DISCLAIMER: Karen Sisco and its all characters are property of Jersey Television. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This fic was written for the extremely patient Debbie, who generously bid on a fic I offered for the Help The South Auction. Her prompt: Selena Gomez: Summer's Not Hot Without You lyrics. She made the mistake of leaving the fandom and pairing up to me. After a failed first attempt, I'm trying a different fandom and a different approach to the prompt – a reverse approach. Hope it works. A very special thanks to the wonderful Kim and the marvelous Dhamphir for answering my pitiful plea for a beta. Thanks, ladies!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To darandkerry[at]yahoo.com

The One That Got Away
By Ann


The third blistering heat wave of August pushed its way across the southeastern tip of the United States, leaving Miami with its hottest summer on record. Tempers were running just as high as the outside temperature, crime was on the rise, and Detective Marley Novak had had one of her worst weeks since joining the Miami-Dade police force. With the department putting everyone on patrol, she'd personally had two different suspects hospitalized for heat stroke after fleeing the scenes of a smash and grab and a carjacking gone bad, respectively, and she'd found herself longing for the good ol' days of naked dead guys. At least the temperature had been more bearable back then and so had the good-natured ribbing of her colleagues. Now, everyone was in a perpetual bad mood and found fault with anything and everything.

A cold blast of air hit Marley squarely in the face when she stepped into her air-conditioned apartment, and she hurriedly closed the door and almost frantically reached for the top button of her silk blouse, undoing the pearly white disks as quickly as she could. The material stubbornly clung to her heated skin and she had to literally peel the shirt from her body. Letting it fall to the floor with a soft thud, she continued further into the apartment. Her pants were next, and she was grateful that she'd chosen her flared black trousers as she was able to step right out of the pants without missing a stride and head straight for her bedroom, wearing only a black lacy bra, matching panties, and a pair of ankle-high black boots. She'd actually worn a similar outfit into her bedroom once – red silk bra and undies and knee-high black boots - but that had been planned and the result had been much more satisfying.

With a tired groan, Marley hit the red blinking button on her answering machine and fell back on her bed, arms splayed wide to each side and long legs dangling over the edge. She closed her eyes and welcomed the refreshing breeze from the ceiling fan that spun above her.

"Marley, this is your mother," the first message said and Marley scrunched her eyes closed tightly and groaned again. "I'm not going to stop calling, so you may as well pick up the phone and let me know if you're planning to attend your grandmother's 80th birthday party next month. She's really looking forward to seeing you and will be so disappointed if you're not there."

Marley opened her eyes and watched the fan blades go 'round and 'round. It always amazed her how her mother could make her feel so guilty, even when she hadn't done anything. She made a mental note to call her grandmother and assure her Nana that nothing would keep her from the party. She'd let her mother stew a little longer, though, to make up for the seven messages that had been left in the span of three and a half days. She smiled at the thought just as the next message began to play.

"Hey, Marley, it's Jenna," a sexy and very familiar voice said; Marley sat up so fast the room began to spin. "I'm going to be in Miami over the weekend and wondered if we could have a drink or perhaps dinner." Marley's heart began to pound and, with her current state of dizziness, she had to lie back and close her eyes to keep from passing out. Jenna was coming back to town and wanted to see her. Marley's hopes for a possible reconciliation were viciously stomped out, like a cigarette butt under the heel of a boot, with her ex's next words.

"Allison's been asked to introduce a new computer program to the Miami office and will be in a business meeting most of the day Saturday. I thought we could get together for a drink and then Allison could meet us for dinner. I'd love to catch up and hear what you've been up to lately."

Marley's eyelids popped open and she turned her head toward the phone so hard she almost got whiplash.

"Anyway, give me a call if you can make it. The number's still the same." Jenna's voice died out and Marley just stared at the fine layer of dust on top of her nightstand.

Allison? Jenna was returning with Allison? Marley clenched her fists and glared at the answering machine. That bitch had been responsible for her breakup with Jenna. Well, that and Marley's job. She'd thought Jenna had understood the rigors of her job and the hours involved but, after two years together and more than a few cancelled dinners, Jenna had become less and less understanding, even though Marley had always more than made up for any missed engagement the two had planned, her silky red matching underwear and knee-high boots being one of her best make-up ideas.

When Allison Morgan was hired by Jenna's company, the relationship between Jenna and Marley became even more strained, with Allison adding fuel to the fire every chance she could. The tall manipulating blonde had been a thorn in Marley's side and then a fixture in Marley's bed, only Marley hadn't been aware of that last bit until she'd come home early one day to surprise her lover and had gotten a surprise of her own. Jenna had at least had the decency to look mortified, while Allison had just laughed and had told Marley to lock the door on her way out.

"I'll show that bitch," Marley growled and pushed to a sitting position. She wrapped both hands around her left boot and tugged hard. "I'll show both of them," she muttered out loud as she successfully freed her foot. Tossing the boot to the floor, she grabbed hold of the other one. "I am relationship material," she continued her one woman soliloquy, ripping off her boot and casting it toward its mate. "Can't keep someone happy, my ass," she spat angrily and abruptly stood, reaching back to unhook her bra.

Black lace joined the pile of discarded leather as she stomped barefoot across her bedroom, heading toward the master bath and a much needed cool shower. Her mind still stuck on Jenna and the bitch, she mindlessly turned on the water, hooked her thumbs into the waistline of her panties, and jerked them down to the floor. Still muttering under her breath, she crossed over to the linen closet and grabbed a washcloth and towel. She growled out a string of very creative expletives and jammed her towel between the wall and towel bar. Yanking open her shower door, she stepped directly under the steady stream of water and screamed.

"Fuck!" Marley sucked in a breath and jumped back. She reached for the shower knob and adjusted the temperature to allow just enough heat to keep from turning her into a block of ice. The cold blast did, however, jolt her back into reality and shone a bright light on a single, tiny flawed detail of her plan.

If she was going to prove just how much of a catch she was and what a horrible mistake Jenna had made, she'd need someone to play the part of her girlfriend. She had less than forty-eight hours to find a loving, understanding, and gorgeous – yes, she had to be gorgeous – partner in which to share the world's most perfect relationship.

As she stepped under a more bearable spray of water, she mentally rifled through her possibilities and her mind kept coming back to one specific candidate who was absolutely perfect for her plan. Well, almost perfect. It would really help if the other woman was gay.

"Marley! What can I do for you?" Phil Cavanaugh asked with a wide grin. "I've got two box seat tickets to the Marlins game this weekend. Interested?" His cheesy smile grew even cheesier as he perched on the corner of his desk and folded his arms across his chest. He reminded Marley of one of those sleazy used-car salesmen in local commercials. All he needed was an outdated plaid jacket.

"I'm busy this weekend, Phil," Marley said without a trace of disappointment. As much as she loved the Marlins, she could never enjoy the game if she went with Phil. It would feel as if she were prostituting herself just to see her favorite team in person. "Actually," she continued and gave a quick glance toward the empty desk behind Phil's. "I'm looking for Karen. I've got a problem with a case and wondered if she could help me out."

Phil was as oblivious as ever. "Maybe I could lend a hand," he suggested, his expression nothing short of a leer. "Besides, Karen's…"

"Right here," Karen finished as she walked up from behind the pair, a black jacket held loosely in her hand. She eased past Marley and tossed her blazer on her desk. "Next WITSEC exchange is yours, Phil," she said tiredly as she plopped down in her chair. She certainly didn't envy the Albuquerque marshals who'd taken custody of Jonathon Allen. The guy was a royal pain in the ass on a good day. On a hot, stifling day, he was as insufferable as the heat.

"You're the one who lost the flip," Phil pointed out in his usual cocky tone. He stuck his hand in his pocket and fingered the two-headed coin that had sent Karen out in the blistering heat, while he got to stay behind in the nice, cool office. His special coin hadn't let him down and never would as long as he continued to be the first one to call the flip.

Marley split her attention between the two marshals, but the light perspiration that coated Karen's neck and upper chest and, particularly, the red tank top that clung rather nicely to Karen's breasts won out. "Kind of hot out there, huh?" she said with a slight smile. She at least had the decency to lift her gaze to Karen's face. One thing she didn't abide by was ogling unless, of course, it was in the privacy of her bedroom.

"You think?" Karen shot back, although her tone sounded far more teasing than upset or angry. "I'm not leaving this office again today."

"Not even for a late lunch in a quiet, air-conditioned restaurant? Maybe Hosteria Romana?" Marley asked casually and watched as Karen sat up a little straighter. Even in the midst of a record heat wave, the marshal's love of Italian hadn't wavered one iota, just as Marley had figured. "My treat," Marley upped the ante and bit back a grin when Karen's eyes lit up. "In fact, I bet Phil would be happy to cover for you this afternoon, wouldn't you, Phil?" She directed a 100-watt smile at the still clearly infatuated marshal.

"Um, yeah, I could do that," Phil stuttered, just able to keep the drool in his mouth. He did feel a slight bit of guilt for tricking Karen earlier and getting on Marley's good side certainly couldn't hurt, either.

"Okay, it's settled then," Marley said and turned her full attention to Karen. "So, what do you say?"

Karen hesitated for only a second before she pushed to her feet. "All right, but I'm not wearing a jacket," she said as she hooked her finger in the collar of her blazer. She lifted the jacket and slung it over her shoulder. Marley looked on appreciatively.

"Not a problem for me," she replied honestly. Like she was going to object to being rewarded with the view of smooth silky skin during their lunch date. "Hold down the fort, Phil; we're going to be awhile," Marley said, her smile back in full force as she started toward the door.

"Sure thing, Marley," Phil called out, certain that he was growing on the Miami-Dade detective. "Take your time!"

Karen just chuckled and followed Marley to the elevator. Poor Phil would never catch a clue.

"You ever look back and think about the one that got away?" Marley asked as she leaned back against the booth and sipped on her wine. The two had finished their meals a half hour ago and were simply enjoying the quiet of the restaurant. Their conversation had started with Karen's latest assignment and had moved to the oppressing heat and the steady rise in the city's crime rate. Marley had waited until the crowd had thinned out before steering their talk to a more personal nature.

"What?" Karen replied, a bit surprised by the sudden change in topic but not uncomfortable with the shift. She and Marley had skated down this road before. "We talking fish or people?" she asked, smiling slightly. She'd been out on a boat with her dad on more than a few occasions and had had plenty of fish snap the line and get away – she could vividly remember every single one of them - but could honestly say that there hadn't been a single man whom she'd not happily let go.

"People," Marley said with a half-shrug. "You know, someone who you thought might be 'the one'?" She looked over at Karen and carefully studied the other woman's expression. She could always tell when the marshal wasn't being straight with her and could only hope that Karen could turn the other 'straight' switch off just as easily.

Karen didn't so much as flinch. "Can't help you there. I only have experience with fish," she deadpanned, only a slight twitch in the corner of her mouth giving her away.

Marley shook her head and chuckled. "I wish I could be so lucky." She exhaled tiredly. "And the hits keep coming, too."

"What do you mean?" Karen sat up, suddenly concerned. Kidding around was one thing, but Marley looked as if someone had just run over her new puppy.

"My ex, Jenna, is coming to Miami this weekend and she's bringing her partner, Allison," Marley spat out the last two words in disgust. She looked across the table at Karen. "Jenna cheated on me with Allison."

"Bitch," Karen said softly, but with feeling. "She didn't get away, Marley; she cheated on you," she pointed out, somewhat unsettled at the intense burning in the pit of her stomach. "That's a big difference," she finished quietly. Taking a sip of her drink, she tried to tamp down her anger. She had no idea why she was reacting so strongly; she was usually in control of her emotions.

"Yeah, well, she wants to get together, wants to meet for drinks and then dinner when Allison is free," Marley said, her tone subdued but with a bitter edge to it. "She wants to see how I'm doing; what I've been up to."

"You mean, she wants to see if you're dating someone," Karen filled in the blanks. Just because she'd never been in a relationship with a woman didn't mean that she didn't understand the mechanics of it all. Women were, by nature, curious individuals. Jenna might actually be hoping that Marley had found someone, but she imagined that Allison was rooting for a different outcome.

Marley just nodded. "And I'm kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I tell Jenna that I'm busy and that I can't meet up with them, they'll think I'm lying to protect the fact that I'm alone. And if I make plans with them, they'll see that I am alone. Just like Allison said I'd always be." Marley sounded defeated, not at all like her usual confident self.

Karen reached across the table and took Marley's hand. She squeezed gently. "What can I do?" she asked softly, smiling encouragingly.

Marley looked down at their joined hands; the fit was absolutely perfect. She slowly lifted her gaze and met Karen's eyes. Her friend was being dead serious in her offer, but Marley wondered just how far Karen would go. Only one way to find out, she decided, as she took in a deep breath.

"Would you be my partner Saturday night?" she asked tentatively, hoping that Karen realized that she wasn't referring to a joint task force between the U. S. Marshals Office and the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Karen's eyes grew large and her jaw unhinged and went slack. She slammed her mouth closed and just stared at Marley.

'Yep, Marley thought, 'she knows.' Taking a sip of her wine, she just sat back and waited.

"So how does this work?" Karen asked as she slipped onto a barstool at the restaurant Jenna had chosen for her meeting with Marley – The Tantra Restaurant and Lounge, the same restaurant where Marley had first met Jenna. Marley was certain that Allison had had a huge hand in the choice of meeting locations and probably expected Marley to pick up the tab at the ridiculously expensive restaurant, too.

"Just like it does between a man and woman," Marley explained, gracefully sliding onto the stool next to Karen. She motioned for the bartender serving a couple across the bar, and he acknowledged her with a quick nod. "Just pretend I'm a man," Marley said with a cheeky grin.

"Like that's ever going to happen," Karen muttered under her breath. Her stomach was fluttering nervously as if a million butterflies were crammed inside, struggling to get out. Their 'practice time' the evening before had been interrupted when Marley had been called out on a case. Karen took a deep breath as several butterflies suddenly executed a loop-to-loop maneuver. What if she messed up and ruined everything? What if Marley's ex saw right through their scheme? Did that gaydar thing really work? A hand on her knee had her almost jumping out of her skin.

"Relax," Marley whispered, leaning in close to Karen. She felt a tremor race along her palm and, not for the first time, wondered if this was a huge mistake. "I didn't tell Jenna about you when I called to accept her invitation. You can still back out." She pulled back and gave Karen an understanding smile.

Karen just stared at her friend. Marley was opening the door for her to walk through; all she had to do was step over the threshold and run to safety. She slammed it shut instead. "No, I'm fine," she said, her expression turning determined. She could do this. "We're doing this," she added out loud, including Marley and sounding as confident as she always did whenever she'd promise Amos that she'd collar a fugitive in a ridiculously short amount of time. She eased her hand on top of Marley's and gave the other woman a reassuring smile.

"Hope you don't take this one for granted, Novak," a deep, gravely voice said and Marley stiffened as the speaker grew closer. "I imagine there's someone out there just waiting to snag her up."

"Allison!" Jenna reprimanded her partner but kept her voice low. It always amazed Marley how Jenna could project so much inflection into a near whisper.

Marley gave Karen's hand a quick squeeze and reluctantly let go. She whirled around on her stool and pasted a plastic smile on her face. "Allison, I see you haven't changed one bit." Marley had to stifle a chuckle as her words only seemed to apply to the bitch's personality. She was ecstatic to see that Allison had put on more than just a few pounds. She softened her features when she turned to address her ex. Jenna still looked exactly the same. "Jenna," she said with a genuine smile.

"Hello, Marley, glad you were able to get us an earlier reservation," Jenna replied as she took a step closer. She'd really wanted to meet Marley without Allison, but her partner had wrapped up her meeting much earlier than anticipated and left Jenna with little choice in the matter. "You haven't changed one bit," she echoed Marley's words to Allison. The sincerity of her tone drew a growl from her partner.

"Neither have you," Marley returned, ignoring Allison's disapproval of her exchange with Jenna. She turned to Karen and extended her hand. "Karen Sisco, this is Jenna Turner and Allison Spivey."

Karen slipped her hand into Marley's and allowed the other woman to help her from the stool. She could have easily stepped off on her own, but it felt kind of nice having Marley's assistance. She held on tightly to Marley's hand and conjured up a smile for Jenna and the bitch. "Hello, it's nice to meet you," she lied through her straight teeth. Marley was amazed at how convincing it had sounded.

Handshakes were quickly exchanged and an awkward silence descended upon the small circle of women like a heavy fog on a cold winter morning. Even Allison was quiet, although it was due in part to the fact that she was still pissed at the friendly exchange between Marley and Jenna. Karen watched Allison silently fume, looking like she were plotting her next move, almost as if the bitch was playing a game of chess, and decided right then and there that, by the end of the evening, Marley would come out on top. "Marley, honey," she said sweetly. "Why don't you see if our table is ready?"

Marley gave Karen a wink and leaned in to lightly brush her lips against her friend's cheek. Karen pressed her cheek against Marley's lips and smiled contently. The pair appeared to be quite the happy couple. "Be right back," Marley said with a smile. A light squeeze of Karen's hand and she headed off toward the hostess. This dinner was going to be interesting to say the least.

"So," Jenna said after Marley had disappeared from view. "What is it that you do, Karen?" She studied the brunette more closely. Karen Sisco was beautiful and seemed quite confident. A one-two punch in Jenna's book, the same combination that had first attracted her to Marley.

For just a second, Karen thought about lying, thought about coming up with something magnificent-sounding, something that would impress Jenna and Allison. She settled for the truth instead, figuring that it wasn't her career under scrutiny, but rather her relationship with Marley. She stood up taller. "I'm a U.S. Marshal," she said proudly. She'd have flashed her badge if she'd been wearing it.

Allison's grumpy expression brightened significantly. "You're a law officer?" she asked, clearly amused at what she perceived as irony. "I bet you and Marley only see each other once every couple of weeks."

Karen smiled, the same kind of smile she always gave Phil whenever he'd missed something obvious. "We have the same work schedule," she said cheerfully. "In fact," she added, "we've actually worked several cases together." Accidental crossing of paths counted, Karen told herself.

Allison looked disappointed again, but Jenna seemed pleased. "I'm glad Marley has found someone," she said, genuinely happy for her former lover. "When did you two meet?"

"Oh gosh," Karen said as she pretended to think. She glanced back toward the front of the restaurant and prayed for Marley's quick return. Their 'practice time' had included getting comfortable sitting close to each other, which Karen already was, and discussing the logistics of their pretend living arrangements; they'd never quite gotten around to working back to when they'd supposedly met for the first time. Even with the stories Karen had heard about lesbians and U-Hauls, she figured a couple of months was way too soon for them to have developed the kind of relationship Marley had indicated that they'd need to portray. "It was actually on a case. Marley found my card at a murdered victim's house and called me." She opted for the truth – again – and hoped Jenna didn't ask for a specific timeline.

"So, how long have…" Allison readied to mentally build a timetable but was interrupted by Marley's perfect timing.

"Table's ready," she said, easing in next to Karen and again taking her friend's hand. She could really get used to this. "Shall we?" she asked, indicating that Jenna and Allison should take the lead. She waited for the two women to turn and walk away before she leaned in close to Karen. "You okay?" she whispered, knowing that this preliminary meeting would be tame compared to what would follow.

"Yes," Karen replied, her hand gripping Marley's a little more tightly. "I'm just glad that I left my gun at home."

Marley laughed and started toward the door. She had one strapped to her ankle if they needed it.

"Oh, yeah," Jenna moaned in a low whisper; she sounded almost orgasmic and definitely looked that way with her head tilted back slightly and her eyes fluttering closed. "I'd forgotten how wonderful Tantra's chicken tikka tasted."

Marley cleared her throat and took a sip of her wine. She'd forgotten how intensely Jenna enjoyed good 'food'. Karen just stared down at her plate. Her food was fantastic, but she had no intention of calling it to everyone else's attention. Her mind flashed to Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, and she glanced around to see if anyone else was watching their table or had had a sudden desire to order chicken tikka.

Allison frowned for what must have been the hundredth time. Normally, she enjoyed the noises her lover made – even with eating actual food – but, there was a time and place for everything. Sitting across the table from someone who'd heard Jenna's sounds of appreciation in a completely different venue wasn't one of them.

"So, Karen, how does that witness protection thing really work?" Allison tried to distract the rest of the table. Jenna was a lost cause for now. "Is it really all that cloak and dagger stuff they show in the movies?" She'd have preferred to have addressed the subject of the nature of the relationship between the two law officers, but decided she'd wait until dessert was served and she wouldn't be distracted. Jenna didn't eat sweets.

Karen shrugged and scooped a piece of fish onto her fork. She hated small talk but figured it was better than listening to Jenna. "Yeah, it is. The safety of the witness depends on it."

"Ever had a witness killed?" Allison asked, her food suddenly forgotten. She loved crime shows and relished the chance to question a real live U. S. Marshal. She'd just have to forget that this particular marshal was in a relationship with a woman she despised. "In your custody?" she added quickly. This was better than a movie of the week. She could find out how the actual system worked and, depending on Karen's answer, maybe even make Marley's lover suffer.

Karen glanced up sharply. What kind of person asked a question like that? She felt Marley's hand on her knee and she relaxed. Oh yeah, she thought, that kind of person. "My department specializes in capturing fugitives," she said casually. Her napkin slipped from her lap and she leaned over to retrieve it – just as Marley reached down to help. The tops of their heads were literally a hairsbreadth from touching. Brown eyes locked on to greenish blue and time stood still. One second, then two, and Karen just reacted – and not in a way she'd have expected – as she closed the narrow distance and lightly brushed her lips against Marley's. She pulled back and smiled shyly. Marley's grin was huge.

"Think you dropped something," she said softly as she fingered the green napkin and lifted it from the floor. Marley eased back in her chair and held out the napkin. Karen just grinned and took it from her friend's hand. Slipping it back onto her lap, she turned toward Allison and picked up the conversation right where it had left off, as if she 'dropped her napkin' every day.

"I have had a few suspects die in the chase," Karen paused and shot a teasing smile at Marley. "One quite memorable." Marley just shook her head as Karen launched into a rather animated rendition of that fateful day, known in the Miami-Dade Police Department as simply 'naked dead guy #3'.

The rest of the meal flew by with a totally relaxed Karen plying Allison with various stories of both failed and successful fugitive captures. The bitch was actually fascinated with the Louis DiNardo case, and not because it was the first time Marley and Karen had met, but rather because the fugitive had had a sex change to avoid capture. Karen didn't bother to tell her that Louis/Lois probably would have had one anyway.

"Marley, how are Susan and Talia doing?" Jenna asked, her attention fully back on the conversation now that her empty plate had been taken away. "You still see them?"

Marley nodded. "Every once in a while I run into Susan at the courthouse." Marley had pretty much distanced herself from all the couples she and Jenna used to run with; it had just been too difficult being the third wheel. "She and Talia were signing papers on a house the next day. She said they'd never been happier." Marley kept her tone as neutral as possible. No one believed Susan and Talia would last except for Marley. Of course, the non-believers had also thought that Marley and Jenna were as solid as a rock.

"Jane and Cynthia?" Jenna continued quickly, feeling guilty for doubting Susan and Talia's relationship. Plus, she had a very good idea what Marley was thinking. "Are they still in Miami?" Just before Jenna had moved away, the couple had talked of moving to New Orleans to be closer to Cynthia's family.

"They just moved back about six months ago. Cynthia's parents retired and wanted to move to Miami," Marley replied and turned to Karen. "Cynthia is the one who called you when Carey McAllister was murdered. I gave her your information and she tracked you down." She returned her attention to Jenna. "Cynthia got her old job back at dispatch."

Karen smiled around the lip of her glass. Marley had made sure to include her in the conversation. She couldn't think of a single date that had ever done the same. She sat back in her chair and listened as Jenna and Marley rehashed old times with an occasional comment or two from Allison. Every few minutes, Marley would stop and fill in the blanks for Karen, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Karen believed that, to Marley, it was.

Marley Novak was like no one else Karen had ever 'dated'.

At ten o'clock on the dot, the two couples stepped through the doors of the restaurant and out into the evening air. The heat was so intense it hit the women right in the face, almost knocking the breath from Jenna and Allison.

"Damn, I'd forgotten how hot it is here," Allison complained instantly. The move to Maine had made her soft when it came to the heat and humidity she'd grown up with. "Can't say I miss it," she added with an underlying tone. Marley knew exactly what else Allison had meant. She hadn't missed Allison one bit, either.

Karen shrugged, her hand resting comfortably in Marley's. "It's doesn't seem so bad tonight," she said and she meant it. The heat she'd been complaining about all summer seemed mild compared to the unexplained intense burning sensation that raced through her body. It felt like every single synapse was firing at once.

"Yeah, it's kind of nice out here," Marley concurred, only she knew exactly why she wasn't feeling the effects of the outside temperature. Karen's hand felt warm and comforting against her palm, a soothing balm that gently penetrated a part of Marley's heart that she'd kept hidden and locked away, years of raw hurt and anger assuaged by a soft, caring touch.

Allison just shook her head. "You two are nuts," she muttered quietly. Karen and Marley were like two peas in a pod and, as much as she hated that Marley had found someone, she couldn't imagine the two not being together. At least she'd gotten Jenna and that was all that really mattered. "Okay, we better head to the hotel. We've got an early flight in the morning." She managed a smile for the pod people.

"It was really nice to meet you Karen," Jenna said as she pulled the unsuspecting woman into a hug. Karen awkwardly patted Marley's ex on the back and prayed for an early release. She got it almost immediately but frowned when Jenna leaned in close to Marley and whispered in the other woman's ear. "Whatever you do; don't let this one get away, Marley. She's a keeper," she said too low for the others to hear. She eased away and kissed a nearby cheek.

A round of smiles and nods were exchanged with Karen and Marley starting down the sidewalk, while Jenna and Allison headed toward the valet parking attendant. Marley glanced over her shoulder and watched as the other couple disappeared around the corner. She released her grip on Karen's hand and started to ease her hand away. It was grabbed and held tightly. She looked over at Karen with surprise in her eyes and a glimmer of hope in her heart. "Karen?"

"Um," Karen said, her cheeks pink from more than just the heat. "Could we just keep walking a bit?" She swung their hands gently back and forth.

Marley smiled and slipped her fingers through Karen's. "Just to the car?" she asked, trying to keep the hope out of her voice.

"For tonight," Karen answered with a shy smile. "Maybe we can take this slow. Just take short walks for now," she said, her unspoken words warming Marley's heart.

"I can do short walks," she said and squeezed Karen's hand. "Shall we?"

Karen just squeezed back and started down the sidewalk, the nearly oppressive heat not seeming to bother either woman as they slowly made their way down the street to Karen's car…. very, very slowly.

The End

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