DISCLAIMER: The characters all belong to Shed; they are not used for profit etc...
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Zen and the Art of Horseriding
By Rooineck

Part 21

Nikki checked her gear one more time. The epees were all packed neatly into their odd shaped bag, and her riding clothes stowed away, the tailored black jacket cleaned in it's suit bag, the new buff breeches piled into her small suitcase with her training clothes.

She glanced at herself in the mirror and paused for a moment, allowing an embarrassed grin to spread across her features as she took in her reflection. For once she'd smoothed down her rebellious hair and it was neat, setting off her blazer and skirt ensemble. The badge on the blazer caught her eye and her smile turned smug. Even here, on her own, she felt proud to be wearing the country badge of her country, and embarrassed for that pride.

She piled the lot onto the trolley again, anxious that it would get there all right. She'd heard horror stories on the circuit from colleagues who had stuff lost or sent to different destinations and who had had to compete using borrowed gear.

She straightened her shoulders, ran her fingers through her hair, ruining its neat lines and turning it back into it's usual tousled mess and went to check in for her flight.

She wasn't looking forward to the flight. She didn't mind flying, but the thought of twelve hours sitting in a cramped economy seat surrounded by screaming children didn't exactly appeal to her. She knew that she was one of the few people funding herself, and that meant paying for her own flights and that meant economy. At times like this she did feel jealous of the Sean Parrs of this world, with their high-profile, high earning, lifestyles, glamorous in their red jackets, flights and hotels provided by their sponsors, as well as their horses. But she also knew the harsh realities of such a life: the constant search for good horses, the hours spent schooling them, the hours of training and the effort that people like Sean had to put in.

She was pleasantly surprised to find that she was given an upgrade. Obviously the Team GB blazer was opening doors for her, or maybe the check-in assistant was a fan of pentathlon. Nikki actually thought it more likely that she'd just got lucky, although the assistant was certainly very friendly and couldn't do enough for her, even sneaking her into the executive lounge.

She sank back into the leather sofa and stretched out. This really was how the other half lived. She declined the champagne she was offered, but was unable to refuse the fresh coffee on offer, or the pastries. She consoled herself by remembering that Jackie had told her to feed herself up.

She checked her phone preparatory to turning it off and noticed the message envelope flashing at her. She opened up the message.

'Hey Nik. Hope you have a good time. Train hard and get winning. T'

She erased it angrily. Trish had walked out of her life, but seemed to think she had the right to keep coming in and out of it at will and that Nikki would be OK with it. She resented the constant intrusion, especially at times like this, when she needed all of her concentration.

She shut her eyes and composed various messages in her head to Trish until her plane was called, then, escorted by various flunkies, she was on the plane, stretching out luxuriously in the business class seat.

"Comfortable, are we?"

She snapped her eyes open at the sound of the familiar voice to see Helen standing in front of her.

"Um, hi."

For a moment she though she might be dreaming, then Helen dropped her book, which she had left on the empty seat next to her, onto her lap.


"Serves you right for not being polite enough to move your stuff." Helen said briskly, sitting down beside her.

"What are you doing?"

"Getting settled for my flight. You?"

Nikki gawped. She was unused to this Helen, brisk, efficient and very much on her home turf, accepting champagne from the stewardess and making herself comfortable.

She herself rejected the wine, much as she felt she needed a drink to recover from Helen's unexpected appearance.

"Are you not drinking for a reason then?" Helen teased, by now used to the almost monastic behaviour of athletes before competition.

"I'm just trying to get into training properly."

"Looks like you are starting early." She tipped her glass at Nikki and drank deeply from it.

"So are you," Nikki retorted, doing up her seatbelt. She felt strangely vulnerable, having Helen next to her, especially this new, confident Helen.

"I'm just doing what's expected of me."

"I hope you don't get air rage, knocking back the fizz like that." Feeling confused by this Helen, Nikki couldn't help hitting out. She felt so far out of her depth here and had a curious feeling that there was something going on she wasn't party to.

"Don't worry, I'll behave, although, to paraphrase Mae West, when I'm good I'm good, but when I'm bad, I'm better." She laughed and winked at Nikki, leaving the athlete feeling almost as if she had been flirted with.

"Where are you going?" Nikki asked, trying to cover up her confusion.

"Mexico City, I hope. What about you?"

"Oh, ha ha ha. I meant, what are you doing out there?"

"Location filming. I told you last week."

"You told me you had filming, but not where."

"Didn't I?"

"I hope you're acting is normally better than that."

"Nikki, I'm off to make a film in Mexico, OK? I didn't tell you because I didn't realise when I would be flying. Now, let's just enjoy the flight, shall we?"

She put on headphones, cutting off communication with Nikki, leaving the other woman frustrated. Nikki put on her own earphones and tried to concentrate on one of the movies being shown.

Inevitably, she couldn't concentrate and started to play with the handset, moving onto playing the games. She wanted to get up and move about, but Helen had fallen asleep immediately after eating and she felt as if she couldn't move her. She tried to climb across her, relying on the length of her legs, but just as she was straddling Helen, the actress woke up.

"You know, people will talk." She smiled up at Nikki, laughing at her discomfort.

"I'm sorry, you were asleep and…"

"It's no problem, Nikki." Neither moved for a moment. "Still, if you wouldn't mind moving, or people will start to talk."

"Shit." Nikki extracted herself and almost ran to the toilet.

By the end of the flight, the two of them had resolved their differences and were talking like civilised beings, discussing books, films, music and everything under the sun.

Each had been surprised by the other, Helen realising that Nikki was not some thick athlete who was barely literate and in turn Nikki realised that Helen could and did think for herself and was very different from the public perception.

They separated after customs, the film company having sent a car for Helen. She smiled smugly to herself as she realised that Nikki hadn't once questioned her presence next to her, or the fact that Helen herself hadn't been surprised to see Nikki.

It had been easy enough finding out Nikki's schedule, and it had certainly been easy to arrange an upgrade for her. After all, what was money for, if not to get what you want?

Nikki caught a team minibus, glad that she was being met, given her large amount of luggage. She hitched her bag of epees slightly higher on her lap, trying not to jab the people she was sharing the bus with, a young, rather shy-looking girl, and an older, fierce-looking woman who frowned at her twice; once when she side-swiped her with her bag and again when she winked at the younger woman.

She smothered her smile behind her hand and stared out at the city flashing past the windows. She was excited to be out here, but finding it very strange to be alone. Still, she probably wouldn't have time to get lonely.

She wondered if she would see anything of Helen while she was out here, until she realised that the likelihood of that was high if Sean was staying in the athlete's village as well.

Part 22

Helen had already made reservations for dinner that night, knowing full well that Sean wasn't flying until tonight. She had sent a message to the Village, to be there waiting for Nikki's arrival. Once she was in training, and Sean was around, she wouldn't get any chance to see Nikki at all, so she was taking her best opportunity.

She dressed carefully, going for the casual look, knowing that Nikki wouldn't have brought her glad rags with her. She wondered how Nikki would react to her second appearance.

"I'm not going," Nikki pouted.

"What do you mean, you're not going?" Helen couldn't believe that her plans had already hit an obstacle, and one she hadn't foreseen.

"You heard me. I start training at seven am tomorrow morning. There's no way I can go out tonight. I have a diet plan."

"I know. I'm not planning on getting you drunk and feeding you dodgy shellfish, or even keeping you out past half-past ten, Nikki. All I thought was that you might like some company tonight. It's no big deal." She shrugged, feigning indifference and turned to go.

"Helen!" She turned back.

"Half-ten, alright?"

"Fine. Let's go." She smiled. She had thought that Nikki would be lonely tonight.

She had hired a car and took her outside the city, to a small restaurant, crowded with locals. She wanted somewhere quiet, not touristy, and certainly somewhere that the rest of the crew weren't likely to go.

"I didn't know you spoke Spanish." Nikki said, leaning back and taking another sip of mineral water.

"I'm full of surprises." Helen sipped from her wineglass.

"So I see. How did you learn?"

"I did modern languages at Uni. I speak French, Spanish and Italian fluently."

"The romantic languages," Nikki smiled. "I bet Sean really appreciates that."

"He speaks some French and Italian."

"Mostly swear words, I bet."

"Pretty much. His vocabulary in that respect is somewhat better than mine, I have to admit." She smiled ruefully. "What about yours?"

"My languages are virtually non-existent, I'm afraid. I left school at sixteen, two o-levels, in English Lit and history. I didn't care for anything else, except riding."

"What did you do when you left school?" The talk moved along swiftly, and before Helen knew it, she was driving Nikki back to the Village, much too soon.

"Would you like to come up, see what my cell looks like?" Nikki invited.

Eager to prolong their time together, Helen assented. Nikki took her arm and gave her the guided tour of the facilities. All too soon it came to an end, and they were back at the entrance, moving uncomfortably from one foot to the other.

"So, back to the grindstone tomorrow?" Helen asked.

"Yeah. When does your schedule start?"

"In a few days. There's some other people due in from America, then we're all off on location together at the end of the week."

"What will you do in the meantime?"

"Have a look round, I guess. Sightseeing and all that. Get used to the altitude, like you."

"I'm going to die."

"Why do you need to do altitude training anyway?" Helen asked, having already looked up the reason and been told by Sean.

"It makes me use oxygen better, because there's less oxygen in the air here, so when I get back down to sea level, my body is used to less oxygen, so it performs better with more. Or something."

"Or something," Helen agreed. "Well, I guess you need to get some sleep if you have to be training at seven."

"I guess. I'm not sure I will sleep, though. I hate jet lag."

"Mmm, me too. I hate transatlantic trips. I never sleep the first night, and them I'm knackered for a few days after that.

"Thanks for that encouraging thought, and on that note the papers at home tomorrow will be carrying banner headlines about the murder of a soap actress by an obscure athlete." She reached out, her hands encircling Helen's neck, then pulled the smaller woman to her and kissed her on the cheek. "Thanks for dinner. I'll see you soon, I hope?"

"Um, well, Sean arrives tomorrow, so I'll see you around."

"Oh, ok." Nikki stepped back from her, as if she had been ordered to. "I'd better go." She started to walk away backwards, still watching Helen, who just stood there.

Helen raised her hand, saw Nikki mirror her movement and turn a corner, vanishing from her sight. She sighed as she turned to go. She had an hour's drive ahead of her now, back to the hotel. And she was missing Nikki's company already.

She tried to analyse the feeling as she drove, listening to a music station on the radio. Watching Nikki walk away had been hard, for some reason. She had wanted to run after her, talk to her forever, spend as much time with her as possible.

'It must be because I met her at a low point, after all the rows' she concluded. She hadn't stopped drinking, but she had certainly cut down significantly. She had been unable not to have a drink when in such close proximity to Nikki, but had still managed to cut back. She drove on, into the darkness, mentally trying to place Nikki in various movie roles, something she did with most people.

She saw Nikki in surprising roles, not traditional female ones. An image of Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneauve in 'The Hunger' unexpectedly came into her mind and she only shed it when she saw the headlights coming towards her on her side of the road, and realised that she was driving on the left, out of habit. She swerved back onto her side of the road, and resolved to put Nikki totally out of her mind, at least, until she was safely back at the hotel.

Once she had settled in for the night, she allowed her mind to wander again, back to Nicola Wade. She had watched Nikki sleep on the flight over, seen how peaceful she looked, in contrast to how strained she had been the last few times she had seen her. Tonight had been a pleasure, spending time in Nikki's company. She had enjoyed herself in a way she hadn't for a while. Nikki was easy to talk to, and Helen had found herself opening up to her.

She hoped that Nikki had enjoyed herself too, and that she got some sleep. She looked like she hadn't slept for some time, with dark crescents under her eyes. She had murmured Trish's name on the flight, more than once. Helen was curious as to what had actually happened between them, because Nikki had not been forthcoming on the subject.

By seven am, local time, she was lying in bed, visions of the masked pirate running around chasing the villains in "The Princess Bride", one of her favourite films. As her mental movie got to the part where he is unmasked, he turned into Nikki, and she fell asleep.

Part 23

Nikki was lying on her back, gasping for breath. It was her first time doing altitude training, and she was surprised at what a difference it made. So far, she had managed to jog for just over a mile, but then she had been sick and now she felt lousy, listless and dizzy.

She had no idea how she was going to survive the next two months, if this was how she felt after just a mile. It hadn't helped that she hadn't slept at all, but had lain awake until her alarm went off, thinking about her evening with Helen; Trish; Jackie and the horses.

She missed the horses and hoped that she would be able to get some pleasure riding in, as well as work riding. Maybe Helen would be able to come with her as well.

"Come on, get your arse off there," her trainer barked at her. She levered herself onto her elbows and squinted at the face above her, silhouetted by the early morning light.

"I can't," she groaned.

"Don't be so bloody wet, Nikki. Get up and do some stretching, at least." As Nikki struggled to her feet, lurching to the side of the path to throw up again. "And try not to throw up on me."

Nikki's only response was another heave of her stomach.

"Maybe you should try and acclimatise first, before you try and do too much exercise."

"Caroline, I'll be fine. I'm just tired, that's all. I didn't sleep last night."

"You need to sleep, or this is all pointless."

"Gee, thanks for the startling insight there," Nikki snarled. "I can't make myself sleep. I get jet lag."

"I know the time changes are tough, and if you've got altitude sickness it's going to be worse, but it does pass off after a couple of days. I think you should just rest up for a few days, get acclimatised. I think we should start again in three days time."

Nikki looked at Caroline, who was still jogging on the spot, not out of breath at all, and scowled.

"I'll be fine tomorrow. We'll start again then."

"I don't think so, and you'd be a fool to try."

"I can't afford to sit here doing nothing."

"You can't afford to make yourself too ill to train, either. Grow up, Nikki."

They walked in silence back towards Nikki's block. Nikki fretting mentally at the setback, but not quite stupid or stubborn enough to challenge it.

She now faced three days of enforced rest, and probably boredom. She wondered what Helen was doing and rang her.

"I'm sorry, I'm washing my hair. I thought you had training today?"

"No problem. I did, but it was, uh, cancelled." For some reason, she didn't want Helen to know that her body had betrayed her in such a way, more so because she had been given the 'I'm washing my hair brush off'. Suddenly she couldn't wait to put down the telephone and crawl away and hide. "I guess I'll see you around."

For a moment she stood staring at the 'phone, unable to fathom her disappointment, until the phone ringing shocked her back into awareness of the now.

"It's me."

"Hello you." She could barely contain the grin that spread across her face.

"Would you like to go out for lunch?"

"Sounds like a plan to me."

"I'll pick you up in about two hours, then."

"Can't I come to you?" The words, borne of Nikki's frustration, were uttered before she could even think of how desperate they sounded and she berated herself as soon as they were out of her mouth.

"I…" There was a pause. Nikki wondered if Helen was regretting calling her back.


"I don't see why not." She gave Nikki the name of the hotel and the room number.

An hour and a half later, Nikki was sitting in Helen's suite, trying to quell the nausea that was threatening to make an ugly appearance.

"Are you OK?" Helen asked, concerned at the colour of Nikki's face. It was lifeless and looked like it had been made out of putty, even down to the colour.

"Fine, just a bit tired. I didn't sleep all that well."

"Are you sure? It looks like you're about to be…sick," she finished as she watched Nikki bold onto the balcony and hang off it. She fetched a glass of water and stood by the taller woman, stroking her hair and feeding her sips of water as the retching stopped.

"I think you should come and lie down. You really look awful."

"Thanks, but I think maybe I should go."

"You are going nowhere. You look like you could collapse at any time. Have you seen a doctor?"

"It's probably something I ate," Nikki protested weakly.

"If it's food poisoning then you should definitely see a doctor. I'll just ring down to reception."

"No!" He hand was held in a grip like a jellyfish's handshake. It was so weak, she almost laughed, except that her concern for Nikki overcame it.

"You aren't well. Lie down."

"Please don't call a doctor. It's altitude sickness, that's all. It's worse because I was out jogging this morning and because I haven't slept. I'll be fine in a couple of days."

"You had me worried. But you should still lie down. I could get room service, if you can keep it down?" She gingerly sat on the bed next to her friend. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I don't know." Nikki dropped her gaze and looked like a child, shy and uncertain. Helen felt overwhelmed at the vulnerability she saw on Nikki's face, and breathless with it when their eyes met again.

"You're an idiot, you are. You thought I'd laugh at you, is that it?" Nikki's silence gave her her answer. "Hardly. I get paralysed with stage fright whenever I have to do anything live. I can't breathe, think I'm going to throw up all the time – hell, I usually do."

"I get that before I have an event. Only before the first event – I'm usually too busy calculating points after that." Nikki gave her a faint smile and they tacitly changed the subject.

They lay on the giant bed, side by side, talking. Eventually Helen realised that the gaps between her questions and Nikki's answers were becoming longer and longer and she grinned as she heard Nikki's breathing change to an unmistakable rhythm.

"Sleeping beauty indeed." She stretched out, feeling her hand brush against Nikki's, and the way Nikki's fingers caught in hers. She detached herself and went into the main room to order some food. She was famished, however Nikki felt. She smiled again at Nikki's unexpected bravado at not telling her she was suffering from altitude sickness and collected her script before settling to wait for the food.

Part 24

The muted tones of the telephone woke Helen up an hour later. The bed was covered in the loose pages of her script, and Nikki was still dead to the world half a bodylength away on the huge bed, her breathing deep and even.

"Wha?" She asked, half asleep still.

"Darling, it's me. I've just landed."

"Sean! How was the flight?" She ran her hand through her hair, noticing that it was still slightly damp and that it had tangled as she slept.

"Great, thanks. Look, I have to go to the Village tonight, the Chef d'equipe keeps banging on about team unity, and I can't be seen to be letting him down this early. I'll have some time off in a couple of days, and we'll do something together then, if that's alright with you?"

"That's fine, darling." She repressed the pleasure that his news gave her with a stab of guilt. She shouldn't be feeling like this. She should be happy and eager to see her boyfriend. Still, it gave her some time with Nikki before she had to go upcountry for the filming.

She debated waking the other woman, but left her to sleep, reasoning that it probably was a contributory factor in her feeling so ill. She ordered some tea from room service and went to take a shower, emerging half an hour later cocooned in a huge fluffy towel.


"Hello." Nikki was still stretched out across the bed, her dark eyes focussed on Helen.

"Have I been asleep long?"

"A few hours. I figured you needed it. How do you feel?"

"Better thanks." She glanced towards the window. "Maybe I should be going. Sean should be here soon." She pulled herself into a sitting position, grimacing at the pain caused by her overstretched stomach muscles.

"He's not here tonight. Lie down and let me get you some tea."

"I ought to go – I'm imposing. You want to relax, learn your lines. You don't need me around."

"Of course you're not imposing. Stay for a while and keep me company now I've been stood up by my boyfriend."

"I can't believe he had any choice." Helen felt a jolt at the compliment, said casually and unthinkingly. It was very rare for her to get such a genuine compliment.

"I uh need to get changed."

"Go on then. Don't mind me." Nikki's gaze moved from her, but she made no effort to get up and leave the room."

"I don't usually care for an audience."

"But you're an actress, surely…" Nikki coloured and exited the room sharply when she realised what Helen was driving at. "I'm sorry," she called from the other room. "I guess I'm too used to communal changing rooms."

She gave a low whistle as Helen came out, dressed in a cream suit with what appeared to be nothing underneath the jacket.

"You're looking smart. What's the event tonight? Dinner with the director?"

"Nothing actually, I just felt like dressing up. Where shall we go for dinner?"

"I'm not really dressed to go out with you," Nikki demurred, looking down at herself.

"Would you like to eat in?"

"Maybe that's not such a good idea. Sean…"

"Sean what?"

"I'm just saying…"

"Either say it or not, Nikki. If you're afraid of what Sean would say then go. It's not like I'm trying to seduce you or anything." She laughed, a little too brightly.

"No, I'm not worried about what Sean would say, and I hardly think you'd try to seduce me."

"Why not?" Helen asked sharply.

"Because you're straight."

"And if I said I wasn't?"

"I'd suggest you ask your boyfriend for guidance. I suspect he might know. And then I'd say stop playing games with me." Nikki said sharply.

"And if I don't?"

"Then you accept the consequences." Nikki shrugged, not entirely certain whether Helen was just playing with her.

"And the consequences would be?"

"It would depend on my mood." Oh God, and now she was flirting back.

"That's no answer."

"What would be an answer?" Nikki asked, deceptively softly, moving towards Helen so she was standing directly in front of her. She hated people who played games and knew exactly how she would tackle this one. She wouldn't put it past Sean to engineer this to split her and Trish up. But Helen already knew that she and Trish had split up? Hadn't she told Sean?

"Maybe you should tell me what you would do in each mood, and then tell me what you're mood is tonight?" Helen countered.

"Does Sean know Trish and I have split up?"

"I don't know. Did you send him a telegram?"

"Did you tell him?"

"Let me see. Did I tell my boyfriend the ins and outs of my friend's private life?" She mimed thinking hard for a moment. "That would be a no."

"I have to hand it to you, Helen, you're pretty good."

"I'm sorry?"

"I take that back, you're damn good." She leaned into Helen's space, bending her knees slightly to bring their eyes level. "You know what?"

"What?" Nikki felt rather than heard Helen's single utterance as she watched her eyes flickering from Nikki's mouth to her eyes and back.

"I think you should get some payment for it." She leaned forward and kissed Helen hard. It was meant to punish and humiliate, and was full of frustration and anger. As she expected, Helen pulled away quickly, wiping her mouth on her sleeve and staring at Nikki, her eyes glittering with tears of rage and humiliation.

"What the hell was that for?"

"Payment for a superb act."

"How do you mean?"

"I know what Sean is doing, Helen. I know he sent you to try and break up Trish and I. I think you should tell him the latest intelligence though, it would save you having to prostitute your very genuine talent."

"If you thought about it, you'd know that's not true. I'm hardly likely to try and spilt you two up when I already know you've split, am I? Use your intelligence, Nikki. Even if Sean doesn't know, I do. If that was all he was after, I'd have told him." She walked over to the window and stood there for a moment.

"I'm…" Unsure what to say, Nikki stood awkwardly in the middle of the room. "I should go. I'm sorry." She turned to leave, running the evening over in her mind again.

"Where are you going?"

"I think I should go back to the Village."

"Before you go, there's one thing…" She marched up to Nikki, grasped her head firmly and pulled it down, kissing her on the lips.

This time the kiss was deep, and full of the promise of passion. Nikki stood unyielding for a moment, then let herself flow into the kiss, kissing Helen back and moving her hands around the smaller woman.

"Wow," was all Nikki could say when Helen released her. "What was that all about?"

"Payback. Now bugger off."

"What?" She was stunned. Helen's kiss had been warm, soft and yielding. Her body had felt good in her arms, and now she was being dismissed. "Just what kind of game are you playing, Helen? One minute you're coming onto me, telling me you think you might not be entirely straight, and the next you're telling me to go?"

"I am not playing games with you. I like you very much. That's why I've arranged to spend this time with you. It's why I paid to upgrade your flight. It's why I took this sodding crap part in what promises to be the worst sequel since Grease 2."

"Why didn't you say?" Nikki was gobsmacked.

"What was I supposed to say? Sorry, you've just broken up with someone, I think I fancy you but I've got a boyfriend?"

"You fancy me?" Nikki was unable to help the grin appear on her face.

"Yes." Helen went shy, dropping her head and barely murmuring the word.

"Look," Nikki lifted Helen's chin, but her eyes remained downcast. "I'm sorry about earlier, it's just, well, you know, I don't have that much self-esteem at the best of times, and well, I couldn't believe you were saying all that stuff for any other reason than that Sean wanted you to, well, you know."

"Nikki, I didn't mean to say any of it, it was just that when you said you didn't think I would be trying to seduce you it…well, never mind." She raised her eyes and smiled.

They stood awkwardly, shuffling feet and each waiting to see what the other had to say.

"What now?" Helen asked, expecting Nikki to be running for cover by now.

"That's the million dollar question. How about dinner?"

"Are you sure you're OK to eat?"

"I'd rather chuck up something I've enjoyed than water, believe me. Anyway, if in doubt, eat oranges. They taste the same coming back up as they did going down."

"Do they?"

"I don't know. A friend of mine told me that, he gets sea-sick."

"So what would you like to do for dinner," Helen asked.

"I'd rather stay in, actually. I think we need to talk."

"That's fine. Do you mind if I go and slip into something more comfortable?"

"Um, do you think that's really such a good idea?" Nikki gulped. They needed to talk and she didn't need the distraction of a nude or nearly-nude Helen.

"I'm not going to get into anything dodgy, just a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. I promise." She smiled at Nikki. "Unless you'd rather…"

"No! I mean, uh…"

"Relax, Nikki. I promise to behave." She disappeared into the bedroom and Nikki sank onto a sofa, burying her face into her hands, unable to believe the turn that the evening had taken.

She was unsure of her feelings towards Helen. The original animosity had disappeared, and now she counted Helen among her friends. Not a close friend, but more than an acquaintance, more of a pretty good mate. But was she certain that she wanted to explore this? Whatever this was? Straight or bi-curious women were invariably trouble, in her admittedly limited experience.

And the timing? Was she ready for another relationship just yet? Was that even what Helen was implying? Did she have the time to devote to all this? No, of course she didn't. On the plus side, Helen had been out with athletes before, so she knew the drill.

Maybe she shouldn't plan. Helen might not really be all that interested in her. She was definitely more Trish's type, in looks and personality. Maybe she should take it as it came, play it by ear. There was no sense in borrowing trouble, after all.

But then if Helen decided she wanted Sean after all, wouldn't she be gutted? Could she handle two break ups so quickly? And what if Helen did it nearer to the Olympics?

Helen steeled herself to come back into the room, her heart racing, pretty much as it had throughout their conversation. She was just in time to see Nikki's hand shutting the outer door softly.

Part 25

Helen stood, half-hidden by the crowd as she watched the men's fencing. Once more she was taken back to the swashbuckling films she watched growing up, the ones that had spawned a thousand flights of fancy and pretence that had led to her being an actress.

She'd missed the women's shooting and was waiting for the women's swimming to start in half an hour. Nikki wasn't going to be on for about another hour, so she might as well relax and watch the athletes for a while.

It had been two months since she had last seen Nikki, when she had left her suite without a word. She had dumped Sean fairly shortly after that, mainly because she didn't want him in her life, not romantically.

She had dated one or two people, of both sexes, but nothing had come of it, and she had had to be quite circumspect because of the tabloid press jumping up like jackrabbits every time she thought she was alone.

She missed Nikki. She missed learning to ride with Nikki, even, and that was saying something because all Nikki seemed to do was pick on her. She had been riding several times at Jackie's, and had even seen Trish there once, just back from her travels, last week.

Helen had had a rough time. She'd started drinking again and had finally been sacked from her day job for various reasons, most of which involved an incident with the Jaguar belonging to the Head of Children's Television, a tea trolley, a condom and the latest puppet to do the children's links in the afternoon.

Since her agent had told her she was now unemployable, she'd made a determined attempt to clean up her act, stopping drinking entirely, and actually riding for pleasure and fitness, rather than because she had to for a part.

She'd wanted to see Nikki again, but had put everything off until she was clean. The longer she had been away from the other woman, the more she thought about her. She wondered if Nikki ever thought or spoke about her.

Trish had asked Helen more than she had told her, and Helen had the impression that although Trish was contacting Nikki, it was all one-way traffic. Jackie had indicated as much too, when they had ventured onto the subject of Nikki.

She'd managed to land a part in an Australian mini-series so she could come over here. Well, it had been more of an arm-twisting on her behalf by her agent to make sure that she was in the Antipodes for the next few months. Nikki was competing here in Australia in the Pan-Pacific championship and then in New Zealand in the World Championships.

She'd arrived last night, and, overcome with jet lag had forgotten to set a reminder so that she could get to the events on time. She cursed herself and wondered whether Nikki had received her good luck message. She had written to Nikki several times, once in reply to her letter explaining why she had walked away, but since that missive had not received anything else.

She was as unsure as Nikki as to what she wanted from the taller woman. All she knew was that she hadn't been joking that night, and had been coming onto Nikki, but whether it was because she knew Nikki was safe, because she would say no, or whether she wanted Nikki, she still didn't know.

She made her way over to the pool area, stopping to get a drink and a sandwich first. She hadn't told Nikki she would be coming here today, and had even written them as if she were going to be in England for the foreseeable future.

She'd decided that she was going to make another play for Nikki this time, and sod the consequences. It was getting ridiculous, really, the amount of time she spent mooning over the athlete.

Part 26

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