. "That can be arranged."

"Oh for God's sake!" Helen mumbled. "I'd just like to be able to relax, with a nice glass of wine."

Gavin reached across and squeezed her thigh. "Okay. But you know how good we are together. It's the best way to relax.' He grinned at her again.

Helen bit her lip, trying not to smile. He certainly knew how to charm her.

The wine helped her to relax. And she took her frustration over the case, out on him.

"Jesus." Gavin murmured as he lay on his back, out of breath, looking at Helen lying on top of him

"What's wrong? Bit too rough for you was it?" Helen asked.

"What the hell was that all about?" He laughed and then winced. His muscles were killing him.

"You're the one that's always saying it's a great way to relieve stress and relax."

"I know, but I feel like one of your domestic violence cases." His hands wandered down her back and he smiled at her.

"Do you need to file a complaint, or wait and see how you feel after round two?" Helen arched an eyebrow at him.

"Am I allowed to get my breath back first?" He inquired.

He was right. In that respect they were good together. But as they prepared for the case and a few months passed, everything else began to fray.


Chapter 15


It was an all girls night out to celebrate Nikki's birthday. Dinner was followed by a trip to a nightclub and more friends turned up there. As Nikki stood at the bar, Gillian walked in with two other women but Serena wasn't with her.

"Where's Serena?" Nikki asked Jackie. She suspected the answer, but knew Jackie would know. Jackie was still in touch with Natalie and their old friends, but always made sure that socially, for Nikki's sake, they never crossed paths.

"You know those two. On, off all the time. Gill met her new flame a couple of weeks ago. She's the blonde with her now."

Nikki looked at the woman she referred to. She looked a lot younger than Gill, and had a lovely smile and light blue eyes.

"Has she known her long enough to get her name?" Nikki joked.

Jackie thought for a moment. "Trisha? Yes, it's definitely Trisha."

"Then who's the other one?" Nikki looked at the other young girl standing with them. She appeared rather shy. She had a sweet face, dark blonde hair tied back, and smiling hazel eyes.

"Don't know." Jackie answered.

Gill made her way over when she spotted them at the bar. She kissed Nikki and Jackie.

"Happy Birthday Nikki." She handed over a gift.

"Gill, you shouldn't have." Nikki told her

"Oh don't be silly darling. You're only 21 once." Gill smiled at her. "This is Trisha and Emma."

As Trisha shook her hand Nikki noticed the blue eyes hold her gaze and thought Trish was a little slow in letting go of her hand. When Nikki shook Emma's hand she appeared to blush, but her smile was infectious. Her cheeks dimpled and her face lit up.

During the night Nikki discovered that Trisha and Emma worked for the same bank. Emma was only eighteen and a bank clerk. Trisha's twenty first was going to be the following month, and she was a small business loan adviser.

Trish had persuaded Emma to come along. She was knew to the scene, her one and only relationship having ended the year before and she was too shy to go out on her own, so Trisha took her under her wing.

The night wore on and drinks were consumed, except Mandy, who stuck to soda. When she started dancing rather energetically, Nikki looked at her concerned.

"Should you be dancing like that?"

"Why? I'm only having a baby, it's not a disability."

"I wasn't referring to the baby, I meant should you be dancing like that." Nikki started to laugh and Mandy punched her on the arm.

Taking a breather from the dance floor, Nikki made her way over to the rest of the crowd who were sitting and drinking. She glanced over to the bar and saw Emma attempting to carry as many drinks as she could handle. Nikki headed over to her, to lend a hand.

"Is this lot all ours?' Nikki asked, as she saw them lined up on the bar.

"Yep.' Emma smiled at her.

"What belongs to whom?" Nikki was stunned when Emma rattled off each drink and who they belonged to.

Nikki found herself talking to Emma and was enjoying the conversation. She was bright, articulate and had a great sense of humour. Although quiet, she was quick witted and most of the group missed her quips. But Nikki didn't. She was equally as quick witted and appreciated Emma's slightly off the wall humour. The group were constantly startled by their laughter, having been unable to hear the cause of such hilarity.

Nikki didn't recall how she got home, but the ringing of the phone finally woke her up. She was surprised to find herself on the sofa, the TV on and a stiff, cold half eaten pizza on the coffee table. As she went to stand up, the pounding in her head made her wince. She hadn't had a hangover in ages and was grateful she had all day to get over it.

"Hello?" She said into the receiver.

"Where have you been, I've been ringing all morning?" Mandy's voice sounded amplified in Nikki's ear and she held the phone away.

"What are you on about?" Nikki asked, rubbing her forehead.

"Have you got a hangover?"

"Well I bloody hope so. I'd hate to think this is natural." Nikki said.

"Well that explains it. We've all been ringing. I don't suppose you know it's two in the afternoon then?"

"What?!" Nikki shouted then wished she hadn't. She saw the clock on the wall. "Oh you're shitting me.' She said to herself and heard Mandy laugh on the other end.

"You had a good night then?" Mandy said.

They talked about it for a few moments. There was a slight pause, before Mandy spoke again.

"Emma seemed nice."

"Yeah, she was." Nikki was oblivious to the comment.

The phone rang again, after she got done talking with Mandy. This time it was Karen. It was the same discussion, and the same pause.

"Emma was fun wasn't she?" Karen remarked.

The phone rang a third time and it was Gill.

"How's the birthday girl feeling today?" It took Gill a little longer, more polite conversation, before she broached what appeared to be a conspiracy amongst her friends.

"I thought Emma was very sweet, don't you think?" Gill commented.

Nikki smiled, and agreed that she was.

When the phone rang a fourth time, Nikki was ready.

"Hi Nikki," It was Jackie. "How's the hangover?"

"How did you guess?" Nikki said nonchalantly.

"There's no way I could be the only one who's wishing their head would detach itself from my body. I take it you don't remember the shots we were doing? Some bright spark among us decided it would be fun. When I remember who the fuck it was I'm going to kill them!"

Nikki laughed and waited for a certain name to be mentioned and was surprised when it wasn't.

"Anyway, come round Tuesday night. Teri wants to cook you a special birthday dinner."

"Sorry I'm late," Nikki said as Jackie opened the door. "Was sorting out some cocked up paperwork at the shop."

"No problem." Jackie took the flowers Nikki gave her. "Teri's still concocting in the kitchen. Beer or wine?"

"Wine please."

"Go on through to the living room then." Jackie headed to the kitchen.

Nikki took off her coat, hanging it in the hallway and opened the living room door. The room was softly lit, but the dinning area at the far end was a little brighter. Nikki eventually noticed the figure in the room.

She was standing by the fireplace, sipping from a glass of wine and studying the painting above the mantle. Nikki smiled to herself at her friend's ingenuity. She hadn't recognised who it was at first.

Emma's hair was loose and hung down to her shoulders. Jeans and a fitted shirt complimented her slim figure, something that Nikki had failed to notice at the club. As Emma became aware of her in the room, she turned and smiled.

Nikki was momentarily paralysed. Emma was wearing thin, small steel rimmed glasses and their effect changed her appearance completely. She looked a little older and Nikki also thought incredibly sexy. A familiar flutter hit the pit of her stomach.

Dinner was hilarious. Jackie and Teri were the best double act Nikki knew. Most of the jokes, at Teri's expense from Jackie, were lost on her completely. But it was a gentle teasing, and every now and then Teri managed to get in a dig of her own.

Nikki knew they'd be lost without each other. It was obvious it was the first secure relationship Teri had ever known. The fact that it was another woman was of no concern to her. She was loved and happy and protected. Never any chance that she would suffer the abuse she had known in the past. And she loved somebody as much as they loved her.

As was usual whenever there was a gathering at Jackie and Teri's the conversation turned to Jackie's favourite subject, literature. Nikki and Jackie would engage in some heavy discussion on classic works, and Nikki was pleasantly surprised now, that Emma was just as enthusiastic about the subject.

"So Emma, if you were on a desert island and you were only allowed one book, which would it be?" Jackie asked.

"Oh that's easy," Emma smiled. "Wuthering Heights."

Nikki choked on her wine and Jackie laughed.

"Are you okay?" Emma asked as she patted Nikki on the back.

"Yes." Nikki wheezed and coughed.

"Just for the record, so Nikki doesn't think we discussed this before she arrived, did I mention any literary works that Nikki liked?" Jackie asked Emma.

"No, we didn't talk about anything like that." Emma looked puzzled.

"Would you like to take a guess at Nikki's all time favourite classic novel?" Jackie smiled.

"Oh, I see." Emma looked at Nikki and smiled.

"Okay, I'm going to ask you both a question, and you're to answer at the same time. I already know Nikki's answer, but humour me. Apart from the love story of Catherine and Heathcliff, what other love was Bronte speaking of in her novel?"

"The Moors!"

Nikki and Emma looked at each, at first astounded by their same answer, then began to laugh.

Jackie slapped the table. "Ha!"

They continued talking about the novel.

"Do you think it's possible to feel that strongly about someone, so much so, that it's practically violent?" Emma asked.

"I've known the violent part in the past, but not so much the love!" Teri said and laughed. Jackie took her hand across the table and kissed her knuckles.

"Yes, I think it's possible to love someone that much, to have no control and be at the mercy of someone else." Nikki said.

Aware that the hour was late and everybody had work in the morning, they concluded the dinner.

Emma had taken a taxi and Nikki offered to drop her home.

"You sod. Nicely done." Nikki whispered as she hugged Jackie goodnight. Jackie just smiled and winked.

They chatted the whole drive about the evening and when she pulled up outside Emma's parents home, Emma thanked her for the lift.

"No problem," Nikki said. "I was wondering, would you like to go out again? Just us?"

She saw the excitement on Emma's face.

"Really?" Emma seemed surprised that Nikki was asking her for a date. "Oh, I'd like that very much."

They made arrangements and Nikki smiled as she watched Emma run to the front door and then turn and wave.

Part 16

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