© 2003 by Vada Foster
"You’re late," the blond headed man said as he took a seat on the park bench. He looked straight ahead, never making eye contact with the person sharing the seat with him. The portly man whose fair skin was blotchy red from the over exertion of trying to make his meeting on time sat, a bit out of breath. He apologized for his tardiness but stopped short as he realized it was falling on deaf ears
"Has the money situation been dealt with?" the blond headed man stated in a very even tone.
"Yes, sir, everything has been taken care of. I am guessing an announcement will be made within the next week or two." The still out of breath man panted as he gulped in a few more lungs full of air to replace the ones used to get the sentences out.
The fair headed man stood and mumbled, "Good," as he walked away.
The Senator’s office issued a ‘no comment’ on the upcoming budget meeting. On a final note, yet another third party has announced today its intentions to run a candidate for President. The newly formed Rainbow Party has not disclosed any possible candidates, but inside sources tell Political Watch that it will most likely be Julia Vardalos. Vardalos, a former dot com book publisher, and four-term Independent Congresswoman from Florida, has made a name for herself on Capitol Hill as a defender of the underdog on several issues, especially elderly and gay rights. Her office stated she was back in her home state and had no comment at this time.
Mute became visible on the screen and a strong voice said, "Ms. Harris, if John Michaels is in his office, please have him see me as soon as possible." The female voice on the other end responded, and the line went dead. Senator Richard Cates sat in his chair going over in his mind what he had just heard. As the Whip for the ruling majority in the Senate, he felt it was his duty to know everything that was going on in his party as well as any other party that had representatives in Congress, but this was something that had totally slipped under his radar. The worst part about it was, he could lose someone the Democrats tended to count on in the House as a vote. Most parties considered Independent reps to be wild cards when it came to votes, but Julia had sided with the Democrats ninety nine percent of the time, which made her a valuable asset to the party, even if she wasn’t their own.
A soft knock on the door brought the Senator out of his thoughts as his secretary led John Michaels into the spacious office.
"Senator, you wanted to see me?" the lanky man said as he stood in front of the Senator. John Michaels had been recruited by the Senator for his research skills and proved to be a very wise choice. He could pull out skeletons so deeply buried, the person who had them had probably forgotten them. Deadly in politics during an election.
"I was just watching Political Watch and they made an announcement of a new third party called the Rainbow Party. They may be looking at Julia Vardalos to be a candidate for them, and I want as much information as possible on this group."
"Yes, Senator, I’ll get right on it. Is there anything else?"
"Send Ms. Harris in again."
As John left the office, the Senator’s middle aged personal assistant entered with pen and paper ready to take any instruction given to her. "Ms. Harris, I need you to track down Julia Vardalos and have her get in touch with me. I know she’s back in Florida doing one of those damn town meetings of hers."
"Right away, sir."
As she turned to leave he called out to her. "Oh, and one more thing. Bring me a copy of the resume we have on file for Michaela Etheridge before you put the call through." She nodded and left the room. Within minutes, Ms. Harris returned with the file and laid it in front of him. "Thanks," he said with a smile, opening the file and perusing its contents. Moments later his intercom buzzed, and he pushed the button. "Yes?"
"Senator Vardalos on line two."
"That was fast," he responded on the intercom, then picked up the phone and pushed the blinking button. "Julia, Richard Cates here. How’re things in the hanging chad state?"
"That one’s getting old, Richard. You need a new joke writer. What’s so important you had to pull me out of my meeting?"
"I hear you’re about to toss your hat in the presidential ring. I wanted to be the first to congratulate you." There was a silence on the line, and then the crackle of cell phone static.
"Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Damned cell phones. What did you say about a ring?"
"I heard on Political Watch that you’re a shoe-in for the nomination for the Rainbow party. And I said to myself, I gotta talk to my friend Julia and find out what the straight scoop is, pardon the pun."
Julia laughed, the sound musical and bright even over the phone. He could picture her impish face and her crooked smile. She was the embodiment of all that was good in politics, and his respect for her was immense. "Don’t believe everything you hear, Rich. I heard a bit of that talk too, but I’m not the only one they’re considering. You know how that goes. I’ll believe it when my name is on the ballot."
"You really need to be a bit more pro-active than that, dear. I would suggest you get yourself a first rate PR person and start banging on your drum. And I think I have just the person for you."
"Oh, come on; you really think that’s necessary at this stage in the game? Hang on a sec, I’m in my car now and about to go un…" her voice was lost again to the static. A minute later she came back on. "You still there? Sorry about that."
"Yes, still here. And yes, I do think it’s necessary. If you’re gonna go for it, give it your best shot or stay home, that’s my motto. I’m gonna send you a resume for this PR wizard I know; I’d be using her myself if I were in the market for the kind of job you are. Give her a call; maybe she can help you out. If the Democrats don’t get the top spot, I’d rather see you there than have another go-round with George Dubya."
"Dream on, Rich! But, yeah, okay, I’ll talk to your wizard. I need to get off now, the next tunnel is looming."
"I’ll e-mail her resume to your PA. Let me know how it goes, will ya darlin’?" A burst of static was his answer.
Julia burst through the door to the reception room and held up her hand to stop Sean Smith, her Personal Assistant, from rising from his desk with a stack of pink message notes.
"Save it, Sean. I’ll get to them when I can, but not this afternoon. I have got to finish writing up my proposal for that legislation, and I’m way behind."
"I know, but…" She was already in her office, the door slamming behind her.
She tossed her briefcase on the desk and stuffed her purse in the drawer, kicking off her shoes with a sigh. "God, I hate high heels," she grumbled, as she heard a knock on her door.
"Come," she called automatically, and the door opened a crack. Sean popped his head in and leered in her direction.
"I’m not even breathing hard yet," Sean said. "Gimme a minute." He began to moan and writhe theatrically, pretending to grab his crotch, 'a la' Michael Jackson.
"Not on my carpet, you sleeze." She laughed at his antics, but then her face turned serious. "I really, really don’t have time for pleasantries today, Sean. Traffic on the A1 was backed up for days, and my nerves are frazzled."
"Sweetie, I totally sympathize, but the fact is you had an appointment this afternoon, which you seem to have forgotten. And I do think you’re going to want to talk to this woman." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively and laid a folder in front of her with Michaela Etheridge’s resume in it.
"Oh, God," she groaned. "The PR wizard. I can’t believe I forgot that. Where is she? There was nobody out there when I came in."
"She had just gone to the loo when you flung yourself through the door, but she’s out there now."
"Let me just read this for a minute, then bring her in, will you?" She began to read the document, impressed by both her educational background and work experience. When the knock came again at her door, she called "Come in," and prayed that Sean would not feel compelled to do a Carmen Miranda number or something equally embarrassing in front of their visitor.
Sean walked through the door and opened it widely. "Senator Vardalos, may I introduce Michaela Etheridge." When the woman stepped through the door, Julia’s jaw dropped, and she had to force herself to snap it shut. Michaela was a vision in blue; her short royal blue skirt hugged her hips, and she wore a blue blazer over a cream colored blouse. Her high heels and matching purse were a different shade of blue that complemented the clothes perfectly. But the most perfect blue of all were her eyes, which rivaled the color of the summer sky. Her black hair hung feathered around her face and down to her shoulders. Julia had to force herself not to stare at the legs that seemed to go on forever. And then those legs were moving, and she was crossing the room. Julia swallowed hard and prayed she was not as red in the face as she knew she was.
Julia stood up and somehow managed to extend her hand across the desk to take Michaela’s outstretched hand in her own. Her grip was firm, but the hand surprisingly soft. "Ms. Etheridge, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Richard speaks very highly of you." She continued to hold the hand for several moments longer than she probably should have, then reluctantly released it.
"Thank you, Senator. He told me he considers you to be one of his dearest friends, and asked me to convey his warmest regards."
"It’s Julia, please. Won’t you sit down? Can we offer you some refreshment; coffee; tea?" Or me, her mind completed silently, and she blushed again in spite of herself.
"Something cool would be nice; iced tea, if you have it." At Julia’s enquiring gaze, Sean nodded and left the room.
"I’m not really certain just what it is that Richard thinks I need a "PR wizard" for, Ms. Etheridge. And that’s his title, not mine. But I do appreciate your coming all this way to talk with me about it."
"Call me Michaela, will you; or Mike if you prefer. And it was no imposition, believe me. I was able to get a time share in Pompano, so it’s just a short drive down the beach. And the beauty of it is, I can write off this vacation on my income tax. I love my work." She laughed, and Julia loved the way the small lines at the corners of her eyes wrinkled. Oh, God, this is one gorgeous woman, Julia thought. How in hell am I supposed to concentrate on anything with those eyes looking into my soul? Those soft lips begging to be kissed…
"Whoa," Julia said out loud without even realizing it.
"Sorry, I was just…er, thinking out loud. I know this probably sounds like the same old line, but you look so familiar to me. Have we met before? " Michaela raised her eyebrow and laughed, and it clicked into place. "That’s it! It’s Xena; you look just like the Warrior Princess."
Michaela thought for a moment then shook her head. "I’ll have to take your word for that. I’ve never seen the show."
"Ah, you don’t watch much TV, I’ll bet."
"You’d win that bet. I don’t seem to have time for it. My work keeps me hopping, and speaking of work… I have several ideas I’d like to toss around with you, if you have some time. And if you decide to go forward, I’m available to start tomorrow."
"So, tell me, just what do you need to know to be able to do your work?" There was no doubt she was going to hire her; she had to get to know this vision in blue.
Michaela was already in the office when Julia arrived the next morning. She had her hair pulled back in a pony tail and wore sleek black pants with a white silk shirt. It was unbuttoned to show a fair amount of cleavage, whether by design or simply her style, Julia did not know. But her eyes were drawn to the brunette’s chest, and she had to force herself to look away before the other woman noticed.
"Morning, Mike. Sean got you set up with some coffee, I see?" Michaela held up a mug and nodded, rising to her feet.
"Good morning, Julia. Yes, Sean has taken good care of me," she winked at the PA, and he winked back. It was not lost on the Senator.
"What’s all this wig-wagging signals back and forth?" She asked with a laugh, waving her arms in the way of a sailor trying to bring an aircraft carrier in for a landing. "And where’s my coffee, Sean? I can’t function without it…"
"Sorry, your majesty, and good morning to you, too," he groused, pouring a cup for his boss. He handed it to her as she led the tall woman into her office. "Talk to you later, Mike," he said to her retreating back, and she looked over her shoulder, tipping him a smile.
"You bet. And thanks again, Sean." Julia closed the door behind them and tossed her briefcase on the desk.
"Why don’t you take a seat on the sofa? It’s more comfortable than that chair." Michaela crossed to the leather sofa and deposited her briefcase beside it. She sunk down into the soft leather and closed her eyes for a moment.
"Oh, it is comfortable," Michaela said. "I could go to sleep here."
Julia laughed. "I know. I do; often. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at my watch to find out it is so late, I might as well stay here as go home. I always keep a change of clothes here, for emergencies."
"So, is there somebody at home you have to call before you crash here for the night, Gabrielle?"
Julia sprayed the sip of coffee she had just taken all over her desk, and set the cup down with a thump that spilled even more on her desk. She pulled a roll of paper towels from a drawer and sopped up the spilled liquid, and Michaela jumped up and rushed over to move the files that were in danger of being ruined. Julia looked up to see Michaela’s smiling face across the desk. "Thought you’d never seen Xena," she said with a laugh.
"I hadn’t. But you piqued my curiosity, so I did a bit of surfing on the net last night and found her. You could have saved me a lot of time if you’d told me it was spelled with an X."
"So, did you see what I meant about your resemblance to the warrior?"
Michaela chuckled. "If I squinched up my eyes real tight I could see it. The height is right, anyway. You, on the other hand, are a ringer for Gabrielle. I saw that right off. Anybody ever tell you that?" She returned to the couch and sank back down onto it, picking up her coffee from the table and sipping it while waiting for Julia to join her.
"Once or twice," Julia allowed "in select circles. But it’s more than just the height; your eyes are the most gorgeous blue I’ve ever seen."
"Thanks," Michaela said, a bit embarrassed by the attention. Julia sat on the opposite end of the couch and turned toward her tall companion, drawing her leg up in front of her. Michaela raked her eyes over Julia’s face and said, "Your eyes are pretty spectacular themselves, and those dimples are great. We need to capitalize on that for publicity photos."
Julia groaned. "I hate having my picture taken. No matter what I do, I always seem to look like a deer caught in the headlights." She opened her eyes wide, screwing her mouth into a very awkward grin. Michaela nearly choked on her coffee, and then she laughed. "See?" Julia said, joining in her companion’s laughter.
"Oh, I’d vote for that face in a heartbeat…" Michaela stopped, not certain even where her thought was going. She seemed to find her thoughts derailed frequently with this woman, and wondered what that was about. She wasn’t a lesbian and had never been attracted to a woman. But there was something about this one… "But, first things first. I need to know all about you; drag all those skeletons out of the closet…"
"Nothing in my closet but my clothes," Julia said. "They can’t use my sexuality against me. I’ve never hidden it."
"Not even when you first…what’s the expression… ‘came out’?"
"For a minute or two maybe. I was afraid of how my mother would react, but I knew I had to be honest with her, so I screwed up my courage and told her. She just shrugged and said she kind of always thought I might be. I was quite a little tomboy as a kid. Anyway, I never hid it from anybody after that. I figured if somebody didn’t like it, well…it was their problem. I have no room in my life for such negative people."
"Have you ever lost someone close to you…friend or family, because of it?"
"Yes, quite a few. A couple cousins from the Midwest flee from me like the plague at any family gathering. Frankly, they’re pretty boring anyway, so I’m not losing sleep over it." She lowered her gaze and began to play with the hem of her pant leg. "There was one friend I’d had since I was about eight. We were inseparable through high school, but she went to a local college and I went to Wellesley. I came out my first year there, and couldn’t wait to tell her after I saw how well it went with my mother. She acted like it was nothing, but that summer she withdrew from me more and more. By the time I went back to school we were almost not talking. She married during the next term and moved away. I never heard from her again." Julia sighed and brought her gaze back to Michaela’s face, which showed nothing but sympathy. "That one hurt. She was like a sister to me."
"Have you ever been with a man?"
Julia laughed. "Gosh, I never realized a PR wizard would ask so many personal questions. And no, I haven’t. But I don’t think it’s something I need to do to know I’m gay. I’m queer as pink ink. How about you? Ever been with a woman?" Oh, Jesus, where did that come from? She’s supposed to be asking the questions, not me;.and certainly not that one.
"I’ll bet it’s not for lack of opportunity. I suspect you’ve had lots of women come on to you. Am I right?"
Michaela’s cheeks flushed for a moment, and she nodded her head. "Here and there, but it wasn’t my cup of tea." I thought so then, but now? Drop that line of thinking, Etheridge. So, tell me about your background; school, work experience, family."
Julia nodded, silently acknowledging the neat diversion of topic by her gorgeous companion. "All right, be prepared to be bored half to death. My life has been pretty vanilla." Up to now.
"…and then I hit a rock and plowed into a snow bank, my ass sticking up in the air! She thought it was hilarious." Michaela was laughing so loud, they almost did not hear the knock on the door. "Come," Julia called.
Sean poked his head through the door and saw the two women sitting close together on the couch. Uh huh, just as I thought. This tall dark and sexy creature is just what the boss has been looking for. "Jules, I’m just about to go out to lunch, and I wondered if you need anything before I go."
"Oh, God, is it that late already?" She turned a questioning look toward Michaela. "What do you think? Lunch in or out?"
"Out; my treat."
"Okay, but I get to pick the place."
"Deal." Michaela slung her purse over her shoulder, and walked to the door, expecting Julia to be right behind her.
"One second," the Senator said, picking up the phone and pushing a single button. "Hey, Kevin, this is Julia. I need a table for two for lunch. Be there in about twenty minutes." She listened for a moment and then laughed. "Yeah, I mean no. Oh, hell, I don’t know what I mean. See you in a few. Ciao." She grabbed her purse out of the drawer and rummaged around for her keys. "I’ll drive." She led the way out the door.
"You’re the boss," Michaela said, laughing. "And what was that yes, no, maybe stuff about?" She fell into step beside the shorter woman.
Julia’s cheeks colored, and her gaze faltered. "He asked me if I was bringing a new girlfriend."
"And you said yes?" If anything, the color on Julia’s cheeks deepened. Michaela smiled; it was interesting to see this very professional, composed woman so completely flustered.
"Well, you are a girl. Of course I meant woman. And I would like to think of you as a friend. I…it just came out of my mouth before I could think about it. I didn’t mean anything by it." She pushed the remote control to unlock the doors to her silver Mercedes convertible, and gestured for Michaela to get in. Michaela whistled.
"Nice ride." She slid into the butter soft leather seat and moved it back as far as it would go.
"One of the perks," Julia agreed as she settled into the driver’s seat and buckled up. She pushed a button to open the convertible top. "Hang on, Legs. I have a bit of a lead foot."
She maneuvered the car out of the space and smoothly pulled into traffic.
When they arrived at the restaurant, Julia had to cruise around the block twice before a space finally opened up. Lunch rush in Fort Lauderdale meant a great influx of cars, and parking was always hard to find. Luckily, the restaurant was across the street and only a few doors down. She put the top up to keep the fierce Florida sun from cooking the leather seats, or from filling up with rain from the frequent showers. She took Michaela’s arm to guide her toward their destination. The tall brunette glanced at the name on the window. "Klimataria? I think I’ve heard of this place."
"Best Greek restaurant in Florida; maybe the entire country. Just you wait." Julia opened the door and stepped aside to allow Michaela to enter. It was cool inside, and the lights were low. One might even say romantic. Michaela’s heart rate accelerated to think of being in a quite corner table with the beautiful blonde, a glass of retsina, soft music…Stop. Just stop. You’re straight, remember? Or at least you used to be straight.
Julia caught the eye of the maitre‘d, who immediately came and embraced her. "You’re a vision, Julia. If only I wasn’t married, and you were not hopelessly gay." She laughed and hugged him back. "I have saved your usual table for you. Himself will be out in a minute. He’s putting the finishing touches on something."
"Thanks, Kev." The women followed as he wound to a table that was indeed in a corner, more or less out of sight of the other patrons. It also had an unobstructed view of the Atlantic out the window.
"It’s a beautiful view," Julia said, drawing her eyes back from the window to the woman sitting across from her. And the ocean is nice, too. And oh, God, what am I going to do? I’m falling for her. And she’s straight.
"Yes. It is," Michaela agreed, her eyes never leaving the face of her companion. At that moment, their server glided up to their table, and with a big smile, he kissed Julia on each cheek.
"Great to see you again, Jules. Can I bring you something to drink?" He placed a menu in front of each woman, and a glass of water.
"A bottle of Merlot, I think. Unless you…?" She looked toward Michaela, who smiled and nodded. "Right, Merlot then. That lovely California one if you have it."
"We try to keep at least one bottle around, just for you. Back in a few." He turned and made his way toward the main part of the restaurant. They were effectively alone in their little nook.
Michaela opened the menu and tried to concentrate on the choices, but her mind kept wandering to the blond woman across from her.
Julia reached across the table and took the menu from her hands. "Do you trust me?" she asked. Michaela swallowed and nodded, afraid to trust her voice. "Good. You won’t need a menu. Leave it to me." Julia turned toward the sound of approaching footsteps, and her face was wreathed in a smile. She jumped from her seat and wrapped her arms around the neck of a tall olive-skinned man with tousled dark hair, liberally sprinkled with white. "Hey, Dad. How’s the world treating you?" She patted his stomach and laughed. "Still eating too much souvlaki, I see?"
"Leave me my little pleasures, Koritsaki mou. There’s few enough at my age." He turned a hundred watt smile on Michaela and reached for her hand, brushing his lips softly across the back of it. "And who is your lovely companion? Have you been keeping secrets from me?"
"No, Dad, she’s…I mean, this is Michaela Etheridge. I’ve hired her to clean up my act, PR wise."
"You’ve got your work cut out for you, young lady. My daughter was a bit of a wild one in her younger days. I could tell you stories…"
"And I know she would love to hear them, but another time, Dad. We’re starving. Can you whip us up your Dolmadakia? And a couple of salads, please."
"Already working on it when I heard you were coming. Kevin will be right back with some Tzatziki." He turned once again to Michaela, and again raised her hand to his lips. "It is a pleasure to welcome you to my restaurant, Miss Etheridge. I hope to see you more often. You two make a lovely couple."
"Da-ad…" Julia growled menacingly. Her father simply laughed, kissed her on the top of her head, and walked away.
"He adores you; you’re very fortunate. And such old world charm, I almost swooned. And what did that ‘Kawasaki moo’ comment mean?" She thought of her own relationship with her parents. They loved her, she was certain, in their own way. But they were both quite aloof and never really did anything to demonstrate that they loved her. She saw more love in two minutes with Julia and her father than over an entire Thanksgiving weekend with her parents.
Julia laughed out loud. "That’s Koritsaki mou. It’s Greek for ‘my little girl.’ Can’t seem to get it through his head that I’m all grown up. And he’s a charmer, all right. He was always like that, even when Mother was alive. But she knew all his tricks and saw right through him to the heart that belonged to her, lock stock and barrel. They were the most devoted couple I ever knew…" Michaela reached for Julia’s hand, and held it softly in her own. The little blonde’s eyes glistened with unshed tears as she looked into Michaela’s face; a face that reflected concern for her, and something else? She wasn’t sure. "I still miss her. She’s the main reason I’m such an advocate for mammograms and breast examinations. She might have survived if she had found it sooner." She scrubbed at her eye with her free hand, making no effort to remove the one that was still lightly held in Michaela’s.
"I’m so sorry. I lost a cousin to breast cancer; I know how painful it is for everyone. If there’s anything I can do…"
"You can smile for me; your smile is like sunshine on a rainy day." As if her words were prophetic, rain began to pound against the window. Rain came up quickly -- and usually left just as quickly -- in Florida. They both turned to the window and then looked back at each other and burst into laughter.
"I think I’m going to propose to your father and let him cook for me for the rest of my life. I am totally spoiled now for any other Greek food."
"Told you. I swear, I have no idea what he puts in there, but whatever it is, it’s always ambrosia on the tongue." The women had dawdled over coffee for a long time, hoping the rain would let up before they left, but instead it only seemed to come down with renewed fury. "I’d better call Sean and let him know we are going to be pretty late getting back from lunch." She took her cell phone off of her waist band and began to dial.
"I have to visit the little girl’s room," Michaela said. "Be back in a minute." Julia nodded and then watched as she walked away. The sway of her hips was hypnotic, and Sean said hello twice before she even heard him.
"Sorry, Sean, bad connection. We’re at Dad’s place, and I sort of lost track of the time. With this rain, it’s probably going to be another half-hour to forty-five minutes before we get back."
"There’s nothing pressing on your calendar, boss lady. Enjoy yourself a bit for a change, why doncha? Take that gorgeous hunka woman out and ravish her for dessert."
"God, Sean, you are so disgusting. We just met, for goodness sake. And besides, she’s straight."
"Oh, no, she’s not. My gaydar is in perfect working order, and whether she knows it or not, that woman is a big old lez. And if you let her get away, you will be making a great big mistake. Trust me on this."
Michaela finally tracked down their server and attempted to pay him, but he waved her away. "This one’s on the house. Her father would kill me if I took anything from you."
She hugged him and whispered, "Thanks," in his ear, and at the same time shoved a ten dollar bill in the pocket of his apron. Dad may pick up the tab for the meal, but she had waited tables in her past and knew how important tips were to servers. She turned to see Julia making her way over to where she stood, and she watched her progress with interest. She had never paid much attention to how women moved before, but her eyes seemed constantly drawn to this one. Every motion was graceful; her steps light, her hands swinging at her sides, her attitude saying she would always meet the world head on. She inclined her head in a sort of bow when Julia stopped in front of her. "Madame President," she said by way of a greeting.
"You’re a bit ahead of yourself, Legs. But I kinda like the sound of that." They stepped out the door, and Julia put her hand on Michaela’s arm to stop her. The tall brunette felt a jolt in her lower parts at the touch, and she shivered. "You cold?" Julia asked, and she shook her head no. Julia looked at her with an expression that the tall woman could not quite read. "No sense in both of us getting soaked. I’ll go get the car and pull it around front. You stay here, okay?"
"Sure," Michaela croaked, and she watched as Julia got ready to dash across the street. Traffic was fairly light, which may be why Michaela noticed the car that pulled away from the curb half way down the block. She heard the unmistakable sound of an engine revving and wheels trying to find purchase on the wet pavement. The car jumped forward, heading directly for Julia. There was no point in even trying to call out to her; by the time Julia heard her and tried to react, it would be too late. Michaela sprinted from under the awning, her long legs eating up the ground as fast as they could. She caught Julia around the waist, and swung her around toward the curb, just as the car got there; the fender barely touched Michaela. But it was enough to make her lose her grip on Julia, and the blonde fell to the curb.
Amazingly, Michaela remained on her feet, skidded into a parked car and finally came to a stop. She quickly rounded the back of the car and saw Julia sitting on the curb. A man on the sidewalk was helping her to her feet, and Michaela hurried to her side. "Are you all right?" Julia nodded, but she grimaced when she put weight on her right leg. Michaela looked down and could see that the fabric of her pants was torn, her shin bleeding. She put her arm around the smaller woman’s body. "Put your arm on my shoulder and let me help you to the car." Julia complied, and they limped toward the car, the Good Samaritan following behind carrying Julia’s purse.
"I saw the car that almost hit you guys," he said as he handed over the purse. "It was a ’91 Honda Accord. Had one just like that myself. This one was red with orange primer on the back fender. It had Florida plates; I think there was a G and a 9, but that’s all I caught. Driver was a Hispanic man, I think." Michaela dug Julia’s keys out of the purse and helped the injured woman into the passenger seat. Then she turned back to the man on the sidewalk.
"Thanks a lot; that’s very helpful," Michaela said. She pulled her palm pilot out of her purse. "Could I get your phone number and address? I think the police are going to want to talk to you."
The man nodded and rattled off the information she requested, watching her as she input the info into the small computer. "Thanks again," she said as she shook his hand, then walked in front of the car to get in the driver’s seat. She forgot that Julia had been driving, and her knees were jammed against the steering wheel when she got in. She pulled the lever that moved the seat back until it was a comfortable reach. She then turned toward her smaller companion, who seemed to be in shock. Her face was unnaturally pale, and her breathing was coming in short gasps.
"Julia, are you sure you’re all right? Maybe we should take you to the hospital and get you checked out."
Julia’s head swiveled on her shoulders, and she looked at Michaela and burst into tears. "I’m not badly hurt, really," she finally managed to say. "It’s just that…you…you could have been killed."
"It wasn’t me he was after, Julia. He was aiming for you." She brushed the tears off the smaller woman’s cheeks, and was relieved to see the color finally returning to her face. Suddenly, it clicked what Michaela had just said, and Julia’s eyes widened.
"Aiming, as in trying to kill me? Why would anyone…" Her words trailed off as she realized that it might have something to do with the announcement of her possible candidacy.
"We have to at least consider that he might have been trying to make sure you don’t run for the presidency." Michaela said, echoing Julia’s own thoughts. She started the car and pulled out, flipping a U to go in the opposite direction the would-be assassin had taken.
"Why? I just can’t see anybody taking my possible run for the presidency seriously enough to want me dead. And you still could have been killed, even if I was the target. Why did you do that?"
"He would have hit you if I hadn’t. Right before I reached you, I knew you heard him coming because you turned that way, but you froze. You’d be…well, if not dead, then seriously injured. I couldn’t let that happen. Rich would kill me if I…" She stopped as she realized what she was about to say.
"Rich? Are you talking about Richard Cates? I doubt he expects that much from even the best of the PR people."
"I think it’s time to tell you the truth. I’m not in public relations. I’m actually a martial arts instructor, and sometime stunt woman. Richard Cates is my uncle. He heard a rumor that Ted Kirkland wanted to make sure you stayed out of the running, so he asked me to come down here to keep an eye on you." Ted Kirkland was the billionaire owner of a small hotel chain. He was also a very vocal supporter of Family Value Ministries, contributing large amounts of money to that organization as well. He was an even more vocal supporter of the current president.
Julia snorted. "Ted Kirkland makes Doctor Laura look like the local chapter leader of PFLAG. But surely he doesn’t believe I actually have a shot at it."
"He apparently believes it enough to send a thug after you. And don’t call me Shirley."
Julia chuckled and turned toward the gorgeous brunette behind the wheel. "Okay if I call you, Legs? That sure fits."
"Since you already have several times, I’ve kinda gotten used to it. So, yeah, I guess you can." Michaela turned onto the A1 heading toward Pompano Beach. Rows of resorts and hotels lined the shore all the way to West Palm Beach where the expensive houses were located. It was a drive Michaela always enjoyed, as she was a frequent visitor to Florida. And perhaps she would make a point of coming here more often, given the feelings that she could no longer deny concerning the attractive woman beside her. Thinking of Julia made her wonder just how the driver of the car knew where to find her. There were several possibilities. He could simply have waited outside her office for her to leave and followed them. Or there could be a bug somewhere in the office or on her phone. And of course the car itself could have a tracking device… "Shit!" Michaela whispered under her breath, stomping on the brake just before she would have turned into the driveway of the resort where she was staying.
"What the hell?" Julia’s body jerked against the seatbelt, and then was flattened against the back of the seat as Michaela accelerated down the street again. "You a stunt driver, too? If you are, I think you might want to practice those jerky stop-start things when you don’t have a passenger. I think I have whiplash." She laughed and rubbed her neck, but her expression was playful.
"Sorry. It just occurred to me that there is very likely a tracking device on this car. I thought it would be safer to take you to my hotel than to your house or office, but if there’s a bug on the car, they’ll find you. We have to get rid of this car, but I don’t want to let them know we’re on to them. Here’s what I think we should do…"
As planned, Michaela pulled the car into the parking structure and parked in Julia’s usual spot. She made sure there was nobody around before checking the wheel wells, where indeed there was a tracking device. She motioned for Julia to get out of the car, and led her to the rental car she had parked a few spaces away, stashing her on the floor in the back. "Stay down. I’ll be right back." Julia nodded, and Michaela smiled at her before she closed the door and locked it.
Walking at a normal pace, Michaela entered the building, going directly to Julia’s office. Sean was surprised to see her without his boss, but before he could ask where Julia was, Michaela put her finger to her lips and shook her head. She motioned for Sean to give her a pad and paper as she said, "Julia had a close encounter with a speeding car. She’s okay, but her leg is cut, and she went to the bathroom to clean up." She held the pad out to Sean that simply said ‘I am checking for bugs. Respond to what I say, not what I do.’
"Oh, my God! Are you sure she’s all right? Maybe I should go help her." Michaela was walking around the room, lifting objects and looking for electronic listening devices. In a dried floral arrangement in the corner she saw one, and pointed toward it. Sean nodded.
"Have you got a first aid kit? I think she needs a band-aid." She wrote ‘do you have a screwdriver?’ and Sean nodded again.
"Yes of course, I’ll get the kit." He opened a drawer and removed a small tool kit, handing it to the tall woman. She removed the wall plate covering the phone jack and saw that a monitoring device had been added. She screwed the plate back to the wall without touching it, making a motion with her fingers to her lips to tell Sean to keep talking. "Here’s the first aid kit. Can you tell me what happened?"
Michaela continued to survey the room, finding one more bug. "She was crossing the street. There was a car coming down the street, and the driver seemed to lose control. Maybe it was the wet street. Anyway, she fell and barked her shin a pretty good one." She scribbled ‘change of clothes?’ and with a nod, Sean went into the credenza behind Julia’s desk and pulled out several items, not knowing what was needed. Michaela gathered the clothes and crooked her finger for Sean to follow her. "Thanks. I’ll go tend to the wound."
"Let me know if there’s anything else I can do," he said, following closely behind her. They walked down the hall and entered the restroom. Michaela quickly scanned the room for bugs and found none, but to be on the safe side, she turned on the water full force to muffle any sounds that might be picked up from the room before she spoke.
"Thanks, Sean, I…"
"Where is she?’ Sean whispered. "I thought she was really in here. Is she actually hurt?"
"She’s in my car. Her car has a tracking device on it. I thought we should come back here and act like everything is normal until I could figure out what else they might know about her activities. And it was no accident; the guy driving that car was trying to hit her. I want to set the bastard up and catch him. I’ll need your help."
"Of course, anything I can do, I’m there."
"Great. Here’s my plan…"
"God, this feels wonderful," Julia mumbled with a sigh. She was in the Jacuzzi in Michaela’s suite, and the swirling hot water was going a long way toward relaxing her. The only thing more relaxing would be if I could stretch out beside that long tall drink of water after a mind blowing orgasm. She groaned and mentally slapped herself. "Keep telling yourself; she’s straight, she’s straight, she’s…"
There was a soft knock on the door, and Michaela called "Did you need something? I thought I heard you call out."
Oh, God, yes, she thought, but aloud she said, "No, I’m good. Just talking to myself. Bad habit of mine."
"You going to be much longer? Dinner’s almost ready." After bringing Julia to her suite and cleaning up her leg, Michaela had gone out to the store to get the makings for meals for at least a few days. She did not expect to have to hole up for that long, but she wanted to make sure they were prepared in case they did. When she got back, the two women played gin rummy with the deck of cards Michaela kept in her carry on bag when flying to give her something to do on the plane. It was after seven when Michaela suggested Julia take a soak in the Jacuzzi to get the kinks out. She had offered to make dinner for her while she relaxed.
"Have I been in here that long?"
"No, I’m a fast cook. Come on; you’re going to turn into a big pickle if you stay in there much longer."
"Okay, okay, I’m getting out." She stood up and reached for the towel bar only to find it empty. They had used several towels when they arrived while cleaning up her leg and absorbing the rain water out of Michaela’s silk blouse. "Uh, maybe I’m not. There’s no towel in here."
"Oh, hell. Be right back." Julia heard the sound of the front door opening and closing. A few minutes later she heard Michaela come back, and she rapped on the bathroom door. "Okay, I’m putting the towel down by the door."
"Would you mind bringing it to me? I don’t want to step out of here with wet feet, or I might fall on my…well, I’ve had enough of that kind of excitement for one day."
"Oh…sure." Michaela opened the door and reached her arm in as far as it would go. It was several feet short of reaching the tub.
Julia laughed, then she said, "For God’s sake, Legs, I won’t bite you. Just come in." The door opened fully and Michaela stepped in. The sight of the blonde woman naked, her face wreathed in a crooked grin, made Michaela’s stomach do a flip-flop. She could feel the wetness that sprang up between her legs until she thought she would make a squishy sound when she walked. Her cheeks reddened, and she averted her eyes. But there was no mistaking the hunger that had shown on her face in those few moments before she dragged her eyes away. Michaela thrust the towel into Julia’s hands, then she turned and fled without a word. ‘Hm, it seems like Sean’s gaydar might be right after all. If that was not desire I saw on her face, I’ve never seen it.’ Julia toweled herself off, and came out of the bathroom with the towel wrapped around her body and tucked between her breasts to hold it up.
"Where did you put my clothes?" she asked with mock innocence, aware that a fair amount of thigh appeared where the ends of the towel came together. Michaela put down the spoon she was stirring spaghetti sauce with and turned off the heat under the pan. She turned to see Julia standing there wearing nothing but a towel. She swallowed audibly and tried not to stare, but something about the little blonde drew her eyes like iron filings to a magnet.
Trying to appear nonchalant, she finally said, "They’re in the bedroom. I’ll get them."
Julia followed her down the hallway, saying "I might as well come with you and get dressed in the bedroom."
Michaela stopped and started to turn around. She certainly didn’t need to be in the room when Julia was getting dressed, and the clothes were in plain sight. As she was turning, she said "Oh…well, they’re on the…" Julia ran right into her, obviously not noticing that she had stopped. Her momentum caused her to actually bounce backward, and Michaela grabbed her around the waist to keep her from falling. As she did, the towel came away in her hands. "Oh, sorry!" Michaela said, blushing furiously. She handed the towel to Julia as if it was burning her hands, and Julia wrapped it loosely around her body.
"Gee, if you wanted to see me naked again, all you had to do was ask," Julia said jokingly.
"I wasn’t trying to…I mean, it just happened. Damn, woman, I used to be able to speak like a reasonably intelligent person until I met you."
"Bet you never yanked a towel off a naked woman before you met me either," she said with a wink as she scooted around the tall brunette and into the bedroom.
They sat on the couch after dinner, cups of coffee on the coffee table and the cards for another hand of gin rummy already dealt. Julia was now wearing a pair of Michaela’s shorts, having decided that the slacks that she kept at the office were not appropriate for such a casual setting. Michaela also wore blue jeans shorts, the hem frayed, the material faded. She had on a white tank top with a ‘Charlie’s Angels’ logo on it. It was all Julia could do not to stare at her cleavage. God, when did I become such a sleaze?, she mused.
"Earth to Julia."
"What? Sorry, I was…what did you say?"
"I said gin. Again. You’re not concentrating, Jules."
With a laugh, Julia tossed in her cards. "You got me, Legs. Been a hell of a day, what with almost being hit by a car and finding out that my office is bugged. Not to mention, I like to hear you call me Jules."
"Tell me something -- or tell me to shut up if I’m asking a stupid question. But I wonder if you think people are born gay. Or is it simply a choice?" she held her hands out to the side, weighing imaginary items, "gay," she raised her left hand and lowered the right, then she raised the right and lowered the left, "not gay."
"Oh, I definitely think we are born with our sexual orientation in place. What we are not born with is the knowledge that we are gay. And some of us take a while to come to that realization."
"When did you? Come to that realization, I mean."
"I fell head over heels in love with a woman when I was nineteen. The moment I knew that, I could look back on all the crushes and stuff I had been through all of my life, and knew it was there. It was like those V-8 commercials; sorta smacked me upside the head."
"Did she love you too?"
"Eventually. It was unrequited for some time. She worked in the campus bookstore full time, and I worked there part time. When I first saw her, I knew she was the one for me. But she was a divorcee with two kids, and eight years older than me. Took me almost a year to convince her that I was the one for her." She sighed and shifted on the couch so she was facing away from Michaela. "We were together for seven years when she was killed in a robbery at the store. I think…I know we would still be together if she’d lived. We were great together. I loved those kids like they were my own. But their father took custody after she died." She wiped away the tears that slid down her cheeks and sighed again.
Michaela reached out and wrapped her arm around Julia’s shoulder, pulling the smaller woman into a loose embrace. "I can’t even imagine how horrible it must have been for you, losing your partner and kids all at the same time."
"Well, I still see the kids. Gail lives in Michigan with her husband and baby girl, but she spends a week with me every winter. Danny lives in Florida; in fact, he’s Sean’s lover. You’ll meet him, I’m sure. He’ll be the one who calls me ‘Mom Two.’" She smiled up at Michaela.
Michaela was running her fingers through Julia’s soft hair when the smaller woman looked up. Without realizing she was doing it, Michaela’s thumb trailed across her cheek and lightly touched her lips. Julia’s eyes closed when she felt that gentle touch, and she softly exhaled. When she opened her eyes, she found piercing blue eyes looking into her own with an unreadable look.
Julia took a deep breath and softly said, "What would you say if I told you that I want to kiss you, right here and now?"
Michaela stuck out her chin and said, "I might say…I dare you."
"Oh, Legs, if you knew me well, you’d know that I never back down from a dare."
"In that case, I double da…" But she did not get the rest of the words out before Julia’s lips met her own, effectively silencing her. Michaela moaned and parted her lips when she felt the little blonde’s tongue begging to be allowed to take the kiss deeper. Michaela had never felt lips so soft, nor had she been so instantly aroused. When Julia twined her fingers in the taller woman’s raven tresses and pulled her even closer, Michaela thought she would explode from the emotions caroming through her. She began to shiver uncontrollably and finally broke off the kiss to inhale some air. "Lady, you are some great kisser," she said when she could stop her teeth from chattering.
"You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, babe. I’m just getting warmed up." She touched Michaela’s cheek lightly and then trailed her finger down to the soft swells of her breasts. "I should tell you… I’m not one for casual sex, and certainly not with women who are -- well, straight. I got my toaster oven a long time ago, with Sandy."
"Toaster oven?" Michaela asked, genuinely perplexed.
"You really don’t watch much TV, do you? Never mind, I’ll tell you about it some other time. The point is, I don’t much like the idea of being an experiment for some curious straight woman. I’ve had more than a few opportunities to be somebody’s first; maybe if it was just about sex I would have done it. But if it doesn’t feel right to me, I can’t be with someone. You know where I’m going with this?"
"I hope you’re going to say this feels as right to you as it does to me. And it can’t be about the sex -- that part scares the hell out of me. From the first time I saw you, I knew I wanted to get to know you better. And I am not interested in experimenting, but I do want you."
"Maybe I could use a new toaster oven after all," Julia murmured as she leaned in to capture Michaela’s lips once more.
Julia was disoriented when she woke the next morning to bright sunlight blasting her in the eyes. She rolled over to encounter the long limbs and soft skin of her sleeping lover. She couldn’t keep a smile off her face as she thought about making love with the gorgeous brunette the previous night. Her arm just seemed to naturally drape over the luscious curves, and her legs sought the closeness of the other woman’s body. Michaela moaned when she felt the soft curls of Julia’s mound against her behind. She reached around to grasp the smaller woman’s thigh and pull her even closer. It seemed neither one of them could get close enough to the other.
"Morning, sexy," Julia growled in her ear as she took the lobe in her mouth and playfully nipped it.
"Morning your own sexy self," Michaela said as she rolled over onto her back. Julia seized the opportunity to throw her leg over Michaela’s thigh and pull her legs far enough apart for her to feel the damp curls that covered her sex.
"Ohh, you’re wet already. I can hardly wait to taste you."
"Breakfast of champions, am I? Well, guess what?" She moved so quickly Julia scarcely knew what happened. One moment she was preparing to slide down the well muscled body beside her, and the next moment she was lying under her. "Last night you made me come so hard — twice - I thought my brains were gonna dribble out my ears. I think it’s my turn. I meant to last night but… I seemed to have had every bit of energy sucked right outta me."
"Gosh, I wonder how that happened," Julia said innocently, and Michaela laughed.
"I don’t rightly know, but I figure if I practice enough I might be able to figure it out."
"Lucky me," Julia said with a grin, and Michaela kissed the corners of her mouth until the grin gave way to a moan. She planned to practice until Julia begged for mercy.
It was going on noon when hunger finally made Julia cry ‘uncle.’ The lovers climbed out of bed and took a shower that almost landed them right back in bed, but for Julia’s growling stomach. After they ate, they put their plan in place to try to trap the man who had tried to run over Julia.
"Hi, Sean, it’s me. Hope it didn’t cause too much difficulty that I couldn’t come in this morning, but I’m still feeling pretty beat up. Trust you were able to reschedule anything critical?"
"You only had a couple meetings on the schedule, and they were pretty easy to move. I’m not so sure about your afternoon though. Think you’ll be able to make it in by two?"
"Yes, but you’ll need to come get me. I took a taxi last night because I didn’t feel up to driving my car. Michaela and I worked pretty late last night, so I crashed at her hotel. She’s kind of under the weather herself today; think it might have been something she ate, otherwise she’d bring me over. Why don’t you plan on picking me up at the Coco Palms in Pompano, at about one-thirty. You know the place?"
"I do, sure. What room?"
"Just come down the road between the hotel and the inter-coastal. I’ll be sitting in the little gazebo on the bench. I’m tired of being cooped up."
"Okay. See you in about an hour."
"Thanks, Sean. You’re a peach." She flipped her cell phone closed, and turned to find Michaela standing behind her, hands firmly planted on her hips.
"Something I ate, eh?" Julia burst out laughing, and Michaela could not help but join her.
Wearing a cheap blonde wig, Michaela was sitting in the gazebo forty-five minutes later with a cane beside her on the bench. If the assassin was smart, he would come earlier than the scheduled rendezvous to try to take out his target before Sean was due to arrive. But then, if he was smart, he would probably not have tried to run her down with a red car in the middle of the day in a busy part of town.
Alert for any sound or motion, Michaela did not fail to notice the almost imperceptible footfalls behind her. She deliberately maintained her relaxed pose as if unaware of the approaching person. She could actually hear the sound of his hands as he quickly dropped a length of clothesline around her neck, intending to strangle her. But before he could even tighten the cord, she whipped her head back and cracked him sharply in the face. As he dropped the cord to put his hands over his broken nose, Michaela spun around on the bench, knocking his legs out from under him with her own. She dropped onto him, her knee firmly planted in the small of his back. Picking up the rope he had dropped, she looped it around his wrists and secured them behind his back. She stood up and then dragged him to his feet, turning him around to get a look at him. He looked to be in his mid to late twenties, and his eyes were wide with fear. "Please, don’t kill me. Please, it wasn’t my fault…he made me do it."
Julia was pacing nervously around the suite when the door opened and Michaela dragged in the man with the bloody nose.
"Oh, my God! What in the world happened to his nose?"
Michaela shrugged. "He ran into my head with his face. Unavoidable. He was just about to tell me who put him up to this, but I thought you should hear this too."
"Let me clean him up first. Get me some ice, will you?" She led the man into the kitchen and washed off his face, then wrapped some ice cubes in a towel and after untying his hands gave it to him to hold it on his nose. He winced when it touched his sore face, but he did as she asked. He did not want to do anything to get in the bad graces of the Amazon again. "Sit down," Julia pulled out a chair for him at the table, and then sat down in one of the other chairs, with Michaela taking a seat on the other side of him.
"Okay, pilgrim, you were about to say who it was that ‘made’ you try to kill the Senator? And trust me when I say, if you lie to me, your life will not be worth the powder to blow you to hell. Got me?" He nodded briefly, then grimaced as his face throbbed from the movement.
"My brother-in-law. He told me if I didn’t do it, he’d get me sent back to prison again. I couldn’t go back there. My wife needs me. And we have a new baby. He said he would plant drugs somewhere that would incriminate me, and then call the cops. I didn’t want to do it. You gotta believe me."
"What does your brother-in-law have against Julia Vardalos?"
"Nothing. I mean, I don’t think he does. He’s just doing what his boss wants him to do."
"And who’s his boss?"
"Kirkland. Ted Kirkland."
"Bingo," Michaela said with a feral snarl. "Okay, what’s your name anyway?"
"Here’s the deal, Sonny. You play cards with us, and the attempted vehicular and strangulation murder goes away. Cross me, and you’ll think a trip to prison for drugs is a day at the beach by comparison. Capisce?" She didn’t really think Julia would allow her to do anything to Sonny even if she wanted to, which she didn’t. But she was enjoying playing the roll of the thug for a change. He started blubbering, which made his nose bleed again. Almost took all the fun out of the game for her, but there was still Julia’s safety to ensure. "Put a sock in it, Sonny boy. I hate a man who cries."
His tears stopped as if a faucet had been turned off; he hiccupped once and was silent, waiting to hear what she had in mind.
"Uncle Rich, it’s Mike."
"Hey, sweetie! How’s my favorite brunette niece today?"
"Rich, I’m your only brunette niece. And I have news; your sources were right. It was Ted Kirkland, and we have the guy who was driving the car ready to sing like a bird to the authorities."
"I knew if anybody could get to the bottom of this, you could. Bless your heart, girl."
"Well, don’t be so quick to bless me. There’s a catch. I promised this guy we would relocate him and his family and give him a new identity and a job. The one who put him up to it is a piece of work, and I believe he would hurt him or his family if he could."
"Okay, I’m sure something can be arranged."
"Make it quick, will you? He’s pretty nervous, and I don’t want to risk him bolting."
"I’ll get right on it. So, how are you getting on with Julia? Got her PR campaign all mapped out?" He laughed.
"Well not yet, but I’m practicing…"
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