DISCLAIMER: The Shed folks own these people and we are glad that they do. I am just borrowing for fun, not profit.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Love is a Battlefield
By raginhoops


Part 1


The skillet rattled as the frazzled cook stepped away to place the pad of her seared index into her puckered mouth. Before she rushed to the sink to dowse her injured part under the faucet, she glared murderously at the charred slab that sizzled back at her. In this battle, it seemed that the dinner was winning. The steak was overcooked, the potatoes lumpy, and the asparagus wilted in impotent disarray. Cluttered with dripping bowls lying stabbed with various utensils, the counter was littered with white powder that found its way from the sifter to every nook and cranny, including the flared nostrils of the would-be baker. She cursed the whole kitchen and the sum of its parts as she nursed her rapidly blistering finger. Her first failed experiment lay at the bottom of trashcan, charred and cracked with cherry filling pooling beneath the twisted aluminum shell. It was time to retreat. She pulled out her secret weapon, a McKenzie cheesecake. The fiery Scot thanked God that she had the forethought to buy insurance against her inexperience in the kitchen. It was mighty ambitious of her to think that she could pull off real home-cooked meal from scratch, considering that her last foray into the culinary arts occurred before the last Norman invasion of the Highlands. But she had been determined to conjure up a magical meal for Nikki who had been working very long hours for this most recent real estate venture. Tonight would be the first night that she was expected home before nine. If all went to plan, there would be a definite change in the Wade work schedule from now on. Helen was banking on that.

Nikki Wade hit the ground running after her release and made some very shrewd business deals involving waterfront property that she and Trish owned years before the incident that changed their lives. Developers rushed in to gentrify the area that had become the address to have. Four more properties bought, renovated, and turned over for a ridiculous profit transformed the ex-con into the most successful real estate magnate in the city. Nikki attributed it to beginners luck but Helen knew the effort and research that went into Nikki's decisions and her hands-on approach to overseeing the projects. And then there was her ability to motivate the most apathetic. All the qualities that Helen saw that compelled her to enlist her help with G-Wing made Nikki a critical success on the outside. She showed up and sold the projects virtually sight unseen. The business community trusted her despite her checkered past because she made money, lots of it, for herself and all involved. And if there is one thing that absolves sin in the eyes of the moneyed, it's the ability to spread the wealth around.

In the last year of her incarceration, she checked out mostly business books instead of Jane Austin and George Elliot. She was a quick study. Without Helen to occupy her thoughts, she busied herself into teaching herself all that she could, late, long after lights out. Amazing what could be found on the Internet, in the Larkhall library. The tall, dark impulsive inmate had a gift for making quick, definitive decisions based on quickly gathered information and animal-like instinct for finding the right path to take. Trish and she reconnected and started investing Nikki's nest egg, building a bridge through the bars and barbed wire that was their broken relationship. Trish was a silent partner in the beginning. Helen was sure she expected more, once Nikki got out. She gave up a little too easily, Helen thought, and that was disconcerting. Trish didn't strike her as a wilting flower.

All that immersion in the community and its politics that enabled the Wade Corporation to be so successful took an inordinate amount of time and energy. It had been weeks since they had more than a moment together. If Helen wasn't secure in their relationship, she might be a little concerned about the lull in the bedroom action of late. Tonight was meant to remedy this bothersome situation, once and for all.

All it took was a few cancelled meetings at the Home Office to free herself to shop for the ingredients for the perfect dinner, the meal that ended up busting her chops and forcing unconditional surrender. The only salvageable item was the wine, if she didn't drink it all first. Perhaps, takeaway from Martha's would suffice for their fourth anniversary. It wasn't an official date but she considered their first stolen night together as such, rather than the reunion after acquittal. Helen finished off the rest of the sauvignon that started the afternoon campaign before she reached for the phone. "God damn!" Finger was substituted for thumb straight away.

Three hours later, the battlefield had been cleared of all casualties; in fact, there was no sign of war at all. The hostess sat at an impeccably appointed table that could have entertained royalty, working on finishing a second bottle of wine. She glanced at the hall clock, smoothed her dress, and, with a resigned sigh, licked her blistered finger and thumb before squeezing the flame between them. It was way past late now, much less coming home early, and still, no call.

When it finally came, a contrite girlfriend crooned through the speakerphone with promises of making things up. Something came up at work that couldn't wait. Helen did not want to be any closer to the voice. Especially since that voice was making sounds that translated into another several hours of commitment that wasn't to her. It seems that Trisha needed coverage at the club and only Nikki could substitute, again. Each syllable stung like angry, wet wasps, especially the acknowledgement that this was a special night and Nikki knew how much Helen had planned for it. She remembered but didn't care enough to put things off for just one night. She was taking the next day off to celebrate. They had a suite booked on the shore for a long weekend. She planned it as a surprise, as usual the best of everything. It seemed like every time I try to do something for her, it falls short. It's not good enough. What the fuck could be so important at that bloody club that would keep her from me tonight.

She freed one more button on her blouse, freshened her blood-red lipstick, and grabbed her bag and keys. This was not over yet.

Helen blew past the sentries at the stairs to the back office who protested loudly that the boss was busy and not to be disturbed. Feverously, the bouncer spoke into the mouthpiece lending more haste to Helen's steps as she ascended the levels like ninja scaling a cliff. At the door, she collected herself briefly. She wanted the high ground. But that fell away as soon as she burst in. For here in front of her was her worse fear materialized in the form of a scantily clad woman who appeared frozen in mid-gyration in front of a very attentive Nikki Wade. All she could see was red. The dam burst. All the pent up anxieties of the last year hit the seawall in a furious flash of anger.

"You can't be serious to think you can beat these." Helen tore open her shirt to reveal the special purchase that she made that day in all its delicate, black French-lace glory.

The woman twirled around and squared off for a fight. "Listen, slag. This is my time. Wait your turn."

"Do you know to whom you are talking to?" Helen stalked forward with Jack Russell intensity, forcing Nikki into action.

"Helen, what are you doing?"

"I don't care who the fuck you are. You could be flamin' Fergie, for all I care. You are screwing up my audition and I need this gig, bitch."

"Audition?" Helen stopped short and in opened-mouth horror noticed that besides Nikki, two other people were sitting behind the desk.

"Helen, we are trying to hire a new dancer for the club."

Mumbling an apology to the room, Helen pulled her shirt back together and turned tail out of the room followed by an anxious Nikki.

Helen eventually stumbled to a halt in the back hallway, which provided the most private avenue for escape and recovery of some modicum of honor. Nikki would have the key to the back exit and she could crawl away and lick her wounds.

"Helen, I'm sorry. I should have explained why I couldn't come home. Trish's mum was admitted to hospital today and someone had to be here."

"Tell me that I don't know anyone in there."

"Relax, it's only Joni and Sarah. They've seen more of you at our home and twice as pissed."

Helen took a deep breath in relief. Her head bobbed and shook as if she could shake the memory from its cache. "If it weren't them, I'd probably have a job offer."

Nikki bit her lip to keep from laughing. "I wouldn't let you take it. Those are for my eyes only…I…I should have cancelled the auditions. It was stupid of me. I didn't stop to think."

"Forget it. I'm a bloody fool. I let myself get all worked up over crap. Debased myself in front of some tart from Whitechapel."

"Of course not. Tonight was important, to you, to us. I buggered things up. I know that. I've been neglecting you, working too late. But today couldn't be helped. We had to finish up some last minute amendments to the contract. The lawyers were only available today. I promise, after this deal closes, I'll slow down."

"That's what you said last time. There will always be another great deal."

"Sweetheart, this is for us, our future."

"I thought you were having an affair… for a while now." She studied her lover's face for any sign of falsehood in the reply.

The infamous Wade insolence surfaced. "I can't believe that you would think that I would ever want anyone else. You are it for me. Even when I was rotting in that prison, there couldn't have been anyone else, even when you were with Thomas."

"So what was Caroline all about, yeah?"

"Nothing happened. But you made sure of that."

"You know why I did it."

There suddenly seemed to be an elephant in the hall. After an uncomfortable moment, Helen recovered first. "How am I going to get home? I've popped my buttons off like an idiot." She clutched her shirt closed. She didn't want to continue this conversation in the very place that fostered her deepest insecurities.

Nikki quickly pulled off her jacket and dressed Helen as if she were a treasured doll, trussing up the objects of distraction then smoothing the collar carefully, as Helen had done for her that morning, sending her warrior out into the corporate fray. She was always quick to regret her outbursts, especially with Helen, especially when she was dead wrong.

"I know that things will have to change. I guess we've got a lot of baggage to unpack, before we go away. Give me a minute to go back and hire that woman and you'll have me for three whole days. Mobile off."

"Don't be long." There was the slightest hint of menace in Helen's tone.

"I wouldn't chance it. No telling what you'd do. You know, they'll still want to hire you back there." Nikki relaxed as she saw Helen taking the joke in the manner she hoped for.

"I burnt my soddin' finger trying to cook for you."

Nikki examined her hands and pulled the wounded finger into a chaste kiss. "There, it's all better."

"You'll have to do more than that to make it better. You get your arse home so you can start making amends."

Part 2

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