Disclaimers: The characters are mine; they reside in my head (good thing there's a lot of vacuous space up there), although I hope by the time you're done reading they'll reside in your heart, as well. All of this is not to say that the two main dudettes don't bear a striking resemblance to folks we know and love <g>. There are a few real live (or dead, in some cases) individuals you might recognize; where they appear I assure you it is with respect and no harm is intended. Ditto places and entities. Oh, and there are several lines in here that might seem familiar to you. Coincidence? NAH!

Sexual Content: Oh, honey, I've been a luuv free zone for WAY too long...err...I mean, I'm living vicariously through my characters...um...what I mean to say is: heck, yeah, there's some sex in here. AND, if that's not bad enough, the sex involves (gasp) two women who are very much in love. The sex is tastefully done (BAD girl, BAAD girl), and is not gratuitous, though in some places it is fairly explicit. If this offends you and/or you are under 18 years of age, this is where you get off...um...I mean don't read any further; this story isn't for you.

Violence: There's a tiny, tiny, and I do mean tiny, little bit, though there is one pretty cool threat.

Acknowledgements: Y'all should know that without the unwavering support and encouragement (read that badgering) of Kat and TJ, this story would never have come to be (so if you hate it, blame them, okay?). TJ, for all your many, many hours of editing and cheerleading, "thanks" hardly seems enough. Kat, for turning me into an obsessive ϋber fan (as if I didn't have enough to obsess about before), as Gabrielle once said: "I don't know whether to thank you or hate you." <g>. And, finally, to LJH, who will never read this because she thinks reading is bad for your eyes, my undying gratitude for sharing so many years of my journey, for believing in me, and for teaching me to believe in myself.

Pesky details: This work of fiction is protected by copyright, meaning ya can't reproduce all, or any part of it, without my express permission. This is not to say you can't tell your friends about it and suggest that they read it, 'cause I sure hope you will.

May you enjoy reading The Price of Fame as much as I enjoyed writing it. Like most authors, I'd love to know what you think (just remember what Miss Manners says: "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all."). Please send your feedback to: AuthorLynnAmes@aol.com.

 

The Price of Fame

Copyright © 2003 By Lynn Ames

Chapter One

"Phil, do you have that last page?"

"It's right here, Kate."

"You're a prince."

"Have I ever let you down?"

"Do you really want me to answer that?"

"Hey Roger, nice work on those shots from the train derailment; you really captured the feel of the scene."

The cameraman blushed. "Thanks, Kate."

"Okay, people, two minutes."

Bodies were in motion everywhere, and in the middle of all of the chaos, the anchorwoman strode unhurriedly onto the set and sat down in her chair. She clipped the lapel microphone to her silk suit jacket, inserted her earpiece, placed her copy down on the desk and ran her fingers through her hair one last time to settle it in place.

Katherine Ann Kyle was singular. It wasn't just the fact that she was classically beautiful, with long raven hair, piercing blue eyes, high, chiseled cheekbones, clear, lightly tanned skin, and a lithe but muscular body on a six-foot frame. It was more the unconscious way that she carried herself; strong, assured and completely unaware of her attractiveness. She had an intangible quality that made her at once compelling and yet somehow unattainable.

"Kate, we're going to start with camera two and then shift to camera one after we roll the first piece of tape."

She didn't answer the director's disembodied voice in her ear, but he knew she'd heard him just the same; she was a pro.

"And, three, two, one, cue the music. Music fade, and...go."

The anchorwoman smiled up at the camera. "Good evening. This is the WCAP evening news for Wednesday, April 22, 1987, I'm Katherine Kyle..."

*********

Jamison Parker, Jay to her friends, shouldered her way through the hotel room door, trying to balance her briefcase and her garment bag all at the same time. She dumped the briefcase as soon as she cleared the threshold and the door clicked closed behind her. Then she hung the garment bag in the closet and proceeded into the room, kicking off her shoes as she went and running to answer the phone, which was already ringing.

"Yeah, Trish, I agree with you... No, no. His press secretary and his scheduler both told me the Governor would see me tomorrow at four...Yesss, that's four p.m. ya goofball."

The petite, green-eyed blonde cocked her head and listened to her editor ramble on about how important this piece was going to be for the magazine, since this governor was being touted as a rising star and possible presidential material. She wandered over to the bed, flopped down on it with a grunt, and flipped on the television with the remote she'd found on the nightstand. She glanced at her watch; great, just in time to catch the local news and maybe get some idea of the regional issues before her interview tomorrow.

"Trish, you don't need to offer me your first born in exchange for a great story. Hell, I've met your son, you can keep him!" She said it with a smile in her voice and her friend laughed and continued to prattle on. Jay's eyes drifted to the screen as the music came on signaling the start of the newscast. She rolled her eyes at something her editor said and was about to reply when she locked eyes with the news anchor.

"Oh my God I can't believe it, it's HER!" The writer didn't even bother to say goodbye before disconnecting the call.

She sat there, mesmerized, afraid to blink lest the image disappear. For five years this woman had dominated her dreams and fueled her imagination. Now here she was...Jay ignored the ringing of the phone again, knowing it was her editor calling back. Just for good measure, she took the receiver off the hook. "Katherine Kyle. Now I have a name to go with that unforgettable face and voice."

Chapter Two

At precisely 2:30 p.m. the next day Kate strolled through the door to the newsroom. As usual, she was impeccably dressed in a crŤme colored button down silk blouse and a rich blue silk pantsuit that complimented her deep blue eyes. She poked her head into one of the edit bays and greeted Gene, one of her favorite cameramen, who was laying down pictures to go with a report on dredging PCBís from the river. Then she continued on to her desk, firing up her word processor, and scanning the national headlines on the Associated Press wire.

The newsroom was quiet at this hour. The day shift reporters were all out covering stories, and the evening anchors and reporters werenít due in for another hour. Kate always liked to get in early, though; unlike some of her on-air colleagues, she refused to be just a "talking head." She was a journalist first, and an anchor second in her mind. As the primary anchor or "star", she was very rarely required to go out on the street to cover a story these days, but, unlike her male co-anchor, she still insisted on writing her own news copy and took the time to research the daysí happenings instead of simply reading somebodyís elseís words in front of a camera. This fact earned her a great deal of respect among most of her peers, who appreciated her work ethic and intelligence.

As for her co-anchor, well, as she had once told him when he complained that she was making him look bad, "You donít need my help for that, Gerry. You do a great job all by yourself." The entire newsroom had erupted in laughter and Gerry had stalked from the room to spend his usual two hours in makeup reading the comics.

As the anchorwoman ran through the dayís headlines she listened with half an ear to the usual sounds of the newsroom that had become routine background noise to her over the years. The assignment editor barking into the phone at a field producer, the cameramen complaining about the reporters they were assigned to work with, the tapping of fingers on word processors, the police scanners, and the three television monitors that were tuned to each of WCAPís competitors.

Then her sharp ears picked up something unusual. She strode purposefully over to the nearest police scanner just as Phil, the producer, reached it at the same time. She turned it up.

"Ö(unintelligible)Öexplosion at the CapitolÖ(unintelligible)Öeagle is flyingÖ"

"Holy shit," he exclaimed. "Holy shit. The Governor was in the damn building."

"Whoíve we got in the area?" Kate asked urgently.

"No one. Everybodyís on something else or not in yet."

"Gene," she yelled. "Get your gear. Make sure you bring an extra camera, two extra battery packs, extra tape and a couple of mics, including the wireless lavaliere. Iíll get the satellite truck and meet you out back. Phil, get me a field producer ASAP."

"Kate," Phil started to say, but she was already out of earshot.

*********

The scene on State Street was pure pandemonium. Kate and Gene weaved their way through the crowds of panicked people running in the opposite direction. It had been seven minutes since they had left the station, which was located just on the outskirts of the city. The anchorwoman was already clipping on a wireless lavaliere microphone that would pick up her voice and transmit it back to the satellite truck for direct feed to the television newsroom. Next she inserted an earpiece that would keep her in contact with the newsroom, her cameraman and field producer, when one arrived on scene. In her hand she carried a wireless handheld microphone. She looked up at the building that was the centerpiece of the city and gaped at the hole that had been blown right through the area that housed the Senate Chamber. They were standing some twenty feet from the building. "Get a picture of that, Gene. Iím going to find some eyewitnesses and try to get a handle on this thing. And Gene, tell the station weíre gonna go live with the coverage beginning when I come back here. Get the feed up and running." With that, Kate disappeared from sight, swallowed up by the fleeing crowd.

Within seconds, she had located several members of the state legislature, including the Senate Majority Leader, whose suit jacket was torn and whose hair, for the first time Kate could ever remember, actually was disheveled. He had a small gash over his left eye, and his boyishly handsome face was covered in ash. Never one to miss an opportunity to be seen by his constituents, he quickly consented to be interviewed.

Of course, it didnít hurt that he had tried many times to pick Kate up when she first became a reporter in this area. Deferring to the fact that he was very married, among other reasons, she had always politely declined his advances. Clearly he held no grudge against her.

She steered him over to where Gene was waiting in an effort to be sure that she had the dramatic footage of the hole in the side of the Capitol behind her. "Good afternoon," the anchorwoman said looking directly at the camera, "This is Katherine Kyle reporting live from the scene of a tremendous explosion here at the state Capitol building in Albany, New York. With me is State Senate Majority Leader Clyde Hicksdale. Senator, can you describe to us what happened?"

"I was in a meeting with the Governor and the Assembly Speaker in the Governorís office on the second floor; we were discussing the state budget. All of a sudden there was a thunderous boom, the lights flickered and everything went dark. The Governorís state police detail came running in, telling us that there had been an explosion, and they physically grabbed the Governor and whisked him out of the building through a back entrance."

"Senator, can you confirm that the Governor and Assembly Speaker are both safe and out of harmsí way?"

"Yes, Kate, I can say that with certainty, since I just got off the phone with the Governor several minutes ago. He is running a command post out of the Governorís mansion, which, as you know, is several blocks from here."

Privately, Kate couldnít believe the man could be so stupid as to reveal the location of the Governor publicly without knowing whether or not he had been the target of the explosion. But, as a journalist, she knew it just didnít get any better than this.

"Senator, I understand that the epicenter of the blast was the Senate Chamber on the third floor, is that correct?"

"Yes, Kate, that is what I was told by the state police bomb experts. Thank Heaven the Senate wasnít due to go into session for another forty five minutes."

"You said you spoke with the state police bomb experts, Senator, did they give you any indication what might have caused the explosion?"

God, could he really be foolish enough to tell her what she was sure the police would wait weeks to reveal?

"Kate, they believe it was a high powered explosive planted somewhere in the Senate gallery."

"That would be the area reserved for spectators?" At the Senatorís nod, she continued, "Senator, are all of your members accounted for? Have you been informed of any casualties?"

"My people are still getting in touch with everyone, but so far, I think most of the senators have been accounted for. Weíre still trying to reach a few."

"Senate Majority Leader Hicksdale, thank you for your time."

"My pleasure, Kate."

"To recap, then," the anchorwoman said as she faced the camera fully and Gene zoomed in for a close up, "An explosion rocked the state Capitol building here in Albany at 2:48 p.m. The blast apparently was centered in the Senate Chamber, and detonated some forty five minutes before the Senate was due to go into session. Senate Majority Leader Clyde Hicksdale, who was in a meeting one floor below the Senate Chamber with the Governor and the leader of the State Assembly, indicates to WCAP-TV that the Governor has been escorted safely from the building and is monitoring the situation from his private office in the Governorís mansion several blocks from the Capitol. Although we have not had any confirmation from the state police as of yet, Senator Hicksdale informs us that he has been told by the state policeís elite bomb squad that the explosion was the result of a high-powered incendiary device. We will try to get independent corroboration of that fact for you as soon as possible."

Kate knew most of her colleagues simply would have reported the news that the explosion was caused by a bomb as fact, but she wasnít any reporter, and she wasnít just going to take Hicksdaleís word for the cause. In her mind that would have been journalistically irresponsible. It was one thing to attribute the supposition to her interviewee, and quite another for her to report it as absolute gospel truth.

Kate continued her report, "At this moment, it is unclear how many, if any casualties there have been. As you can see over my shoulder (this she said as Gene panned the camera back and scanned the panicked crowd behind her), there is much confusion here on State Street. In recent weeks there have been heated debates raging between the Governor and the two houses of the legislature regardingÖ"

BOOOOOMMMM.

A second explosion rocked the building. Kate felt a white hot surge of air from behind as she was lifted off her feet and thrown to the ground. She looked up to see Gene getting back to his feet. Ever the professional, he still had his camera running and he gave her the hand signal letting her know his equipment was still intact and that he had gotten the footage of the second blast, as well as her going down, and was getting the images behind her of the new horror.

Kate rose to her feet and turned to face the spot where the entrance to the Capitol used to be. She watched in mute terror as members of the legislature, staff, tourists and children ran screaming into the street. There was blood and glass everywhere. Through the now open space where the covered and columned entryway had been, she could see that the first floor ceiling was starting to give way. She looked up briefly at the window that marked the Governorís office; catching Geneís attention, she began talking again.

"As you can see, a second explosion has just rocked the Capitol." Gene gave her a thumbs up at her slightly raised eyebrow, which he correctly interpreted to be her questioning whether or not her microphone was still working. He focused in on Kate. "That window there," she pointed to the corner spot on the second floor, "is the Governorís office."

"Kate," Phil said in her ear from the newsroom even as she continued talking to the viewers, "Youíre the only game in town; the scene got cordoned off before any of the other stations could get their people down there. CNN and all three major networks are carrying you live. No pressure here, girl, this is great stuff."

She could hear the excitement in his voice.

Gene followed her hand and zoomed in on the dramatic picture of the tattered curtains in the Governorís office blowing out the hole where the window once had been. "As we have been informed by the Senate Majority Leader, who had been meeting with the Governor at the time in that room right there (she gestured again to the hole at the corner of the building), the Governor had already been taken to safety just after the first explosion."

Gene marveled at how calm and professional the anchorwoman appeared. It was as if she hadnít just survived being thrown into the air like a rag doll by a fireball. He allowed himself a few seconds to moon over the statuesque beauty as he had done from the very first moment that she had come to work at WCAP five years earlier, straight out of college. But then, there wasnít a guy at the station, or heck, some of the women, too for that matter, who wasnít in love with her. It didnít matter that she was unerringly friendly to all of them, but dated none of them, no matter how persistent they were.

Kate turned sideways to take in the scene behind her. What she saw touched her deeply as a human being; there were too many people still in harmsí way. She knew her first responsibility as a journalist was to get the story, but as a person, and one who had extensive first aid training, she felt she had a more important obligation to help. Maybe, just maybe, she could accomplish both objectives.

She continued talking as she began running toward the building. "As you can see, there are a number of people hurt or trapped awaiting assistance. Rescue personnel are swarming over the scene, but the number of emergency workers simply is inadequate to deal with the number of casualties."

In her ear, Phil was screaming at her. "Katherine Ann Kyle, donít you dare put yourself in danger." He could tell that she heard him but was ignoring him. "Kate, please," he pleaded. "Donít." The last was whispered quietly, as he knew heíd already lost the battle. "Stay safe," he murmured.

Gene moved to follow Kate, all the while training the camera on her as she dodged debris on her way to aid the injured. She motioned below camera level that he could get the general pictures of the scene and still pick up her audio, without putting himself in jeopardy. He appreciated her gesture of concern, but was determined to stay with her as long as he could without losing transmission.

As she moved into the first floor lobby, she kept up a running monologue for the sake of the viewers. "The ceiling has caved in here, as you can see, trapping a number of people." Kate spied a young blonde girl whose leg was crushed under what once had been a pillar to the side portico. She went immediately to the girlís side. "Itís okay, sweetheart, weíre going to get you out of here." The girlís watery green eyes and tear- stained face bespoke her terror and pain, and, for a moment, the sight sent Kateís mind spinning back five and a half years to the winter of 1982.

It had been a glorious mid-winter day at the college snow bowl. Kate, a senior, stood atop one of the most challenging runs on the mountain. She had a half hour before her next shift was set to begin and she was determined to enjoy the superb conditions. "Well," she thought to herself, "If youíve got to make money somehow, this sure isnít a bad way to go." As a member of the ski patrol, she could ski for free whenever she was off duty; when she was on, she got paid. In her mind, it just didnít get any better than that.

The slopes were crowded on this Saturday, no doubt thanks to the fresh dumping of two feet of snow they had received the night before. Kate pushed off, gathering speed and picking the line she wished to follow through the numerous moguls just ahead of her. She loved the freedom of skiing, the rush of adrenaline she got while attacking the hill and the thrill of finding a great rhythm through a minefield of bumps.

She stopped to rest momentarily at the bottom of the first tier of moguls, surveying the next part of the slope. Just as she was about to move on, a blur of movement caught her eye over on the far left side of the trail about 100 yards ahead. A big mountain of a man was barreling down the slope, completely out of control. Kate quickly scanned the area, already calculating the distance between him and anyone below him. "Shit!"

The ski patroller was already in motion, knowing that she was going to be too late. She watched helplessly as the out-of-control goon slammed full speed into a much smaller female skier who had the misfortune to be in his path. The pair disappeared in a cloud of snow, arms and legs flying through the air in a tumble of bodies. Kate arrived before the plume of snow had settled, releasing her skis and planting them to mark the accident even before she had come to a complete stop. The petite blonde was lying motionless, her right arm and left leg at odd, unnatural angles; the behemoth was shaking his head. "Wow, man, that was really something," he remarked.

Kate didnít spare him so much as a look. "Are you hurt?" she asked him coldly, kneeling next to the woman.

"Naw, Iím tougherín that."

"Grand, then just sit there until I can deal with you; if you so much as move a muscle, so help me Iíll ram my ski so far up your ass it will come out your mouth. Got me?"

The big manís eyes opened as wide as saucers, and he just nodded mutely.

Kate was busy assessing the womanís injuries and checking to see if she was breathing okay. Pulling out her two-way radio, she called to the base patrol hut and radioed her location, calmly asking for a stretcher and leg immobilizer and instructing them to have an ambulance standing by. "And Ken," she added, "send up Robbie to deal with the jerkball who caused this thing; I donít ever want to see him on this mountain again."

"Roger that, Kate. Itís going to take us a few to get to you; youíre in a tough spot. Hard to reach."

"Do the best you can, Ken, she needs help now. Out."

Kate put the radio back in her fanny pack and looked down at the injured woman, who was just now coming around. Gently, she removed her chargeís goggles, which had cracked but miraculously remained on her face. She had a shocked moment of recognition upon seeing eyes the color of the Caribbean Sea trying desperately to focus. She had caught a glimpse of that unforgettable face on campus once before, but although she had looked, she had never seen the beautiful young co-ed again.

"Did you get the license plate number of the truck that hit me?"

Kate laughed in spite of the seriousness of the situation.

"Hey," Kate said softly, lowering herself so that the blonde could see her without moving her head. "Youíre gonna be all right, but I need you to stay very still for now, okay?"

"Yyyesss; I hurt so much."

"I know. Iíve got a team on the way with the equipment so that we can move you safely. Hang in there."

"Mmmyy shoulder."

"Mmm. Itís dislocated from the looks of it; I can try to put it back in if you want." Gently she added, "It will be less painful if I do."

"Oookkkay, but this is going to mess up my lacrosse season, isnít it?"

"íFraid so."

Kate dug her foot into the snow and tried to get leverage. God, she didnít want to cause this woman any more pain, but she knew that the discomfort would be temporary, and that the end result would leave her feeling better. She braced herself and grasped the dangling shoulder, being careful to jar her as little as possible. Then, using direct pressure at the correct angle, she gave a quick push and felt the bone slide back into place. The woman gave a short yell.

"Okay?"

The blonde looked up at Kate and gave her a weak smile, her lips starting to quiver and her body starting to shake from the shock of the accident and the cold. Without thought, the ski patroller unzipped her own jacket, sliding carefully behind the injured skier, zipping the jacket with both her and the woman inside, and effectively using her own body heat to try to warm her. Feeling the young co-ed shivering uncontrollably against her, she wrapped her arms carefully around the slim waist, pulling her closer still.

Kateís lips were almost directly behind the blondeís ear; murmuring soothing words, she tried to comfort her, wishing with her whole heart that she could take this womanís pain away. To distract her, she began asking questions.

"Whatís your name?"

"Jjammisson Pppppparker."

"Is that five pís or six?"

"Vvery funny," Jay said, rolling her eyes. But she smiled just the same, a fact that warmed Kate to the core.

"Thatís a pretty name."

"Mmyy ffriennds call me Jay."

"Ooo. Are you including me in that number?"

"Ssure."

"Boy, youíre easy."

"Ddonnít let it gget arround."

"Hey, your secretís safe with me. Youíre a student, right?"

"Yess, a sophomore."

Kate looked around impatiently; where the hell was the team? As brave as this young woman was being, she was in shock and hurting, her leg clearly was broken, and it was vital to get her off the mountain and taken care of. She took out her radio once again and asked what the hold up was.

"Almost there, Kate; weíre doing the best we can."

At that moment, Robbie skied up. "Whatcha got, Kate?"

She jerked her head in the direction of the big gorilla and explained to Robbie, who actually made the guy look small, what had happened. "Get him out of my sight," she hissed. Hearing the tone in her voice, Robbie did just that.

Kate turned her attention back to her patient, whose lips were starting to turn blue, and whose skin was very pale. "Is my leg broken? It hhurrtss ssoo much."

"I think so. No dancing at the Winter Carnival Ball for you, Iím afraid."

"Dddarn. And I was ssoo counting on bbrringging Ffred Assstaire as my ddatte."

"Ummm, isnít he dead, Jay?"

"Hhee iss? See, tthereís another rrreason I ccanít ggo."

Kate was utterly charmed.

Just then a snow mobile came over the rise, instantly heading for the crossed skis in the snow. Behind it was a litter with all manner of medical equipment and four more members of the ski patrol. As soon as they pulled up, Kate apprised them of the skierís condition, noting possible frostbite, exposure, shock, a likely broken leg and dislocated shoulder. As they worked to get her leg stabilized and her arm immobilized, the older woman swathed her in blankets and grasped her good hand, leaning over so that Jay could see her face.

Softly she asked, "Is there anyone you want me to call for you? Your parents?"

Jay hesitated and her face took on a far away look; for a second, Kate wondered if she had heard her. Quietly, the younger woman said, "Nnoo, tthereíss no one."

Something about the way she said it made Kate want to ask more questions, but she didnít want to push her right now. Instead she said, "How about a friend? Someone to meet you at the hospital?"

"Tthanks. Iíll ccall my friend Ssarah when I get there; ssheeís got a ccar. Tthanks for taking ccare of me; yyou mmake a ggreat ttoaster ooven."

Kate smiled at her, gave her fingers one last squeeze, and assured her that she was in great hands just before the sled started moving down the mountain.

Sighing, Kate zipped her jacket back up, put her sunglasses and gloves back on, and stepped into her skis. For the rest of her shift, which was another five hours, she couldnít stop thinking of Jay. Finally, when she couldnít stand it anymore, she made her way to the base patrol hut, signed herself out, and drove to the hospital.

Going to the Emergency room, she talked to the nurse on duty, asking after the young co-edís condition. She was told that the patient was treated for a dislocated shoulder, a severely broken leg, and some minor frostbite on her fingers; she had been released only half an hour ago and left with a friend. Satisfied that Jay had been well cared for, Kate headed back to her dorm for a hot shower.

Kate shook her head to clear it. Gene zoomed in on the child as the journalist first took the time to comfort the girl and then began leveraging her weight to try to move the pillar off of her. With a monumental effort, she was able to shift the marble just enough to slide the youngsterís body out from underneath. She hugged the girl to her briefly and called for a fireman who was speaking into a two-way radio nearby to come and carry the child to safety. Then Kate moved on to the next victim.

*********

At 2:45 p.m. Jay walked back into her hotel room after her run. She grabbed the remote and flicked the TV on to CNN as she peeled her sweaty running clothes off on her way to the shower. She had a little over an hour before her interview with the Governor, and her run had, as always, helped her to focus on the questions she wanted to ask and the ground she wanted to cover in the piece. She turned the shower on, adjusted the temperature, and stepped in, sighing in pleasure when the hot spray hit abused muscles.

A half hour later, she emerged from the bathroom wearing a hotel bathrobe and toweling her hair, freezing in mid step on her way to the closet when she heard the familiar voice. Jay checked the logo in the corner of the screen; yep, this was CNN. What was Katherine doing on CNN? Then her mind registered the words.

"To recap, thenÖ" the anchorwoman was saying. Jay sat down heavily at the foot of the bed, her eyes riveted to the TV; the scene unfolding on the screen was bedlam. She watched in horror as the camera shook violently, but somehow remained focused on Kate, who was being tossed in the air like a mannequin. Jay gasped out loud and clutched a pillow to her chest.

At that moment, her hotel room phone rang. "Hello," she said numbly.

"Ms. Parker, this is Ms. Winston from the Governorís office. Unfortunately, something has come up and the Governor is going to be unable to keep his appointment with you this afternoon."

The writer marveled at the womanís power for understatement as she watched the images at the Capitol on her TV screen.

"We will be in touch with either you or your editor later today or tonight to reschedule. We are very sorry for the inconvenience."

"Inconvenience," Jay thought. "Thatís what you call it when the Capitol is destroyed by a bomb?!"

"Thatís quite all right, Ms. Winston, though I would like to reschedule as soon as possible."

"Of course, weíll be in touch sometime later today. Thank you for your patience."

Jay was already refocusing on CNN. When Kate came back into view following the explosion, she seemed unfazed, despite the fact that half the building behind her was now missing. When she turned and ran toward the building, Jay jumped up from the bed, screaming at her to get back. "No, Katherine. No." The younger woman buried her head in her hands. This was like some bad suspense thriller; it couldnít be real. But it was.

Jayís first reaction was to go to her, but as she started to throw off her robe and pull on jeans, she realized the impossibility of the task. There was no way, with all that chaos, that she was going to be able to get anywhere near where the anchorwoman was at the moment. She growled in frustration, and began pacing the room while she watched.

The CNN anchor was overlaying his voice over the footage of Kate running into the Capitol. "Youíre watching dramatic live video of reporter Katherine Kyle of WCAP-TV in Albany, New York, where two explosions have just rocked the Capitol building. Letís listen inÖ"

The audio switched back to Kate just as she reached the little girl. Jay smiled wistfully at the womanís efforts to comfort the child; it reminded her of the events of that day on the ski slope half a decade earlier.

Jay lay on her bed, her leg propped up on a pillow and her arm resting on yet another pillow. She was groggy from pain medication, and tired from her daylong ordeal. She had been completely dazed by the impact that had blown her off her skis. All she remembered was her rescuerís face, full of concern, as she had leaned over her on the trail. Jay knew that she must have died and gone to Heaven, because she could swear that the woman bending over her was the same one she had seen on campus the previous autumn. "My God," she thought foggily, "What incredible eyes." They had been such a vivid shade of blue and so incredibly intense.

Jay had been in so much pain, but the low timbre of that voice whispering soothing words in her ear and that warm, solid, comforting presence holding her was enough to make it bearable and to make her want to be strong. She could have stayed in that cocoon listening to that woman forever. In truth, she had felt a certain sense of loss when the jacket was unzipped and the warm body slid out from behind her. And then it occurred to Jay that she hadnít even gotten the womanís name. How stupid was that?!

Jay sighed, turning her attention back to the coverage. CNN stayed with Kate live as she rescued the child, and then began interspersing images and audio of the reporter assisting other victims with the footage shot earlier of her interviewing the Senate Majority Leader, anchoring a newscast, background information about her, commentary about the Capitol, and speculation about how many people might have been in the building at the time of the explosions. They interviewed experts about the type of incendiary device that might have been used, other experts about the hot issues in New York State politics at the moment, still more experts about what person or groups might have been behind the attack, and everything else CNN could think of to round out the dramatic story that was unfolding less than ten miles from Jayís hotel room.

When she got tired of CNNís experts, Jay flipped the channel to WCAP. There was the dark-haired journalist, crawling on her stomach in what appeared to be a very unstable area of the Capitol, trying to reach a middle-aged man who was partially buried under a piece of the ceiling. Although the image was dark, Jay could see that Kateís once immaculate suit was shredded and covered in blood, her face and hands streaked with ash and small cuts. Her voice sounded tired and strained as she talked to the man and began digging at the rubble. The sight made the blondeís guts clench. "Oh, Katherine," she sighed sadly.

At 11:45 p.m., when Jay couldnít stand it anymore and it looked as though the station was about to end its coverage, she called the front desk and hailed a cab to take her downtown in the vicinity of the Capitol. The closest the cabbie could get her was within two blocks. He pointed out the direction in which she needed to go and shook his head at her; everyone wanted a piece of the action, he reasoned.

*********

Kate had just emerged from the wreckage that was once the Capitol. Knowing she was off the air now, she spoke into the microphone to Phil, thanking him for hanging with her and assuring him that she was fine. He scolded her affectionately for ignoring his orders, and then told her sheíd done a fantastic job; take the rest of the night off. She laughed at him as she unclipped the microphone, effectively severing their audio connection. Turning to Gene, she gave him a huge bear hug and a kiss on the cheek; his blush was visible even in the moonlight. She thanked him for his dedication and professionalism, and for his friendship. Handing him her earpiece and microphone, she told him to take the satellite truck and head home.

And then Kate walked off alone, moving over to a marble bench in front of the fountain on the Empire State Plaza just across the street from the Capitol, where she sat down heavily, putting her head in her hands.

*********

From some thirty yards away, Jay watched as the reporter hugged her cameraman and then walked off by herself. Part of her resisted going further, not wanting to intrude on this heroic woman when she seemed to want to be alone. Jay could see plainly that the anchorwoman was exhausted both physically and emotionally. But a bigger part of her was desperate to offer comfort; so she followed her heart.

*********

As Jay got closer, she began questioning what she was doing; she couldnít believe how nervous she was. "What if she doesnít remember me? Or what if she does remember me but she doesnít want to see me? Heck, the last time she saw me I was pretty much catatonic." She recalled with a painful jolt that awful night nearly four months to the day after her skiing accident when the compelling stranger had saved her once again, this time from being raped.

Jay had been heading back up the hill from the library after a long night of studying for her Art History final. It was a nice early May evening; the stars were out in abundance and the moon shone brightly. She looked up to the night sky to enjoy the view and was startled when she was tackled from the side, pulled off the path and slammed to the ground.

Jay struggled, trying to escape, but her attacker was much bigger and stronger than she. He pinned her arms to the ground with his knees and smashed his fist into her jaw. It was then that she saw the knife and the fact that he was wearing a stocking mask. Her eyes reflected her terror as, without saying a word, he ripped her blouse open with his free hand and cut her bra off with the blade. She screamed once before he backhanded her again across the face, his hands roughly twisting her nipple as he reached down lower to unbutton her blue jeans. Jay tried once more to squirm free, and was rewarded with a punch to her midsection. She grunted as the air exploded from her body, closing her eyes and willing it to be over soon.

And then the weight simply disappeared off her, replaced moments later by the safety and comfort of that tall, dark stranger, who had come to her rescue for a second time.

For two days afterward Jay hadnít spoken a word. The few friends who knew of her ordeal had been very supportive, and the rape counselor from the hospital had found her a great therapist. Over the course of the next year, with the help of that counselor, she had been able to work through the devastating effects of the incident. To this day, though, she still had occasional nightmares, reliving the horror in her sleep. But always, always she remembered that feeling of safety she had gotten from the hand holding hers that night: that tender, compassionate voice and presence that had been her salvation.

*********

Vaguely, Kate was aware of footsteps echoing on the marble walkway. She looked up slowly, trying to focus her abused eyes, thinking dimly to herself, "Kyle, you must be more tired than you know; youíre hallucinating." For five years she had tried hard not to dwell too much on the memory of the one woman who had made her consider the possibility that love at first sight might be more than a clichť. Now, for the second time today, Kate found herself thinking about Jay again. Not only that, this time she was seeing her as if she were really here, in Albany. She thought about the very first time she had looked up to see the same vision; it had been the autumn of 1981Ö

Kate grumbled one more time to herself about the absurdity of tennis being a fall sport in Vermont, much as she had been doing for all of her four years on the team. The temperature hovered in the high 40s and it was all she could do to hold onto the racquet. Her hands were freezing. She applied more sticky powder to her hands on the changeover and rubbed them on the grip. She hated using the stuff, but already she had lost the racquet out of her hand twice. Most of the other matches were already over, and a crowd had gathered to watch what was being billed as the best match up in the conference. Kate was the #1 singles player on her team and ranked second in the division overall. Her opponent, a bulky, 5í8" redhead with wild curls, was top ranked and had yet to lose a match all season. Kateís only loss of the year had been to this woman on her home court; the senior intended to return the favor.

Currently, they were locked in a tight third and deciding set; it was a psychological battle as much as a physical one. Kate had lost the first set in a tiebreaker, 7-6. She had come back to take the second set 7-5, even though her opponent had been up 5-3 at one point; the dark-haired woman simply refused to lose. Now the score was 6 games all and 6 points all in the final tiebreaker and Kate would be serving the next two points with a chance to finish the match. They had been at it for nearly three hours, and dusk was fast approaching.

Kate was tired. She had been up late the night before, first studying for an Economics exam, then giving the late newscast on the college radio station, and finally working on her independent study paper in Abnormal Psychology. She put all that aside, though, as she pocketed the balls and headed to the baseline. She had been oblivious to the crowd to that point, so intent had she been on out-thinking and out-slugging her opponent.

So when she stepped up to the baseline to serve and began her ritual of bouncing the ball twice with her racquet and then twice with her hand, she was surprised to hear a loud chorus of shushing noises. She chanced a moment to look up and was shocked to see the large number of spectators gathered on the hillside just above the court. She scanned the crowd quickly, noting most of the members of her team, as well as the opposing team. She also glimpsed a couple of her friends and several faculty members. And then her eyes were drawn up slightly higher, to a figure standing a little apart from the rest. "Oh my," thought Kate. A young woman was standing there, her hands in her Lacrosse team sweatshirt pockets, sea green eyes sparkling down at her and long golden hair reflecting the dying rays of the sun.

The seniorís heart nearly stopped beating, and then began to beat double time when the woman smiled a full, brilliant smile at her. Kate smiled back reflexively. "Gorgeous" was the word that popped into her mind, before she remembered what she was supposed to be doing. The entire exchange hadnít taken more than several seconds, but to Kate, it had seemed like the world momentarily had stopped turning.

She shook her head and began the ritual over once again, bouncing the ball twice with her racquet, and then twice more with her hand. Then she arched up, releasing the ball and initiating her powerful swing simultaneously. The serve caught the service and sidelines, spinning away from her opponent, who made a hapless lunge toward the ball. Ace, 7-6 in the tiebreaker, and Kate was serving for the match. She stepped confidently over to the deuce court and went through her ritual one more time. She knew it was silly, but it was something sheíd been doing ever since she was old enough to hold a racquet; an even number of bounces for the first serve, and an odd number for the second. She launched herself upward to meet the toss, and sent a blistering serve down the middle. Her opponent managed to get her racquet on the ball, sending a reasonably strong topspin backhand back across the net; Kate, however, had anticipated the shot and followed her serve in to the net. Moving forward gracefully, she put the ball away with a crisp high forehand volley to end the match.

The crowd erupted in cheers, and she waited for her opponent to meet her at the net to shake hands. As she walked off the court, gathering her tennis bag and sweats, the senior looked back to where the vision had been standing. The blonde gave her a huge grin and a thumbs up, then she was gone, melting into the crowd of spectators no doubt heading for warmer surroundings.

Kate smiled at the memory for a second, until, unbidden, thoughts about the third and last time she and this woman had crossed paths, seven months after the tennis match and some four months after the incident on the ski slope, intruded:

Kate had been walking down the hill from the college radio station on her way to meet friends downtown following the 11 oíclock newscast, enjoying the light breeze and the moonlit night, the smell of pine trees strong in the air. She had just taken her tennis team sweatshirt off with the intent to drape it over her shoulders when she heard what sounded like a struggle.

Kate looked around, aware as she did that there had been a series of sexual assaults on campus in the last two months. She spotted a small movement in the bushes just off the path some twenty feet ahead. Throwing the sweatshirt to the ground, she broke into a run, yanking the bushes aside with her hand as she reached the noise. What she saw enraged her. A beefy man, his face covered with a nylon stocking, was straddling a young woman; he was in the process of pulling her pants down. She also saw the glint of steel in the moonlight.

Heedless of the danger, she coiled her body and launched herself at the man, careful to get under his arm so that the blade would be aimed upward, away from his victim. She knocked him sideways and off of the woman, her momentum sending both the assailant and her careening into a nearby oak tree. The man caught his balance first, slashing at Kate with the knife he still held in his hand; she tried to roll away, but he managed to slice her right shoulder. Blood immediately poured from the wound but, furious now, she ignored it. Pushing to her feet she smashed him in the stomach with one of her long legs, following that with a knee to his groin. He howled in agony, and she used that opportunity to kick the knife from his hand. As he recovered and reached for it on the ground, she stomped on his wrist so hard that she could hear the bones snap. Just as she was about to take a shot at his head with her foot, a local policeman came running up, his gun drawn, warning the man to move away from the weapon and lie face down on the dirt. He cuffed him and looked up into cerulean blue eyes.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah," Kate sighed. "But thereís a woman over that way a little," she pointed over her shoulder, "Who may not be."

"Iíll radio for an ambulance right away, backup should be here shortly."

"You worry about him, Iíll see what I can do for her." And with that, Kate already was streaking back toward the path.

She looked around for a moment, trying to locate the woman, before spying the reflective tape on the back of a pair of running sneakers. And then she realized why she had had such trouble spotting her: the victim was curled into a tiny ball, lying huddled near where Kate first had encountered her and her assailant. She was in the fetal position, with her arms wrapped tightly around her knees, which were pulled up to her chest. The sight broke the seniorís heart.

She moved quickly, but carefully, trying not to traumatize the woman any further. Bending down, she began speaking softly to her.

"Itís okay. Youíre safe now." When she got no response, she tried again. "Can I just get a look at you; see where youíre hurt?" Again, nothing. Kate didnít want to add to the womanís misery, but she knew she had to get a better handle on exactly how far the scumbag had gotten, and whether or not he had cut her with the knife. In the position the victim was in currently, she couldnít even see her face.

"Hey, I only want to help you. He canít hurt you any more, I promise. Please." It was a plea. The woman began to rock back and forth as if in mute comfort. Kate decided she had to make a move; she simply couldnít chance waiting any longer. Reaching out tentatively, she touched the woman on the back. The traumatized victim lifted her chin inches from its position tight against her knees as if noting someone elseís presence for the first time. Kate gasped.

"Jay," she cried. "Jay, is that you?" All the while her mind was praying that it wasnít the young woman whose face had been visiting her in her dreams for months. "Oh, God, not her." Tears sprang to Kateís eyes.

Jay thought the insistent voice sounded vaguely familiar, but she didnít trust it. She didnít trust anything right now; she just wanted to die. A gentle arm encircled her, and she flinched involuntarily at the contact.

Although she was stung by the reaction, Kate refused to pull back. "Jay, honey, are you hurt? I need to see. Can you straighten out your arms and legs so that I can see where youíre hurt?"

At the term of endearment, said with such compassion, the young co-ed looked up momentarily with glassy eyes, trying to focus on the face gazing down at her with such concern and tenderness. "Could it really be her, or is my mind playing tricks on me?" she had thought so often about the tall, dark stranger she wondered if this wasnít a figment of her imagination.

Seeing a flicker of a reaction, Kate continued her coaxing. "I just need a peek, Jay, then I wonít bother you any more, okay?"

With tremendous effort, but without looking up, Jay loosened her death grip and dropped her arms to her sides. Kate moved forward instantly and, as gently as she could, began examining Jay to determine her condition. Bile rose to her throat as she noted the ripped blouse, the cut bra, the half-opened jeans and the scrapes and bruises that liberally covered her chest and abdomen. She could see the swelling on the young womanís jaw and the beginnings of a bruise there, as well as her split lip. She noted the bruising around Jayís nipple, too. God she wanted to kill him.

Kate didnít want to ask the next question, but she knew she had to. Softly, circling Jay with her good arm and stroking her soft blonde hair, she asked, "He didnít penetrate you, did he, honey?" She closed her eyes against the answer, knowing that if it was in the affirmative, she might well take matters into her own hands and strangle the bastard.

Jay felt like she was underwater. She heard the question, her mind struggling to provide the answer, but she couldnít find her voice. Instead, she shook her head "no."

Kate squeezed her eyes shut as the tears of relief leaked out of the corners; thank God for small favors.

At that moment she heard the sirens of additional police cars and doors slamming. She looked down and suddenly was aware of how painfully exposed and vulnerable Jay looked. Kate remembered that she had dropped her sweatshirt just a few feet away and she moved to retrieve it.

"No, donít leave me."

Kate moved back to her instantly. "Itís okay, Jay, Iím not going anywhere; I just want to get something for you to put on. Watch me, youíll see, Iím right here." She inched away slowly; making sure that the young co-ed could still see her. She picked up her sweatshirt quickly and returned to her side. "Here, let me help you put this on, okay?"

Jay nodded her head numbly. The sweatshirt smelled sweet. "Just like her," the traumatized woman thought.

Not wanting to startle or frighten her, Kate described what she was going to do next. "Jay, Iím just going to help you get your jeans zipped up, okay?" Getting no reaction, she reached down slowly and put her hands on the waistband. Jay didnít pull away, so she grasped the zipper, pulled it up, and refastened the button. "There you go, thatís better, huh?"

Kate was alarmed that Jay seemed to be so far away, unreachable, really, with the exception of that one exclamation when she had let go of her. So far, that was the only verbal indication that Jay even knew the senior was there.

Two police officers approached, one male and one female, both looking at Kate with a question in their eyes.

"Sheís okay. I donít think he accomplished his goal; she doesnít appear to have been penetrated, but they should probably check just to be certain. Sheís got significant bruising and scrapes and he tore most of her clothes off." She was amazed at how calm her own voice sounded; in actuality, she was shaken to the core.

The officers noted the oversized sweatshirt that now covered Jayís upper body and pooled around her on the ground where she was half sitting. Following their eyes, Kate added, "Thatís mine. I just thought she should be covered up."

"Okay," said the male officer. "You need to come with me so that I can ask you some questions. Officer Dale will stay with her and question her." Kate didnít like his attitude, thinking him far less compassionate in his tone toward the young co-ed than she thought he should have been.

She sized up Officer Dale and addressed her instead. "I donít think sheís in any shape to be questioned right now, youíll only traumatize her worse. I can tell you everything I saw and what happened." Kate didnít want Jay to have to relive the attack over again so soon. "She needs medical attention."

"So do you," Officer Dale state flatly, nodding in the direction of her right arm, which was dripping blood.

"Iím fine. We need to take care of her."

"Come with me, maíam," the male officer said, tugging on Kateís good arm to get her going.

She reluctantly started to stand, but Jay grabbed her hand like a vise before she was half way off the ground. "Donít go," she whispered. "Please donít leave me."

"I wonít," Kate said, dropping back down next to her and staring up at the officers defiantly. To them she said with finality, "Iíll answer your questions at the hospital after sheís been taken care of. Donít worry, Iím not likely to forget anything I saw or did."

"Maíam," the male officer started, "Itís important to get your recollections while theyíre freshest." "Herís too," he jabbed his chin in Jayís direction.

Kate just stared daggers at the man. "I assure you youíll get everything you need. Now where the hell is the ambulance?" She was starting to get light headed from the loss of blood and she was worried beyond words about Jayís emotional state.

Fortuitously, two paramedics hustled up at that moment wheeling a stretcher. "Somebody rang for us?"

Kate looked up at the sound of the bright voice. "Jen, is that you?"

"Hey, beautiful. Whatís a nice girl like you doing in a dump like this?"

Kate was never so glad to see a friendly face in her life. Jen was a fellow member of the ski patrol; she was also a volunteer EMT. "Jen, this is Jamison Parker. She needs your help."

"So do you, from the looks of it, Missy. Let me take a peek."

"Later, Jen, I promise. Jay first. Please?"

The EMT looked intently at Kate; what she saw there galvanized her into action. "Right." Addressing the young co-ed, Jen said, "Hi, Iím Jen; Iím here to help you. Where does it hurt?"

Jay didnít respond, but her grip on the hand she was holding tightened imperceptibly. Kate leaned over and cooed softly in her ear, "Itís all right, Jay, Jenís a friend of mine. You can trust her."

After a momentís inaction, the EMT looked at her friendís eyes with a question; Kate nodded slightly. Jen squatted down in front of Jay and reached out slowly. "Iím just going to pull your sweatshirt up and have a little look see, okay?" This she said even as she already had her hands in the material and was tugging gently upward. She took the stethoscope from around her neck and the blood pressure cuff and began listening to her patientís chest and taking her pulse and blood pressure readings.

To her friend, who was waiting expectantly, the EMT said, "Her heart rateís a little elevated, which youíd expect, and her pressureís up a bit, too. Her pupils are non-responsive, which is indicative of deep shock. Do I need to use a kit?" She didnít need to be more specific. The senior knew her friend was asking if the asshole had raped Jay and if they needed forensic evidence that a rape kit could yield.

Kate swallowed hard, willing back the tears that the very thought of that monster defiling this woman evoked. In a voice choked with emotion, she answered, "I donít think so, but Iíd prefer it if you went through the motions just in case. I want to make sure we nail the bastard good."

Jen looked at Kate oddly; she had never seen her friend so rattled, or so fierce. She nodded her head and tried, without words, to let her know that she would take good care of this woman who clearly meant something to her.

"Okay, weíre going to move you to a stretcher now so that we can take you to the hospital and check you over properly, all right? Can you stand?"

Jay didnít move. Kate tugged on her hand gently, starting to stand herself and pulling the traumatized woman up along with her, never letting go of her hand. Jen moved in, guiding her to the stretcher, putting subtle pressure on her shoulder when the stretcher was maneuvered into position for her to sit. As the EMT laid her patient down, Jayís eyes tracked fearfully around, panic etched clearly in her face. When pained sea green eyes found reassuring deep blue ones, she relaxed slightly. "Donít worry, Jay, Iím coming with you." Kate swept disheveled blonde bangs off her forehead with gentle fingers and entwined their fingers once again as she walked alongside the stretcher.

As they moved to the ambulance, Jen caught her friendís gaze. "Youíve lost a lot of blood, girlfriend; we need to do something about that." As Kate opened her mouth to protest, the EMT added, "And donít you tell me it can wait. Frankly, your color sucks."

"Thanks for the compliment. As soon as weíre on the road, I promise."

Once in the ambulance, Jen moved over to her friend and peeled back the tattered sleeve of her t-shirt. She sucked in a sharp breath at the depth of the wound. "Jesus. Thatís gonna need a couple of layers of stitches and a tetanus shot, to be sure, if you havenít had one lately."

The EMT cleaned the wound and applied a pressure bandage as a stopgap measure until her friend could get stitched. Kateís gaze never wavered from Jayís face, her thumb making gentle circles on the back of her hand. She felt so helpless to do anything for her it made her sick to her stomach. If only she had happened down the path a few moments earlier! Now, all she could do was be there and try to help her to feel safe.

Once at the hospital Jay was wheeled into a private area of the emergency room where a rape counselor was waiting along with an all-female medical team. Kate filled the clinicians in as best she could as to the events of the evening, having gone with Jay only because every time she tried to let go of her hand, she panicked.

After examining the patient briefly, the doctor told Kate, "Iím going to give her a sedative to help her relax a bit; and then weíll take samples for the lab."

Kate looked to the rape counselor beseechingly. "Sheíll be all right." The counselor smiled kindly at her. "Itís going to take time and a good support network." Kate wondered if the young sophomore had one, thinking back to the accident on the ski slope and her reaction to having her parents contacted. Then a name popped into her head; Sarah. She had mentioned a friend named Sarah. Kate asked Jay what dorm she lived in but got no answer.

When the sedative had begun to take effect and her eyes began to slide shut, Kate tried a different tack on a hunch.

"Jay, whatís your roommateís name?"

"Sarah Alexander," she slurred.

The older woman waited for her young charge to fall asleep, reluctantly disentangling her hand. She went in search of a college directory, looked up Sarah Alexander and headed for the phone.

Half an hour later Kateís wound had been properly taken care of, closed with a dozen stitches to the under layers of skin and another dozen sutures in the top layer. She sported a stark white bandage wrapped around her shoulder, which was bare thanks to the fashion ignorant doctor who had unceremoniously cut off her sleeve.

She saw a harried looking young woman come running in through the emergency room door and approached her. "Are you Sarah Alexander?"

"Yyes, yes I am."

"Jayís in there," she nodded her head in the direction of the room just down the hall to the right. "Sheís asleep right now but she could sure use a friend." Irrationally, Kate was envious, wishing it could be her. "The counselor will fill you in, sheís in the room with her."

Sarah ran off in the direction of the room, looking back over her shoulder and calling, "Thanks."

Kate continued out into the emergency room waiting area, where the three cops from the incident were sitting. She proceeded to tell them everything she knew, getting a ride back to campus from them when they were done. She had thought about checking back in on Jay, but decided that the traumatized woman didnít need her; she was in good hands with Sarah, who no doubt knew her friend well enough to know how to comfort her. For some reason, that thought both heartened and saddened her. "Goodbye, Jay. God speed."

*********

 

 

The footsteps stopped just in front of where she sat facing the remains of the Capitol. Kate opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. "My God," she thought, "Itís been five years and you are even more beautiful than I remember, Jay."

"Hi," Jay said shyly as she was captured by the intensity of that regard. It was just like the first time they had made eye contact, the day she stopped to see what all the fuss was about as a crowd gathered on the hill near the tennis courts that autumn day five and a half years ago:

She had moved higher in order to be able to see over the heads of the throng. Leaning toward the guy standing closest to her, she asked what was going on. He explained that these were the top two players in the division and that the winner of this match would decide the final standings for the year. It was a four-year-old rivalry, he added, and there was little love lost between these two. Itís 5-3 in Redís favor in the second set, the young man pointed at the redhead, and she smells blood.

Jay was transfixed, unable to take her eyes off the lanky woman, who, she thought, moved with the grace and speed of a panther. She was so agile, so strong and so very determined. She found herself holding her breath unconsciously, willing the mystery woman to make the next shot, and the next, and the next. Jay knew she was going to be very late to her weekly editorial meeting for the school newspaper, but she just couldnít tear herself away. And then, when it had come down to the very end and those blue eyes had looked up directly at herÖWow.

Kate motioned her to sit down. "Hello, Jay," she said warmly. "You cut off your hair."

"Well, she remembers me, anyway." "You donít like it?" she half questioned self-consciously, aware of the absurdity of having a discussion about her hairstyle with a woman who had just been through what this woman had.

Kate, her resistance weakened, reacted without restraint, reaching out and running her long fingers through the locks in question. "No, itís gorgeous," she said sincerely. "It suits you." Her palm briefly brushed Jayís cheek.

Jay felt the gentle touch all the way to her toes, but as much as she enjoyed the simple contact, she was aware of something else, too. She grasped the hand that had caressed her face in her own soft hands and turned it over to examine the palm. She gasped when she saw that it was raw and bleeding. Then she got a closer look at the rest of the anchorwoman.

"You need to go to the hospital, Katherine. Youíre hurt." She began to pull on the statuesque womanís good hand to get her to stand.

"No, Jay, the hospitals all have their hands full with the seriously wounded, Iím fine."

"No youíre not, youíre bleeding, youíre cut and you need to be seen," the blonde prodded stubbornly.

Trying to change the subject, the tattered woman said, "My friends call me Kate."

"Oh, are you including me in that number?"

"Sure."

"Boy, youíre easy."

"Donít let it get around," Kate replied smiling tiredly at the repeat of their very first conversation.

"Youíre secretís safe with me," Jay winked. "And now that weíve got that settled, letís get you to the hospital."

Seeing that she was going to have to do something to placate Jay, Kate decided to take a different approach. "I donít want to spend hours sitting in an emergency room; my doctor can handle my injuries."

"At this hour?" Jay questioned skeptically.

"Sheís a friend of mine," Kate answered reasonably.

"Okay, then call her, because Iím taking you there right now."

"Thatís really not necessary."

"Letís go find a pay phone," Jay said determinedly.

"All right, all right already, I know when Iíve been outmaneuvered." Kate sighed and led her companion over to the nearby Convention Center, where a pay phone sat outside the entrance.

Now Jay was feeling a little sheepish. "Umm. I took a cab here. You do have a car, right?"

The anchorwoman laughed for the first time in many hours. "Címon, one of my co-workers dropped my car off nearby hours ago." She led the way across the plaza to the opposite side away from the Capitol.

Chapter Three

Although she put up token resistance, Kate secretly was glad that Jay wanted to drive her. She didn't think she could keep her eyes open long enough to watch the road, and the blonde seemed only too happy to slip behind the wheel of her sporty little BMW convertible anyway.

She sank into the leather of the passenger seat with relief and, after listening delightedly to the vertically-challenged woman mutter under her breath for a few minutes about how far up she had to move the driver's seat in order to reach the pedals, Kate directed her through the city and out into the suburbs beyond.

The tired woman had just about drifted off when a thought occurred to her. "Jay?"

"Hmmm?"

"What in the world are you doing here in Albany and how did you find me?"

Jay laughed at the last part of the question. "Well the 'how did I find you' was simple; anyone with access to a television set could have found you, Kate. As for what I'm doing here, I'm doing an in-depth profile on the Governor for Time magazine. I'm based in New York City and I was hoping to interview him there, but the only way they could fit me into his schedule was to do it up here; they consider him a real future contender for the presidency. It's going to be next week's cover story."

"Mmm, they're right about that. Wow, that's fantastic, congratulations."

"Thanks. I was supposed to meet with him this aftern...I mean yesterday afternoon now, I guess, but the disaster changed all that."

"What time was your meeting set for?"

"Four o'clock. I was just getting showered and changed when I saw you on CNN and then someone from the Governor's office called to postpone."

"Mmm, I'm glad you hadn't left yet." Kate couldn't imagine what her reaction would have been to finding out that the cute blonde had been caught in that explosion.

They were both quiet then, each woman alone with her own thoughts.

At 12:15 a.m. they pulled up to a brick office building where they were greeted by a wiry, bespectacled woman in her mid-40's. "Kate, come on inside and let's get you looked at." Even as she appeared to be focused entirely on her patient, the woman's sharp eyes took note of her companion and the way the injured woman looked at her. While most people wouldn't have noticed anything at all there, she knew her tall friend well, and she knew she had never seen her look at anyone that way before.

"Doctor Barbara Jones, please meet Ms. Jamison Parker. Jay, this is Dr. Jones."

"Barbara, please. It's nice to meet you," the doctor said as she reached out bony fingers to grasp the blonde's hand in a firm handshake.

"Likewise," Jay answered.

Once inside, the doctor led the way back to one of the examination rooms. "Feel free to come along for the ride, Jay, our Kate here could use a distraction." The writer hesitated, wanting to give her companion her privacy.

Sensing her unease, Kate said, "It's fine, Jay, a heck of a lot more entertaining than waiting outside in Barbara's waiting room; there isn't a magazine out there that's less than a year old."

Barbara poked the injured woman in the side and rolled her eyes.

Jay blushed, clearly embarrassed by the doctor's assumption that Kate would welcome her presence. She looked over at the dark-haired woman, who appeared to be taking it all in stride, though, and decided to shove aside her discomfort.

Which was fine until Kate started disrobing. Suddenly Jay found the diplomas on the wall fascinating. The anchorwoman smiled behind her back.

When Barbara returned, she had gathered several suture kits, some fresh bandages and cleansing solution. "Geez, Kate, you look like hell."

"Thanks for the compliment, I feel better already."

From her vantage point in the corner Jay smiled at the easy camaraderie between the two women.

With an efficiency born of years of practice, Barbara examined her friend from head to foot, stitched two major gashes on her hand and forearm, and applied burn ointment to her hands and salve to the cuts on her face and arms.

"Do try to stay out of trouble now, will you?"

"You know that it's the trouble that always finds me, Barbara," Kate joked hoarsely, "Not the other way around."

"Yeah, right. Now get out of here so I can get some sleep."

Just as they were headed back to the exit, the phone rang.

"Now who would that be at this hour?" Barbara wondered aloud. "Well," she sighed, "If they tracked me down here, it's a sure bet that I should answer it."

After a moment, she handed the phone to her patient, shaking her head. "It's for you," she said, her eyebrows hiking into her salt and pepper hair.

"Hello, this is Katherine Kyle." Now she was all business, all trace of exhaustion gone. Jay marveled at the transformation.

"Hiya kiddo," her producer greeted. I figured when I couldn't get you at home that you might have stopped for some TLC." In actuality, he had spent the past hour trying desperately to locate her. When she wasn't home, and Gene didn't know where she'd gone after they'd parted, Phil was at a bit of a loss; Kate was not exactly the "go-out-and-get-drunk" type. Then he had remembered the way she had looked on camera, and it dawned on him that she might have needed medical attention. He knew that she would never go to the hospital, and, since they shared the same doctor, he thought it worth a try to call the good Doctor Jones's office.

Kate sighed in exasperation. "First of all, how in the world did you track me down and what could you possibly want now, Phil?" she said with a mixture of wonder and respect. "And secondly, I thought you told me to take the rest of the night off."

"Number one, I have many skills," he said proudly. "Number two, I did, and now it's tomorrow morning."

Kate groaned. "Okay, what is it?"

"Great news. You're a star and you're in demand; all three networks want you on their morning shows tomor...err...today. First appearance at 7:05 a.m. You have to be in makeup at 6 o'clock at the NBC Today Show studios."

There was dead silence on the anchorwoman's end.

"Kate, did you hear me?"

A heavy sigh. "Yeah, I heard you."

"Terrific, a limo will be outside your house at 3:30 a.m. That's...two and a half hours from now. Better get your beauty rest, not that you need any."

"Gee, thanks, buddy. I'll fly back and be here in time for the six o'clock 'cast, get me some reservations, will you? And Phil, I'm going to call you at 6:30 a.m. sharp and I want an update on everything we know to this point. See ya." She hung up before he had a chance to respond.

When she put the phone down, both Jay and Barbara looked at her with inquiring eyes.

"I'm the catch of the day apparently; all three networks want me on their morning shows...six hours from now."

"Oh Kate," both women groaned together.

"Kate, you're in no shape to travel to New York right now, that's insane!" Jay was well and truly worried about her friend.

"That's okay, they're sending a limo to drive me."

"Oh, well that makes it all better then," the writer said sarcastically. Barbara decided right then and there that she liked this woman. A lot.

"Come on, Jay, let me get you back to your hotel. Thanks for taking such good care of me Barbara, as always." And with that, the three women walked into the parking lot.

As Kate was getting into the passenger seat, Barbara escorted Jay around to the driver's side. The look in her eyes when she was watching Kate hadn't escaped Barbara, either. "Take good care of her, Jay, she's a special one."

Jay blushed, but nodded her head. "I know."

*********

The ride to the hotel was companionably silent, as both women were too tired for conversation.

Once there, Kate insisted on walking Jay to her room. But before they could get beyond the lobby, the desk clerk called out, "Excuse me, are you Ms. Parker?"

"Yes I am," Jay answered, surprised, approaching the desk.

"Thank God," the clerk exclaimed, relieved. "I've got a message for you; this woman has been calling every half hour."

Jay smiled and shook her head. "Ah, that would be Trish." To Kate she said, "My editor."

Jay accepted the piece of paper from the clerk and read the note, groaning.

"What is it?"

"The Governor has rescheduled the interview for... 2:30 p.m. today...in his New York City office. It seems he doesn't want to appear to be cowed or deterred by terrorists."

Kate thought for a minute. She really didn't want to say goodbye to Jay again so soon. "I've got an idea." At the younger woman's raised eyebrow, she continued before she could lose her nerve, "How about if we get you checked out right now? You can come to my house with me, we can shower there, get changed and get ready and then you can ride with me in the limo back to the City." When Jay didn't respond right away, Kate rushed on, "That is, if you don't mind traveling at that ungodly hour, and I would love it if you would accompany me on the rounds to the shows. If you want to, I mean; I think you'd have plenty of time before your interview with the Governor." She could never remember being this nervous and anxious about an answer before; it had never mattered like this.

Jay was floored by the offer. "That sounds great, are you sure?" At Kate's bashful nod, the blonde turned toward the elevators. "I'll just go get my stuff and be down in a minute." "Heck," the writer thought to herself, "I'd walk to New York if it meant I could spend more time with you."

Chapter Four

After throwing her few things together the writer placed a quick call to her editor from the room.

"Sure," Trish practically yelled at her in her heavy New York accent. "You, the most responsible person I know...first you hang up on me, and then, if that isn't bad enough, you go flying off somewhere and don't even bother to get in touch with me when the whole world is exploding up there. Jesus, Jay, I thought something really bad happened to you."

"I'm sorry, Trish, I guess I didn't think about it that way; don't worry, everything's fine. I don't have time right now, but I promise to explain it all to you the next time we talk, okay?"

The editor could never stay mad at her young friend for long. "Yeah," she said, "Okay this time, but no more heart attacks, all right? I'm too young to die."

"Cross my heart, Trish. Listen, I've already got a ride back to the City, and I'll be there in plenty of time for the interview."

"Jay," the editor said seriously, "There's an awful lot riding on this interview now given what happened. Make me proud."

"Have I ever disappointed you?"

"Nope, and don't let this be the first time, either."

"Bye, Trish."

"See ya, kid.

*********

The ride to the television anchorwoman's house took a little over twenty minutes, Kate driving this time, since it was easier than giving directions. When they pulled into the driveway, Jay was amazed at how beautiful and big the house was. "Wow, Kate, this is impressive."

"It's home," she shrugged.

The house was set back from the road, which was a cul-de-sac, the driveway shaded by large old oak trees and extending perhaps three hundred feet, with a circular drive leading to the front door and a continuation to the side leading to a three car attached garage. From the front door, the writer couldn't even see the lights of the neighboring houses.

The house itself was spectacular; contemporary in style with large windows, including one huge rectangular window above the entranceway topped by a second, semi-circular window. Through that opening Jay could see a beautiful hanging gold and glass light fixture that presided over a wide-open expanse.

Kate unlocked the front door, insisting that she would not take her guest in through the garage. Jay was stunned by the elegance of the interior: it was airy and open, with a high cathedral ceiling and sky lights in what she could see was the sunken living room. And yet it also had a cozy feeling that was most likely a result of the post and beam construction and the choice of furnishings.

Before Jay could make any more observations, Kate called out, "Hi honey, I'm home! Fred, are you here, I brought somebody home to meet you?" Kate completely missed the look of total shock and dismay on her companion's face.

Jay wasn't sure she could stay standing, Kate's words slamming her in the gut like a two by four as she felt the air rush out of her lungs. There was a sharp pain in her chest, and it was hard to breathe; how could she have missed something as major as a husband? Good Lord! Kate didn't have any rings on her fingers, but then that didn't necessarily mean anything; how could she have been so stupid? Of course someone as special as Kate would be taken.

Just as Jay was trying to figure out how she could extricate herself gently from this situation without making too much of an idiot out of herself, a beautiful Golden Retriever came bounding around the corner from another part of the house. The dog had a stuffed parrot in his mouth and what the writer thought passed for a big smile on his face.

"There you are," Kate said, still oblivious to her companion's distress. "Now be a gentleman and introduce yourself." The dog sat obediently, sticking out his right paw for Jay to shake, his tail wagging furiously and his whole body shaking in excitement. "Jay, this is Fred. Fred, meet Jay."

The feeling of profound relief that flooded through her left the blonde feeling light headed. She kick started her brain again, reaching out to take Fred's extended paw.

"Oh, and Fred," Kate said in a stage whisper, "No kissing on the first date." She winked at Jay, who stood there with a lopsided grin on her face. Now that she was pretty sure her heart was going to recover, she was absolutely smitten with Fred.

"How old is he?" Jay asked as she scratched him on the chest.

"Two years," his mother replied. "His parents are both breed champions."

"He's charming and handsome."

"Yeah," Kate agreed with obvious pride and affection. "But don't tell him that, it'll go right to his head."

The anchorwoman indicated that Jay should follow her further into the house, showing her to the living room and inviting her to sit on the couch. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"No thanks, I'm fine."

"I'd light the fireplace, but I don't think we have enough time to enjoy it."

"That's okay, Kate, you don't need to worry about me. You must be exhausted."

After a short silence, Jay decided to take advantage of this moment. "By the way, I've always wanted to thank you for all that you did for me in college," she started conversationally. Kate made a dismissive motion as if to say, "it was nothing."

"No, really," Jay persisted. "You were always taking your clothes off for me," she said earnestly, referring to the sweatshirt and Kate using her ski jacket to warm her on the ski slope.

As soon as the words were out of her mouth and Jay got a good look at her companion, whose eyebrows had hiked all the way up into her hairline, she realized what she had said. She scrubbed furiously at her face, which had turned beet red.

"Uh oh. Damn, I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I mean, I did mean it but," she stammered. "Oh, never mind," Jay finished miserably.

Kate was utterly charmed both by the adorable blush and the attempted explanation; she tipped her head back and gave a full, throaty laugh.

Jay thought it was the most wonderful sound she'd ever heard. "Let's just rewind the conversation, okay?"

Kate decided she should let her friend off the hook. "You're welcome, Jay, I was glad to be in the right place at the right time."

In an effort to lighten the conversation, knowing that they were both too tired right now for anything really heavy, Kate said, "Listen, I need to take a shower in the worst way."

"Me, too," Jay agreed.

"Well, come with me, I'll give you the nickel tour so you can find your way around and show you to the guest suite."

Fred led the way out of the living room and into a fully stocked library, complete with built-in floor to ceiling bookshelves. Jay made a mental note to come back and check the titles in Kate's collection; some of them clearly looked like first editions. On the wall opposite the bookshelves was what appeared to be a well-used fireplace. Noticing her gaze, Kate said, "This is my favorite room in the house; Fred and I spend a lot of time in here reading by the fire."

Jay made note of the fluffy dog bed sitting next to a comfortable-looking recliner, which was sitting at an angle to the fireplace. "Boy," she thought, "I could get lost in here for days."

They exited the library, next entering an office with a rich beige leather couch on one wall and a large dark oak desk on another, with a matching oak filing cabinet and credenza sitting against the opposite wall. It was clear from the state of the room that Kate did quite a bit of work here. There were neat stacks of magazines and newspapers in racks next to the desk, which was free of clutter but still managed to look well used.

They moved on to the family room, which sported state of the art video and audio equipment, yet another fireplace and a light-colored plaid armchair and matching sofa; French doors opening out onto a huge, two-tiered wooden deck completed the space.

Behind the family room was the kitchen, which appeared to have every modern convenience, but lacked any indication that it had ever been used. A mudroom that doubled as Fred's dining area adjoined the kitchen and a bathroom was situated adjacent to the mudroom.

Finally, the last room on the first level was the dining room, which featured a beautifully intricate Oriental rug on the hardwood floor, and very expensive-looking matching mahogany chairs and a table big enough to seat ten people comfortably. A mahogany sideboard and china cabinet rounded out the furnishings.

"C'mon, let's go upstairs."

*********

Kate showed Jay the three bedrooms upstairs, including the guest suite, which included its own large bathroom with a sunken tub. Finally, she stopped at the threshold to her own bedroom suite. With a gesture of her bandaged hand, she motioned Jay to precede her, following her inside.

The room was large and airy, like the rest of the house, but with an intimacy about it that took Jay's breath away. The colors were warm and inviting, the furnishings tasteful and understated, the ceiling featured a huge fan, recessed lighting and a skylight through which you could see the moon and stars shining above.

"It's fantastic," she breathed, "The whole house is."

"Thanks," Kate said simply, "I designed it myself."

"You designed the house?" Jay exclaimed in wonder.

"Um, yeah."

"Wow," Jay looked at her friend with a mixture of awe and respect.

Kate kicked her shoes off and sighed, beginning to shrug out of her suit jacket, although with her hands stitched and bandaged, it was a challenge.

Jay, seeing the flicker of pain cross her companion's features, stepped forward. "I can help you with that."

"No, it's okay, I've got it," Kate said gamely even as she winced again.

"For all the times you helped me, it's the least I can do, please," she looked up into those cerulean blue eyes with pleading emeralds.

Kate lost herself in those orbs for a moment, silently nodding her surrender.

Jay moved forward further, brushing Kate's hands aside gently, undoing the two buttons on the ruined suit jacket and easing it from broad shoulders, then reaching for the buttons on the silk blouse. She swallowed hard and her fingers began shaking slightly as she carefully opened each button, revealing more and more beautiful skin, seeing clearly the line where the ash and dirt ended and the flesh that had been protected by the blouse and jacket began. Exposing more skin, Jay made the mistake of looking up into those incredible deep blue eyes. The expression she saw there precipitated a flush of heat beginning in her stomach and radiating downward. Trying hard to maintain her composure, she lowered her hands and unhooked the button on Kate's slacks and pulled the zipper down. Finally, reaching behind her back, she released the catch on her bra, stepping back as if a snake had bitten her, not trusting herself to refrain from reaching out and touching that amazing body so close by. She turned away quickly and began studying the artwork on the walls.

Kate, who seemingly had forgotten to breathe for several minutes, recovered enough to excuse herself and go grab a silk robe off the back of the adjoining bathroom door. "Good Lord, Katherine Ann," she thought, "You are in so much trouble!" Her entire body was singing with desire, which was no easy feat considering just how tired she was and how much pain she was in.

Once she was relatively sure that her body wouldn't give her away, she returned to the bedroom wearing only the robe and her underwear.

"Um, why don't you go take a shower first Jay, you can use the guest suite down the hall; I'll just rest for a minute until you're done."

Glad for a bit of normal conversation, and beyond relieved that she had had a moment alone to compose herself, Jay readily agreed.

*********

When she returned to Kate's room to let her know she was ready, Jay found her fast asleep curled up in the middle of the bed. The writer took a moment to study the sleeping form, acknowledging that she was by far the most beautiful woman Jay had ever seen, even with her eyes closed. Knowing that her friend was exhausted, she was loath to wake her, though she knew she must; in only another hour the limousine would arrive. But Kate looked so peaceful.

Jay decided to delay the inevitable, going instead to the kitchen to throw together something for them to eat. She was certain that her companion hadn't eaten in at least twelve hours, and she was hungry, too. "Not that that was any great news flash," she chuckled to herself. Opening the refrigerator, it quickly became clear that her initial assessment of the state of Kate's kitchen had been accurate. Aside from a carton of skim milk, a stick of butter, a dozen eggs, a slab of bacon, some cocktail sauce, half a dozen cans of soda, fresh oranges, some salad dressing and a jar of pasta sauce, the refrigerator was a wasteland. "Well, Fred, she's got eggs, bacon, and..." She spied a bag of English muffins on the counter. "It'll have to do, my friend." Fred waited patiently for something to drop, and, wanting to be sure he had the best angle, he did so by sitting on his new friend's feet. Laughing at his antics, she commented, "Fred, you are one beautiful specimen, but your mama, buddy, now she is sensational." Jay noted that he didn't seem to be too crushed at the prospect of coming in second best.

Putting the food in the seldom-used oven to keep it warm, she went back upstairs to wake the injured woman. Arriving at the bedroom door, she knew immediately that something wasn't right; Kate was thrashing around wildly on the bed, clearly in the throes of a nightmare. Running the rest of the distance to the bed, Jay called, "Kate, wake up, it's just a dream." Getting no response, she leaned one knee on the bed, and tried talking to her again. The sleeping woman's discomfort was increasing by the second. Her eyes moving rapidly under her lids, she screamed out in terror. Reaching out, Jay gently grasped Kate under the shoulders, being careful not to jar her injuries. She slipped in behind her companion, holding her and restraining her at the same time, fearful that her thrashing would worsen her wounds. She whispered nonsense words of comfort, rocking her in a soothing motion.

Awakening with a start, Kate was momentarily disoriented. Slowly she registered the fact that she was lying on her own bed, then she realized what had happened and that Jay was holding her. Embarrassed, she sat bolt upright, apologizing and moving away; both women felt the loss of contact acutely. Kate covered her disquiet by pointing out that she needed to get in the shower; the limo would be arriving soon.

Jay let her go, padding downstairs to the library, where she tried to focus on the books on the shelves. In reality, all she could think about was the way it had felt to hold Kate in her arms, to feel that power and strength. She sensed that the older woman was neither used to, nor comfortable with, anyone seeing her vulnerabilities. She wished with all her heart for Kate to trust her enough to let her in anyway.

*********

Kate stepped out of the shower, having spent some extra minutes trying to wash away the residue of the nightmare in which she saw the little boy's face again, his dead eyes staring upward in plea, his body crushed under a portion of the first floor ceiling. She wondered if she would ever get past some of the horror of what she had seen in the past twenty-four hours. But she didn't need to burden her young companion with that.

Throwing on some worn jeans and a t-shirt, she packed a garment bag with the outfit she would wear on the networks later that morning. She exited the bedroom, feeling badly about the abrupt way she had dismissed Jay earlier. Noticing an enticing smell coming from the kitchen, she followed her nose.

When she didn't find her companion in the kitchen, she poked her head into the library. Jay was standing in front of one of the bookshelves with Fred lying at her feet, looking gorgeous in an off-white Armani pantsuit. Kate took a moment to admire the writer while she was unaware of the scrutiny; she seemed lost in thought and a little sad, which made Kate feel even worse about her actions.

"Hey," she said as cheerfully as she could, "I smell something mouthwatering."

"Yeah," turning, Jay smiled at her friend. "I thought you might be hungry, and I always am, so I whipped a little something up. I hope you don't mind."

"Mind? Are you kidding, I'm starving."

Making their way into the kitchen, the two women sat at the table in companionable silence eating the meal Jay had prepared.

"Thanks for cooking, you didn't have to do that, but it was fantastic."

"Judging from your refrigerator, I'd say it's safe to assume that if I didn't do the cooking, it wasn't going to get done."

"Ayeah, that would be too true," Kate said sheepishly.

At that moment, the limo pulled up outside; it was exactly 3:30 a.m.

Looking at Jay, Kate said, "Showtime I guess."

"You're going on network television looking like that?"

"What, you don't like my favorite jeans and t-shirt?"

Given permission to stare frankly, Jay was happy to oblige. The jeans hugged every contour of Kate's shapely legs and narrow hips, and the t-shirt revealed the outline of high, firm breasts, well-developed arms and broad shoulders perfectly. "Oh no, they look great on you. I'm just not sure it's the image you're looking to project."

"Oooh, good save, Jay, well done; you have a future in the BS business to be sure." Her eyes twinkled; it felt good to get back on safe ground after the nightmare fiasco. "Actually, I brought my clothes with me so that I wouldn't wrinkle them before America got to see them."

"Oh great, so you'll look beautiful and I'll look like a Shar-Pei," Jay complained. This she said while bending over to say goodbye to Fred, who was presently wrapped around his mother's knees. She whispered in his ear, "I hope I get to see you again soon, buddy."

"First of all, I think you look fabulous, and, second, the entire country is not going to be watching you. Now come on, our chariot awaits." With a hug and kiss for Fred and a gallant bow, she followed her guest out the front door.

Making her way down the steps, Jay asked, "What happens to Fred while you're gone?"

"Oh, you needn't worry about the king, his minions take care of him and treat him like the royalty he believes himself to be." At Jay's perplexed look, Kate clarified, "The kids next door and their parents are gaga over Fred, they come in and feed him whenever I get hung up. You couldn't see it in the dark, but the entire backyard is fenced in with a doggie door into the garage and the mudroom. They'll let Fred out so that he can play and wander to his heart's content. In fact, most likely the kids will spend most of the afternoon throwing the ball for that pleasure hound. By the time I get home, that boy will be blissfully exhausted, well fed and well cared for."

Continued - Part 2


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