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Part VII

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Alex ate a huge breakfast. Food had never tasted so good to her. Danielle poured her a cup of coffee and flashed a beautiful smile. The older woman playfully ruffled her hair. Alex felt wonderful. For the first time in her life she wasnít alone. Danielle was an integral part of her life. She felt such joy just being with her. Her life had been transformed.

Danielle took a seat across from her at the kitchen table. Her green eyes were suddenly serious.

"What is it?" Alex asked.

Danielle didnít want a confrontation, but knew this had to be settled before they could go on. She hesitated and reached out covering Alexís hand with her own. "I want to go with you when you meet with Julian."

Danielle could not comprehend the evil he embodied. Alex would give her life to protect her from it, but she feared her life would not be enough. "No."

Danielle pulled her hand back. "No? Thatís it? No discussion?"

"Itís not safe."

"Alex weíve been over this. I stayed home while you did the robbery, but I canít let you do this alone."

"Julian may not know about you yet." Her eyes pleaded for Danielle to relent. "Itís safer for you here."

"You think he doesnít know about me already?" Danielle asked sarcastically.

Alex feared she was right. "He would enjoy bringing you painÖ There is nothing I wouldnít do to prevent him from hurting you, but I... I donít know if I can protect you... Heíll sense what you mean to me and use you to manipulate me. You donít understand what heís capable of."

"Alex, how can I make you see that our love is not your weakness but your strength?"

Alex reached out and took Danielleís hand. She could barely keep her voice steady. "Your love means everything to me. I... I couldnít go on if anything happened to you."

Danielle spoke with conviction as she looked deep into her loverís eyes. "Then you shouldnít have any trouble understanding how I feel."

"Youíre not going to let this go, are you?" Alex said, shaking her head in frustration.

"No." Danielle said firmly. "But if you bend this time, Iíll bend the next." She raised a playful eyebrow.

Alex didnít respond, memories of the extreme cruelty Julian was capable of flooded her thoughts.

"Alex, trust me. Believe in us. Together we can beat him. I have a plan."

Danielle had a look of fierce determination. Alex had lost this battle and she knew it. She sighed deeply and pressed Danielleís fingers to her lips. "All right, weíll do this your way."

Danielle was around the table in a flash, hugging her tightly. Alex could not share her loverís happiness. For the first time in her life, she said a silent prayer.

*****

Danielle had just picked up the breakfast dishes when the doorbell rang. She was startled to see a police officer standing at her door and opened it hesitantly.

"Danielle Stafford?"

"Yes."

"Iíve been sent to drive you to the station. Detective Bowin would like to speak with you." Danielle tried to stall. Alex wasn't home. She was out meeting Sal. Danielle wanted time to speak with her before she talked to the police. "Iím expecting company. Can I come later?"

"Iím afraid not maíam."

Danielle grabbed her coat and closed the door, unable to shake the sense of dread creeping over her.

*****

Sal paced anxiously at their appointed meeting place waiting for Alex to arrive. He was relieved to see her drive up on time.

"Alex, thanks for coming."

She could tell by his nervous behavior that something had thrown him. "What is it? Whatís gone wrong?"

"I ran into some bad luck. The jeweler who purchased your merchandise gave my name to the police in return for a plea bargain. Theyíve come down hard. Had five men searching the shop. Of course they didnít find anything. Theyíre so inept."

"So they donít have anything? Are you sure?"

"Positive, they donít have anything they can prove. But Alex, you should watch your step. They put a lot of pressure on trying to get me to roll over on you. Obviously, itís not me they want. Itís you theyíre after."

Alex shrugged. "Theyíll have to get in line."

"You should take this seriously. Thereís nothing to worry about as far as Iím concerned. Theyíll never get me to set you up. I hope you know that."

Alex nodded. She believed him.

"I wanted to warn you. I donít know what your connection is to this Stafford woman. Itís none of my business, but now they think sheís in on it." He noticed a crack in her cool exterior.

"Theyíre likely to bring her in for questioning to find out what she knows."

Alex tried to ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Thanks for the warning. Is there anything I can do to help you? I have some contacts that might be of service."

"Donít worry about me, Alex. Money has a way of wiping away most problems. And you know me, I have more money than God and the best lawyers money can buy." That got a small smile. "Cover your own tracks. This Bowin guy is serious. Heís looking to make a reputation at your expense."

She nodded in acknowledgment. "Look, Iíve got to go." She gripped Salís hand in friendship. "Thanks. I wonít forget, thatís two I owe you now."

Sal shook his head. "Iíll bet youíre wishing now you had placed a bomb in that package we delivered to the blonde." He saw her pained expression as she got in the car and drove off.

*****

She had to wait nearly twenty minutes before the policeman ushered her into Bowinís office. Detective Marsh was there also.

"Have a seat, Ms. Stafford."

"What can I do for you detective?" She tried to keep the edge from her voice.

"It seems you havenít been completely honest with us."

Danielle felt a rush of heat steal up the back of her neck. "I... I donít know what you mean."

"In following up on our investigation, we discovered that none of your uncleís neighbors called in the robbery. The only ones that could have seen the house deny making the call."

"Who then?" Danielle questioned.

"We think the thief made the call."

Danielle was surprised by this information. "I donít understand. Why would the thief call the police?"

"Perhaps she didnít want Ďherí partner to remain tied for an extended period."

Danielleís blood ran cold when he said Ďsheí. Did he know about Alex? She recovered and addressed the accusation. "Partner? You think Iím in on this?"

"Yes."

"Thatís ridiculous, why would I steal from my uncle?"

"Two and half million is a lot of incentive."

"Youíre wrong."

Detective Bowin was about to attempt a carefully orchestrated bluff. He had no real proof, only a hunch based on years of experience. Bluffing her into a confession was his only chance. "Itís over Ms. Stafford. We made a deal with her fence. He gave up the woman for his freedom."

Danielleís mind raced. Alex told her only a few hours ago that Sal called saying he had to meet with her about something important. Was it a trap? Her heart quickened.

Noting her reaction, he forged ahead, following through with his hunch. "Iíve had you followed the last few days. We know about your friend. We can link her directly to the crime and several murders." He watched Danielle and knew by the look on her face that she had bought it: hook, line and sinker.

Danielle looked as if she might faint.

He decided to take things one step farther. "Itís a done deal. She made a big mistake stealing the painting. Now we have her prints, too."

Danielle closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. It was useless. Her confession seemed to spill from her. "She didnít have a choice. It was blackmail."

Bowin smiled and glanced at Marisa. "And who was blackmailing her?"

Danielle paused for a heartbeat. "Julian Sezaree"

Marisaís mouth fell open, and she looked in disbelief at Bowin.

Bowin cleared his throat. "Maybe we could arrange a deal for your friend. If we had enough evidence to convict Sezaree, Iím sure we could get her a reduced sentence in return."

Danielleís voice was strained, the volume barely above a whisper. "Heíll have her killed."

"If she can provide enough evidence against him, I might be able to convince the DA to put her under protection."

Danielle was quiet.

"It seems as if youíve run out of choices. I can have my men haul her in now, then release her. Make Julian think she already gave him up. How long do you think she would last?"

Danielle couldnít keep her hands from shaking.

Marisa stood beside Danielle and placed her hand on her shoulder. "At least with your help, she has a chance."

Danielle remained quiet.

Bowin motioned to Marisa. "Have a car pick her up."

Danielle spoke quickly. "No, wait! I can get you the proof you need... if you agree to protect her."

"I think that can be arranged." He smiled and glanced at his partner. It had worked perfectly. Soon they would have the thief and Sezaree.

*****

After the terrible meeting with Bowin, Danielle went directly to the center. She spent several hours there, then drove out to Alexís cabin.

Danielle didnít waste any time. She went straight to the bedroom and lifted the floorboards. Using the key Alex had entrusted to her, she opened the safe and removed the tapes and documents. It felt like a betrayal, regardless of the circumstances. She closed the safe, putting the floor boards back in place and left the cabin. With a heavy heart, she drove to the police station.

By the time she arrived home, Alex was there waiting. Danielle fell into her arms. The stress of the day had taken itís toll.

"Danielle, Whatís wrong? Are you all right?"

Danielle pulled back. "Iím fine. I was worried about you. Iím so glad to see you."

Alex stroked her cheek. "Nothing to be worried about." She smiled softly.

"Did everything go okay with Sal.?"

"Itís just as I figured. The police brought him in for questioning. He wanted to warn me."

She tried to comfort her lover. "They donít have anything on me. Sal didnít tell them anything. But we need to be careful. After the meeting with Julian we need to get out of town as soon as possible."

"Are... are you sure he didnít say anything to the police?" Danielle couldn't help but be nervous. So much was riding on this.

Alex hesitated. In truth she trusted no one with the exception of Danielle. "Iím sure. Iíve known him a long time. I think he told me the truth."

Alex saw Danielleís distress and took her in her arms.

"What is it?" Alex pulled back, looking into her loverís eyes. "I understand if you want out. Iím asking so much of you; itís not fair." She cupped Danielleís face lovingly in her hands. "It's okay. I want whatís best for you."

"No, I intend to stand by you, no matter what." Her voice was firm, leaving little doubt as to her conviction. "Itís just... Iím afraid for you. I... I couldnít bear it if anything happened to you." Alex expelled a relieved breath lightly kissed her lover.

Without warning tears came to Alexís eyes "I need you Danielle." Alexís heart-felt admission removed the final barrier between them. Danielle was too moved to speak. They stood for a long time in one anothers embrace.

*****

Bowin was like the cat who ate the cannery. With the Stafford womanís evidence in hand, he only had to wait for her to call with the appointed meeting time and place to arrest Lord and Sezaree.

He turned to his partner. "The waiting is the worst part of this job. Iím working on my fourth ulcer."

"Well, this one should be well worth it. In a couple of hours youíll have made the coup of the century. Youíre really leading a charmed life."

He laughed. "I couldnít agree with you more."

They both jumped when the phone rang. Marisa smiled nervously as Bowin answered. After a brief exchange he hung up. "That was Stafford. Itís a go. Letís roll."

*****

They had gone over the plan several times.

Still, Alexís fingers trembled as she checked the bullets in her gun for the third time. She worried that she wouldnít be able to pull it off. Her detached reserve was gone. The thought that Danielle could be hurt terrified her. She had never been so nervous. For the first time, her own life was worthwhile. She had something to live for, someone, to live for.

Danielle looked at Alex anxiously.

"Is there anything else you need to tell me?" Alex questioned.

"No, Iím just a little nervous thatís all." Danielle felt guilty she couldnít share her misgivings.

"Itís not to late to change your mind. Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Alex looked deep into Danielleís eyes for a sense that she might be faltering in her decision.

Danielle took a deep breath and tried not to disclose any of the reluctance she felt. With all the confidence she could muster she replied. "Letís do it."

They climbed on the motorcycle and sped off. As she pressed her face into the softness of Alexís hair, she prayed she was doing the right thing for Alex.

*****

They arrived at the rendezvous point on schedule. Julian was waiting, a bodyguard on either side of him.

"Alex, Itís been a long time."

"Not nearly long enough."

"Thatís no way to treat and old friend."

"We were never friends."

"Donít push me, Alex. Iím still holding all the cards. I think that love has made you blind as well as stupid. You shouldnít have fallen for her. She is just one more card I can use against you." He winked at Danielle. "Mmm... and so attractive too. I could have some real fun with this one." He reached out to caress Danielleís cheek and Alex pulled her gun on him. Leveling it at his forehead. His body-guards drew their guns as well.

"Come now Alex, you know you canít win. If you shoot me, theyíll kill your little girlfriend before you can prevent it."

"Iíll take that risk." Her voice was shaking. "It ends here. Iím out, if I have to kill you to do it."

Suddenly, light flooded the area. The police had them surrounded. A booming voice blared through a megaphone: "Drop your weapons and put your hands up!"

Julian scowled and nodded to his men. They discarded their guns. Alex dropped hers with great reluctance. An officer quickly collected the fallen weapons.

Detective Bowin stepped forward. This was the best day of his life. "Ms. Stafford you can go. The evidence you gave us is all we need."

Alex looked like she had been slapped. Her expression was one of utter disbelief.

Julian turned to the detective and pointed at Alex. "I have enough information on her for the DA to get the death penalty."

Bowin smiled. "Looks like she wonít be alone, weíve got enough evidence on you to make his mouth water."

Alex shook her head and looked painfully at Danielle.

Julian glared at Alex. "You and that little bitch. Iíll see that you rot in hell." He looked at her with disgust. "Youíre pathetic, Alex. Have you ever slept with anyone who didnít betray you in the end?"

Alex trembled and fought to repress a surge of emotion. In a flash she pulled a second gun from beneath her jacket and pointed it at Danielle, her eyes brimming with tears. As Danielle looked into Alexís eyes, she could only guess what betrayal by her could mean to Alex.

"I... I trusted you." Alex choked in an unsteady voice. Slowly she raised the gun to Danielleís chest. Her hand was shaking violently as her finger reached for the trigger.

"Alex... please... I..."

It was as if time had slowed. No one made a sound. Suddenly, the silence was broken by the piercing echo of a gun shot. Alex stumbled back and dropped to the ground. The gun falling to her side. A rookie cop had panicked, shooting her square in the chest. A dark red stain spread across the front of Alexís shirt.

"NOOOOOOO!" Danielle screamed. She stumbled awkwardly toward Alexís still body. Before she could reach her, Julian grabbed Alexís gun and fired. The police tackled him, but it was too late. Danielle fell motionless to the ground only a few feet from Alex.

The rookie cop bent over the bodies, feeling for a pulse. "They're both alive, barely."

The police were reading Julian and his bodyguards their rights when the ambulance arrived.

The emergency team quickly placed the two women on stretchers and loaded them into the back. Within minutes the ambulance pulled out.

*****

There was an ominous quiet inside the ambulance. The shrill scream of the siren was all that could be heard. The dark-haired EMT bent over Danielleís still body. The blonde was still, deathly pale. The EMT slowly removed the IV from Danielleís arm and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"Okay ladies, lets get rolling."

Alex and Danielle opened their eyes and sat up. Alexís tension eased at the sight of her smiling lover, but she anxiously checked her over.

Danielle kissed her lightly and gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Damn you were right. Those blanks hurt like hell!"

"Are you all right?," Alex asked, concern evident in her voice, her hands trembling.

Danielle could not contain the grin that lit up her face. "Iíll live."

Alex smiled back. "Yeah, looks like we both will." She took Danielle in her arms, hugging her tightly.

Nikki pulled back a tarp in the corner to reveal four corpses. "Hey you two. I need some help with our doubles here."

Alex jumped into action. "Let's get them in place. We donít have much time." The three women worked quickly while Kate drove. Two of the corpses where dressed in EMT uniforms the other two were wearing the same outfits as Alex and Danielle. Nikki put the oxygen maskís on and inserted IVís into the two dead women in an attempt to make the illusion complete. The third body dressed in an EMT uniform was placed on the seat in the corner.

Danielle felt a little squeamish about using the four dead women that Ann had provided from the morgue for their scheme. She couldnít help feeling sorry for them.

"They donít look much like us." Danielle pointed out, a little concerned.

"They're close enough in body type. Hopefully there wonít be much left to identify when the ambulance blows." Alex tried her best to be reassuring. "If our performance was convincing, they wonít even check."

Kate called from the driverís seat. "Get ready to make the switch. Weíre here." She pulled the ambulance over to the side of the road about 200 yards from a cliff. Alex quickly placed the last corpse in the seat Kate had vacated.

A van waited nearby. Ann from the morgue was driving. Spike, the stunt woman, jumped out of the passenger seat. Alex clutched her arm. "Be careful."

"No sweat"

Spike moved into the driverís seat beside the fourth corpse, while the other women looked on anxiously. She put the timed charge on the oxygen tank and gunned the engine. Just as the ambulance was about to careen over the cliff she dove out of the driverís window. Alex breathed a sigh of relief and gave her a hand up. The five women quickly loaded into the van. Ann pulled out onto the road at a casual speed.

*****

Bowinís car was only minutes behind them. The explosion was deafening. He pulled over and watched sadly as flames engulfed the ambulance. He shook his head. It was inconceivable that there could be any survivors. He had liked the Stafford woman. It seemed a shame that she had to get mixed up in all this.

"Bitches got what they deserved." Julian smirked from behind the barrier in the back of the squad car.

Detective Bowin looked at him with disgust. "I hope that thought is a comfort to you while youíre rotting in jail."

*****

There was a tense silence in the van.

Alex turned to Danielle and enveloped her in her arms. "It was a brilliant plan."

Danielle smiled happily and the other women cheered. Danielle pulled back and looked into Alexís eyes. "I told you we made a great team."

Alexís heart swelled with emotion. "Yes, we do."

Danielle stripped off her shirt stained with fake blood. Alex winced at the large bruise that was already coloring the young womanís chest. She looked at her with concern.

Danielle smiled softly stroking Alexís arm. "Iím fine, really." She assured her.

"No thanks to me."

Danielle took her hand. "What happened? Why didnít you shoot me like weíd planned?"

"IÖ I froze. I just couldnít do it." Alex ran her fingers nervously through her hair. "Rachel saved the whole plan by shooting me anyway." Alex looked down, feeling like she had failed Danielle.

Danielle pressed into the warmth of Alexís hand reassuringly. "I understand, believe me. My heart nearly stopped when I watched you fall. It looked so real." A shiver ran down Danielleís spine. She shrugged it off. "The fates were smiling on us. Itís seems fitting that Julian unwittingly helped with our plan."

"Heís always been ruled by his anger. With nothing left to lose, it was his last shot at revengeÖ He wanted us both dead."

"I hope Rachel doesnít get suspended from the force."

"Sheíll be fine. No tears will be shed over my death, believe me. They have the evidence against Julian. Thatís all the politicians really want."

"You had Bowin figured out. I might have fallen for the police ruse, if you hadnít warned me."

Alex stroked her cheek. "Nah, you would have done just fine."

Danielle was cheered by Alexís confidence in her. "It was all I could do to keep a straight face when he told me you had left fingerprints. It was a good acting job. I think you would have been proud of my performance."

Alex smiled wickedly. "I have no doubt. Iím always pleased with your performance."

Danielle blushed. The sight warmed Alexís heart. The magnitude of what she had nearly lost flooded over her. She felt weary. It had been difficult, leaving so many things to chance. They had been very lucky.

"Hey, you okay?" Danielle asked.

Alex shrugged and smiled. "Iím fine, in fact lately, Iíve sustained worse injuries in bed." She winked at Danielle who blushed for a second time.

Spike grinned at the exchange.

Alex turned to Spike. "Great job with the special effects."

"No problem. It was a snap. Itís easier to fool the police than the tv audience."

Alex smiled and changed out of her shirt, tossing the broken pack of fake blood on the floor.

When they pulled up in front of the airport, Alex got quiet. Danielle sensed her struggle and gripped her hand. Alex took a deep breath. "I donít know what to say... how to thank all of you... Youíve given me a second chance."

"Since youíre already spoken for, a hug will have to do." Spike embraced the unsuspecting woman. "I donít expect that I need to tell you to take care of her," Spike warned.

Alex smiled. "No, Iíve got it covered."

Ann extended her hand shyly to Alex, who grasped it gently.

"Thanks for your help Ann."

Danielle kissed Ann on the cheek causing her to blush furiously. "Please thank Rachel for us."

"Take care of yourselves, huh and try to stay out of trouble." Spike hugged Danielle tightly.

Ann pulled up to the entrance. Kate and Nikki planed to leave the country with Alex and Danielle. They were now dead in the eyes of the law. In the spirit of adventure they both craved, they willingly gave up their old lives and identities to help their friends.

Alex grabbed her pack and handed them each fake idís. Danielle flipped hers open. When she saw the first name, she smiled. It was Gabrielle. She couldnít help but be pleased. "Alex... itís perfect. I think somehow weíve come full circle."

Alex smiled back. "It seemed appropriate."

Spike and Ann sat in the van. Ann wiped away a tear, while Spike fought to hold hers back. They watched their four friends disappear through the glass doors of the airport and into their new lives.

Spike turned to her quiet companion. "Damn, but you did a good job matching up those corpses. When I sat down beside the one in the driver seat I thought it was Kate." She laughed and patted the stoic womanís shoulder.

"Iíve seen so many Jane Doeís pass through the morgue in the last five years. Itís nice to know that these four will at least be given an identity and a proper funeral." The slightest hint of a smile graced her face.

"Thatís the spirit. Itís sounds like you might have enjoyed this adventure a little bit." Ann gave Spike a genuine smile. It was the first one Spike had ever seen from herÖ and she liked it.

"Yeah, I guess I did."

Spike put an arm around her shoulders. "How Ďbout you and me catching some dinner on the way home?" They drove off, feeling satisfied. It was rare they got to witness a real happy ending.

*******

Epilogue

*******

Danielle stood on the balcony of their new home, looking out wistfully at the Aegean. It was a spectacular view. Alex watched thoughtfully. Slowly she approached and placed a hand on her loverís shoulder.

"Do you regret giving up your family and your roots to come with me?"

"Not for a moment." Danielle turned to face Alex. "You are my family. My home is wherever you are."

"Danielle, thanks for seeing this through with me. Iíve never known such happiness."

"If anyone deserves to be happy, itís you."

Alex was quiet, thoughtful. "It was the hardest thing Iíve ever had to do, pointing that gun at you."

Danielle looked at her lovingly. She placed her hand gently over the bruise on her chest. "Itís still bothering me some." Alexís brows wrinkled in concerned.

A twinkle lit Danielleís eyes. "Yeah, I think you had better take a look. Iím sure that magical touch of yours can make it better."

Alex smiled and gave her partner a flirtive glance. "Iíll see what I can do."

She carefully unbuttoned her loverís blouse and was relieved to see that the nasty bruise had faded quite a bit. Her eyes immediately fell to her loverís erect nipples. Without hesitation she caressed one with her lips.

Danielle took a deep breath. "Ah... I think you are a little off the bruise."

"Mmm, canít be too careful."

Danielle smiled and closed her eyes. "I think youíre right... I can feel it spreading... lower."

Never one to take chances, Alex followed her loverís direction. She dropped to her knees, intent on giving every inch of her skin loving attention. Danielleís moans confirmed that Alexís touch did work magic. Everything around them disappeared.

 

The endÖ..

ÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖ

Started 1-98/ Finished 5-98

Copyrighted May 1998 by Friction

*****

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