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Part IV

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Danielle shifted nervously in her seat as they pulled up in front of her apartment. A cold dread seeped into her bones as she reached to open the car door. Alex sensed her fear and placed a hand reassuringly on her shoulder.

"You wait here. Iíll to go up and check things out." Danielle glanced at her gratefully, ashamed at her own fear. Still, she remained frozen in place as she watched Alex climb the stairs to her apartment.

When Alex reached the top she pulled a pick from the inside compartment of her jacket and deftly unlocked the neighborís door. The apartment was empty. Not a stick of furniture remained. She checked out every room before returning to Danielle.

"Itís just like I thought. Heís moved."

Danielle relaxed. "Really. Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I opened the door and looked in."

Relief washed over her and she hurried up the stairs and peaked in the apartment. She blinked not trusting her eyes. "Everythingís cleared out," she said in amazement.

"Yeah, doesnít look like heís coming back."

"Wow, what did you say to him?"

Alex shrugged. "He must have decided that it was in his best interests to keep away from you."

"Well, Iím glad heís gone." Danielle pulled the door closed. "Do you think we should lock it?"

Alex shrugged. "Even an amateur thief wouldnít have a problem with these locks." Danielle looked a little anxious at the prospect. Immediately she was sorry she had voiced her thoughts.

"Would you like to come in for a drink?"

"Sure."

Once inside, Alex scanned the room. The apartment was decorated in earthtones. It had a warm, homey feel that she felt at ease in. She spotted a picture on top of the bookcase and picked it up to examine.

Danielle handed her a scotch. "My family."

"You look a lot like your mother."

"Yeah, Iím fair, like her. My sister is dark like my father. Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

Alex took a sip of her drink. "I have older brother." She glanced away awkwardly and set the picture down. "This is a nice apartment."

"Thanks, itís kind of small, but cozy."

"It suits you." Alex took another sip of her drink and set it down. "You have to be up early. I really should be leaving." Danielle tried to hide her disappointment.

She stepped forward and gave Alex a fleeting embrace. "Thank you... for everything." Alex felt her face grow warm.

She shrugged and made her way to the door as Danielle followed.

Alexís hand tightened on the knob. This was it. She could step through, pull the door closed and ease out of the young womanís life forever. Alex hesitated, reaching into her pants pocket she pulled out a slip of paper with her cell phone number. She handed it to Danielle. "If you need anything, call me."

Danielle clutched the number gratefully in her hand. As Alex turned to leave, Danielle worked up the courage to speak.

"I was wondering if... maybe we could get together for dinner this week."

Alex paused awkwardly, knowing she should decline. Danielleís eyes were filled with such hope, such expectation that she couldnít bear the idea of disappointing her. "How about Tuesday?"

Danielle beamed, then she remembered her appointment with Elaine Tuesday evening.

Alex noticed her hesitation. "Maybe some other time."

"No, I can make it... Itís just that I was supposed to meet a friend at the shelter, but I can cancel. No problem."

"I donít want you to change your plans."

"No really... I donít mind. I..." A thought came to her. "You could come with me. Maybe you could show the women some self defense moves."

"Well, I... I donít..."

"You could meet some my friends and we could have a late dinner afterward."

Danielle was looking at her again with those bright imploring eyes, and Alex knew she couldnít say no even though she disliked social situations.

"What do you say?" Danielle asked as she flashed a beautiful smile.

"Okay, I pick you up at six on Tuesday."

*****

It had been a hectic morning, but Danielle had managed to get the first segment of the story to Liz for approval. She was just contemplating skipping lunch to get caught up when Jan from the front desk approached her and handed her a package.

"Someone left this for you."

Danielle gave her a puzzled look and tore the brown wrapping. Her mouth dropped open.

Jan noted Danielleís curious reaction. "Everything okay?"

Danielle could not speak. She pulled her journal from the wrapping and held it in her hands. Quickly, she flipped open, looking for a note or explanation. She was startled to see the medallion carefully wrapped in tissue paper inside.

"Who gave this to you?" Danielle questioned

"Some kid, couldnít have been more than twelve years old. Why?"

"How long ago?" Danielle stood up, scanning the room.

"Probably twenty minutes ago anyway. I got busy and couldnít get away from the desk. Is something wrong?"

Danielle sat back down. "No... Itís just... Jan, can you sign me out? Iím going out for lunch."

She hurried past the puzzled woman, anxious to speak with Elaine.

*****

The rest of her day went painfully slow. She thought it would never end. Elaine had shown distress over the journal appearing out of thin air and advised her to contact the police. This was the last thing she wanted to do even though she was now certain that the thief had taken her diary. The medallion had been in the safe. Including it with the journal left no doubt that the thief had taken them both. Why did he return them? Had he read her journal?

She briefly considered discussing it with Alex. But the last thing she wanted was to scare her new friend off. How would Alex react to her being the stalked by yet another crazy man? But the thief wasnít crazy or violent. She closed her eyes and found her thoughts drifting to him. He had been so gentle, his voice so tender. She visualized his warm brown eyes. There had been nothing threatening in them. Something about him called to her. This strange fascination worried her.

*****

Alex was right on time. Danielle had never been happier to see anyone. She had missed Alex and felt so at ease with her that she began filling her in on the events of the last two days, including the robbery and diary incident in spite of her previous reservations. She was confident Alex would know what to do. Danielle trusted and valued her opinion.

Alex was extremely uncomfortable with the conversation. She felt guilty for deceiving the young woman and hated lying to her.

"Do you think he read it?"

"I donít know Danielle. Itís likely he did."

"Why do you think he returned them to me?"

"Itís hard to say."

"Elaine thinks I should call the police. What do you think?"

Alex paused only a moment. "I think your friendís right. This person could be dangerous. I donít think you should take chances." Alex pulled up outside the center.

Danielle turned to her. "Alex, I know in my heart that this thief would never hurt me. It sounds crazy but I think he returned them because he knew they meant something to me." Danielle looked down at her hands shyly. "Iím not going to call the police because I donít want to see him caught. In fact the night of the robbery when the detective questioned me I... I lied about his description."

Alex was stunned and couldnít hide her surprise. "Why?"

"I canít explain it, but my instincts tell me to protect him. Give him a chance." She looked up at Alex expecting to see disapproval in her eyes instead there was something else...

Alex turned away.

"You think Iím nuts."

Alex cleared her throat. "No I think youíre very special. But be careful who you forgive, not everyone deserves a second chance." She exited the car ending the conversation.

*****

Danielle smiled as Alex patiently instructed the large group of women.

She watched Alex move with fluid grace. The powerful woman excited her, and she felt her body automatically respond. The scene was somehow familiar and tugged at something inside, until the attraction she felt for Alex was so strong that she felt a need to distance herself in order to collect her thoughts. Elaine and Spike followed her when she left.

Elaine looked Danielle over carefully. Though faded, the bruises still had an angry look to them. "You really took a beating. Are you feeling okay?"

"Yeah, physically Iím fine itís just ... well emotionally I..."

She dropped into a comfortable chair, not knowing how to explain what she was feeling.

Elaine spoke softly. "These things can leave scars. It might help to talk."

"It was tough at first. I had nightmares and ... I felt so vulnerable. But Iím better now. Alex has helped me so much I..." She blushed.

"Yes, unusual friend you have there," Elaine said carefully.

Spike threw an eyebrow up. "Unusual wasn't the word I had in mind. Jesus, sheís like a frickin' Amazon."

Danielleís expression broke into an undisguised smile. "Sheís incredible, isnít she?"

"Hmm" Elaine responded guardedly. "Handles herself very well." She watched Danielleís reaction closely.

Spike laughed. "Elaine, as always, youíre the master of understatement." The dark-haired woman turned to Danielle. "Do you have something going with her?"

"Nnnn...no, of course not." Danielle blushed, looking away.

"Danielle, what do you know about this woman?" Elaine asked cautiously.

"What do you mean?"

"Iím not sure how to put this, but I canít help being a little suspicious of her."

Danielle ruffled a little. "Elaine, she saved my life. I donít know how I would have gotten through this without her. Sheís been a good friend to me."

Spike rolled her eyes, sensing there was more to this than Danielle was saying.

"Relax, I know this isnít any of my business, but youíre my friend."

Danielleís eyes softened, realizing Elaine had only her best interests at heart.

Elaine continued. "Itís just... well... she seems a little worldly for you."

Spike piped up. "Hey, different is good. You kinda balance each other."

Danielle looked hopeful. "I really care about her." She stopped, waiting for their reaction. They both remained silent so she went on. "Iíve never felt this way before. From the moment I wake up all I can do is think about her. Iím just putting in time at the paper. If I didnít have this series to concentrate on, I wouldnít be able to write at all. When we are apart, I just want to find a way to be with her again." She took a deep breath, relieved to have finally voiced her feelings.

"Sounds like youíve got it bad." Spike prompted. Elaine rolled her eyes at Spikeís comment.

"When Iím with her my heart races... I feel truly alive for the first time in my life. And believe it or not sometimes I get so nervous that I canít even speak."

"Does she know how you feel?" Elaine asked seriously.

"No. I..."

"Well God, woman, you should tell her." Spike interrupted.

"Yeah right," Danielle shook her head doubtfully. "Tell her that I dream of her at night, and fantasize about her all day... that I canít imagine my life without her?"

"Well... those arenít the lines I would lead in with." Spike offered. They broke into soft laughter.

Danielle shook her head. "Itís all so sudden, I know it sounds crazy, but I think Iím in love with her."

"Hey, loveís a crazy thing." Spike smiled.

Danielle looked to Elaine. Her friend was silent, her expression troubled.

"Maybe she feels the same," Spike added hopefully.

"Sometimes, the oddest feeling comes over me and Iím certain she does. Then later, I convince myself itís just wishful thinking." Danielle took a deep breath and voiced her concern. "She may not even like women... that way."

Spike stood up. "Just leave it to me. Iíll find out for you." She turned, winked at Danielle and left the room.

Danielle stood to protest but Spike was already out the door. She looked at Elaine anxiously. "Sheís not going to do anything embarrassing is she?"

"When it comes to Spike, I canít make any guarantees." Elaine smiled softly.

Danielleís expression was serious, her eyes sad. "Alex told me sheís planning to leave town ."

"Danielle, I donít want to see you get hurt. Maybe itís best if you get out of this now."

"I canít. Not if there is a chance that she feels something for me too."

"And if she doesnít?"

Danielle released a heavy sigh. "I need her in my life."

*****

Alexís training was finished by the time Spike caught up to her. Some twenty excited women were huddled around the tall woman questioning her. Spike broke through the crowd, coming to her rescue.

"Letís step outside for a minute. Itís cooler." Alex took a deep breath, relieved for an excuse to be away from the commotion.

Spike lit up a cigarette and offered it to Alex, who declined.

"Yeah, itís a filthy habit. Iíd quit if I didnít enjoy it so much." She let her eyes run the length of Alex, unabashed. "So, are you involved with anyone?"

Alex was taken of guard and smiled. "Why Spike, if I didnít know better, Iíd think you were hitting on me."

"Subtle, Iím not. So?"

"Iím not with anyone... itís just... " She hesitated.

"Not into women, huh?"

The conversation was much more personal than Alex was comfortable with, and she considered ending the discussion with a simple no, but she liked the woman and decided to be honest. "Actually I am Ďintoí women. Itís a bad time for me, thatís all."

"Just my luck." Spike winked.

Alex laughed. "Do you think Danielleís done speaking with Elaine?"

Spike smiled and opened the door for Alex. "Iím sure sheís got all the info she needs... now."

*****

Alex watched as Spike made her way through the crowd. Her eyes glanced nervously around the room until she caught sight of Danielle. The tension in her body eased. A large group of women had surrounded her young friend, engaging her in conversation. Danielle looked happy and relaxed. It was obvious that she shared a special bond with these women.

Alex stood in the shadows and watched her friend converse with a confident grace. She was spellbound. Every gesture, every expression drew her deeper. The other women faded from view, the sounds of their voices dimmed into silence. For Alex, there was only Danielle.

*****

Spike maneuvered through the crowd to Danielle. She leaned in whispering in her ear. "I think your warrior is getting restless."

Danielleís heart skipped a beat. "Whatíd you say?"

"You know, your friend, the Amazon." Spike joked.

"Oh... I..." Danielle looked confused for a moment. Her face flushed.

"Hey, are you feeling all right?"

"Yeah. Itís just... what you said... I got the oddest feeling. She is like a warrior isnít she?"

"Well it doesnít take a rocket scientist to see she knows how to handle herself."

"No, I guess not." Danielle glanced across the room at Alex. Spike's comment had hit home.

"Donít you even want to know if she is or isnít?"

"Is what?" Danielle questioned, lost in her thoughts.

Spike ran her hand in front of Danielleís face. "Interested in women." Spike snapped her fingers to get her friendís full attention. "You wanted to know her preference, remember?"

Danielle broke out of her haze. Her attention now fully focused on the brazen young woman. "Did you find out?"

"Of course." Spike commented proudly, pausing for effect while her anxious friend looked on. Youíll be happy to hear that she is."

"Just like that, she told you?" Danielle asked in surprise.

"Well, no. I made a pass at her first." Spike grinned mischievously.

"What?!"

"Take it easy, nothing happened. She said it was a bad time for her."

"You have more nerve... " Danielle was suddenly envious of her friendís boldness.

"So Iíve been told." Spike winked. "Arenít you even going to thank me?"

"What would I do without you?"

"Youíre life would probably be even more dull than it is now."

"Sometimes I swear..." Danielle feigned irritation, then laughed cheerfully.

Spike smiled. "The ballís in your court now. Good luck."

For the first time, Danielle allowed herself to think that maybe she had a chance with Alex after all.

*****

Alex was uncharacteristically caught off guard by a voice behind her. "It was nice of you to come tonight and show the women a few moves. I appreciate it." Elaine smiled warmly, but Alex could feel her distrust. She had developed a sixth sense about these things over the years.

"I was happy to do it." Alex responded.

"Danielle believes you saved her life." Elaine commented.

Alex noted the edge of doubt in the womanís words. "Iím glad I was able to help."

"Lucky for Danielle you happened to be there."

Alex sensed the accusation beneath her words, but didnít comment.

"Youíre new to this area arenít you?" Elaine continued.

"Yes. I move around quite a bit." Alex took the opportunity to change the direction of the conversation. "This is an impressive organization youíve built here."

"Yes itís amazing what women can accomplish together. Weíre a family. We look out for each other."

"I can see that," Alex said sincerely. "Danielle seems very much at home here."

"She is part of our family." Elaine looked at Alex pointedly. "I hope Iíll have the opportunity to get to know you better, now that youíre seeing so much of Danielle." Alex caught the hidden warning. She respected Elaineís efforts to protect Danielle. Elaine had good instincts not to trust her.

"I would like that, but Iím afraid Iíll be moving soon." Alex conceded. Their eyes met in a silent understanding. Elaine only nodded.

They turned and walked toward their common interest.

*****

Danielle felt a presence beside her and looked up to see Alex. She couldnít help prolonging her glance, Her mind processing the information Spike had given her.

"You getting hungry yet?" Alex asked, a little anxiously.

"Yeah, you know me and food." Danielle turned to Elaine and Spike. "We really should be going."

Spike stepped forward to embrace Danielle and whispered into her ear. "Go for it."

A warm sensation flood over her body as she considered the possibility. Danielle turned quickly to Elaine in an attempt to ignore the pleasant sensation..

Elaine noticed Danielleís giddy tension. Something about this new friend wasnít right. She sensed danger in the tall woman and wanted to talk to her friend privately. She hugged Danielle, releasing her slowly. "Call me when you get home." As they walked away Elaineís eyes lingered on the mysterious woman at Danielleís side.

*****

On the drive back to Danielleís apartment, Alex seemed distant and it worried Danielle. She couldnít shake the feeling that Alex was planning to leave town soon, and she desperately needed more time with her. "Would you like to go to a movie tomorrow night?"

Alex hesitated. The longer she let this go on, the harder it would be to leave town. "I canít tomorrow. IÖ"

"Oh.... well what about Thursday?" Danielle saw Alex hesitate and added desperately, "I need youíre advice on a new lock for my apartment. Maybe you could take a look at it and suggest something"

Alexís resolve faltered. She was grateful for a legitimate excuse to see Danielle again. It was important that Danielle was safe before she left town. She ignored the warning voice in the back of her mind. "Sure, Thursdayís fine."

Danielle beamed. "Same time?"

She nodded. "Iíll bring a new lock for your door. It shouldnít take me long to install it."

"Great! Iíll see you then."

Alex couldnít help smiling as she pulled out of the lot. She knew she had to leave town soon and their friendship would have to end, but for now, she allowed herself the small pleasure of looking forward to their next meeting.

*****

When Danielle awoke Thursday morning, she was twenty-three. Unfortunately her day was so hectic she did not have much time to think about the milestone. She worked nonstop to complete the series and gave it to Liz for approval. Fearful that her time with Alex was coming to an end, She requested vacation. Alex was her priority, she wanted to spend every possible moment with her.

Danielle was running late. Several things came up at work, delaying her. As soon as she was in the door she began shedding her clothes. She jumped into the shower, letting the warm water ease her nervous tension. When she shut the water off, she heard her doorbell. Quickly pulling a robe over her wet body, she ran for the door. No one was there. She stepped into the hall and hurried down the stairs. As she stepped outside, she saw Alex opening the car door.

"Wait! Donít go!"

Alex turned to face her. Danielle stood in the driveway, her hair in wet tangles around her face, her sheer robe clinging to every curve of her body. She was beautiful.

"I just came down to get my tools." Alex smiled.

"Oh... I... I was in the shower."

"Mmm, I can see that." Alex said playfully. "Maybe we should go inside."

Danielle was too relieved to be embarrassed. She laughed. "Right."

Back upstairs Alex set down her heavy tool box.

"Iím sorry Iím running late. Itís been one of those days," Danielle apologized.

Alex shrugged and tried to concentrate on something other than the perfect body before her. "I read your story in the Sentinel. Itís very good."

Danielle blushed. "Thanks, I didnít think you got the paper."

"I wouldnít have missed it." Alex said sincerely. "Why donít you finish getting ready, and Iíll take care of the lock?" As Danielle turned to go Alex couldnít help casting one last admiring glance.

She installed the lock in no time and put the tools back in her car. Before closing the car door, she grabbed a bag from the back seat.

Danielle was sitting on the couch when she returned. Alex pulled a bottle of champagne from the bag and sat across from her. "I brought this to toast your first story." She handed the bottle to Danielle.

Danielleís eyes sparkled as she clutched the bottle. "Thanks, I love champagne."

She twisted the cork furiously to extract it. Suddenly it let loose in a violent explosion. Alex snagged it in midair just as a burst of champagne soaked the front of her shear blouse.

Danielle looked aghast. "God, Iím so sorry! Damn, Iím so clumsy." Danielle ran to the kitchen to grab a towel. Dropping to her knees, she began dabbing at Alexís top nervously.

"Itís okay. The cleaners will get it out," Alex assured her. She took Danielleís hands in her own, stilling their frantic movement. Their eyes met and Alex knew without a doubt Danielle wanted her. The young womanís hunger was undisguised.

Danielle closed her eyes and willed Alex to kiss her. As if caught in a spell, Alex cupped her face in her hands and leaned forward. Danielle released a faint sigh. Her lips parted in expectation. She was the essence of innocence.

The tender surrender stopped Alex cold. Her blood rushed hot through her veins, but she held back. She was in too deep, her control was slipping. She resisted a nearly insuppressible urge to flee. When nothing happened Danielle opened her eyes. Alex could not look into them. Instead, she bent in, kissing her lightly on the forehead.

Danielleís pulse was racing. The sensation of Alexís lips on her skin set her on fire. She prayed she wouldnít stop. "Alex I..."

Alex interrupted. "I better get out of this wet top. Do you have a T-shirt I can change into?" Danielle got up on unsteady legs and retrieved a shirt from the bedroom. She watched sadly as Alex entered the bathroom and closed the door behind her. Her head was reeling. She felt Alexís desire, she was sure of it. What had she done wrong?

Alex stood in the bathroom gripping the sink. She looked at her image in the mirror and turned from it in disgust. Danielle deserved better. From the beginning, she had deceived her. This had to end before it went any farther. She quickly changed and tried to collect herself.

Danielle filled two champagne glasses and sat waiting on the couch for Alex. The powerful feelings were so new to her that she didnít know how to proceed.

When Alex returned,she sat in the chair beside the couch, purposely leaving some distance between them. She lifted her glass in toast.

"To the first of many stories." Their glasses clicked and both took a long sip.

Alex took another drink. "Itís a pretty remarkable accomplishment. You should always remember today."

"Iím sure I will." Danielle smiled. "Itís my birthday. "

"Happy Birthday." Alex smiled. "Thatís even more cause to celebrate." She raised her glass to Danielleís and tapped the lip. "I hope your birthday wish comes true."

Danielle eyes were riveted to the woman before her. She couldnít stop thinking about her soft lips and the way they had felt against her skin. She spoke without thinking. "You could make my wish come true."

Alex froze, and Danielle knew once again she had gone too far. She tried to cover her slip by revealing a different fantasy. "I... I saw the motorcycle at your cabin. Iíve always wanted to... I wonder if you would give me a ride."

Alex visibly relaxed. "Just say when."

"What about tomorrow?"

Alex looked surprised. Danielleís interest piqued her curiosity. "Okay, youíre on." She watched as the young womanís eyes shone with excitement.

"Thatís terrific." Danielle exclaimed.

"So youíve never ridden before?"

"NoÖ but it's always been a fantasy of mine." Her face colored slightly, embarrassed by revealing this facet of her personality.

Alex couldnít contain her curiosity. "Why?"

Danielle looked at Alex shyly. "They seem so powerfulÖ Thereís something about harnessing all that power that excites me. Itís kind of sillyÖ IÖ"

"Itís not. Tell me."

"WellÖ I think itís the element of danger that attracts me. The idea of being in controlÖ even for a short timeÖ ItísÖ itís alluring." Danielle blushed fully with her admission. "I havenít had much adventure in my life." Danielle smiled. "At least not until lately and Iíd be lying if I said I havenít enjoyed it, just a little."

"Itís ironic." Alex said, giving voice to her thoughts.

"What?"

"My life is full of... adventure. But, sometimes I think it would be such a relief to letÖ" Alex contemplated her discovery. For someone who had always set her own course, made her own decisions, lived life on the edge, the idea of relinquishing control, even for just a brief time was alluring. Oddly this felt more dangerous than the multitude of risky things she did on a regular basis.

Danielle watched her friend carefully. At last, Alex had taken the first step and revealed part of herself. It made her long to know more.

Alex broke out of her thoughts and smiled. "Anyway, I understand. The dangerÖ thatís part of the attraction for me too." Danielle loved Alexís sudden openness.

She gave Alex a sly wink. "So what should I wear for this little adventure, something in black studded leather maybe?"

"Somehow that image of you doesnít work for me." Alex grinned.

"No?" Danielle feigned disappointment, then laughed softly. "I guess youíre right. I donít fit the stereotype do I? The only thing pierced on me is my ears." She smiled and looked inquisitively at Alex. "What about you?"

"Nope, but if I did, it wouldnít be my ears." She smiled wickedly and Danielle had to laugh. "Just wear something warm. Iíll have the leather requirement covered."

The evening passed quickly, all awkwardness faded. The champagne helped take the edge off. But it was more than that. Alex had never felt so comfortable with anyone before. When she was around Danielle she was totally at ease. She loved her enthusiasm and energy. Danielle had a passion for living that matched her own.

She was sorry to see the night end.

*****

Danielle watched out the window for Alex. When she saw her pull up, she hurried down the stairs to meet her. As her eyes settled on this beautiful woman seated on the massive machine it brought to mind some great beast that Alex had tamed. It seemed to roar defiantly before Alex shut it off and dismounted to greet her.

"All set?"

"Iíve been looking forward to this." Danielle said excitedly.

"Where would you like to go?"

"Why donít you surprise me." She winked. It seemed natural to follow wherever this woman chose to lead her.

Alex handed her a helmet and signaled for her to settle in behind her. Danielle straddled the bike in a fluid motion.

"Hold on tight." Alex cautioned and kicked the starter. The engine growled and Danielle felt the bike vibrate deliciously between her legs. Her hands slid around Alexís waist. She could feel Alexís abs flex beneath her fingers. There was a raw power that emanated from both Alex and the bike. It was a heady mix. Danielle loved it.

They spent the entire day together. It was incredible. The best day of Danielleís life. They had driven around the better part of the afternoon, finally stopping for dinner. As they walked back to the bike to return home, Danielle smiled outwardly. The sun was beginning to go down, cooling the air considerably. The thought of pressing against Alexís warm body for the ride home thrilled her, causing a chill of excitement to run up her spine. Alex noticed and immediately offered her jacket.

"No really, Iím fine."

"The temperatureís dropped. It will be cooler on the ride back." She slid the jacket off and placed it over Danielleís shoulders. Her heat still warmed the lining. Danielle fantasized for a moment that she was in the older womanís embrace.

"Now that you have the outfit, do you want to give it a try?"

Danielle gave her a puzzled glance. "Me?"

"Yeah, Iíll help you."

Danielleís pulse quickened and an eager smile spread across her face.

"Climb on in front." Danielle straddled the bike and Alex climbed on behind her. The feel of Alex pressed against her back coupled with the anticipation of what she was about to do was exhilarating.

Alex flopped the pedal out and placed the bike in neutral. "Okay, put your left hand on the on the grips and pull the clutch. Squeeze it in."

"Like this?"

"Perfect, turn the key. Now youíre going to crack the throttle. Put your hand on the right handle and twist. Thatís right." Alex placed her hands gently over top Danielleís. "Next, youíll kick the starter with your right foot. It takes a bit of strength so you want to stand on the pegs and jump up, bringing the force of your weight down on the pedal. Ready?"

Danielle took a deep breath and raised up on the pegs. She jumped and thrust. The engine roared. Her heart pounded furiously in her chest." I did it!

"Iíll guide you now. Here we go." Alex shifted into gear, and they were off. Danielle could not get over the incredible sensations that flooded her senses. Her view was completely unobstructed. It was like flying. She could have ridden forever.

When Alex pulled up in front of her apartment, she asked her up for a drink, trying to extend their time together. "Itíll warm you up." Danielle suggested. Alex smiled and followed her inside. Like Danielle, she didnít want the day to end.

Danielle dropped the jacket on the chair and went to the kitchen. She returned with two glasses of brandy. She handed Alex the snifter, their fingers touching briefly in the exchange. The contact was electric. Alex shivered.

"Youíre cold." Danielle frowned. "Maybe you should put your jacket on until you warm up a little." She turned away from Alex and walked over to the chair to get the jacket. When she reached to pick it up, she noticed something bright protruding from the pocket and pulled it out. Her mouth dropped open. It was her scarf, the one the thief had use to gag her.

"Iím fine." Alex insisted. She took a long sip of the brandy enjoying the warmth that spread through her. Danielle was standing motionless, her back to Alex. Something was wrong. "Danielle, what is it?"

The younger woman turned, holding the scarf. Her hands were trembling.

Alexís breath caught. The moment to lie, or pass it off as a coincidence, had passed. The expression on her face confirmed her guilt. "Danielle, I..."

"It... it was you?" Danielle looked confused.

Alex couldnít speak. Her shame was too great. The fantasy was over. Danielle knew the truth and would hate her for it. She merely nodded.

"But... your eyes. I donít..." Danielleís voice was unsteady.

"Contacts..." Her voice cracked. She was not able to continue.

Danielleís knees started to give, and she sat down in the chair. Her mind worked furiously to catch up. "And my journal... YOU took my journalÖ you read my private thoughts."

Alex couldnít respond. Her world was collapsing around her.

"All this timeÖyou lied to me..." Betrayal and hurt seeped into the young womanís voice. Her mind frantically replayed the past weeks and their new significance.

"I..." Alex tried to speak. There were no words. No way to justify her actions.

"And the medallion... "

Alex ran her fingers nervously through her hair. She wanted to run.

Danielleís expression flipped between anger, hurt and disbelief. The enormity of the invasion threatened to overwhelm her. It was too much to take in. She shook her head in disbelief. "Why...? I... I trusted you... I thought you were my friend." Her mind was reeling. She stood waiting for a response.

Alex stood mute. How could she explain what she herself didnít understand? How could she tell this woman what she was truly feeling? There was no defense for her actions. They were reprehensible.

Danielle looked at her angrily. "Well?"

"Danielle, I... Iím sorry."

"Sorry?! Thatís it!? You rob my uncleís home, tie me up, take my diary, and..." Her next thought was almost too painful to voice. "and ... pretend to be my friend."

"I wasnít pretending, I..."

"What is it you want? What is it youíre after that you didnít get already?" Tears born of betrayal ran down her cheeks. "You... you only had to ask... I would have given..." She stopped herself, too wounded to share her true feelings... that everything she had, could have been Alexís, including her heart. She squeezed her eyes shut as more realizations flooded over her. Alex must know that, she probably knew everything. She had read Danielleís thoughts, her fantasies. "How much did you read?" There was an edge of panic to her voice.

Alex didnít answer. She couldnít. Danielleís words sliced through her heart like a dagger. The only true happiness she had experienced her entire life had been the time she spent with Danielle. She understood the words Danielle had written, her pain, her desire. She felt the same and wanted the young woman in her life more than anything in the world. But it could never be. She was endangering Danielle simply by being around her. She had selfishly indulged her need to be close to this woman and now it was over.

Danielle interpreted Alexís silence as an unwillingness to talk. She grew eerily quiet. Her eyeís fell to her journal that she had just made a new entry in that morning. She picked it up and tossed it at Alex. "Here, take it. Iíve added to it since your last reading."

Alex held the leather book in her trembling hands. She reached out to return it to Danielle. "I..."

"In light of things, you should get quite a laugh out of it. Take it! I wonít be needing it any more." Pain gripped her heart, until she thought she might cry out, it was so intense. She took a deep breath.

"I think you better leave." There was no longer any anger in her voice, only pain. "I need to be alone. I... I need time to think."

Alex left quietly, clutching the journal to her chest.

The click of the door catching as it closed signaled the end of the happiness Danielle had found. Her dreams shattered.

*****

Danielle sat paralyzed on her bed. She had no tears left. The best day of her life had suddenly become the worst. She had always envisioned her twenty third year as a turning point in her life. Always hoped that by some miracle things would at last fall into place for her. Instead, she was devastated, her heart broken.

She reached for the medallion hanging on the bedpost. Her fingers tingled as she ran them over the surface. She clenched it tightly in her hand. Her thoughts drifted to Alex and her deception. The medallion grew warm. As, her hurt and disappointment escalated to anger and frustration, the medallion began to radiate a heat that she could not ignore. She opened her hand and touched the delicate engravings. The spiral patterns like those on her journal made her thoughts return to Alex.

Her mind flashed back to Alex saving her life, and she knew it wasnít all a lie. It couldnít be. She had an instinct about people. Alex had been kind to her. There was no denying that the time she had spent with her had been the happiest in her life. But it was much more than that. Danielle was in love with Alex, hopelessly. The medallion popped open with a soft click, startling her. Carefully she held it up and looked inside.

She blinked her eyes, disbelieving what they revealed. The locket held two oval sepia tone photos. On the right side was a picture of a woman that could have been Alexís twin. On the left was a woman who looked very much like herself. She knew immediately that it was her grandmother who had died before she was born. Carefully, she extracted the image with her likeness and looked at the back. It read, Briana, descendent of Gabrielle of Poteidaia. She carefully replaced it and took out the one that resembled Alex. The notation on the back indicated that the womanís ancestor was Xena of Amphipolis.

The half-remembered tale of her grandmother running off with a woman came back to her. The implications of the photos were clear. She closed the locket and clutched it to her chest. She needed to find Alex. They had to talk. She grabbed her car keys and headed out the door.

Continue to Part V

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