Chapter One

Chapter One
Thirteen months later

It was night.

She liked the night. She liked the shadows that hid her from the innocent eyes of those who were better off not knowing what she did and why. She could tiptoe around in darkness without being seen, without having to explain, without having to worry about being over-exposed. But best of all, she could just watch.

Gracia Row wasn’t as densely populated as it had been forty-eight hours ago. The work week had begun, and with its coming came the onslaught of work schedules and rush-hour traffic. This time of the night, only the young and virile walked the street, planning on late dinners at a nice restaurant or dancing at the local discothèques. If things had been normal, she would have blended in with those people, laughed and joked with them, danced and drank with them. However, circumstances stood as they were, and she walked alone, silently.

The black hood of her jacket hid her from recognition. She wore dark jeans, black Nikes, and a black tee along with a black hoodie to blend into the shadows. She counted on that since her task was perilous, and she didn’t need to be discovered. She went by a group of clubbers unnoticed. They talked cattily about clothing and underwear. She rolled her eyes behind her sunglasses and kept walking. She recognized names from their conversations, but she was not about to blow her cover by sticking her foot in some snobby chick’s butt lift. Of course, they probably wouldn’t have recognized her in full special effects facial makeup. To a causal onlooker, she was a lanky young woman with greasy, mousy brown hair—a wig—with a too-long nose and a formless face. But she couldn’t take any chances.

If her sisters had found out she was doing this, she would be stone-cold dead for multiple reincarnations.

They were probably asleep by now, or about to be. She tried not to think about them and concentrate on what she was doing. It would make it all easier.

She was tailing a redhead in all black, just like her. She had been for the past couple of nights, particularly after her sources had informed her of the mysterious assault of a friend of hers. A good friend. While the police were on the lookout for leads on the assault, her policeman friend had slipped her a copy of the police report. A statement from the neighbor identified a mysterious platinum blonde-haired woman entering the apartment building not long before the screams and crashes began. The description of the woman was in her head: about five-five, one-thirty, slim, no tattoos or other identifying marks. The redhead was about five-five without the heels she’d guessed. It was apparent that the red hair was fake.

She didn’t know where the redhead was headed, but she had a feeling that she was going to have to stop whatever was about to occur.

The redhead headed toward the upscale Gracia Row apartments that looked over downtown. Many of her friends lived there, and, remembering that, she got a chill.

Just what is the woman up to? she thought, watching the garish red gleaming under the streetlights. She recalled the part of the report about the victim. Lauren Geraldine Harris. Five feet, three inches tall. Dark brown hair, hazel-brown eyes. Nineteen years old, currently attending Kaminari University for a bachelor’s in economics and mathematics. Tattoo of a black cat on the small of her back. Older brother Maximillion Harris, twenty-five years old. Parents deceased. Lived alone. Seriously dating fellow KU student Derrick Bullock. Works as a teller at the Gracia Bank. Seeking an internship at Merrell Enterprises for next summer. Aspiring to be certified public accountant—CPA—and maybe, someday, the Secretary of the Treasury for the United States.

Aside from her political aspirations, there should have been no reason for her assault. The report also indicated that she was a bit of a workaholic, and she had a small amount of friends. She wasn’t the type to hold grudges or start them. So had the attack been random or what?

The inquiries kept growing, while the answers slipped farther away more and more.

The woman moved smoothly into the apartment building as someone was coming out. Seeing that her chance could be potentially lost, she waited a few beats, then took what looked like a makeup compact out of her pocket. She pressed down on the compact in the middle, sharp blades extended. She flung the contraption and one of the blades got caught between the door and the door frame, holding the door open. She ran for the door quickly, did a slight bounce to get her “compact” back, then entered the building. She placed the compact, blades retracted, back into her pocket.

The woman had gone up the stairwell, to avoid detection. She knew from her friends that the cameras were out in the stairwell. The cameras in the elevators were still operative. She followed the woman skillfully as she could, sneaking between the door and the doorframe before the door closed. She paused a moment in the corner as the woman went up the stairs. When the woman was a safe distance away, she followed.

The woman opened the door to the fourth floor and walked through it. She counted to seven, then opened the door herself.

The hallway was empty, but she could hear the woman’s footsteps. They stopped, then there was the sound of a fist pounding on wood. A door opened, and the familiar voice of Deidre Holmes came drifting out into the hallway.

A moment later, she heard Deidre’s startled gasp. That was her cue.

Without preamble, she rushed forward as Deidre struggled with the woman inside her apartment. The woman slammed the door, but a deft kick sent it flying open again. Deidre, in lounging shorts and a wifebeater, was on the floor. The woman stood over Deidre, prepared to do her dirty work before she burst through the door. When her footsteps thudded on wood, the woman turned around.

She took in the woman’s features. The green eyes, the heavy makeup, the grotesquely large nose. A disguise. Damn. I knew it would be too good to be true if she came as herself.

“I think this is the moment when you explain what the fuck you are doing here,” she said in a low voice.

The woman glared at her. “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. You should leave before you get hurt.”

“No!” Deidre screamed shrilly. “Don’t leave! I’ll fight you, you bitch. I swear it!”

That threat had been for her assailant. Pure Deidre. Trying to kick ass even though she was ill prepared for it.

The woman turned around and prepared to do Deidre harm. As the woman’s attention was diverted, she decided now would be a good time to attack. A firm kick in the woman’s back landed her on the ground. Deidre rolled away and climbed to her feet. As Deidre went for the telephone to call the police, the woman regained her balance and lunged after her. Deidre was too fast. Seeing her, the woman turned and lunged for her. She ducked out of the way and the redhead stumbled to the ground. Seeing that a hasty exit would be the best way out of the mess, the redhead climbed to her feet and ran out of the door.

She cursed and pursued. She heard Deidre’s breathless explanation to the police and was glad that Deidre would not bear the same fate as Lauren Harris. But now that this part was over, she had one more thing she had to do: catch the mysterious woman who had tried to attack Deidre—and the one who had most likely had succeeded with Lauren Harris.

She ran down the hall after the woman, retracing the steps she had taken in stealth in clamor. She cared not for the stares a couple stepping off of the elevator gave her as she barreled past them. She was in hot pursuit of a target; nothing else mattered.

She followed the mysterious woman’s pelt of bright red hair out of the apartment building. Unfortunately, she lost her outside when she was delayed by a stumbling block: a young woman pushing a child in a stroller. What the hell is the woman doing out at this time of the night with a baby? she thought bitterly. She huffed and sidestepped them as fast as she could.

“Dammit,” she swore under her breath. “I lost her.” As she put her hood back on and stalked back into the night, blending with the darkness, she contended that, while she hadn’t stopped the mysterious woman for good, she had prevented her from harming innocent Deidre Holmes. Small steps, she told herself as the sirens got louder. Small steps.

* * *

Earlier that day

It had been a long Monday for Jessica Thomas. She tiredly wiped a bead of sweat off of her brow as she walked into On-Call Room 1 and closed the door behind her at Bellshire Medical Center. She discarded her white lab coat onto a chair and laid down on the lower bunk. The shouts from the ER and the beeps from various machines were drowned out as she turned out the light and rested her head on a pillow.

I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired in my life! she mused, slowly falling asleep. Maybe I’ll ask Lawrence if I could have a vacation soon…

Vacation. Jessica sighed softly. The word vacation made Jessica’s spirits brighten a little. A little rest in the Caribbean might be nice. Or maybe even that beachhouse we girls got a couple of years ago…. But no phones. Or beepers. And especially no—

Bam! Suddenly the doors opened and the lights flickered on. Jessica sat up and blinked furiously as Lawrence Williams, her boss (well, she wouldn’t have called him her boss; person over you at the moment because they couldn’t find anyone better was a better term), Ryan Matthew Chambers, an old and dear friend, and…

“So anyway, we had the nicest time in Los Angeles and we thought ‘Oh what the hell! Let’s go visit the girls!’” The end of the sentence brought chuckles from the two men and the woman that they were with.

Oh dammit, Jessica thought. She groaned inwardly. Not again…

“Well, it looks like we’ve found her,” Matt said to the woman. “And from the looks of it, she was about to go to sleep…”

“Jessica,” Lawrence began sternly. “How many times have I told—?”

“Oh shut up, Williams,” Jessica snapped angrily. “You and I both know that you have never ever enforced that stupid sleeping-while-on-call crap while you’ve been chief-of-staff!”

“Maybe not on you,” Lawrence corrected. Jessica glowered.

“I’m going to take a vacation,” she mumbled, putting her lab coat back on. “And when I do, I’m not gonna tell you about it.”

“Would you like me to fire you, Jessica?”

Jessica shrugged. “Go ahead. I could just take the chief-of-staff position at Gracia Memorial and be richer and more renown than you.”

Lawrence was silent. Jessica was one of the best and he knew it. If he fired her, he’d be in a very tight spot. She was a very amiable doctor and the patients loved her, so she definitely had him there.

“How many times must you two square off like this?” Matt muttered.

“Until he leaves,” Jessica responded. “But till then, you’ve got a problem, Chambers.”

“Is this an everyday thing for you guys?”

Jessica’s aqua eyes gazed at the speaker. It was then that she finally realized her presence. Her heart plummeted in her stomach because she knew what was coming next.

“You can say that,” Matt said, laughing. “But anyway…don’t you two need to talk?”

Talk? “What’s going on?” Jessica inquired. “I have heard nothing about this.”

“Oh sure you have!” exclaimed the woman, which could barely be seen by Jessica’s blurry and sleepy eyes. A small mercy. “Remember the thing I was going to ask you about?”

Oh hell no… Jessica was tempted to say but instead she replied evenly, “I don’t remember anything like that. Would you care to explain?”

Before the woman could reply, Matt turned to Lawrence. “Maybe we should leave. They might need some privacy.” He cleared his throat and led the older man away from the scene.

The door closed. Jessica peered suspiciously at the woman. She had long blond hair and was wearing jeans and a black shirt. Normally she would have greeted a person with respect and cordiality, but she knew who this was and, quite frankly, Jessica felt that she didn’t need to give this woman more than she deserved.

“What do you want now?” she demanded, hands on hips.

“I want to apologize for my actions,” said the soft voice of Kristin Richardson, formerly Willits. “I didn’t mean to insult you. My intentions were quite the opposite. I was really trying to praise you.” She stepped forward when Jessica’s hands dropped to her sides and Jessica rolled her eyes. “Really. I was.”

“Do you honestly believe that after what I heard that I am going to actually swallow that half-assed apology?” Jessica stared hard at Kristin and Kristin looked to the floor. “You must have me mistaken for another person because you know that I wouldn’t actually think that was a sincere apology.”

“Jessica,” she started after a long-suffering sigh, “I know you’re jeal—”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on a minute.” Jessica snorted in outrage despite herself. “Jealous? Of you? Are you sicko, Willits? Has that fame—as small as it is—made you psycho?”

Kristin’s jaw clenched, her eyes lifted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m thinking perfectly clear and I can see that you’re just jealous.”

Jessica may have been jealous before but after last night’s events…well, that jealousy turned into a pity that was somewhat parallel with lack of sympathy. She couldn’t explain it but she knew jealousy was not an emotion she felt toward Kristin Willits. She still could not, even after twelve months, think of her as Kristin Richardson.

“Look,” Jessica began, “you’re—what—three years older than I am? And yet you still hang on to some foolish conviction that I am jealous of you when it’s quite obvious that I don’t need to be, because I’m satisfied with my life and the things I have in it.”

Kristin, who looked like she was holding back many things she really wanted to say, crossed her arms over her chest. The two glared at each other for a long time until Kristin spoke.

“Look Jessica, I know you don’t exactly like me or anything—”

“That’s about the most correct thing you’ve said in the last five minutes,” Jessica muttered, unknowingly interrupting. She was oblivious to the scowl that was forming on Kristin’s face. “But if you don’t mind me saying, I’d like to get to the point please.”

“—but I know you still love my husband—”

Whoa. Wait a minute. She was lying now! Jessica’s face clouded over with anger and a smile replaced the scowl on Kristin’s face. Oh that virulent little…! Obviously, that little sharp-headed barb hit its fleshy mark.

“—and you’d do anything to get on his good side, so I have a proposal for you.”

Jessica gritted her teeth together. She saw red. She actually saw red. “And I have a proposal for you. Get the hell out of my presence or you won’t live to tell about it.”

“Jessica,” Kristin began.

Jessica, incensed with anger, shook her head. She didn’t want to hear any more. With one trembling finger, she pointed toward the door.

“Get. Out.”

After Kristin had left, Jessica slumped back down on the bottom bunk. Her heart was still slamming against her ribcage, and crimson clouded her vision. She willed herself back to calm. Anger was bad. Anger was detrimental. Anger would get her nowhere but behind a jail cell at this point.

A little calmer now, she climbed to her feet and drifted to the sink nearby. A look into the mirror over it revealed a strange symbol on her forehead. Glowing dark red, the Rose symbol was an indication of her heightened emotions. If Lawrence Williams had decided to venture back into the room, he would have gotten a sight beyond his comprehension.

“Calm down, Jessica,” she ordered herself.

The symbol faded away, leaving the spot hot and sensitive, like a fresh burn. She pressed a cool, damp paper towel to her forehead and closed her eyes. Sleep was out of her reach, but her eyes still burned with fatigue.

A thought in her head, she strode to her locker and took out her cell phone. She dialed a familiar number and was greeted with a familiar voice.

When she was done with her call, Matt Chambers entered the room once again. She finally took notice of him in his loosened tie and professional attire. While one woman might insist that the navy slacks and light-blue dress shirt suited him, Jessica was willing to concede that the rugged, brown-haired, brown-eyed Ryan Matthew Chambers looked more dashing in jeans and a T-shirt watering his garden.

He sat down beside her on the bunk and frowned. Sensing her foul mood, he asked, “Was I wrong to leave you two in here alone together?”

“Like someone wearing white after Labor Day.”

Matt had to chuckle. “Does anybody really care about that stupid rule anymore?”

Jessica shrugged. “Hell if I know.” She reached across and placed a hand on Matt’s thigh. “But I do know one thing. I honestly don’t want to see that woman again.”

“Jess,” Matt started, “I’m no expert on grudges, but isn’t the best thing to do is to let them go?”

“Well, when a hatchet’s been buried in your back, I’d doubt that letting it go is going to act like a pain reliever.”

Matt chuckled again, dimpling. He was so cute sometimes. “That’s quite an interesting point-of-view, but hardly a pleasant one. That’s sort of hand-to-fist, don’t you think? This Kristin character is not worth going to jail over.” Jessica groaned and started to take her hand away from his thigh. He took her hand in his. A friendly gesture. Not romantic. “Not to mention she’s not worth the time that you’re worrying over her.”

“If it makes you feel better,” Jessica told him, “I’m not worrying about her. I’m just a little irked is all.”

“About?” Matt prodded. He looked at her graceful, long-fingered hand in his, then back to her tired eyes. “I’ve heard that you and Kevin Richardson have been flirting.”

“And it’s nothing more than that. He’s an attractive man, and we have a mutual respect.”

“Is that all that’s mutual?”

“Matt,” Jessica groaned. She had the dimmest feeling of being pestered by a big brother. She didn’t like it.

“Okay, okay. I can’t help it. I know it’s been difficult for you since Benjamin died last year, and Dr. Wonderful Williams hasn’t helped very much.” Jessica forced a smile at the mention of Lawrence and tried to tell herself that the memory of her former love didn’t sting. “Oh come on. You know he’s been a thorn in your side ever since, and thorns are not good for the grieving process, I’ve heard.”

“Neither are spiteful, jealous fiancées, but you see them everywhere like a McDonalds on every corner.”

“Truer words, Jess. But you’ve had to deal with all kinds of women, and not all of them are like Mother Theresa. Why is this any different?”

It was a good question. But Jessica had an answer for it. She didn’t dislike Kristin Willits just because the woman lived and breathed. It was the way she lived and breathed that bothered Jessica.

“Perhaps I should tell you what happened last night,” Jessica responded.

* * *

Last night, the Selenity Ballroom

Parties weren’t usually her thing if her sisters weren’t around, but Jessica tried to make the most of it. She nibbled on finger food, sipped Chardonnay, and flirted with the guys. She mostly stuck to her brother Eric and his bandmates, Heath Mallone, Daniel Holmes, and Max Harris. Their circle of friends, though, couldn’t protect her from the onslaught of bad luck that the likes of Kristin Willits and Leighanne Wallace brought on.

Jessica considered the duo the bane of her existence. Well, no. That would be giving them too much credit. They were a huge annoyance. Ever since they had met through Moira-Selene, her younger sister, nothing but malice had passed among them. Her golden rule in life was treating others as you want to be treated, so any ill will that they inflicted upon her was paid back in spades.

That night, things were slow to start. The band performing first was late; the emcee was even lagging behind because of the insane rush hour traffic that had backed everything up for hours. But Jessica hardly noticed. She was content with interacting with her brother’s bandmates, who were regaling her with stories of wild nights and the hard mornings after.

“So you mean to tell me that you guys brought back girls to your rooms without knowing their names?” Jessica demanded, in big sister mode despite the fact that she was only blood related to one of them.

“It was all Danny’s doing,” Heath insisted promptly, adjusting his black-framed eyeglasses.

“Why is it that whenever something good happens, it’s your doing, but when it’s something bad, it’s mine?” Danny demanded, while Eric and Max laughed.

“Everyone knows that you’re the bad one, Danny,” Heath replied. “I’m the mysterious one, Eric’s the charmer, and Max’s the clown. It ticks like clockwork. A nice rhythm.”

“Can we break the rhythm or something? You guys are just as capable of doing evil as I am.”

Before anyone could respond to that, a familiar voice perked up Jessica’s ears. “Well, look who’s here.”

Jessica and Moonshine turned to find Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell standing behind them, both flanked by their significant others.

Kevin and Brian walked away to address the voice that had called them across the room. Jessica told herself that Kristin and Leighanne would follow their significant others, but they stood amid Jessica and Moonshine in their black dresses. Jessica’s own Jennifer Dunne original was simple and striking all at the same time, with its fitted bodice and fitted skirt. While Jessica was dubious of the style at first, after putting it on, she realized that she was going to turn some heads. And Eric, being a man, would have told her later that he saw the look in Kevin’s eyes when he laid eyes on her.

Leighanne spoke first. “So where is the rest of the gang?”

“Gang?” This came from Danny.

“You know—those ball-busters you call your sisters,” Leighanne replied, voice sweet and Southern-fried. “What—they had something else better to do than to show up here?”

“No,” Heath responded, his voice laced with sarcasm. “They just had other engagements. But we’ll be sure to tell them that you asked about them. Oh—what was your name again?” A guffaw from Danny and Max. “I seem to have forgotten it.”

“It’s Leighanne,” Leighanne told him between gritted teeth.

“Good to know. You seem the type to be hard to remember and easy to forget. Has anyone ever told you that?”

As Leighanne simmered, Jessica politely held back her mirth. She would lose it later, in the privacy of a car or something. Meanwhile, Kristin took a step forward. Jessica raised an eyebrow.

“If you’re about to begin another diatribe about how you’re sick and tired of me, I think you’d better save it,” Jessica said.

“Whoever said I was thinking about you?” Kristin asked. “You, with your browbeating and man-stealing ways, hardly cross my mind. I’ve got better things to think about.”

“So why are you still here, then?”

Kristin hesitated and blinked before she responded. “Let’s get one thing straight here. I am here with my fiancé. My fiancé. We will be married in a matter of months, no matter what dress you wear or whatever you get your sisters to say about you to make you look good. Kevin is mine. Get that?”

“I got it,” Jessica said evenly. “But let me clarify one thing for you, because you’ve got it all mixed up in that little head of yours. My sisters love me, as I love them, and they say whatever they want about me. It’s not all wonderful and sweet but I am woman enough to take it, unlike some people. And I hope you are woman enough to take the fact that if I wanted Kevin, I could have him. But I don’t. As it is, he is taken. I don’t go after men who are otherwise spoken for. That is the woman I am. So if you can’t take that and be a better one, then you can just take all of bullshit you’re spouting and stick it up your ass. Because, quite frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Eric was on the verge of clapping when Kristin shot back, “How the hell can you tell me how to be a better woman? Look at you. You’re almost thirty and single. Your idea of a fun Friday night is to stand around with your bitchy sisters and insult people. I don’t think that’s the indication of a better woman.”

Because the comment was as extremely from left field as it was unfounded, Jessica said in a quiet, steely voice, “The fact that you just called my sisters bitchy is something I will overlook since you are too dimwitted to understand what that word means. Secondly, my sisters and I do not stand around on Friday nights insult people—except for immature, insecure, vapid, and clueless people like you. And of course, I have to point out that we never ever insult anyone unless they make the first punch. I’m so very sorry if you and your council of assholes find us sticking up for ourselves particularly demeaning.”

Jessica turned to her brother then, and took back her champagne flute. She turned back to Kristin. “So right now, I’m going to enjoy myself with my brother and his friends, and I hope you stay on the opposite side of the room.”

Kristin let out a laugh then, brown eyes twinkling. Jessica’s eyebrow cocked again. “Oh, so you do hang out with men!” she exclaimed.

Beside her, Leighanne covered her mouth, trying to hide her smile. Because of years of breeding and walking on the streets of various cities in the United States prepared her with such encounters with spiteful bitches (oops, did she just use that word?), Jessica just merely smiled back as Eric, Danny, and Heath looked on with wide eyes. They obviously wouldn’t have minded seeing Jessica kick some ass. But she didn’t. She wanted to do the unexpected thing. And it was all in the words.

“Yes, I do hang out with men,” Jessica affirmed with an even tone. “I would hang out with you two, but well…” She let her sentence trail off. “All I can say is that the operations obviously did the two of you no good. Well, I take that back. With those boobs, Leighanne, you’d pass for a woman. An ugly one, but a woman nonetheless.”

Eric choked on his drink, while Heath covered his mouth. Max patted Eric on the back. Danny smirked at Leighanne and Kristin who were seething. Touchdown, slam dunk, homerun. Jessica couldn’t have planned her strategic retreat better.

“Why, I think it’s time to go home,” Jessica added, hooking an arm with her younger brother’s and Max’s. Danny and Heath shared a look as they smiled and followed. “Wouldn’t want to be here with the beasts under the full moon tonight.”

So Jessica left with the members of Moonshine, leaving her two opponents to put daggers in her back with their eyes.

* * *

“So basically, she called you a—”

“I’d appreciate it if you’d not refer to the incident anymore,” Jessica interrupted him, sighing. “I’m trying my best not to think about it anymore either.”

Matt nodded. He knew Jessica’s easily incited temper and decided he would not be one to light the match to that one. He’d seen it enough to scare him into being on her good side. However, he caught more than anger in her tone and realized that she wasn’t just angry. She was insulted.

“Your femininity,” Matt began quietly, “cannot be judged by another, Jess. I’d’ve thought you’d know that by now.”

“Well, as true as that is, it still stung.”

“As much as it pains me to say this, you gotta consider the source.” Jessica looked at him, aqua eyes slightly amused. “Remember, this is a woman who thinks you’re a threat to her relationship with her fiancé. Not to mention, telling her that you could take him away wasn’t very big of you.”

“I couldn’t help it.” But he was right. That part had been petty. “She just made me angry. And as much as that’s evil of me, I think it might be true.”

Matt waved a hand in dismissal. “And even if it was, you need to leave it alone.” He rubbed her shoulder. “Think happy thoughts.”

Jessica prepared to retort when her beeper sounded. With a wistful sigh, she patted Matt on the thigh. “Duty calls. I think I need those happy thoughts now.”

* * *

Meanwhile, out in the parking lot, Moira-Selene Thomas basked in the glow of the late afternoon sun and breathed in a sigh of relief. It had been a long day for her as it had been for her big sister. The difference, of course, between her and her sister was that her day was over now. Her sister had some more to go.

But Moira-Selene hoped that someone would let her off early. She knew Jessica was sleeping badly, and it didn’t take a genius to make the connection to the events of last year.

It had been almost a year since Benjamin Anderson-Lewis’s brutal death. Almost a year since Jessica had lost the man that she had always loved. The incident had never been solved, no one to blame for the death of a healthy, beloved man. His little sisters, since orphaned after the deaths of their parents, lived with an aunt in New York State. Jessica kept in touch with them. They were her only connection to a man who was now six feet underground.

A voice made her turn around, breaking her from her thoughts. “Moira-sama! Matte!

Moira-Selene turned to find short-haired Ami Mizuno rushing up to her. The short-haired Japanese doctor fell into step beside Moira-Selene, panting.

“You’re off the clock?” Moira-Selene inquired. “I thought you had an hour left.”

“That was yesterday,” Ami responded. She didn’t bother to stifle her yawn. “I’m glad I get to go home a little early. That sixteen-hour shift yesterday was brutal.”

“Well, no one plans for a four-car pileup on Gracia Avenue,” Moira-Selene remarked.

“Indeed.” She glanced at her watch. “You heading home, Moira-sama?”

Moira-Selene gave a tired smile, feeling the relaxation one feels when around a good friend. “And to a nice, long bath…”

Moira-Selene frowned as mirth and the rest of her sentence left her. Ami felt her stiffen involuntarily.

Kristin Richardson was standing beside her car.

What in the world was she doing here? And what was she doing beside my car?

“Hello, Kristin,” Moira-Selene said simply, one eyebrow cocked.

Kristin jumped, startled, and whirled around. Apparently, she hadn’t heard Moira-Selene and Ami come up. “Hello, Moira. I didn’t think I’d catch you.”

Hmm. I didn’t think I’d catch you or Thank you for screwing up my evil plans, bitch? The jury was still deliberating on that one, but the evidence and prior experience indicated that the perpetrator would be found guilty. Moira-Selene reached into her purse and pulled out her keys. With a push of a button, she could unlock her car, but she waited for that. She still couldn’t figure out Kristin’s motives. That weighed on her mind, heavily.

“Oh?” Moira-Selene stepped around her car and joined Kristin on the passenger side. “Was there something you needed to talk to me about?”

Kristin laughed nervously. “Yes, actually. I was going to leave this note on your car”—she held up a piece of paper with a couple of lines scrawled on it which Moira-Selene gave a passing glance—”but it seems that I have the good fortune of running into you instead.”

“What is this about?” Moira-Selene felt Ami come up beside her and only felt fractionally more at ease. Fractionally.

“It’s actually something the boys are doing,” Kristin said. “And I know how good friends you are with them so I was enlisting your help.”

Moira-Selene tried to ignore the insistent warnings in her head and smiled politely. She was Jessica Thomas’s sister, which entitled her to give some show of loyalty. Show of loyalty could have meant anything from forced politeness to a WWF-inspired beatdown.

Since she was who she was, she decided the moderate approach was best.

“I’ll think about it,” she said diplomatically. She turned to Ami meaningfully, her eyes veiled expertly. “Let’s go, Ami. I think we have something to see to, don’t we?”

If Ami was shaken in any way, she didn’t show it as she went to Moira-Selene’s car. Moira-Selene rounded her car. Only when she was near the driver’s side door did she unlock it.

Kristin still stood beside the car with the note in her hand. Moira-Selene gently took it and got into her car without saying goodbye. She knew it was petty the not saying goodbye, but she didn’t feel like exchanging anymore awkward pleasantries with Kristin Richardson.

“What do you think that was about?” Ami asked as Moira-Selene started her car.

Moira-Selene sighed. Gwen Stefani crooning about a deceitful lover filled the interior of the car, filling the silence. She shifted gears and backed out, lips pursed thoughtfully. Ami looked straight ahead, noticing that Kristin was still standing beside the space that Moira-Selene’s Camry had once occupied. Kristin met her gaze, and it gave her a chill.

“Honestly, Moira-sama,” Ami admitted, “I don’t have a good feeling about that woman.”

Moira-Selene shook her head and headed out into the evening traffic before them. She didn’t say anything. Her silence spoke volumes.


back – home

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