Dylan took the wine glasses to the living room while Cat cleaned up the remnants of their delivered dinner. The coach had taken pity on her player and ordered from a place that would bring her something with meat.

Cat enjoyed a nice chicken and rice dish while Dylan had eaten a passable vegan lasagna. It wasnít what Cat had hoped for, but Dylan seemed to take it all in stride and they had a nice evening.

As the blonde considered her disaster in the kitchen, Hamlet watched from the edged of the tile floor. Cat gathered up the soufflé and dropped it into his bowl. "Here you go pal. Iím sure youíll enjoy it."

The dog wandered over to his bowl and sniffed. Then he sat down and looked at Cat with a whine. He almost seemed to be shaking his head no.

"Oh come on, it wasnít that bad!"

Hamlet whined again.

"Was it?"

The dog barked this time.

Cat relaxed as she felt strong arms encircle her from behind. "You never can go wrong with dessert," Dylan purred into her ear.

"You can if you donít have any," Cat replied over the heartbeat thundering in her ears.

Dylanís resulting chuckle, deep and sensual, turned Catís mouth into a desert as all the moisture in her body headed southward for the summer.

"Thereís more than one way to defur a feline."

Her hand was gently clasped and she followed Dylan blindly into the living room, spending the duration of the short trip simply bribing her legs to work properly.

She then found herself blinking owlishly down at Dylan who had appropriated much of the couch and was lounging there like a well fed cat, long arms resting against the back. "Care to join me?" She flashed a sexy grin that had Cat seeing a whole galaxyís worth of stars. "I donít bite. I promise."

"Not even if I ask?" Cat asked finally, sliding down to sit closer to the tall woman.

"Well now, that a horse of a different color." Dylan lifted her hand and palm Catís cheek. "Youíre a beautiful woman, Catherine Hodges."

"Think so?" Cat could feel her face heat as a blush traveled from her collarbones up into her hair.

"Oh, I know so." A long thumb brushed against coral lips, soothing and exciting them at the same time. "And I also know if I donít kiss you soon, my had may explode."

"We canít have that," the blonde sighed and leaned forward. "You need your head."

"Iím pretty attached to it actually." Dylan smiled and leaned forward, tenderly kissing Catís lips.

Cat moaned softly, drowning in the almost overwhelming emotion of the gentle exchange. Warmth spread outward from her heart, traveling through her body and back again in a never ending cycle. She blindly followed Dylanís lips as they pulled away, and when a gentle tongue drew itself across her highly sensitized flesh, she welcomed it inside her, drinking in the taste, the essence of the woman who had caused this powerful hunger to well and rage within her.

Dylan finally pulled back and leaned against the back of the couch, bringing Cat with her and keeping her close within her tender embrace. Cat could hear her powerful heart thumping double time, and she smiled, knowing Dylan was just as effected as she.

"We needed this," Dylan said quietly, a husky undertone coloring her voice. "Just a quiet night without homophobes or crashing planes." She cocked her head slightly, effortlessly capturing Catís rapturous gaze. "Unless youíd like to go somewhere else?"

"I donít think we should risk it," Cat reached up and unfastened the top button of Dylanís shirt, pressing a kiss to the hollow of Dylanís throat. "We should just stay here."

Another button, and another kiss. Dylanís scent rose up to greet her, and she felt as if she were falling. "Until at least tomorrow," she continued in a voice she didnít even recognize as her own.

As a third button loosened, Dylan felt herself quickly begin to lose what little control she had left. Her hand came up of its own volition, cradling the back of Catís head as her fingers threaded themselves through the incredibly soft hair. The sensations rushing through her body easily melted her self-imposed restraints and her mind, whirling with emotion and need, struggled to remind her of the promises sheíd made to them both.

With a great amount of reluctance, her body screaming at her every millimeter of the way, she pulled again away from Cat. Looking into the glazed and passion-dark eyes almost trumped her resolve. She took in a very shaky breath, and eased it out slowly, demanding her body to calm itself.

"DidÖdid I do something wrong?" Cat asked in a voice that almost broke Dylanís heart.

Gathering the younger woman closely to her, Dylan strokes the fine blonde hair in a soothing manner. "God, no. No, Cat. You did everything right. Everything, believe me."

"Then whyÖ?"

"WeÖumÖ." Dylan cleared her throat. "We agreed to take this slowly, remember?"

Cat blinked once, then nodded, almost timidly. "Yeah. We did."

Closing her eyes, Dylan gathered the younger woman against her as fully and as tenderly as she could. "Cat, believe me when I tell you that there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that I would rather do right now than to make love with you right now."

"Thereís a Ďbutí in there," Cat mumbled against Dylanís cloth covered chest. "I just know there is."

"There is," Dylan said sadly. She sighed. "Cat, the truth is, Iím so damned attracted to you that I canít see straight some days."

"Well, thatís a good thing. Isnít it?"

Dylan laughed softly. "A very good thing," she agreed.

"ButÖ."

"But we need to take this slowly. Not just for us, but for our careers. We have a lot to focus on with the team, and to be completely honest with you, Cat, if we make love now, here, tonight, Iím afraid that my focus on my job will suffer. And thatís not something I can afford to let happen right now."

Cat was still for a very long time. Dylan continued softly stroking her hair, content to let the young woman process her words and draw her own conclusions from them.

Finally, Cat sighed and pulled slightly away, tilting her head to meet Dylanís eyes. "Even if the rest of me doesnít agree, my head knows youíre right." Lifting a hand, she stroked the sharply etched planes of her coachís beautiful face. "Since itís our night for confessions, Iíll tell you that from the moment I saw you in my dorm room that day, Iíve known that I could lose myself in you so very easily, Pallas Dylan Lambert."

"You have, huh?"

"Oh yes. But I also know that youíre right. Weíve both put our lifeís energies into what we do on the court, and I guess we need to make that our first priority." She looked up, a little guilty. "And Iím not sure I could do that once I made love to you for the first time."

The hug she received was worth every aching hormone in her body, and she sunk blissfully into it, praying with one corner of her mind, that it would never end.

*******

It was well after midnight when Dylan said her goodbyes for the evening. The accompanying kiss left Catís entire body feeling like Jell-O, and she stood on unsteady legs waving goodbye until Dylanís taillights disappeared down the street.

Hamlet, sitting just inside the door, whined, then gave a soft yip to get his masterís attention. Cat turned to him, in a daze. "Oh. Sorry boy. I guess you need to go out, huh?"

A sharper bark was her answer, and she led the dog out onto the grounds to take care of business.

When they reentered the apartment, Cat looked at the used glasses on the coffee table and shrugged. "Theyíll still be there in the morning. Címon, Hamlet. You can wait by my bed while I take a shower." She paused as she touched her still tingling lips. "A long, cold shower."

*******

"Time! Call time!!" Dylan strode down the sidelines, eyes blazing, her hands forming the universal "time out" symbol.

From the corner of her eye, Cat caught Dylanís gesture and signaled the ref for a time out. The whistle blew, and the teams trotted to their respective sidelines.

The trainers came immediately forward, handing the sweating women towels and bottles of water, which were quickly grabbed and put to good use.

Dylan looked up at the clock, though she had the entire scoreboard printed on her retinas. Eleven point nine seconds was a veritable eternity in basketball. Even if you were behind. Unless, of course, you didnít have the ball.

"Stern, youíre in for King." The rangy forward nodded and headed for the scorerís table to check in with the ref.

"Alright, the rest of you, listen up. Weíre gonna be heavy handed on the inbounds. Tippens and LeRoy, I want you in on their passer like youíre glued together, understand?"

Both women, dripping with sweat, nodded.

"Alright. If you can get a five second violation, weíre good. If not, foul. I donít care how, just foul. We still have one to give, so make it count."

"What happens if we can get a five?" Chaney asked, running a hand through her sodden dreds.

"I donít care who in-bounds," Dylan replied. "Just get it to Hodge." She turned to Cat. "If you have an unbelievably free shot, go for it, but if not, hold it as long as you can, alright? We donít want this backfiring on us."

"Got it."

The buzzer sounded, signaling the end of the time out.

"Alright, ladies, letís win this."

"Goddess!"

Dylan rolled her eyes, as she did every time her team made its rallying cheer. The team grinned back at her before turning and running onto the court, ready for action.

Blowing her whistle, the ref handed the ball to the Legend passer. Immediately, the young, rather short, woman was surrounded on two sides by the Badgersí forwards, doing their best to block every conceivable passing lane the young woman might think up.

Five seconds later, the whistle blew again. The guard slammed the ball down in frustration, and Chaney ran to the sideline to retrieve it, grinning like a madwoman.

Giving the Legend players no time to set up, Chaney passed the ball to King, who in turn hit Cat with a perfect bounce pass. Instead of going in for the shot, which would have meant trying to avoid the Legend center, all six foot seven of her, Cat shot an eye toward the clock, noticed she still had over seven seconds left, and deliberately slowed her dribble, allowing her teammates time to set up.

It was then that she was hit from behind by a runaway train in the form of the same Legend guard who had failed to get her pass in-bounds. Cat flew into Chaney, and both women fell to the ground in a tangle of limbs. The ball jumped from Catís hands and skittered across the endline.

The whistle blew as Dylan jumped to her feet. "Flagrant foul! Two, ref!! Two!!"

As soon as the referee held up two fingers, the Legend coach, a never-was by the name of Ken Handley, rushed out onto the court, narrow chest thrust so far out it looked like he was setting sail. "Bullshit! Bullshit!!"

"Go back to the bench, Coach Handley, or Iíll hit you with a technical."

"Go ahead! See if I give a flying fuck! Youíre killiní us out here, ref! Youíre killin us!"

"Back to the bench, Coach. Iím warning you."

"Warn this you fucking dyke loving piece of shit!" Handley punched the ball from the refereeís hands, narrowly missing Chaneyís head.

Dylan flew onto the court just as the ref was calling a technical and an ejection. Caulley ran after Dylan and grabbed her by the arm. Dylan shook the restraining hand off and continued forward, eyes silver and blazing in the brilliant lighting.

Ignoring the irate coach who steeled himself to go toe to toe with her, as if the event had turned from basketball to WCW wrestling, Dylan strode over to Cat and Chaney, who were on their feet and dusting themselves off.

"You alright?"

"I am," Cat replied, "but I Chane twisted her ankle pretty bad when I fell on top of her."

Chaney scowled at Cat. "Iím fine, shortchange."

"Get Tippens. Sheís going in for you."

"CoachÖ."

"Do it."

Sighing, Chaney stalked back to the bench, trying hard not to limp. She was less than successful.

As Chaney left, Dylan turned back to Cat. "You sure youíre alright?"

"Not so much as a skinned knee," Cat replied, grinning. "Looks like I finally got a break."

"Donít jinx it."

They both looked over at the oppositionís bench as the ejected Handley kicked a chair in true Bobby Knight fashion.

"Jackass," Dylan muttered, shaking her head. "He just cost his team the game."

"Think so, huh?" Turning slightly, Cat gazed at the backboard. "Guess itís time to see if all those hours of free throws paid off, huh?" Her smile was slightly pained.

"Just do your best," Dylan replied, putting a hand on Catís shoulder and giving it a brief squeeze.

Cat grinned. "You know it."

With a short nod, Dylan walked off the court as the teams lined up just outside the key. The ubiquitous whistle blew yet again as the referee tossed Cat the ball.

The large crowd went silent. Not that that mattered to Cat. She wouldnít have heard them if they were buck naked and playing the Star Spangled Banner on kazoos. All she heard was the slow, calm beat of her heart overlaid by the sound of the ball hitting the varnished cart and bouncing back into her hands.

Once. Twice. Three times. Get a quick look to the hoop. Shoot.

The crowd erupted as the ball slipped through the basket, hitting nothing but net.

Smiling at her teammates, she accepted the praise and deft pats on various parts of her anatomy before again receiving the ball and taking her position.

The second shot wasnít quite so pretty, and Catís heart leapt into her throat as the ball came down too quickly and bounced on the front of the rim, shooting straight up and rattling around the rim for a good bit before finally deciding to drop through the net.

The crowd stood and cheered as Cat again received the congratulations of her teammates, this time liberally sprinkled with good-natured teasing.

The third shot was anticlimactic. Cat knew it was a done deal as soon as the ball left her hands. She was already walking toward the sidelines before it even went through the net, only to be swept up by her teammates and paraded across the court like a conquering hero to the excited cheers of more than ten thousand fans.

The whole thing went by in an adrenaline-filled haze, but Cat would always remember the bright blue eyes, filled with pride, meeting and melding into her own.

*******

Cat was waiting for Chaney as the taller woman hobbled out of the trainerís room on a set of crutches. Her foot and ankle were encased in a bulky splint, and the look on her face was anything but pleasant.

"Damn, Chane! Are you alright? Whatís the verdict?"

"Ainít no big deal, just a strain. I donít even know why I have to use these damn things."

"Youíll use Ďem because I told you to use Ďem." Norton walked out of the room, straightening the lapels of her lab jacket. "Because if you donítÖ."

"I know, I know," Chaney replied, hanging her head.

"I know you know. Just know that I have spies everywhere, so donít let me hear that you wowed the patrons at that pro am next weekend, and you wonít have to hear me tell you youíre benched for the next two months."

Chaneyís eyes widened. "Shit! The pro-am! I totally forgot about that!" She turned to Cat, a look of misery on her face. "Iím sorry, Shortchange. Damn."

"Itís okay," Cat replied. "Itís more important to get than ankle of yours better."

"Yeah, butÖdamn." She brightened a touch. "Hey! Maybe you can get one of those guys to sub for me?"

Cat shook her head. "Canít. Theyíre either using the break to see their families or taking a nice stress free vacation."

"Shit." Chaney looked around. "What about Caulley?"

Catís jaw dropped. "Youíre kidding, right? Tell me youíre kidding."

Chaney laughed. "Alright, so sheís not the best replacement in the world, but at least she has a pulse, right?"

"I think Iíd kill myself first."

Both fell into the silence of their individual thoughts. Suddenly, Chaneyís eyes lit. "Hey! What about--?"

"No."

"Butó"

"No. Donít even think about it."

"Why not? Sheís perfect! You couldnít ask for a better draw!"

"Except for one tiny little detail."

"Whatís that?"

"She doesnít play anymore, remember?"

Chaney flapped her hand, almost losing a crutch in the process. "Aww, that ainít a big deal. I bet if you asked her real nice, she might consider it."

"I think youíre overestimating my persuasive abilities."

Chaney leered. "Aw, címon Shortchange. You could talk Eskimos into ice cubes and you know it. You got charm ooziní outta yourÖ"

"Thatís enough," Cat warned, grinning. "I get your point, even if I donít exactly agree with it."

"So? You gonna ask her?"

"IÖdonít think so, Chane," she demurred. "You know how quiet she is on the b-ball topic."

"Oh, címon, shorty. Whatís the worst she could say? No?"

"She could throw me out on my ass and trade me."

Chaney laughed. "She ainít like that and you know it. Now go on, chickenshit, or Iíll do it for you."

Cat looked at her, wide-eyed. "You wouldnít."

"You bet your sweet ass I would, girl. So," she grinned, easy and wide, "whatís it gonna be?"

"I can break that other ankle for you," Cat mock-warned.

"And miss seeing this gorgeous face rescuing your ass every game? I donít think so."

Shaking her head, Cat laughed. "All right, all right, I give."

"So youíll ask her?"

"Yes, Iíll ask her."

"You go, girl! Gimme a day or so and Iíll turn over all the money I collected to you, k? Itís a lotta green."

"Chane, you donít have to doÖ."

"Sure I do. Itís for a damn good cause. Knock em dead, shortchange."

With a last wide grin, Chaney hobbled away, cursing her crutches every step of the way.

When the door swung shut, Cat was left in the hallway alone. Rubbing suddenly sweaty palms against her jeans, she tried to assemble the thoughts running scattered through her head. After a moment, she sighed, shoulders slumped. "I canít believe I let you talk me into this."

"Talking to the arena ghost again?"

The velvet voice close over her shoulder scared several years of life out of the young player. Jumping, she spun and almost ended up in Dylanís arms.

"Jesus! You just scared the crap outta me!"

Dylan smirked. "I called your name, but you didnít answer. You seemedÖpreoccupied."

"Oh! Well. I was. Kinda."

"Mm."

Cat sighed.

"Wanna talk about it?"

"IÖumÖ." She looked down at her feet, then back into Dylanís intense eyes. "You remember me talking to you about the Childrenís Cancer Initiative Pro-Am tourney?"

Dylan nodded. "Yeah. Gave you a contribution a few weeks back."

"Thatís right," Cat replied, remembering her shock at the number of zeroes following the first figure of said contribution. "Thanks again, by that way. That was incredibly generous of you."

Dylan flung a negligent hand.

"WellÖmy playing partner was supposed to be Chaney, but Doc Nortonís keeping her off her foot until the breakís over, so IímÖkinda stuck."

"Anyone else available to help you out?"

"No," Cat replied, shaking her head. "Everybodyís leaving for vacation."

A slow, if not entirely pleasant, smile spread over Dylanís lips. "Let me guess. Chaney tried to talk you into asking me to sub for her."

"Yes?" It might not have been meant to be a question, but it came out that way.

The smile disappeared. "No."

"ButÖ"

"No." Dylan sighed. "Look, weíve been through this before. I donít play anymore. Period."

"But you do, Dylan. You play every day in practice."

"Thatís different," Dylan replied, scowling.

"How? How is it different? You play harder than the rest of us combined, and you know it. Youíre out there every day, for hours at a time, putting us through our paces. No one can keep up with you, though God knows we try. And Iíve even heard some of the coaches say that you practice at home as well. So tell me, how is it different?"

Eyeing her companion for a moment, Dylan shook her head. "I donít want to get into this now."

"Ok." Cat held up her hands. "Ok. I wonít push you. JustÖat least think about it, okay? Itís for a good cause, and you know that your name would ensure a record turn out."

A small smile curved Dylanís lips. "Not pushing me, huh?"

Cat blushed slightly, chagrinned. "WellÖ." Stepping forward, she placed a gentle hand on Dylanís wrist. "Just think about it, okay?"

After a long moment, Dylan nodded. "Okay."

*******

Cat was sitting on her couch wearing her oldest, holiest, and most paint-splattered pair of sweatpants topped by a t-shirt sheíd had since Junior High. A three-quarters empty jumbo bag of chocolate double-stuffed Oreos sat on the coffee table next to a similarly desiccated jug of milk.

The TV was blaring Southern Sports Networkís Weekend Roundup through its large speakers. The commentators, both women, were going methodically through the WBLís All-Star lineup. Both speculated why no Badger, and in particular Cat Hodges, had been selected.

"Good question!" Cat shouted through a mouthful of cookies, toasting the screen with the milk jug. "Damn good question!"

The doorbell rang as Cat was gulping down her milk, and she almost choked. Swallowing hard, she slammed the jug down on the table and levered herself out of the couch.

"Iím cominí, Iím cominí," she grumbled at the doorbell as it rang again. "Keep your shirt on."

"Ooooh," she said as she took a look through the peephole, "on second thought, take it off!"

Grinning widely, she unlocked and swung open the door. "Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in!"

Smirking, Dylan gave Cat a slow, head to toe look.

Cat looked down at her grubby clothes and flushed. "I know, I know. Look what the cat threw up, right?"

"You said it, not me."

"You didnít have to." The smile returned and, reaching out, Cat caught Dylanís wrist and pulled her inside the apartment. "So, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?"

"I was taking care of some business across town and figured Iíd stop by on my way back and give you this." Dylan handed her a thick envelope. "Came for you today."

Spying the return address, Cat smiled and ripped open the envelope. Her smile faded in confusion. "First class tickets? I didnít orderÖ." Reaching into the envelope, she pulled out a second booklet. She raised disbelieving eyes to Dylan. "Youíre going?"

Dylanís glossy hair swung free as she nodded.

"Oh my god!" Stepping forward, Cat threw her arms around Dylan and hugged her close, beaming with pleasure at the news. "Thank you so much! God, this is gonna be great!"

"Well, I donít know how great itís gonna be, but Iím glad it makes you happy."

"You have no idea." Reaching up, she pulled Dylanís head down and gave her a kiss that left the taller woman seeing stars.

After a long moment, Dylan pulled away, grinning. "Oh," she drawled, tasting Cat on her lips, "I think I might have some idea."

Cat chuckled.

"So, howís dinner sound?"

"HmmÖI might be persuaded." Looking up at Dylan, she grinned. "Is tall, dark and delicious on the menu?"

Dylan rolled her eyes. "As long as itís a thick steak or a large cup of coffee, no problem."

Cat affected a pout, which earned her a gentle bump on the nose from her tall partner. "So?"

"I suppose," Cat replied, releasing a sigh worthy of any martyr. "Gimme a second to change, ok?"

"Sure."

******

The pair was just finishing what even Cat had to admit was an absolutely fabulous, and rather romantic, meal when Dylanís phone rang. With a grunt of disgust, she pulled the slim phone from her jacket pocket, unflipped it, and held it to her ear. Barely a moment later, she closed the phone and sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose between two fingers.

"What?" Cat asked.

"The idiot who calls himself my agent," Dylan grumbled. "I was supposed to sign some papers for him today and I left them back at my house." Shaking her head, she shoved the phone back in her jacket. "Damnit. Iíd normally blow him off, but heís meeting with Nike tomorrow, and theyíre already whining about the damn contract."

Catís face fell a little, though she tried valiantly to hide her disappointment. "Thatís okay," she said finally, giving her best smile. "We were pretty much done here anyway, right?"

"Yeah." Dylanís fierce blue eyes softened. "Iím sorry, Cat. This wasnít what I had in mind when I suggested going out for dinner."

"Thatís okay." Catís smile became more genuine. "You can always make it up to me later."

Chuckling, Dylan eased her long frame from the bench seat and stood, straightening the lay of her jacket. "Ready?"

"Letís go."

Once inside her car, Dylan looked at her watch, then lightly beat her hand against the steering wheel. "Weíre never gonna make it. His damn plane leaves in a couple hours."

"WellÖumÖare we close to your house?" Cat paused a moment, then hurried on. "I mean, instead of dropping me off and then going back, we could just go over to your house, pick up the papers, and drop them off, right? I mean, if thatís okay."

Cat wasnít sure why she was suddenly feeling so hesitant, but she did know that above all things, Dylanís privacy was her most prized possession. She hadnít seen her coachís house yet, hadnít even asked about it, and figured Dylan would issue the invitation when she was ready. If she was ever ready.

She bravely raised her eyes, to meet Dylanís smiling gaze.

"Iím glad someone in this car remembered their brains today. You sure you donít mind coming along?"

"Are you kidding?" Spreading her arms, Cat lounged back into the incredibly soft leather of the bucket seat. "Lead on, Madame. Iím yours for the evening."

*******

"Geez," Cat remarked, stepping out of the car and eyeing the grounds of Dylanís estate, "this place have its own zip code?"

"Ha, ha," was Dylanís droll reply as she walked toward the door and inserted her key. Opening the door, she is almost bowled over by two very large, very feisty dogs, who stopped briefly to greet her, then pelted outside to snarl at the intruder to their domain.

"Halt!" Dylan yelled, freezing both dogs in their tracks before Cat had the chance to either scream or keel over. "Youíd better both be sitting by the time I turn around, or Iím going to have a nice pair of matching furs to hang over the fireplace."

Brunhilde and Siegfried sat immediately. Siegfried look chagrinned. Brunhilde just looked pissed.

Turning, Dylan walked in between her two dogs, laying a hand on each of their huge heads. "This, my dears, is Cat. She is a friend. Understand?"

Brunhilde gave a soft chuff, not entirely convinced. Siegfried promptly rolled over onto his back in an invite for a belly rub.

Cat broke into laughter, completely charmed by the goofballís antics.

Brunhilde growled.

"Brunhilde!"

Bending at the waist, Dylan stared into Brunhildeís intelligent eyes. The dogís eyes shifted away, then back again.

"Jealousy doesnít become you. Deal with it."

Brunhilde growled again, softly.

"I mean it."

After a long moment, Brunhilde gave an almost human sigh, and dropped gracefully down to her belly, resting her head on her paws.

"Good girl." Dylan looked up to see Catís concerned gaze. Her expression softened. "Donít worry. She wonít hurt you."

"Thatís not what Iím worried about," Cat replied, looking at Brunhilde, and her mistress, in turn.

Dylanís eyebrow rose.

Cat blushed. "IÖumÖI donít want to come between you, thatís all. Itís obvious you mean everything to her."

"And she means everything to me." This was said with a truly loving look toward the Ďsheí in question. A look that was returned with equal emotion. "Sheíll be alright."

Siegfried whined, still waiting for his belly rub.

Cat looked at Dylan, a question in her eyes.

"Go ahead," Dylan said, laughing. "He wonít shut up until you do."

Cat approached the dog slowly, squatted down, and began to rub his warm, soft belly, to his extreme delight and appreciative groans.

A moment later, she was almost launched into orbit by the feel of a large, wet, and very cold nose pressing on the inside of her free arm. Brunhildeís slightly grudging, slightly beseeching gaze caused the laughter to well up again, and Cat gave into it, reaching up and scratching the large dog gently behind the ears.

"Alright, you two. Enough with the hedonism. Inside."

All thoughts of pleasure forgotten, the two dogs immediately rose to their feet and trotted into the house. Dylan and Cat followed close behind.

"WowÖ" was all Cat could say as she entered the grand residence. Huge, airy and open, it was as if someone had stepped into her dreams and brought them to life.

Dylan looked over her shoulder, smiling as she noticed Catís rapt wonder. "Iíd give you the nickel tour, but weíre running late. Feel free to look around while I scrounge up those damn papers. Be back in a minute."

As Dylan jogged up the stairs, her faithful companions only a step behind, Cat took immediate advantage of the invitation and walked to the first thing that caught her attention: a wall made entirely of glass, which looked out onto the back of the huge, sprawling grounds.

In the foreground, down a slight hill, sat a sparkling, and quite large, in-ground pool which gave the illusion it was being fed from the artfully created waterfall set into the hill. At the base of the waterfall, Cat could see a good-sized Jacuzzi just waiting for some lucky person to immerse herself within its warm, swirling waters.

Behind the pool, brightly lit against the darkening night, was a large, clay floored basketball court.

"So this is how the other half lives," she said softly, her breath slightly fogging the glass in front of her. "Niiiice."

Turning away from the window, Cat looked over the large living room. Dylanís tastes apparently ran toward modern. Leather and chrome dominated the huge, open structure. Tasteful, colorful, and no doubt frightfully expensive pieces of abstract art decorated the otherwise barren walls.

In one corner sat the mother of all entertainment centers. Cat got pleasant chills just looking at it. Part of her, the electronics geek that was all her father, itched to dig in and play, to see just what all that sleek metal and glass and fabric was capable of.

Her fantasies were interrupted at the sound of Dylanís quiet return. She turned, quite aware of the goofy look on her face. "Quite a place youíve got here."

Dylan shrugged. "Itíll do." Then she smiled. "Glad you like it."

"Like it? A girl could fall in love here, you know."

Dylanís eyes sparkled. "She could, could she?"

The change in the tenor of their banter finally penetrated Catís hazed mind, and she froze for a moment as the words replayed in her head. Then she smiled. "Yes. She could."

The two stared at one another, separated only by the silence of emotions a hair away from being revealed.

Dylanís cell-phone shattered the intensity of the moment into a million shining fragments. "What?" she barked the second the phone was up to her ear.

"Testy, testy!" Mannyís voice was its usual annoyance. "You planning on getting those papers to me before Chanukah, sweetheart, or am I going to have to send the nice Nike people to come down and collect them personally?"

"Call me sweetheart again, Manny, and Iíll break you like the slimy little twig you are."

Catís eyes widened, not realizing that this passed for normal banter between the two.

"Ooooo, someoneís got a touch of the PMS, nu?"

"Cut it, Manny. Iím headed out the door now. Iíll be there in ten."

"Ta, sweetheart."

Growling, Dylan snapped the phone closed and shoved it back in its place.

"Everything okay?" Cat asked cautiously.

Blowing out a frustrated breath, Dylan forced herself to calm. She smiled. "Never better. Letís get outta here before my head explodes. Brains are a bitch to get out of leather."

*******

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to ESPNís annual coverage of the Childrenís Cancer Initiative Pro-Am Three on Three tourney. Iím Bob Haskell, here with my partner Jan Wainright in sunny California to cover what promises to be an interesting and fast-paced weekend of athletic competition"

"Youíre right about that, Bob. Especially after yesterdayís surprise announcement which shocked the sporting world and caused tickets, already going briskly, to completely sell out in just a little over twenty minutes."

"And that surprise, Jan ,is of course the announcement that Dylan Lambert, the Goddess of Womenís Professional Basketball, will be competing in this yearís tournament."

"It certainly surprised me, Bob."

"Iím sure it did, Jan. Now, letís get to the particulars. Basketball isnít the only sport being played during this four day event."

"Youíre right, Bob. Some of the teams that are competing in the basketball arena are also going to be competing on an entirely different court. Made of sand."

"Yes, two on two beach volleyball will be on the schedule for the first two days of this weekend athletic gala, and we have several interesting matchups to be seen here today."

In the tunnel into the small, but packed, stadium, Dylan was sitting calmly on a stool, adjusting her new knee brace before dropping her lose nylon windbreaker type pants over it. Crossing her arms over her knee, she watched with amusement as Cat either paced back and forth as if trying to wear a hole through the cement floor, or jumped in place like a demented kangaroo, swinging her arms in large, looping circles.

"Youíll have had bigger crowds at your high school games," Dylan commented softly as Cat stopped jumping and began pacing again.

"Tell that to my stomach," Cat retorted, reaching the wall and turning to pace again. "Itís got butterflies the size of chickens in there and theyíre complaining about the accommodations."

Laughing softly, Dylan stood. Approaching Cat, she gathered her in for a close, warm hug. "Itíll be alright. Youíll see."

Cat burrowed in close, enjoying the scent of Dylan, which was now enhanced by sweet-smelling coconut oil. "Mmm."

Chuckling, Dylan pressed a kiss to the crown of Catís head, then released her, smiling down at the younger woman, eyes soft and clear.

Their quiet moment was interrupted by the sounds of their opponents approaching. One was immediately recognizable as Lany Simmons, a tall, rather stocky pro golfer who was known for out hitting the men from their own tees. Her partner was a shorter, spry Olympic miler, Mary Talb. Dylan and Cat nodded to the women, who nodded back in turn and exited the tunnel into the sunshine beyond.

"Shall we?" Dylan asked.

"Letís get this over with," Cat grumbled.

The PA speaker came to life, announcing their names. Both women slipped sunglasses over their eyes and stepped into the warm, sunny day.

The crowd was immense, and growing. There wasnít an inch left in the stands. Fans stood along the sides and back, cheering wildly as they entered the court. Dylanís name was chanted with such ecstatic force that Cat feared for a moment that a riot was about to erupt.

She looked around in awe, eyes wide, and realized, for the first time, just a little of what it was like to be Dylan Lambert.

"Dear God," she whispered, holding a hand to the pulse hammering in her throat. She found herself fighting down a sudden, almost overwhelming and totally unexpected attack of claustrophobia as the crowd seemed to grow and swell before her wide, staring eyes. Voices and faces merged into one writhing and almost malevolent entity, swelling toward her as if intent on ripping out her very heart and displaying it on a trophy stand on their collective mantle.

A warm hand brushing lightly against her shoulder grounded her slightly, and she looked up, the extent of her anguish mirrored in the lenses of Dylanís sunglasses.

"How in the world do you handle this?" she croaked, voice as dry as the sand beneath her feet.

Dylan looked up, sparing the immense crowd a casual glance, which further sparked their mania, before looking back to Cat. A broad shoulder lifted briefly in a casual shrug. "Just something you get used to, I suppose."

"Iíd never get used to this," Cat said, stopping an internal shiver from becoming an external one. "Never in a million years."

The corner of Dylanís mouth quirked. "Oh, you will. It wonít be long before itís your name theyíre shouting like this."

"Not like this," Cat replied with conviction. "Never like this."

Dylan relaxed her lips into a full smile. "Weíll see." She touched Catís shoulder again, long fingers surreptitiously stroking the soft flesh there. "Címon. They canít start without us."

Cat forced her legs to move to the small seating area that was reserved for them. The screaming crowd was still much too close to the court for her tastes, but a long line of beefy security guards seemed intent on keeping the writhing mass away from the players.

Relaxing a bit, she smoothed the tuck of her tight, sweat-wick shirt into her black and purple running shorts and squatted down to stretch her still tense muscles, her back to the crowd.

Her routine was interrupted by an almost sexual moan from the crowd behind her. Turning her head, she froze, and only barely saved herself from an ignominious fall to her backside as her eyes, thankfully hidden behind the dark glasses, widened to the size of saucers.

Dylan had just stripped away her black windbreaker sweats to reveal the outfit of a professional beach volleyball player. Black microshorts, tiny enough to pass for a thong, covered her pelvis and the very tops of her ropy, muscled thighs. Above, she wore a snug sports-bra type top, ending just below her breasts and displaying the cut, banded and rippling muscles of her abdomen, shoulders and arms, accentuated by her deep, almost black tan.

Whatever moisture had managed to return to Catís mouth was gone in that instant, as she felt a wave of desire, far eclipsing anything she had ever known, pass over her, coating her in its liquid heat.

Dylan flashed her a grin, and Cat, though she never knew exactly how, managed to pull herself upright on legs filled with pudding. As Dylan passed close by, Cat fixed her with a look. "You expect me to actually play now?"

Dylanís grin broadened.

"Volleyball, I mean."

Dylan chuckled. "Címon, Shortchange. Letís show em what weíve got."

"I think youíre showing them plenty already," Cat replied, not surprised at all to hear the note of jealousy threading its way up through her vocal cords. She could literally feel the eyes of the crowd crawling over her partner. Shaking her head to break the spell, she resolutely trailed after Dylan. "Well," she remarked to the air at large as she assumed her place behind the service line, "at least Iím not nervous anymore."

*******

The whistle blew.

"Point and game, Lambert and Hodges, 15-1."

After shaking their opponentsí hands, Dylan and Cat strolled back to their shaded nook to the enthusiastic cheers of the crowd. Dylan grabbed a water bottle from an overly-attentive young line boy and chugged it down. Cat rubbed the sand from her body with a towel, and stared daggers at said line boy until he took the hint and feasted his eyes somewhere safer.

Like Afghanistan.

The game had been a walkover. Cat displayed a wicked, curving overhand serve no-oneóincluding herselfóknew she had, and Dylan was, quite simply, Dylan. Their opponents never had a chance, though they gave it a game effort.

The tournament was a modified round robin format, with the six teams broken up into two three-team groups. Each team would play the others in its group in a one game to fifteen winner take all match. Then the winners of each group would play one another for the right to face the worldís top professional two-woman beach volleyball team.

And that right would likely come with a royal butt-whipping.

Today, Thursday, was reserved for the preliminary rounds. Friday would host the group winner face off and the "championship" game against the pros.

The weekend itself was reserved for the true showpiece of the tournament, the annual three-on-three basketball pro-am.

The fans, however, were enjoying the preliminary "festivities".

And if the beer vendor, who was so intent on ripping the rest of Dylanís scant clothing off with his eyes that he walked into a support post and was currently wearing his product, was any indication, volleyball would be back next year for certain.

Cat looked over at Dylan, who was sitting regally in her canvas chair, looking totally cool and unruffled, and felt a brief stab of envy. Cat herself was hot, sweaty, sore, and had a pound of sand in places where sand had no place being.

She was also a hormonal wreck. It was bad enough seeing the woman of her dreams half clothed and facing her. But when Cat stood behind the service line and looked at that perfectly sculpted back, legs longer than the Nile, and a posterior worthy of the envy of every god, past, present and future, her mind was insisting on sending her images that would make a streetwalker blush.

People wondered where her wicked serve came from. She didnít.

Sexual frustration, plain and simple.

And the very object of that frustration was walking toward her, oiled, sleek, and mouth-wateringly gorgeous.

"Ready?"

Any more ready and Iíd explode into a million pieces right in front of the crowd.

She didnít say that out loud, of course.

At least, she didnít think she did.

By the look on Dylanís face, however, there was a distinct possibility that her thoughts had been well and truly read.

Cat rose with a sigh. It was going to be a very long day.

*******

Leaning her shoulder and head against the cool cement of the tunnel, Cat more or less patiently waited for Dylan to finally break away from every Tom, Dick, and Harriet who clamored for her much valued attention. Sheíd faced the press and crowds for a small eternity herself, but it was obvious exactly to whom they all paid homage. Which suited Cat just fine. The crowd gave her a major case of the willies.

She smiled, though, remembering one small girl, her hair all gone from chemotherapy treatments, and how sheíd pushed with determination through the writhing mass, Catís rookie card in her small hand. Her right leg ended in a prosthesis, which made her determination all the more fierce and, to Cat, exceptional. The young girl had given her a shy, gap-toothed grin, and held up her card to be signed. Cat was, the girl said, her absolute favorite player in the whole world.

Smitten, and damn near tears, sheíd signed the card, knowing that the pure, undiluted joy of that simple act would be something she would always remember.

Sheíd also posed for pictures with the girl, whose name was Randy, and theyíd talked until her mother led her away, smiling, waving, and holding the signed card to her chest as if it was the most priceless of treasures.

Coming back to the present, Cat smiled, shook her head, and wiped the mist from her eyes.

Theyíd won all three of their games, of course, though the last game was a bit close for awhile. An Olympic high jumper had paired with the number three ranked tennis player to give them a match worth sweating for. In the end, however, theyíd managed a 15-8 victory, and the crowd, ever appreciative of their efforts, nearly fell in on itself with joy. Cat guessed, privately, that most of that joy centered on the fact that theyíd just been granted another day in which to see their Goddess in her cocktail napkin ensemble.

Cat chuckled a little at the thought.

A shower, cold and stinging, had done wonders for her disposition, if not exactly for her state of cleanliness. She could still feel fine granules of sand etching their way into her skin, and she shifted slightly, shaking one sore and aching leg to release some of the irritation.

"Come on, Dylan," she murmured in the still air.

A tall shadow fell across her, and she smiled, looking up. Dylan was dressed in casual jeans and a crisp white T-shirt that accentuated her muscular build. Her hair was wet, shining, and slicked back away from her face, bringing her chisled features into even greater definition.

Cat felt the effects of the cold shower evaporate in an instant as another surge of warmth rushed through her body, causing a distinct weakness in her legs once again.

"Oh, what you do to me," she breathed.

Looking down at the smaller woman, her hair still damp and slightly curling from her shower, her green eyes darkening with desire, Dylan knew that the feeling was entirely mutual. She smiled and held out a hand. "Letís get outta here."

*******

Relaxing against the soft leather seat of Dylanís rental, Cat looked on as their hotel passed slowly by on the right.

"UmÖDylan?"

"Mm?"

"Our hotelís going bye-bye."

Dylan chuckled. "I figured we could use some time away from the press. Itíll be a madhouse there. I donít know about you, but Iím about interviewed out for the day."

"True, but I was kinda hoping for another shot at a shower. Iíve got sand in places even I donít want to know about."

Dylan chuckled again, causing Cat to discover yet again how much she liked the sound of her laughter.

"Trust me."

"I do." Cat was smiling, but her eyes were dead serious.

Dylanís gaze softened, and she took her eyes away from the road long enough to lift a hand to brush against the incredibly soft skin of Catís cheek. "Thanks," she replied softly.

"No problem," Cat replied in an equal tone.

As Dylan returned her attention to the highway, Cat rested her head against the seat, feeling the ghost of Dylanís touch deep in the marrow of her bones.

*******

"Wake up, sleepyhead. Weíre here."

Cat blinked her eyes open, unaware that sheíd even fallen asleep. Stretching stiff and aching muscles, she groaned softly, and ran a hand over her face to clear sleep-hazy eyes.

"Whereís here?" she burred, voice hoarse from her unintended nap. "And how long have I been out?"

"About forty five minutes," Dylan replied, coming around to the passengerís side and opening the door for Cat. Reaching down, she eased the younger woman from the car and steadied her as she steadied herself on her aching legs.

Cat looked around, taking in a deep, bracing breath of cool, pine-scented air. "Itís dark."

"Mm. That usually happens at nighttime, yes."

That earned Dylan a stinging backhand to the midsection, which she absorbed easily as she began to lead her sleepy passenger up the long, secluded drive.

Catís eyes widened as a fairly large, low-slung house came into view among the towering pines. Through the huge glass windows came a flickering light that could only be a fire in the hearth. She looked over at Dylan. "IóIím not too sure Iím much for company," she admitted softly.

Dylan raised an eyebrow. "I wasnít aware I constituted Ďcompanyí."

"Not you, silly. Whoeverís got the fire going. They donít just light themselves, you know."

"Do tell," was Dylanís droll reply.

"Iím serious, Dylan." She knew she sounded a bit whiney, but thatís what unintended naps did to her.

"So am I." Relenting a little, Dylan grasped Catís chilled hand. "I promise you, no one is inside this house."

Cat read the truth in the press of her hand, and nodded. Then she looked up in shock. "This is your house, isnít it."

Dylan grinned, reaching the mailbox and pulling out several envelopes and showing them to Cat. "I sure hope so, or else Iím paying someone elseís bills."

Cat looked at the bills in amazement, then up into Dylanís smirking eyes. "Wow. A house in Birmingham, one here. Are there any more hiding around?"

Dylanís eyes lit with devilment. "Maybe," she said with just a hint of coyness. Then, laughing, she released Catís hand and reached into her pocket for the house key. Inserting it into the lock, she twisted, and swung the door wide, grasping Catís hand once again and escorting her inside.

"Jesus," Cat breathed, looking around at the impressive accommodations. Directly in front of her was a sunken living room with all the high tech amenities that a soul could want, fronted by an enormous fireplace that took the chill off the cool night air. "This place is gorgeous!"

"Thanks," Dylan replied, turning the recessed lighting to a soft, warm glow. "I usually spend some time up here in the off-season. My caretaker looks after it when Iím away."

"Now thereís a job I wouldnít mind having."

Smiling, Dylan led Cat over to the large French doors, their view of the world beyond shaded by vertical blinds. "I know you were looking forward to a shower, and if you really want one thereís no problem, but I thought I might be able to interest you in this instead."

Flipping open the blinds, Dylan exposed a view of a sizable, terraced deck in the center of which was a very large Jacuzzi, lit from within and swirling and bubbling in anticipation of their visit. Next to the swirling pool was a small metal ice bucket, and inside that bucket, Cat could just see the tip of a wine bottle emerging. Two long-stemmed crystal glasses sat on a folded cloth next to the bucket, and beside them, a thin, crystal vase holding one perfect red rose.

Cat was silent for so long that Dylan began to feel a tiny sliver of uncharacteristic fear tracing its way through her belly. Looking at her partnerís shadowed profile, she softly cleared her throat. "IóumÖ."

Seeing a tear trail its gentle way down Catís cheek brought the fear out in full force. "Cat?"

Cat turned to her then, the smile on her face breathtaking in its beauty. "Thank you," she whispered before closing the minute distance between them and wrapping her arms around Dylanís taut body. "Thank you."

After a moment of near dizziness, where total relief washed away the tide of fear, Dylan enclosed Cat in a fierce embrace, holding her as if in the holding, her own life had been spared.

They parted by mutual consent. Cupping Catís cheek, Dylan looked into her eyes, one thumb brushing away the lone tear that had fallen. "Youíre okay," she murmured, half question, half affirmation.

Cat nodded, fingers brushing against the hand so tender on her face. Her smile was radiant, her eyes shining like emeralds under glass. Dylan was mesmerized, unable to remember her own name, let alone when or where she had ever seen such beauty before.

Taking in a deep, slow breath, she centered herself and trailed the very tips of her fingers from Catís cheek to her hand, smiling at the goosebumps that followed her gentle touch. Reaching out with her free hand, she flipped the lock and opened the doors, letting in cool, clean air heavy with the scent of pine. She stepped out into the night, leading Cat by the hand to the lip of the Jacuzzi.

They stopped there for a moment, still linked, as they stared up into the star-blessed sky. The moon, pregnant and ripe, smiled down on them, gilding their forms in silver and white.

Letting go a soft sigh, Dylan released Catís hand, facing her at an oblique angle and taking in her shining profile. Catís eyes were closed, face turned up to the moon as if to a lover, awaiting a kiss.

"So beautiful," Dylan breathed, reaching out to touch the silvered hair, feeling the exquisite softness against her callused fingers.

Cat turned then, and, using gentle force, brought Dylanís lips against hers, brushing her suppleness in tribute before melding with her, tasting her heat. Dylanís hands came naturally to Catís trim waist, then slid upwards against the tight pull of her shirt, feeling the warmth and the strength of the body beneath stretched out against her own.

Cat moaned softly as Dylan parted her lips, welcoming her within, tongue stroking with indescribable softness. Reaching into Catís hair, Dylan took control of the exquisite kiss, drawing in Catís bottom lip and stroking it deftly with her tongue and teeth.

It was Cat who broke first, pulling away to rest her forehead against Dylanís broad chest, drawing in heavy, deep breaths as her heart hammered in her ears and her body raged and quaked. Dylan held her gently and close, pressing soft kisses against the crown of her hair.

Looking up, Cat gave Dylan a tremulous smile. "IÖ.God!Ö.That wasÖ.." Dropping her head, she groaned in frustration.

Dylan laughed softly and, after one last hug, stepped away, smiling down at the frustrated young woman. "Címon. Letís slow it down a little. Could I interest you in a hot soak and a little wine?"

Giving up trying to speak full sentences, Cat settled for an emphatic nod.

Without posing or pretext, Dylan unbuttoned her crisp, white shirt and casually slipped it off her broad, tanned shoulders. Long fingers made short work of the button fly of her jeans, and she slid them down the long length of her legs, stepping out and kicking them to the side with idle grace. Her undergarments were eased off, and as she straightened, she felt the weight of eyes upon her.

Standing calmly, muscles loose and relaxed, she allowed the examination, feeling the tender heat of Catís gaze as if she were being caressed.

"You really are a goddess," Cat whispered, in awe of the vision she was seeing. To Cat, Dylan was perfection personified, her body flawless and without compare. It truly hit her then, where she was, and who she was with. This was her hero, the woman she had looked up to for so many years, standing naked before her, inviting her glance and her touch. Her knees weakened a bit, muscles threatening an all-out rebellion, but she hung on with a tenacity deeply ingrained. She could no more look away than she could stop breathing.

If it had been within Dylan to blush, she might have done so. Instead, she gave a crooked grin and gracefully descended the steps into the Jacuzzi. Lowering herself into the molded seat, she stretched out and allowed the heated waters to swirl against her skin.

With just a bit of uncharacteristic shyness, Cat began to fumble with her own clothing, placing her T-shirt and shorts carefully on the ground beside the tub. Reaching for the clasp of her bra, she shot a look to Dylan who, thankfully, was preoccupied with opening and pouring the wine. Quickly stripping the rest of the way, she entered the tub, immersing herself to her shoulders and sliding into a seat. She couldnít help the groan that flowed from her lips at the feel of the heated water penetrating her skin, soothing her muscles and calming her nerves.

She looked up in time to accept wine that Dylan held for her. A slight touch of their glasses, and they sipped, enjoying the dry, subtle flavor of the wine. They sat in companionable silence for a time, enjoying the soothing waters and the clear night spread out before them.

"More?" Dylan asked, noticing that Catís glass was very close to empty.

Cat smiled and shook her head. "It was delicious," she said, handing the glass to Dylan. "Thank you."

"My pleasure," Dylan replied, setting the glass next to her own.

Feeling an inexplicable need to be closer to Dylan, Cat slid along the seat until their thighs touched. Smiling, Dylan raised an arm, and Cat slid in closer, resting her head against one shoulder as her hand came to rest naturally against Dylanís belly. She closed her eyes in utter contentment, happy with the world and her place in it.

The kisses started slowly, softly, trading one for another for another until they were one constant merging of lips and teeth and tongues swirling like the waters that soothed them. Emboldened by Dylanís rising passion, Cat slid her hand up along silken skin and ridged muscle until she cupped the firm weight of one perfect breast in her hand. Dylanís soft moan spurred her on, and she circled the pleading nipple with her thumb, then brushed directly across it.

Dylanís response was immediate, and Cat groaned, feeling the incredibly strong body surge against her. She repeated the motion, her touches stronger and more insistent. Dylanís mouth left hers, lips trailing against her cheeks until they found purchase on the delicate whorl of her ear, suckling in time to Catís caresses and causing the younger woman to forget, for a moment, what it was that she was doing as the sensations surrounded her in a molten cocoon.

"Youíre so beautiful," Dylan breathed into her ear. "So absolutely, incredibly beautiful." Shifting a little, Dylan moved from Catís grasp, coming around to stand before her. Catís legs opened and Dylan slid into the space left there, looking down into a face more exquisite than any she could remember seeing.

Their lips met again with a fiery passion that neither could keep in check any longer. Hands roamed as heated flesh slipped and slid against its counterpart sparking small fires that blazed along wide open nerve endings. Dylanís hands moved down to Catís narrow waist and pulled her forward until Cat was pressed tight against Dylanís belly. Her arms bore her weight against the lip of the tub as her hips danced along a silken path, up and back and up again, feeling each band of muscle clench and relax, clench and relax, driving her higher and yet higher again.

Catís ankles locked around Dylanís waist as Dylan eased her forward in a heated embrace. Their lips met again, crushing against one another, touching, teasing, tasting. One hand reached back, and Cat moaned as her ankles were unlocked; moaned again as Dylan stepped back, then cried out as the heat from Dylanís belly was replaced by the promise of her hand cupping, pressing, caressing and finally filling her more fully and more deeply than any before her.

"Oh. Blessed God!" Dylan stilled her fingers, gritting her teeth against the incredible pleasure of the velvet embrace. Her own body was thrumming like a high tension wire and moisture flowed from her as from a river.

Then slowly her fingers moved, stroking gently and feeling Catís response in her very bones. Gazes met and locked as Dylan thrust slowly, strongly, drawing out until she was barely there, then sliding within, stretching and filling until Catís body was nothing but atoms, each holding an individual flame.

One touch of Dylanís thumb and Cat was freed, spiraling into infinity. She cried out to the heavens, body gathering in around itself, muscles clenching so tightly that the breath was robbed from her lungs. Her toes curled, her fingers clamped tight into Dylanís muscled, sweating back, grounding her in the only way she knew.

Slowly, gently, she felt herself coming back to earth, and her muscles relaxed as she felt the weight of her body drawing her away from her new loverís fevered embrace.

"Not yet," Dylan growled. "Oh please, not yet."

Catís desire shot up again as she felt the velvet heat of Dylan pressing and gliding against her thigh. One stroke, and another, and then Dylan gasped, tipping her head forward to bury it against Catís shoulder as her body clenched and shook with the force of her climax. Feeling the sharp press of teeth against the tender skin of her neck, she groaned aloud and held on tightly as Dylanís body, finally spent, came to rest against hers in a warm, and tender embrace.

******

Cat reclined back into a thick pile of blankets placed strategically by the fireplace. They were just close enough to be warm but not so close one would get overheated.

By the fire, that is.

The other thing in the room that was outstripping the warmth of the fire was currently she was placing the wine in the ice bucket after refilling their glasses.

Dylan smiled, looking over at her companion, who was now stretched out on her stomach with her face nestled in the thick down pillow. "Tired?"

"Deliciously. Thanks," Cat looked over her shoulder and winked.

Dylan placed the two glasses down by Catís head and then placed herself next to the younger womanís languid, and splendidly naked, body. "Glad to hear it."

Cat rolled onto her side, facing Dylan, and running her fingers gently over dark brows. "Are you okay with this?"

"I am very okay with it. If I didnít think we were ready for it, it wouldnít have happened. I have amazing self control." Dylan grinned devilishly.

"Tell me about it. Youíre going along all calm while Iím taking a cold shower every twenty minutes. I was starting to look like a raisin all the time. I think that type of self control is one of those skills Iíve yet to learn."

"Hereís a secret." Dylan leaned in and whispered. "I took a few cold showers too."

"Really?" For reasons she didnít quite understand, this revelation made Cat quite happy.

"You know it. Youíre hard to resist Catherine Hodges." The tall woman leaned over and kissed her companion.

Cat made an invitation by lying back during the kiss and letting Dylan follow her, gently covering her as the kiss continued. Her hands began running over Dylanís back, massaging the warm skin under her palms. She couldnít help but allow little moans to roll from her lips as Dylan did a masterful job of kissing down one side of her neck, across her collarbone, and up the other side. She was trembling all over by the time Dylan stopped.

College girls have nothing on you, my dear.

The thought made her shiver once again, a pleasant twinge that centered itself over the most sensitive areas of her body. And there were quite a few of those, Cat was beginning to realize.

"Ooo donít do that." She wiggled under Dylan, trying to make better contact, though if the truth of the matter be known, she was almost sharing the taller womanís skin already. Sweat that came from far more than the warmth of the fire lubricated their bodiesí touch, and the feeling was more erotic than anything Cat had ever experienced before.

"What?"

"Donít stop. Iíve waited too long for this for you to tease me." She kissed a lovely warm expanse of neck near her lips.

"Is that so?" Dylan couldnít help but tease her lover a little now that she knew she shouldnít.

"Yes, please." Cat wasnít above begging, at least not were Dylan was concerned. She had decided months ago that sheíd crawl ten miles over broken glass just to sweat in her shadow; so begging for her touch was no big strain.

"You know," Dylan placed her mouth gently on Catís shoulder. "I have a big, soft bed upstairs that I would love to get you into."

"Okay," she managed to whimper as Dylan rose and extended a hand to her.

"Come on Sweetheart."

*******

Morning came far too early as far as Cat was concerned. She pulled the blanket over her head as the morning sun began to filter through the plate glass window. She rolled over to curl up next to Dylan, only to find her tall bedmate gone.

Under normal circumstances Cat would have been panicked to wake up in a strange bed alone after spending such a passionate night with a woman, but not this time. This time she felt nothing but completely satisfied and very, very, well loved.

She pushed up from the bed to find a long, blue terrycloth robe draped over the headboardís large post. Smiling, she got up and pulled the robe on, having to cuff the sleeves several times and still she looked like a child wearing an adultís clothing. Opening the bedroom door, she smiled at the scent of breakfast being cooked wafted up the steps. She followed her nose directly to the kitchen to see Dylan, in shorts and a tank top, sans bra, gliding to the music playing over the recessed speakers in the kitchen.

"Youíre in a good mood this morning," Cat offered as she stepped into the kitchen.

"Oh I am." Dylan graced her with a brilliant smile as she lifted eggs from the frying pan onto Catís plate. "Juice in the fridge, would you mind?"

"Absolutely not." She crossed to the large stainless steel gourmet refrigerator. Opening the door she was surprised to find all the fixings for a breakfast fit for any self-respecting carnivore. "Have you come over to the dark side?"

Dylan chuckled, "No, but thereís no need for you to starve while weíre here. I even went out and got cookware so we could feed you properly."

"No bacon in your skillet, right?"

"Well," Dylan blushed a bit and just shook her head, refusing to say anything else.

Cat dropped it and poured the orange juice into two glasses that had been placed on the counter. "Youíre very sweet, you know that."

"Yeah, I know, but donít tell anyone, okay. I need people to think Iím a stone bitch."

Cat crossed her heart as she placed the glasses and the silverware on the table. "I promise. Not a word to anyone. Your secret is safe with me."

"Good." Dylan winked and placed Catís plate on the table. "Toast?"

"Please."

"Let me guess." Dylan took a long appraising look at her lover. "Grape jelly."

"And you read minds too. Impressive." The blonde chuckled as she took a seat and waited for her companion to join her.

"No," Dylan replied from behind the fridge door. "You just look like a grape jelly kinda girl to me."

"Iím fond of whip cream and chocolate sauce too."

Dylan muffled a curse as she hit her head on the frame. She peeked over the top of the door. "I can certainly get some later."

Cat just smiled as Dylan joined her at the table. The blonde reached out and took Dylanís hand, causing the woman to look at her. "Thank you."

"For?" Dylan asked, using her free hand to pour them both coffee.

"Last night. It was wonderful."

"I agree," she leaned over and kissed Cat gently. "Thank you too."

As they ate, Catís mind began to replay the events of the previous evening and after letting her mind wander to far from home a small moan escaped her lips.

"Excuse me?" Dylan smiled at the far away look in Catís eyes.

"Oh, well," Cat stumbled over her excuse knowing sheíd been caught. "I was ummÖwellÖhell Dylan, you make love to a woman like the world is ending and you donít expect her to have flashbacks?"

The brunette glanced at the wall clock, "Well, we donít have time for a complete replay right now, but would you care to join me for a shower?"

"Iíd love to."

*******

Dylanís bathroom, like everything about Dylan was a religious experience. It was large; brass and Italian marble accented every surface. The shower stall wasnít really a stall at all but another room all to itself with benches on three of the four walls and three showerheads beaming directly into the center.

Cat entered after Dylan and watched as she moved to a small panel by the door and punched in a few numbers on the keypad. "Your shower has an alarm system?"

"No, this is to adjust the temperature and pressure."

"Youíre kidding. Where in the hell did you find that?" She peeked over Dylanís shoulder.

"Oh you canít get them on the open market, but I had a friend in college that I helped tutor through English so he could get is degree in engineering and he created this as a gift to me."

"Well, arenít you special?" She kidded as the water came on at the perfect pressure and the perfect temperature.

"As a matter of fact I am." Dylan teased as she pulled Cat under the water and kissed her quite seriously. Her hands roamed all over Catís flesh which was rapidly becoming quite heat, although she wasnít sure if it was the water or their close proximity to each other

"Mmmm," Cat hummed as her body tried the get closer Dylan. "I thought we didnít have time for this."

"No, I said we didnít have time for a replay of last night. This, we have time for." Dylan pulled a towel down from a cabinet on the wall nearest the door of the shower. Dropping it on the floor she knelt, slowly kissing her way down Catís body.

"Oh, I need to sit." Cat gasped as a kiss landed on the warm, supersensitive flesh of her inner thigh.

Dylan carefully deposited her lover on the redwood bench; all the while her hands massaged her skin and her lips took tender nips from the sweet skin, causing the smaller women to jerk and wiggle as her breath came in short, hard pants.

"Dylan!"

Mischievous blue eyes looked up from their place just between Catís legs. "Yes?"

"Damn it! If you donít stop teasing me, Iíll be forced to kill you."

"As you wish."

"OhÖmyÖ" words were lost to the steam and the sound of the running water as Dylan, did indeed stop teasing her lover and began her explorations in earnest.

"GOD!" Cat screamed as her torso doubled over to cover Dylanís dark hair. Both women stopped moving and Dylan felt her own heart rate returning to normal, as she listened to Catís gasping breath sounds, mixed with nearly sub-verbal whimpers and moans.

"You okay?" The tall woman asked softly, as she help Cat sit up on the bench and looked into her eyes.

"Iím good," she agreed immediately and nodded. "That was just unÖunÖintense."

"Can you stand up?"

"Are you nuts? Why would I want to do that?"

Dylan chuckled, "We need to shower and get going to the tournament?"

"Oh yeah," blonde brows came together in remembrance. "That charity thing weíre doing."

"Yeah," Dylan pulled Cat to her feet. "That charity thing weíre doing."

******

Cat bent over to retie her shoestring as they prepared for championship game. She and Dylan had beat the rest of the teams handily and were now "honored" by going up against true professional volleyball players. Neither of them harbored a dream of actually beating them, but since this was for charity, they were going to give the crowd a damn good show.

Glancing up in time to see Dylan bend over to pick up a towel, Cat found herself perversely pleased that she now knew exactly what was under the tight fitting black shorts.

Hell, Iíve fantasized about them often enough. And ooh baby isnít reality better than any fantasy I could have conjured up!

She had to work hard to stifle an evil chuckle.

Now that they had taken the Ďbigí step in their relationship, she knew it was more important than ever to make sure no one else made the connection. Being out herself was one thing, but unintentionally outing her deeply closeted lover was another thing entirely, and something she prayed fervently she would never trip over.

Dear God, Cat! What in the hell have you gotten yourself into here? Were you thinking at all?

No, thinking at that point had been the last thing on her mind.

Jesus.

Well, the best thing she could do for now was to take each day as it came. Spending every waking moment looking for potential landmines would have her an emotional wreck in no time and ruin whatever shot she and Dylan had at making this work. And having had a taste of Dylanís passion convinced her that she wanted to make this work very dearly indeed.

The ref called the four players forward and they exchanged handshakes and grins.

"Hey, Big D, itís good to see you up and playing again. We missed ya." Jeri Jorgensen was a six foot Swede with a mop of bone white hair and a buff, tanned body. Cat looked on, a bit stunned, as Dylan grabbed the young woman in a tight hug before releasing her and turning to Jeriís companion.

"Hortensia."

The woman in question, a drop-dead gorgeous green-eyed Spaniard, gave a smile that could only be described as predatory. "Dylan," she all but purred. "How wonderful to see you again."

One of those landmines had just buried itself at Catís feet, and she was finding it hard to resist the impulse to up and bitch-slap the woman into next month for staring at Dylan the way she was. Dylan, to her credit, ignored the unsubtle advances, deferred the hug Hortensia was seemingly desperate to make, and forced the woman to settle for a firm handshake instead.

Cat congratulated herself on keeping a pleasant expression on her face, and keeping herself from crushing the womanís hand in her own when it was extended for her to clasp. Nodding to both players, she turned and trotted to her side of the court to begin her warm-ups.

As she stretched in the warm sun, she watched as both Dylan and her opponents removed their shoes to play barefoot. She knew logically it was the best thing to do, but she just couldnít bring herself to do it. There was something about sand between her toes that made her shiver.

Taking the bottle of sunscreen offered by Dylan, she applied it to her face, forehead and shoulders. Tossing the bottle back to Dylan, she caught a small hand towel, wiped her greasy mitts and tucked it into the waistband of her shorts.

The coin was tossed and Dylan took the serving line to start the game. She waited for Cat to get into position and, after a brief second of looking at her partnerís butt, she sent the ball over the net and the game was on.

Dylan and Cat found an easy rhythm in the game, working together to try and beat their opponents. Cat, of course, had special motivation, wanting to wipe the coy little grin from Hortensiaís beestung lips, and when the much taller woman went up for a spike, she saw her opportunity. Using every millimeter of her jumping ability, she timed her block perfectly and gave her opponent a facial courtesy of the volleyball. She turned quickly before Hortensia could see her expression, though Dylan caught it and gave her that cute little raised eyebrow of hers before retrieving the ball as it rolled under the net.

At that time, they had been, surprisingly, leading by three points, but Catís little maneuver was all it took to make the professionals step it up into overdrive, showing one and all why they were the World Champs for three years running.

In the end, while it wasnít a rout, Cat and Dylan took their drubbing in stride. There was nothing but good cheer as they congratulated each other and took the time to go to the sidelines and sign autographs for the clamoring fans. Dylan looked to Cat, smiled and winked, giving the younger woman a very silly, happy feeling all over.

They cleaned up from the game, showering and changing from beach volleyball clothes into relaxed dress for a charity auction party that was being hosted in honor of the guests of the event.

As they entered into the hotel where the party was being held, they could hear the loud music from the ballroom before they even got close. There was no doubt it was going to be a long night.

"Ready?" Dylan asked as she straightened the collar on Catís polo shirt.

"Sure. Am I allowed to have a drink, Coach?"

"One, little one."

"Is that a short joke?"

"Not unless you want it to be."

"I need a really good nickname for you. Nothing like Stretch or StiltsÖ"

"Stilts?"

"Yeah," Catís eyes narrowed playfully. "Way too overused. Iíll find something."

"Iím sure you will." Placing her hand gently in the small of the blondeís back, she guided them toward the party. "Oh did you bring that envelope I asked you to grab at the house?"

Fishing it out of her back pocket she handed it to Dylan. "What is it?"

"Weíre auctioning you off as a love slave."

"You better plan on bidding high."

"I donít know if I can afford you."

"Thanks." Catís smile beamed as they entered the party and were immediately swallowed up by the crowd.

*******

Dylan turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open for Cat. "Tired?"

"Dead on my feet. God, that was worse than any practice."

"Iíll have to revamp my practice plan."

"How about just forgetting I said that." Cat slumped down on the couch, kicking, off her sneakers and rubbing her feet. "The other guys will kill me if they think you changed anything because of me."

Dylan smiled, tossing her keys to the small table by the door. "Tea?"

"Perfect."

As Dylan wandered off to the kitchen Cat got up and slowly followed, stretching sore tired muscles. "Who knew a pair of season tickets for the team would go for so much money? I think thatís great."

"Well, itís partly because of you. Youíve really helped turn the team around. I still think we would have gotten more if weíd auctioned you off."

"Please." Cat dismissed as she took a seat on a stool at the breakfast nook. "I did get hit on tonight."

"I know."

"How could you know? You were clear across the room. You got eyes in the back of your head or something?"

A dark brow arched, "How long have we been working together? You have to ask that question?"

"All right, so Iím using up my yearly allotment of stupid in one night. Itís been a long weekend."

"Yeah it has," she stepped closer and kissed Cat gently on the lips. "But itís been one of the best of my life."

Cat smiled, again, completely charmed. "Really? Thanks."

"Youíre welcome."

"Besides, I kinda figured our little friend Hortensia was a little too busy undressing you with her eyes, mind, teeth, and assorted other bodyparts for you to even notice my fawning fans." Cat grinned. "Old flame?"

Dylan snorted. "Hardly, though not for lack of trying."

Cat shot her a look. "Not on your part, I hope."

"Are you kidding? Iíve got standards, kiddo."

"Whew! I hoped as much." That earned Cat a smack to the belly, which she laughingly absorbed. "So, is it a story I want to hear?"

Dylan shrugged. "Not much of one, Iím afraid. Sheís set herself up as the Holy Grail in the circle jerk we call Professional Dyke Drama."

"Holy Grail?"

"Yup," Dylan replied, sipping her water. "The ultimate prize to which every up and coming baby dyke in pro-sports wants to attain."

"Ahh," Cat said, nodding. "And you failed to show proper obeisance, and therefore committed a grave sin."

"The gravest," Dylan deadpanned.

"And your penance is being chased around by a gorgeous woman who wants to make love to you in a variety of ways."

"Hey, some penances are harsher than others." Dylan sobered. "Seriously, though, Iím just lucky she doesnít try to out me. Though it would spell the end for her if she did. Too many of us are still closeted, and she knows that. Itís what keeps her bread buttered."

"Damn," Cat breathed. "I had no idea internal politics were soÖsoÖ."

"Incestuous?"

"Thatíll do for a start, yeah."

"Eh," Dylan shrugged again, "you get used to the drama after awhile. I just try to stay out of it all."

"I think Iíll take that advice, thank you very much."

The two shared a quiet laugh.

" Hey werenít you supposed to call your folks?"

"Right. Can IÖ"

"Right there," she pointed to the wall as she began steeping the tea. "Or thereís one in the living room if you want more privacy."

"Privacy? With my folks, surely you jest." Cat picked the cordless up and dialed the number, smiling when her mother answered.

"Hello?"

"Hi Mom, Iím making my promised call for the weekend."

"And how is your weekend going sweetheart."

Cat grinned like, well, the cat that ate the canary. "Dreamy."

"That good. Well tell me all about it."

"Nah, some things should never be said to your mother. Letís just say that Iím having a great weekend." She looked at Dylan and smiled. "One of the best of my life. Of course we still have the three on three to go."

Dylan sat the tea on the counter for her companion then leaned against the opposite one as she sipped from her own steaming mug.

"The event has been great, weíve already raised like forty thousand dollars or something."

"Wonderful, when will you be home?"

"Day after tomorrow. Coach and I are going to kick their butts tomorrow before we head out."

"Oh," her mother paused in that Ďmotherlyí way. "Youíre with Coach Lambert?"

"Yeah, she had to stand in last minute."

"Well then Iím sure youíre in good hands."

It was all Cat could do to keep from one, choking on her tongue and two, bursting out laughing. "Iím fine Mom. Weíre having a great time."

"When are you coming home for a visit?"

"In a couple weeks I hope. I should have a break when I can slip in for a day or two. Listen I need to go, give dad and the heathens my love."

"Love you Catherine, be good."

"Love you too Mom. Bye."

Cat hung up the phone and slowly turned to Dylan. "Weíll she said sheís sure Iím in good hands with you."

"Truer words were never spoken."

"And she told me to be good."

"So much for my plans for the rest of the evening."

"Now wait just a minute. I can still be," she paused and flashed a seductive smile. "Good. She did not define what kind of good."

"Oh I like the way you think."

******

Cat was lying in Dylanís arms, absolutely, completely, and totally satisfied. She was right on the verge of slipping into a very content sleep when she realized that Dylan wasnít relaxing the way she had hoped.

"Whatís wrong?"

"Huh? Oh nothing, just thinking."

"About tomorrow?"

"Yeah."

"Nervous?"

"No, I donít think so."

Cat rose up and looked at her lover. "You donít think so? What kind of answer is that? Come on, itís me. Be honest."

"Itís not so much that Iím nervous nervous. Iím just hoping that my knee will hold and I wonít dump myself on my ass in front of ten thousand people."

"Are you having second thoughts?"

"No, definitely not that, though Iíll admit to wondering if Iíll come off as rusty as I feel."

"This from the woman who runs us ragged during practice?"

Dylan chuckled, pulling the blonde back down and kissing the top of her head. "Big difference between running you losers ragged and stepping back out on the court in front of ten thousand screaming maniacs."

"Then just pretend youíre running your losers ragged. Is there anything I can do to help? You know Iíve got your back on this or I wouldnít have asked you to play with me."

"Youíve got a lot of faith."

"You know it. You are the best female basketball player I have ever seen. Let alone had the privilege to work with. You are the best. I hope at the end of my career, I can say I was half as good as you. We are going to go out there tomorrow and kick their ever loving butts."

"Oh man you are so good for my ego."

"Thatís nice to know, but that has nothing to do with it, Dylan. You are so talented and such a wonderful person I donít know how you can even be sweating this."

Dylan sighed, then shook off the momentary blues. "Just chalk it up to pre-game jitters."

"You?!?"

"I am human, Cat," Dylan replied, laughing softly. "Even the Goddess has been known to blow her breakfast before a really big game."

"You know, thatís not exactly the image I want to have of my hero," Cat teased.

"And you, Ms Nerves of Steel, never once were anything but cool as a cucumber before a championship game."

"WellÖ"

"Thought so."

This brought a grin to Catís lips as she rubbed her hand over Dylanís stomach. "So are you sleepy?"

"With that hand roaming around like that, are you crazy?"

"Probably a little. I mean this is kinda crazy isnít it. It could ruin us both."

"It wonít. We wonít let it." Dylan rolled over and smiled down at her lover. "I promise."

No further words needed to be said.

*******

The morning had dawned clear and bright, and Kimberly McKessin was about as high as it was possible to get without benefit of illegal substances. Chosen as one of the top ten fund raisers for this yearís charity games, Kimberly had drawn the Badgers out of a hat and had been quite content with the selection. Others had laughed at the stocky young woman, betting that sheíd play all of one game before getting knocked out of the tournament by any one of the "better" teams participating.

And then they had announced Chaneyís injury.

And her replacement.

And the laughing stock had, overnight, become the envy of the neighborhood. Oh, the offers theyíd tried to tempt her with when theyíd learned; offers that made the shy young woman blush, then redden with a different sort of emotion when she heard them whispering behind their hands that sheíd somehow known, that sheíd rigged a game she wasnít even sure she wanted to participate in. Sheíd held her tongue, though, as was her wont, and faced her tormenters with a serene smile that made them question her mental acuity.

Inside, though, was a different story. Inside, she was screaming and laughing and dancing a jig to shame the most devout Irish lad. Not only was she being given the chance to play beside her favorite active player, Catherine Hodges, but nowÖThe Goddess. Sheíd pinched herself several times since the announcement, and her bruises were the proof that she wasnít dreaming.

And now, finally, was the day of reckoning. The day she would finally get to live out her dreams.

She looked down at her belly as it made an ominous rumbling noise. Her face paled, and with a mumbled "shit!", she turned and ran for the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

******

Stepping out of the bathroom, Dylan wiped her mouth with the corner of the towel slung over her shoulder.

"I thought you only did that before big games," Cat commented, trying to quell a smirk that was just begging to form at the corners of her mouth.

"What? Brush my teeth?"

Catís smart return logjammed in her throat as Dylan flung the towel away, giving the younger woman a full, glorious view of her lover in tight black spandex. The nearly knee-length biker-style pants rode smooth on Dylanís heavily muscled thighs, and the vision started up a steel drum band in Catís chest.

"Earth to Cat," Dylan said, laughing. "You in there, darlin?"

"IÖ." With difficulty, Cat swallowed through the desert that had taken up residence in her mouth. She lifted her eyes, only to be confronted with Dylanís black sports bra covered chest. "UmÖ." She blinked. "Do we have something weíre supposed to be doing today?"

Dylanís laughter richened as she closed the distance between them and gathered Cat into a warm hug before separating just enough to place a very sexy kiss on her loverís delicious lips. "Unfortunately, we do. AlthoughÖ" Her eyes brightened as she bent slightly, and before Cat knew it, she was cradled in two very powerful arms. "It occurs to me that Iíve neglected to teach you some very important pre-game rituals."

Lesson time was on, and this particular student proved to be a very apt, and interested, pupil.

*******

"Dylan?"

"Mmm?" Dylan didnít look up as she fiddled with the new brace on her knee. Longer, tighter, and more complicated than the one sheíd worn during the volleyball tournament, she knew it would take a good bit of getting used to. To be truthful, though, the brace wasnít what was keeping her eyes from her partner. No, that would belong to the fact that if she looked up and saw Catís sleepy, languid form just barely hidden by the sheet sheíd thrown over the smaller woman, there would be more than five thousand pissed off fans and one outraged boss calling for her head, because theyíd never make the tournament.

God, what Cat did to her. There was something about the way they came together that made her feel in ways sheíd never felt before. That thought disturbed her on so many levels that she didnít even know where to begin examining it. After a moment, she sighed, putting the problem on a back shelf in her mind to be mulled over later, when the time was right. Finally she looked up, unable to stop the smile that spread, unbidden, across her face.

"You were asking?"

"Oh." Cat blinked. "Yeah. I was wondering if that was one of your regular pre-game rituals." She said it with a hint of a tease, but Dylan could tell the question itself was a serious one.

"Sometimes," was her honest reply.

"Oh." After a minute, she smiled. "Well, Iíll definitely be looking forward to helping you out with those rituals in the future."

Dylan paused briefly, nearly taken aback by Catís casual acceptance of her past. Then she grinned. "Me too."

******

"Hello again everyone and welcome to the Lakeland Sports Pavilion, site of this yearís Childrenís Cancer Initiative Pro-Am Three on Three tourney. Bob Haskell and Jan Wainright here courtside to bring you wire to wire action as ten womenís professional basketball teams, and ten lucky fans, join together to help make the dreams of sick children and their families come true."

"Itís a beautiful day here in sunny California, Bob, and the stands are filled to capacity with cheering, excited fans. A perfect day for basketball, and a perfect day to see Pallas Dylan Lambert try out her moves once again on the court."

"Couldnít agree more, Jan. So with that, why donít we bring it down to courtside and begin with the introduction of the teams for this yearís tournament."

******

Kim stood off to the side, watching as the players from the other teams got introduces. She couldnít have kept the grin off her face if someone had threatened her with bodily harm, and her cheek muscles were starting to ache something fierce. At least her stomach had calmed, thanks to the consumption of enough Pepto to plug up an elephant.

Sheíd already met her own teammates. Well, perhaps "met" was a bit too strong a word to use. Sheíd accepted Dylanís warm handshake, but didnít dare look her in the eyes, afraid sheíd embarrass herself by fainting dead away. Touching the woman was bad enough.

Cat, on the other hand, was everything Kim thought sheíd be and more. In a way, she felt vindicated. Her mother had always told her not to look up to sports and entertainment stars. They were human too, after all, and most of them, or so her mother often remarked from behind the pages of the latest People or Star, were rat bastards to boot.

But Cat had been every bit as kind and as sweet as Kim dreamed sheíd be.

Besides, she had the cutest smile.

And the most awesome green eyes.

AndÖ

Kim pinched herself once again, stopping the burgeoning fantasy dead in its tracks.

Well, at least she didnít feel faint anymore.

*******

Cat also stood along the sidelines, watching as the teams were introduced. The very best players from the teams elected to attend the event, and for Cat, it almost as if it were her own All-Star game.

"Someday," she whispered.

And then it was her turn.

The crowd was quiet, waiting. When the smooth voice sounded over the intercom system, Cat felt a familiar thrill rush through her veins.

"Introducing the point guard for the Birmingham Badgers and first round pick in this yearís WBL draft, number three, Catherine Hodges!"

She ran out onto the court to the enthusiastic cheers of five thousand people, smiling and waving to the crowd as she nodded to her opponents and settled herself among them.

And then there was silence.

Absolute silence.

The expectation of the crowd was a palpable thing as necks craned, waiting for the one they had come here to see.

A low, reverberating bass hum flowed out into the stadium like an ocean wave washing onto the shore. The crowd gave an anticipatory cheer before falling silent again. The bass hum continued, drawing out the moment until it became almost painful.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, after a four year absence from the court, it is my great pleasure to reintroduce to you, wearing her retired number 34, the Female Player of the Century, the incomparable Pallas Dylan ĎThe Goddessí Lambert!!!"

As one, the crowd jumped to its feet, cheering so loudly that Cat thought her eardrums would burst. Still, she couldnít help grinning as Dylan, black braid streaming behind her, ran through the gauntlet of security and onto the court, waving to the crowd and sending them into fits of near apoplexy.

"God-dess! God-dess! God-dess! God-dess!"

Five thousand voices chanted, accompanied by five thousand pairs of feet stamping and five thousand sets of hands clapping. It was nearly enough to rattle the fillings in Catís teeth, but she didnít really notice, too busy clapping and stamping and chanting with the rest. Dylan gave her a little smirk before shaking her head. Cat smirked right back at her and began chanting all the louder.

Red roses flew down from the stands like fragrant rain. Bending, Dylan picked up one bloom that had landed closest to her feet and, inhaling its pleasing scent, lifted the rose and waved once again at the crowd, sending them into another frenzy that lasted for a good five minutes before finally beginning to wind down.

When at last some semblance of normalcy returned to the stadium, the players shook hands and retired to their respective benches.

*******

Dylan pulled the soaked towel away from her face and looked back at a staring Cat, one eyebrow arched. "Problem?"

Taking the response as somewhat of an invitation, Cat slid closer to Dylan while checking to make sure they were out of the earshot of anyone else. "Are youÖfeeling okay?"

"Right as a trivet, as my grandmother used to say. Why?"

Cat shrugged a little, then took another quick look around. "Oh, I dunno. ItísÖ." Breaking off, she sighed in frustration, and tried again. "Your game. It seems a littleÖoff?"

"Off?" Dylan asked, straightening on the bench. "Off how?"

Cat thought for a moment. "Well, maybe not Ďoffí off. Maybe justÖflat?"

"Flat."

Cat was finding it hard to think with those piercing eyes all but pinning her to the bench. "Yeah. You know. NotÖ." She sighed again, shaking her head. "Forget I said anything, alright? Itís stupid. I donít know where my mind is today."

"No. Iím interested in knowing what youíre getting at, Cat. How is my game off?" Her lips curl. "And batting those eyes at me will not make me forget the topic."

Laughing softly, Cat pelted Dylan with her towel and moved closer until their thighs were casually touching. "Youíre a nut, you know that?"

"I do try. Now quit trying to change the subject."

"Fine." Cat steepled her fingers and stared down at her hands. "Youíre, I mean, youíre Dylan Lambert, you know? The Goddess. But youíre, kinda, playing like aÖ."

"Mere mortal?"

"Yeah." Cat felt herself blushing and wiped a hand across her forehead as if to wash it away. "Told you it was stupid."

When Dylan turned to her, her eyes were nothing but warm, and kind. "Itís not stupid, Cat. In fact, Iím kinda flattered that youíre concerned about it."

Wide eyes met hers, and Dylanís smile broadened. "You are?"

"Yup." A beat of silence. "Remember what I said, though. Bring your A game to work and leave the razzle-dazzle for the highlight films."

"Yeah, but isnít this almost one big highlight film?"

Dylan chuckled. "In a way, maybe, but weíve also got a teammate who isnít a basketball star. I think she deserves her time in the light too."

"Youíre right," Cat replied, nodding. "I didnít think of that."

"Well, we already know who the brains of this outfit is," Dylan quipped, smirking. "Looks like weíre up again. Ready?"

"Just remember, Ms. Goddess. Paybacks are a female dog."

"Oh yeah, Iím shaking already. Tiny."

 

*******

Cat slumped down on the bench, huffing. Grabbing the towel Dylan had thoughtfully draped around her neck, she wiped the sweat pouring liberally down her face and groaned. That last game was a bit closer than she would have liked. Still, if she was honest with herself, she wasnít really all that surprised, given that the guard she faced was none other than Shauna Keeps, hands down the best in the league.

After a friendly greeting, Cat found herself taken to school, and right properly at that. While knowing full well that the biggest gap between them was experience, she would have gladly given her left kidney to possess the fluid grace and supreme confidence that seemed to be Keepsí by birthright.

That she genuinely liked the woman made the lesson at least palatable, and she resolved then and there to get Dylan, if needed, to intercede on her behalf for some off-season lessons that would surely elevate her game to the next, much needed, level.

Dropping her towel in her lap, she turned to find Dylan looking at her, a spark of concern easily read in those too-blue eyes. "Iím okay," she reassured her partner. "Sheís justÖdamn sheís good."

"She is that."

"It really makes me wish that I had been around, you know, as a professional, when the two of you played together. Playing against her is nothing like watching it on TV. You guys must have been, God, just amazing together."

"We were alright," Dylan drawled, stretching impossibly long arms along the back of the bench they shared while extending even longer legs and crossing them at the ankles, completely unperturbed by their close call.

"Nothing bothers you, does it," Cat observed with just a hint of envy.

Dylan shrugged. "Donít sweat the small stuff."

Cat straightened, eyes flashing. "Dylan Lambert, you are one of, if not the most competitive person I know. I canít believe I just heard that come out of your mouth!"

Laughing softly, Dylan reached up and tousled Catís already tousled hair. "We had it in the bag, darliní. The outcome was never in doubt."

"For you, maybe," Cat grumbled.

Dylanís expression turned serious. "One day, Cat," she intoned softly, "youíll see in yourself what I see in you. Then, maybe, youíll believe."

Rising elegantly to her feet, Dylan left a totally stunned Cat behind.

*******

"You and me, white bread! You and me, short shit! Yeah, you and me! Iím gonna fuck you up so high you ainít never gonna come down!"

Catís nemesis, Kiesha Brown, was pulled back by her playing partner, Coral Tippets, and hustled over to the opposite bench.

"Jesus," Cat muttered half under her breath as she tossed her towel on the bench and followed it down. "Who in the hell pissed in her Wheaties this morning?"

Dylan smirked over her water bottle, then guzzled the rest of it down. "You wanted a challenge."

"Challenge? Damn, Dylan, if Iíd wanted a prison gang fight, Iíd have flashed the crowd and gotten myself arrested first!"

"Now that I would have liked to have seen," Dylan replied, chuckling.

"Get yourself a police uniform, sweetheart, and Iíll give you a show for free."

If she had had any water left in her mouth, Dylan would surely have choked. Crystal eyes went absolutely round, and Cat smirked, pleased to have gotten one up on her usually imperturbable partner.

"You seriously expect me to play with that image in my head, do you?"

Cat laughed. "Show me a few of your famous on-court moves in this next game, and you wonít need the uniform."

This time, Dylan was the one left stunned on the bench as Cat sauntered away. After a moment, she broke out into a big grin, and chuckled softly, shaking her head. "One of these days, Lambert," she murmured. "One of these days, youíll learn that your little kitten has some mean claws."

******

The sound of a whistle cut stridently through the cheering crowd, but didnít effect in the least the two enraged women grappling over the loose ball. Over the heads of the two combatants, Dylan and Tippets shared a look and, by mutual consent, moved forward to separate their respective partners from the melee.

Grabbing Cat easily, if gently, by one arm, Dylan tugged her away from the court, signaling a time-out to the referee with one raised eyebrow and ignoring the constant stream of epithets spewing from Keisha Brown like sludge from a sewer.

Once on the sidelines, Dylan released her hold on Cat and tossed her a towel. Cat plucked it out of mid-air and angrily tossed it aside, glaring at Dylan all the while. Dylanís eyebrow made its way back up again. "You need to stop letting her get to you," she remarked after a moment filled with heated tension.

"Donít you think I know that?!?" Cat hissed through clenched teeth. "In case itís slipped your notice, oh Goddess, weíre down 9-3 here. Weíre getting our asses kicked, and itís likeÖitís likeÖyou donít even care!!"

Dylanís voice was very quiet. "Should I?"

The shock of her partnerís statement drained every single drop of anger from Catís body. She stared at Dylan as if sheíd grown an extra head in the last minute or two. "IÖbuÖyouÖ.what?!?"

"This isnít for a tournament trophy, Cat. Itís not for bragging rights," Dylan continued. "Itís for them." One long arm swept out, indicating the line of children sitting in the front row of bleachers. "To put some happiness in their lives, if even for a moment." She paused, then looked directly into Catís eyes, her own speaking with uncanny eloquence. "Do they look very happy to you?"

Following the direction of Dylanís gesture, Cat blanched as she saw the concerned and sad expressions on the childrenís faces. Shame washed through her in an incomprehensible wave. "Dear God," she whispered. "I didnítÖoh damn."

A warm hand on her shoulder brought her gaze back around, and she found herself bathed in the compassion of Dylanís gentled eyes. "Youíve done nothing you canít put right, Cat. Keisha Brown is nothing but a thug dressed up in a fancy uniform. We both know this. Donít play down to her level. Play up to the person you know you are."

Cat felt a smile coming up from somewhere deep inside, and she let it out, unable to stop the warm feelings that Dylanís simple, bedrock confidence engendered in her. Dylan returned the smile and cupped her cheek briefly, before grabbing the discarded towel and swatting her lightly across the butt with it. "Now letís get em," she said over her partnerís outraged yelp.

*******

Since the Badgers had received the ball on the last "tie", Brownís team brought it in-bounds and headed downcourt in a flurry of quick passes and fancy dribbles. Cat guarded Brown closely, refusing to be drawn into her bristling taunts and cruel teases.

"Watch my ass, dyke meat. Itís all youíre gonna see."

With a lightning quick first step, Brown drove to the basket, only to be soundly rebuffed by Catís terrier-like defense. Frowning just slightly, Brown dribbled back a few steps and casually called out a play to her teammate.

Tossing the ball to Tippets, she used a spin move and got into an open space in the paint. Receiving the pass just over the outstretched fingertips of Cat, she pumped a short jumper that rattled around the rim and bounced out.

Cat jumped for the rebound.

Brown saw her chance and grabbed it. With a bull rush, she cut Catís legs out from beneath her, dumping the smaller woman on her knees. Hard.

Dylan arrived a second too late, and gently lifted Cat back to her feet as the whistle blew, signaling a foul. "Are you alright?" she murmured, looking down at her loverís skinned and bloody knees.

"Yeah," Cat replied, wincing slightly at the sting. "Iíll be okay."

The trainer ran onto the court and, receiving a nod form Dylan, led Cat to the sidelines to tend to her scrapes. Kim looked on apprehensively, unsure whether to approach or run away screaming. She decided to stay where she was, watching Cat as she was led from the court.

Only then did Dylan allow her anger to show. She rounded on Brown, pinning the cocky young woman to the court with her glare. "You know," she began in a soft, conversational tone that the fierceness in her pale, almost silver eyes belied, "I didnít care when you were just talking trash. Thatís all a little nobody punk like you knows. But when you deliberately set out to hurt someone, to take their livelihood away, wellÖthatís something I mind very much."

"Oh yeah?" Brown shot back, failing to entirely disguise the slight tremor in her voice. "And what are you gonna do about it, you old bitch?"

"Címon now, Kiesha," Tippets said nervously, pulling the younger woman away. "Thatís enough."

"Fuck you, Tippets. Fuck you all."

As Brown stomped away, Dylan slid her gaze to Tippets. "You keep a leash on that one, Coral."

The tall woman swallowed hard. "Iíll try, D."

"Donít try, Coral. Do."

******

Two minutes later, the combatants had taken the court once again. Catís knees were cleansed and bandaged, and she was walking without a limp, though the stinging was quite intense.

"You sure youíre alright?" Dylan murmured from behind her.

"Yeah," Cat said on a released breath. "Iíll be fine. I just want to get this damned farce over with."

The smile on Dylanís face was one that made even Cat a bit nervous. "Oh, donít you worry," she replied, voice deceptively soft. "We will."

The whistle blew, and Dylan accepted the ball from the referee, passing it crisply to Cat, who dribbled down the court and set up a play with a quick flick of her fingers. When the offense was set, she shot a quick bounce pass to Kim, which was unfortunately intercepted by Brown, who took it back to the half-court line and started forward again, a smirk writ large on her cocky features.

Cat guarded her like stink on a pig, soundly rebuffing each and every penetration move she attempted.

The smirk was growing smaller.

Just outside the paint, Dylan caught Catís eye and Cat nodded almost imperceptibly. This time, when Brown stepped forward, Cat laid off, and Brown, more intent on showboating for the crowd than actually paying attention to her game, took three steps before running blindly into six feet three inches of solid muscle.

She dropped to the ground as if shot. The ball dribbled harmlessly over the endline just as the refereeís whistle blew.

"Charge!"

Brown scrabbled over onto her back, her face a frozen mask of utter rage. "Charge?!? Are you fucking blind, motherfucker?!? You--"

Her words trailed off as a long shadow loomed over her, and she found herself staring far up into cold eyes twinkling with a mad sort of mirth. "Youíre playing with the big dogs now." Dylanís low, deathly quiet voice washed over her in a paradox of honey and prickleburrs.

Trying her best to ignore the sudden tightening at the nape of her neck, Brown rose to her feet, but the nasty look she shot Dylanís way was easily seen through.

Dylan walked back to Cat, whose face was stone, though her eyes beamed twin smiles in her partnerís direction. "Liked that, huh?"

"Would you be angry if I said Ďhell yeahí?"

"Nah. Little whelp deserved it."

The two shared a quiet chuckle.

"So. Weíve got the ball. Any ideas what to do with it?"

Dylan turned to face the basket, pondering their options. The smile that broke over her face was that of a lioness whoís just spotted a wounded antelope. "I think Black-23A will work nicely."

Cat looked at her, slightly wide-eyed, for a moment, before a smile of her own curved her lips. "Black-23A, huh? Ok, coach. You got it."

The whistle blew, signaling return to play. Cat gave the ball a quick dribble before flipping a short pass to Dylan, then held her hands out to receive it back and start down the court. Brown gave her a bump, but she sidestepped easily and blazed straight down the center of the court. Seeing the danger, Tippets broke off her guard of Dylan and slid in to block Cat, while Brown played off of Dylan, eyes darting back and forth between the players and the ball.

At the last possible second, Cat rifled the ball back blindly over her head toward a streaking Dylan, who caught it and jumped from just inside the foul line, vaulting over the covering Brown for a thunderous dunk that drove the crowd to their feet, screaming their praise to the heavens.

Grabbing the ball, she placed it almost gently in Brownís hands and tipped the woman a lurid wink. "There ya go. Puppy."

The rest of the game wasnít even close as Dylan and Cat put on a clinic, freezing their opponents in place with pinpoint passes, masterful ball handling, dunks, fadeaway jumpers and the odd hook-shot Dylan threw in just for chuckles.

Dylan Lambert was back, and it was glorious.

The game ended with an alley-oop from half court that had the delirious crowd near to climaxing from the excitement of it all. Even members of the other teams, who had come to watch the championship game, could do little but shake their heads, jaws dropping in awe. Most of them had never had the chance to see Dylan on anything but television, and the up-close and personal look was more than they ever could have dreamed.

Courteously handing the ball to the referee, Dylan braced herself as a blonde bolt of lightning launched herself into her arms, shouting in triumph. Dylan swung her around several times before carefully setting her back on her feet and draping a casual arm around her shoulders. "Not bad for an old bitch, huh?" Dylan asked, smirking.

Catís eyes were shining as she looked up at her partner. "Thank you." Her tone was solemn and heartfelt.

"Thank you back," Dylan replied, squeezing Cat close in a seemingly casual one-armed hug. "You made it easy."

Catís smile was as radiant as the sunrise, and it was an image Dylan carried with her as they were suddenly mobbed by teammates, reporters, and fans pouring down out of the stands.

*******

End of part three. The conclusion tomorrow! Thanks for the wonderful feedback, guys! If anyone wants to drop a note, we'd love to hear from you. swordnquil@aol.com  and TNovan@aol.com . Thanks!

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