DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. Popular belongs to Ryan Murphy. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The version of Sam used in this story comes from another embarrassingly long Brooke/Sam saga I wrote a while ago called Just a Little Insight. But you donít have to read that to get this. I just used Sam becauseÖ itís Sam. And Carly Pope is hot.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Sneak
By Misty Flores

 

PART IX

"She's lucky," the doctor said, standing over the immobile form of Sam McPherson, scribbling dispassionately over his clipboard and offering the woman beside her a sideways glance. "It could have been much worse."

Because of her history with her eating disorder and her coma, Brooke knew way too much about medicine. She also had a healthy respect for doctors, and understood that what they did was extremely important. Cutting themselves off was sometimes the only real way to cope.

Logically, the doctor was simply being honest.

Brooke didn't care.

A waves of disgust shivered its way up her spine, and in an effort not to grab Sam's IV bag and smack him over the head with it, she reached for her girlfriend's still hand and squeezed, concentrating instead on the smooth alabaster skin, fluttering eyelids, plump lips.

"Thank you," she managed roughly, trying hard to rise above her hammering heart. She wasn't crying, not anymore. Instead, it was almost as if she had gone numb. Shock, she decided, because her body couldn't take much more and her emotions dealt with it accordingly.

The Anorexic's Survival Guide to Heartbreak: Brooke could have written a book.

When she was younger, love and hate had become a blurry mess, and that was thanks to the woman whose hand she was holding, back then a girl. She remembered not understanding why Sam McPherson, stupidly ego-tistic, prettier-than-she-wanted-to-admit, hypocritical Sam McPherson hated her so much. Half of the time she wanted desperately to prove Sam wrong, wanted to show Sam that she wasn't the monster Sam thought she was. The other half she wanted to destroy her, use every trick in the book to push that nosy nemesis off her entitled reporter's ledge. Back then, Nicole had been like a well accessorized demon on her shoulder, pushing her to further acts of atrociousness, and Brooke, unsure if she was loved, desperate to be accepted the only way she knew how, allowed it.

God, even back then, when she was so sure she hated Sam… she had wanted her. She remembered when Sam would show even the smallest amount of kindness; a smile here, an honest conversation there… it meant the world to her. She was always the first to give in, always the first to come after Sam and offer some sort of truce, do what she could to make Sam see her, truly see her, the way she wanted to see Sam.

"You're not supposed to meet the love of your life at sixteen," she remembered telling someone once, in an emphatic plea for them to understand why Sam and her relationship had always been so tumultuous. "You're not supposed to be step sisters and you're sure as hell not supposed to start off hating each other."

Brooke mutely stared at the girl on the bed, looking so very young despite the years that had passed together.

Reaching up, she carefully skimmed the top of Sam's forehead, lifting off a brunette bang that had to be tickling Sam's nose and smoothing it over to the side.

Sam hated hospitals. She avoided them whenever she could. Sam had once said she had never had a good experience in one, mostly due to Brooke's many stays in these types of facilities, and lately, Brooke was sure, because of her stint overseas. A stain of red inked lightly on the bandage that had been wrapped tightly around her ribs, and though she knew it was true, Brooke didn't want to hear about how lucky Sam was.

Later, she was going to be furious. She was going to lose her temper and launch into a tirade because this was exactly what she had been afraid of, when Sam got into a fight that wasn't hers. She was going to be fully aware that she had no leg to stand on because they had been in opposite places before, and it had formed who they were; a stupid coma and the trauma that surrounded it.

Right now, Brooke's fingers lingered on Sam's forehead, and then skimmed along her cheeks, relearning angles and curves that she already memorized.

A uniformed officer stood by the door. She saw the flash of blue each and every time a doctor or nurse went in or out.

Rolling her shoulders, she heard a crack of bones and arched her neck, resettling herself, before she reached for her phone.


Lindsay was furious. It was evident even to those who didn't know her well.

Jill Bernhardt did, in fact, know Lindsay well. She studied the tight expression, the sharp, calculating glare that came from dark brown eyes. The lean, powerful body didn't move. Lindsay merely stood, staring through the glass, at Agent John Ashe.

The FBI agent gave nothing away. He sat in the uncomfortable metal chair and looked straight ahead, where he knew he was being watched, betraying no expression.

"How long?"

Lindsay's question was low, but Jill heard it, head jerking from the FBI Agent Lindsay arrested to her friend, who was now looking at her, hands on her hips, brows narrowed together.

"Lindsay," she began, as quietly as she could.

"You had information about the investigation and you kept it from me?"

"We were waiting to confirm it." Her voice was purposefully careful, easy. In moments like this, Lindsay was unreachable, and unfortunately, not even Tom knew how to snap his fingers, make her lose her focus long enouch to see reason.

Lindsay's shoulders bunched together, her head jerked erratically. "That wasn't your job, it wasn't Cindy's job. It was my job."

"If you had known what was happening, you would have gone to see him-"

"And maybe there wouldn't be a reporter with a knife wound in her gut," Lindsay burst, flashing brown eyes at her, nearly knocking over a chair in furious disgust.

Resisting the urge to shrink back, Jill's posture purposefully stiffened. "We don't know that Ashe did it."

"Because he's been the model of honesty?"

"No because there's no evidence," she replied, hotter than she wanted. "You looked, Lindsay. In the alley, in his car. There's no knife. You had uni-s ransacking the entire block. No one found anything. For all we know, his story is true."

"What, that he was having a pleasant argument with Sam McPherson until he got bumped in the head and woke up just in time to find Sam McPherson bleeding all over him?" Lindsay nearly spit at her. "That's really likely, Jill."

She attempted to keep a level head. Lindsay was angry, and she as angry at her. Jill could understand why. But Lindsay's tone…

"If you want me to do my job, then we need to get facts and evidence." Her palm swiped down her hips, taking a step forward to make a point to her best friend, currently just another cop who forgot how the system work. "Not assumptions."

Lindsay's expression burned into her. "Because that's all I do, right? Make assumptions? That's why you and Cindy kept it from me, didn't you?"

Cindy. It wasn't enough that Jill had done it, but she and Cindy had willingly conspired to keep something from Lindsay Boxer. Cindy, of course, being the reason Lindsay was even there, at that gay bar.

They hadn't spoken about it, but the over reactive anger, the look in Lindsay's eyes – it wasn't just about Ashe.

More than anything, Lindsay hated to be made into a fool.

Good God. Lindsay was just a foot away from her, and still… unreachable. Jill shook her head slightly, "No." Her voice shook slightly. "Lindsay…"

Behind them, a click and a masculine cough revealed Lindsay's ex-husband, easing into the room.

The attention was no longer on her. Lindsay pushed forward, moving around her fast.

"I want to talk to him."

Tom already had his hands up, palms spread wide, as if pleading for mercy. "I got a call from Quantico. We're going to have to let him go."

The tension that had been building inside of Jill wound tighter. She had been afraid of this.

"What?" An outraged shriek relayed Lindsay's reaction to the news.

"We don't have enough to hold him!" Tom snapped, already jumping into a defensive move, anticipating Boxer's anger. "We've got no knife. We've got nothing that ties him to the victim-"

"Except the fact that I found her bleeding in his arms."

"He says he was trying to help her."

"The man was stalking her!"

"Look, no one says he hasn't acted unethically," he growled. "But what he does on his own time isn't our place. We've got nothing that says he slashed her. No knife, no evidence – hell, we searched his car, his house – there was no time to get rid of the weapon. He didn't do it."

Chest constricting, Jill chewed on her bottom lip, on edge as she watched Lindsay's sharp features process the information.

Without warning, Lindsay's shoulder dug into Tom's, and she was moving.

"Lindsay!" he barked, and Jill pushed off the wall, already anticipating the burst of the temperamental Inspector.


The door launched open in front of her. She immediately caught it with an open hand, shutting it, clamping it shut.

In front of her, John Ashe merely stared expectantly, hands bound together by her handcuffs.

"I told you." The voice was soft, careful. "I didn't do it."

"What, because they can't find a knife?"

"Lindsay!" The door pounded against her. "God-dammit – Lindsay!'"

"I've been cooperative," he continued quietly. "I saved that girl's life."

"Oh, no," she whispered roughly. "Even if you didn't do it, even if he's still out there, you stuck that knife in her the minute you dragged her into this."

"He's playing with us," Ashe answered, after a beat. "You think he doesn't know the players? He's blinding you, the only way he knows how."

"Because you're such a big threat?"

The smile he gave her wasn't smug, but pained. "If I'm not you might be. You're in here, staring at me, instead of out there, looking for him. I'd say he's winning."

Shoved forward violently, Lindsay was suddenly yanked back, to discover the mottle face of her furious Lieutenant. "Outside," he gasped hoarsely, not gentle at all as he wrapped large hands around her wrists, and jerked her toward the door.

As her ex-husband dragged her away, John Ashe offered her a cordial, quiet nod of his head.

Like he understood.


It was safe to say, Claire had been left out of a few things.

She moved carefully through the crowded hall, to a pained-looking Jill, who leaned against the wall with an exhausted expression on her face, watching Lindsay Boxer get chewed out by Tom Hogan.

"Well," Claire began, determined to feel more ironically amused than irritated, as she took her place beside her friend. "Not taking it well, I assume?"

Beside her, Jill winced. "They're letting Ashe go."

Surprise melded into bittersweet distraction when the phone at her side vibrated against her hip.

"Cindy," she explained to Jill, waving at the caller ID. "She's been keeping me updated hospital-side."

"Tell her she's in the doghouse. We both are," Jill mumbled, and Claire blew out a steadying breath.

"On a scale of one to ten," Claire began when she answered, knowing exactly what Cindy was going to ask. "She's an eleven."

There was a quiet pause. "That bad, huh?"

Jill's eyes rolled up, a silent response to Claire's querying glance.

"Sorry, kiddo. They're letting Ashe go. That's not helping."

"Go HOME!" Hogan suddenly exploded, making the lawyer beside her jump. Tom pointed to the exit, flushed cheeks emphasizing his points. "I don't want to see you here the rest of the day, and you stay the hell away from Ashe. That's an order Lindsay – or I'm suspending you."

"Ouch," Jill breathed, and Claire closed her eyes.

"Sweetie? Stay clear," she said into the phone. "Stay with your reporter friend and her poor girlfriend and let Lindsay cool off. It's not her week."

"It's not her year," her friend retorted softly, sounding resigned and tired. "Look, I'm going to check in on Brooke and Sam, and then I'm going to do some research on my own. If she'll listen, tell her I'm sorry." She disconnected.

"God-DAMMIT." Lindsay's movements were jerky as she moved in their direction; she looked ready to pound the wall. "They're letting him go."

"I know." Jill was careful as she squeezed Lindsay's shoulder, letting go just as quickly. "I'm sorry."

Swiftly, Claire closed the phone.

A flash of anger lifted onto Lindsay's expression, and with a shake of her head, she stared accusingly at Claire. "Did you know too? About Ashe visiting the reporter?"

"Just found out today," Claire answered immediately. "Honest."

"Lindsay, we wanted a confirmation," Jill said again, and it sounded like she had been saying it over and over again. "That's all. That's what Cindy was waiting for. We just ran out of time."

"Maybe not," Claire broke in, before Lindsay could launch on another tirade. "I've been talking to Cindy-" the mention of the object of Lindsay's frustration and affection caused a suddenly exhalation and an over-dramatic jerk of the Inspector's features. Claire hurried on, before Lindsay could begin her tirade. "-And she put me on the phone with Sam's ER doctor."

"She did what?" Lindsay asked, distracted from her offended senses at hearing the absurdity of the action.

"What can I say? The girl's good," Claire quipped, before continuing on. "He said Sam was lucky. The knife went through her lower back, barely missing her organs-"

"That's lucky?" Jill sounded horrified at the idea.

"You have no idea," Claire continued. "Now, in my experience with my murder victims, a slice like that isn't very lucky when you're dealing with a serial killer."

Lindsay processed the information, shifting on her feet. "You're saying he didn't mean to kill her," she said, voice awed with realization.

"I'd have to take a look at the wound myself, but I'm guessing? No."

"That doesn't make sense," Jill interjected. "Kiss-Me-Not's never done that before. Why would he just randomly slice a girl?"

"It's a nudge," Lindsay answered immediately. Already, she was lost in thought, processing the new information. "Wait…" Grabbing hold of Jill's arms, she squeezed meaningfully. "Ashe told me – he said he was afraid Kiss-Me-Not was going to feel forgotten. He was going to 'remind' us."

"So he picked some random girl to stab?"

"No, it wasn't random," Lindsay said. "Ashe had been talking to her, right?"

Staring at Claire, Jill's head tilted in memory. "Yes."

"You're thinking Ashe is still the connection."

"Lindsay!" Tom was once again glaring, this time including them all. "I said get out of here. Do you need me to escort you out?"

"God, I wish we were still married so I could tell him to fuck off," Lindsay bit, and Claire smiled in bittersweet sympathy. She twisted on her heel, making an exaggerated motion toward the door. "If you two hear ANYTHING, I don't care if it's confirmed or not – you call me."

"Of course," Jill rasped, nodding like a scolded child.

"Lindsay!"

"I'M LEAVING, TOM!" The Inspector shot him a hand gesture that Claire would have grounded her children for, and with a parting good-bye glance to her friends, clicked her way to the exit.

"You think we're on to something?" Jill asked, as soon as she was out of earshot.

A door opened, and the handsome form of John Ashe emerged, rubbing lightly at his wrists, now free of Lindsay's handcuffs.

"I think we have to be," she replied honestly. "Too many things are happening for us not to be close."


The little red-head knocked lightly on Sam's door, looking apologetic and nervous and deeply regretful.

"Hi," she began, and Brooke McQueen wondered if she had been here all this time, outside of their door. "I just wanted to check in on her, find out how she's doing."

Fingers still resting lightly on the keys of her laptop, Brooke studied Sam. Her girlfriend hadn't moved much, highly medicated and sedated.

"The same." If Cindy seemed surprised at Brooke's civil tone, she didn't show it. "You can come in. I was hoping to see you."

A flash of a smile of thanks pulled at the other girl's lips, and carefully, she shut the door behind her.

"I called Jane, Sam's mother," Brooke continued, an effort to fill the awkward silence as Cindy Thomas pulled another chair from the empty side of the room. "She wants to fly up here."

Cindy offered a confused frown. "You don't think that's a good idea?"

Brooke glanced again at her laptop, then again at Sam. "I'm not sure if it's a great idea for Jane to see her like this." Cindy's lips were chapped, and Brooke could see why, when the other reporter sucked in her lower lip, gnawing it like it was a nervous tick. "I googled you."

Green eyes flitted to hers, darkening.

"Read your articles, on the Kiss-Me-Not killer," Brooke continued, and turned the laptop in Cindy's direction, allowing her to see the most recent headline she had been perusing. "That's horrible, what happened to those women."

And it was. The things that Brooke read, those were stories reserved for horror novelists, crime serials… Brooke had lived, she had seen a lot of the world, but there was always a part of her that wanted to live in a world of fairy tale fantasies. The realist, that was always Sam.

"Yeah," Cindy said, and it looked like she was struggling not to say more than that. Brooke remembered Sam mentioning she was usually chatty. "We're trying really hard not to make sure it happens again. I'm really sorry," she said again.

"Sam would have gotten involved even if it wasn't you," Brooke answered roughly. "It wasn't your idea to bring that Agent to your door, and Sam can't sit by and see an injustice and not at least try to help." Instinctively, she reached out and smoothed a finger over a bare forearm. "I've always shared her with the world."

"She talks about you constantly," Cindy said, as if sensing her insecurity. "It's really amazing, what you two have."

Brooke studied the bandage stretched over Sam's torso thoughtfully. "We fight hard for it," she commented, mouth twitching at the truthfully. "Our mom – Sam's mom – she once said that when we put our head's together, there's nothing we can't do together." She didn't wait for that to sink in. "I want to see the case file, the one that Sam gave to you."

She was firm. It wasn't a question, but a demand, and it startled the other girl.

"Sam said something about fairy tales," Brooke continued, answering her unspoken question. "I know a lot about them. When we were kids, there were a lot of fantastic things that happened to us, and looking back, the only way I could ever really understand them was to consider them a fantastic fable."

"I'm not sure I understand," Cindy finally broke in, leaning forward. "You want the casefile because you want to help catch this guy?"

"I used to be a journalist." Brooke nodded. "It doesn't matter what kind. I know how to do the research, and I'm sure I know a lot more about the true origins of these stories than what you guys can come up with. I work for the Travel Channel. We did a series of specials called 'Places of Myth: the real stories of the World's Creepiest Fairytales." The cheesy name caused a wry grin. "It was for Halloween."

Cindy Thomas looked flabbergasted. "Don't you think you should just concentrate on making sure Sam gets better?"

"This will get her better. And I need to do this for her. I need to do everything I can to make sure you guys catch this guy." She shut the laptop, and once again concentrated on Sam, gripping the still fingers and entwining them with hers. "Because now he's pissed me off."


'Wow', Jill thought, as she settled into the plush seat beside Denise's large desk, 'You learn something new every day.'

Denise kept alcohol in her desk, a decent sized bottle hidden in a drawer. From it she also pulled two glasses that were obviously expensively made.

"We were having drinks tonight, weren't we?" Denise asked lightly, when Jill studied the glass of amber liquid offered in her direction. "I guess it doesn't matter where."

It was the first time Jill had ever been ridiculously glad to be in Denise's office. "I guess we're off the clock then," she conceded, reaching for the glass, watching carefully as Denise leaned on her desk, and efficiently, knocked back the shot of alcohol, reaching immediately for another.

Following suit, Jill tilted the drink into her mouth, feeling the requisite burn slide down her esophagus and burn into her stomach, warming her insides and causing a pleasant grimace.

"The call from Quantico came to me," Denise opened, after a moment of contemplative silence. "Morris wanted to know what the hell we were doing, arresting an FBI agent." Almond eyes darkened, glanced at her curiously, as if expecting a rash argument.

Belly lined with alcohol, tired and mind already full of hurt Inspectors and regretful reporters, Jill only crossed her arms and waited.

"You're right," Denise continued, when Jill didn't answer. "There is something fishy about all of this."

Denise surprised Jill. Lately it was happening more frequently. "You remember a few days ago when we had absolutely no leads?" she asked, smiling her thanks when Denise turned the bottle over her empty glass, splashing liquid into it. "Now we've got a fishy FBI Agent, a pissed-off Inspector, a gutted reporter, and we still have no idea who Kiss-Me-Not is."

"Why did you become a lawyer?" Denise asked.

The off-topic question didn't phase her. Taking her time with this glass, Jill studied the amber depths of swishy, strong-smelling liquor and shrugged carelessly. "I figured one way or another, I was going to end up tangled with the law. In a miss-guided attempt at logic, I decided that if I were working for it, I wouldn't end up a complete mess. Also, I had a deep, cheesy, Lifetime-Movie-of-The-Week-ish desire to make good." She flickered her glance to the still Denise. "You?"

"I wanted money," the other woman answered flatly, causing Jill to nearly snort some of her drink. "It's true," she insisted, sly smile playing at the corners of her lips. "It wasn't much of a choice really. Until I graduated law school and decided I wanted to be a patriot. I'm a disappointment to my parents."

"Acting D.A. is a disappointment?"

"I turned down a position with one of the most powerful equity partnerships in the country to come work here, under what turned out to be a crooked D.A.," Denise surmised, chin lowering as she smiled bitterly to herself. "My parents are strong traditionalists."

"Yeah…" Jill allowed a moment of bittersweet jealousy. "I didn't have those."

"Traditions?"

"Parents."

She could feel Denise's gaze burning on her. Jill kept her profile focused on her drink.

"If you or your friends need anything," Denise suddenly began, "If it's legal, and within reason, I'll help anyway I can."

It was surprisingly generous, considering it was Denise. Jill glanced up, and allowed herself to finally look at her, really look, at angles and planes and features on a woman she only ever saw as a nemesis.

As if embarrassed, Denise glanced away.

"Thank you," Jill answered, and said nothing else.


She had dreams; vivid dreams in which she was buried in a dark hole, a grimy and bitter tasting hand plastered against her mouth, muffling her screams. The panic that set her heart hammering against her chest was so extreme she thought she would die from it, the organ literally bursting from tremors.

And there was the pain: it nearly ate her alive.

"Sam…"

Brooke's voice floated over her like an enveloping fog; everywhere at once. She couldn't reach for her, she didn't know where she was.

"Sam, it's okay."

She tried to respond, but the hand against her mouth kept her from speaking, the grip of the hard body behind her jerked her still.

The sharp flare of agony that burned on her side erupted in a strangled scream, and suddenly the hand had flown away, and the darkness of the alley had burst into a dark room with beeps.

The pain was still there, and so was Brooke.

Her tongue felt thick and swollen, and so she tilted her head to find a fuzzy outline of a woman who was cradling her cheeks with warm palms.

"Sam," she said, voice low and soothing. "Sammy, it's okay."

The fuzziness was fading, replaced with the acrid reality of the pain that pulsed. She struggled to breathe.

"I think the morphine is wearing off," she heard Brooke explaining, as her eyes lifted unseeingly. "We'll get you some more-"

"No," she managed, and winced, sounding like a toad. "No, I wannabe-wake."

"Sammy, baby. You're hurt."

Suddenly, it felt extremely important to get out just one thing.

"I'm sorry," she tried, felt the words turn to mush in her mouth. "I'm sorry, Brooke."

The hands at her face stopped, and then fingertips lifted to her stinging eyes, and Sam realized she was crying.

The pressure of the hands lifted, and Sam struggled, eyes closing under the haze of the medication.

The side that wasn't flaring was suddenly blanketed with a familiar warm body. Heart in her throat, Sam jerked her cheek to the side, lost in the feel of silken strands of what she knew would be dirty blonde hair.

"It's okay," she heard, and a kiss pressed against her slurring mouth. "I love you too, Sammy."


"Hi. It's me. Cindy. Again? Wanted to say I'm really… really sorry. Claire said to give you time, but… I'm really sorry, Lindsay."

Cindy was keeping track; she had now left about fifteen messages on Lindsay's voicemail.

"Great news, Cindy," she told herself, face burying into her palms. "You've now crossed the line from border-line pathetic, to really really scary."

Still, she couldn't help herself. She wouldn't stop trying, and it was just one of those things about her: Cindy Thomas didn't know when to quit. And she couldn't quit now – not after what had happened, which actually seemed really really selfish considering what Sam and Brooke were going through but also really really relevant because life was really short and really-

"Okay, you're panicking," she told herself, and shook herself, trying to clear her head of all things Boxer. "Agent Ashe. We're looking at Agent Ashe and trying to connect the dots."

There were dots. They were out there. She just had to find them. There was never such a thing as a coincidence – evidence may have supported the idea that Ashe was legit, but there was nothing legit about his actions with Sam, and his over enthusiastic pursuit of a case that wasn't his to begin with. There was always a reason to madness.

In her case, it was the kiss still burning on her lips, planted on her by one Lindsay Boxer, who was probably going to never speak to her again.

Battling her weakness, Cindy glanced at the phone, just about to reach for it again, when pounding at her door caused it to fly up off her hand over the couch.

"Cindy?" came a gravely, Texas-twanged voice, nearly shouting in its fierceness. "Open the door so I can kick your ass and tell you to stop calling me."

Uh-Oh. Carefully, she edged to the door. "How about you just tell me through the door?"

"Can you not take a fricken hint?" was the explosive response. "You're making me want to turn off my phone, and I CAN'T turn off my phone because I'm a cop, and because I'm a cop, I can arrest you for stalking me-"

"Well, why don't you?" she snapped back, feeling suddenly petulant. "You arrest me for everything else!'

"Open the damned door, and I will!"

"Well, if you would actually pick up the phone when I call, I could actually, you know, apologize and not have to keep calling you because I KNOW you're screening, and sometimes repetition is the only way to get through your thick head!"

The door stopped shaking. "Why didn't you tell me about Ashe?!"

"Because I wasn't sure!"

"Open the door, Cindy!"

"Not if you're going to kill me."

"Open the door, Cindy or God help me, I WILL kill you."

It seemed an extremely viable threat, and cursing her sensibilities for getting involved with a person who could legally own a gun and actually kill her, Cindy unlatched the lock and prepared for the worst.

She opened the door to a wild-eyed, red-faced version of the woman she was head over heels for. Even so, she left her breathless.

Now that the door was open, Lindsay didn't seem to know what to do. Cindy, feeling small and young, didn't offer any suggestions. She simply stared up at the other woman, looking deeply into dark eyes, ready to drown in them, if that was what it took to get through this moment.

"You should have told me," Lindsay said suddenly, quieter, less volatile than she had been.

Cindy licked her lips, and considered just agreeing. "I should have told you earlier," she conceded. "But I had to be sure."

"No." The other woman shook her head fiercely. "When you have information, you don't call Jill, you call me. There is no other option."

Still standing in the doorway, Lindsay Boxer looked her age, tired and scared and acutely angry. She also looked more intensely vulnerable than Cindy had ever seen her.

Cindy just nodded. "I'm sorry."

The dark glower softened, and then those brilliant orbs closed, and Lindsay shook her head, fingers rising to her temple. "You drive me crazy."

Cindy grimaced in solidarity. "Yeah, well… back-atcha."

Eyes opened, looks were exchanged. After a moment, Cindy held out her hand. Lindsay stared at it as if it were alien, but then, her expression turned resigned, and as if she could no longer restrain herself, as if she no longer wanted to, she reached out, and took it.

As she allowed herself to be pulled inside, Lindsay reached for the knob, and closed the door behind her.

Part 10

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