DISCLAIMER: I created these characters, but not the world they live in. It's called reality. Ish. So don't go making a profit off these characters unless you want to run afoul of me, and don't go making a profit off the setting unless you want to run afoul of whoever owns the copyright on the existence of the physical universe. Probably Fox.
WARNING: This story contains sex, both heterosexual and lesbian, as well as depictions of prostitution and discussion of child abuse, and a lot of unnecessarily severe language. If any of those are triggering for you, please do yourself a favor and don't read.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To eldritchsandwich[at]gmail.com

By EldritchSandwich


Renee rolled her hips, pleasantly surprised when the boy actually responded by thrusting his upward. It was the first action he'd taken since she guided him into herself; for the last few minutes he'd just been lying there, fists balled around the motel bedsheets, eyes focused on the bouncing of her bare breasts and concentrating on not coming.

Renee wished she could be more sympathetic. She'd tried to be gentle with him: holding back her sigh when he came at the first touch when she tried to put the condom on him, guiding his hands into tentative explorations of her tits and pussy until he was ready again. But that process had taken about half an hour of awkward fumbling, and now she was just ready for it to be over.

She raised her own hands, brushing the brown whorls of her hair away from her chest and softly pinching her nipples both to improve the show for him and to distract herself. After a few minutes of that, one of the boy's hands gingerly lifted up, and she guided it to the warm flesh. As soon as he squeezed, she felt his hips stiffen and the condom begin to distend inside her.

She didn't bother with anything fancy, just a series of short, sharp moans to counterpoint his groan, followed by an "Oh, fuck!" and a little squeal. It wasn't her best performance ever, but from the dazed look on his face she assumed it was good enough. She dropped to his chest, letting her nipples drag teasingly across his skin before rolling away, disengaging herself with a pop and slipping her discarded thong back on as she stood.

"Did you have fun?"

The boy was still blushing, but he nodded.

Getting dressed quickly was an art she'd mastered even more than faking an orgasm. By the time the boy's impatient friends barged in, she was already slipping on her dress.

The other two boys laughed as their friend tried to cover himself. One of them poured the remains of the beer in his hand over him. "Whoo! Happy eighteen, motherfucker!"

"Yeah, how's it feel to be a man, bitch?"

She turned toward the end table to grab her purse, and the nearest boy grabbed a handful of her ass. "Fuck, baby, I think you just made his year!" He squeezed. "Shit, you're hot. You wanna stick around and have some real fun?"

She smiled as sexily as she could manage. "You're sweet, but my brothers always worry if I get home too late."

He leered down at her cleavage as she pulled on her hoodie over the flimsy dress. "Right. I could drive you home..."

"I'll be fine."

She maneuvered herself toward the door, then waited expectantly. The boy managed to take his eyes off of her tits long enough to get it. "Oh, right. What, two hundred?"

Renee nodded. The boy pulled out a combination of tens, twenties, and fifties. Without warning, he reached under her dress to pull away the cup of her bra and slip the cash inside.

"How about I give you my number and you can call me if you ever wanna have a really good time."

Renee smiled politely as he scribbled it out, then she slipped the piece of paper into her purse without so much as a glance. "Bye."

She leaned around to catch sight of the blushing boy just emerging from the bathroom, pulling his jeans back on. She would normally have asked to use it to freshen up, but she hadn't even broken a sweat, and after so long doing what she did, she didn't feel the urge to throw up either.

She smiled sweetly and waggled her fingers. "Happy birthday."

Renee hugged the hoodie around her slim shoulders as she walked. She'd ended up a little farther from home than she'd planned, and now she'd have to walk back. Not that that was all bad...half the people driving around at this time of night were looking for companionship anyway. She figured she might as well get a lift out of the arrangement.

It was almost twenty minutes of walking before one of the few cars passing down the lonely street pulled over. Unfortunately, it wasn't what she was expecting.

She didn't know enough about cars to identify it, other than 'new' and 'expensive'. It was the kind of car normally driven by the sort of rich businessman who could make Renee's night and get Cobb off her back for a while. Only this one wasn't being driven by a businessman.

The girl sitting behind the wheel didn't look much older than Renee. Renee's first thought was that she was gorgeous, with delicate features, smooth, pale skin contrasted against curly black hair, dark eyes, and a tight black dress that did nothing to conceal her more-than-generous curves. The girl's beestung lips curled into a smile, and Renee had to tamp down a sudden lurch. "Hey. You need a ride?"

Renee had to bite her tongue to fight the urge to say yes. Being in the company of beautiful women never seemed to turn out well for her, and she desperately needed to spend as much of the night working as possible. She cleared her throat and tried to avoid looking at the girl's eyes...or the soft, pale shoulder visible through the open window. "Uh...no. Thanks."

"Well then how about a place to spend the night?" the girl purred, and Renee's eyes shot up. She forced herself to take a breath. Given the way the girl's eyebrow rose, Renee doubted she was imagining things. She swallowed.

"I, um...I'm sorry. I don't usually accept...rides from...women."

The girl just smiled. "Really?"

"Yeah. Sorry."

"And...how much...appreciation do the men who give you a ride tend to show?"

Renee fixed her jaw. "Are you a cop?"

The girl burst out laughing. Renee hated herself for the fact that the sound made her blood rush. "Sorry. I just...I spent eight grand on this dress. Now I find out it makes me look like I'm undercover. Great."

Renee swallowed. "Two hundred for the first hour."

The girl smiled again. "Well, I think it might take me longer than an hour to...get you home. So how's five thousand sound?"

Renee had to remind herself to breathe. "Five...five thousand? Dollars?" The girl shrugged. "American dollars?"

"Well, if you really want Australian, I might be able to work something out..."

Renee just stood, petrified. The girl reached across to open the passenger door, giving a straight-on view of her bounteous cleavage in the process. Renee licked her lips.

She had rules. She had rules for a very good reason.

But she also had an increasingly twitchy pimp breathing down her neck...and one of the most beautiful women she'd ever seen begging to.

Renee took a deep breath. Then she slipped into the car.

They rode in silence for what seemed like hours, Renee concentrating very hard on not staring at her companion's bare legs exposed by the dress where it rode up. That meant primarily staring instead at the dashboard, which looked like it contained more hardwood and marble than the average embassy.

She cleared her throat.

"This is a really nice car."

The girl smiled tightly. "Thanks. Early birthday present." She gave the brunette a sidelong glance and licked her lips. "What's your name?"

"What do you want it to be?"

It was a standard line, and Renee was usually able to make it sound sexy. Of course usually, she wasn't so nervous.

The driver laughed, and this time the sound made her flinch. "Seriously?"

She sighed. "Renee. It's Renee."

"Well, I'm Sophia. Nice to meet you, Renee."

Renee tried to smile. "Yeah."

Sophia chewed on her lip for a moment. "Fuck. You know if you want, I can just drop you somewhere..."

"No," Renee answered a little too readily, then cleared her throat. "I mean...I really need this. The money, I mean."

"Because if you're gonna be wincing like that all night..."

"I'm not wincing!"

"Yeah, only when you look at me or hear me talk. I mean, money or not, if you're not into girls then why..."

"I'm not not into girls." Renee dared to glance at the smooth skin where the dress rode up. "I'm really not."

Sophia smiled again. "Well, then, try to act like it, hm? And look sharp, we're here."

Renee finally looked up from the dash. Without her even realizing it, they'd ended up downtown, rolling up in front of what Renee assumed was a hotel and not the royal palace it appeared to be.

As she stumblingly followed Sophia out of the car, the dark-haired girl handing off the keys to the valet, Renee drank in her surroundings. She'd had well-to-do johns before, but the lobby they were walking through now made the locations of those previous contracts look like the cheap motel she'd been in earlier that night.

As soon as they passed through the door, the doorman nodding deferentially, the well-dressed young blonde at the concierge's desk rushed forward. "Oh! Good evening, ma'am. We weren't expecting you back so soon..."

The girl glanced at Renee, but said nothing. It was better than the alternative, but it also made Renee wonder whether she was used to Sophia bringing in random women off the street.

"That's fine. Is the room ready?"

"Of course! Is there anything else you need?"

Sophia glanced sidelong at Renee, who was doing her best not to be noticed. "Yes, could you send up a bottle of Cuvee Femme and a tray of mixed berries, please?"

The blonde nodded. "I'll see what I can do."

"Thank you, Carrie."

"My pleasure, ma'am."

As the blonde hurried off and they stepped into the express elevator, Renee risked a glance at her companion. "You, um...come here a lot?"

Sophia grinned self-consciously. "My, uh...my family owns a suite."

Renee tried to keep her eyes from widening. More accurately, according to the button she pushed, her family owned the penthouse.

The elevator ride was in silence, both Renee and Sophia staring straight ahead, not making eye contact even in the reflection of the prefectly-polished doors. It wasn't until those doors opened, then Sophia stepped forward to open the separate door to the penthouse, that Renee saw fit to speak.

"Holy shit."

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Renee covered it. Sophia turned toward her as she shut the door, eyebrow raised. Renee blushed. "It's...very nice."

Sophia squirmed uncomfortably, which only made Renee's blush deepen. "It's a bit ostentatious."

Renee tried to contain a smirk, with little success. "A bit. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to seduce me with a tawdry display of wealth and power."

Sophia didn't even try to hide her smirk as she brushed past the brunette. "Those aren't the kinds of tawdry displays I use to seduce women."

The sudden reminder of why she was there made Renee tense. "Um...do you mind if I take a shower? I must smell like..." Like the guy who came inside me an hour ago. "Like sweat."

Sophia just nodded evenly, never taking her eyes from the younger girl's steadily reddening face. "Bathroom's through there. I'll get more comfortable."

"You could..." Renee swallowed. "You could always come with me." It was supposed to be her best 'fuck me' voice. It didn't work. Sophia frowned.

"Gee, sound a little less enthusiastic."

Renee blew out a breath. "I'm sorry! I told you, I...I don't usually do...this." Sophia looked away, and Renee cursed to herself. "I'm just going to go take a shower..."

Renee spent far too much time in the shower. There was a fine line between piquing a client's interest and overstaying your welcome, after all, and she figured she'd crossed it about fifteen minutes ago. But the shower had a massage head and real hot water, and the alternative was, well...

She shut off the water.

When she stepped out of the bathroom with just a towel clutched around her body, Sophia was reclining on the bed, a bottle tipped lazily in one hand. "Champagne got here while you were in the shower. Can I interest you in a glass?"

Renee nodded shyly as she stepped forward, very aware of the thin membrane between her skin and Sophia's eager eyes. "Are you trying to get me drunk?"

Sophia smirked. "Well, I wouldn't mind getting you to relax a little."

Renee took the flute, her fingertips brushing Sophia's in the process. She tensed, then further when her curvaceous client's hand slid up hers. "Sit with me."

It took a great deal of concentration to let herself fall to the bed without letting go of the towel or spilling her champagne. She half-emptied the glass in one motion, then looked up to find Sophia's exotic, smoky eyes fixed on her.

"Don't take this the wrong way," she purred, "but I generally don't have to put in this much work even with a girl I'm not paying an exorbitant amount of money."

The gentle reminder that she was being paid to provide a service, and the subtle and perhaps unintentional threat beneath it, made Renee straighten, then gingerly lean in to hand the flute back to Sophia. A deep breath, then her hands met on the edge of the towel.

When it dropped to the bed, Sophia's eyes went wide. "Okay. Don't get me wrong, that's worth a little work..."

Renee bit her lip and fought the blush as she raised herself to her knees, letting Sophia's eyes devour her piece by piece. They were close enough that even in the dim light the erectness of her nipples atop firm, round breasts was obvious. Sophia's gaze went to the neatly-shaved triangle of brown curls between Renee's open thighs, then to the subtle pink beneath it. She licked her lips.

Renee's stomach growled.

The brunette rolled back with a groan and a blush, hands crossed over the flat plane of her belly. When she dared to look up, Sophia was chuckling and throwing something at her. Renee looked down in confusion, and that just made Sophia laugh harder. "Room service menu. Anything you want. And if it's not on there, they'll make it."

Renee gave the menu a quick glance, since it was easier than looking at the laughing woman. Everything she saw looked so fancy. She licked her lips.

"You know what I really want?" She looked up shyly, but Sophia was staring earnestly. "A grilled cheese sandwich."

Sophia laughed again even as she picked up the phone. "Hello? Hi, can we get two grilled cheese sandwiches up here? And the saffron potatoes, if there are any left from dinner. Thanks. There you go, ten minutes."

She looked back to find Renee blushing. "I'm sorry. It's not...I mean, I eat fine. It's not like I'm starving."

"I never said you were."

"It's just...been a long night." The brunette fidgeted. "Do you want me to get dressed?"

Sophia's hungry look and saucy grin were back. "Oh, don't you dare."

When the sandwiches arrived, the bellhop didn't even bat an eyelash at his short glimpse of a naked Renee blushing and trying to cover herself on the bed. The first bite made Renee's eyes widen.

"Oh my god."

Sophia just smirked. "They do good work. If you're ever here for lunch, I highly recommend the Waldorf salad."

Renee didn't try to suppress a chuckle. "Yeah, you know, I don't really luncheon here as often as I should."

"Oh, well, darling, if you want to be seen with the right people..."

Renee laughed. Sophia smiled.

"You're gorgeous when you laugh." Renee covered her mouth with a blush. "You're also gorgeous when you're naked..."

"Oh, God, don't look at me..."

"Naked and eating a grilled cheese sandwich..."

Renee fell over backwards. And the two of them laughed again.

When Sophia set the plates aside, Renee was feeling at ease for the first time that night, and she was honest enough to admit it didn't have anything to do with the food. She licked her lips. "You know...I really should think of some way to thank you for how nice you're being..."

She let her arms settle around Sophia's neck, and a slow grin spread across the exotic beauty's lips. "Well, I did kind of bring you here against your will..."

Renee blushed, eyes turned up to meet Sophia's through her lashes. "You didn't." After a moment's hesitation, she began to lean in, only for Sophia to lean back.

"There's one thing I have to ask." Sophia licked her lips. "If you like women...why wouldn't you...work with them?"

Renee froze. When Sophia reached out to touch her, her arms fell to her sides. "Goddammit. God damn it." She sucked in a sobbing breath, then looked up to meet Sophia's concerned and curious eyes. She sighed.

"Because...if a straight girl had to sell herself, if she could choose to only take women, she might be able to pretend that she...that it didn't count. That she wasn't a..."

Renee didn't realize how hard she was crying until she felt herself shaking against Sophia's embrace.

"Oh, fuck. Fuck, fuck...I'm sorry. I'm so stupid, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry..."

"I can't...I can't be here. I have to go..." Renee tried to pull away from her embrace, but Sophia just pressed them closer together.

"Oh, no. No, just...just lie down. I won't...I won't touch you, I swear to God, just...just stay."

Renee sucked in a gasp. "I'm so tired. Jesus, I'm so tired..."

"I know. I know, it's okay, just lie down. Just lie down..."

Renee didn't resist as Sophia guided her down to the bed and pulled back the sheets. When her breathing began to calm, she felt Sophia's weight settle on the other side. Wordlessly, she reached a hand behind her, grabbing the woman's arm and placing it gently on her waist. When she felt the weight of Sophia's still fully-covered body molding against hers and the soft, gentle warmth of breath on the back of her neck, she collapsed.

When Renee awoke, it took her some time before she remembered why there was a girl wrapped around her. In that time, she made a mistake.

Sophia stretched lazily as Renee's arms and legs wrapped tighter around her. "Mm...what? Who's Christine?"

Renee froze, then none-too-gracefully untangled herself from Sophia. "No one. Just a...girl I used to know."

She glanced back down at the bed, but the sad understanding in Sophia's eyes was too much, so she headed for the bathroom and her discarded clothes. She emerged fully dressed to find Sophia sitting on the bed, her delicate black purse in her lap. Her smile was wistful and resigned.

"If I invited you to stay for breakfast, you wouldn't."

Renee cleared her throat. "No."

Sophia just nodded. "Well, I guess this is where we say goodbye then."

It took Renee a moment to recognize what the fat roll in Sophia's hand was. When she did, she shook her head. Sophia stretched across the bed. "Take it, it's yours."

"I didn't earn it. You brought me up here for a reason, and I couldn't..."

"Just take it."

"I can't. Just...please, I just can't."

Sophia held the roll of bills out a moment longer, then nodded and slipped it back into her purse. Renee turned for the door, but only made it a few steps.

"Can I ask one thing?"

Sophia shrugged guardedly. "That seems fair."

Renee licked her lips. "Don't take this the wrong way, but...you're gorgeous."

Sophia nodded solemnly. "Well, that hurt, but I appreciate you being honest with me."

Against her will Renee giggled, but then quickly covered her mouth. "No, I mean...you're beautiful. You're suave. And you've obviously got resources. So..." She glanced up at Sophia through her lashes. "You just don't seem like the kind of person who'd have to pick up girls off the street."

Sophia blinked, a bittersweet smile spreading across her face. "You know...the last girl I hooked up with, we met in this club, and she was all over me. Then in the morning...she tells me she's been taking pictures, and wouldn't it be a shame if they fell into the wrong hands." Renee's eyes went wide, and Sophia just chuckled. "Because obviously someone as rich and connected as me couldn't possibly be out already.

"Then my last girlfriend before that ended up leaving me for my brother. He's a little less...subtle about the gifts he gives the women he fucks." Sophia's eyes slid up to meet Renee's. "I guess I was just kind of in the mood for something without any baggage."

"Oh." Renee swallowed. "Well...I really fucked that up, didn't I?"

Sophia laughed, then leaned forward as Renee crossed back to the desk across from the bed. She blinked as the brunette held out a sheet of hotel stationery. "What's this?"

Renee licked her upper lip. "If you ever...have a couple grand burning a hole in your pocket again...that's my pager number."

Sophia's eyebrow rose, and a smirk played across her features. "Your what?"

Renee tried to hide her grin. "Shut up."

"Uh, sorry, did you say something?" Sophia put a finger to the shell of her ear. "I couldn't hear you from all the way back there in 1991."

"Fine, then don't use it."

Renee's laughter ebbed as Sophia held her gaze, slowly and deliberately folding the note and slipping it into her purse. It was Sophia who finally broke the eye contact. "Would you, uh, like me to walk you out?"

Renee cleared her throat. "No, I think I can find my way."

"Right. Well...good luck."

"Yeah. You too."

After a few seconds of awkward silence, Renee headed for the door. "Right. I should..."

"Yeah." When her hand was on the knob, Sophia's voice stopped her. "Renee? I had fun."

"Yeah. Me too."

Renee didn't wear a watch, but she didn't need one to know she was very, very late. And as many faults as Cobb had, punctuality was something he held in high regard. As it was, Renee was almost too nervous to open the door. Fortunately for her, someone else opened it for her.

Satin was another one of Cobb's girls. She was a massive bitch, but she was also black, which meant Renee couldn't even feel unambiguous about hating her. Satin sneered. "Oh look, it's the dyke. Hey dyke." She pulled back the door, letting Renee squeeze past her in the process. "Cobb! The dyke's back!"

The swarthy, goateed face appeared around the corner. "Renee? Fuck you been, get your ass over here!"

Renee shuffled quickly down the hall, less to appear deferential and more so she didn't have to see Satin's triumphant smirk. She managed not to cry out when Cobb's meaty hand wrapped around her arm and pushed her against the wall. "The fuck were you last night? You just take off with my cash now?"

Renee shook her head fervently. "No, I...I was walking home when I got a big fare. Really big."

Cobb's eyes narrowed. "How big?"

"No, it...it fell through. Didn't pan out."

Cobb blinked. "'Didn't pan out'? What are you, a fucking stockbroker now?" Renee opened her mouth, only for the pimp to press closer. "Nah nah nah, listen; I like you. You're honest, you don't shoot up, you got nice tits for a white girl. But the thing is, none of that matters if you don't make me my fucking money!"

Cobb released his grip, and Renee sucked in a breath as he shook his head. "Give me what you got."

Renee handed over the wadded bills, and Cobb briefly counted them before giving her back a twenty. "Do better."

"I will, I swear. I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well, you're gonna get a chance to make it up to me. Move."

His grip was back on her arm, dragging her into the living room where about half of Cobb's girls were lounging around. He dropped her onto the arm of a couch and then puffed himself up for a speech. "Okay, listen up. His Royal Fagness is doing one of his party contracts and he needs more girls. Andre says its some kind of super rich party, so that means I'm only gonna send classy bitches. Dawn, Keiko, Renee. You're all going. Tanya, you too. Satin." She perked up, and Cobb smirked. "You can hold their coats."

A few of the girls chuckled, and Satin folded her arms over her obviously-enhanced chest. "Yo, fuck your brown ass."

Cobb just barked out a laugh. "You four are gonna be with some of Andre's girls, serving drinks and providing entertainment. Lotta cash, just do what he tells you. Meet here at eight to get ready. That's it, get the fuck out and do something useful."

As the girls filed out, Keiko fell into step with Renee. "Hey, where were you? We were all worried."

"I just...had an overnight."

Keiko bounced excitedly. "Ooh, do tell!"

Renee shook her head. "Oh, no, nothing worth talking about. Hey, you know if there's anything going today that could earn me a little extra cash?"

The Asian girl pursed her lips. "Hm...I think Stiles is doing one of his totally-legit photo shoots. I'd go, but I was actually working all night, and I needs my beauty sleep."

"All right, you go collapse, Mommy's orders."

"Thanks, Mommy." The two shared a quick hug and a peck on the cheek, and Keiko headed for the stairs; like most of the girls, part of her earnings went toward a shitty half-room in the building where Cobb served as super. Maybe that was part of the reason some of the girls didn't like her, Renee mused; unlike them, she paid the extra for the freedom of a shitty whole-room a few blocks away.

She headed for the phone hanging in the hall; if she was going to be doing any 'modeling' today, she had to make sure she got back in time for her oh-so-special new job.

"Okay, pull her outer lips apart with your fingers. Lips on her thigh. No, angled toward me. Good." Click. "Renee, pinch your nipples. No, raise your arms so I can see. Good." Click. "Okay, sixty-nine. Vienna, you're on top."

As they changed positions, Renee couldn't help but smile. She liked Stiles, if for no other reason than that his nebbishy appearance and overly-businesslike manner almost made her forget that she was shooting porn, not to mention that she was as close to having sex with a girl as she'd been in years.

Well, except for last night.


She shook her head. "Sorry, spaced."

"Legs wide. Vienna, tongue just below her clit. And hold onto the bed, I'm going to get above you."

When the mattress rocked under his foot, they shifted, and Vienna's tongue brushed Renee. The brunette couldn't stifle a sigh.

"Ooh, slipped. Sorry, honey."

Renee just nodded. The brassy blonde had made it too clear how unattracted she was to women for Renee to even think it was anything but an accident.

But that didn't change the face that had flashed before her eyes when it happened.

"Okay, where are my adorable bitches at?"

Dawn, Keiko, Renee, and Tanya all stood up when Andre swished into the room, and he squealed in delight. Renee tried not to squirm. Andre was just about the friendliest, most gregarious procurer one could ever meet; at least, so the stories went, until you pissed him off and he beat you half to death and left you in a gutter to bleed out the other half of the way.

"Ooh, aren't we pretty! Everybody come on over, I got prezzies!"

Each girl in turn got a paper shopping bag; when she pulled out the contents, Renee's eyes went wide.

The black lace bra was cupless, the matching thong was crotchless, and the skintight vinyl dress looked like it wouldn't be long or thick enough to do much to resolve either of those issues. In true Andre fashion, each girl's was ideally suited to her coloring; Keiko's was red, Tanya's was gold, Dawn's was green, and Renee's was blue.

The matching stilettos and thigh-high fishnets meant that all together, they couldn't have looked more like Hollywood's standard-issue hooker if they'd walked straight off a studio backlot.

The girls' looks weren't lost on their temporary host. "I know, God, I know, but this comes right from the client. You lucky bitches are going to be the wait staff and the main attraction at some swanky fucked-up birthday party for some Japanese zillionaire's kid. You serve the drinks, you let rich businessmen look up your skirts, then when the bell rings you drop the dresses and lez out with each other right there in the middle of the festivities. Fun! Okay, sweeties?"

Tanya and Keiko shared a hesitant glance, but didn't say anything. Dawn, who everyone knew was up for anything, just shrugged. Renee felt like she was going to throw up.

"Okay, dressed and outside, my lovely honies, my girlies are already in the limos!"

As Dawn began to unceremoniously strip down, Renee swallowed. This had 'long night' written all over it.

Renee tried to adjust the dress while balancing a tray of canapes. Both activies were made somewhat more difficult by the additional need to keep from gawking.

The night before, Renee had been in the most oppulent hotel she'd ever seen. In comparison, that now looked like something the Yamamoto residence had thrown up.

The party was confined to the west wing of the house, but that was more than enough space for the two hundred or so guests in attendance. Everything was wood and stone and sweeping organic shapes, intricately-detailed carvings marking off spaces while still maintaining an understated aura that she imagined the Japanese mogul who'd commisioned it had insisted on.

When one of said mogul's business associates pushed up the barely-there skirt to grab a handful of her ass, she shook her head, smiled as flirtaciously as she could muster, and moved on.

She'd been doing this for almost two hours; Dawn and one of Andre's girls had already started a striptease in the middle of the room, a crowd of hooting men and seething women crowded around the low, gently-curved table in the center of the main room. She winced; the pulsing beat that sounded like it would fit better in a goth club or a strip club was tunneling into her head.

Suddenly, an arm was around her waist, and it took all her concentration to keep from spilling her tray as she dropped into a lap. It's owner was young, with vaguely Asian features, coiffed black hair, a silk shirt, glazed eyes, and a hungry leer.

"Hey, baby. Today's my birthday. You wanna give me a special birthday treat..."

Renee screwed on a sultry smile as her free hand pressed against his chest. "Wait for the show to start, and you might get a treat from three or four of us..."

The young man laughed, his hands sliding across the brunette's waist until one was cupping a breast and the other was on her thigh. "Fuck, baby, you're so hot...I just wanna fuck you right here..."

Renee swallowed hard as she tried to squirm her way back to her feet without her squirming just turning him on more. "Oh, well, that wouldn't be fair to the people who needed spicy shrimp."

Finally, she managed to regain her footing, even if one of the birthday boy's hands was still roaming up her thigh. "I wouldn't want you to miss the other entertainment we're going to provide..."

She winked, and he laughed. Before he let her go, his other hand stuffed a hundred in her cleavage before going in for a final grope. "You come to me after the show, honey. I'll give you everything you ever wanted..."

Renee plastered on a grin as she stepped back into the crowd. "I can't wait."

Desperate for some air, she stepped down into one of the recessed lounge areas on either side of the giant open space and took a deep, shuddering breath. Until the woman moved in response, Renee didn't realize she had company.

All she saw were bare legs and a dark ponytail, the rest of the woman's form obscured by the couch. But from the way she was stirring, she was obviously aware of Renee's presence.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." She held out the tray. "Would you like some shrimp?" Then, mindful of her job description, she let her skirt slide up as she flexed her bare leg. "Or...anything else?"

"What? No, I'm fine." The woman turned to wave her off, and Renee gasped.

When she realized the waitress still hadn't moved, the woman turned. "Look, I'm really not..."

Sophia blinked. "What." She sat up. "What the fuck?"

She leapt to her feet, and Renee had to fight to keep her nervous jump from upending the tray. "What are you doing here?"

Renee's eyes went wide. "What? What am I...what are you doing here?"

"I'm turning twenty four, what are you doing here?"

Renee froze. "Wait. This is...your party?"

Sophia hesitated, then frowned flatly. "Mine and my brother's." She jerked her finger toward the table, and the suave-looking black-haired young man who was now grinding against Dawn and her playmate as they danced. Sophia scoffed. "Twins. Guess whose idea the entertainment was."

Renee blanched. Sophia shook her head. "Sorry, I...I didn't expect to see you...here."

Renee nervously slipped a curl of hair that had broken free back behind her ear. "A job's a job." When Sophia didn't react. Renee put the tray down on the nearest flat surface and took a step back. "I have to go. I'm sorry."

"No, wait..." Sophia's hand on her bare arm made her start, then stop. She looked up to find those big, dark eyes steadily watching her. "I'm sorry. It was just a surprise, I wasn't...I don't have a problem seeing you again."

Before Renee could respond, the low, fat sound of a gong or a temple bell overpowered the music. All eyes turned to the birthday boy, his hands still busy grabbing pieces of Dawn, as he grinned. "Okay, everyone, time for the real present! All these hot little waitresses you've been playing with? Well now they're gonna give us a real show." The crowd hooted, and he turned in Sophia's direction with a broad grin. "Happy birthday, huh, Sis?"

Renee was shaking. "Oh, fuck...fuck fuck fuck..."

Sophia's eyes darted from the trembling brunette to the makeshift stage, where the first two pairs of girls were already locked in each other's arms. She swallowed. Then her hand wrapped around Renee's. "Come with me."

The music got loud again. Renee didn't resist.

The house was too cavernous and angular for Renee to judge where they were going even if she'd had the presence of mind to. All she knew was that eventually they ended up in a suite with a stone floor, a sunken bed set off by sliding walls, and one hell of a view.

Renee swallowed as Sophia carefully shut the door behind them. "Is this...this is yours?"

Sophia smiled sheepishly. "Yeah. On a good day, you can see all the way to the water."

Renee turned back to face her, head still shaking. "You're...you're Sophia Yamamoto. You're the Sophia Yamamoto."

Sophia winced. "Christ, a 'the'?"

"I just...I can't..." Renee shook her head. "I need to sit down."

"Okay, of course..."

Sophia guided her to the bed. Naturally, the sheets were silk and the mattress was perfect. Renee groaned. "This is stupid. Just go enjoy your party. I should just...get out."

"Hey." Sophia's hand lighted gently on her arm. "Did it look like I was enjoying the party?"

Renee smirked. "Well, are you sure you don't want to go watch the show? I bet my friends are eating each other out by now."

Sophia groaned and unceremoniously fell back onto the bed. "What I don't want is to give my brother the satisfaction." Renee's curious look made her shrug. "He thinks I should be ashamed of being gay, so he never tires of engineering situations to make me."

"But...you're not? I mean, I just figured...with so many people expecting things from you..."

Sophia shrugged again. "Well...my dad's got very traditional Japanese morals. And the only thing that comes above 'traditional gender roles' is 'don't be a useless fuck-up and piss away his hard-earned fortune'. So between the lesbian daughter who's hard-working and good with numbers and the the straight son who's only good at doing blow and getting strippers pregnant, he sort of decided that my personal life isn't his top priority."

Sophia turned to find Renee still perched on the edge of the bed, watching her. "Jesus. How the fuck do we always end up in bed together asking each other personal questions?"

Renee just shrugged airily. "It wasn't my idea."

Sophia chuckled. "Well...you want to get a grilled cheese?"

Renee laughed, and it made Sophia smile. "I'm fine. It's your turn."

"My turn?"

Renee fidgeted. "To ask a personal question."

Sophia smiled, the propped herself up on her elbows and fixed an inquisitive gaze on the brunette. "When's your birthday?"

"February 5th."

"How old? She asked, afraid that someone was about to call Chris Hansen."

Renee tried to hide her smile behind her hand. "Nineteen. I turned nineteen this February." She shrugged. "It's weird, I've been saying that for four years, and this is the first year it's actually true."

Sophia sat up just as Renee realized what she'd said and froze. "Four years." The brunette turned her head back toward the view, Sophia still trying to meet her eyes. "You've been...doing this since you were fifteen?" Renee didn't say anything, nor make it any easier for Sophia to meet her eye. "Jesus, I know I'm not supposed to ask, but..."

"It's just the cliche," Renee muttered. "Teenage runaway, didn't know how to do anything else. Ended up on the streets and chose not to starve."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean..."

"It's fine," Renee snapped, then her head drooped. "It's fine."

In the ensuing awkward silence, Sophia licked her lips. "Do you...want to go back out to the party?"

Renee laughed bitterly. "Less than anything else in the universe." She finally turned back to Sophia to find the older girl still watching her evenly. "Can I just...stay in here for a while?"

"Yeah, of course you can. We can even get you out of those clothes..." Renee's head snapped up, and Sophia winced. "Fuck! I didn't...I meant, into something less horrific."

"What, you don't like cop-show-hooker chic?" Renee cracked a smile as Sophia buried her head in her hands just to hide her blush.

"Just go into the closet and pick something out before I say something even stupider!"

Renee just chuckled as she rose from the bed. "Do you mind if I wash off all this makeup too?" she tossed over her shoulder. "I look like Helena Bonham-Carter."

"You can get through to the bathroom on the right!"

Renee's head peeked out from behind the doorframe. "There's a door to the bathroom inside the walk-in closet."

Sophia fidgeted. "It's so you can get dressed right after you shower."

"Yeah, I understand the point. But...there's a door to the full-size bathroom inside the walk-in closet. Which are both inside your bedroom. Which is four times the size of my apartment, not counting the bathroom, since I have to share that with the rest of the floor." Renee tilted her head. "Has it ever occured to you that you might be a little rich?"

Sophia just let herself flop back down onto the bed. "It does seem to keep coming up..."

"So you're going to be a CEO when you grow up?" Renee's voice echoed through the doorway.

"Well, maybe eventually. I mean, if Father retires anytime soon, he's probably going to pick someone more experienced. And less female. But maybe in thirty years or so. What about you?"

There was a long pause. "What do you mean?"

"I mean...if you could be anything, what would you be?"

There was another pause, then the sound of the sink running. "I don't...I haven't ever really had the chance to think about it."

Sophia's head dipped slightly. "Right. Of course."

"Well. This is the real me." Sophia looked up. Renee smiled nervously. "How do I look?"

She was wearing a pair of Sophia's drawstring workout pants and a zippered hoodie, brown curls falling loosely down around her shoulders and arms folded across her chest. Even without makeup, she still had dark circles around her eyes, though they were less smoky and mysterious and more sleep-deprived. Sophia didn't realize she was staring until Renee started to fidget.

Sophia cleared her throat and averted her eyes, which just made it more awkward. "Sorry."

Renee tried to laugh. "Guess I look as out of place as I feel."

"No, I just..." Sophia sighed and shrugged. "All of a sudden I was thinking about what you'd look like in the morning."

Renee just hugged herself tighter, staring at the floor. "You've seen me in the morning."

Sophia nodded a little too readily. "I know. Right."

Renee set herself down gingerly on the edge of the bed. "What time is it?"

Sophia glanced at the sleek digital clock on the nightstand. "Just after midnight. Tired?"

"A little."

Sophia's gaze turned awkwardly to the bed. "Do you...want to lie down?"

Renee straightened. "Ooh...I can't afford to keep falling asleep when I should be working. I mean literally, I can't financially afford it."

"Oh, for fuck's sake...I'll give you a thousand dollars cash if you just lie down and go to sleep."

Instead of lying back, Renee stood, arms back around her chest. "I have to get back out there..."

"Come on, please, just stop..."

Renee took in a sharp breath. "Look...no offense, but I just...I don't feel comfortable taking money from you, all right?"

Renee spun back toward the closet and her discarded costume only for Sophia's hand to close around her elbow. "No, come on, you know that's not what I..." At Renee's pointed look, Sophia's hand slowly slid down toward hers as the older girl's eyes slid toward the floor.

"Maybe I don't feel comfortable thinking about you having to fuck one of my father's business associates tonight just to survive."

Another silence, and Renee relaxed, her fingers slowly brushing against Sophia's. The older girl slowly began to pull her closer. "Look, just give the real you one night. Please?"

Renee just nodded, exhausted. Sophia squeezed her fingers. "I'm going to get changed. Get comfortable."

Renee nodded again, head already gravitating toward the pillows.

By the time Sophia emerged in her nightshirt, Renee was already asleep.

For the second morning in a row, Renee awoke tangled up with Sophia. This time, however, she was the one who woke up first. She didn't know how long she spent lying still, afraid to try to untangle them and even more afraid to pull her closer. She just watched her unusual bedmate as she slept. That ended when she finally gave in to the desire to brush an escaped lock of velvety black hair out of Sophia's eyes, only for them to shoot open.

Renee froze, and Sophia blinked. "Hi."

Renee swallowed. "Hi."

Before either of them could follow up, the double doors to the bedroom swung open to admit a short, sharply-dressed middle-aged man. Renee immediately tried to hide, but he barely spared an awkward glance at her before turning to Sophia. "Ms. Yamamoto, your father's asked me to inform you that breakfast will be served on the sun deck in ten minutes."

Sophia forced a smile. "Thanks, Ryan."

The aide, or butler, or servant, or pageboy, or whatever he was, gave Renee another uncertain look. "Should I tell him that your...friend will be there?"

Before Renee could even open her mouth, Sophia had already said yes. "We'll be right down. Thank you, Ryan."

The man just nodded, and slipped the doors shut behind him. Renee shot out of bed. "What the fuck...are you crazy?"

Sophia quirked a smile. "You have slept with me two nights in a row. The least I can do is take you to breakfast."

"That's not funny!" Renee had begun to pace. "Do you always bring your hookers to brunch with the family?"

"Hey!" Her steps were interrupted by Sophia's firm grip on her hand and insistent hold on her eyes. "You are not a hooker. You're a friend."

Renee just stood, dumbfounded. Eventually, she swallowed. "Do people usually burst into your room when you've got a friend over?"

Sophia let her head fall back to the pillow with a grin. "My father's idea of a joke. He figured we'd be hung over after the party. I imagine Yoshi's pitching a fit right about now while the six or seven of your friends he took to bed with him run for their lives."

"Your brother sounds like a real charmer."

Sophia was sliding out of bed toward the bathroom. "Oh, that reminds me. Since you're going to be around for a bit, some advice on Yoshi: don't be offended when he tries to pick you up, don't bother denying that we're sleeping together, and don't let him get you alone."

Sophia's head appeared momentarily through the open bedroom door. "He makes it his mission in life to 'cure' all the girls I bring home."

Renee winced. "Fuck. Wait. I can't go out there with you, he'll recognize me."

Sophia snorted. "Please. Even if he remembers anything that happened last night, there's very little danger he was looking at your face."

Sophia emerged from the closet in a fitted black tee and yoga pants. Renee was so busy trying not to stare she let Sophia close the distance and tenderly slip a wayward curl back over her ear.

"Besides..." Renee finally forced her eyes up to find Sophia smiling gently. "You look different."

Renee just stood there blushing as Sophia's hand slid down to hers. "Ready to meet the folks?"

Sophia opened the door for her, which was disorienting enough, but then they stepped out onto the terrace and got a view of the entire valley, morning sun glittering on the city below. She would have just kept staring if not for Sophia's light touch at the base of her spine.

They turned to find the three people seated at the outdoor table staring expectantly, and the staff buzzing around them conspicuously not.

Sophia cleared her throat. "Father. Mom. This is Renee, we...met at the party. Renee, may I introduce my father, Yamamoto Masaharu." The aging Japanese businessman, dressed in a crisp white shirt and an old-fashioned shock of salt and pepper hair, inclined his head subtly, his narrow features and piercing eyes betraying nothing.

"My mother, Isabella Capri." The tall, thin, devastatingly gorgeous woman arched an eyebrow and smiled knowingly. Renee had almost begun to think that she looked like she could be a model, until she remembered who she was looking at and that that was exactly what she was.

"And my beloved brother Yoshi." Sophia's twin was still wearing his clothes from last night, only with a pair of sunglasses and a scowl. He let them drop to reveal a predatory leer in bloodshot eyes, only for Sophia to lean in and shake his shoulders.

"Good morning, birthday boy!"

He winced, and Renee caught their father trying to hide a chuckle.

"You seem to be in a good mood this morning, Daughter."

Sophia smiled as she sat, pulling out the chair next to hers which Renee accepted, trying not to blush. "I had a good night's sleep, Father."

Mr. Yamamoto just nodded. "I thought perhaps the entertainment might have kept you up."

Sophia just sent a tight smile at Yoshi, who was moving more than a little sluggishly. "Well, it wasn't really my kind of party."

Sophia's mother just smiled tolerantly. "Well, it's nice to meet you, Renee." Her accent was slight, but unmistakable.

Renee cleared her throat as a young man put down a mimosa in front of her. "Thank you, Ms. Capri. Yamamoto-san."

Sophia's parents shared a glance, then her father laughed. "You know Japanese?"

Renee's head shook. "I...know how to be polite."

Mr. Yamamoto laughed again. "Even better. And much more rare," he added with a glance at his sulking son.

"So, what do you kids plan to do today?" Sophia's mother interjected.

Yoshi just shrugged. Sophia took a beignet from the tray at the center of the table before offering one to Renee, who took it without comment. "Well, I don't know. I thought I might show Renee around, if she'll let me."

Renee froze in the middle of her first bite as all eyes swiveled to her. She swallowed, and dabbed the powdered sugar from her lips with her napkin. "Oh. Uh...of course."

"Well, then, perhaps Yoshi can come to the temple with me. If he's not too busy."

"Aw, Dad, come on..."

"I just thought you might want to spend some time with me in quiet reflection, if you were finished consorting with your prostitutes."

Renee choked on a mouthful of mimosa, and thankfully Sophia's mother completely misinterpreted the reason. "Haru, please." Her gaze turned to Renee. "Are you all right, dear?"

Renee just nodded sharply, immediately taking another drink to cover her flushed cheeks. Sophia's father bowed gently in her direction.

"Forgiveness, please. My family stirs great emotion in me."

Renee nodded again while Sophia and her mother shared a smirk. "Of course, sir. I'm the same way."

Sophia's hand touched Renee's and the brunette smiled. Then she looked up, and found Yoshi's eyes fixed on her from across the table, a knowing sneer on his face.

"Sorry about that." Breakfast was over, and Sophia was walking Renee around the perimeter of the understated gardens that surrounded the house. "My family politics are a little more...political than most."

Renee didn't bother fighting a grin. "Just had to keep my head down and try not to say anything stupid."

Sophia chuckled. "Well, you succeeded." She glanced at Renee as they walked, a self-satisfied smile splitting her lips. "You know, for someone who doesn't want to stick around, you did a hell of a job endearing yourself to the locals."

Renee straightened and blushed. "I never said I didn't want to stick around," she murmured.

Without warning, Sophia's hand slipped into hers, and her smile flashed brighter. "Well, then you won't object to keeping me company today."

Renee opened her mouth, then just shook her head. She'd walked right into that.

"You know, we can just spend the rest of the day playing dress-up if you want," Renee said in exasperation, then blushed when she realized how it sounded. Sophia shrugged.

"Sorry, I just want to find something that's...you."

"Oh, so not only are you a cutthroat international businesswoman, you're also a personal shopper?"

"I'm not cutthroat, who said cutthroat? And if you're impressed with my shopping now, just wait until we actually go shopping."

"Who said impressed?"

Renee stepped back out of Sophia's closet, this time in a tight, button-down shirt in a pale blue with fitted jeans, her hair bound behind her in a loose ponytail. Sophia blinked. "Hey. There you are."

Renee smoothed her hands over the front of the shirt bashfully. "Here I am."

Sophia rocked forward off the bed, the motion bringing her to her feet right in front of Renee.

"Well...last chance to back out."

Renee started to smile. Then the smile faded. "Shit, I just thought...I'm sorry, I have to...make a phone call."

Sophia blinked, then just nodded, pointing toward the sleek phone on the nightstand. "Remember to dial 9 to get an outside line."

Renee's hand froze just above the phone. "Seriously?"

Sophia shrugged in embarrassment, then turned to look out the window since that was the most she could do to give Renee her privacy without drawing attention to it and just making it more awkward. Even though she was trying not to listen, she still heard Renee's muted side of the conversation.

"Hello? It's Renee. I know, I'm sorry. No, please, I'm sorry, I just...I got picked out early. There will be, I...I promise. I don't know. Late. No, please, just...no, of course not. You know I wouldn't. Yeah, I know. Of course. No, really, I promise, I...hello?"

Renee set down the receiver with a sigh, and Sophia slowly turned back around to find the brunette watching her guardedly. Sophia knew she shouldn't ask. "Was that..."

Renee's eyes met hers hard. "My pimp?" Sophia's cut away, and Renee just let her head fall. "His name's Cobb. He's...not that bad. I got lucky."

When Sophia didn't say anything, Renee just stood and started to unbutton her borrowed shirt. "I should just get back into my clothes and leave."

"No." Sophia's hand caught hers on the way to the closet. "No, come on, I don't...can't we just...I just want to spend a little time with you."

Renee licked her lips, eyes focused somewhere behind Sophia. Finally, she nodded.

Renee was going to have a heart attack. She was walking down Rodeo Drive, next to the daughter of one of the richest men on the west coast, who thought nothing of holding her hand and pressing up against her side as if she didn't notice how it made the brunette squirm, and no one was even staring at them. It was all she could do to force herself to breathe and wait for someone to find her out and point and scream or worse laugh and...

"Hey." Sophia nudged her, and she blinked. "Take a breath. People are going to think I kidnapped you."

Renee took a deep one, then winced. "Look, I'm sorry, I'm just...I'm not in my natural element here."

"Yeah, don't worry, 'natural' isn't a word that matters much around here." She surreptitiously nodded her head toward two women passing them, middle-aged but with plenty of work, huge, too-high breasts bouncing in front of them. "Am I the only one left who likes real tits?"

Renee couldn't help a chuckle. "Yeah, well, we're not all as lucky as you in that department." Sophia raised an eyebrow, and Renee blushed. "So. Where are we going?"

"Wherever you want."

"Well, like I said, I'm not exactly an expert."

"Okay..." Sophia grinned, hand tightening around Renee's. "Come with me."

Renee didn't go shopping.

When the need presented itself, she bought things. Groceries and underwear, mostly. She went into a place of business and made purchases.

But she didn't go shopping. Not the way a woman like Sophia Yamamoto went shopping.

And she especially didn't go shopping the way Sophia Yamamoto did when she had someone to play with.

They'd been to four boutiques, and Sophia had only bought one pair of jeans, two wrap-around tops, and a subdued but skintight sweater. Just like in the bedroom, the rest of the time had been spent playing dress-up.

Renee would have been disgusted by the unnecessary grandiosity of it all...if she hadn't been enjoying herself.

"Come out, I want to see what it looks like!"

"I can't get it to zip all the way!"

"Even better..."

The joke was enough to get Renee to throw open the curtain of the dressing room, and Sophia's grin faded. "Whoa."

The dress was gauzy and silver, what little of it there was. It covered everything, but Renee felt naked in it, and Sophia's hypnotized stare wasn't helping matters. The brunette began to fidget. "Well, come on, how do I look?"

"Hot." The word tumbled out of Sophia's mouth before she had time to think about it, and it made both girls blush.

"Classy hot or skanky hot?"

Sophia stood, and Renee's smirk faded fast as the older girl's hands came to rest on her arms. "Renee hot."

Renee licked her lip, trying to get the glib smile back. "That's your way of saying skanky hot without offending me, isn't it?"

"No, it's my way of saying classy hot without offending you." Sophia let her gaze wander down the dress, an act that made Renee squirm and the subtle sheen of the dress catch the light of the boutique in new and interesting ways. "Promise me you'll think of me when you wear it."

Renee groaned and shook her head. "Oh, no no no. I can't afford this dress. And notice how I framed it as though I'd be the one paying for it, because I am not letting you start buying me things."

Now Sophia was the one fidgeting. "Well, it's a little late for that." Renee blinked, and Sophia winced. "Haven't you noticed that none of the stuff we've bought today has been my size?"

Renee's face fell and she began to shake her head, and Sophia threw hers back. "Goddammit, Renee! Would you just let someone do something nice for you?" She realized there were a few other customers staring, and she cleared her throat. Then she noticed the look on Renee's face. "Hey. Has that really never happened to you?"

Renee was looking at the ground. "I...I'm sorry. It's your money, you can spend it however you want."

Renee was forced to look up when Sophia's hands began to trail up her arms. "I want to see if it can help make a friend of mine feel like maybe she doesn't have to worry about everything all the time." There was a ghost of a smile on Renee's lips as Sophia's hands slid down into hers.

"Like by, I don't know, getting her some kickass strappy sandals to go with her new dress."

The last stop on the whirlwind tour of places Renee was afraid she'd be accused of robbing was a jewelry store. Renee skidded to a stop outside the door, Sophia's grip on her hand pulling taut. "If you're about to buy me diamonds, I'm out of here."

Sophia rolled her eyes and pulled the brunette through the door, toward the watch display.

"What do you think?"

The watch Sophia was pointing to was, according to the card next to it, white gold and about as expensive as a modest three-bedroom house. Renee pursed her lips. "I don't wear a watch."

"Not for you." Sophia cleared her throat awkwardly. "For...him." Renee's eyes leapt up to meet hers. "I...I know he'll probably be...I mean, he'll want you to have..."

"I can't let you do that."

Sophia forced a smile. "Oh, so you go on this huge shopping spree, and you can't even be bothered to pick up a gift for someone else? You selfish bitch."

Renee was either laughing or crying as her head collapsed against Sophia's shoulder.

Sophia slipped her smartphone back into her purse. "Okay, Tommy'll be back to pick us up in about ten minutes, then we can go have a nice late lunch somewhere."

Renee leaned back against one of the benches in the sheltered, park-like nook they'd retreated into to escape the sun. "What, you don't have your chauffeur waiting right around the corner?"

"Tommy's not a chauffeur. He's a former stunt driver with an irritating sense of humor. And if I left him sitting around waiting for me in the LA sun for four hours he'd drive me off a cliff."

"Don't you usually have him come with you to carry your dozens of shopping bags?"

Sophia smirked, and then all of a sudden she didn't. "Shit."

"What? I'm sorry, I was just kidding, I mean..."

"No, I..." Sophia let herself drop next to Renee on the bench. "I was about to start explaining that I don't normally do this kind of thing when I realized I'd been trying to impress you."

Renee blinked, speechless. Finally, she licked her lips as she leaned closer. "You don't have to do this kind of thing to impress me."

Sophia smiled gamely, and Renee's fingers brushed a strand of hair out of her face. It was then that the brunette realized their lips were a second away from touching.

"A chef!"

Before Sophia could process that outburst or the fact of what it had interrupted, Renee was off the bench.


Renee cleared her throat, eyes stubbornly locked on the tree in front of her. "Last night, you...you asked me what I wanted to be, if I could be anything."

"A chef?"


"You like to cook?"

"Yeah. Ever since I was little. I mean, I cooked for myself all the time."

"You did?"

Renee sniffed before finally turning back. "You know, I um...I'm not really in the mood for lunch. Maybe you and Tommy could just take me home."

Sophia's lips parted, then stilled. She just nodded. "Right."

Neither of them said a word as the car pulled up outside her apartment building. Not until Renee opened the door and Sophia's hand came to rest on hers. "Hey."

Renee turned to find Sophia's other hand offering her a piece of paper. "If you ever...you know, need anything. A friend."

Renee swallowed down the lump in her throat as she took the business card, then the two bags that held her new clothes. As she stepped out of the car, she held Sophia's eyes for longer than she probably should have. Then she just nodded. Sophia nodded back.

In spite of herself, Renee watched the car until it disappeared around the corner.

Then she turned around and smacked straight into Cobb's chest.

Renee didn't have time to react before Cobb's hand came down lightly on her shoulder. "Hey honey. Let's go inside and talk, huh?"

"Look, I...I'm sorry. But it's a good thing, I..."

Renee's heart started hammering even louder as Cobb's grip tightened. "You know, I've been a lot more understanding lately than I really have to be, hm?" He leaned in. "So shut the fuck up and get inside!"

Renee didn't resist as Cobb dragged her through the front door and up the stairs to her apartment. Once they were inside, he slammed the door with one hand and slammed her against the wall with the other.

"You know I thought I was real fuckin' specific about wanting to keep an eye on you. Then this morning I get a call from Andre saying one of my girls isn't there. You know what he recommended I do? He said I should tie your wrists to your ankles and go after your ass with a tire iron, that is, and I quote 'if you ever even see her again.'"

"No, I...I'm sorry, but...I was with someone. The same one from the night before."

"Oh, you mean the guy who doesn't pay you. Well that's great, that just works out great for me, doesn't it?"

"No, look..."

Renee held her hand out, and for the first time Cobb noticed the bags. "The fuck is this? He took you to the mall? What is this asshole, your fucking sugar daddy now?"

Renee began to dig through the heavier bag. "No, but look, I...I got this. He let me get this for you."

Cobb snatched the watch box from her trembling hands. When it opened, his eyes went wide.

"It's real gold. I...I'm sorry. I never meant to..." She shook her head. "I...I don't think I'll be seeing him again anyway."

Cobb's nostrils flared. Then, he smiled and tossed an arm over her shoulder.

"No, honey. You wanna keep seeing this new loverboy, that's fine with me. I hope you show him a real good time. You just remember who actually pays your bills."

Renee nodded frantically as Cobb leaned close.

"Speaking of which, put on something suburban. Got a job for ya."

"So what's he like?"

Renee and Keiko were having an early dinner, sitting under a tree near the latter's favorite food truck. Renee chewed on her falafel to stall for time. Eventually, she had to swallow.


"Oh, please! Your sugar daddy!"

"I don't have a sugar daddy."

Keiko rolled her eyes. "Fine, then. Your new mystery man who keeps you all night and showers you with expensive clothes."

"It's...not a mystery man."

"What do you mean?" Keiko's eyes went wide. "Oh my god, he's famous, isn't he? I knew it!"

"No! Well...maybe. Sort of." Renee licked her lips, only partly because of the stray drop of tzatziki. She leaned in, and Keiko followed. "Can I tell you something?"

Keiko nodded eagerly. "Yeah, of course."

Renee took a deep breath. "He...he's not a he. She's a woman."

Renee's eyes flitted up to find Keiko's wide. "Holy fuck! I thought you wouldn't do women?"

"I don't, we...it's not like that."

Keiko's eyes went even wider. "Renee. Are you in love with her?"

"No," Renee snapped. "Of course not. She just...she treats me like...a person."

Keiko smiled a little; she'd been in the business for less than a year, but somehow she seemed even more jaded than Renee. "Well, I guess that's good. Are you gonna keep seeing her?"

Renee shook her head. "No. I mean...I don't think so. I mean...it's just hard."

Keiko didn't say anything else. She just took a bite of her pita.

"Oh, yeah! Take it! You like it when I fuck that tight little ass, don't you, slut? Ugh...fuck! I'm gonna come in your ass, you filthy little fucking whore, is that what you want?"

Renee shrieked as he reached down to grab a handful of her hair. "Say it, fucking say it!"

"Yes!" she gasped. "Yes, I want it. Fuck my tight little ass, I need it! Fuck me harder! Tear me apart with that big fat cock!"

He growled. "Yeah, that's right! I'm gonna split you the fuck in half, you little slut..."

Renee just winced every time he thrust, tears long ago dried on her cheeks. Mr. Graves was one of Cobb's regulars, one the girls drew lots to try to avoid. He was obsessed with anal, and between that and the half-hour spanking he'd administered to get hard beforehand there was nothing but pain.

When he came, he grabbed handfuls of her ass and slammed her face and chest into the hotel bed. He stayed inside, squeezing her cherry red ass until he finally started to soften. When he pulled out, she winced and immediately dropped to her side; she didn't want to keep her ass facing him, but she didn't dare try to lie on her back.

"Jesus fucking Christ, the way you whimper like that's so hot. You're probably my favorite, you know that? Except the redhead. She does ATM."

Renee was glad her face was buried in the sheets so he didn't see her look of disgust.

A sharp slap on her sore ass brought her back to reality.

"Hey. You want to make a lot of extra cash?"

Renee cleared her throat, finally forcing herself to look up at him. As always, he was still mostly dressed, his fly open and his jacket off. "How much?"

"Oh, I don't know, let's say five hundred for a few hours? No sex. Probably." Renee rose on her hip as best she could, since she couldn't really sit. "See, I got this cocktail thing to go to on Friday night. I need a date."

"Is your wife busy?" The snide comment was out before Renee could help herself and she braced for him to hit her, but he just laughed.

"It's not the kind of party you take your wife to. It's the kind you take your secretary to, only it turns out mine's a dyke or religious or something. But it's all about who's got the biggest dick in the room, and I walk in with you in some slutty little cocktail dress it's gonna be a good fuckin' night, you know?"

Renee licked her lips. She'd hated working parties more than just getting fucked even before her encounters with Sophia, but the money was good and since he was one of Cobb's regulars it might help her get back on his good side.

"Okay. But...the five hundred's just for the party. If you want...after, then we can renegotiate."

He chuckled. "Renegotiate. That's great. Yeah, we can renegotiate. You got a head on you, honey."

He slapped her ass again.

Any doubts she'd had about her choice were laid to rest when she told the news to Cobb and he actually smiled. "See? See, that's why I like you. You're always ready to please. You show Graves a real good fuckin' time, and I might just forget about all the shit you put me through lately."

Even as her cheeks burned, she had silently and gratefully nodded.

Three nights later, she was perched in front of the mirror in her floor's bathroom, trying to decide what to wear. She had one fairly nice black dress that was probably a little too conservative for where she was headed, a skintight blue minidress that might as well have been paint, and...

And the dress Sophia had bought her.

It was the nicest thing she owned, and it was elegant enough for a work function but alluring enough to acknowledge that it wasn't really a work function. It was perfect.

And yet she stood there in front of the mirror, holding it against her chest, unable to put it on.

Her pager beeped.

When she stepped into Cobb's main room in the black dress, pinned up to show an extra two inches of thigh, he looked her up and down dismissively. "What, your super-special fucking sugar daddy didn't buy you anything sexy?"

She just blushed. "Can I use the phone?"

"Make it fast. Graves'll be here any minute."

She headed for the phone in the hall, then glared at Satin until she rolled her eyes and gave her some privacy. Her fingers were shaking as she dialed, and only worsened as she pressed the receiver to her ear.

The phone clicked. "Hello?"

She swallowed. "Hello this is Renee Clancy returning your call."

There was silence on the other end of the line, almost long enough for Renee to hang up. Then, Sophia's voice said, "You never told me your last name."

Renee's breath caught in her throat. The businesslike tone was supposed to be a defense, to make it easier, and she'd still managed to fuck it up. "Um...sorry, I um...what do you...why did you call?"

There was another moment of silence. "Well...I just haven't heard from you in a while, and I..." The profanity was muffled, but it was definitely there. "I just wanted to make sure you're okay."

Renee felt a twinge at the simple statement and had to force herself to swallow. "Yeah," she croaked. "Yeah, I'm fine. But I, um...I can't really talk right now. I kind of have somewhere to go."

"Oh. Sorry. I should have known that, I shouldn't have just..."

"No!" Renee winced at the neediness in her own voice. Jesus Christ, they'd spent less than a day together. "No. I mean...it's nice. That you care." She winced again. "So, um...how have you been?"

"Oh. Fine. I guess. Working." She could hear a deep breath over the line. "Listen, I was just wondering if you had any free time soon, if you maybe wanted to do someth-"

The line went dead. Renee looked up to find Cobb glaring down at her. "You fucking deaf?" She looked past him to find the front door wide open, a car window illuminated in the dark.

"I...I'm sorry, I just..."

"Get in the fucking car."

Fortunately, Graves was a little more approving of her outfit, if the grin he gave her as she slid into the passenger's seat was any indication. "Yeah, that's nice. Real sweet young lady. You wearing panties?"

Renee nodded, and Graves held out his hand. She swallowed as she hiked up her skirt to reveal the black lace, then the skin underneath it as she pulled them down over her knees. She slipped them off and handed them to Graves, who neatly folded them up and put them in his breast pocket. The only explanation he offered was to smirk and say "Tradition."

The ride was just long enough to be awkward, and ended at an upscale apartment building with a valet who leapt out to park the car practically before it had stopped. Renee trailed obediently behind him as they headed for the elevator and then the penthouse.

The suite that greeted them was a combination of stark, ultramodern lines and multiple layers of art and glass and antiques. Renee caught herself thinking it was a little gaudy when she realized she was comparing it to the Yamamoto residence.

"Nice place, huh?"

She just nodded.

The first hour was spent on Graves' arm, dragged around to meet his fellow vice presidents and their business contacts, being leered at and occasionally groped under the flimsy pretense of a greeting and exchanging guardedly sympathetic glances with the half-dressed secretaries and 'secretaries' who they wore on their arms. Occasionally, he would adjust his 'pocket handkerchief' enough for them to see what it really was, and they'd laugh and give Renee a covetous leer.

She could almost have done it in her sleep, really; paid arm-candy ranked right up there with on-call therapist in terms of the other duties girls in her line of work performed, and she knew when to smile submissively and when to smile suggestively: when to laugh and when to pretend she couldn't hear. The money was going to be easy, and she was finally starting to relax.

Then someone behind her said 'Yamamoto.'

Before she could stop it, her head snapped around, and as soon as it did she realized she'd just made a terrible mistake. The sudden motion in the corner of his eye made Yoshi's head likewise whip toward hers. His eyes narrowed, then went wide.

Then he grinned.

The gentle tug as she slipped out of Graves' grip got his attention. "Excuse me I have to go to the ladies' room."

Graves just shrugged. "Through there, don't be long."

She smiled apologetically, but didn't slow down. She was almost to the bathroom door when a hand came down on her shoulder.

When she spun around, Yoshi was grinning. "You look awfully familiar. Have we met?"

From the glint in his eyes, it was obvious he wasn't really asking; there was no way she was that lucky.

When she didn't respond, his hand came up to stroke through her hair.

"So my sister's new whore is an actual whore. That's just perfect..."

Renee forced herself to swallow. "I...I'm Mr. Graves' secretary."

He smirked. "I've met Wayne's secretary. She's got much bigger tits."

Renee sucked in a breath. "Look I just...I just need to go to the bathroom."

His grip didn't slacken, only moving down to her waist. "How much did the full service package like this cost him? I could use another pretty accessory. You obviously don't have any kind of exclusive deal with my sister."

She tried to slide away from his touch, but it just made him press closer. "You know there's one thing I'm really curious about...you charge her more because she's a woman, or do you give her a discount?"

She took a deep breath. "Look, I...I'm not going to see her again anyway, just let me work. Please..."

With her eyes squeezed shut, she had no warning before something slipped down into her cleavage. Her eyes shot open just as his hand pulled back, and she looked down to find a business card with a hundred-dollar bill wrapped around it nestled between her breasts.

"I probably pay better." He smirked as he gave her one final once-over. "And I guarantee you'll like it more..."

As he turned on his heel, Renee let out a breath and collapsed against the wall.

The rest of the night was a blur, just clinging close to Graves in mortal terror that Yoshi was going to do...something, but in the end all he did was leer occasionally from across the room. When they were back in the car, Graves offered another hundred to fuck her again. This time, she couldn't even bring herself to cry.

Around 4 AM, Graves dropped her off at Cobb's building. When she went inside, she found Cobb in the main room with a few of the girls and wordlessly held out the money.

When he didn't take it, a nagging cold sensation began to settle in Renee's gut. Cobb crossed his arms and sighed, and that was when Renee realized that Satin, Keiko, and Erica were very pointedly not looking at her.

"You know, I took this whole thing as a sign that you and me were finally coming to an understanding. But maybe it's not me, maybe you're just such a selfish, stuck-up little bitch that you don't understand how this works."

Renee sucked in a breath. "I'm sorry, there was someone at the party who recognized me, I was just trying to-"

The slap sent her sprawling to the rug. The other girls flinched, but didn't get up. Renee propped herself up on her knees, rubbing her cheek in shock as Cobb bent over her.

"Don't fucking play around with me! You know what I'm talking about. Your first fucking night out, what did you tell me? 'I won't do a woman. I could never do that. I just couldn't.' You think you can see a buncha dykes on the side and not give me my cut, you lying shit?"

"I don't...I don't know what you..."

"Get the fuck up."

Renee sobbed as she climbed to her feet.

"I got a special job for tomorrow night. And seeing as you're okay with rugmunching after all, I think you're gonna be just her type."

Renee stood, shaking, as Cobb gathered up the cash she'd dropped when he slapped her. Then he walked over to Keiko with five of the six crumpled hundreds in his hand.

"There. Happy?"

Renee's eyes went wide as Keiko began to cry. Satin and Erica exchanged one glance before quickly following Cobb out into the hall.

When Keiko stood, Renee took a step back. The younger girl swallowed. "I...I'm so sorry. I didn't...I wasn't trying to...it wasn't until after that he offered the money to anyone who knew about your..." Keiko hiccuped. "I just need the money so bad, Renee, you don't even know..."

Keiko took another step forward, and Renee reached out to shove her back onto the couch. "Don't touch me. Don't you fucking touch me!"

Keiko started crying in earnest as Renee sprinted for the hallway. But she didn't head for the front door; she headed for the phone.

After the third ring, she heard a click and a groggy groan. "Hello?"

Whatever Renee had been about to say caught in her throat, leaving only the quiet sound of her sobbing.


Renee sucked in a breath. "I'm sorry," she blurted out. "I woke you up, I'm sorry, I'm so stupid..."

"Renee, what happened, are you all right?"

"I...I'm fine. I just...I had a really hard night."

"Where are you? I can come pick you up."

The offer, and the chance to see Sophia again, immediately made Renee's breathing relax. And that was the problem.

"No, I...Sophia..." Renee took another deep breath. She didn't want to let out the words that were on the tip of her tongue, but her first instinct had been to call Sophia; she was already in too deep. She closed her eyes and tried again. "I can't see you again."

There were a few seconds of silence before Sophia's voice came back, wounded. "Oh. Okay. I understand."

Renee took another breath to try to keep her voice from cracking. It didn't work. "I...I want to thank you. For everything. But I just...I can't do this right now, so..."

"Okay. No, that's...that's all right. Really. Just...just take care of yourself, Renee. Please?"



Renee put the phone back in the cradle and started to cry again.

The next night, Renee was in the bathroom again, staring into the mirror.

This time she didn't have to decide what to wear. It had been provided for her, a Catholic school uniform with a blue-and-yellow plaid skirt of a surprisingly realistic and conservative length. Her hair was in pigtails, and as per the client's instructions she was wearing the cheapest red lipstick she could find.

As she tightened the tie, she glanced out the bathroom door to see Cobb leaning against the wall, arms folded. Apparently he didn't trust her not to run away any more than she did.

When she was finished, she couldn't help turning toward him. "How do I look?"

Cobb scowled. "Get in the fucking car."

Cobb dropped her off at the motel personally. It was a garbage heap, which meant the client was either poor or trying to maintain a low profile. Judging from how important it seemed to be to him, Renee doubted it was the former.

She glanced back at Cobb's SUV, the driver still glaring at her. She took a deep breath. She was as nervous as she'd been since her first night, but that was fine; she was supposed to be nervous.

She knocked on the door. A few seconds later a low, clipped, but decidedly feminine voice said "Enter."

The woman on the other side of the door was in her fifties, with short blond hair, an angular face, and a tailored skirt and blazer that didn't even try to conceal her long, elegant thighs or her impressive cleavage.

A slow smile spread over the woman's face as she looked the brunette up and down. Renee swallowed, turned her head down to look up through her lashes, and said her first line.

"Headmistress? My teacher said I had to come to your office..."

After a moment of awkward silence, the woman wiped the smile from her face and stood. "In trouble again. It's almost like you want to be punished."

Renee swallowed. "I...I don't, Headmistress. I didn't even do anything wrong this time, I swear..."

"Oh really?" The blonde purred, stepping closer. "So you weren't playing naughty little games with the other girls? Touching and kissing and..."

"No, Headmistress. I...I'd never do that, I'm a good girl!"

"Is that so?" The blonde leaned down, one thumb rising to Renee's lips. "Then why'd they walk out of class with their legs all covered in this whore lipstick of yours?" She pressed her thumb down, smearing the bright red across Renee's cheek even as she pressed closer, breath hot on Renee's face.

Renee would have been shivering even if that wasn't what the fantasy called for. She'd had her fair share of clients who'd wanted to roleplay, and this wasn't even the most extreme scenario. But that wasn't really the problem.

In spite of herself, Renee's gaze slipped down to the blonde's still-firm breasts. In response, the older woman just drew her thumb back across her lips, smearing the lipstick even more.

"You naughty little whore, now you're thinking about touching me like that, aren't you? About getting this slutty lipstick all over my thighs, and my nipples, and my panties..."

Renee gasped as the blonde flipped aside her plaid tie and reached into her shirt to squeeze her, finding the tube of lipstick in the cup of her bra. The blonde smirked.

"I knew it." A firm hand tilted her head back, forcing open her mouth while the other brought the lipstick down, messily slathering her lips in red again.

"Trying to tart yourself up for me, you filthy little slut? Think you won't have to be punished if you bat your eyelashes and make yourself up like a little whore?"

The blonde's thumb was back, this time smearing the fresh coat of lipstick over her chin, then down her throat. "Oh, you're going to be punished all right!"

The kiss was hard, the blonde shoving her against the wall and immediately unzipping her skirt. The older woman's mouth was everywhere, and when she finally pulled back her cheeks were smeared with red too.

"You've been a bad little girl," the blonde growled. "Say it."

Renee whimpered. "I...I've been a bad little girl..."

The blonde's sharp, insistent lips moved down to her neck, and Renee bucked when a hand slid into her panties.

"I'm going to smear that whore lipstick all over this little pussy, is that what you want?"

As soon as the blonde's finger penetrated her lips, Renee screamed.

"Get off me! I...I can't, I just can't I can't do this get off me..."

The blonde's free hand grabbed her shoulder as she tried to twist away, holding her against the wall. "Don't you walk away from me, you little slut! We both know why you're here..."

"I said get off me!"

Renee shoved with all her might. The blonde was bigger, but she was also surprised, surprised enough that she went tumbling over the foot of the bed with a shriek.

In a blind panic, Renee didn't even think to grab her skirt before she sprinted for the door, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Renee kept her head down and practically jogged, both to get off the street as soon as possible and to keep her legs warm. Of course, the problem with the former made the latter all the more important; she had no idea where she could possibly go.

She heard an engine gunning down the road, and picked up her pace. She didn't want to give anyone a chance to slow down and try to pick her up, and if that wasn't what they had in mind...

That was her last thought before the truck slammed into her.

She crumpled to the street with a scream, asphalt tearing into her arms. Her leg was in agony, and when she raised her head she screamed again; her knee was twisted the wrong way and covered in blood.

Then, there was a hand on her throat. "Get the fuck up! You worthless fucking cunt, get up!"

Cobb jerked her to her good knee, and the pain hit her again, so hard she barely even registered when his fist came down across her face. "Do you have any fucking idea what you've done? Do you have any idea who that was?"

He dropped her on the other knee, and she heard something snap. She cried out, only for Cobb's boot to slam into her stomach. She tried to curl up, but she couldn't move.

"That was a United States fucking Congresswoman, you stupid cunt! Do you have the slightest fucking idea what you just cost me?"

He kicked her again, and when she coughed, blood spattered the asphalt.

"I should have let you fucking freeze on the street! Well we're done. All that shit your precious fucking sugar dyke gave you, that's mine now. This..." Renee was too far gone from consciousness to do anything more than moan as he jerked her up again, ripping off her shirt and tie. "This belongs to me!"

Renee blinked groggily through her tears, and saw Cobb's face hovering just above hers. "I ever fucking see you again, I will split your motherfucking skull open. You better run, you piece of shit, you better run as fast as you fucking can!"

When Cobb disappeared, her head dropped back to the cold pavement. The last thing she heard was the SUV peeling out.

The first thing she heard was beeping. The second thing she heard was the sound of herself groaning, and then the beeping got louder.

The room around her was full of blurry white shapes, plus one blurry dark shape she thought was a doorway. A figure appeared in it, and Renee's head dropped again.

Renee's eyes opened slowly. She blinked gingerly, carefully, and nothing happened; nothing hit her, no one started yelling at her or pawing at her. There was just quiet.

When things came into focus, her justifiable suspicion that she was in a hospital bed was proven correct. There was a pale green sheet covering her body, a tube going into her arm, and her leg was in traction.

She tried to sit up, and was rewarded with a ripple of dull aching down her chest. She pulled up the sheet and saw a blue gown, and when she lifted that she saw that her ribs had been bandaged.

"Oh my lord, you're finally awake..."

Renee's head shot up, and the sudden motion made her hiss in pain. The dusky, heavyset woman in floral scrubs frowned and hurried to the bed, tapping at something attached to the tube.

"There you go. I just gave you a little something for the pain. How are you feeling, sweetie?"

Renee swallowed, and it felt like her throat was lined with sandpaper. "Can...can I have some water?"

"Of course you can. I'm just gonna make sure you're okay and then I'll get you some."

Renee glanced at her leg, and the nurse smiled compassionately.

"Oh, don't worry, honey. It looks a lot worse than it is. Your knee was dislocated and you have some spraining and some bruised ribs, but you'll be up and about in no time."

"How...how long have I been here?"

The nurse laid a hand on top of hers and looked her right in the eye. "You've been slipping in and out for about two days now. You didn't have any ID or anything on you. We didn't even know your name."

"Renee. Renee Clancy."

"Renee. We'd all really like to know what happened to you."

Renee's eyes slid guiltily back down. The nurse smiled sadly.

"I'm gonna go get you that water and tell them you're awake."

About eight hours later, there was daylight shining through the window. Doctor Ramsey had come and gone, she'd assured everyone who'd asked that there was nothing to report to the police and no one against whom she wanted to press charges, and Renee was finally having something to eat. The tray clipped to the arm of her bed contained the remains of a tuna sandwich and cherry Jello, and nothing had ever tasted so good in her life.

There was a knock on the door, and the nurse, Shawna, gave her a smile.

"Hi, Renee. How are you feeling?"

She swallowed her last bite of tuna. "Okay."

"Are you up for having a visitor?"

Renee's eyes narrowed. Then Shawna stepped aside, and they went wide.


Sophia gave her a brittle smile. "Hi."

Renee swallowed again as Shawna busied herself checking the IV. "Hi."

Neither one of them spoke another word as the nurse finished her examination and told Renee the doctor would be by to see her shortly. When the woman closed the door behind her, Sophia hugged herself across her stomach.

"Are you okay?" Her voice cracked, and to avoid the same fate Renee just nodded. "What...what happened?"

Renee licked her lips. "I think I got fired."

Sophia let out a burst of nervous giggles, then a mortified gasp as her hand snapped up to cover her mouth. "Oh God, I'm so...you're going to be fine. They said you're going to be fine, it was just...you had a dislocated, uh, knee, and..."

Renee just set down the cup and turned her hand palm-up. Sophia let out a sigh and smiled. She took the offered hand and all but collapsed into the chair next to the bed.

"How did you find me?" There was no accusation in Renee's voice, but Sophia still flinched.

"You told me your last name," she said guiltily. "I just...I wanted to make sure you...that nothing happened to you. And you don't have to worry about the hospital bills," she added hastily. "I know you don't want the help, I know, but this kind of thing isn't cheap, and I just don't..."

She squeezed her eyes shut. "I'm sorry, I'm babbling. I just...I don't like hospitals much."

"I love hospitals," Renee murmured sleepily; the meds were starting to kick in. "I always feel safer when I'm here..."

Sophia tried to smile. "Anyway, don't worry."

Whether it was the sentiment or the latest dose of wonderfully effective painkillers, Renee smiled. "You keep spending all this money on me," she drawled. "I might get the wrong impression."

She sighed as Sophia's fingers brushed through her hair. "Just rest."

Renee nodded heavily, but forced her eyes to stay open. "Will you come back and see me again?"

The only answer she got before she fell asleep was the feel of Sophia's lips against her forehead.

Sophia visited every day, just after lunch. Renee never brought up the details of what had happened, and Sophia never raised the question of where Renee would be going when she left the hospital. When that day came, Renee and her cane and her bottle of pills simply let themselves be dropped into the passenger seat of Sophia's car without complaint.

The drive was quiet. Renee wasn't even remotely surprised when it ended in the long, semi-circular driveway of the Yamamoto residence.

"Father. Mom. You remember Renee?"

Mr. Yamamoto inclined his head. "Yes, of course. A pleasure to see you again."

"I hope you've been well, darling," Sophia's mother added with a tone and glance that were far more perceptive than Renee would have liked. Renee averted her eyes, and Sophia gently squeezed her hand.

"Father, is it all right if Renee stays with us for a while?"

Mr. Yamamoto let out a studied sigh. "I don't know." He smirked. "Are you certain we have enough room?"

They ended up in Sophia's room. The fact that Renee didn't have anything to unpack saved them the awkwardness of pinning down where exactly she'd be sleeping, but it also meant they didn't have anything to keep them busy.

Sophia settled awkwardly on the edge of the bed. "I already called someone about your physical therapy."

Renee gingerly pressed down next to her, her leg suspended in the air. "Thanks. I just...I've never had to deal witht his kind of stuff by myself."

"But you've had to deal with it?" Renee looked down at the floor, and Sophia followed. "Shit, I'm sorry, that's none of my business, I just..." She risked a glance back up. "There's so much I don't know about you."

"Like whether you can trust me."

Sophia looked almost offended. "Of course I can trust you."

"No, you can't!" Renee snapped. "You can't just...grab a hooker off the street and give her the keys to your life! What the fuck is wrong with you? I'm not your...some kind of..."

As the tears finally came, Sophia just pulled the brunette into her arms.

Through sobs and gasps and the few precious moments when the tears ebbed before starting again twice as hard, Renee told Sophia everything. Well, not everything, not remotely, but everything about the events that had put her in the hospital: about Cobb and Keiko and the Congresswoman, and through it all Sophia just sat and held her, rubbing circles on her back and brushing the hair from her eyes. As she neared the end of the story, Renee sucked in a shaky breath.

"I don't have anything. My apartment, my savings, my clothes..." Her eyes strayed guility toward Sophia's. "The clothes you gave me. If...if I ever go back there, he'll..."

"You don't have to. Renee, I want you to stay."

Renee blinked hopefully, then shook her head. "No, I...I told you. Yoshi saw me, he knows who I am."

"Let me handle Yoshi. You don't ever have to go back to that life, I swear to you."


"Renee." Sophia touched her chin, angling the sobbing brunette's face up until they were looking into each other's eyes. "You don't ever have to go back there."

Renee tipped her head up, and Sophia's lips parted.

And then, just as it had on the night they'd first met...Renee's stomach growled.

This time, both girls pulled away blushing. After a few seconds, Sophia's hand slid down to Renee's.

"Come on. We'll start the tour with the kitchen."

Renee was in awe.

Now that she was getting to see it without the nervousness of being on the job, she was realizing that the Yamamoto house wasn't as huge as it had seemed on the first night; the east and west wings were long, narrow, and barely connected, the area between them devoted to a winding, gray-green garden and a swimming pool. Of course the garden was full of imported Japanese sculpture, the pool had a waterfall, and it was all just as oppulent and intimidating as Renee remembered, if not more so: it just wasn't quite as big.

Sophia and Yoshi, she learned, had their suites at opposite ends of the west wing, and their parents gave them their privacy. In fact, Renee surmised, it probably wouldn't have been too difficult for her to move Renee in without them even noticing. When she mentioned this, Sophia gave her a strange glance.

"I'm not ashamed of having you here, Renee."

Renee blushed. "That's not...that wasn't what I meant. I just..." She shrugged tightly, readjusting her grip on the cane in the process. "It's nice that you get along with them so well. That you feel like you don't have to hide stuff from them."

Sophia pursed her lips and gently held Renee's other hand in hers. "You didn't feel that way with your parents?"

There was a moment of silence. Then, Renee cleared her throat and squeezed Sophia's hand. "You said you'd show me the library?"

Sophia watched her for a second, then just nodded.

By the time they were done exploring, and chatting, and walking through Sophia's typical day, it was time for dinner. To Renee's surprise, that meant the two of them eating alone in what looked like a breakfast nook just outside the spellbindingly impressive kitchens.

Sophia shrugged. "Mom and Father both have early flights tomorrow, so I think they wanted to spend the night together. And Yoshi's...well, Yoshi. Father likes us to eat breakfast as a family, but between all our schedules we usually eat dinner on our own."

Renee just nodded. "Oh."

Not knowing where else to look, she glanced down at her bowl. That meant she didn't see the amused smile on Sophia's face at the vaguely terrified look on hers.

"You don't like sushi."

Renee's cheeks colored a little. "No, I...I've never really had it before."

"We can have something else, if you..."

"No. I just..." She shrugged awkwardly. "I might need some...pointers."

Sophia giggled. "Okay. Well, this is chirashizushi, which means 'whatever the chef had lying around on top of a bowl of rice.'" Renee echoed Sophia's laugh. "And you just use the chopsticks and pick at whatever looks good. It's mostly fish, and you can dip it in the soy sauce if you want. Not the rice, though. Just the fish."

Renee glanced down skeptically at the bowl. "There are rules? I have to learn rules now?"

Sophia smiled. "Our cook spent twenty five years as a sushi chef back in Japan. He's kind of...particular." She glanced up and raised her voice. "And he's probably watching you from the kitchen door to see how well you use chopsticks."

It might have been her imagination, but Renee could have sworn she heard movement coming from the kitchen. She tried to fight a smile.

"Great. No pressure."

Sophia rolled her eyes. "Here." She used her chopsticks to pluck up a piece of tuna and gently dab it in the sauce. Renee almost jumped when their eyes met. "Open your mouth," Sophia murmured.

Renee turned beet red, but complied. When her mouth closed around the fish, she immediately looked back down at her own food to try to hide the blush. That meant she didn't see Sophia doing the same.

Eventually, she swallowed. "I like it."

Sophia smiled. "Good."

"I think this is my favorite room," Renee murmured sleepily. They'd moved to the sunroom after dinner, located in the center of the house with a wall of leaded glass facing out over the grounds. The sun was long down, and a sliver of moon was just visible through the ornamental trees screening the courtyard.

Sophia just smiled, idly brushing her fingers through Renee's hair as the brunette cuddled against her on the loveseat. "You should see it at sunrise. It's so quiet, and the light rises up under the trees and makes the water glow..."

Renee hummed. "I might get to since I think you're about to put me to sleep..."

Sophia chuckled. "I'm going to choose to take that as a compliment."

"You should." Renee glanced up shyly. "It's been a long time since I've felt this safe with anyone."

Sophia pursed her lips. Renee didn't look away. She didn't realize how close she was getting until the door slamming open caused her to jump back. Standing in it was an obviously-drunk Yoshi with his arm around a young, even-more-obviously-drunk, and incredibly top-heavy redhead who was already in the process of peeling off her tank top.

"Hey, look who's here! Girls, meet Skie. Skie, that's my sister and the hooker she's fucking."

Sophia scowled and Renee shrank in on herself with a blush, but the redhead wasn't paying attention. "Baby, where's the pool? You said we were gonna do it in the pool..."

As she tossed away her top to reveal a lacy, too-small blue bra and began sucking on his neck, Yoshi grinned. "Yeah, we're gonna go swimming. You want to come, Renee? You get to see Skie's big tits. You got real amazing tits, show 'em, baby, they're dykes, they'll love it."

As Skie helped Yoshi take off her bra and let the big fake tits underneath bounce free, Sophia rolled her eyes and grabbed a blushing Renee's hand. "We're going to bed."

Yoshi laughed filthily. "Yeah, they're fuckin' going to bed. Gonna eat some pussy. You ever eat pussy, baby? You been with a girl, right? I bet you want that tight little ass my sister's fuckin', don't you?"

Whatever the redhead's response was, if there was one, it was cut off when Sophia slammed the door.

Until she'd changed into a pair of loose-fitting pajama pants and a t-shirt, Renee didn't realize that they hadn't actually said a word about where she'd be sleeping. Sophia just wordlessly slid into bed and pulled up the covers in invitation.

Renee settled into the mattress with a weary sigh. When Sophia's arm settled around her waist and she felt the warm press of a soft body against her back, she couldn't fight a smile.

When Sophia's breathing on her neck started to slow, Renee licked her lips. "I'm sorry there are things I don't tell you."

"You don't have to be sorry," Sophia murmured sleepily. "You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to."

"I do, though. Want to. More...more than I've wanted to tell anyone in a long time. It's just...hard."

"It's okay," Sophia muttered. "I'm not going anywhere."

With Sophia's chin pressed against her shoulder, Renee could feel when she fell asleep. Ever-so-slowly, she reached back and wrapped her hand around Sophia's. Then, with a contented sigh, she let herself follow.

It was funny, Renee thought, how fast things could change. A month ago, she'd been a whore practically living on the street, letting men use her body in filthy motel rooms and dodging her pimp and quietly content with a life she was sure was better than she deserved. Now, she was in the kitchen of one of the most expensive homes in the country, making sandwiches.

That was harder than it sounded; the Yamamotos' personal chef worked fast and spoke almost no English, and as much as she liked to cook for herself the extent of her formal culinary training still came from TV shows. Still, Chef Ono wasn't yelling at her or shoving her out of the way to do it himself, so she figured she must have been doing something right.

She turned around to put the plate on the island only to find Sophia leaning against the doorway, a fond smile on her lips. Renee couldn't help one of her own rising to meet it. "Hi."

"Hey. What's this?"

"Lobster roll," the chef muttered without leaving his cutting board or even turning his head.

Sophia leaned over the counter as she picked up a sandwich, and Renee couldn't help but sneak a glance at the cleavage displayed by the low neck of her shirt. When she looked back up, Sophia's flashing eyes were on hers as she took the first bite as coquettishly as possible. When she did, those eyes went wide.

"Oh my god, that's amazing..." Renee blushed, a faint smile pulling at her lips as Sophia tilted her head. "Did you make this?"

Renee just blushed harder, then even harder as Sophia's free hand reached out to squeeze hers across the counter. Then she leaned back. "Ono-san, is it okay if I borrow your sous chef?"

The tall, gangly chef just waved with a dismissive grunt. Sophia rolled her eyes, and Renee giggled. "You have time for a little walk?"

"Yeah, sure. Ono-sensei." Renee turned back to the chef, who actually took the time to look her way. "Arigato." She bowed, and recieved a slight, stiff bow from the chef in return. When she turned back to Sophia, the older girl's hand slid effortlessly into hers.

From the kitchen, they headed out into the dining room and then the garden, sneaking glances at each other all the while. When their eyes finally met, Sophia nudged Renee playfully.

"You two seem to be getting along pretty well."

Renee beamed. "He's amazing. I'm learning so much just from watching him. I just wish I understood more Japanese."

Sophia chuckled. "It wouldn't matter. He's already used up his two words for the day."

Renee snickered. "Oh yeah, we're just surrounded by taciturn Japanese men, aren't we?"

"One too few for my tastes..." Sophia's face turned more serious as she nudged Renee in the direction of a bench sitting alongside one of the gurgling streams feeding into the pool. "Has Yoshi given you any more trouble lately?"

Renee shrugged. "Nothing serious. Just being his usual charming self." She cast a glance up at Sophia, who was watching her carefully. "Is that the reason you wanted to talk to me?"

"What, I can't just want to see you?" Renee's cheeks colored, and Sophia began to fidget, the motion just pressing them closer together on the bench. "Actually...that distributor cancelled on me, so...I was wondering if maybe you wanted to go to the beach tomorrow. Just you and me."


"Yeah, I mean you said your leg's feeling a lot better, and I know you haven't been getting out much. Not that I want to push you! I know it's been hard for you lately, and..."

Sophia sucked in a breath as Renee's lips met hers. The smaller brunette let out a soft moan as Sophia returned the kiss, gently pecking at her bottom lip as one hand rose to Renee's cheek. She could feel Renee's breath, hot against her lips, and all she wanted to do was press closer.

Then, just as quickly, it was over. Wide eyes met, Renee's hands shaking where they'd risen unbidden to Sophia's sides. "I...I..."

Sophia leaned in. Renee shot from the bench, almost knocking Sophia off and shrieking as she landed wrong, her knee wobbling as she broke into a blind run.

"Oh God, Renee, stop! I..."

Renee was already gone.

For a few seconds Sophia was too shocked to follow. Then she sprinted after the brunette, barely catching sight of the blue blur of her shirt as she went inside, then again as she turned a corner. The bedroom.

Sophia spent a good thirty seconds pounding on the door before she thought to try the knob. It wasn't locked.

When she burst through the door, it was to find Renee hunched over her desk, teeth gritted in pain and tears streaming down her red cheeks. "Jesus Christ, Renee, are you crazy? You might have just fucked up your knee again!"

When she moved closer, Sophia could see that Renee had her purse in one hand and was fishing out her billfold with the other. She blinked in confusion as Renee's shaking hands pulled free two hundred-dollar bills. "What are you doing?"

"I changed my mind, okay?" Renee sniffed. "I...I'd rather you just pay me for sex. Okay? That's it."

Sophia winced. "Jesus, Renee, I...I'm sorry! I'm sorry I kissed you, I shouldn't have..."

Renee spun on her good knee. "You didn't kiss me! I kissed you!" Renee's voice was breaking; her tears were starting again. "You don't understand, I..." Her eyes met Sophia's. "I haven't done that...kissed anyone, really kissed someone, in five years! I can't...I just can't..."

Sophia had to hold herself back from wrapping the sobbing brunette in her arms. She had to swallow before she could trust herself to speak. "Renee, just...just talk to me."

"I can't. You don't know what...I'd have to tell you about Christine."

"That's okay."

Renee shook her head angrily. "No, but...to tell you about Christine, I have to tell you about everything else, and I just can't..." She raked a hand through her hair with an unsteady laugh. "Sophia, I'm so fucked up..."

"Renee, baby, just tell me." Blue eyes met hers, and she could see the exhaustion in them. She dared to take a step closer. "Please."

Renee closed her eyes with a sigh, and Sophia's fingers gingerly touched her wrist.

"Why don't we lie down?"

As if the breakdown had taken everything she had left, Renee just collapsed. She let Sophia gently guide her down onto the bed, arms curled protectively in on herself as Sophia wrapped a hand around her waist.

Renee took a deep breath.

"Do you know what Munchausen syndrome by proxy is?"

Sophia blinked at the sudden non sequitur. "Um...isn't that where you pretend your kids are sick to get attention?"

Renee's grip on herself tightened. "My parents weren't ready to have kids." Her gaze was fixed on the ceiling, as if she weren't really talking to Sophia at all. "Mom tried. But my dad left when I was five, and she just...she wasn't ready."

Renee shifted, and Sophia's other hand came to rest on her stomach. The brunette took a shuddering breath. "When I was six, I started getting sick a lot. Stomach stuff, skin problems, arhythmia. Mom took me to all sorts of different doctors and hospitals, and it still seemed like I was throwing up at least once a week." She sniffed. "But I noticed...it only happened when Mom cooked for me."

"That's why you started cooking for yourself," Sophia murmured.

Renee didn't give any indiciation she'd heard. "That was how I lived my life for years. I just thought...feeling like that was normal. When I was ten, a nurse finally got suspicious. They did a whole detailed exam, and tests and everything, and...they called in child services."

Renee took a shaky breath.

"That was when I learned that my mother was putting bleach in my food."

Sophia's calm, sympathetic face fell. "Renee, Jesus Christ..."

Renee shook her head. "I don't know exactly what happened after that. She had to...take some sort of classes, or therapy, and we had social workers keep coming by the house. And I mean, I was so scared that I was trying even harder than she was to convince them everything was fine. And for a while, it actually seemed like...like maybe things could be better."

Sophia instinctively pressed closer as she felt Renee shiver.

"But then Mom lost her job, and things just got worse. She started spending all this time with me, talking about how she wouldn't be able to keep going if they took me away. It scared me so much and I...I just wanted to make things better. And then one day..."

Renee sucked in a breath as the tears started again.

"One day I fell down the stairs."

Sophia gasped and her arms went tighter. "Jesus, Renee, she...she pushed you down the stairs?"

"I don't know," Renee sobbed. "She said she didn't, right up until they were dragging her out she kept swearing that she didn't, but how could I..." Renee hiccuped. "What the fuck is wrong with me that I can't even believe my mother when she said she didn't try to kill me?"

"No, Renee, baby, please, it's not your fault..."

Renee just shook her head. When the tears finally ebbed again, she sniffed. "I went from the hospital straight to my first foster home. They kept moving me around, I was just so scared of adults, of everything, that no one ever...ever thought I was a 'good fit.' Then finally, just before I turned fourteen, they found the van Ryans.

"They were a Baptist minister and his wife, and they were just so patient and gentle and understanding, and...for the first time I started to let down my guard. I even overheard them once, talking about adopting me."

When Renee fell silent, Sophia blinked. "What happened?"

Renee took a breath. "About six months in, they took in another foster girl."


"Christine." Renee flashed a pained smile. "She was two years older, she spiked her hair, she smoked, and I thought she was the coolest thing in the entire world. She treated me like a friend and I...I worshipped her."

When she caught Sophia's gently appraising gaze, Renee rolled over to bury her face in the comforter. "We talked about everything. Eventually, we talked about boys. I told her that...that I'd never really wanted to do anything with a boy. That I was, you know, worried there was something wrong with me. And she just smiled, and told me that there wasn't. And then...she put her hand on my leg. And I looked up, and she kissed me. And when she pulled back and smiled at me, I realized I was in love with her.

"We started spending all our time together. We'd kiss, and touch each other, and it got harder and harder not to get caught. Then, on my fifteenth birthday, she told me she had a special birthday present she wanted to give me."

Sophia winced. She knew what was coming.

"Mr. van Ryan walked in on us. And all I remember is that everybody just started screaming, he was calling us abominations, and then he took off his belt..."

Renee's tightly-curled pose slackened, and Sophia slid back to let her drop limply to her back.

"When it was all over, he said he was going to call child services and get them to split us up and send us away, that I was going to end up in an orphanage and Christine was going to end up in jail. That night, I caught her sneaking out. And I begged her to let me come with her, and she said no. When I stopped crying, she was gone. The sun still wasn't up, so I grabbed everything I could and I just ran. I walked and hitchhiked until I got to the city, and I was sleeping on the street when I met Cobb, and..."

Renee shrugged helplessly as she trailed off. After a long, painful silence, she looked up to find Sophia still gazing down at her, dark eyes shining with tears. Without a word, Sophia gathered the smaller brunette in her arms. Renee let herself cry again.

Renee awoke to the face of the digital clock on the nightstand telling her it was 11:06. She didn't think she'd ever slept that late in her life.

The softness of the mattress told her she was in Sophia's bed. That's wasn't so unusual; she technically had her own room, but by some unspoken agreement the two always seemed to end up curled together in Sophia's anyway, to the point that she was starting to have serious doubts whether she could still get to sleep any other way.

Of course, now Renee had gone and fucked that up.

Just as she was idly wondering whether there was the slightest chance she could crawl out of the house without Sophia catching her, she felt the foot of the bed depress. She looked up to find Sophia, dressed in shorts and a gauzy buttoned shirt, looking down at her.

"Morning." Renee didn't trust herself to respond, and Sophia just fidgeted under her unsteady gaze, eyes dropping to the bedspread. "Is your knee all right?"

Renee swallowed. "It's fine."

Sophia licked her lips nervously. "Renee...can I say something?"

Renee tensed. "O...okay."

"I just...yesterday, you were really honest with me. And I just feel like...I have to try to be that honest with you."

Renee could feel her breath getting shorted and sharper. This was it.

Sophia glanced up from the bed, eyes smoky and soft as they met Renee's. She took a breath.

"The reason I did all this...brought you into my life like this...is that I'm more attracted to you than I've ever been to anyone in my life." Renee's eyes went wide. "I need you. And I want to be there for you whatever way you want me to. And I'll wait as long as you need to decide what that is."

Renee's mouth just worked silently as Sophia straightened. "Anyway. I don't know if you still want to, but...if you do, I thought we could pick up some stuff for lunch, and have a picnic on the beach."

Blinking back tears, all Renee could do was smile and nod.

It was, as far as Renee's giddy mind could tell, just about perfect. The intentionally-cheap deli food was greasy and disgusting and amazing, the little slice of not-quite-private Pacific beach was gorgeous, and the company, well...Renee blushed.

Of all the shopping they'd done since Renee had move in to replace the things she'd lost, it seemed like swimsuit shopping was the one they'd both blushingly denied enjoying the most. Renee was wearing a white string bikini; the cut was relatively modest, but the way Sophia looked at her when she wore it made her feel naked. For her part, Sophia was wearing a glossy red bikini that Renee couldn't even look at without feeling like she was going to have a heart attack. Watching each other put on suntan lotion had been an adventure in and of itself.

Sophia's bare knee nudged hers across the picnic blanket, and Renee smiled. "I can't remember the last time I came to the beach. It's just beautiful."

"You feel up to getting in the water?"

Renee shrugged softly. "Maybe later. I'm just...feeling really mellow."

Sophia giggled. "Oh God, I just had a thought: I would give anything to see you drunk."

Renee blushed and chuckled. Before she could respond, a shadow fell across her chest. She looked up to find two young men standing over them, grinning.

"Hey," the taller one said smoothly. "You girls mind if we sit over there?"

Renee didn't see Sophia's eyebrow rise, and just rolled her shoulder back with a bashful smile. "You can sit anywhere you want."

"I'm Ryan. This is Gary."

"I'm Renee. This is Sophia."

"So do you girls come here a lot?"

"Actually, this is our first time," Renee intoned innocently, and the boys shared a grin.

"We come here all the time. The view's really awesome..."

Renee just smiled demurely as his eyes made it perfectly clear which view he was referring to.

After a few minutes of idle chatter Ryan, the one who did most of the talking, got comfortable enough to cross over to their blanket, leaning a little closer than Renee would have liked. She just smiled and brushed the hair out of her eyes and never even saw Sophia bristle or glare at Gary when he tried to do the same.

"So how come your boyfriend didn't come out here with you?"

Renee shrugged with a simple smile. "I don't have a boyfriend."

Ryan grinned. "Oh, come on...how's a girl as hot as you not have a boyfriend?"

Before Renee could do anything more than giggle, she felt Sophia's grip on her elbow. "Excuse me. I have an appointment I forgot about."

Renee just blinked as Sophia snatched the basket and vaulted to her feet. Renee smiled apologetically at the guys as she gathered up the blanket.

Ryan touched her ankle lightly. "Aw, come on, let her go. Why don't we just go for a walk on the beach?"

"Maybe later."

As she chased after Sophia, the last thing she heard was the other one, Gary, snorting. "Stuck-up bitch."

"Yeah, but fuckin' look at her walk away," Ryan said.

Sophia was walking so fast and had such long legs that Renee practically had to run to catch up to her. "Sophia, what's wrong?"

"Nothing. I just needed some air."

Renee blinked. She hadn't really seen it before, but from the terrifying chill that the tone sent down her spine she was positive this was Sophia angry.

"You go ahead and hang out with your new friends. I'll just go wait in the car until I feel better," Sophia spat.

Renee grabbed Sophia's elbow just as they cleared the parking lot. "What? What are you talking about?"

Sophia flinched. "Well, you seemed really concerned about keeping Mister Awesome View around."

"What? I was just being friendly."

Sophia scoffed. "If you got any more friendly you would have been asking him to rub suntan lotion all over you. And I didn't really want to stick around for that."

Renee blinked. Then, as the conversation came back to her, she put a hand over her mouth. "Oh, shit. I...I'm sorry, I just...forgot."

Sophia's eyes snapped up. "You 'forgot'? Forgot what?"

"That..." Renee blanched, and her eyes dropped to the pavement. "I forgot that I don't have to do that anymore."

Sophia blinked. Then, without any more warning, she crumpled to the pavement, back against her car tire. "I'm an asshole."

Renee's finger brushed her chin. When she looked up, it was just in time for the brunette to plant a short, soft, only mostly-chaste kiss on her lips. When she pulled back, her forehead came to rest against Sophia's.

"I'm sorry. I know...I mean, I don't want to remind you about..."

She trailed off helplessly. Sophia just pulled her into an embrace.

Sophia slowed the car to a stop outside the garage where it and the rest of the family's surprisingly modest collection lived. They hadn't said much on the drive back, or even looked at each other much. Renee felt like she was going to throw up.

Sophia took a deep breath. "I'm not ashamed of you." Renee looked up to find her still staring out past the steering wheel. "I don't think that...what you did makes you...broken or dirty or..."

As she trailed off, Renee shook her head. "How do you know that? I don't."

Sophia winced. "I just...all I want is you. The real you."

"But I've never been the real me." Sophia's eyes finally met hers. "You think I was someone else before...before everything, but I wasn't. I went from being a kid to being a...and I've never done this. Not once. Not with a man or a woman or with anyone, I don't know how to..."

As her shoulder started to shake, Sophia's arm wrapped around it.

When the hug ended in a deep breath, they slid out of the car and climbed the stairs to the sun deck. When they did, they found Sophia's parents already sitting there.

Sophia's mother smiled politely. "Good evening, darling. Renee."

"Hi, Mom. Father."

Renee just inclined her head meekly. Sophia's parents were nice enough, but it seemed like she could never be in their presence without being very aware of just how much she was taking advantage of their hospitality.

"I understand our young guest is becoming quite the cook," Sophia's father intoned. And just like that, it was as if the day's awkwardness had never happened and Sophia was grinning at her while Renee blushed shyly.

"She's amazing, Father."

"In that case, there's something I was hoping I could discuss with her."

Renee blanched, only for Sophia's hand to reach out and squeeze hers reassuringly.

"While they talk shop, darling, I was hoping I could ask your advice on my wardrobe for the party."

"Of course, Mom." Sophia squeezed Renee's hand again. Then the brunette's face went scarlet again when Sophia casually pressed a kiss to her cheek. "We can talk later?"

Renee just nodded nervously as Sophia followed her mother toward the east wing, then wordlessly turned to follow her father.

They walked through the hall that led back toward the kitchen and dining room, Mr. Yamamoto watching her appraisingly but not speaking. When they reached the door to the dining room, he held it open for her.

"I assume my daughter has told you that our wedding anniversary is in two weeks."

Renee swallowed. "Yes, Yamamoto-sama."

The distinguished businessman chuckled. "When we first met, I was 'san,' now 'sama.' What has changed?"

Renee's cheeks colored. "I...learned more Japanese."

Mr. Yamamoto chuckled again. "In any case, Chef Ono speaks very highly of you. So much, I mean, as he speaks of anything. And he has said he would not object to having your help with the preparations for the party."

Renee's eyes went wide. "Of...of course! I'd be honored to help."

Mr. Yamamoto nodded as if he hadn't considered any other answer, but didn't stop his inspection of the dining room table. It was in the formal Japanese style, low to the ground and surrounded by cushions, and she doubted he really needed to study it since he'd probably commissioned it.

She cleared her throat. "Is that everything?"

Mr. Yamamoto made a slow circle on the polished wood with his finger, still not looking in her direction. "My daughter thinks very highly of you."

Renee swallowed. "I...I think very highly of her."

He nodded. Renee was almost ready to interject again when he let out a barely-audible sigh. "It has taken me some time to become used to the idea of my daughter's...lifestyle." Renee winced. "But I want to see her happy. And she would appear to be so."

Renee blinked, and Mr. Yamamoto finally turned to look at her.

"I suppose what I am trying to say is that I approve of you. And that I hope you will treat my daughter well, Renee-san."

Renee just stood, feeling like her feet had been nailed to the flor. "I...of course. I mean yes. Sir."

He nodded, and turned to leave. Renee let out a breath. If she hadn't been so shell-shocked, she would have laughed.

She was fairly certain she'd just had the what-are-your-intentions-toward-my-daughter talk.

Renee was amazed by how fast she had gotten used to breakfast with the Yamamoto family. The food was always light, and the conversation was always civil, except for Yoshi's sulking and his father's pointed retorts, and every day Sophia sat a little bit closer. When Isabella asked what her children's plans were today, Sophia just said that she and Renee might be going out.

As they headed back to their room, Renee shuffled her feet. "It still feels weird having people wait on me. I feel like I should have been helping with the food or something..."

"What? No, don't be silly. You're not here to be on the staff, you're my..." Sophia's lips stilled, and Renee's gaze slid sideways.


Sophia licked her lips nervously. "My...girlfriend."

Renee felt a hot flush go down her body as Sophia hesitantly turned toward her. "Renee...there was somewhere...I mean I thought that..." She took a deep breath and met Renee's confused stare.

"I have a confession to make."

They sat in the car for a good ten minutes, neither of them speaking. Finally, Sophia sighed. "God, I'm so fucking stupid. I never should have done this. You don't have to go in, we can just go, I don't know what I was thinking, I just..."

Renee took a deep breath. Then she opened the door and stepped into the street. She turned back, only to find Sophia had followed her out. Her hand went around the younger woman's waist, and she kissed her gently.

"It'll be okay," she whispered. Renee sniffed, then nodded.

The suburban street was deserted, so it was only a few short steps to the little blue house. Renee stood for a few seconds, just trying to breathe, occasionally glancing back to see Sophia leaning against the car, shooting her encouraging looks. Finally, she rang the doorbell.

It took thirty seconds for the door to open. Renee was counting. When it did, there was a tired-looking woman with a short, straight bob of plain brown hair looking back at her.

"Can I help you?"

Renee swallowed hard. "Vi...Victoria Clancy?"

The woman frowned. "No. No, not for three years now. What do you want?"

Renee licked her lips, arms wrapped gingerly around her waist, unable to speak. The woman's eyes narrowed. Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, they went wide, her hand shooting up to cover her mouth.

"Oh my god."

Renee sat on the couch and stared at her hands. It was a nice couch, in a nice living room, in a nice house: better than the one they'd had, at any rate. The older brunette stood on the other side of the coffee table, hands fidgeting against her stomach.

"Can I...would you like a glass of water, or..."

Renee felt her muscles tense instinctively. "Look, no offense but...I really don't feel comfortable eating or drinking anything while I'm here, so..."

Her mother's hands flitted up over her mouth again. "Oh God, of course not, I didn't..." Her hands turned to fists, still shaking. "I never thought I'd see you again."

Renee just nodded. That much she certainly understood.

The older woman cleared her throat. "I...I tried to get you back. A few years ago, when they said...as soon as I was...better, I tried to find you again. But they said you'd run away from the foster family. Where have you...what happened to you?"

Renee tensed again. "You don't want to know that."

"Of course I do, I..."

Renee met her eyes. "You don't. Okay? You just don't."

She let out a breath, then nodded. Renee's eyes began to track around the living room. They fell on the picture on the table next to the couch, her with a dark-haired middle-aged man with glasses and a mustache.

"What's his name?"

Her mother swallowed. "His name's Peter Raymond. He's...a very good man. I met him when I was trying to fix my life. And he never wanted to have kids, so that's...better, you know, for both of us."

Renee nodded. Eventually, the older brunette slid down into the armchair across the coffee table. "Renee, I...I can't tell you how sorry I..."

The younger woman shook her head. "Don't. Please, don't do that, that's not why..." Renee shrugged weakly. "I just wanted to...to see you."

Her mother let out a sob, then shook her head.

"So...who's the girl?" Renee looked up in shock, and the older woman forced a weak smile. "The one in the very nice car. She's a friend?"

Renee's cheeks lit up, and her mother's eyes widened. "She's...more than a friend." Renee's blush deepened, but the older brunette shook her head. "Oh no, baby, I...I know I'm the last person who has any kind of right to tell you how to live your life. I just..." She looked up. "Are you happy?"

Renee's eyes narrowed. Strange to think that was a question she hadn't even considered. "I...I think I'm in a position where I could be happy someday."

Her mother just nodded in understanding. After a few more seconds of silence, Renee took a deep breath. "Mommy?"

"What is it?"

Renee took another breath, shuddering this time as tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. "That last night, the last..." Her eyes snapped up to her mother's. "Did you push me?"

Tears streaming down her cheeks, the older woman shook her head. "Oh God. I don't know. I'm so sorry, baby, I don't know..."

In the end, they stood by the door, arms folded over their stomachs. They still hadn't touched.

Renee licked her lips. "Are you going to tell him? Your husband?"

"I...I think so." Renee just nodded. Her mother took a long breath as she opened the door. "You could...come back sometime."

Renee paused on the threshold. "Okay."

The walk back to the car was different. She felt strangely heavier, but at the same time undeniably lighter. Sophia was sitting in the driver's seat, watching her approach with a careful non-expression. As Renee slid into the car, the older girl cleared her throat.

"Renee, I..."

And suddenly, Renee was kissing her. Sophia couldn't help a moan as the brunette's hand landed on her waist, lips sucking gently and tongue requesting an entry she was only too happy to give. When she did, an answering moan rose from Renee's throat, the vibration against her lips only making the kiss sweeter. When their breasts pressed together, they let out matching groans of arousal before pulling apart.

Renee's eyes were on fire as she brushed her hand against the back of Sophia's neck. "Take me home. Now."

They hadn't stopped touching each other since they'd gotten out of the car. To Renee's frustration, they also hadn't kissed since they'd gotten into the car. When Sophia slammed the bedroom door behind them with her foot, Renee immediately set out to correct that.

Sophia moaned, as shocked by Renee's boldness as the brunette was herself. The kiss was electrifying, soft and hard and lips and tongue and teeth, Renee letting out a pathetic mew as Sophia sucked on her bottom lip like she'd been fantasizing about for so long. Renee's hands slid their way up Sophia's stomach, teasing the undersides of her breasts, and judging by the way the brunette's lips had started to move down her neck they weren't going to be alone for long.

Sophia ripped open her shirt, buttons scattering even as she started laughing at the absurdity of it. Then Renee's hands and lips were at the edges of her bra, and she stopped laughing.

Sophia's own hands slid under the hem of the brunette's shirt, exploring the smooth skin of her back and stomach and playing at the waist of her jeans. When the snap came undone, Renee only pulled back far enough to peel off her own shirt, leaving her breasts bare before Sophia's hungry gaze.

The older girl groaned. "Fuck, I want you so much..."

Renee arched as Sophia's lips wrapped around her nipple, her entire body tensing. As ready as she was, it took Sophia a few seconds to realize Renee had stopped responding altogether.

She pulled back and looked up to find the brunette blushing, eyes fixed on the floor.

"Renee?" Sophia cleared her throat. "Are we...is it too fast?"

Renee was still looking down. Gently, Sophia leaned back in to brush the hair out of her eyes. "What is it?"

Renee swallowed. "I...I was a hooker."

Sophia winced. "It doesn't matter. It doesn't change how I..."

"No." Renee looked up. There were tears in the corners of her eyes. "I was a hooker. For four years. And you think that means...that I'm going to be good. But I'm not. I haven't...been in a position like this in five years. I've never done what we're about to do."

Sophia tried to smile even as she started to cry. "It's okay. It'll be okay. Renee, all I want is to make you happy."

"What if you can't? What if I can't?" She met Sophia's confused gaze head on. "What if I'm so...broken and jaded and...and fucked up that I never can?"

Renee slumped, defeated. "I went from being a scared little girl to a hooker with nothing in between. And what if I just...can't?"

Sophia's hands were shaking as they slid up Renee's cheeks. She took a deep breath. "Renee. I want you." Renee started to shake her head, only for Sophia's hands to keep their eyes on each other. "No. Listen to me. I want you. I want the hooker, and I want the chef, and I want the scared little girl."

Sophia swallowed. "When I say that I love you, I don't just mean part of you."

Renee's eyes and lips opened wide. "You...you love me."

"Of course I do." Sophia licked her lips nervously. "Don't you?"

In answer, Renee dove in for another kiss.

The momentum drove them back toward the bed, the rest of their clothes quickly pulled and tossed and torn away. It wasn't until Sophia was laid out on the bed, cheeks flushed and full breasts heaving with arousal, that Renee stopped again.

Sophia swallowed. "What?"

"I just..." Renee's eyes were on fire, and a dreamy smile passed over her lips. "I've never seen you naked before. I mean...holy shit."

Sophia giggled, hands reaching up to cover her her chest. "You're gonna make me nervous."

"Good, I don't want to be the only one."

Sophia smiled. "Come here."

The next kiss was softer, slower, all lips and breath until finally Sophia's tongue lapped gently at Renee's bottom lip. Renee's eyes fluttered open as Sophia's arms settled around her neck.

"I...I've never really done this before. How do you like...what do you...want me to do?"

Sophia shook her head softly, pulling Renee closer until their breasts and stomachs and thighs and aching, tender centers were pressed together in delicious, silky friction.

"Just tell me you love me."

Renee licked her lips. "I love you. I'm in love with you."

Slowly, Sophia's hands slid down to guide Renee's to her waist.

"Then just show me."

They spent hours making love, hours that felt like months as Renee writhed under Sophia's tongue and learned the power she had in her lips and fingers, as she explored her lover's body and learned the secrets of her own. In the lightning flash of one of the times Sophia made her arch up off the mattress with a strangled gasp of ecstasy, she thought of the first time working for Cobb, her first time with a man. She only lingered on it long enough to realize that everything she'd felt on that horrible night, this was exactly the opposite. It was warm, and it was tender, and it was everything she'd gone to so much trouble to convince herself she neither needed nor deserved. When they finally rolled apart, too giddy and sore and breathless to continue, tears were rolling down her cheeks.

Sophia leaned over her, gently stroking the sweat-soaked hair from her eyes. "Are you okay?"

Renee sniffed, shaking her head with a delirious smile. "I'm fine. I just..." She looked up into her lover's deep brown eyes. "I forgot that it could actually be...good."

Sophia matched the smile, her finger slipping down to trace Renee's kiss-swollen lips.

"So did I."

In the days that followed, their life together didn't change much. They still went shopping for things Renee insisted she didn't need and Sophia insisted she did, only now Sophia talked her not only into getting a new dress for the party but into her 'help' trying it on in the changing room. They still ate together every night, only now they had dessert, which made Renee blush every time Sophia put it that way.

They still slept in the same bed, only now they didn't actually sleep.

And Renee still spent most of her days with Chef Ono, only now he had to chase off Sophia and her new excuse to be in the kitchen every fifteen minutes.

At the moment, however, Chef Ono was in the dining room discussing the order of the courses at tomorrow's dinner party with his employer, which left Renee working alone. Which meant she was completely defenseless when a pair of arms closed around her from behind.

"Have I ever told you how incredibly sexy you are when you're chopping daikon?"

Renee smiled in spite of herself, but just kept chopping. "I think that's a new one."

"I don't know what it is about a girl handling root vegetables," Sophia murmured. Then her lips started nipping at Renee's throat, making the brunette let out a gentle sigh. "I just can't control myself."

"Well you better...mm..." Renee bit her lip. "You better learn how before Chef Ono gets back, or you...oh God, what are you..."

Sophia grinned against the smooth skin just behind Renee's ear. "Oh, that's right, you're a little sensitive there, aren't you? I must have forgotten..."

Renee licked her lips as Sophia's headed down her neck again before teasing their way back up to her ear. Her hands were gripping the counter, because she didn't trust herself to keep holding the kinfe. "Shouldn't you...be at...ah, at work?"

"Lunch meeting turned out to be a guy who wasn't interested in merging with the company. Just with me."

"Sounds like...mm...like a good offer..."

Sophia hummed. "I thought so too. But it seemed only fair to let you make a counter before I accepted..."

Without warning, Renee spun in place, wrapping her arms around Sophia's neck and pulling her into a kiss. Sophia moaned as their bodies slid together and Renee's tongue teased between her lips. When the brunette pulled back, Sophia licked her lips, eyes glazing over. "Well...that was certainly an intriguing proposal..."

Renee's hands slid down to push gently on her shoulders, shoving her back against the kitchen island. "Let me finish my radishes in peace, and then we can formalized negotiations."

Sophia just laughed, leaned back, and grinned.

When they turned the corner onto the hallway that led to the west wing's bedrooms, arms around each other's waists and Sophia's lips back on Renee's neck, the brunette stopped. When Sophia looked up, she just matched her approaching brother's stare.

Renee tensed as Yoshi got closer; as obvious as it was what the two women were spending all their time doing, he never passed up the opportunity to make some disgusting comment or try to get Renee alone. At the moment, however, Yoshi's face was cold, and something told Renee that was far worse.

He stopped a foot away from them, eyes on his sister's. "Congratulations. I guess the old man buys the proper young lady bullshit as much as your whore does."

Renee flinched, but Sophia blinked. "What are you talking about?"

Yoshi laughed, and it was even uglier than his laugh when he was happy. "He told me before he told you. Fucking typical! Guess you'll find out at the party, then."

Without another word, he shoved past them, his shoulder slamming Sophia into the wall. Renee stared after him, wide-eyed.

"What the hell was that about?"

Sophia just pulled her closer. "I don't know. It'll be okay. I promise."

Renee let out a breath, and smoothed her hands down the front of her dress again. It was the one Sophia'd insisted on buying her just for the party; dark blue silk down to her knees, with a flattering neckline and a subtle flower pattern around the bodice. It was the most elegant thing she'd ever worn.

Staring in the mirror meant she saw Sophia coming, and smiled as her lover pressed against her back, closing a simple silver chain around her neck and taking advantage of the opportunity to plant a feather-light kiss on the exposed skin.

"You look gorgeous."

"So do you." Renee turned around to take in the view; while her hair was up, Sophia's was down, spilling freely around her shoulders in great black waves. And the outfit... "That's the dress you were wearing when we met."

Sophia grinned. "Oh, is it? I guess I'd forgotten." Renee tried to smile, and she leaned in for a quick kiss. "Hey. Everything's going to be okay."

Renee just nodded. "Why am I so nervous? It isn't my party. It isn't even my parents' party!"

Sophia hummed thoughtfully. "Because you think the food's going to be terrible, you'll get blamed, the party will be ruined, and Father will throw you out of the house and forbid you to ever see me again?"

Renee frowned. "Jeez, thanks, now I feel better."

Sophia grinned. "You know, when you pout like that, your lips present a target that's very difficult to resist. And I don't think we have time to redo your makeup if you get it smudged..."

Renee chuckled and rolled her eyes. Sophia just gave her another brief kiss before pulling back to wrap an arm around her shoulder. "Besides, you're not the one with some ominous big announcement hanging over your head."

Renee shook her head. "You know, Yoshi was probably just saying all that stuff to screw with you."

Sophia let out a quiet sigh. "Well, I guess we'll find out in the next few hours." She looped her arm through Renee's with a rakish grin.

"Shall we?"

There appeared to be about two dozen people in attendance. Most of them were older men in suits who Renee assumed were Mr. Yamamoto's friends and business associates, but a few were elegantly-dressed women who she figured were their wives and/or friends of Sophia's mother. The hosts currently had a small crowd of wellwishers clustered around them, and since Yoshi was nowhere to be found, that left Sophia and Renee to make the small talk.

"Arthur! How nice to see you. Renee, this is Arthur Pak, Vice President of our Korean branch and one of Father's oldest friends. Arthur, this is my partner Renee."

The salt-and-pepper-haired Korean man's eyes went a little wide, but he smiled politely. "Please to meet you."

Renee just smiled awkwardly. "Likewise. Thank you for coming."

"Please excuse us. Have to make sure no one causes a scene trying to get to the happy couple."

That was enough to make Arthur chuckle, then incline his head as they moved on. Renee leaned closer to Sophia's ear. "'Partner?'"

Sophia shrugged gently. "Well, you're certainly not just my 'girlfriend.' And I think 'lover' would make them blush."

They moved on, nodding politely and extending greetings, until Sophia groaned.

"Oh, shit. That's Leo Bond, the CFO. He's always trying to set me up with one of his sons." As the stocky, redheaded man stepped forward with a smile, Sophia screwed one on herself. "Leo! It's so good to see you, thanks for coming. I know it means a lot to my parents. This is my partner, Renee."

Leo didn't even seem to notice the rather pointed pronunciation of 'partner,' but just gave them each an overly-familiar kiss on the cheek. "How nice to meet you. I was just telling my son Brian what an...enterprising young woman your friend is. She's a wonderful talent, and I'm so glad you got in on the ground floor!"

Renee felt Sophia tense, but just smiled dreamily as she turned toward the older girl. "Yes, she is. It's one of the reasons I fell in love with her." She could see Leo's eyes going wide out of the corner of hers as she gave Sophia a very respectable but entirely unambigious kiss on the jawline. "Excuse me, darling, I should go check on the kitchen."

She glanced back just in time to see Sophia struggling to contain her laughter.

In the kitchen, Chef Ono was buzzing around adding last-minute touches to the four-course mix of Italian, Japanese, and Californian food he'd spent his time with the Yamamotos perfecting. He glanced up as she headed to the cutting board with the garnishes.

"Is there anything I can do to help? I'm sorry for leaving you all alone in here..."

As the cymbal sounded outside and the staff started to stream in and pick up plates, Chef Ono just shook his head. "No, no, no. Go, sit." To her surpise, his hand landed on her shoulder, eyes glimmering. "Keep Sophia-ojousama out of trouble."

Renee smiled. "Arigato, sensei."

To her shock, Chef Ono actually smiled. "Never wanted a sous chef before."

When Renee headed back out to the dining room, trying to hide her blush, Sophia looked up with a spellbinding grin that just made it come back with a vengeance. Sophia patted the seat next to hers, which was next to her mother, who gave Renee a wink and a smile. Renee had only just knelt down on the cushion in front of a caprese salad she'd made herself when Mr. Yamamoto rose, wine glass in hand, and everyone at the table followed suit.

"Before we eat, I have an announcement I would like to make. This meal is to commemorate the twenty-fifth year of marriage between myself and the most exquisite woman I have ever known, Isabella Capri." There was polite nodding, as well as a murmur of approval from a few of the guests. Mr. Yamamoto cleared his throat.

"However, we cannot celebrate the past without looking toward the future. With my beloved wife, I have built a strong business and a beautiful family, and I hope to see them both continue to grow.

"While I am not yet ready to retire as Chairman and CEO of Yamamoto Shipping, I have now decided on my successor for that position." The hand holding the wine glass slid downward, toward his right.

"My daughter, Yamamoto Sophia."

There were a few gasps, the loudest one from Sophia herself. Renee squeezed her hand as she collected herself, then just bowed toward her father. Mr. Yamamoto subtly inclined his head before raising his glass. "To the future."

The table echoed the toast, then drank. As they retook their seats, Renee glanced over at Sophia; the older girl looked like she was already out of it, despite the fact that she'd only had a sip of wine.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?" Renee whispered. Sophia shook her head softly.

"I was so prepared for something bad, I never thought...Jesus."

Mr. Yamamoto just straightened and reached for his fork. "Now. Let us eat."

The dinner went swimmingly. Salad and sushi and pasta flowed, the guests complimenting Chef Ono's skill. When Mr. Yamamoto mentioned that Renee had helped prepare the meal, she blushed.

When Renee excused herself to use the bathroom, she came back to find Sophia's mother waiting just outside the dining room. "I just wanted to thank you, Renee. For helping Chef Ono...and for helping my daughter."

Renee blushed and hurriedly nodded. They retook their seats just as the dessert plates were set down in front of them.

Then, the dining room doors creaked open, and the entire table began to murmur. Renee turned around at the same time as the rest of the household, and sucked in a breath. There was Yoshi, shirt unbuttoned and obviously at least drunk, and under his arm was...

Renee's eyes went wide. Under his arm was Keiko.

She was wearing a skintight, v-cut red dress that barely covered her underwear and thigh-high fishnets, an ensemble that couldn't have had any other purpose but to make it obvious what she did for a living. She was also very pointedly not looking at Renee.

"Hey, Dad. Sorry we're late."

Mr. Yamamoto's face tensed downward as he rose to step up next to his son. Renee couldn't see his eyes, but she didn't have to. "Son," he ground out. His voice was low, so low that the guests sitting on the other side of the long table hopefully couldn't hear him. "What is the meaning of this?"

Yoshi shrugged the shoulder that didn't have Keiko clinging to it. "Well, I thought I might finally do something to make you happy. I mean look, I finally found a nice Japanese girl."

"You and your...prostitute remove yourselves from this room at once."

Time seemed to slow down as Yoshi's gaze turned toward Renee and Sophia. He sneered. His voice wasn't hushed. "Oh, so Sophia's allowed to bring a whore to your party, but I'm not?"

As confused gasps and murmurs rose around the table, Sophia jumped to her feet, but Renee's grip on her wrist held her back. Yoshi just grinned as Mr. Yamamoto turned to look at them. "Oh, didn't you know? Yeah, see, Renee was one of the cheap sluts I hired to fuck all your precious fucking business associates at our birthday party. Only I guess Sophia decided she wanted to fuck one instead."

Keiko whined as his grip on her shoulder tightened. "In fact, she and Keiko here used to work together, isn't that right, baby?"

Keiko's eyes rose to meet Renee's, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Y...yes. Renee had the...the same pimp I did."

"Get out of this house," Mr. Yamamoto hissed.

Yoshi didn't flinch, but just reached for his back pocket. "No, they used to be best fuckin' friends, isn't that right, sweetie?" Renee's eyes went wide as he pulled out a cell phone. "In fact, here's some pictures I found online. See, when they can't get enough people to pay to fuck them, they let guys take pictures of them fucking each other. See?"

Renee was close enough to see the picture. It was a shoot she and Keiko had done for Stiles about six months before...before all this. She was shaking as Sophia rose to her side, her pale, wide-eyed father turning to face them as Yoshi shoved past and started passing the phone around to the shouting guests, Keiko stumbling back out the doors, blubblering.

When Yoshi turned back with a sneer, Sophia pounced. Renee and the parents could only jump back as Sophia slammed her brother against the edge of the table, dislodging their mother's place setting. "How could you?!?"

She pulled back, only for Yoshi's hand to lock around her throat and shove her down instead. "You bring a cheap fucking whore into this house like a pet? You think you're still the favorite now, you sick bitch?"

"Yoshi, stop!" Ms. Capri's attempts to get to her children were thwarted by her husband's own. That meant Renee was the first one there.

"Get off her!"

Yoshi turned, just in time for Renee to bring her dessert plate down over his head. He snapped back, a wine glass shattering when he hit the table. When he looked up, Renee sucked in a gasp; the left side of his face was covered with blood.

Yoshi's hand went up to the gash on his forehead; when it came away red, he looked up at her in horror. Renee's gaze whipped around to find that he wasn't the only one. Before Sophia could say anything more than 'Renee, wait, please,' she'd slammed through the dining room doors.

She knew the house and grounds well enough by now. There was a staircase leading down out of the big garden on the east side, and from there it was out into the park, and eventually the street. She was in the middle of the garden when she heard high heels clicking behind her just an instant before a hand grabbed her wrist.

"Renee, please!"

Renee spun around to find Keiko doubled over, gasping for breath as she cried. "Renee, please, I'm so sorry, he made me, I'm sorry..."

Renee could feel her fist tighten. But it was also shaking. "How much?" Keiko just shook her head.

"How much did he fucking pay you?" Renee screamed.

Keiko's breathing slowed. "Tw...twenty five...twenty five thousand dollars."

Renee felt her stomach collapse.

"Renee, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry for everything, please, I hate this, I'm sorry..."

"There's nothing to apologize for," Renee ground out. Her voice was already dead. "I would have done the same thing."

She glanced back toward the house. She could hear the front door slamming open.

"Keiko." The girl looked up. "If you were ever really my friend..."

Renee took a deep breath. "Don't tell them which way I went."

Renee was walking through the affluent suburbs, cutting across backyards and alleys when she had to. She snorted; at least she was wearing something that would make people less likely to call the cops on her.

All she knew was that she had to get out of LA. She couldn't go back to her mother, not now, not without ruining whatever they might have started to build. She had to avoid her old neighborhood, because she knew for a fact that Cobb wouldn't hesitate to make good on his promise. And while she didn't know what fate Masaharu Yamamoto's people had in store for her, the last thing she wanted was to find out.

Every time she started to feel sorry for herself, she reminded herself that she'd always known this was coming. It was why she could never be happy with Sophia, why no matter how good things were she could never let her guard down. She shook her head angrily; she'd been stupid to think this was even possible, and it would have been better for everyone if it had never happened.

She'd been walking for about two hours, the sun well and truly down, when it finally happened. A car rolled up next to her, then stopped. If she'd been dressed like she used to, she would have thought it was a john, and even that would have been preferrable to what was probably waiting for her. When the tinted window started to roll down, she prepared herself to bolt.

Then she froze.

Isabella Capri smiled gently from the driver's seat. "Could I ask where you're headed?"

Renee swallowed. "I don't know."

Sophia's mother chuckled. "Don't you? You strike me as the sort of young woman who always has a plan for when things are at their worst."

Renee let out a pained sigh. "North. I figured I could...hitchhike to wine country. There are all those little bistros and tourist spots, maybe I could get a job as a waitress and work my way back to the kitchen."

Isabella nodded thoughtfully. "Not bad, as plans go. You'll want to pawn the dress and the jewelry in the city, of course, because it will be easier to get fake identification here."

Renee winced. The fact that she actually had been thinking that didn't make her feel any better. "What do you want?"

Isabella leaned back in her seat with a sigh. "Actually, since we didn't get to have dessert, I was hoping you and I could go have a milkshake." Renee's eyes went wide, and Isabella laughed. "You'll find that no one appreciates junk food as much as a former supermodel."

Isabella leaned over to open the door, and in spite of herself Renee flashed back to that night. The night when her life had changed. She took a deep breath, and slid into the car.

To her surprise, Sophia's mother actually did take her out for a milkshake. Isabella's was chocolate, and Renee's was strawberry. After her first sip, the older woman licked her lips, took a breath, and leaned back.

"Renee...I needed to talk to you."

Renee winced, eyes locked on the table. "I know what you're going to say, and you don't have to worry. I'm out of your daughter's life for good."

Isabella sighed sadly. "Actually, Renee, I wanted to tell you a story." Renee blinked, then looked up to find Sophia's mother meeting her gaze. "It's the story of how I became a model. This is a story I have only ever told to one person. And that was Haru on the night he proposed."

Renee leaned back against the seat of the booth. Isabella cleared her throat.

"My family was not rich. And when my mother died giving birth to my younger brother, everything was worse. It was not too long after the war, and my father was...not a strong man. Not a worker. And as hard as he tried, there was never enough to keep the three of us fed. We ended up living on the streets of Milan, begging for work or food.

"The only thing that brought me joy as a girl was when Fashion Week came. I would see the women in their fancy clothes, I would see them on posters and magazines and in windows, and they all looked so confident, so strong. Like nothing could ever hurt them or make them sad."

Her eyes flitted down to the table for a moment, and she had to take a breath before she looked back up at Renee.

"So when my father found men who said they would pay money to take pictures of me..." She smiled sadly.

"I always begged for them to take one...just one...with my clothes on."

Renee's eyes went wide.

"I see so much of myself in you." Isabella smiled, her hand sliding across the table to take the brunette's. "And I was so happy that my daughter finally found someone who made her feel that strong."

Renee squeaked. She couldn't hold in the tears any longer. As she cried, Isabella's other hand reached up to her cheek.

"Please, my darling. Come home."

Sophia's head snapped up as her mother's car rolled up the driveway. She was barefoot, but still dressed for the party, mascara dried on her face and arms cinched around her knees. When Renee stepped out of the passenger's seat, her eyes went wide.


Renee bit back a sob. Her voice was tiny and broken, like it had been that morning at the hospital. Neither girl noticed Sophia's mother quietly slip inside the house; Renee's eyes were locked on Sophia's as she shakily rose to her feet and gingerly stepped down the rest of the stairs. Renee rounded the car, then stopped short.

Renee sucked in a breath as a shaking hand rose to trace her features, fingertips ghosting over her jaw and lips and nose and eyebrows. She winced. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..."

Sophia's head was shaking as much as her hands. "No. No, no, no just come here, please, just hold me..."

Renee let out a strangled sob as she pulled Sophia into an embrace. She could feel Sophia's ragged breath on her neck, and just squeezed tighter. Slowly, carefully, she worked them back to sit down on the steps. They pulled apart, hands clasped between their laps and Sophia's free one still stroking Renee's face.

Renee swallowed. "Where...where is everyone?"

"Father's on the phone making arrangements. Yoshi's packing."

Renee's eyes went wide. "What? What happened?"

Sophia licked her lips. "After you left...Father sent all the guests home. I was still...I wanted to run after you, but I was still trying to breathe..."

"It's okay..."

Sophia sniffed. "Father just turned to Yoshi, and he said...he said 'This is the last warning I will ever give you. You are free to spend the rest of your life stealing from my hard work, and never become a man. But do not make me choose between you and your sister. Because I will choose her.' And then he decided that...that maybe Yoshi needed to spend some time in Europe to cool off. So he's packing, and Father's making the arrangements."

Renee winced. "I'm sorry. I never wanted this. I never wanted to ruin your life..."

Sophia let out a sigh that was almost a laugh, her hand cupping Renee's cheek. "Oh, Renee...God, Renee, you're so stupid." Their eyes met. "You are my life."

Renee's heart jumped. She knew it wouldn't work. She knew eventually there'd be another scandal, or Sophia would finally realize what she really was. She knew she might never be happy.

But as she leaned in for a kiss, she realized she didn't care.

Three Years Later

Renee moaned against Sophia's lips, blushing hard. After all, they were still in the parking lot.

Sophia pulled back, running her hands down Renee's arms. "God, you have no idea how sexy this uniform is."

Renee blushed even harder as her eyes followed Sophia's down the white chef's jacket. "It's not really a uniform."

Sophia just kept smiling. "I am so proud of you. You realize between this and Chef Ono's word, you could get a job at any restaurant in the country if you wanted."

Renee began to fidget. Not only because some of her classmates were giving them significant glances as they passed, but because there was something she didn't like in Sophia's voice. Now that Renee could make a life for herself, was Sophia finally letting go of her?

Worse still, was that what she thought Renee wanted?

Renee had to swallow before she could speak. "I don't want to be anywhere else," she murmured, afraid to look up into Sophia's eyes. That meant she didn't see her delirious grin.

"Well...funny you should say that..."

Renee looked up to find Sophia looking down. When she followed her lover's gaze, her heart stopped.

In Sophia's hand was a tiny square box.

"I was going to do this at dinner, but Father already made me promise to wait until you'd graduated, and I've been wanting to do this for two years, so I'm sorry if it's sudden but I don't want to wait another se..."

Renee's kiss stopped Sophia's babbling. When she pulled back, tears were streaming down to the corners of her smile. "Yes. Oh God, yes."

Sophia's smile was only growing as she slipped the ring on Renee's finger. When she looked up, Renee pulled her into another kiss, hands cinching around her lover's...her fiancee's...waist.

"I love you."

Sophia shook her head, tears scattering across her cheeks. "I love you."

The next kiss was slower, softer, and much, much longer. Cars were honking at them as they pulled out of the parking lot, and at this rate they were probably going to be late to meet Sophia's parents at the restaurant, but Renee realized she didn't care.

After all, she was finally happy.

The End

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