Author: Pink Rabbit Productions
Feedback: Always much appreciated email@example.com
Disclaimer: It all belongs to AMC and ABC, and I'm
thieving scum, but given how badly they've been screwing it up
lately, somebody might as well have fun with the characters. Oh,
and it's likely to feature all girl nookie, so if that's a
problem, just run away.
Author's Notes: This is wholly and completely
experimental. I don't know where it's going or even if it's
going. I've never tried fanfic for a soap before beyond a couple
of missing scene type things. Obviously this is AU, and I'm
considering playing with a lot of the same basic overall plot
points that they've used this summer, but mixing it up in a
completely different way. If I keep writing, I may well use the
rape, or I might not. I honestly don't know for certain. In
short, I'm just sort of dipping my toe in the water and seeing
what happens ... or maybe I'm just diving in. I don't know. I
have a bunch of ideas, and little if any idea which ones I'll
use. How was that for confusion? Welcome to the wonder that is
Summary: Life damages. Can love heal?
A Note from the Management: We're
trying an experiment of allowing stories related to soaps to be
posted in serialized form (since they lend themselves to that
format), so just so you know, this story
isn't finished and is being posted in segments.
| Ch 1
| Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch
The smell of sterilizing agents teased Lena's nose, a bitter, tangy
scent she'd never liked, while the crawling sensation making its way
down her spine warned her that Erica Kane was glaring at her once again.
She was getting good at recognizing that particular warning sign. They'd
found the proper bloodtype for Jackson Montgomery some time before and
wheeled him into surgery as quickly as possible, so now it was just a
waiting game. The doctors were a couple of hours into the operation and
Bianca had disappeared for the moment to speak to see if there was any
news on their progress. Knowing her presence was stressing Erica, Lena
had offered again to leave, but Bianca had asked her to stay, so she had
little choice but to bear the daggers a seething Erica directed her way.
She did a half turn, surreptitiously glancing toward the admissions desk
and noted Erica deep in a whisper campaign with Opal between scowls
flashed her way. Probably trying to come up with a way to get public
flogging made legal. Of course, considering Erica's history, that might
be cutting off her nose to spite her face. Lena had read the background
files on Enchantment's CEO carefully enough to be comfortably certain
she wouldn't be the only one feeling the switch if such a law were put
into place. That thought actually made her smile ever so slightly and
she didn't feel a trace of guilt for it. Some days survival required
finding humor anywhere possible.
She was still hanging back and tracking Erica out of the corner of
her eye as the older woman turned away, suddenly focusing on something
else while Opal hurried out on some errand.
A hint of a frown touched Lena's brow as she noted the way Erica
flashed glances around herself as though checking to make certain no one
was watching. Suddenly curious, she turned away, but positioned herself
where she could watch her former employer's actions in the reflection
cast in the in window of the examining room doors. As she watched Erica
kept checking to make sure she wasn't being watched, then she grabbed a
clipboard from behind the counter, quickly flipping through the papers
between quick looks to make certain she still wasn't being watched. She
was much too obvious with her efforts, telegraphing her guilt loud and
clear to anyone who might happen by. Full lips twisted into a wry smile
as it occurred to Lena that she was automatically critiquing Erica's
performance even as she plotted how she'd handle the situation. Easy.
Just look like she had every right to do exactly what she was doing, and
offer a confident smile if anyone came along. They wouldn't think twice
as she knew well from past experience.
Erica apparently found what she was looking for because she pulled a
sheet of paper off the stack, quickly folding it, and shoving it in her
pocket before replacing the clipboard on the counter and hurrying out.
Not exactly the actions of a woman with nothing to hide.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Which just left the question, what was it Erica was so eager to make
sure no one else saw. Lena did a slow turn so she was facing the counter
and was still contemplating her chances of getting a look at the
clipboard in question without being noticed when a hand brushed her arm
to gain her attention. Swinging around, she realized that Bianca had
returned, looking more relaxed than she had in hours.
"I just spoke to a nurse, and she said the surgery is going
well," Bianca spoke quickly, still scared, but holding it together.
"They figure it'll be a several more hours before he's moved to
recovery though...but she said it should be okay."
Lena reached out, brushing a few loose strands of hair off of her
former lover's cheek with a gentle hand. "That's wonderful,"
she said honestly. She knew what it was like to lose a loved one, and
would never have wished that fate for Bianca.
Bianca glanced around the waiting room, clearly hunting for
something. "Do you know where mom is?"
Careful not to allow any of her resentment to show---it simply wasn't
the time---Lena nodded and gestured toward the door through which Erica
had exited. "She left just a minute or two ago. If you hurry, you
can probably catch her."
Bianca's expression was so openly grateful that Lena almost felt a
twinge of guilt for what she was suddenly planning.
"Thanks." The younger woman turned away, hurried strides
taking her in the direction Lena had indicated.
"Always," Lena murmured as she followed Bianca, easily
keeping stride. Bianca paused just before they reached the doors, just
the way Lena knew she would, and turned toward her, her expression
uneasy, undoubtedly about to ask her to stay behind.
Lena hit the brakes, purposely swinging an arm wide as she pivoted to
face Bianca. She felt the knocking rattle of pain as her wrist hit the
edge of the admittance desk.
And the clipboard sitting on top of it.
She heard Bianca's stumbling, "Maybe you should..." even as
she made a show of trying to grab for the skittering clipboard, and
Bianca trailed to an uncomfortable halt amid the sounds of paper being
ruffled by the fall and metal and plastic clattering noisily to the
floor. It was pure luck that her efforts also dislodged pencil holder
that tipped and sent pens, pencils, and paperclips scattering
everywhere, worsening the mess and making it look like the accident it
Lena immediately dropped to a crouch, and made a show of grabbing for
things, seemingly fumble fingered in her embarrassment. "Sorry ...
you go on without me. I'll just clean up this mess...."
Bianca looked decidedly relieved, which wasn't entirely flattering to
Lena's ego, but to be expected. Actually, Lena had relied on it.
"Uh...yeah. Why don't you stay here, and I'll find you when I'm
done," Bianca said, trying desperately to look like she wasn't
grateful that the 'accident' had interfered with Lena joining her in the
search for her mother.
Lena offered a smoothly regretful smile, allowing just a touch of her
real emotions to show through, not through planning, but just because
she couldn't completely hide the hurt. "Of course." Despite
the fact that she was rather cold-bloodedly manipulating the situation,
she was none too thrilled to be reminded that Bianca was ashamed of her.
Bianca paused, her mouth hanging open, one hand raised as if to
gesture, then abruptly shook her head and hurried out.
Lena stared after her for a moment, then looked down, her hands
perfectly steady now as she retrieved the fallen clipboard, a hint of a
frown drawing her brows together. She flicked the top sheet of paper up,
then another, quickly ruffling through them. Just the admissions
information with the names and bloodtypes of various donors. Her frown
deepened and she looked up to make certain there was no one around, then
glanced at the doors through which both Erica and Bianca had disappeared
as though that might offer some magical solution to the obvious riddle.
"What were you after, Erica?" she whispered softly, then
ruffled through the papers again, trying to see if she could find any
indications of what Erica had removed. Not alphabetized, so no clues
there. It looked like the sign-in sheets were just stacked in the order
they'd been filled out.
Another ruffle and she realized that there was a definite jog in the
stacking. The point where Erica had removed a sheet perhaps? She checked
the names on either side of the disarray. Kendall Hart, Carlos Reyes,
Mary Smythe, as well as several names she didn't recognize. Greenlee had
come in with Kendall and her mother. Lena searched through the papers
more carefully, her frown deepening as she noted that there was nothing
on Greenlee Duprés, but Lena knew perfectly well the woman had been
there and donated blood, and she was sure that she'd seen her arrive
with Kendall and her mother. Another quick glance confirmed that she was
still alone. Thankfully, the hospital administrators had forced the news
cameras into the parking lot, so the crowds had disappeared in search of
other entertainment. Noting there was considerable print through
pressure on each of the sheets from each successive person writing on
the clipboard as their sign-in sheet was added, Lena drew it closer to
study each of the sheets in question more carefully.
Greenlee Duprés. She could just barely see the outline where the pen
had pressed through the sheet above Carlos' and below Kendall's. She
ruffled through the papers again, double-checking and finding no sign of
Greenlee's sheet. Given the evidence, it seemed almost certain that was
what Erica had taken. Considering the near-legendary clash between
Greenlee and Erica, what reason could Erica possibly have for stealing
information on Greenlee's bloodtype? Stealing or hiding? Either way,
why? It made no sense.
The soft sound of shoes on tile ended any further on that subject and
Lena quickly began gathering things together and looking like she was
scrambling to set the mess right.
"Miss?" a nurse asked politely, but with a trace of
suspicion as she drew near.
"I'm sorry," Lena said quickly, playing to her own very
real anxiety over the possibility of getting caught doing something she
shouldn't just when Bianca actually showed some signs of beginning to
trust her again. "I'm afraid I bumped something and made a bit of a
mess." She continued gathering pens and pencils together, careful
to look appropriately embarrassed, but not guilty. Amazing how skilled
she was in knowing those subtle, but key differences when it came to
"Oh, don't worry about it," the nurse quickly assured her
as she crouched down to help retrieve the scattered items. "We do
it all the time." She offered a wry grin. "Need to figure out
somewhere to put things where everybody doesn't knock them off when
they're walking by."
Lena turned on an easy smile, her manner bordering on flirtatious as
she teased, "Well, then this mess is obviously all your
fault." With a little charm and a little luck, they could get the
mess cleaned up with the nurse none the wiser that it had been quite
"You've been talking to my boss, haven't you?" the nurse
shot back, her manner equally lighthearted.
"I promise you, he only said good things," Lena joked, and
the nurse grinned, then slanted a curious look Lena's direction.
"You're Lena Kundera, aren't you?" she asked a little
nervously. "I mean, the one who's a witness in the Cambias
It was on the tip of Lena's tongue to ask if there was another Lena
Kundera in town, but she withheld the impulse, instead muttering a
stiff, "Yes," though she attempted to maintain some semblance
of courtesy. She couldn't afford to make this woman suspicious, but
neither did she wish to invite further inquiry.
The nurse didn't take the hint, just glanced over her shoulder as
though a little worried someone might interrupt them. "Wasn't that
Bianca Montgomery I saw you with earlier?"
Lena had almost forgotten just how small Pine Valley was, and how
famous Erica and her progeny were. This time she didn't answer, though
the nurse took no notice of the Arctic chill that entered her eyes.
"Because I heard you two broke up," the nurse continued,
apparently blithely unaware of the glacial expression directed her way.
Lena stood abruptly, the last of the pens in hand, and dropped them
into the cup where the nurse had already set it on the counter without
any comment. "Yes," she confirmed tersely.
The nurse was still oblivious to Lena's tension as she stood, the
clipboard in hand. Her expression shifted, going from lightly teasing to
would-be seductive. "Well, if you're free, I get off in a little
while. I'd love to take you out for a drink." Asking about the
breakup had been purely perfunctory. Lena was certain the woman didn't
care and would have been making the same offer either way. She was young
and pretty enough, a nice figure, blonde, with eyes somewhere between
blue and grey, and she leaned in a little closer, wordlessly offering
far more than simply drinks, her eyes full of the knowledge of what Lena
had been, and the desire for a walk on that particular wild side. Not
that she was looking for a relationship. No, what she wanted was far
more simple---and undoubtedly carnal---in nature.
Lena raised an eyebrow, not liking suggestiveness turned her way at
all, nor the reminder of the less than savory aspects of her past. Not
that she hadn't encountered similar looks plenty of times before, but
she'd changed in recent months to where it no longer carried the thrill
of casual power it once had. She knew perfectly well that she could use
this woman's lust against her, might even be able to find out whatever
it was Erica was keeping secret, but the idea held no appeal. "No,
thank you," she said very softly, her voice going cold and
The nurse flinched as though stung, apparently finally noticing that
her attentions weren't welcome. "Oh ... well ... I just
"I can guess what you thought," Lena murmured, her tone
uninviting, her expression purposely bland, though there was a
disapproving glint in her eye. "But the answer is no."
An embarrassed flush crawled over the nurse's cheekbones. Shot down,
it was her turn to become fumbling, though Lena was comfortably certain
there was nothing intentional about her sudden stammer and unsteady
hands. "Oh ... I ... uh ... I should probably ... I've got to get
these reports entered into the computer," she muttered and stuffed
the clipboard under arm, then fled as quickly as her feet would carry
Lena watched her go, her expression frozen in place, her chest
suddenly tight as it occurred to her that she might never escape her own
past and simply be accepted. She ran disarrayed bangs back from her
forehead, Erica's secrets forgotten in the wake of her own internal
turmoil. It wasn't really anything the nurse had said, or even how she'd
said it, but the knowledge that that sort of thing was likely to follow
her for the rest of her life. She went back to the couch in the waiting
room area where she'd already spent much of her time since agreeing to
stay, her thoughts rife with doubt. How could Bianca possibly tolerate
someone with her past, someone everyone would always expect the worst
of? What would she have made of the pass the nurse just made? Would she
have been offended or suspicious or believe in Lena's innocence?
Lena shook her head, then leaned forward, elbows braced on her knees.
That the last choice seemed least likely did nothing for her
self-confidence. Especially when coupled with the fact that, for all of
her promises to Bianca, she was already manipulating again, playing
games. Okay, so this time, she had no target in mind, just curiosity and
the desire to make certain that Erica's secret was nothing that would
harm Bianca. She still played such games too easily and far too
automatically. If Bianca knew, Lena was quite certain she'd be right
back out in the cold.
Where she belonged?
Perhaps. Lena wasn't so self-deluded as to believe she deserved
Bianca's love, only that she wanted it desperately. But deserve it? She
was trying to earn it, yes. Trying to be a better person and trying
desperately to be worthy. Whether or not it was even possible to achieve
her ends haunted her though. She loved completely and without reserve,
but that didn't guarantee anything. Her parents had loved each other so
much that her mother had sold her soul and damn near everyone she'd ever
cared about in an effort to save her father, but none of it had done a
damn bit of good. Her father had still died alone, frightened, cold,
broken, and bloody. A shiver slid down her spine at that reminder that
happy endings only happened in fairy tales. In spite of her best
efforts, that thought took her back to that tormented past, and she was
still lost in the darkest corners of her mind when a gentle hand landed
on her shoulder. The distraction was welcome even if the nurse had
returned to make another tacky pass. Thankfully, it was Bianca instead.
Lena felt her facial muscles pull her mouth into a grateful smile, still
amazed by the way Bianca's mere presence seemed to chase her worst
demons away. "Did you find your mother?"
Bianca nodded as she sank down next to Lena on the couch. "Yeah,
she was really relieved." She massaged her temples with a tired
sigh. "It's not over yet, but I think it's going to be okay."
Lena wanted to reach out, catch Bianca's hand in her own and hold on
tight, but with so many worries burning in her brain, she made no effort
to act on the impulse. She was a little startled when a warm hand
covered one of hers and Bianca clung tightly.
"Thank you." Her voice small and soft, Bianca stared at
their twined hands. "For being here, I mean." A tiny gust of
air escaped her parted lips, and her fingers clamped down even more
tightly, the pressure bordering on painful for Lena, though she didn't
care so long as it was Bianca holding on that way. A moment and then she
continued, "Earlier...you were right," she began hesitantly
without looking at Lena, her head firmly down, "about my wanting to
hurt you ... when you saw Kristy and I...."
Lena swallowed hard, hating how much it hurt to hear the obvious,
hating that Bianca had wanted to hurt her, even if she understood it.
Lena was silent for a long moment, caught so thoroughly by surprise
that she didn't know what to say. She couldn't remember the last time
anyone had regretted hurting her. A hint of a frown touched her brow as
though comprehending the idea was a challenge. "Thank you,"
she said at last, wondering if Bianca could, in any way, understand the
gift she'd just given her.
"But I want you to know," Bianca added, not acknowledging
Lena's gratitude, "I never wanted you physically hurt...
never," she added with raw intensity. She sounded ill and when Lena
risked a look up, she was pale, her eyes wide and soft as she stared off
into the distance. "Please say you believe that much."
Lena didn't understand why that was suddenly so important to Bianca,
but clearly it was. "I do," she assured her, and found that
she did. No matter how serious her anger, Bianca wasn't capable of
wishing anyone that kind of harm. "I know you wouldn't ever want
that ... for anyone...." Brutally efficient with her emotions, at
least when she was in the mental space she was in at that particular
moment, Lena didn't allow herself the luxury of thinking that she was in
any way special in that regard. She was startled when Bianca finally
looked her way, then reached out, almost but not quite touching her
"Not for anyone," Bianca allowed, her voice dropping low as
she continued, "but mostly not for you."
Wanting desperately to believe in the promise of kindness and caring
in dark eyes, Lena nonetheless couldn't forget that Bianca had just been
speaking to her mother, which called into question some of her
sincerity. The sad truth was she didn't know whether to be frustrated or
grateful for the fact that Erica Kane's hatred of her seemed to be the
most guaranteed method for sending Bianca careening in her direction.
Not knowing what else to say, Lena ignored the almost caress, facing
forward and purposely not even looking at the hand near her cheek, which
Bianca soon dropped to her side.
A long moment of uncomfortable silence and stillness stretched out
between them until it was finally broken by Bianca. "Lena?"
Knowing some kind of response was expected---or perhaps required was
the better term given Bianca's tone---Lena struggled to find something
to say that would satisfy the younger woman without making herself too
vulnerable or revealing too much. "I know you wouldn't want to see
me physically harmed," she said at last, the statement as neutral
as she could make it, then changed subjects. "Your mother must have
been very happy to hear the surgery is going well." Bianca's soft,
annoyed sigh reached her ears, but Lena didn't continue even though she
was comfortably certain that Bianca wanted something more from her.
"Of course she is," Bianca responded at last, her voice
clipped and shorter than normal. Not angry, but close to it, Lena
"That's good," Lena murmured, sticking to the neutral
topic. She should have known that Bianca wouldn't be so easily
"Yes, it is," Bianca snapped impatiently, then continued,
her tone sharp as she went back to the discarded subject, "Do you
honestly think I'd want to see you hurt?"
Bianca had her Erica-esque moments, and being defied when she wanted
something tended to bring them out. Right now, she wanted something from
Lena and the Polish woman was far from certain what or why. She just
knew that it felt like even trying to give it would be much too risky,
and would make her far more vulnerable than she was capable of allowing
herself to be, especially with Bianca sitting there watching her.
"I told you I don't," Lena said, the accusation in Bianca's
tone making her defensive.
"Then let me rephrase," Bianca clipped impatiently,
"do you honestly think it's the same with you as with anyone
No need for her to explain that question any further. Lena took a
breath, feeling like she'd been dropped into the middle of a minefield
and a ten-ton bomb was headed straight for her head. She had to move,
but which way? "I think," she said at last, "that this
isn't the time for this discussion." Emotions were on edge and they
were both exhausted and stressed. Bianca might not handle being denied
well, but the truth of the matter was that Lena was equally bad when it
came to being pushed. It made her feel vulnerable and out of control,
and that was never a good situation for her.
That earned her another of the annoyed, impatient sighs.
Sensing she was about to be pressured on a front she was in no way
ready to argue about, Lena tried again to change the subject, her tone
pointed. "I'm glad you were able to allay some of your mother's
fears." Even as the words left her mouth, it occurred to her how
ironic it was that she of all people was using Erica Kane as a shield.
Bianca was perfectly silent and utterly still for a long moment.
"Lena..." she began again.
Lena was surprised not to hear the expected anger this time, though
she couldn't identify the emotions, couldn't even come close. Her rare
failure to read Bianca's mood left her feeling frustrated and uncertain,
like the tile beneath her feet had suddenly become a shifting sand dune.
She risked a quick look at her former lover, noting the determination in
velvety brown eyes with a kind of dread. Clearly, Bianca had no
intention of backing off. "Please," Lena exhaled, hating the
way her tone slid over into begging. But unable to give Bianca whatever
it was she wanted and desperate to avoid a fight, she didn't know what
else to do, "just leave it alone."
More silence greeted the soft-spoken plea, then finally Bianca
cleared her throat. "I do appreciate your being here," she
said softly. "I know it can't be easy ... and you'd probably rather
be almost anywhere else, but having you here ... it makes it easier for
It took a lot for the younger woman to say all of that. Lena wasn't
stupid. She knew that Bianca had just given credit and given ground in a
way that couldn't be easy for her. Given their history and the
difficulties between them, it had to be hard for Bianca to make any
allowances, especially when she was so pointedly refusing to do what
Bianca wanted. Time for her to give a little ground as well. "I
know you'd never want me hurt the way ... the way Michael ... hurt
me," she allowed. "I know you ... and I know that." She
paused, swallowing hard as she struggled with her own thoughts and
emotions, working to separate the rational from the irrational before
continuing. "But sometimes it doesn't feel that way," she
admitted in a burst of painful honesty that she instantly regretted as
she heard Bianca's soft gasp. She carefully didn't look at Bianca,
afraid of the fury she expected to find directed her way after her
admission. She was startled when a warm hand curved along the side of
her jaw and gently tugged her head around.
"No," was all Bianca said at first, her voice thick with
the threat of tears. She shook her head, the pad of her thumb moving
lightly against Lena's temple. "Never," she added after a
beat. "And I'm sorry if I ever made you believe that."
"I'm the one who should be sorry." Lena offered a weak
smile. "I've made so many mistakes." She swallowed hard,
struggling to put her fears away again, and drew breath to say
more--though she was far from certain what---when the whoosh of doors
swinging reached her ears and Erica Kane returned in a flounce of
perfume and big hair.
Bianca tensed, any desire to discuss their problems undoubtedly gone
in light of her mother's return, and snapped to her feet with a guilty
She doubtless would have hurried to meet her mother, who hadn't seen
her yet, but Lena caught her forearm, holding Bianca in place and
drawing her attention just long enough to tell her, "I know,"
in a rush, wanting some kind of closure between them before
communication was ended in favor of Erica's return.
And then any kind of conversation that didn't involve Erica was
effectively made impossible as the cosmetics diva laid eyes on them and
commandeered her youngest daughter with a piercing, "Bianca."
As she hurried over, she caught Bianca's forearm, dragging her away in a
fit of worry.
Lena noted Erica's efforts to rescue her progeny from the clutches of
the scarlet woman with an ironically raised brow and a wry smile, then
glanced at her watch and noted the time. Just a few more hours before
she was due back at Woodruff Greenlee's office. It occurred to her that
wearing the same clothes and wan from a sleepless night was undoubtedly
not the way to impress her new employer. Assuming, of course, that she
actually went in, something she was far from certain about. If wide
brown eyes turned her way, begging for safety and support, could she
turn away and leave, even for the promise of a job that would keep her
in the country?
Who was she kidding, she wouldn't even pause to debate. She'd stay
and the rest of it be damned. If Bianca needed her, she simply couldn't
walk away, no matter how much she ought to.
Erica, meanwhile, having gotten a hold on Bianca wasn't letting go,
leaving Lena to cool her heels rather helplessly in the background while
Erica's friend, Opal, flashed unfriendly looks her way. And even at
that, she didn't regret being there. Her expression wry, she shook her
head slowly, wondering at her own insanity in falling in love with
someone she was almost certain to lose before it was all over. "The
town whore in love with the town virgin," she mused under her
breath. Well, no, not a virgin anymore, but still close enough, given
that one night hardly counted as massive experience and from what she'd
said, Bianca's previous experience had been limited to innocent kisses
and a few teenage groping sessions.
She abruptly realized she wasn't quite as alone as she had thought as
a hand landed lightly on her shoulder from behind and Greenlee Duprés
leaned into her space over her left shoulder. "So was Binky really
a virgin when you two finally...." Greenlee smiled wolfishly and
waggled her eyebrow with suggestive glee.
Lena narrowed her gaze disapprovingly. She had no intention of
answering that question.
"I mean, you have..." more eyebrow waggling followed,
"haven't you?" Greenlee demanded, the meaning obvious,
"or did Erica manage to get a chastity belt locked on her dear,
darling baby?" She eyed Lena consideringly. "No, I'm guessing
you're a hell of a lock-pick. She'd have to keep poor Binks with her
24/7 to keep her virtue intact where you're concerned, I suspect."
A suffering sigh escaped Lena's lips before she could call it back.
"That's really none of your affair," she sniffed, her tone
even more disapproving than her glare. Sometimes it amazed her that she,
officially the town pariah, was also the only one in Pine Valley with
any manners as far as she could tell.
Greenlee only grinned, apparently far too used to societal
disapproval to pay any attention to the bounds of good taste.
"Probably not," she admitted, "but I find myself curious
since I'm the one who helped keep you in town. Y'know, seems like a lot
of effort if you're not enjoying yourselves to the fullest extent."
She leaned a little closer, whispering near Lena's ear. "C'mon, you
can tell me. Is Binks a screamer?"
A dark eyebrow arched in silent sarcasm. "Why? Are you
interested?" Lena shot back, hoping that would chase off someone as
rabidly heterosexual and hiddenly homophobic as Greenlee.
The question failed to have the desired effect. Instead Greenlee only
grinned. "Oh, please, the day I decide to walk on your side of the
street, it ain't gonna be with Binky." She eyed Lena speculatively.
"Though I'll bet you could make a bit of experimentation worth the
Lena scowled forbiddingly, which only drew a soft laugh and a snarky
taunt. "I mean, those are the lips that have sunk a thousand
corporate ships, aren't they?"
Lena was very close to hating Greenlee Duprés at that precise
moment, no longer caring about favors done. On top of the nurse's clumsy
pass, it was a reminder of her past that she could have done without.
"Shut ...up," she hissed very softly, her eyes glinting
Having gotten a reaction, Greenlee chuckled triumphantly. "No
whining now." She nodded toward the family scene on the other side
of the room. "After all, I'm on your side."
With help like this, it was a wonder she hadn't gone mad, Lena mused
darkly. Or perhaps she had, and everyone was just too polite to mention
it. No, this was Pine Valley. Please and thank you were generally beyond
the capacity of the locals. She had no doubt if she'd gone quietly
insane, they'd be pointing and laughing. It was just that kind of town.
Clearly oblivious to Lena's dark musings, Greenlee continued
cheerfully, "And it looks to me like you could use all the help you
can get." She looked down at Lena. "Frankly I'm amazed you
haven't already been thrown out."
"Bianca asked me to be here," Lena insisted defensively.
"Ah," Greenlee exhaled, then looked down at her again.
"I'd think that would only make Erica even more determined."
She grinned so broadly she showed a wide strip of perfectly white teeth.
"Personally, I'd advise you not to eat or drink anything she's been
near. I wouldn't put it past Erica to put a drop of strychnine in your
tea if she got a chance."
"Very funny," Lena growled, wishing Greenlee would make
herself scarce. Erica kept glancing their direction, her gaze sharper
with each successive look. God knew, Erica already despised her almost
as much as was humanly possible, but being seen as a possible ally of
Erica's worst enemy wasn't likely to make her efforts to win her way
back into Bianca's good graces any easier. "Now if you don't
mind---" she started to say, accepting that subtlety wasn't going
to work. It was going to take a 2"x4" to get rid of Greenlee.
"Actually I do mind," Greenlee cut her off. "I mind so
many things we'd be here for days if I started listing them all."
Her smile was downright cheeky when Lena uttered a grumbled curse in her
native language. "Yes," she said cheerfully, "I know I'm
driving you crazy. According to granddaddy, I do that to everyone."
She barely paused to take a breath, she continued, "speaking of
whom, aren't you due to report in to him for your second day of gainful
employment in just a few hours?" An auburn brow arched
suggestively. "Not good appearing for day two of your job in the
same clothes you were wearing on day one, but with an all new set of
circles under your eyes."
Given that there wasn't much she could do about that situation, Lena
could only shrug.
"What if I told you," Greenlee began, her lips twisting
into a mad smile, "that I could help you with your little
Lena twisted to peer doubtfully up at Greenlee. "And how exactly
would you do that?" she inquired politely. "Not to mention,
"How is easy," Greenlee drawled and drew a tiny cell phone
from her purse, then mimed dialing, and held it to her ear. "Yes,
Granddaddy, it's me, Greens. I had a slight problem with my trust fund
and that new financial analyst of yours has been kind enough to help
me...yes, yes, she is positively brilliant. I just don't know what I
would have done without her...probably had to call on you to untangle
this whole mess. The thing is we've been at it all night, and we're not
quite done, and I was wondering if I could borrow her for a few more
hours." She chuckled softly. "Plus I'm the only one who knows
that Granddady is up at the crack of dawn so we could get you off the
hook for the day very soon."
Lena studied Greenlee with a wry look. "And why would you do
that for me?"
"I'm a hopeless romantic," Greenlee shot back. "Why
else would I help you get a job?"
Brown eyes narrowed as Lena considered the woman leaning over her
shoulder. "You may be a romantic," she murmured. After all,
such impulses showed up in the strangest places, and by all accounts
Greenlee's relationship with her late husband had been quite romantic
indeed. "But that's not why you're offering to do this."
Greenlee Duprés did things for many reasons. Altruism and romance might
be among them on occasion, but it was unlikely it was a regular event
from what Lena had seen.
Greenlee chuckled softly. "I like you, Lena," she admitted
through her laughter. "You managed to get past the dogs at the gate
and make a fool out of Erica Kane on her home turf. I can respect that.
Ah, hell, I love that. I just wish I'd been there to watch it." Her
eyes glittered with pure pleasure at the idea of someone making her
worst enemy look like a fool. "God, that must have been good."
Lena didn't say a word, didn't admit that, indeed, fooling Erica Kane
had been entirely too enjoyable. Arrogant, overconfident, brash, Erica
had been so certain of herself that playing her had been downright fun.
If not for Michael's stupidity and instability, it would have worked
too, and she felt a certain professional regret at her own failure to
get what she'd come for.
She should have known that someone like Greenlee Duprés would
understand that kind of thrill all too well and recognize the look in
her eyes despite her efforts to hide it. She chuckled low in her throat,
the sound almost sexual. "That good, huh?"
Lena turned a little more, purposely making certain her answering
expression wouldn't be visible from Bianca and Erica's vantage point
even though their attention was focused elsewhere. There were some
things she couldn't afford to have them see, the pure enjoyment in her
eyes was high on that list. "So good I almost had to take up
smoking considering how often I felt the need for a cigarette after our
meetings." Her smile was smoothly seductive enough to make even
Greenlee swallow hard and go a little wide-eyed. They stared at one
another for a long moment.
"You were very good at what you did, weren't you?" Greenlee
croaked after a beat.
"The best." Lena's smile was wicked and knowing, promising
heaven and hell at the same time. She'd used it hundreds of times in the
past, and she knew exactly what it did to people, gay, straight, and
everywhere in between. If she'd been even remotely interested in
Greenlee, she was comfortably certain, she could have taken her back to
her apartment and made her beg until the sun rose, then set again. She'd
done it before with Greenlee's sort, pampered rich girls desperate to
prove themselves worthy of parents who ignored them. They were painfully
easy to control. All it took was a little attention paid in the right
way. She wouldn't have felt a thing, but Greenlee would have enjoyed
herself. Actually, considering her near-obsession with Bianca, Lena
suspected she could have made the tiny woman her willing slave if she
wanted. Nothing like a little homophobia to hide a secret fascination as
she'd discovered on more than one occasion.
Her breathing suddenly harsh and deeper than normal, Greenlee flushed
a deep shade of red, her throat bobbing with another hard swallow.
"I believe that," she admitted.
It would have been so easy, Lena mused as she noted Greenlee's
visceral response, then she shrugged, her expression settling back into
its normal cool cast, the seductive aura slipping away in an instant to
be replaced by a professional mien that was equally believable.
"Good," she drawled, laughing softly. "I'd hate for you
to think I was a liar."
A beat passed and then a smile slowly made its way back onto
Greenlee's lips. "You are good," she exhaled on an admiring
note. Her gaze flicked up, touching briefly on Bianca. "Are you
really sure the town virgin is what you want?" she sounded doubtful
about the entire prospect. "I mean, Binky's cute and all that, but
you strike me as a woman who needs a bit more than handholding and
kisses stolen behind the bleachers."
"I love her," Lena responded impatiently, her tone abruptly
going flat, her expression forbidding. Mocking Erica was acceptable, but
if Greenlee wished to turn the sharp edge of her humor on Bianca, she
would regret the impulse.
"Why do I get the feeling that was more of a warning than a
declaration of affection?" Greenlee mused out loud, though she
didn't appear especially intimidated.
Lena allowed herself a small, deadly-serious smile. "Because
you're very perceptive?"
Greenlee grinned, apparently finding some humor in the scene despite
the not-so-subtle threats headed her way. "I still like you
anyway." She glanced at her watch. "Meet me outside the
emergency room door in two hours. We'll call Granddaddy and make sure
you're available to look after Binks for the day." Her smile turned
sly. "And hopefully the night too." She didn't give Lena a
chance to respond, just abruptly turned on her heel and flounced off,
leaving Lena staring after her with a bemused look. Some days she
wondered if there was something in the Pine Valley water supply that
made everyone just a little mad. She looked over at Bianca, noting she
was still deep in conversation with her mother.
Herself included apparently.
Lena shook her head slowly, a wry smile on her lips. "I was sane
once," she muttered under her breath, "but I got better."
She was still musing on her own apparent lunacy when she realized that
Opal was looking her direction, an almost frightened expression on her
face. Lena frowned ever so slightly, then abruptly realized that Opal
wasn't looking at her, but rather past her....
At Greenlee's retreating back.
And then that half-frightened gaze swung her way. Realizing she'd
been seen, Opal abruptly straightened and tried to look nonchalant. She
wasn't a very good actress, and the effect wasn't terribly believable.
Lena glanced over her shoulder just as Greenlee disappeared around a
corner, then back to Opal who wasn't handling the situation---whatever
it was---very well at all. For instance, she should never have leaned in
close to Erica that way and whispered in her ear so soon after getting
caught staring. That was just a dead giveaway. Amazing how the Lucy and
Ethel of Pine Valley could have had their hands in so many schemes over
the years, and yet learned so little. Lena supposed that was predictable
as she considered it. Had Erica and Opal been even remotely competent at
the art of conspiracy, she wouldn't have had nearly so much entertaining
reading material courtesy of Michael's research. She hadn't quite
believed their sheer incompetence when reading it all on paper. With the
proof in front of her, she suspected the private detectives had been
kind in their analysis.
Whatever the news was, it was sufficient to loosen Erica's deathgrip
on her youngest daughter, and even had her scrambling for an exit with
Opal in tow as quickly as she could arrange it. If they were leaving
Bianca to her possible clutches, this was serious. Lena glanced over her
shoulder again, a hint of a frown touching her brow. And Greenlee
Duprés was definitely involved, though Lena seriously doubted she was
aware of that fact. She'd been too comfortable, enjoying the game, but
not wary enough for someone who thought Erica Kane might be breathing
down her neck. And something definitely had Erica in a snit. No, that
wasn't right. It had her scared. Deathly scared.
Now what could do that? Business? No. Fusion was doing well enough,
but it was no threat to Enchantment. Certainly not enough to make Erica
go white and flee. No, there was definitely something else going on.
Lena was still musing on possibilities when she realized that Bianca was
standing in front of her, an expectant expression on her fact.
"You're looking pensive," Lena's former lover observed, her
brows drawing together in a hint of a frown. She nodded in the direction
in which Greenlee had disappeared. "And Greenlee was looking very
proud of herself." Though seemingly unrelated, put in such close
proximity, the two statements were really an implied question and Lena
would have had to be two weeks dead to miss it, or to miss the fact that
not answering was likely to end her up right back in the doghouse.
Bianca was definitely suspicious. Just what Lena had been hoping to
She offered a wry smile, offering up, if not the complete truth, then
most of it. "She offered to help me stay here today if you wanted
me to ... since I'm supposed to be at work for her grandfather,"
Lena glanced down at her watch, some of the stress and exhaustion of the
previous hours coloring her voice at she finished, "in just a few
Bianca blinked, looking surprised by the revelation and went from
anger to guilt in a blink. "Oh, god, your job. I completely
forgot," she admitted as she sank down onto the couch next to Lena.
"No," she said quickly, "you can't miss your second day
... not because I'm...." she trailed off and didn't finish.
"If you need me here, I'm here," Lena said without a trace
of doubt. Even if Greenlee couldn't sweet-talk her grandfather, Lena
knew she wouldn't be able to leave if Bianca asked her to stay.
Bianca shook her head. "But your job," she disagreed, then
looked at Lena, her gaze moving from point to point, taking in what Lena
was sure was not a very impressive sight. Dead tired, her makeup worn
away, a few bruises, a cut lip, she had to look like something even the
cat would refuse to drag in. "And you've been here all night.
You'll be exhausted. If you left now, you could still grab a couple of
hours of sleep---"
"I'm not going anywhere," Lena insisted before Bianca could
say anymore. "At least not as long as you don't want me to."
"But you can't just---" Bianca started to say
"You let me worry about what I can and can't do," Lena
urged her firmly, then reached out and tucked a few strands of hair
behind Bianca's ear. "Or perhaps Greenlee, if she was being
Bianca's soft snort expressed quite clearly what she thought of the
likelihood of that.
"In any event," Lena added, and laid one hand over a
slender hand, "It's not for you to worry about."
Bianca shook her head. "But, Lena, you need this job. You can't
"I won't risk anything," Lena assured the younger woman.
"Just let me worry about things, okay?" She offered a small
smile, peering at Bianca until she got a weak one in return. "I'm
reasonably good at looking after myself."
"Are you sure?" Bianca whispered, hope and fear evident in
her voice in equal measures.
"Absolutely," Lena assured her. "Now why don't you
close your eyes and rest for a little while. You've had a hell of a
night. You've got to be dead on your feet."
Bianca nodded, leaning heavily against the back of the couch and
rubbing her eyes with the heels of her hands. "Mm-hm," she
groaned softly. "Helluva day...helluva a night," she exhaled.
"Everything's going to be all right," Lena assured the
younger woman, while Bianca mumbled something unintelligible and settled
deeper into the couch. "Just take a moment and catch your breath.
From what you said, it's going to be hours before we know more."
"I should probably be---"
"Leaning back and resting," Lena interrupted and slid a
hand behind Bianca's shoulders, massaging taut muscles with just the
Bianca groaned low in her throat. "God, that feels good."
"Mm, turn with your back to me and I'll make it even
better," Lena promised. She half expected Bianca to refuse, but
instead the younger woman silently turned the other way, folding one leg
underneath her as she sat sideways on the couch and let her head fall
forward until her chin was resting on her chest. Curving her hands to
slender shoulders, Lena turned to face her former lover's back and
pressed her thumbs into muscles that had lost some of their rigidity,
but were still painfully tight, slowly working her way along the corded
length of each tendon until she felt it begin to let go. "Just
relax," she murmured near Bianca's ear, fingers still working
deeply into muscles that were softening and warming under her touch.
"Lean against me. I'll take care of you."
Her breathing slowing and growing deeper as the minutes passed,
Bianca slowly melted back against Lena who finally wrapped an arm
loosely around her former lover. Bianca sagged, leaning her head into
the curve of Lena's shoulder where it melded into her upper arm.
With one arm pinned between Bianca's head and the back of the couch,
Lena continued the massage one-handed. "That's it," Lena
soothed, her voice dropping until it was so soft it was nearly
subliminal. "Just let me worry about everything for a little
while." Bianca mumbled something under her breath and turned more
fully into Lena's body as she lifted her feet up onto the couch and
curled half onto her side, but it was impossible to tell what she said,
only that her tone and body language were relaxed and trusting enough to
give Lena more hope than she'd had in a very long time. "Just
rest," Lena breathed, suddenly aware of the way the arm of the
couch was pressing into her lower back, while the arm pinned against the
back of the couch was tingling in anticipation of going to sleep, and
the rest of her body was protesting its exhaustion and aches. She sighed
softly, still whispering as she felt Bianca relax completely, her
breathing slow and deep, apparently asleep. Leaning forward, Lena rested
her chin on Bianca's shoulder, dark hair tickling her cheek, the soft
scent of soap and shampoo filling her senses. With one leg folded under
her, she lifted the other off the floor, stretching it out along
Bianca's hip and thigh, holding the smaller woman more securely against
the protection of her body. If Erica saw them like this, it would
probably give her a heart attack. The grin that thought caused her was
still with her when she slid off into a light doze a few minutes later.
* * * * * *
Her back hurt where the armrest was pressing into her lower spine,
one foot was tingling painfully, half asleep, but not enough so to be
painless, while her left arm was almost completely numb.
And someone was whispering in Lena Kundera's ear.
Despite the obvious physical discomforts, her nose was buried in
silky hair and she had the profound sense that she was exactly where she
belonged. "Go 'way," she mumbled and pulled the warm weight in
her arms even closer. Bianca. Yes, it was definitely Bianca. She
recognized those curves, even though she'd only had one night to
memorize them. Having won the prize she'd wanted so desperately, she had
no intention of letting go until she absolutely had to.
"Lena," she sleepily recognized Greenlee Duprés' voice,
then felt a hand on her shoulder, shaking firmly. "C'mon, wakey,
wakey, rise and shine."
"G'way," Lena groaned, hoping it was just a temporary
annoyance that would give up and leave her alone.
"No can do. Time to get up," Greenlee hissed.
She wasn't going to leave, Lena realized with some disgust. She
opened one eye just as Greenlee held up a cell phone almost as tiny as
"If you want to go on holding Binky all day, we need to call
granddaddy," Greenlee reminded her. "Now."
Silently reminding herself that Greenlee was just trying to help,
Lena contained the urge to strangle the woman and nodded. "Mm-hm,"
she murmured, struggling to throw off the sleep dazed torpor that had
her uncertain standing up was going to be much of an option. She lifted
her free hand to push ruffled hair back from her forehead. "Jus'
give me a momen'."
Greenlee was crouching next to the couch, smiling broadly and looking
disgustingly well rested. "A moment is exactly what you don't have.
Granddaddy's schedule is very precise. If we miss him, you're
screwed." She shook Lena's shoulder again, and this time Lena had
the distinct impression the intent wasn't so much to wake her as annoy
her. "Or perhaps more correctly," crimson lips tipped up in a
wicked smile, "you're not screwed." Greenlee laughed at her
own joke and shook Lena's shoulder again.
Definitely meant to annoy her, Lena decided. "You can stop that
now." She glared pointedly at the hand on her shoulder, then
offered an acid smile as she carefully worked her arm free from where it
was pinned by the weight of Bianca's head and shoulder. Her movements a
little clumsy, she was afraid of waking the younger woman as she
carefully unfolded and untangled herself, settling Bianca back onto the
couch as she worked her way free. Limp in sleep, the young woman stirred
a time or two, but Lena leaned close, whispering soothing nonsense near
her ear while she petted silky hair, and Bianca quickly settled back
Lena was very aware of the way Greenlee watched the entire scene, a
wry smile twisting her mouth, her brows climbing higher with every
passing moment. Rather dreading the remarks likely to be made at the
first opportunity, she cast a disapproving look the other woman's way.
She should have known that Greenlee Duprés thrived on that sort of
thing. Full lips twisted into a knowing smile. "Come on," she
hurried Lena along as she held up the phone.
Still shaking off her daze, Lena nodded and straightened to her feet,
limping gently on the leg that was still waking up. She suddenly became
aware that Greenlee had tipped her head to one side and was peering at
her assessingly. "What?"
Greenlee didn't answer, just snorted some unintelligible under her
breath and waved for Lena to follow her as she headed for the entrance
to the Emergency Room. Still limping ever so slightly, while she
massaged her left arm with her right hand, Lena exited into the early
morning air a few paces behind Greenlee to find night giving way to the
pale blue of early morning. She blinked sleepily and massaged the back
of her neck, still fighting to wake up completely. Instinct told her it
was never wise to be at less than one's best when dealing with Greenlee
Duprés, but it had been a hell of a week and the wear and tear was
starting to show. She leaned against the wall, arms loosely folded, one
knee raised, her foot flat on the wall at her back as she watched
Greenlee dial her grandfather's number from memory.
The scene that followed was rather impressive and made it crystal
clear the Greenlee had her grandfather wrapped around her little finger.
She was sweet, cheerful, talked fast, and lied like ... well ... Lena in
her heyday. Wisely, she kept her story simple, basically sticking to the
script she'd initially laid out to Lena. She was having financial
troubles, Lena had helped straighten the matters out, and they were
still working on the problem. When she shoved the cell phone at Lena,
Lena was equally smooth and confident. Even dead on her feet, she was
quite capable of lying through her teeth, and she soon had Woodruff
Greenlee eating out of the palm of her hand in spite of his native
distrust of someone with her reputation. Several completely
fictional---at least as far as she knew---details about the chaotic
disarray of Greenlee's financial records had him chuckling, though
Greenlee herself was glaring furiously, and soon he was giving his
permission for her take that day and the next off from the firm in order
to make absolutely certain his granddaughter's finances were in good
shape. Finally, she clicked the phone off and handed it back to its
Dark eyes were narrowed with silent fury. "Great," Greenlee
complained, "I do you a favor, and you convince my grandfather I'm
a completely disorganized mess."
Lena shrugged, enjoying that tiny bit of revenge for Greenlee's
earlier attempts to make light of her relationship with Bianca, and also
determined to put some distance between herself and the other woman. She
had visions of Greenlee playing the friend just to annoy Erica, and she
couldn't afford that sort of relationship, not when she was working so
hard to regain some measure of respect in her fight to get back into
Bianca's good graces. "It seemed best for both our sakes if he
believed me ... and extreme organization doesn't seem your style ... nor
would he believe that you need two days of my help were things not
Full lips pursed in annoyance. "Just see if I do you any more
favors," Greenlee grumbled.
Lena laughed softly, enjoying the sense of triumph she hadn't felt in
far too long. The truth of the matter was that she probably understood
Greenlee better than the younger woman understood herself. "Of
course you will," she drawled, chuckling when dark eyes turned her
way with silent fury, "if it gives you a chance to put one over on
Erica Kane." There, just lay it out and refuse to play a game of
pretend that this was in any way a favor to Bianca or herself.
Scowling, Greenlee muttered a curse under her breath. "You're
good," she repeated her earlier sentiment in a tone that was part
admiration, part irritation. She shook her head, eyes running over Lena
from head to toe. "Nobody should look that good after spending the
night on a waiting room couch."
"That's all right," Lena murmured with a loose gesture to
indicate Greenlee. "No one should be that awake at five o'clock in
That apparently caught Greenlee by surprise because she froze in
place, then an admiring, if faintly bitter, grin slowly made its way
across her lips. "I still think telling him I keep all my receipts
in a shoebox was a bit much."
"Really?" Lena drawled, well aware that she was very likely
annoying the other woman and not feeling a trace of guilt. A friendship
with Greenlee Duprés was the last thing she needed. "I thought
that was rather inspired." She laughed softly. "Particularly
when I said it was a Prada box." Her smile turned evil.
"Especially since my first impulse was to say Easy Spirit."
"I'd have killed you," Greenlee pronounced, her tone deadly
Lena laughed again, amazed by how good it felt. Even knowing she
should get as far away from Greenlee as possible, she had to admit, she
enjoyed sparring with a quick and acid wit. "I think my ankles
would have survived the assault," she riposted neatly, enjoying the
way wide, brown eyes narrowed. Like Erica, Greenlee enjoyed power. The
reminder that her own was limited in some way did not set well.
Greenlee's smile became far tighter and more forced.
"Careful," she growled in warning, her humor sliding away.
"You're pushing it."
And not by accident either, Lena thought with some irony. She didn't
want Greenlee thinking she was the one in charge. Instinct told her the
other woman would run her life if she thought she could get away with
it. Actually, it told her that Greenlee would do anything she thought
she could get away with. "Good," she said softly, and Greenlee
got the message. They might both be on the outs with Erica, but Lena
didn't want to get in the middle of someone else's fight, something she
suspected might well happen if she wasn't very careful. Greenlee was
just too much the opportunist to miss a chance to hurt her nemesis, and
Lena was well aware that there were too many ways her mere existence
could be used as a cudgel against Erica.
Greenlee was silent for a long moment, her head canted to one side,
apparently considering the situation. "Don't tell me you're
actually going to try and get in Mama-Kane's good graces?" she
demanded on a note of disbelief when she finally spoke.
"I want Bianca back," Lena responded with utmost sincerity
and perhaps even a touch of pleading, "and that won't happen if I'm
at war with her mother."
"And being seen with me---"
"Puts me in Erica's line of fire," Lena finished for
Greenlee. "Yes," she confirmed firmly. "I can't afford
that ... can't afford to be seen as your ally in any way." It was
intended as a clear warning shot across the other woman's bow. Lena
wouldn't be allow herself to become embroiled in their strange game any
further than she already was. She was capable of using the other woman
if she had to, and she didn't want to burn any bridges, but she didn't
want this to become a regular event either.
Greenlee was silent for a moment, then she shook her head.
"Well, I hate to break it to you, but your problems with Erica are
a whole lot bigger than being seen talking to me---"
"I'm well aware of that," Lena began, but Greenlee
continued as though she hadn't spoken.
Greenlee hooked a thumb over her shoulder, indicating the Emergency
Room entrance. "For one thing, you want to get her bouncing baby
Binky between the sheets, and that is always going to go over like a
lead balloon with La Kane, and for two thing...." She eyed Lena
from head to toe, her look frankly assessing, then held up a hand, two
fingers curled into her palm as she continued, "For two thing,
you've got a hell of a chance of succeeding ... and that's bound to make
Erica crazy." She folded a third finger down to join the first two.
"For three thing, you damn near took her company away from her, and
that is second only to Binky in Erica's affections."
"I'm aware of my actions," Lena said tersely, not liking
where this was headed at all.
Again Greenlee continued as though Lena hadn't spoken, tucking a
fourth finger into her palm. "For four thing, there's that whole
nastiness with your sleeping with Michael Cambias. Not a good
"Not a choice at all," Lena snapped, rage flickering in her
eyes for the briefest moment as she remembered the sense of being
cornered with no way to escape Michael's perverted desires. "My
"Speaking of excuses that won't impress Erica," Greenlee
snapped, her eyes glittering with the joy of combat, leaving Lena to
wonder if perhaps the tiny woman was more dangerous than she'd initially
thought. "The only mother Erica cares about is Erica, so don't even
try that one with her." Greenlee curled her thumb into her palm,
making a fist. "And finally, the fifth thing---and this is the
really big one---is that all she has to do is look at you two and
there's no way in hell she can pretend it's anything but what it is. She
can't fool herself that you're best friends, dating, or even just
sharing a few innocent kisses. Every time she sees the two of you
together, she has to face that fact that Binky is never going to
want what Erica thinks she should...that she wants all those things with
you that Erica wanted with all those men she's taken to her bed."
Lena flinched, and Greenlee grinned in response, clearly enjoying the
way she'd managed to take command of the situation. "Every time she
sees the two of you, she has to face the fact that her precious little
girl wants to get hot, sweaty, and incredibly naked with a woman ... one
who's beautiful, smart, sexy ... and who might just take her baby girl
away from her."
Leave it to Greenlee to cut straight to the crux of the matter, Lena
thought with a small, internal wince. Erica's jealousy was as much of a
problem---perhaps even moreso---as her own past.
"Ah-hah, I see you're thinking the same thing," Greenlee
said on a note of triumph. "Erica doesn't like to share her
A muscle pulsed in Lena's jaw as she ground her molars together so
hard it was a wonder they weren't powder. "I'll find a way to deal
with Erica Kane."
"I'd go with a metal baseball bat," Greenlee advised.
"A wooden one would only crack on her hair spray."
"I doubt that will be required." In spite of herself,
Lena's mouth twisted into a hint of a grudging smile. Greenlee was very
good at getting in her digs, and she never let up. The Polish woman
admired that spirit even if it could be annoying as hell.
"Hah!" Greenlee shook her head. "Then you haven't been
paying attention." She peered up at Lena for a long moment,
studying her with an odd kind of intensity, and Lena found herself
falling silent and allowing the rather rude perusal for reasons she
didn't wholly understand. It was just that for a moment, something
happened that had nothing to do with sparring, or Erica or anything
else, except something deep inside of Greenlee. "I'll bet you speak
French," Greenlee said abruptly. Not quite the ultimate non
sequitur, but close.
"French," Lena confirmed, though she was far from certain
why it mattered, "also Italian, some Spanish, German, Russian,
though I don't read it well, and a bit of Japanese," she added,
though she wasn't quite sure why. It just seemed that something in
Greenlee's expression expected a complete answer.
The junior-grade, would-be cosmetics diva stared at Lena for a long
moment. "God, Leo would have loved you," she pronounced after
a beat. "He would have absolutely loved you." She shook her
head. "He would have grabbed Binks and shoved her right at
you." She sniffed softly, real emotion flickering in her eyes for a
brief second. "Either that or he'd have known you too well and run
you out of town on a rail," she mused, her gaze becoming distant.
Lena frowned in confusion, feeling like she needed a scorecard to
keep up. "I don't understand," she admitted.
Greenlee blinked, straightening her shoulders, her manner abruptly
going cold. "Kindred spirits," she said, the words coming out
faintly raspy, as though she didn't want to make the admission. She
peered at Lena again, but this time her look was flat and unemotional.
"You're just like him," she said very softly, her tone
bordering on accusation. "And he'd have either been fighting to
keep you here or trying to get you as far away from everything he loved
as was humanly possible." She shook her head. "It would have
all depended on what he saw when he looked in your eyes ... whether or
not he believed you really love her."
Standing perfectly still, Lena sensed that what Greenlee was saying
was very important to her, even if she, Lena, didn't entirely understand
what was going on. She knew that Leo Duprés and Bianca had been very
dear friends from the files, but mostly from the way Bianca's eyes and
voice softened whenever she talked about him. That he had been a liar
and a cheat at one point in his life was not in question, yet Bianca had
found it in her to forgive him and care so much for him. It was one of
the things Lena clung to when the nights got too dark and closed in on
her. Bianca was capable of an incredible measure of forgiveness.
Greenlee was still staring at her, watching her closely through shaded
eyes that, for once, gave very little away. "I hope," Lena
said at last, "that I could have earned his trust ... so that he
knew I only wanted to love Bianca and protect her."
A moment of the odd, not-quite staring contest passed and then
Greenlee shrugged. "You're never going to be honest and
upstanding," she said very softly, the words almost gentle even
though they felt like nails in a coffin to Lena Kundera. "You don't
have it in you."
That was the last thing Lena wanted to hear. "You're
wrong," she hissed. "I'm doing everything in my power
"I know you are," Greenlee inserted, her expression still
unreadable. "But it's not enough."
Once again, the tiny woman had cut straight to the heart of the
matter. And straight to Lena's heart with what felt like a rusty
straight razor. She rocked on her feet, her throat and chest painfully
tight. It was her greatest fear. That nothing she could do would change
her basic nature enough to allow her to become worthy of Bianca's love.
"I'm not trying to be mean," Greenlee added, her voice
working its way through the haze of pain to Lena's consciousness,
"just honest. And you will never deserve someone like Bianca
Montgomery, no matter how hard you try. It's not in you to be that
honest or that perfect."
Lena wanted to scream and rage and deny it all, but the awful truth
was Greenlee was absolutely right. She would never---could never---be
worthy of Bianca's love, and that was to her utter shame. And the worst
part was that it seemed as though there was nothing she could do to
change that basic fact. Only one day in and Woodruff Greenlee's office
job already bored her to tears and she was already lying to stay away.
Oh, she had an excuse and a good one, but she'd always had good excuses.
She was a past master at coming up with rationales for doing what she
shouldn't. It was a lifetime habit, and how long before she couldn't
resist the urge to fall into old patterns and run something fast and
loose for Greenlee's grandfather? Oh, it would profit the old
man---she'd see to that---but it wouldn't be something on the approved
list, and it would probably profit her as well.
"The thing is," Greenlee continued calmly as though she
wasn't using words to tear another person's heart from her breast,
"if Binks loves you---and I think she does---worthiness won't
matter. She'll have you, and common sense be damned. She's enough
Erica's daughter that she'll get what she wants, and you have it harder
than Leo did because let's face facts, I'm a long ways from perfect, and
Leo and I both had to make some pretty major allowances. That won't be
the case with Bianca. She's halfway to perfect and she knows it, and
just like Erica, if you step too far out of line with Binks, she'll be
up on her high horse, and you'll be out in the cold."
Lena found herself nodding against her own wishes. Yes, she'd seen
enough of Bianca to know that was entirely too true. Yes, she could be
very forgiving, but also very judgmental.
"What you've got to do," Greenlee continued, her voice
softening even more, becoming almost kind, "is accept your basic
nature, but make sure it's always used to protect her."
The last words sank in and Lena looked up, a bewildered frown
settling over her features as she struggled to make sense of that.
Advice in the past had always come in the form of telling her how she
needed to straighten up, fly right, and become a decent, honest,
hardworking citizen, something she had so far been either uninterested
in or incapable of. Unless she was very mistaken, Greenlee was taking a
wholly new tack and telling her to be exactly who and what she was, just
on Bianca's behalf. It was a concept that had never even remotely
occurred to her.
"Go ahead and be a liar and a thief," Greenlee recommended.
"Hell, you can't be anything else ... but you make damn sure it's
always for her and never against her." Her mouth twisted into a wry
smile. "You make sure she knows you're always on her side ...
that's what Leo did ... and it's the only chance you've got."
Lena blinked as she truly began to understand what Greenlee was
telling her, shaking her head slowly in a kind of shock. Only Greenlee
Duprés could give this kind of advice. It wouldn't even occur to anyone
else, and yet it made a perverse kind of sense. "Everything I do is
for her," she said at last.
Greenlee nodded, her expression satisfied if not exactly happy.
"I'm going to hold you to that," she said at last, and turned
to leave, moving away several paces before Lena finally found her voice
"Meaning?" the Polish woman called after Greenlee's
retreating back, uncertain exactly where they stood. Nothing seemed to
be making sense, and she couldn't decide if it was because she was so
damned tired, or because nothing in Pine Valley was ever overly logical.
The smaller woman did a neat turn. "Meaning," she explained
surprisingly patiently, "that I owe Leo ... and if you do right by
her, you've got an ally whether you want one or not ... and if you
don't, Erica won't be the only one out to get you. I believe in second
chances, not thirds." She didn't allow time for a reply, just
turned and hurried away, leaving a faintly bemused Lena staring after
her. She stayed there for a long time, then finally straightened away
from the wall and went back inside, Greenlee's words still playing in
her mind, as she suspected they would be for some time to come. Like it
or not, she had a lot to think about.