DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This fic was originally intended for Grumpybear's birthday, but the muse stalled. So, I changed it from a Halloween fic into a Christmas one and now present it to GB for a Christmas present instead. Special thanks to the wonderful and generous Deb for taking time out of her hectic holiday week to beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To darandkerry[at]yahoo.com

'Twas the Night Before Christmas
By Ann


8:35 a.m. – Cindy's overly decorated office

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Cindy Thomas stared at her computer screen and read back over the words she'd just typed. Her face instantly scrunched up in disapproval of her choice. "More like the suckiest of times, Mr. Dickens," she grumbled as she hit the backspace key and removed the all too familiar quotation from her Word document. She blamed the TNT network and the playing of A Christmas Carol the night before for turning her mind to Dickens and his works and putting the opening line from A Tale of Two Cities in her head. Anyway, hers was really a tale of two stubborn women, or rather a story of one highly inept woman who kept trying, unsuccessfully, to express her true feelings to a beautiful and very sexy blonde.

Oh yeah, Cindy thought, I guess I should add completely clueless to that list, too; beautiful, sexy, clueless blonde. "Yeah, definitely clueless," Cindy muttered to herself, remembering how Jill had laughed off her attempt at kissing the other woman, a more than just friend's attempt. Despite the intense red-hot heat that had roared across Jill's cheeks and despite several glorious minutes of professional style tongue-wrestling, Jill had scrambled for an excuse as to why Cindy might have laid one on her. Unfortunately for Cindy, Jill had come to the erroneous conclusion that Cindy was just an amorous drunk: a French-kissing, breast-groping drunk.

"Now she thinks I just randomly kiss people when I've had too much to drink. She completely ignored the fact that I stepped right past Claire, Lindsay, and even Jacobi to specifically choose her as my 'random' target." Cindy sighed in frustration and ran her fingers through her thick, red hair. "I've just got to figure out a way to show her how I feel without having to use alcohol for courage."

She stared at her blank screen and the blinking cursor that taunted her and mentally ran through a list of potentially new beginnings for the letter she planned to give to Jill at Claire's Christmas party later that night. Cindy was good with words – she was a freakin' reporter, for God's sake – and a letter would eliminate the very likely possibility that she'd end up tripping over her tongue when she tried to verbally explain to Jill just how she felt. "I'll show her amorous," Cindy said determinedly, her posture straightening as her fingers flew across the keyboard. She narrowed her eyes in concentration and put her eidetic memory to use, pulling one of her favorite passages from the recesses of her mind. Quickly finishing the italicized quote, she sat back to once again properly judge the impact of her opening 'statement'. She knew how important it was to grab Jill's attention and hold it there from the very beginning. Otherwise, her friend would probably just read a few words and tuck the letter away, promising to read it later. Cindy had already waited long enough. She read over her new words again.

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

The corners of Cindy's mouth quirked and then lifted in a huge grin. What a perfect way to lay the foundation of her confession of love. Screw alcohol; she'd use a shot of D. H. Lawrence to give her the courage to tell Jill exactly what she wanted. Jill couldn't possibly misinterpret her words now. On the upward swing of the never-ending rollercoaster she'd been riding, she outlined exactly how she felt, her fingers flying across the keys, her thoughts and pent-up feelings filling the page, leaving nothing unsaid.

8:35 p.m. – Claire's overly decorated den

"What are you doing?" Lindsay asked Cindy as she watched her friend step up on a dining room chair, reach for a colorfully braided cord that was wound tightly around the top of a wreath and then jiggle it back and forth until she successfully freed it from its ceiling hook. Cindy grinned down at the sturdy-looking gold rope that was tucked inside the decorative wreath, the artificial greenery hiding its knotted end.

"What does it look like?" Cindy asked, jumping from the chair and landing with a soft grunt, her hands busily working to untie the cord from the wreath and failing miserably. Claire had tied the knot so tightly that it appeared that the rope might have to be cut in order to remove it; thus making it completely useless for Cindy's intentions.

Lindsay shrugged and took a sip of her drink. "Trying to redecorate?" she said, more as a question than an observation. Not even her superior detective skills could come up with a plausible theory for Cindy's actions. It was Cindy, after all, and no one could ever figure out the reporter's reasons in regards to, well, anything.

Cindy tugged harder on the stubborn knot. "Was Claire a Girl Scout or something?" she asked in frustration. If she could just undo the rope from the wreath, she could go find someplace nice and quiet to hang herself and put an end to her miserable evening. Not only had Jill just smiled and slipped Cindy's letter – unopened – into her purse, she'd brought a date to the party. A date!

"Probably," Lindsay replied, oblivious to the facetious nature of Cindy's inquiry. She smiled at the thought of a young Claire. "I wouldn't be surprised if Claire didn't rise up the ranks faster than anyone else ever had before." She shot a look over at their smiling hostess before glancing around the rest of the room. Jill was laughing loudly and kept leaning into her date, her low-cut dress revealing plenty of cleavage every time she pressed against the youthful-looking redhead beside her. "Jill is certainly having a good time."

Cindy looked, despite her promise to herself to ignore their friend. It really was a rather lame promise, though, what with Jill dressed in a hot little black number that fit her like a glove. She focused instead on the slim hand that rested comfortably on Jill's hip and frowned. Not Jill's hand, so that meant…

"Hey, you know something?" Lindsay asked thoughtfully, completely unaware of the maelstrom of emotions that were churning through the woman at her side, as she turned her full focus on the cute, petite woman Jill had brought to the party. Lindsay tilted her head to the side and narrowed her eyes into a near squint. "Jill's date kind of looks like you." Just like you, she kept to herself.

Cindy went completely still and she forced her attention from the roaming hand on Jill's hip – the one that was definitely not Jill's - to the woman who stood close by, very close by, so close, in fact, the redhead appeared as if she could very well be Jill's Siamese twin. Only Cindy was fairly certain an actual twin wouldn't so freely grope her sister's ass.

She turned a critical eye on the woman: red hair with a bit of a wave in it, light freckles spattered here and there on the young woman's face, and an adoring smile etched on her face as she appeared to be hanging – literally – on Jill's every word. Cindy had seen that face, that infatuated expression before. She'd actually caught her own reflection in the window of Joe's several months ago while she was listening to Jill; she couldn't remember the subject of the conversation, but she could still feel tingles from the jolt that shot through her when she realized that she'd been looking at Jill with something that went well beyond just mild interest.

"The wreath fell?" A voice broke through Cindy's haze and she turned to find Claire standing next to her. Slim fingers slipped on the gold cord of the wreath, but Cindy recovered quickly and gripped the rope tightly.

"Huh?" she said dumbly and looked down at the Christmas decoration. "Oh, the wreath! Um, yeah, it kind of fell off its hook," she lied nervously and rather unconvincingly, but Claire was too busy staring at the solid knot to pay attention to Cindy's wavering tone.

"I knew I should've hung that myself. Ed said it would be okay to let the boys hang it since he'd made sure to tie the knot securely." She smiled despite her displeasure of the fallen decoration. "Ed was an Eagle Scout, you know. He won every knot tying contest the scouts ever had," she said proudly.

"No kidding," Cindy muttered softly, just able to curb a very unCindy-like and totally inappropriate holiday reply of 'No shit'. She shifted her focus back on the award-winning knot and sighed. No wonder she couldn't get the damn thing untied. It was just too bad that it wasn't Halloween. She was sure Ed's nooses would be just as sturdy and stable as his knots were and they wouldn't have to be untied, either. They'd be ready-made to slip over Cindy's head and tighten around her neck; just perfect for a hanging.

"So," Claire lowered her voice and stepped closer to her friends, Ed and wreath dismissed in favor of something far more interesting. "What do you think of Jill's date? Remind either of you of someone we know?" She gave Lindsay a quick wink and smiled at Cindy. "Wonder what she does for a living?"

"If she's a reporter, it certainly would make the illusion complete," Lindsay said, grinning around the lip of her glass. She studied the redhead's purse and wondered if there was a pair of wire-rim glasses inside. Talk about complete the picture, if there were.

Cindy abandoned her latest thoughts of searching the house for Claire's Halloween decorations and began to pay closer attention to the conversation. Her fingers, however, still continued to wrestle with the gold corded knot just in case.

"What do you mean?" she asked Lindsay for clarification of what her already whirling mind was quickly putting together. She dared not speak her hopes aloud as she'd already had them dashed, quashed, shattered, crushed and, as recently as this very evening, thrown back in her face when Jill had jammed her heartfelt words into the bottom of a black sequined purse.

"Seriously?" Lindsay asked incredulously, dark eyes widening as she gestured toward the Cindy clone. "Seriously?" she could only repeat and looked for Claire for help.

"Cindy, honey, what Lindsay is trying to say is that it's rather uncanny how much Jill's date looks like you," Claire began gently; she reached out and took the wreath from Cindy, frowning slightly at how reluctant Cindy was to let go of the gold cord. "We think," she waited for Lindsay's approving nod, which wasn't really necessary as Lindsay was already bobbing her head up and down. "Well, we're fairly certain that Jill has been choosing her dates based solely on their looks."

Lindsay found her ability to form a sentence again. "And this one is the best yet. She's even the same height and weight as you."

Cindy looked over and noted that the 'date' in question appeared to line up next to Jill in exactly in the same spot she always did whenever Jill wore those particular black high heels. She turned her focus on the woman's size and frowned. "Have I lost weight?" She glanced down at her red silk blouse and velvety black pants. They did seem a little looser than usual.

"Well," Claire said as she wrapped an arm around Cindy's waist and pulled her close. "You've seemed distracted lately and haven't been eating with the same gusto as you normally do." Claire had actually feared Cindy was getting sick when the younger woman started to push more food around her plate than she lifted to her mouth. She'd been just about ready to step in and play her doctor card when she'd caught sight of how Cindy was looking at Jill. The younger woman had looked like a lovesick puppy.

Cindy stared up at Claire with big, sad, brown eyes and blinked. Yep, definitely a puppy, Claire thought as she smiled gently and gave Cindy a light squeeze.

"I think it's time someone showed Jill the light," Claire said determinedly, her brow furrowing as she turned her mind to the best way to approach the situation.

"She'll never see it," Cindy replied dejectedly. If Jill hadn't seen the train engine light barreling down on her when Cindy had stuck her tongue in her mouth, she'd never catch on.

"We need to distract Sally," Claire said firmly, ignoring Cindy's negative outlook. She turned toward Lindsay and gave her friend a crooked smile. "You game?" It hadn't escaped Claire's attention how often Jill's date had admired the way Lindsay's form-fitting black jeans hugged her ass.

"Me?" Lindsay asked in surprise. As usual, she was totally oblivious that anyone would ever look at her with more than just a passing glance. She looked across at Jill's date. Sally was looking back and gave Lindsay a sexy smile and a teasing wink before she turned back to Jill.

"I guess I could give it a try," Lindsay said, her confidence bolstered by Sally's out-and-out flirting. "For the club, I mean," she added quickly. This was one 'sacrifice' she looked forward to. Taking a final swig from her glass, she handed it to Claire and started across the room toward Jill and her date.

"Sally, have you seen the decorations out back?" Lindsay asked sweetly, ignoring Jill completely. "They really are a sight to behold. Claire went all out this year."

The redhead took one look at twinkling dark eyes and a cute lopsided smile and slipped her hand from Jill's hip to Lindsay's arm, drawing the tall beauty close. "I'd love to see them," she said with a glowing smile. She'd always been a sucker for tall brunettes.

Lindsay patted the hand that gripped her elbow and shot Jill a quick wink. "Be back soon," she lied and quickly led the redhead away. "I'm Lindsay, by the way," she said as the redhead molded herself against Lindsay's side. Jill just glared at the backs of the two women as they stepped through a set of sliding glass doors and out into the night air. She wasn't used to having someone else lure her date away.

"Um, Jill?" Cindy said, glancing back over her shoulder at Claire. Two-thumbs-ups and a firm nod prodded her to continue. "Claire asked if we'd mind restocking the appetizer trays."

"Huh?" Jill was still distracted by Lindsay's uncharacteristic and very bold move. Stealing someone's date was something she did. "Oh, sure," she said, recovering quickly. "I love that roasted red pepper spread." At the mere mention of her favorite spicy treat, her eyes inadvertently, and not so surreptitiously, cut to a red low-cut blouse and creamy white cleavage and, for once, Cindy the Clueless actually noticed as her cheeks darkened to the color of her shirt.

"Shall we then?" Cindy managed to ask without stuttering, an amazing feat since her mind was precariously close to spinning off its axis. Had Claire and Lindsay been right? Had Jill been choosing her dates solely because of their resemblance to her? Did Jill have the same feelings as she did?

"Sounds like a plan," Jill replied, hooking a thumb around her purse strap and resting her hand on the top of her handbag as she turned and started for the kitchen. "Think Claire has some food in there that she hasn't brought out yet?"

Cindy stared at the retreating, zipped-up black purse so intently she could almost read the words that were locked inside. Increasing her stride, she hurried to catch Jill. "I think there may be lots of surprises locked away in Claire's kitchen," she whispered as she pulled the kitchen door closed behind them.

"Wow," Jill said as she walked over to a food-laden counter. "How many people did Claire invite?" She dipped her finger into a scrumptious-looking pink mixture. "Yum, shrimp dip," she said as she moved in to double dip. She was clearly startled when her wrist was seized in a vise-like grip inches from the bowl, but she barely had time to protest before a cracker was thrust in her face.

"Here, use this," Cindy commanded as she eased her grip on Jill's wrist but left her hand resting on top of the other woman's hand just in case she needed to put a stop to another, more serious party faux pas. Jill glanced from the cracker to the thumb that was now lightly moving back and forth across her hand.

"Um," she muttered, clearly torn between the need to stuff a shrimp dip coated cracker into her mouth and her desire to feel that thumb gently caress a more sensitive part of her body. Her eyes slammed shut when her mind suddenly shifted and supplied her with an erotic image involving shrimp dip, a plump, perky nipple, and her tongue. She shivered as she watched her hot, watery mouth close over...

"Hey, you okay?" Cindy asked in concern as she stepped closer and moved her hand to Jill's hip. "You're not getting sick, are you?" She eased her other hand past two overly flushed cheeks to land on a warm forehead. "You're feverish," she pointed out worriedly to a woman who was very well aware of how hot she felt and exactly what and who had caused the heat.

"Did you really mean what you said?" Jill whispered softly, her eyes still closed tightly.

"What? About asking if you were sick?" Cindy asked in confusion. Why wouldn't she be concerned about Jill being sick?

"No," Jill replied, her eyes sealed as tightly as Denise Kwon's pursed lips every time Jill pissed her off. "Um, what you said in your letter," she finished quickly. The whole quote thing had confused the hell out of her, but she'd managed to muddle through to words that made perfect sense, or at least she thought they had.

"You've read the letter?" Cindy asked incredulously. Her eyes drifted from closed eyelids to a zipped-up black sequin purse. She'd kept an eye on Jill all night – only from the corner of her eye, of course – and not once had Jill made a move to open her purse. "When?"

"In the bathroom," Jill confessed, opening her eyes just in time to see Cindy frown. Cindy hadn't recalled seeing Jill leave the room, and there was only that one time she'd temporarily lost sight of her when she'd gone to retrieve the chair from the kitchen so that she could remove the Christmas wreath.

"How come you didn't say anything sooner?" she asked, her voice a mix of hurt and anger. If Jill had read her letter, why hadn't she come to her right away? Cindy could only think of one reason and it didn't bode well for her.

Jill just shrugged. "Well, you pretty much ignored me all night." She'd even raised her voice on a number of occasions and laughed loudly and somewhat obnoxiously to try to get Cindy's attention, but all Cindy had eyes for was Claire's Christmas wreath. "I just figured you'd changed your mind about what you'd said."

Cindy's face went completely slack. "You're kidding, right?" She didn't give Jill time to respond. "Why would I go to all the trouble of pouring out my heart to you if I was just going to turn around and say, 'Oh, you know what? Nevermind.'"

"Then why didn't you just tell me personally?" The letter had thrown Jill for a loop. Yes, writing was Cindy's thing, but she was never at a loss for words and always spoke her mind.

"I did!" Cindy pointed animatedly at Jill's purse and the opened letter hidden inside.

Jill just shook her head. "No, I mean, in person. Why didn't you tell me face-to-face?"

"You're kidding, right?" Cindy stared at Jill wide-eyed, the memory of a more intimate tongue-to-tongue encounter playing through her head. "You're kidding, right?" she repeated, stuck on the reply much like a turntable's stylus needle stuck in the groove of an old LP. "What about that kiss?" she managed to free herself from the groove.

Jill's face lit up with a smile. "That was some kiss," she said in memory. For just a minute, she had allowed herself to believe the kiss was real and not just the action of a drunken Cindy. "Wait a minute…" The light from her smile illuminated more than just her beautiful face. "You mean that was for real?"

"Yes," Cindy said and stepped closer, planting both hands firmly on Jill's hips. She wasn't sure where her sudden courage had come from, but she acted quickly just in case it fled as quickly as it had surfaced. "We could always do it again, you know." She pressed forward, trapping Jill between her and the counter. Face-to-face didn't seem nearly as scary now. In fact, it seemed pretty damned good. She leaned forward and Jill met her halfway.

The kiss was tentative at first, soft and gentle, as each woman took her time, savoring every sensation, every subtle shift, every soft moan, and every sweet, sweet taste. When their tongues finally did meet, it was more of a slow, sensual dance than a rough-and-tumble wrestling match. One would take the lead and then unselfishly relinquish control, the change so smooth and flawless it was difficult to tell who had had the lead in the first place.

"Jesus," Jill muttered as she slowly pulled away and rested her forehead against Cindy's, their breathing erratic, sounding as if they'd each run a marathon.

"Amen," Cindy answered breathlessly in return. Only a brief moment passed before both women fell into each other's arms and broke out in laughter. Jill was the first to pull away.

"Think we can sneak out the back door?" she pointed to the kitchen door that lead to the driveway and then glanced over at the door that led into the dining room. Cindy followed Jill's line of sight.

"What about your date?" she asked in mock concern. She could care less what happened to Jill's date but thought she ought to ask.

Jill grinned. "Lindsay can thank me later. Besides, I'd much rather go home with the real deal." She winked saucily, pulled Cindy close, and kissed her again. "Ready?" she asked with a quick peck to Cindy's lips.

"As I'll ever be," Cindy said confidently and slipped her fingers between Jill's.

Jill just nodded, reaching for the shrimp dip with one hand and tugging Cindy toward the door with her other. "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night," she whispered as she stepped out into the moonlit night. She didn't know about the rest of Claire's guests, but Jill planned to have a very good night.

The End

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